Wednesday 17 July 2013

Fever Diary – 12th December 20—

I ran with the lions for almost a week and can remember little except the feel of fur beneath my fingers as I clutched desperately at their manes. Eventually I became aware of the low babble of a thousand conversations mixed with the drone of helicopters and indecipherable megaphone messages.  There was an odd taste in my mouth and I struggled to open my eyes, the effort fading with each attempt until finally they flickered open of their own accord and I tried to focus on a bright square of whiteness ahead of me. I could still feel the lion’s mane beneath the fingers of my right hand as I tried to bring the shadows and stark brightness into balance. Someone touched my head and breathed close to my ear. I smelt Sonia’s perfume as a woman’s voice said quietly, ‘He’s awake.’
I turned my head to the right and was elated to see Sonia looming over me, her face concerned at first, and then smiling as I started to take in my surroundings. I tried to touch her cheek with my left hand but found it was restricted by a canula taped to a vein. Glancing down at my right hand, I found it was knotted in the fur of a black dog standing docilely beside my bed. I wondered why the nurse hadn’t closed the curtains on the window as the light was shining right into my eyes. I wondered why the walls of the ward seemed to shiver slightly and it was some moments before I noticed that the window had no frame and that the scene beyond was a snow covered field, as if the meadow behind Barnhill had been uprooted and placed in Gower Street, just below the private wards of the Rosenheim building.
‘He’s definitely awake. Eric’s awake.’
Then I heard another, more guttural and familiar voice. A voice from my dreams, irritable and sulky.
‘Jorge. You mean Jorge is awake.’
I tried to sit up and found Pedro’s hand on my shoulder. Pedro from the AW. Impossible Pedro who didn’t exist and next to him, not Sonia, but impossible Emily.
Behind them, his lanky form draped across a collapsible canvas chair was Scratch who said languidly, his tanned face splitting into a broad smile, ‘George. George is awake’.
He turned to the open side of the tent and shouted out into the snow, ‘George is awake. He’s awake!’ The call was taken up by voices outside and was repeated like a thousand echoes in a deep canyon. I realised then that I had woken once again in the AW and part of me was filled with sorrow. Then I saw Emily’s relieved expression and she looked so happy that I was instantly calmed and accepting. Whatever this was, she was here with me and that seemed to be all that mattered.
Gently I grasped Pedro’s hand and levered myself up to a sitting position. A young man with curious arm tattoos passed me a beaker of water and I gulped it down, my throat raw and tender.
As details began to emerge from the murk around me, I realised that I was in a large tent and that heads were appearing round the open flap as people wrapped in colourful winter clothing gathered around to stare at me. Some of them were snapping vids on their MC’s and as I turned away to look behind Emily, I noticed a middle-aged man wearing a safari jacket training a sophisticated looking camera on me. I am in their eye again.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Fever Diary – 6th December 20—

The red hoods started to appear shortly after we tramped into Stratford-upon-Avon. We had managed to hitch a few rides since we left the village hall but had been forced to rely on our weary feet for the last three miles.
The garments were placed on the tops of lampposts and perched rakishly on traffic lights at zebra crossings. As we passed the puzzling attractions of the ‘Falstaff Experience’ (a pub in a woodland glade?) I began to perceive a pattern to their placement. Looking down the street from the bridge over the Avon, I could see a long line of the red markers leading up the Warwick Road. As the direction was generally north, and not knowing their significance, I decided we would follow them as far as we could. Pedro was reluctant as he knew the hoods were somehow associated with what he called ‘beeg hassle’, but I persuaded him that if at any point they veered off a northward course, we would abandon them as a guide.
Our progress had so far been very slow and as we stopped at a garden centre cafe for tea from the ubiquitous plastic beaker, I reviewed our prospects while we sat on railway sleepers stacked around the car park. I estimated that if we continued at the present pace and with such visibility, we were unlikely to reach Jura any time soon. Either we would be apprehended or it would take a good month and a half to reach our destination with no guarantee that we would have the resources to pay for the ferry from the mainland.
I was finding the travelling extremely tiring and although I had so far been in general good health in the AW, I knew that the nights spent huddled without tents in bushes or bus shelters were taking their toll. The money from the Carolan Portal for the syndication of my column provided us with the essentials in the way of food and drink, but did not stretch to lodgings or a new tent. We found ourselves seeking out homeless shelters and finding them almost impossible to get into due to the vast increase in numbers brought about by a more severe welfare regime that had driven many from their lodgings and out on to the streets in great numbers. I began to realise how lucky we had been to have survived so long at the State’s expense and thought once more of Emily who had sent daily messages up until I had been forced to abandon the MC. I was, as expected, almost in mourning for the ridiculous box of tricks, but this lasted only a few days as I took up my journal again with pencil and notebook, despatching my columns to the newspaper from post boxes along the way.
As we neared Warwick itself and passed around its southern edge, we found ourselves part of an increasing band of travellers, many with backpacks and tents, tramping along the red cowl route.
Finding no shelter that didn’t risk exposure, we carried on walking well into the night until we veered off the main road and lost sight of the hoods in the darkness. We tramped for hours across frozen fields until we were utterly lost and bitterly cold. I even started to regret the loss of the hooded top I had been so eager to give away.
Finally, I could go no further and flopped down in the middle of a field, not caring if it snowed and covered me in the night. Pedro was eager to at least find some woodland where shelter might be found, but I was already falling into unconsciousness as I listened to his entreaties. I curled up like a chick inside the egg and fell into darkness, my hands clasped around my knees. In my head the lions roamed again, their hot breath on my cheek as they paced around my body, occasionally rasping their great tongues across my hands.

