Behind me in the members’ room at the British Museum, two women speak in low voices of a bequest from a man with a 95-year-old widow whom they are being careful not to pressurise. I remember getting dropped off at my grandfather’s office around the corner when I was 8 or so; he worked for a shipping company in a building that has since been demolished, and the enormous turquoise galleon that is University College Hospital built on top. Together we walked up Gower Street and spent an hour peering silently into cases of medieval Hebrew bibles. I came too on several school trips: mostly, as is the law, to visit the Ancient Egyptian galleries. At one time, I owned several sarcophagus pencil cases from the gift shop and a handful of tiny scarab beetles, lapis blue.
One time I held hands with Amy Winehouse.
I never knew her
but I felt like I did. She was everybody’s cousin’s cousin, or
old family friend. At a gig in the back room of the Dublin Castle,
Claudia and I elbowed our way to the front. She (Amy, not Claudia)
was engaged and shouting about her ring,
already kind of shambolic.
Amy held out her hand and I held out mine.
I like your bag, she said. It was orange and plastic,
like a 1970s aviation carry-on, so
probably she didn’t mean it. When she died,
I was babysitting two sad little girls
down the road from where she’d lived. The girls
kept asking to see the house and the flowers.
I didn't take them.
Last time I got my head cut open,
about the only thing I noticed
was the pair of dumpy wooden swing doors
to the operating theatre.
They seemed to me splintery,
and on each was stencilled a quartet
of inscrutable, rune-like figures.
Set against the mint
and stainless steel of the rest of the place
the doors were incongruous, a hangover
from a previous age, when
surgery was performed
with rusty fire hooks
and zero anaesthetic.
I shuffled past in my disposable slippers.