Excerpt from ‘Composer at Large’ Fictionalised Diary Memoir written 2007-2009
Stanwell, Tuesday 29 January 2008
A Case of Fruit and Nuts (excerpt)
Six weeks have passed since I made any effort to record my descent into hell. These long, desolate weeks were interrupted by the short-lived brightness of Christmas, which came and went. The sun appeared for a short time this morning and made me think spring had arrived early. An hour later I was proved wrong when clouds of correction moved in and drew a mighty set of curtains around old Helios.
For once I didn’t have to teach. This cheered me up no end. I cleaned my cell, which is now brightened by a broad smile, since a calendar with scenes of tropical beaches hangs on the cell door. It was a smart move on Venke’s part to give me twelve glorious views of paradise as a Christmas present. This month’s smile comes from Martinique. The beach is deserted; a palm tree pitched at an acute angle stands in the middle of the photograph and seems to be waving to me. Whenever my mind is filled with darkness I look to Martinique for support, and trust I shan’t remain in limbo for much longer.
The only indignity I’ve suffered recently began in early December with the arrival of a new inmate at the Key Workers’ Paradise in Stanwell. He’s called Stew and comes from Abingdon and occupies the cell next door. He delivers parcels for a courier company, but says he’s really a social worker. He claims to have taught adults. This is probably the subterfuge he used to get into Paradise. He’s about twenty-five with shoulder-length brown hair that desperately needs cutting. His teeth likewise need attention. The front ones look as if bits have broken off. They give his smile ‘the pumpkin look’. When he arrived he seemed civil enough. Then one Saturday morning he confronted me in the communal kitchen, complaining about how loud my radio was. I told him I couldn’t hear anything. He insisted he could hear music coming from my cell. He took me to his cell and I noticed how comfortable his double bed seemed, with two or three football mascots dressed in Reading colours lying on top of the duvet. Neither of us could hear a radio, so he said I must have switched it off. I denied this and looked him straight in the eye. He was wearing a pair of long white trousers and was bare-chested. His pale muscular arms drew my attention because of the many red marks on them. Drugs came to mind. Anger, I felt sure, simmered just beneath the surface of his benign smile. He told me I was a considerate person. I agreed with him. Soon I gathered he listened to heavy metal bands, which didn’t suit my musical tastes. Next he moved a television set and a play station, along with an eighty-eight key keyboard into his cell, and started swearing a lot. I could hear four letter words coming through the paper-thin cell walls at regular intervals. He explained this away by saying he played a computer game in which he was a football manager who had to take a lot of flak from the team he managed. I had the distinct impression he thought I was in his team, since most of the expletives were directed at me. He fell out of bed one morning and I woke from a dream in which an apoplectic Jeff Coombes was telling me that his orchestra would never play another note of mine again because he no longer had any regard for me. A couple of weeks later Stew moved heavy weight-lifting equipment into his cell. At last I knew why his arms were more developed than the rest of his body. On more than one occasion he collapsed beneath the weights and I received a terrific jolt when they hit the floor. He did this one evening about a fortnight ago and the Key Workers’ Paradise fire alarm went off. Like all good KWers we made our way to the Assembly Area and waited for the emergency services to arrive. Stew came up to me and I asked him if he’d had a bad evening. He exploded like Vesuvius and his words made me think he was going to strike me as if I wasn’t gold. He was clearly under the impression I thought his weights had set the alarm off. Later I learnt that a retarded nurse had lit candles in a communal kitchen to celebrate a new romance. Her heartfelt preparations had alerted a zealous smoke detector.
Ever since then Stew stomps up and down the corridor, right outside my cell door, in order to make sure I know just how much he hates me.
A few nights ago, while I was working on my Piano Concerto No 2 at my laptop, Stew could be heard talking to his mother on his mobile (I could hear most of the conversation, since the sound was amplified, presumably because of the tinnitus he claims to be suffering from), so I shoved a pair of earplugs into my ears as far as they would go. A couple of hours later I became aware that someone was trying to open my cell door because the door handle kept popping up and down. I pulled the earplugs out, opened the door and found a wild-looking young man with dark hair staring at me. He was bare-chested and barefoot and wore a pair of black slacks. His anguished face couldn’t prevent my eyes from being drawn to his unsightly potbelly. He apologised for his ‘mistake’ and I shut the door. Next minute I heard him trying to open Stew’s door. Stew, apparently asleep, woke up, rushed out of his cell, and started running up and down the corridor, shouting and banging on as many cell doors as possible (though not on mine, needless to say), trying to find out whether anybody else had been the victim of an attempted break-in. The rumpus went on for two hours. The police came to investigate before sleep took over. I later learnt that the stranger had thought the retarded nurse, who had lit the offending candles, was a prostitute. He’d tried to proposition her and she’d phoned the police. I felt sorry for him. He was simply trying to find a place to hide following his indiscretion. It now turns out he’s an inmate at the Key Workers’ Paradise and not a visitor -though I don’t know, as yet, what he does for a living. Stew now treats his cell like Fort Knox and stomps up and down the corridor with a huge set of keys, which jangle a great deal, tied round his waist.