Saturday 29 June 2013

Handwritten Notepod entry. MOBCOM No.872 -7685-6245 2nd December 20—


If you are reading this, it means you have found the MC you have been using to trace us in a litter bin by the roadside, this last notepod entry uppermost, the stylus very pointedly broken in two. I am done with this device.
By now, you will also have surmised that I do not intend to give myself up. Pedro is not a party to any of the alleged crimes of which I am accused. I therefore ask that you exclude him from your thoughts whilst you attempt to find and arrest me. He has not made any of the decisions that bring me to this point beyond wanting to stay with me for whatever fate or the B & C have in store.  The gun is a memento, but useful in that it is the only accessible form of defence I could find in the AW. Pedro now tells me I could have had an AK47 from one conversation in a Hackney pub.  But I doubt we had the cash for that. I know for you it conveniently raises the stakes, but Pedro is no part of the battle between us.
The story you told me lacks conviction, smacking as it does of half-remembered science fiction and barely credible cinema scenarios. You know as well as I, that I am no clone or genetic experiment. We will no doubt meet again, but I think it fair to say that I regard you, along with everything else in this fantasy, as a figment. Therefore, you will catch me or not according to my own subconscious whim and it seems that neither your or I are wholly in charge of that.
You see, I know full well who you really are. In effect, Detective Inspector Gerry O’Brien, guileless literary taunt and gaunt authoritarian, you are disease. A living, breathing tubercule, chasing me across my dreams as you harried me in my waking life, a constant reminder that whatever fantasy I may harbour about a life with a woman, a child and a house by the sea, you will be lurking somewhere, trying to leech the breath from my lungs, the joy from my love, the light from my life. But I am not ready for you now. There is so much I still want to do. I am awake. I am alive, even if it is only in my mind. You shall not have me yet.


PS: Have you noticed how no one mentions the significance of your surname to me? Another salutary reminder that many people have heard of my work, parroting phrases like the lyrics of popular songs, but not a single one of you has actually read it. One might almost cite this as evidence of the fantastic and hallucinatory nature of the world I am in. But regrettably, I suspect it may be further evidence of this fever world being rooted in some sort of reality.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Fever Diary – 25th November 20--

