Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chapter Twelve of Hampton from the Halfway Line

What is the connection between Ludwig Wittgenstein and Sir Oliver Reed -- other than both being mentioned in this chapter? Four suggestions are at the end of this section. JR 


Notting Hill, London

“Oh dear, I’ve lost him. Shit. Dani. Dani! Come and look at mummy’s phone, sweetie. What did I do? God!
“I’m here. Yes.” A familiar voice could be heard faintly as Rosalie held her mobile out to her youngest child while Dani attempted to steer the phone back toward her mother. “You’ve got me. Hi … Hi.”
“Hel-lo, how are you? Oh my God. This bloody phone.” Rosalie was walking with her daughters, Lauren and Dani, and two of the girls’ friends as they browsed the Westbourne Grove shops. After nearly three months, she still could not escape the thrill of seeing Ben Hampton’s number appear on her mobile – her new mobile that she’d not got the hang of.
The McMahon party had gotten a relatively early start this morning on a day that once had signaled the first shopping weekend of the Christmas season. Nowadays, December 1 began, essentially, the third month of the Christmas shopping marathon.
Rosalie had been attempting to persuade the girls toward a more thoughtful café than the one they headed toward. They didn’t want to think about it; they didn’t want a soulful, alternative ambience. They wanted Britain’s stronger-coffee challenge to Starbucks:  Caffé Nero situated diagonally opposite its fierce rival at the junction of Hereford Street. They wanted either “a frap and a wrap” or pan au choc and a thick and sweet hot chocolate. Rosalie didn’t mind all that much because the espresso, she could lead herself to believe, tasted somewhat like it does in Italy. Based on the company’s rising market share, many in the UK would agree.
Her husband, Peter, as one voice against, however, remarked at a recent dinner party, “I only ever use them for the toilets.”
At the same gathering, another man commented about the ever-present chain coffee bars, “Far worse than a gambling addiction.”
To which Peter responded, as he will, “I see what you mean. Zero chance of a jackpot at any time during the experience. Plus you get gallstones.”
“I am very good, thank you.” Ben answered Rosalie. He too was playing at some shopping. Kate had a list of family members and their clothes sizes. “Are you sorted?”
“Me? Sorted?” Rosalie let loose a giggle that could be heard across the teeming street. “As my charming husband might say, ‘That, my dear, is a long-term project.’ Can’t you just hear him? Well, you don’t know him, do you? Sorry. Anyway, so …”
Ben considered jumping in, but he had learned from being interviewed remotely on television to wait until he was sure the presenter had finished. Once he had appeared in studio not five feet across from the stunner, Mariella Frostrup. She’d had to repeat her first question and say his name twice because he’d been staring at her and forgot he was on a chat show.
“… how’s it going with football’s answer to Wittgenstein?”
“Erm … nice. Actually, I only have a sec, Rosalie, so … uh … bit of a heads up.”
After having spent time with Novak (perhaps he might begin calling him Ludwig), Ben Hampton had firmly committed to the project. Over the last few weeks the author had broken the news in person to his agent, Dava Carson, and his most recent editor, Tonya Sidney at Brown Pelican – both women whom he considered friends. He had smiled a lot and tried to look cute while they had rubbed their foreheads in an almost identical fashion at which Ben had marveled and become mildly worried.
“What about?”
“You’ll probably be getting a couple of phone calls.”
“Will I?”
“Yes, one from Sizemore and Callus or maybe from their parent company – STP or DDT or … IRA or something; and the other from my … erm … Dava.”
“All right.” Rosalie followed the girls into the crowded coffee shop.
“Bit of chaos over there, as you know. Bit of unrest … at the old firm.”
“But, fine, right?”
“Um, yeah, everyone’s generally OK, apart from the bigger issues that have nothing to do with the likes of us. Regarding JJI and Dava’s agency and Brown Pelican, there’s actually a helpful bit of crossover between some of the attorneys and directors and former directors. Pleasant, that. It’s not really my bag, you know, so ...”
“Not a worry. What’s happened? Did someone get his feelings hurt? I’ll help you.”
“The problems at the moment, from what I gather, center around this publisher of yours.”
“God! What?”
“Minding one’s manners and offering a sort of fealty wasn’t part of their game plan.”
“No interest in the old ‘under the radar’?”
“Afraid not. And apparently they and some of their representatives are mildly touchy, even though they’ve got one arm round the proverbial golden goose.”
“Oh, dear. I’m afraid I don’t know them too well, beyond Jonathan James. Suppose I’ll have to get in there and root out the officious, Billy Bigheads.”
“All right. You do your bit, and I’ll walk by the river with my Ipod and reexamine my ability to charm and disarm everyone. Some of those sports marketing group types really like themselves.”
“Mm, great global conglomerates can be like that.”
“Especially those that project the shame they feel about their own inadequacies as disdain toward the little companies they’ve gobbled up.” Ben had refined that line earlier in the shower. “Excuse me.” Then, to Kate, “Just a cappuccino, thank you.”
“Where are you?”
“At a Caffé Nero. Windsor Royal.”
“I’m at a Caffé Nero. Westbourne Grove.”
“Are you?”
“Kate. Rosalie’s at a Caffé Nero.”
“What did she say?” Rosalie asked.
“She said, erm, ‘Is she?’”

