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Last week of April

It is possible to get from Lézardrieu to St. Malo. On the map behind the window of the Syndicat d’Initiative, closed at this hour, a black hatched line runs from Paimpol to a spidery network which connects with St Malo. Paimpol is six kilometers from Lézardrieu. I walk there. There is a gare. It is closed now. There are three trains on weekdays. The first departs at 1017 and arrives at Guingamp at 1102. I walk back to Lézardrieu. It rains.

In the morning the front door of the hotel is locked, as is the door into the bar. Try another door. A woman and a man look up from breakfast. Try a smile. Some gesturing with the room key. She disappears upstairs and returns with a bill for 70 francs. That leaves 340. “Taxi?” I ask. Emphatic nods. I go out with my heavy kit bag, my ditty bag and the sleeping bag and stand in the road.

A thick, chill sea fog fills the street. No yachts will slip their moorings in the Trieux until late morning. But then the tide doesn’t turn towards the sea anyway until 1209. There is an empty taxi in the hotel car park, covered with dew. A young man comes out of the hotel zipping up an anorak. He is the taxi driver and lodges in the hotel. He already knows the destination is Paimpol. Was it he who drove Matty to the rail station last November? If I could speak French better I could ask him.

From the suspension bridge there is a view of the river winding up-country into the mist. The tide is flooding. To slip into France without showing a passport I had hitched a berth as a spare crewman on a British yacht sailing from La Coruña. While we were coming upriver yesterday I read in Reed’s Almanac that at mean high water springs the bridge is 66 feet above the river.

We reach the gare with time in hand. The charge is 38 francs, plus tip, which makes 40. Which leaves 300. The ticketmaster says the price of a ticket to St Malo is 800 and something francs. I ask the ticket master to write it out. He writes 88. I ask again, with grunts and hands, where one has to change. This produces the following manuscript:


Paimpol

Guingamp

St Brieuc

Dinan

Dol

1017

1122

1242

1326

1600

Guingamp

St Brieuc

Dinan

Dol

St Malo

1102

1158

1320

1352

1617


Are these changes or stops? No matter. It is a meticulous guide and deserves a “Merci beaucoup.”

The train is already in the station. It has two carriages, with enormous panoramic windows at both ends. I sit in the first seat of the first carriage so I can see the names of the stations as they come into view. I would be very exposed in a head-on collision. What is the relative incidence of head-on v. rear-end rail collisions?

The train glides out of the station and draws the curving track beneath the panoramic window of the front carriage. It travels along the river. It stops at tiny stations where people get on or off; at other stations without people on the platform the train slows but does not stop. On the sharper bends it sways like a roller coaster.

I’m not surprised that Charlie Segui didn’t like me. I took the piss out of the little bugger since he was ten years old. But how could he hate me? I don’t hate him. Even though he schemed to implicate me in Colonel Meeker’s disappearance. He hated me so much he tried to kill me by getting me to sail with Lord Nick when he scuttled the Grace of God. I don’t hate him. Charlie was a weasel, but he was not evil. He was just frightened. And full of hateful envy. How can hate be so long-lasting? And so well concealed? Is there loathing behind every smile? Do they all really hate me?

The sun begins to warm through the fog. Now the train has parted from the river and clatters through fields carpeted in fresh green growth. Guingamp comes into view and when it is reached all of the passengers disembark. The station clock works and the train is precisely on time.

Timetables are posted in the station. The 1122 appears to go to Paris and not to St Brieuc. Another notice indicates that the next train to St Brieuc is not until 1420.

There is a long queue at the information window. By the station clock it is almost 1122. I thrust the timetable written by the Paimpol ticket master through the grate. “Est-ce okay?” The uniformed man in charge of information at the railway station in Guingamp frowns over it. But that is because the list begins with Paimpol, and not Guingamp, where we are. He reads each entry aloud, and ticks them with his pencil while a train pulls into the station. He is finished and says, “C’est okay.” I say “Merci beaucoup” to him, meaning it for his meticulous colleague in Paimpol and run for the train.

This is the mainline Paris express. More farm land slips past the windows.