The priority on that dire day was to either dry our clothes or obtain replacements.  The cold cloth was debilitating in the wind and slowed progress. In the end, I found, to my shame, that I could go no further and huddled, utterly miserable in the lee of a dry stone wall, waiting for the end. When one is profoundly end-of-tethered and cold to boot, there is something comforting in the slow shut down of exposure. They say the feeling of cold slowly recedes and a kind of drowsy numbness takes its place. Nature’s blanket gently being drawn over the head.
However, just as I began to find the sleep of the eternal an altogether attractive prospect, (and one I may well have experienced before) Pedro, to his everlasting credit, took charge and disappeared towards a distant farmhouse. All in all we had travelled less than five miles from Shiplake and I knew that they would track us down soon enough if we couldn’t leave the area rapidly. All seemed lost and, in truth, I wasn’t entirely unhappy. I had died once. I could do it again.
He returned within half an hour carrying two pairs of running shorts, a pair of baggy jeans, some army camouflage trousers and two heavy woolen hoodies, the legend ‘Working for the Clampdown’ on the back and ‘The Clash’ on the front of one and the superfluous legend ‘HOOD’ on the other. He had wrapped the shorts around each hand and draped the jeans and trousers over his shoulder.  Balanced on his swathed palms was a foil tin that smoked slightly. He placed it down to reveal a portable disposable brazier of smouldering charcoal beneath a wire mesh upon which rested two of the most delicious smelling pork chops I had ever seen. 
We fell on them intermittently as we stripped off from the waist down and donned the running shorts beneath the clothes.  I eschewed the baggy jeans and chose the army trousers as they felt more natural. Although I hated the hoodie and its eccentric, indecipherable decoration, I was cold enough to find its material a comfort and relief.  I was loath to put the soaked boots back on, but Pedro produced two rolls of long socks from his pockets and I almost kissed him. His raid on an empty farmhouse had produced nothing, but a foray to a temporary caravan in the field behind had produced the contents of a washing line and a barbecue whilst the inhabitants squabbled over a TV programme inside the tiny mobile home that apparently played host to a pair of raggedy builders converting the abandoned farmhouse into a habitable holiday home.  The chops were still warm and we ate like pigs, the juices coursing down our faces until, warmed by this and the new clothes, we felt we could go on and find shelter.
What happened that evening as we entered the town of Shipston-on-Stour will now be well known to most of the Interverse. It might appear from the footage of my impromptu appearance on the hustings, (now ranked as the most viewed vid in the Europe section of the Viewsites) that I had intentionally sought out this meeting to put my point, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the rich and mostly undercooked meal stolen from the builders had an unfortunate effect on the stomach and the only reason we entered the community centre was to use the lavatories. Viewed historically, it might be seen as entirely appropriate that some political passions may be put down to the bowel and the stridency of some speeches to diarrhoea.
Having availed ourselves of the facilities, we noted that hot teas were being dispensed at the rear of the political meeting that was taking place in the main hall. We quickly snaffled a scalding beverage in an inadequate plastic beaker with a slice of fruit cake and sat with some relief on a pair of free seats at the rear.
Only then did I realise that the four main political parties were hosting a local debate on the most vital (!) issues of the impending election. Four representatives and a dowdy chairwoman sat on a shabby stage before drab red velvet curtains tied back either side to frame a painted flat of the London skyline on the back wall that had obviously been used for a recent ‘Dick Whittington’ pantomime. 
The drone of uninspiring discourse had the usual soporific effect and I sat drowsily aware that both the sitting MP and the three challengers could all be described as sitting firmly on the centre right and centre right right of the political compass. One younger fresher faced candidate tried to curry favour with a slightly libertarian view undercut by an emphasis on home security that seemed guaranteed not to frighten the horses.
However as the debate went on, I noticed that all were focusing on the situation in China, terrorism and the need for constant awareness of all manner of potential threats. The Chinese debacle, of course, was not described by any of the politicians as a war. The phrase ‘peacekeeping’ was used throughout, despite the news reports of active British campaigns against various factions in the territory since the break up of the country into its respective UN cantons after the collapse of the Revolutionary Government. There was an underlying implication that the Altay disaster which precipitated the fall of China could very well happen here in Europe and that the security of nuclear power facilities needed to be ramped up and improved against those who sought to bring about change via the atom. No one but the quasi-libertarian suggested closing them, of course, and he was quickly shouted down.
All in all, there was few of what one might call ‘local’ issues, the emphasis being entirely on outside forces. All of the whey-faced career politicos darkly hinted at impending threats against which we would be defenceless unless a new Government were elected or a ‘fresh approach’ to security introduced. At the same time, technology and the Interverse were cited as the tools to empowerment and change that would make ‘Digital Democracy’ a reality at last, with even the Olders assisted into participation. At one point, in a rare departure from the enemies without and within theme, a candidate seemed to be suggesting, to much applause, that 3D wallscreens in every home was not only some kind of civil right, but a necessity for any functioning democracy.

It was at this point that the local Mayor who was chairing the farce threw the floor open for questions and I committed what may now be regarded as the most foolish act of my life in the AW. At a time when we were effectively public enemies, on the run from all manners of covert authoritarians and with a need to be as invisible as possible, I got to my feet, Pedro pulling desperately on my jacket. I did not know what I was going to say. In fact, without notes of any kind, I was not as incoherent and rambling as I expected. Nonetheless, in the end it was ridiculous, nebulous nonsense. The kind of thing one might say in a dream. 

