Written 29 October 1989
P and I got up late, but gained an hour as the clocks had gone back. Read the paper for a bit, then we went for one of our long walks, despite the rain, and ended up in Battersea Arts Centre again.
We sat by a large window, ordered cider and cauliflower cheese, looked out at the rain and occasionally made snide remarks about people at other tables. There was an individual we had seen there before, to whom we referred sardonically as ‘the New Man’. He was obviously quite well off, but wore an ancient woolly jumper with gaping holes at each elbow. He was ostentatiously affectionate towards a little brat who was running wild. P and I decided that he worked in computers and was a local Labour Party activist.
I was considering the spoilt child’s unpleasant voice when P found a bug in her cauliflower cheese, which turned out to be part of a general infestation, shared by my portion. We had it replaced by chicken, and I ordered more cider at the bar … while the barmaid was filling one of the pints the tap ran dry, so she topped it up with a different kind of cider from a large plastic bottle. Being the mild, agreeable sort, I didn’t object.
Two teenage girls were shouting and giggling at a table near us: P had christened them Martha and the Vandella, as she had caught them vandalizing the women’s toilet. Two men entered and sat at the table next to M and the V. The elder was dishevelled and looked eccentric; the other was bald, with bulging eyes and an unintelligent aspect. They quickly formed the opinion that M and the V were laughing at them (whereas in fact laughter was their natural state). The elder man announced to them that what they needed was ‘a hot man’ … This induced fresh paroxysms; indeed, Martha, who was fat, was forced to run to another table in order to have more room to laugh.
P and I, in our unkind way, had taken to referring to the latest arrivals as Moorhen and Coot. At this point P cattily announced to me that what Moorhen needed was a hot man. It was still raining heavily, so we decided to have another pint of cider. It was pleasant to observe the increasing puddles from our comparatively lofty perch.
Moorhen (the older man) began to play the piano, which was close to our table. He played classical music reasonably competently but stiffly. Coot stayed at the table and read a book, apparently oblivious to all else but glancing up when Moorhen played a wrong note or stopped momentarily.
Eventually Moorhen ceased to tinkle the ivories, to polite applause from everyone present except Coot, who clapped loudly. He proceeded to engage P and me in conversation.
Virtual monologue soon took the place of social intercourse, as Moorhen seemed to have some interesting insights into the world situation. P and I sipped our fourth pint of cider and listened politely; I interjected from time to time.
Moorhen gradually shifted from political generalities to his obsession – the Masons. He hammered the table violently with his right index finger as he detailed the real power in this (and every) country. Ireland, for example, interested him only in so far as he claimed that Catholic and Protestant businessmen cooperated Masonically in Belfast – a unique situation, he said.
Moorhen was driving P to dislike him by the force of his diatribe; the last straw came when he cited rape with broken bottles in Chile and Coot seemed to find this amusing. P walked out and I followed, pausing only to be shown the range of Masonic handshakes and to ask whether Brendan Bracken [a relation of mine, whose biography I was reading at the time] had been a Mason. ‘Yes’ was the answer … inducted by Churchill himself.
P and I, comfortably numb, went out into the continuing rain and caught a 77 home to Tooting.