Superbloke was a pompous ass, a confidence trickster who got on by cheating people. He tried to cheat Angie by mortgaging Westowe Castle to him in order to mount the exhibition. When that scheme backfired he concocted an opportunistic plot to drown Angie and me. It was not imaginative. It was just what he knew his father had done to my parents. It was the desperate instinct of a desperate man. Superbloke was not by nature evil; his entire raison d’etre — his ego — was at stake. If he’d not been scuppered by Colonel Meeker’s Lloyds syndicate, he would have invited us to a sherry party instead of luring us into The Devil’s Frying-pan.

At St Brieuc there is a large station bar-and-restaurant staffed by four stout bleached blondes who are no longer thirty-something. At the bar I ask for un verre de vin blanc. The response sounds like “Muscadet ou Loire?” But Muscadet is a Loire wine. Or is it not? “Muscadet” I say and receive a tiny measure of sour white liquid in a long-stemmed straight-sided little goblet. The tables are serviced by one of the blonde waitresses. I sit down anyway.

A tall, dark handsome woman strides by my table, crisp and tailored in a beige, belted trouser suit. She disappears upstairs to another, probably better, restaurant. But no one has come in yet who would appear to be a suitable luncheon companion for her, nor does anyone. I order another vin blanc, properly this time from the table waitress. Nevertheless, I am summoned to the counter to have my glass refilled by the bar lady.

Superbloke’s father, Thomas Goodfellow — ‘Uncle Tom’ — now surely there was an evil man. He fucked my mother. He killed her and my father as well, luring them into the death trap his son later set again for Angie and me. For what gain? None. A jealous, mindless rage probably. Not evil, but temporarily insane. Which he demonstrated later by tossing himself over a cliff.

Dinan is the crucial point of the schedule. Only six minutes are allowed to discover the connection to Dol (de Bretagne). The train is poky, without panoramic windows. It appears to terminate at Dinan. Outside, on the platform, there is some conversation about the connection to Dol. When I ask him, the man sitting opposite, who looks like a subnormal Jean-Paul Belmondo, makes sitting gestures. I get off anyway, when I notice that Dinan is marked on the windows of the carriage. Across the platform is another train with Dol written on the windows. I get on it. The station clock works and the train leaves five minutes late. On the reverse of the forward seat a sign reads Dossiers inclinables. The origin of doss house?

Was my mother evil for cheating on my father? Was my father evil for hitting her? Was it evil for my mother to teach me guilt by making me jam butties and buying me comic books when I had misbehaved? Or was that good training for life? I wish I ‘d had the chance to get to know them better.

The station at Dol opens on to a wide, dusty, empty street lined with plane trees sprouting green leaves. The first building on the right, seventy metres away, is the Grand Hotel Dol de Bretagne, signified in faded black letters on flaking whitewash over patches of red brick. A cluster of yellow metal chairs and tables stand on the pavement and on the verge of the road; the Grand Hotel Dol de Bretagne is open.

There is a woman behind the bar. Thirty-five, blonde, erect, warm and womanly. Her eyes are unblinking. She knows precisely what she wants when she goes to the butcher and scolds him until she gets it at the right price. Like the self-assured dark-haired girl who used to serve behind the counter at the French patisserie in the Moscow Road in London, but older. Of course, that was some years ago. She’d be about the same age now.

Lord Nick inherited the evil of privilege: his disdain for other people. He couldn’t care less if they lived or died, he would say. Yet, he did care enough for Simon’s wretched life to set an alarm clock when he scuppered the Grace of God. He demanded no more for himself from life than what any of us get at most: a sporting chance.

A glass of vin blanc is procured, an even smaller glass of the same odd straight-sided long-stemmed shape. “Manger?” “Oui.” “Menu?”

I settle my three sacks on the pavement outside. The angular metal chairs have yellow seats and backrests and black tubular frames. The scarred yellow surface of the table is hot from the sun. The patron, slim, dark and efficient, arrives with the menu. I choose from the cheaper 50 franc menu. But how does one pronounce the last syllable of flageolet? As in “lay,” as it turns out.

Lothar was a murderer. He killed Lord Nick, Superbloke and Charlie. Stalked them, took their money and their lives. Why can I not hate him? Because I cannot believe that a man so straightforward, so regular, so uncomplicated — a man who was so friendly to me — can be evil. If he walked down this dusty street right now I would leap up with a broad smile on my face to grasp his hand and clap him on the back — no matter that I would wince when he seized me in his bear grip.