Monday 24 June 2013

Fever Diary – October 10th 20--

We ran out of money around Heathrow. I checked my account on the MC and was not surprised to find that benefit payments had been stopped. The Hackney & Haringey Advertiser however, had faithfully deposited my extremely modest fee for the last column and this allowed us enough to buy a new butane bottle and some provisions.
As we sat out in front of the tent in a patch of green called Cranford Park, I calculated that we had enough food for another three days before becoming completely destitute. This didn’t fill us with despair. Both Pedro and I had been in this position on the road before (albeit in different centuries) and knew that there was always a way of picking up work for cash in hand. In addition, we sought out supermarket back alleys for the usual scavenged items among the daily food dumps, so we were a long way from starving. If we were in Kent, I might have found us some hop picking, but when I suggested this to Pedro he just laughed.
At Pedro’s suggestion, a tour of the industrial estates surrounding the airport produced a couple of days working alongside a dozen illegal immigrants spraying car windshields, windows and other glass surfaces with a coating of what was described as ‘permeable nanomaterial’.  The Turkish supervisor of the crowded workshop was harassed by an impending deadline and happy to see another pair of hands. We received a quick safety instruction that consisted mainly of a warning that failure to wear a thin waxed paper overall and flimsy face mask would render the firm’s insurance invalid. No one commented on the unlikely prospect of any of us being covered by any sort of legitimate policy, whether we wore a paper overall or a beekeeper’s outfit.
The work was hot and stifling but lasted just over a week whilst we ‘drummed up’ in a different corner of surrounding fields every night. One day whilst smoking a cigarette on the forecourt of the warehouse, I overheard the supervisor being warned of an impending B & C raid on the entire business park that had us cycling quickly towards Datchet, leaving that day’s wage irrecoverable.
We camped that night next to a reservoir at Wraysbury where I despatched my column to the Hackney & Haringey Advertiser. It contained an account of my escape and informed readers that I would, in future, be submitting via the Carolan Portal. I had read that this alternative to mobnet afforded a more secure method, making it impossible to reveal our location. But afterwards I fretted that I had given away too much information and contemplated throwing away the MC in case it contained a treacherous element that would help the B & C to track our progress.
It was then that I experienced a wholly bizarre sensation. Despite standing at the water’s edge, the device in my hand, Pedro urging me on, I couldn’t destroy it. I likened it to the pang I felt when they confiscated my Remington in the sanatorium. I realised I had developed a peculiar attachment to the smooth lines of my MC. To drown it, seemed like sacrilege. I have not been averse to pissing on the altar when the need arises, but this seemed altogether different. More like pissing on myself.
I had taken the precaution of establishing an Interverse mailbox that functioned as the equivalent of a ‘dead letter drop’ using the ID tag ‘Winston’ for my own absurdly romantic reasons. I rationalised the decision by convincing myself that the B & C were not aware that I had an MC, although I could not be certain that Emily’s brother hadn’t revealed this to them. I assumed not, as he messaged me to say that he still regarded himself as my representative should I wish to ‘turn myself in’. He emphasised that my offence was a comparatively trivial affair in monetary terms. The benefits fraudulently claimed under the name of Allways would not bear a custodial sentence, although it could mean me spending some time in a detention centre whilst my identity was established.
