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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Out-takes XXVII

‘There’s no such thing as time,’ Geordie said. ‘Time’s a function of consciousness. If there was no consciousness there’d be no time.’

‘How about timing?’ Sam said.

‘That’s different.’


‘Because timing exists,’ Geordie said. ‘We could make music and dance before we knew we were doing it.’

They were in Sam’s office overlooking St. Helen’s Square. It was a bright morning at the beginning of October, the fag-end of a long Indian summer. Sam had been to Berlin for a week with Angeles, walking along the former death strip at the dead of night, taking in concerts and Turkish food and describing the landscape of tower-cranes to her from the S-Bahn. He didn’t care that there wasn’t much work at the moment. He enjoyed these sessions with Geordie and the others who used the office.

Down below, if you squinted through the stencilling on the window which proclaimed the Sam Turner Detective Agency, there were still tourists around, mainly Europeans and Japanese, a few British day-trippers, only the occasional Stetson.

The door to Celia’s office was open and she and Marie could be heard chatting in there. Occasionally there would be the rattle of a keyboard as Celia took advantage of a break in their conversation to do something creative with the accounts. From time to time there would come the high-pitched peal of female laughter.

There was the sound of footsteps on the stairs and JD came into the office.

Sam glanced at the clock on the wall. ‘It’s only just after eleven,’ he said. ‘Writers write in the morning. They don’t come into town unless they’ve given up being writers or something has interfered with their lives and they need a detective.’

‘Well deducted,’ Geordie said.

‘Deduced,’ Celia corrected him from the doorway to her office.

‘Have you given up writing?’ Marie asked. She was standing behind Celia but was tall enough to see over the elder woman’s head.

‘No,’ JD told them. ‘I need a detective.’

‘You can take your pick, here,’ Geordie said. ‘This’s a detective agency. All we’ve got is detectives.’

‘Underemployed detectives at the moment,’ Marie said. ‘The number of unemployed detectives in this agency currently exceeds the number of vacancies. What you’re looking at, in detective terms, is a labour surplus.’

They all turned to her. Sam and Geordie because what she’d said was uncharacteristic, something that would more likely have come from Geordie. Celia looked at her because she’d expected the speech to go on and was still hoping that it would. And JD looked at Marie because he was smitten with her and had grown accustomed over the years to hanging on her every word. There was a sense in which, whenever Marie spoke, JD thought she might announce she had finished with her current boyfriend, the Steiner School teacher, and was ready to go another round with JD himself.

‘Come in,’ Sam said. ‘We were talking about sundials.’

‘I count only the hours that are serene,’ JD said, moving over to Geordie’s desk and propping his buttocks against it.

‘Say that again,’ Geordie said.

‘It’s a motto,’ Celia said. ‘On a sundial near Venice. William Hazlitt writes about it. Very famous.’

‘Full marks,’ JD said. ‘It’s wonderful to come here. Such a literary crowd.’

‘I count only the hours that are serene,’ Geordie said wistfully. ‘That’s poetry.’

‘Geordie’s been telling me that time doesn’t exist,’ Sam said. ‘How we didn’t bother recording it until the middle ages.’

‘Spot on,’ JD said. ‘No one cared much about time until we became agrarian.’

‘Is this what you’ve come to tell us?’ Marie asked.

‘No, it’s my tango teacher,’ JD said. ‘His niece has disappeared and he wants you to help him find her.’

There was a dumb silence while they assimilated the news. Marie and Celia took a few steps forward from Celia’s office door, closing the circle, bringing them all together.

‘How old is she?’ Celia asked.

‘She’s sixteen,’ JD said, and he went on to tell them everything he’d learned from the girl’s uncle in the City Screen café.

2 Responses to “Out-takes XXVII”

  1. peggy stone says:

    could you tell me the whereabouts of the sundial in Venice that Hazlitt alluded to.

    kind regards

    jb says: Not exactly, Peggy. Somewhere on the river Brenta. This is the reference to Hazlitt’s essay:

  2. peggy stone says:

    John, thank you for your response. I didn’t think to look for one until today.
    I have been “going” to Venice for the past years and this year it is happening.
    I hope to find the sun-dial. It will be an emotional journey, one that started in 1990.
    So thank you again and maybe I will contact the Venice Tourism Office and they may be able to pin point the site. Whatever happens I will be on the Grand Canal in July looking for it.

    jb says: Have a great time, Peggy. I love Venice, though I haven’t been there for many years.