The patron’s daughter, who is a plain, serious girl of about thirteen delivers six slices of bread from a French loaf in an oval ribbed aluminium tray, and foil-wrapped butter on a small white plate with a thin green circle inside the rim. A wasp arrives when the butter is opened.

A plain white plate arrives with a shallow soup bowl, also white, on top of it. Athwart that is a plain green pastel napkin. A knife and fork are placed either side of the plate.

A heap of moules is brought to the table in an aluminium bowl. The bowl is round with a thin outer rim which broadens at opposite sides to form rudimentary handles in the shape of softened diamonds or truncated fleur de lis. Two large serving spoons have been placed in the heap of moules.

Now there are three busy wasps.

What about the living? Many would say that Colonel Meeker is an evil man. He swindled hundreds out of their life savings and drove Charlie, Superbloke and Lord Nick to desperate acts, but these were not his intentions. He was a man driven by the most common motivator — a commanding desire for money — but the consequences of his deception were beyond his calculation. His victims were gullible and greedy. No con-man can succeed without the complicity of his victims. And perhaps a degree of self-deception. In his own bolthole, born-again Archie Crompton seems an agreeable chap who mixes a good G-and-T, generous enough to ignore my previous insulting behaviour to him. More than any of my old friends and lovers, he seemed to enjoy my company.

From time to time workmen go in or out of the bar. Inside, the patron and his blonde wife talk. Their voices are strident. Are they arguing? Yes. No, their daughter is laughing.

On the juke box a woman sings “Ring My Bell” in a dusky voice. A bus draws away from the front of the station. It has only two passengers. Perhaps it goes by road to St Malo, which is only 17 minutes away by rail. It might have been sensible to inquire about a connection.

No, it is better to stay in this quiet street for lunchtime. Or longer. One should stay for a few days and eat through the seven choices of the modest menu at the Grand Hotel de Dol de Bretagne. Another year, perhaps. With a companion, perhaps. A slight wind stirs the wasps away. Now a male voice sings chansons on the juke box.

The patron himself returns with two lamb cutlets on a white plate garnished with one lettuce leaf. He places this on top of another identical white plate. He also brings the flageolet in a small round aluminium bowl. A glass bowl containing lettuce is placed on a white side plate. The dressing glistens in the sunlight. On top of the salad there is a serving spoon facing up, and a fork embracing it face down. The lettuce is slightly brown around the edges, with just a memory of crispness. At home one would throw it away. Here on the flecked yellow metal table in the sunlight incipient decay enhances flavour.

There are six other tables on the pavement and in the margin of the road. Five of them, like this table, have three metal chairs around them. No one sits at any of the other tables.

Matty drives men mad: Bartholomew, Lothar and me, and doubtless others spread from here to the Antipodes whose names she has forgotten. She is careless of other women’s men. And drops them when she finds a new toy. Her fealty is to herself. But if self-centredness and promiscuity of affection were evil all of us would hang. And the Great God Random has dispensed even-handed justice: her serene Assumption into the sanctimony of Motherhood — in her belly a serial murderer’s child — or her father’s — which she bears unknowing.

When Madame arrives to clear away the dishes her blonde hair shows dark roots and silvery streaks. She drops the last remaining piece of bread, then a spoon. She chides herself. She wears dungarees of bright mauve corduroy and a pale mauve cotton T-shirt under the bib and shoulder straps. Her fingernails are red. There are high-heeled black sandals on her feet and her toenails are painted red, too. In the hot sun she leans over the table and she is lush and going off, like the lettuce.

The plane trees spring directly from the border of the roadbed out of groundstuff indeterminate between tarmac and earth. Motorbikes lean on their elbows beneath them.

Madame is generous. She returns with three cheeses on a white plate: a runny brie, a firm slice of St. Paulin and a fat disc of soft, sharp cheese. The butter packet is labelled ‘le beurre que j’adore’ and there is a tiny symbolic picture of two cows kissing. Madame and I smile together in the sunshine.

She also brings three more pieces of bread in the ribbed aluminium bowl. They are fresh to the touch. As she returns into the bar her bottom stretches the stuff of her soft mauve dungarees.

The brie is au point, like Madame.