In a way, I can see the advantages of this. I cannot prove who I am, no more can the authorities. There is a temptation to let them sort it out and bugger the consequences. But something tells me that the wheels of bureaucracy turn ever more slowly here and I might be rotting in chokey for a long time before they found a suitable explanation for my existence. Not a sensible option.
Also, I am very eager to be on the tramp again. I knew it would come to this in the end and it’s almost a relief to be forced to rely on one’s own resources and cunning to get by. I am challenged to evade the many methods that now exist to pin a citizen down to a fixed space and I am curiously cheerful at the prospect. It feels like the old days in the LDV in St John’s Wood, where we planned a British Resistance trained to attack and evade an occupying German army.
I find my many conversations with Scratch have given me a picture of the complex and subtle structures of authority in the AW that isn’t immediately apparent to the casual observer. Of course, I noticed the surveillance cameras, the armed police officers, the press reports of random censorship on ‘security’ grounds, the hyped menace of armies of Chinese/Islamic/Zionist/Uiguyr/Russian terrorists threatening everything we hold dear and the obsession with identity, immigration and nationality. But he made me aware of the more ethereal battle going on in the Interverse for personal data. In so doing, he helped me to find the missing context that has been nagging away at me for so long. Previously, it seemed that every time I thought I had a grip on what the primary issue was in the AW, it slipped away from me in a shower of disputed history and fact. In a sense this was entirely expected. If the AW is a delusion of my madness, then it seems only right that I should tilt at a few windmills before finding my true quest.
I knew fundamentally that the real driver for authoritarian behaviour was capitalism, but Scratch (wish I knew his real name) made me aware of how this manifests itself. Under the guise of anti-terror measures and efficient delivery of municipal services, more and more information is required on each individual. The technology for obtaining this information, and indeed the administration of it, is handled by corporations. The Government, driven always by a creed that suggests private companies are better administrators than civil servants, has auctioned off the job to a dozen or more favoured corporate giants who are, as always, beholden not only to the dividend takers, but to their patrons within the Government itself.
Inevitably, capitalism demands more than one method of exploitation and most citizens don’t appear to have consented (unless implicitly) for their personal details, credit record, purchasing choices, health, wealth, secret perversions, criminal records, DNA, sexual preferences and political beliefs to be hawked amongst the corporations as currency. By this method they are approved or denied insurance, employment, housing, benefits, education, health services, transport, passports and patronage of any kind.
At the same time they are touted by the same corporations or their clients for everything from luxury apartments to pile ointment depending on the ‘profile’ the accumulated data procured on them draws in the ether. I had thought the frontier of this battle against intrusion and personal liberty lay in the area of identity cards or passports. In fact, the authorities do not need such things. Everything a citizen does or says, every offence committed, every book purchased, every trip taken, every song composed, every article written, every subscription, every Saturday night observed on camera, tells them all they need to know.
The only problem the state has, is managing the scale of the information gleaned from so many people in so many forms. Judging by my experience at UCH, the fault lines lie in the technology used to collate or collect and the inefficiency or competing interests of the corporate systems and processes that interpret that information. In a sense, and perhaps not for the first time, the bureaucracy is the citizen’s best bulwark against intrusion.

