Felix texts me at 8.30am to say John Lennon will be early.
I wasn’t asleep. I’d been awake since about five, going over a few things in my head, ruminating, worrying. I made coffee at six, gazed over the lake for a while, watched the sun come up. As usual, a pretty underwhelming experience. It hovers near the horizon for a while and then just plops itself into the sky, like someone’s flicking a switch somewhere. Perhaps they are. Then I put some music on, did a bit of pacing. I’ve become very good at pacing. I finally lay back down at about ten to seven, but no sleep came. I’ve only had four hours, but of course that doesn’t matter. We don’t need sleep, but people do it anyway.
So Lennon was supposed to arrive at eleven, but Felix says he’s boarding the Trav right now. Everyone’s always early around here. Drives me nuts. Anyway: zone T136 to zone T109 takes about an hour, so he’ll be arriving at approximately half nine. I’d better get my shit together. I sigh and swing my feet out of the bed onto the permanently fluffy white carpet. It always amuses me, this carpet; it looks straight out of a display home for a 1980s housing development in Florida or somewhere. Actually, that goes for the interior of my whole house. Yellow walls and pastel sofa covers. Too many cushions. Nondescript art in rubbishy gold frames. Glass coffee tables with those horrible curvy metal legs that I always bash my ankle on. Felix says this is the kind of stuff they give you when they don’t know what you really want. Fair point, I suppose; I never did have a particularly strong sense of home style. Of course, I could swap some of it at a Memory Store. But who can be arsed to do that?
My wardrobe, however, they got right. Decent jeans and a few combats, DMs, a couple of jackets: a reasonable denim one, a bashed up leather like De Niro’s in Midnight Run – nice touch – and a geeky blue blazer with a few badges, CND, Screamadelica, Meat Is Murder. Then an okay selection of T-shirts: Pixies, Cure, Joy Division, that kind of thing… and Glastonbury 2004, the first year I went with Saffron, coincidentally or not. So I don’t have to fake anything there, at least.
I dive into the shower. We don’t need to wash, but people do it anyway. Old habits die hard. For me it’s one of the few things I actually enjoy; it feels real, calming, and it’s free, obviously. I’ve been known to shower for many hours. Today I allow myself twenty minutes and then jump out, marvelling, not for the first time, at the absence of the chill one usually feels between leaving the shower and wrapping yourself in a towel. But no towels needed here. The water does its slightly creepy vanishing-into-my-skin thing and I’m ready to throw my clothes on, but I stop for a moment to glance in the mirror.
This glance reveals a curious crossbreed. The hair is from that brief moment in 1991 when it had both texture and gravity on its side. Dark brown with the slightest hint of sun-bleached red, it flops in the right places and stays back if I ask it nicely. But I haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on with the body. It’s relatively tanned and the shoulders are broad, suggesting a snapshot from that Greek holiday we took in 2006, but there’s back hair, which I never had, and an unbelievably horrible beer paunch that nothing will shift – and believe me, I’ve tried. To make matters worse, whichever dipshit selected the T-shirts didn’t account for this bulge, and they’re all size medium. The only ones that don’t make me look like an out-of-shape A&R man are the aforementioned Glastonbury classic and a rather questionable late-90s Blur number. Thank goodness nothing needs to be laundered, is all I can say.
I sling on the Glasto shirt and some jeans, light a cigarette and call Felix. He picks up on the second ring.
‘Podge,’ he says.
‘Bollocks,’ he replies. ‘You’re gonna charm the little round spectacles off him.’
‘Why’s he so early?’
‘Who cares? Everyone’s bloody early. But listen. I need you to bring him round to the West Gate instead of the East.’
‘The West Gate?’
‘Yup. Robert Palmer’s meant to arrive at ten and I don’t want one of those bloody awful clashes like when Barry White arrived at the same time as Luther Vandross.’
‘Ah,’ I respond distractedly, searching around for my sunglasses.
‘Is that gonna be a problem for ya, Podge?’
‘No, not at all. Got it.’
‘I don’t want any nasty surprises today, yeah? Things being the way they are.’
‘Sure, I know.’
‘It’s better anyhow, ‘cos you can bring Lennon straight to my office before taking him through security, okay? I wanna say hi.’
‘Good luck. Oh… and don’t ask him loads of questions about The Beatles.’
‘Yes, yes. Of course not.’
‘All right. Later.’
He hangs up.
I’m now more nervous than ever. I look over at the drinks cabinet – I mean, a drinks cabinet, a mahogany drinks cabinet, who do they think I am, some American former politician? – and I actually wonder whether I should have a quick shot of something before leaving, although I know this is certain to be completely pointless. I eye the rather dispiriting selection, if you’ll pardon the pun: blended whisky, nondescript gin, standard vodka and a bottle of dark something I’ve never investigated. I settle for the vodka, of which I pour a generous measure in one of the fussy cut-glass tumblers neatly arranged on the little shelf. I knock it back. A slight tingle, a minor burn in my throat, a brief feeling in my head like I’m floating along… then nothing. Straight back to how I was before.
Damned automatic regeneration. Makes it so hard to get even remotely fucked up. I finish my cigarette, locate my shades in the kitchen then return to the wardrobe to grab the geeky blazer – I’m thinking the record-shop nerd look might soften a few of Lennon’s famous edges – and stride to my front door. As usual, I stop at the picture I’ve stuck to the wall. A girl’s face, hand-drawn, using some old coloured pencils I found in one of the bedroom cupboards. I was never any good at drawing, and the general rule is: everything I used to be crap at, I’m still crap at. But drawing is the one area where I’d have welcomed an exception: I could reproduce in glorious Pencilcolor, from memory, the places I’ll never see again, and the faces I guess I won’t see for quite a while. All for myself to mope at when I’m feeling particularly down in the dumps. But I can’t. To say my drawings are childlike would be of considerable insult to most children I ever knew. This sketch hanging next to my front door is supposed to be a portrait of Saff, who is a pretty girl, but for some reason I’ve made her look like she’s recovering from major facial surgery. But I managed to get the eyes right. Every day I stare into her dreamy hazelnut eyes for a few moments before I leave the house. I kid myself that she’s aware of me doing this, and that maybe she’s doing something similar, and that it’s keeping us connected somehow. Sad, isn’t it? And we’re not supposed to feel sad. But I do anyway.
‘Have a good day, Saffy,’ I mutter, then wander outside.