Bartholomew, driven by the arrogance of the Artist, abandoned his patient, loyal wife in the feckless pursuit of his lost youth. He was immune to her pain and suffering. The Artist’s Defence — that his personality is absorbed and justified by his Art — is a manifestation of overweening ego. And Bartholomew was also absorbed in his pecker. Yet his great, flawed work, the contraption ‘Angel Child’, was a lifelong expression of atonement — because he thought the dead infant was the product of his violation of Angie’s innocence. Never mind that I had been there first. And its destruction brought him back to her, strapped to the broken stem of a mast, upside down and dripping. Ulysses had made good his escape from the sirens.

A small boy wearing a blonde Harpo Marx fright wig for hair comes from inside the bar to stand in the sunlight of the doorway. He is wearing a checked cotton T-shirt and tan shorts with braces. The shorts reach almost to his knees. A passable small clown. He mouths a harmonica, and when he goes back inside the musical noise continues for a while. Then it stops. An older girl in a pinafore makes an appearance, too. Madame’s ripe belly has given birth to three children. I think I am falling in love with her.

The round cheese is strong and has an almost liquid centre.

A church bell chimes: four double rings followed by three Morse dots. 1500. The train to St Malo departs at 1600. This place will be here tomorrow. But it will be different tomorrow.

The St Paulin is mild and greasy from the sun.

Not all of the metal yellow and black tables are square like this one. Three, those outer ones actually in the roadway, are round. And the chairs are not all identical either. One type has angular tubes bent into angles for arms; the other type has no arms.

Angie stands amongst the angels. Though her morality is as elusive as any of ours. She lied about her abortion. She scuppered my chances with Matty by leading me to believe I might be her father. She had an infant stuffed, for God’s sake. And she persisted in the lie that the dead infant was hers, which kept Bartholomew her liege, stewing in guilt. She killed a man. Not quite in self defence. To save Matty? To balance the scales of justice with the man she thought was Bartholomew? A woman scorned once too often? She collaborated without demur in the cover-up organised by Spider. She dropped me — but then she had a right to. It was not revenge; on her scales the needs of others weigh heavier — her daughter Matty, her unborn grandchild, who may be misconceived. She does not love Spider — even he must know that — but she has yielded to him. None of this is evil; it is charity perverted. She seeks redemption through suffering. She suffers as the artist’s selfless muse. Her compassion extends to the crises and pains of other people’s lives. Her reward is to suffer vicariously.

The entire family of the patron is in the bar now, with a young chef, who is having a drink at the bar. Madame gives me the bill, written clearly by hand and without abbreviation, and then the change. I gather up the coins, but the note on the plate is twenty francs. Too large for a tip. Yet the change, one franc coin and 70 centimes, is too small. I have no other change. And not enough French. So I leave the coins and turn for the door.

Au revoir, Monsieur” she says. Is there a mocking lilt in her voice? I pick up the three sacks and walk back up the road to the station. There is no solace for this sadness except to hope that Madame will forget me quickly.

The top floor of the station at Dol has four windows framed by white shutters, with lace curtains bowed at each side. A delicate iron grill-work about a foot high is fixed across the four sills.

Where did I go wrong? Returning to Westowe? Failing to seize the moment with Matty? Leaving Westowe in the first place? Not telling my father of my mother’s infidelity?

I carry a tattered magazine cutting in my wallet. It quotes from G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethixa: “No sufficient reason has ever been found for considering one action more right than another.” Such as the case of the doctor who successfully delivered a fourth child to a couple whose first three children had tragically perished — Klara and Alois Hitler. Life is not linear; it’s a kaleidoscope of unpredictability.

The train to St Malo is again a Paris express and it is full. In the compartment between two carriages there is a slim dark-haired woman who stares at the incomprehensible schematic map of the French railway system for a long time. I move to stand behind her, inhaling her fragrance. More carpets of green sprouts rush by the window.

I wish I had talked to Spider about the nature of evil. In all our years together, in boyhood, in middle age, it never came up. Spider always thinks straight and acts true. Is that because his aspirations are mean? No. He wanted the club to survive and he wanted Angie. To get what he wanted, he played the angles, like a good pool player, but he always played fair, if not exactly square. He did what must be done. He is not evil, but he would know what it is. And what I should do next.

She is petite. She wears black and her short hair is black, too. She has a good figure. Her waist is tiny. A broad tan belt divides her in two. If you picked her up by it she would fold. She turns and her face is pale and faintly freckled. It has a few lines. She has a fine nose and intelligent dark eyes. Her arms are white and freckled too. She goes into one of the carriages and does not return.