Needless to say, I did not throw the MC into the reservoir. Had I done so, I would not have been able to collect a message from Emily. It was short, but expressed concern and a healthy dose of guilt for my ‘predicament’. I replied with some reassurance that I did not blame her at all and that all choices had been made by me alone and with a realistic knowledge of the consequences. She asked to meet and although I long for this, I had to put her off for now. I think there is a danger that she will be followed and I am not ready to surrender my liberty so soon. I have been in the AW for ten months, but I feel as if I have only just woken up. 

Sunday 23 June 2013

Fever Diary – May 9th 20--

I have solved the mystery of the disappearing newspaper. I have hungrily searched for them on the streets, but soon after acquiring purchase, they become blank and I find myself absurdly gloomy about the failure of my imagination in this one regard. I laboured, often reluctantly, at the coalface of journalism for a very long time, but now found myself with a literary blind spot. Although the fancier MC’s deliver a bulletin digest daily, many people do still desire a solid paper in their hands on the tube or the bus, but I can’t seem to keep one in my eye. 
I told Pedro of my experience. He looked at me in the usual pitying manner, picked up a discarded paper from the pile of waste in the Council recycling compactor kept in the front garden and took me down the road to the paper kiosk at the entrance to Stamford Hill station. Inserting coins into the kiosk he showed me two black dots in the lower left hand margin of the paper and placed them in a gap between two protruding spurs of metal on the side of the kiosk.
The spurs came together over the dots and the newspaper’s surface instantly filled with text, colour photographs and advertisements. He showed me how I could make certain pictures move by tapping them to trigger a short documentary. It seems my imagination did not have a leak after all. It had filled the gap with something even more alien than the overt sexual language and depiction that seems ubiquitous in the media of the AW. Now that I know the costs involved, I will have to budget for a daily paper reload as well as everything else.
However, there are other allocations in our meagre economy that are probably more urgent. This afternoon, I visited my preferred Scandinavian chain store and invested in a tent and a small rucksack. Tomorrow I am going to search through what the AW calls Hackney’s Civic Amenity site, which, in the BW we called a rubbish dump.
Five Nigerians hold sway over the site and sift the goods arriving for disposal like city antique dealers at a country auction. I have cultivated their leader over the last few weeks and am promised a robust recycled bicycle for Pedro. Preparations are almost complete. I have felt for some time that our time here is almost at an end. I sense surveillance. I am almost certain that I saw the middle-aged man in the flat cap again hanging around the station. Once again, the lower face was covered so it is difficult to be certain.
Yesterday, there was a knock on the door around lunchtime. Pedro and I were washing up after an Irish stew that had left me feeling indolent and bloated. A young woman stood on the doorstep, a tartan coat over a pair of white trousers and tousled red hair above startling green eyes.  I guessed she was in her twenties and almost certainly from the west of Australia, judging by the twang. She introduced herself as Helen Boden, a reporter from the Hackney & Haringey Advertiser. She held out her MC and said, ‘I wondered if I could talk to you about this? ’On the screen was a picture of myself in the dock at the Inner London Crown Court beneath an article headlined ‘Orwell in the Dock’.
I invited her in and she sat sipping tea whilst I read the rest of the piece – a mocking sketch on the kind of entertaining eccentrics that occasionally pass through the Courts. It reminded me of Dickens’ ‘Sketches by Boz’ and perhaps this was the intention. It instantly sent a frisson of foreboding down to my belly as I realised that I was now attracting far too much attention for my own good. The most unsettling part was a reference to a ‘Stalinist Hit List’ for MI5. My game with Rees was hardly that, but it seemed to me as if Celia might well have had such connections.
‘It’s been picked up by quite a few people’ she said. ‘People like the idea, you know, that he’s still alive somewhere, watching us all.’
I observed that she was wary of the madman, but also clearly wanted something. I presumed it was a story and told her bluntly that I wasn’t interested in being interviewed and parodied for the benefit of the local newspaper. I told her, somewhat unconvincingly that I no longer laboured under the delusion. This was not helped by the act that we had purchased new razors that morning and, for the first time in the AW, I had shaved all but my favoured line above the top lip. She looked at me with an impishly amused scepticism and told me that she wasn’t really thinking of rewriting a national story for the locals. What she really wanted was for me to write a weekly column for the paper. I was taken aback and slightly suspicious. What made her think I could even write? She read from my impromptu meditations on the nature of existence in Court and pointed out that it sounded like a writer speaking, if ever she had heard one.
 ‘You may not be him, but there’s an angle here. A view of the world from an unusual place.’
‘Diary of a Madman’ I suggested. She smiled and said she was thinking of something more like ‘As I Please’ or even ‘Blair’s Diary’. I told her coldly that a literary bedlam where readers passed by to see the mentally defective rend their garments was not an attractive proposition. In truth, I was intrigued by the idea of having a column again, but not the attention that it would bring. Pedro, ever the pragmatist, asked how much I might be paid. She told him and he did a little mental gavotte as he juggled with reducing our benefit payments over being comparatively better off.
I cut them both off by saying that we would be leaving the area soon. It was not the best way for Pedro to hear of my plans, but he betrayed nothing to the journalist. She seemed un-perturbed and pointed out that I could write from anywhere I pleased. I quickly, but politely, declined. But as she was leaving, she left me her card and told me that if I changed her mind, all I had to do was send the first column to the e-dress listed.
After she left I apologised to Pedro and told him my intention. I made it clear that he was under no obligation to go along with it. After two hours of wrangling, he convinced me to wait and see how the B & C interview went, before making a final decision. Conscious of how long he had lived without comforts before I came along, I reluctantly agreed. I hope it will not be too late by then.

I put Miss Boden’s card in the small pouch that contains my puncture kit below the saddle of Rocinante. 
Fever Diary – March 18th  20--

