A funny thing happened on my way to the gala dinner.
The cars taking us from post-conference drinks to the banquet on Tower Bridge were pulling up outside the hotel. As I reached the front of the short queue and was admiring the gloss on my brand new, overpriced brogues, bought that very afternoon from an obsequious shoe salesman on Cheapside, a colleague hailed me: “There’s room for one in here.”
I assumed she was referring to the taxi, not herself, and made to sit in the rear seat, driver’s side. My rucksack, containing all my worldly stockbroking paraphernalia — bone-saw, crucifix, Novichok, emotional baggage, emergency hip flask — was too bulky to sit on my lap so I opened the boot and stowed it away.
I returned to the car door, stretched my left leg towards the footwell, took hold of the top of the door with both holds and began to lower myself into the vehicle.
Which then drove off.
It probably only travelled 10 yards with me swinging and clinging grimly for dear life but I’m a stockbroker not a stuntbroker (With my luck? Are you kidding?) and that was long enough for my entire career in the City to flash before my eyes (several seconds longer than necessary if truth be told) before the cabbie braked violently and brought the car to a shuddering halt — just after running over my foot.
The driver had not finished yet.
Arriving at the destination, I hobbled out, my foot pulsating visibly and went to retrieve my bag. Bending over slightly, my fingers searched for the release catch but the driver helpfully pressed the automatic button on the dashboard and the trunk flew open, smacking me in the face.
The left shoe now has ineffaceable tyre-marks and I’ve been walking with a limp ever since but at the very least I thought, the unintentional slapstick might provide me with a talking point for whoever suffered the misfortune of being seated next to me at dinner.
These days the pew beside me is not the best in the house. I almost didn’t make it. Incapacitated, this limping impala struggled to keep up with the group being ushered up inside the bridge and I somehow lost them and whichever entrance they took.
Five minutes later, after hammering on several resolute iron doors, I was still shut out, hopping around the bridge itself. Gazing up fifty metres to where, through the clear glass flooring, I could see conference delegates and colleagues milling about and sipping champagne, I waved in vain like a madman.
I gained admittance eventually and circulated uncertainly among the guests. I drank nervously and too quickly. I was obliged to explain my obvious discomfort and my Standing Asana Yoga-pose to bored listeners, adding embellishments each time to make it more entertaining. I needn’t have bothered. It didn’t make any difference. No deipnosophist I, halfway through the meal the bloke on my left had well, he’d left and the bloke on my right was exposing vast acreage of non-conversational back as he discussed something intently with his neighbour. Probably Brexit.
The punters on the other side of the table seemed so far off and anyway, I’d already told them my humorous anecdote du jour. I knew the unmistakeable loneliness of the self-conscious, alone in a room of one hundred and fifty people. I checked my phone. Surely something now? A fluttering in the dovecote of my heart. A message? An email? A text? A call? Anything?
And nothing for it then but to requisition that bottle of red designated for the table and devote it to personal consumption. A mouthful of the south full of anaesthesia and forgetting. The after-party was not the kind of party I was after so I slipped off at the end of the evening and trudged away, clubfootedly, in the opposite direction.
Of late though, rather than immediately hailing an Uber or cycling waywardly back to Waterloo, I have started to walk the streets of London, bearing south-westerly in general towards home. I pass familiar landmarks, previous places of employment, lieux de memoire both good and bad, spy ghosts of other selves slipping in and out of the shadows and sense always at my heel Churchill’s black dog, skulking along. Maybe one day a retrospective pleasure can be distilled.
Apart from the funfair at Knowsley Safari Park and the bar at the Albert Hotel, I’ve spent most of my working life here. London seems indifferent. The way the City is now would break the resolve of the most tenacious entrepreneur as it has mine, the least.
Much of this trek is riverside as the Thames winds its way towards Richmond, my ultimate destination. Heraclitus: “No man steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” I seem to step in the same shit repeatedly, however.
Ambulating contemplatively through the capital late at night affords the crapulous broker, dragging his gammy leg, an opportunity to suck in sobering lungfuls of clean air blowing downstream. It’s never quite a todesmarsch. By the time I pass through the Eurotrash ghettoes of Kensington and Chelsea, the shoe leather and resolve are wearing thin.
Most leaves have fallen now but there are enough for the psithurism which spawns sentimental thoughts, thoughts about things in general, or more specifically thoughts on things that are going wrong. These are legion.
It’s not just the exhaustion brought on by hunting continually for the wherewithal to keep life pulsing in my sales-trading. I dwell on my filipendulous career, reflect on ‘the glare of that much-mentioned brilliance, love’, wonder if the surge pricing on Uber has receded to the point where I can afford to ride the rest of the way back in comfort and then worry that I might not even have said I was going out tonight and here I am, way past midnight, still miles to go before I sleep.
Nights when I’m not out seeking distraction from the elliptical lacuna in my life, I have taken to long walks around the wet and windy woods nearby with Pablo the husky puppy, a literal black dog rather than a metaphorical one.
He shows no enthusiasm for these outings and slinks off to hide the minute he sees the dog leash. “Not another long soulful walk in the dark”, his eyes implore. “I can’t bear it”
There’s nothing like entering the Christmas season in the Square Mile with a spring in your step and this is nothing like it. Pablo, like me, is bereft of the attributes of a conversationalist but he’s a good listener and when I ask him if it is all over, he says ‘Woof’.
I’ll take that as a yes then.