As the train approaches St. Malo an Englishman and three beautiful clear-eyed young children crowd into the compartment. The father is tall, with a rugged face and sandy hair. Like Bartholomew, he has caused the letters ‘L-O-V-E’ and ‘H-A-T-E’ to be tattooed on the backs of his fingers. He folds his hands. Love and hate, good and evil intertwine.


In the station at St. Malo there is a large board with a street map showing the location of hotels. The instructions appear to say that if, when a button is pressed, a green light appears beside a hotel, it either has vacancies or it is full up. When I press the button all of the green lights flash on.

A horn honks. A taxi has drawn up behind me. “Monsieur is looking for a hotel with comfort? Cheap price.” He looks like Gerard Depardieu hiding behind a moustache, not Benny Hill, so I permit him to load the heavy kit bag, the ditty bag and the sleeping bag into the boot of his car and transport me to the Auberge de l’Hermine, which according to the map in the station offers rooms for 68 francs and does not require meals. I recognise the winding cobbled streets of St Malo. I have been here before. With a woman. When? With whom? Why? Does she remember? Whoever she was? If neither of us remember, and no one else knows either, does it mean it might as well have never happened? Is it un-history? Perhaps it was Honfleur in any case.

Madame quotes 90 francs for a single room, or perhaps it is 150 because it is a double room. Madame demands dinner, which I presume means not that she is hungry, but that I have to eat there. I go up two flights of stairs to a tidy little room with a double bed, overlooking rooftops.

As the dull sun subsides into the pewter sea I find that there are direct ferries to Plymouth and also to Portsmouth, which take about nine hours. There are several ferries and hydrofoil services to Jersey, with the option of a connection to Guernsey. From either island one can fly to Southampton airport. Or one can stay in St Malo. Or take various side excursions to go and look at places. I wander through the marina looking for flying Union Jacks or yachts that I know. Unsuccessful. I post a note on the notice board in the St Malo Yacht Club. A positive action, at least, which avoids making a decision.


Experienced crew (male) available for Old Blighty this week.

Contact Ernest Golden at Auberge de l’Hermine. (99) 56.31.32.


The next morning my footsteps take me near the Hotel de Ville. The invitation to Bartholomew’s exhibition is in my pocket. It is a trap of some kind, but what is the point of trapping dead meat? I do not expect to see my dead wife there, but I do expect some kind of resolution. I half-expect to see the portrait of Angie/Matty which I last spied hanging on the wall of Colonel Meeker’s Corsican villa a quarter of a year ago. Or was it a quarter of a century?

I am disappointed. The only paintings are dismal swirls of turgid colours reflecting the slime-streaked mud, the swollen clouds and puddled cobblestones that await outside the door. Yet the gallery heaves with earnest tourists. It was not his talent, but the circumstances of his passing that have transformed Bartholomew into an icon. Before each painting I expect a discreet tap on the shoulder, but after half-an-hour I emerge untapped.

On the way back to the hotel I pass the three English children sitting with their father on the wall of the quay, eyes alight with smiles for the petite woman in black who kneels to snap their picture. I have in my mind a beautiful photograph of her taking the photograph, which no one else will ever see. And I know it is possible to get from Lézardrieu to St. Malo. My fiftieth birthday is on Sunday. Some things can’t be shared. No matter. Most things, comes to that.

When I come down to dinner in the dining room with the pink tablecloths and heavy red curtains framing the tall windows with a view of the sun sinking over the rooftops she is there. The petite dark woman with the pale face and the intelligent dark eyes with the little lines in the corners. She is alone at a table laid for one. She orders the seventy franc menu and I have it too, a crevette soufflé and a steak au poivre in tomato sauce avecpommes frites and a lettuce salad, not like the one at the Grand Hotel de Dol de Bretagne. but crisp and fresh, with a subtle dressing. We each have a half-bottle of wine and when I pass her table on the way out I see hers is the same, a Beaujolais-Village.

She does not come into the bar, so I go for a walk. When I come back I return to the bar. She is drinking a pastis. I order a Marc de Bourgogne.

“Good evening.”

“Good evening.”

“Where’s your family?”

“That’s an odd question?”

“Good looking man with sandy hair? Three beautiful blonde children?”

