THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
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Lunch

Img_0159_2 Hand on closed book, I look through smoked glass at planks lit by watery Moscow sunshine. My book and my meal are both finished; my coffee cup is drained. To my left a couple speak earnest Russian. They laugh. I glance and smile wryly. Their eyes shine. In their mutual ease, I had thought them married. Now I doubt it.

To my right two young men speak, and perhaps hear, in the common language of commerce. Their words are clumsy and inexplicably serious. Is it the effort of concentration? What price do they pay to squeeze their thoughts through this straw?

“My computer clock is on French time. Every day it is five - then ‘Oh my God, no!’ It is already seven.”

Beyond them, two femmes d’un certain age illustrate “tete a tete”. You could not slip a petal between their carefully moisturised foreheads. They have only to extend their tongues to touch. For a moment that seems absurdly possible. Then they wag again.

“I always ask for exit row, but never get it. You know this row? There is more space there.”

I glance at my watch. I gaze at the dust-jacket, irritated. A life measured in books. Since childhood, an unbroken hiss of author noise muffling my own thoughts. Books measured by the time they linger. This one was too good; too fast. The world is loud and annoyingly clear without the author’s hiss. I listen.

“Yesterday I had mushrooms stuffed with cheese; very traditional.”

The second man nods. Does he smile inside at such certainty in his interest? A sudden amused insight; if this is conversation, I need never have been shy.

“No workflow. No nothing. Just pure email.”

I rise to leave, thinking of the next book. There is always a book. Bad ones linger in the hand; good ones linger in the mind. Perhaps there have been too many?

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