I met ‘Scratch’ when I was caught short one day after a disappointing visit to the Scandinavian supermarket on the Upper Clapton Road. One feature of the AW is the lack of any public conveniences. The nearest one has been converted into a Chinese butchers and another further down Kingsland Road is now some sort of underground nightclub.
I had just toured the aisles of the shop looking for anything that might constitute provisions for the week, only to realise, not for the first time just how little the money we receive could buy.  I decided to abandon my search and walk down to the market at Ridley Road. But, emerging into the cold wind, I was driven down the side alley next to the supermarket to the rear where I hoped to find a discreet corner to relieve myself. 
As I finished availing myself of the lack of facilities, I noticed a young man in a woollen hat sorting through one of a trio of large metal bins next to a set of fire doors belonging to the shop. This was my first sight of Scratch. He was olive skinned, with dark heavy eyebrows, a slight figure and large emerald eyes. His features were delicate and his teeth misaligned at the front, but he was handsome and young and healthy. Rather too healthy, I thought, to be grubbing around in bins.
I don’t know why I walked across to join him. Maybe I was curious about the plastic trays he was studying with such intent before stuffing them into a battered green rucksack covered with scribbled drawings and mysterious slogans. Maybe I was just drawn to his smile as he glanced at me in his amiable way as he sorted.
I asked him what he was doing and he looked me up and down, no doubt taking in my battered shoes and the mud thrown up from the bicycle on my trouser cuffs.  He decided, there and then, that I needed educating.
Later, much later, he told me that unlike most people his age, he often spoke to ‘Olders’ on the street and that I seemed so skinny and lacking in means that he instantly felt responsible for me. So it was that I was introduced to the stunning level of waste in the AW and the art involved in taking advantage of it.
For nearly an hour, I learnt the arcane symbols, colours and dates on the labels of the film-shrouded food items and what they signified. I learnt to discard mostly according to Scratch’s own set of rules that involved not indulging in any product he disapproved of ethically and ones that were obviously rancid. Products from certain countries were not even offered for consideration and at the end of my impromptu lesson, I realised he had sorted two piles, one for him and one for me. I noticed mine were primarily meat based and when I queried this he held up his two index fingers in a cross formation.
‘Don’t eat the flesh, mon cop. But I know most Olders are cannibal protein monkeys. Got you some veg too though, look. Those tomatoes just need the black bits cut out and that jar there is pickled red peppers. No sense dating them really. But they got a corporate policy, see?  Every day around this time, they clear out. You got to be here though. The good stuff is gone by tonight. S’cocktail hour. You wanna come down the towie for a drinkie poo? What’s your tag, Older?’
I smiled, engaged by his cheery, cheeky charm. ‘That’s currently under debate. But you can call me George.’ He cackled in delight and held a mango in his hands, stroking it gently and intoning in a low American drawl, ‘I’ll hug him and I’ll pet him and I will call him George’. I laughed and pointed at his dazed expression.
‘Steinbeck. Lenny from ‘Of Mice and Men’. No?’
He stabbed his broad nose with his finger and pointed back. ‘Zackly. And a Warner Brothers classic cartoon of course. But we are literary men, right?’
We sat shivering at the gouged metal tables outside the ‘The Moon Under Water’ down by the canal so that we could both smoke. We drank cheap dark ales and spoke for some hours after our finances ran out and the lights above the tables shone sodium saucers in the water.
He was a musician of some sort and lived in an abandoned house off the Seven Sisters Road. He was, as he said, a literary man; a voracious reader currently obsessed by Baudelaire and Kurt Vonnegut. I had just started Vonnegut from my reading list, drawn by his experience of the Dresden bombing and we talked for some time about ‘Slaughterhouse Five’, debating the advantages and disadvantages of the author’s fey mannerisms.  It was the first literary debate I’d been able to have since I woke up. Pedro didn’t read and grew impatient with any serious discussion on politics. Scratch’s knowledge was mostly derived from an eclectic and somewhat chaotic self-education. His mother was a Filipino cleaner who barely spoke English but his father had been a Cambridge don and therefore his reading was wide and varied, taking in everything from Gissing to the ‘The Hotspur’ comic from my own era and much else besides. He was appalled that I hadn’t yet been to the cinema and insisted that he would ‘score’ us a couple of tickets one Wednesday.
I didn’t fully understand his name. He told me it was derived from his habit of fighting with his brother in a manner that resembled some legendary animated cartoon combatants. His friends found their frequent wrestling bouts amusing and christened them after a particularly destructive contest in a lounge bar of a hostelry that had subsequently barred them for life. He refused to give his real name saying it gave people ‘power over you’.
At one point he mentioned H.G. Wells and I let slip that we had once had an acrimonious lunch after which he had written me a letter calling me a shit. Scratch looked at me with some amusement and passed no comment. But as we parted, promising to meet again at the bins the following day, he pulled up my hair a little at the front and put his head on one side, his eyes twinkling.
‘That’s better’ he said. ‘Makes you look more like the man.’
‘Who?’ I asked.

He laughed and walked away, waving. ‘The only George that matters.’