Jonny's in the basement mixing up a Molotov. I'm in the Grand Arcade, Cambridge thinking about a poem. Thinking about a poem. Get this. Thinking about writing a poem. That's writing. Not rioting. I think it's important to make the distinction. Writing. Not rioting. Not Luton. That's a place in Bedfordshire. Not lute. That's medieval stringed instrumentation and this is Cambridge, in the grandest of Grand Arcades. And I'm thinking about writing a poem.
The shop assistant in Gant accosts me, as I loiter with poetic intent in the vicinity of two comfy armchairs, in front of a blue mosaic chintzy tiled fireplace and a faux coffee table festooned with appropriate lifestyle magazines with all the studied casualness of a Bananarama hair-do.
- What are you thinking about? I am asked.
- I'm sorry? I reply in my best middle-class.
- You've been standing there for some time now. Thinking. And I have to ask.
- Yeah, that's right. I'm thinking.
- But why are you writing notes?
- Yeah, they're notes for a poem.
- Well, I have to ask, she says defensively as she walks away.
For all the world looking like I've just goosed her with the unrubbered end of my HB pencil.
- Why? Why do you have to ask?
- Yes. Security. We have to ask.
She doesn't elaborate. So I do.
- What? In case I'm a security risk. Like I could be EDL, Al-Qaida or a looter planning a riot or…
- Are you?
- Am I what?
- Planning a riot.
- No. I'm planning a poem... ...about a riot.
The last three words seal it. Off she pops. To get a security guard by the look of her.
Next shop. Jack Jones. All on my Jack Jones funnily enough. At ten past four pm on a Wednesday in a high-end clothes store all on my own with two assistants and nothing more than a piece of rhyming slang in my head and a biro and pad.
The assistant does a passable impression of knowing who Jack Jones is. He of the Trades Union Congress, the Liverpool Docks, the Spanish Civil war, pensioners' rights, Las Vegas cabaret and the rhyming slang. He gets the rhyming slang and the American crooner but has to search for Trade Union Leader in the dark cultural recession of his social history. He leaves the reference hanging in the air.
So, as a parting shot, I note how Jack'd be turning in his grave if he only knew the things that were happening in his name these days…
- Could be worse.
Could be worse? Could be worse? I can't resist. I turn back towards the counter, as he leans over it, all cocky for the benefit of the other assistant/bouncer because he does know who my Jack Jones is after all.
- Really? Could it? What could be worse?
- What do you…?
- Go on. Name one thing. What could be worse, I goad. Go on!
- Well... he... he... he could be the next Hitler.
Hitler! Jack Jones could be the next Hitler. I repeat at slightly less than soto voce. I leave Jack Jones at that point in order to laugh my freakin' head off in full view of the shoppers and security contingent now in entourage around a fully aroused Gant girl. Boy, has she been busy. She appears to have told all those gathered that a dangerous and subversive act of poetry preparation is in progress in the Grand Arcade, Cambridge on a Wednesday afternoon.
Two of the security are high-end: smart shirt & ties, walkie-talkies, hi-tech earpiece gizmos, the works. I hesitate to look too closely at an increasingly militant Gant girl, but I'm sure she's busy checking that the community police lady has sufficient rounds of plastic bullets and tear gas.
The security look at me and laugh. I surmise it is merely nervous neuro-mimicry. Unless. Unless they've got Jack Jones bugged (after all, it wouldn't be the first time Jack Jones has been bugged… by Mi6 admittedly, and not Grande Arcade security, but anyway…) That must be it. They've got Jack Jones bugged and they've just heard the hilarious the long-time dead International Brigadier and fighter for pensioners' rights as Hitler gag!
Next stop. The Apple store.
- Excuse me mate. What's this shop called?
I am careful not to cross the threshold this time. Suddenly, politically conscious of how much of a threat my 1968 NATO issue Smock Man's Combat Jacket and 1963 Liverpool issue accent pose in the Grande Arcade, Cambridge, I stay out of the shop, filled with enough hi-tech gadgetry and gizmos to arm a techno-geek's Berlin bunker should he have Jack Jones-like designs on our precious liberal democracies.
- The Apple Store, mate. Why?
- Why what?
- Why do you ask?
- I'm writing a poem.
He doesn't say it but I know by now what they're all thinking. What? And you thought I might be planning an armed insurrection and Apple is where we lift the techs from.
Apparently, Swarvoski isn't Russian. Though it's high-end crystal jewellery is just about within reach of the average oligarch's income. Swarvoski is Austrian actually. As Austrian as Freud, Vienna, Bach, schnitzel and Jack Jones.
Passing Frank Hart's Gucci custom jewellery and TW Steel, big in over-sized watches, the next stop on the top shop trail is Kuoni. A new concept of luxury travel. Again I stand outside and read the marketized wordage on its high-end façade, doing my best trying-not-to-laugh laugh, at full volume, until the curious and bored sales clerk emerges.
It is surprising how little buying actually goes on in high-end retail on a Wednesday afternoon. He asks the inevitable, predictable, rote learnt question every language student from here to Shanghai knows. The open sesame of international capitalism no less.
- Can I help you, sir?