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Low life

Horse power

Jeremy Clarke reports on his Low Life

3 February 2010

12:00 AM

3 February 2010

12:00 AM

After tea on Saturday I had an argument with myself about whether to stay in or go to the pub. The timid side of me listed several valid reasons for staying in, including the 20-mile round trip on icy roads. These my intrepid side sarcastically dismissed one by one, insisting that they merely added up to the single fact that I’ve become a bore. I decided in the end to stay in and read an improving book.

Slightly regretting the decision, I chucked another log on the fire, took another sip of green tea, and focused my concentration on Bernard Crick’s jaunty introduction to Machiavelli’s Discourses. After half a page my mobile rang. It was Tom. He was speaking from a noisy pub and slurring his words. ‘Jerry, I’m looking for horse,’ he yelled. ‘Horse?’ I said, wondering if I’d heard right. ‘Horse!’ he yelled again.

I haven’t seen Tom for over a year. To be honest, the emerging old bore in me has been avoiding him. He’s a lovely bloke, and great fun to go out for a drink with, but there’s no limit to what he might do after a few. He’s broken nearly every bone in his body over the years, or had them broken for him. The last time I went out with him he was nursing a broken rib sustained during a drinking game, and in the course of the evening he was punched in the jaw, fracturing it so badly that his mouth had to be wired shut, and for six weeks he could take in only liquids through a straw.


Tom seems to think that I am also a person without limits. The man is a total lunatic and yet he has somehow got it into his head that I am even madder than he is, and therefore the only person he knows with whom he can truly express the fullness of his nature during a night out. His admiration for me borders on worship. As he sees it, there’s just me and him: the top-rated space cadets in the academy. (This unmerited, onerous and potentially dangerous accolade was another reason for staying in.) He rings me three or four times a year to try to persuade me to come out for a drink. Tom is the most sociable man alive, and he always passes me on to whomever he’s with at the time. More often than not it’s a woman with whom he is resting in bed. I couldn’t imagine for one moment that he was looking for horse. Most likely, it was a beatnik euphemism he’d only recently heard, been tickled by, and was flogging to death.

Then Tom said he’s going to pass me over to Brendan. This Brendan can only be described in the same terms that the headmaster of Harrow described the 6th Marquis of Bath: he is a ‘moron beyond reach’. He is also the local ketamine king. I think that in years to come we will know which generation people belong to by the kind of brain damage they have. The ecstasy generation won’t be able to remember their own names, the coke generation will be depressed, and the ketamine generation will have slipped below octopus and the cockle in the IQ stakes. Vets use ketamine to tranquillise large animals. It is a measure of Brendan’s dull-wittedness that on ketamine he appears slightly more vivacious than usual.

For about half a minute I could hear only the uproar of the pub. Finally, Brendan came on. ‘I love you, man,’ he said. ‘I don’t know who you are, but I love you. Talk to me, man. What are you doing? What are you doing right now, dude? I want to know.’ I said I was reading. ‘What are you reading, man? What’s it saying?’ I think Tom must have primed Brendan by telling him that I am the Daddy, and that I should be listened to with awe and respect.

I told Brendan that I was reading Bernard Crick’s introduction to Machiavelli’s Discourses. I said that Bernard Crick says the democratic belief that because men are equal in some things they are equal in all is a dangerous fallacy. Crick says that, for Machiavelli, equality is extremely important. But not for all; only for a large minority of taxpayers. He sees democracy to mean in principle the rule of opinion; constitutionally the rule of the many; and socially the rule of the poor.

‘Wicked, man!’ said Brendan. ‘Dude, I don’t know who you are, but I love you. We’re looking for horse.’ After that, all I could hear on the other end of the phone was the hubbub of a busy pub’s Saturday night. Then the phone went dead. I took another sip of green tea, shifted my toes a little closer to the fire, and returned to Bernard Crick’s scrupulous thoughts about Machiavelli.


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