Well, we aim to please, sir. Most London cabbies see themselves as ambassadors for the city, part driver, part tour guide. Dave slowed the cab before the junction with Sussex Gardens, allowing a Hispanic woman wearing a fur-trimmed denim jacket to shepherd her great shelf of bosom across the road. He sensed the fares approbation like a sunlamp on his bald spot. Now to the right here, sir, almost all the property between here and Baker Street is owned by the Portman family; not a lot of people realize how much of London is concentrated in the hands of a very few, very rich people.
Thats very inner-resting.
Im glad you think so, sir, and this road were driving up, you mayve noticed that its very straight for a London road, thats because its the old Roman Watling Street.
You dont say. I do fucking say. I fucking know. I know it all I hold it all. If all of this were swamped, taken out by a huge fucking flood, whod be able to tell you what it was like? Not the fucking Mayor or the Prime Minister thats for sure. But me, an umble cabbie.
Yes, if we were here seventeen hundred years ago, we mightve seen a legion marching off to Chester, on its way up north to duff up a bunch of blue-painted savages.
The cab, its wipers eek-eeking, pulled away from the lights and scraped by the concrete barnacles of the Hilton tucked beneath the Marylebone Flyover. It was late lunchtime on a wet December day, so the shop windows were lighting up. Dave tried to imagine who who he knew might be the type to have pitched up in a room there, for no other reason but to smoke crack with brasses from the Bayswater Road and rape the minibar. From some dark rank in his memory a recollection pulled away: Superb Sid, Sid Gold . . . picked im up last year outside the Old Curiosity Shop . . . He was looking pretty fucking flush, pretty pleased with imself. Bespoke fucking whistle, cashmere overcoat, the whole bit. He wouldntve done me any favours if Id reminded im of the perm he used to sport at school. He became a brief, didnt e, criminal fucking brief in both senses. Gave me his card. Ponce. Still, hes the type Im gonna need because that Cohen cow aint gonna come through. If Im gonna see the boy again, Im gonna have to get some dirt on that cunt Devenish. There has to be some . . . there always is . . .all you gotta do is dig.
My oldest son would be fascinated by this stuff, said the fare, whod relaxed now they were trundling past Little Venice and up through Maida Vale. Hes a history geek . . . gets it from his dad, I guess. The fare looked about him at the five-storey Tudorbethan apartment blocks, and, as if taking comfort in their solidity, unglued his hands from the handles and at last eased himself back in the seat.
Dave hit the intercom button a plastic nubbin incised with a hieroglyphic head: Yeah, I always think of Watling Street as a sorta time tunnel, connecting the past with the present. Whats the point in knowing theres a time tunnel there if youve got no one to go down it with? Now I understand that I learned this city to hold in my mind for a while then lose it to my boy. Without him its starting to disappear like a fucking mirage.
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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