“Don’t I wish.” Then she laughed. She laid her hand briefly on my wrist. She was a toucher. “Oh. He just asked me to take their picture. He’s halfway across the Channel by now. Back home to the wiff.”

“Where are you on the way to?”

“I’m doing my gap year a little late in life. What about you?”

“I could say the same. Have you been to the exhibition?”

“Which exhibition?”

“Bartholomew Streb.”

She shook her head. “Should I have heard of him?” She sounded sorry to disappoint me.

“Modern artist. Lived in Westowe.”

She leaned forward, bright-eyed, anxious to please me. “I’ve heard it’s very pretty.”

“I grew up there.”

“Lucky you.”

“Sure. It’s twinned with St Malo.”

“Hence the exhibition.”

I nodded. She looked at me intently, the way she had looked at the map of the French railway system a few hours ago. “You’re Ernest Golden.”

Christ — a bloody journalist. “How do you know that?”

She moved her finger along a line in the air. “Experienced crew — male — available for Old Blighty anytime this week.”

“You’ve been watching me.”

“Watching me.” She sipped her drink.

“You’re allowed to flirt a little, aren’t you, on your gap year?”

She smiled and inclined a little further across the table. “Do you believe in fate?”

Not a journalist. A nutter. “I believe in coincidence.”

“What about faith?”

“I believe in what I can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. And the Great God Random.”

“Science is just another faith. A way of explaining existence.”

“What do you believe in?”

She looked at me over the rim of her glass. “Do you think I could believe in you?”

Her name was Cordelia Worth and we talked until Madame came into the bar and pointed at her watch. At her door Cordelia kissed both my cheeks and the next day we walked all around St Malo and had a wary lunch. She offered to pay and I let her. I put some coins on top of her credit card slip and passed the plate to the waiter. Her signature was a bold scrawl. Nothing like the handwriting on the invitation card. Nothing like Maire’s handwriting. I relaxed and ordered a couple of Calavados. I talked and she listened Afterwards we strolled around the damp town. I emptied my soul. To tell her the gist of my story took all of the long, wet afternoon and visits to two bars.

When I had finished, she levelled her eyes at me over her kir royale. “Does your room have a double bed?”

We had dinner first. “You’re blaming yourself for all this. You’re saying to yourself, ‘If I had married Angie when I was a kid, as I promised — if I’d been a good little boy none of this would have happened.”

“I did everything wrong.”

“Very few of the things we do, right or wrong, all through our lives, make any difference.” I told her then what I felt most guilty about, how I had been angry with Maire and had walked down the path in front of her, not talking.

Cordelia listened quietly, and then said, “Most married people have felt like that some time or other. I did.” She looked straight into my eyes and asked, “Did you push her?”

“What do you think?”

“I’ll never know, shall I? I’ll have to take you on trust.” She took my hand and kissed the back of it. “But whether you did or not, guilt is not a good basis for building new relationships.”

“I’m just confused.”

“No, you’re clinically depressed. I know something about that.”

“You’ve been through it?”

She shook her head. “I was a nurse.”

“What do you recommend?”

“Champagne. And moonlight.”

She turned out the light before she undressed. She drew the curtains and the moonlight showed the fine curves on her slight body. She stepped out of her flimsy underwear and got into bed. She was nimble and fuck-crazed and put every other woman in my life right out of my mind.

In the morning, as we lay in each others arms, she sprung her first surprise. I wouldn’t see her for a while. She was going to hire a car and visit a friend who lived just up the coast.

“Boy friend or girl friend?”

“Just a chum. Sex doesn’t come into it.”

With Cordelia, if it were a man, sex would come into it. This was her coy way of keeping me dangling. It was raining again. I would spend the day in cafés, deciding whether to return to Britain or join Cordelia on her grand tour of the double beds of the world.

“Is there a Mr Worth?”

“That’s my maiden name. I was married once. It’s you I want now,” she said, and she made me hard again without a touch. She lay back, closed her eyes and spread her legs wide and said “Take me.”

I rolled her over. She knew what I wanted and she got up on her knees. Mounting her rampant, I looked down upon a perfect ass, pale and round. Now here’s one for Eddy Starr’s little notebook of coincidences. Tattooed upon her rounded cheeks in red and blue was a no-entry sign. My rude beast faltered, then swooned beneath the forbidden moon like a failed firework.