Alan Taylor walks out with author Martin Amis and slips into the life of London Fields, his latest novel.
This is the story ofan interview. It hasn‘t happened yet. But it will. (The sooner the better. Ed) I know the interviewer. I know the interviewee. I know the time. I know the place. It is clocking ten to four on a muggy September day in dear old London town — Somnopolis — the mouth of Notting Hill tube station to be pedantic. to be precise. to be lost off Ladbroke Grove. Like a jetlagged alien the interviewer spins around and realises he is surrounded by stately homes: The Earl of Sussex. The Grand Old Duke of York. The Duke ofCumberland. Every one open to the public.
‘Hey you. Yeah you. With the pensioner stubble. Where does
Martian Amis hang out?‘ ‘Search me,‘ says the lager lush zipping up his fly. The interviewer backs off but not quickly enough to avoid seeing the raw sausage swathed in dirty washing. Back, back. he goes, nauseously, and comes to a stop with a start. No serious damage done, the shop window vibrates like a high jump bar brushed by hairy thigh. What have we got here though? Here. right here, staring uz in the face. ‘Gordon Bennett. it‘s Martian Amis. Where did you spring from?‘ Martian stays stumm, moody-looking as Mick Jagger. pouting pertly from a hundred covers of London Fields. his latest hyped humdinger. bragged about on
the ‘South Bank Show‘ but well and truly Bookered so far as this year‘s you know what is concerned. This, says the interviewer sotto bloody voce. is getting us nowhere. What we need is an A-Z. Sneak a keek in the shop: save the lolly. Here we are and there he is. His fingers straddle the page like dividers. Nobloodywhere near here. ‘Taxil‘ ‘Bloody traffic. Gee hup, for chrissakes.‘ ‘Nuffink I can do about it mate, it‘s the congestion.‘
The interviewer hoofs the last leg down a street strewn with skips and scaffolding, autumn leaves copulating with crisp packets. ‘You from the council, mate?‘ bellows a wolf-whistler in a hard hat. Ignoring the slur he marches past basements where four or five black kids peer up at the street like pot-holers who‘ve lost their rope. At last, at the bottom ofthe street, the two-dart finish: fourteen then a check out on double tops. A rabbit hutch in a yard fit for dinky Steptoes. Give it a bell. Martian Amis must have been hiding behind it for he answers while it echoes. More small than tall. he has eschewed his latest hero‘s bell-bottoms and is togged in green corduroys with a Persil tee-shirt: 40 going on 15.
‘Too nice to stay indoors on a day like this,‘ he says, ‘let‘s go to my club.‘ What‘s he up to? What‘s his racket? Tennis! He is carrying a holdall with two rackets. What‘s his game? The interviewer is seriously worried. Will his forearm smash survive? Is he about to be lobbed? Is this to be another labour lost to love?
The interviewee drives through him the Maida Vale oftears into Updike country where a bevy of Miss Joan Hunter Dunns are thwacking balls, fair tigresses ofthe tennis courts bonded in sports bras and jock straps. What would Nicola Six, the cool temptress who plots her own designer murder in London Fields, make of such lingerie, she who pulls the strings in her so-tight porno clobber. Or Keith Talent, wife-beater, rapist, cheat, thief,
dartsman, an Eric Bristow among‘l men. consumer of curries that could scald the sun and hot tip to draw Nicola‘s curtains. ‘Chronic innit‘, you can hear him say. as the middle-lassies bend to receive the serve. ‘Gimme a slice ofthat‘. he‘d say. slavering. ‘Serve them bloody right.‘ Keith likes girls that are a bit ofa handful. None of your catwalkers for him.
Why. oh why. do I like the slob? asks the interviewer. Martian molarises a sarny and takes a slug of Orangina. ‘This is a mystery.‘ he says. ‘My brother said that every time he left the action he wanted him to come back. Keith made me laugh. he said. That‘s all you need to say really.‘ Nuffsaid. indeed. The interviewer looks around at the all-weather court. neat club house and the redbrick mansions of Maida Vale. Further removed from the London of London Fields it would be difficult to imagine on this sunny afternoon at the fag end ofsummer. Martian's London is Mayhew‘s. mugger‘s London. a napalmed city. a sewer ofsluts, spivs. liars and conmen. porn parlours. video stores and betting shops. Spaced out on credit. the mean streets of Arthur Daley and the Kray twins.
‘Yeah,‘ says Martian. ‘London‘s already been nuked. A death bed morality exists. There‘s too many people. The mega-death possibility is very wounding to one‘s sense of morality. There comes a certain point when the affront to the senses is so severe when you go up the street that you say. “Bugger it. I‘ll pay more taxes rather than have this going on around here.“
There is a burst of applause. But less for Martian‘s heart-felt plea than for the winners ofthe ladies doubles. two chunky chicks with Domestos streaks. Released from their cage they pose for Polaroids. giggling like St Trinians. a quartet of weight-watchers with lots to lose. What is Martian doing here? wonders the interviewer. Martian. the pinball wizard. the screw-back cue-baller. the man who has written the first darts novel. Seriously. Forget Armageddon. the greening of the Portobello Road. the Big Bang and baby boomers. the paedophiles in the Wimpy Bar with their portable phones. old and new money. Bikini Atoll and Vietnamese boat people. Sure London Fields catalogues them all but what is at its heart is darts. the true story - as it were — ofJocky‘s life at the ocky.
Jocky — Jocky Wilson you understand — is not mentioned by name in London Fields but you can feel him sweating through its pages. Like Jocky. darts has been in Martian‘s blood since he was a nipper. through Oxford. the Times Literary Supplement and the New Statesman. No matter where fate has
taken him. a darts board has hung on his kitchen door. Forget fiction, the millennial metaphors. the slick similes and jinky turn of phrase. that inimitable voice that yaks through Money. What Martian is really about is darts. Not my game. thinks the interviewer. Anyone for tennis?
G'l‘he List 2‘) September— 12 October 1989