I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape man . . . Along comes Zachary, along from the porter's lodge, where there's a trannie by the kettle and the window is cracked open so that Muswell Hill calypso warms the cold Friern Barnet morning, staying with him, wreathing his head with rapidly condensing pop breath. I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape man, oh I'm an ape man . . . The lawns and verges are soft with dew, his arms and his legs are stiff - a rigor he associates with last night's tense posture, when I aborted the fumbled beginnings of a non-committal congress.
While Miriam fed the baby in their bed hawsers and pipelines coiled away into milky, fartysteam - the enormous projectile retracted into the cradle of my belly and thighs . . . I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape man...the Austin's steering wheel plastic vertebrae bent double, kyphotic . . . had pulled at his shoulders as he wrestled the car down from Highgate, then yanked it through East Finchley - knees jammed uncomfortably under the dashboard - then across the North Circular and past the blocks of flats screening the Memorial Hospital before turning right along Woodhouse Road. Under the bonnet the pistons hammered at his coccyx, the crankshaft turned his pelvis round and around, while each stop and start, each twist and turn - the very swivel of his eyeballs in their sockets - not easing this stress but screwing it still further into his frame: bitindrill, chuckinlathe, poweron . . . In his already stressed state he had looked upon the city as an inversion, seeing the parallelograms of dark woodland and dormant grass as man-made artefacts surrounded by growing brick, tarmac and concrete that ripples away to the horizon along the furrows of suburban streets . . .
While his domestic situation is by no means quiescent, nor is it settled, and the day ahead - Ach! A beige worm of antiseptic cream wriggles into the festering crack of a bed sore . . . Bitterly he had considered: Is my dip' psych even relevant when it comes to this first-aiding, the sick parade of a shambling citizen militia? . . . I'm an ape man, I'm an ape-ape man . . . The drive into work is already automatic. Still, it's a shock that his destination is this folly with a Friends' Shop. Along comes Zachary . . . Hush Puppies snaffling the gravel path that leads from the staff car park - where cooling steel ticks beside floral clocks - towards the long repetition of arched windows and arched doorways, of raised porticoes and hip-roofed turrets. Along comes Zachary . . . creeping noisily up on the high central dome with its flanking campaniles in which no bells have ever rung, as they are only disguised ventilation shafts designed to suck the rotten fetor from the asylum . . . Along comes Zachary . . . avoiding the unseeing eyes of the tarnished bronze statue that hides behind some forsythia - a young man clearly hebephrenic . . . his face immobile forever in its suffering, the folds of his clothing plausibly heavy . . . for he looks altogether weighed down by existence itself.
Umbrella by Will Self is published by Bloomsbury. Read our review.