Chapter One

On a still, silent street it hunches under a dim lamppost. The light drops, rounds the figure’s back and falls to a puddle at its feet. Around, a few lost and wandering rays find their purpose in a deadlock with thickening wisps of mist. A lorry passes; first felt, then heard, then seen. In its dumb trance it turns right at the lights and will shortly become part of the conveyor belt to Dover. To take steps closer is for it to fade from monochrome filter to a palette of sepia and watery pigments. The sky, deep, dark blue with dreams and nightmares is moon and star-less. There is no room for them tonight. The weak, burnt orange of the lamp barely picks out the grass a few metres away. A fly draws patterns in the light while it sleeps. The silhouette bobs and shuffles from foot to foot in giddy excitement. Dribbling and demented from the pleasure of it all, soon it will have the compulsion to remove its cloak. But then with squinting uncertainty it could be carved of onyx. Some small steps closer. Chisel in grip it scrapes a vertical line off a sign, now in view, reading ‘PUTNEY HEATH’. The procedure has the precision and solemnity of a holy ritual. It stops, panting, and some time passes in gargoyle lifelessness before it cracks and crumbles to begin with the same measure on the horizontal. At last the chisel takes its final peel upwards, stripping stark black from naked white and leaving the question mark of an empty space behind. Suddenly the street is deserted. Only the fading clash of chisel on pavement remains. The lamppost stands over it, reluctant in its revealing and unable itself to hide. Its only offering flickers for the letters ‘PUTNEY HEAT’.