Thats right, it is a little beyond the six-mile radius from Charing Cross, which is the theoretical limit of the London streets we have to learn. Theoretical? He doesnt expect to hear this word out of my lower-class lips, lips he sees flapping in the rearview. Hes putting together a photofit of me from lips, chin and the back of my head. He aint fooled by the baseball cap and he likes that Im going bald, as a fatty it gives him the drop. Yeah put him still more at his ease, this cunt could be an earner theoretical, because in practice we also have to know a fair bit of the suburbs, which would cover Mill Hill as well. Uh huh. The fare was satisfied, hed marked his card, hed shown Dave he wasnt just another dumb tourist who thinks London is a nine-hundred-square-mile souvenir T-shirt, decorated with tit-helmeted coppers, red phone boxes, Mohican-sporters, tiara-jockeys and black-bloody-cabs. The fare looked to the left at the avenue of plane trees running up to Speakers Corner. He looked to the right at the tiny road-cleaning machine bumping along the gutter, its circular electric brushes polishing the York stone molars. He was lost, momentarily, in a reverie provoked by a pair of backpacking lovers, wet-weather freaks, who were leaning up against the lip of a fountain, her thighs imprisoned in his. He was thinking about his family and Afghanistan.
Kinduv weird being in Europe. I imagine youd rather be at home, what with all this business In Afghanistan, you bet I would. Sure, its crazy to think youre any more at risk here, or your familys any more at risk if youre not there, but still Youd rather be with them. And so would I, in a small clean family hotel on Gloucester Place, seventy quid a night, walking tour of Bloomsbury inclusive. Two big, burger-stuffed kids, plenty of metalwork in their mouths, Mom in a beige trouser suit. I want his family so I can slot them into the gap left by my own.
Id booked the flight before 9/11, I figured it would be giving like succour to the enemy if I didnt come over. Gotcha. Eek-eek the wipers went; the cab braked, then heeled over to join the other rusty hulks cruising around Marble Arch, a reef of Nash that loomed up out of the silty drizzle. I tell you something, cabbie. Tell me everything, you dumb motherfucker, pour it all out. I didnt vote for Bush, but I reckon hes handling this OK, and it wasnt the Twin Towers that set me against these Taliban fellows though Lord knows it was a terrible thing but I knew these were dreadful people when they blew up those two ancient statues of the Buddha, you know the ones? Yes. Fellows? Lord knows!? Any folk who could destroy a thing of ancient beauty so brutally . . . well, nothing they could do would surprise me after that . . .and the way they treat their women too.
So far as Im concerned the way they treat their women is the best thing going for those fuckers . . . keep those bints in line, I say . . . you take my ex, shes only gone and slapped a fucking restraining order on me, now thatd never appen in Kabul, Id have er trussed up in one of them black cloaky things before she could say CSA . . . I couldnt agree with you more. Very sad business. Coz they should go a bit bloody further take the kids offa them no kids, no bloody power over us . . .
Past the Odeon, with its egg-box roof, the cab squealed to a halt at some lights and the meter which had been ticking away with generous increments slowed to a trickle of pence. After fifteen years of cabbing Dave Rudman was so finely attuned to the meter that he could minutely calibrate it with his own outgoings. At the beginning of each day a spreadsheet popped up behind his heavy eyelids, and as he drove, picking up and dropping off, ranking up and driving again so the figures were instantly calculated to inform him whether he was ahead or behind, if he could pay for his diesel, his insurance, his cab repayments, his food, his fags, his booze, his prescriptions, his child support and his divorce lawyer. At 8 p.m., when the second tariff band comes in, the figures alter accordingly; at 10 p.m., when the third starts, they change again. But they all oughta be the bloody same: 6 to 2, 2 to 10, 10 to 6. That way, you know what youre getting punters inall. In the future the tariffs will be equal, oh, yeah. Time, distance and money the three dimensions of Dave Rudmans universe. Up above it all was the Flying Eye, Russ Kane trying to make a joke out of a fucking lorry whats shed its load at the Robin Hood Roundabout . . .
Excerpted from The Book of Dave by Will Self Copyright © 2006 by Will Self. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury Press (USA). All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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