After a brief, back and forth on the banality of the chain coffee shop experience and what Kate was ordering and Ben assuring Rosalie that Kate did indeed like her, followed by a shopping anecdote from Rosalie involving her teenage daughters and a pair of inky blue silk velvet sneakers in Emma Hope, the agent returned to the topic of keeping the legal spokesmen for JJI Sports Reform Press from mucking up her deal. For that wasn’t going to happen in a month of Sundays.
I owe it to my client, she girded herself in such moments.

Rosalie McMahon didn’t know how other people in her position felt, really. And she wondered if, going forward, she would allow herself to be captured in this way by what she was doing, what she was trying to … give. She didn’t even know to whom she was trying to give. The woman was in love. She was in love with what she was doing. Rosalie believed she had something practically everyone else she knew had – a vocation. Not simply a job; much more than a career; even significantly greater than a métier. For the first time in her life, she was having a love affair with something other than a person, something other than a man. A few boys at university, a couple of infatuations before that, an absolutely delicious cousin from Edinburgh; but then Peter and that was it. That’s enough probably. You don’t want to risk it with one man too many.
Now, after three children, almost twenty-five years of marriage and a couple of stop-start hacks at that dreary thing called a career, she was being carried off to a fairy castle like some princess in a storybook. She wanted it to happen, even though, of course, she couldn’t see the end of the yellow brick road or how she would feel when she got there. Honestly, Rosalie McMahon didn’t want to know what happens at the end. She wanted the getting there, the race, to continue. There were moments she felt as though she were cheating on Peter. She didn’t want that, but she didn’t want to stop. She couldn’t stop. Well, of course she could. But, why should she?
She no longer cared about what people said or how she was perceived or the anxiety and awkwardness of various social moments when the inevitable, ‘What do you do?’ is blown in her direction like a poison dart or slipped in between platitudes about the latest indie film or whether one prefers Obama to Hillary or the best time of year for Montreux or Marrakech. She had always stood or sat, feeling forced to listen to the accomplishments of others.
Here, come into my studio and see what I’m working on. What do you reckon this is made of? No, I agree it looks like brass, but it’s actually gold. Nearly pure, Australian gold. Rub your hands on it a few times a day and watch your arthritis get better. Oh, do you like this fire and water feature? I designed the exact same one for Sir Oliver Reed’s garden in Oakwood Hill. He was to see it when he returned from shooting ‘Gladiator,’ but, you know, he died arm wrestling in that pub in Malta. And, here’s a picture of me with Björk and Thom Yorke at the reception for the work my production team did on the Nattura video.
Whereupon Rosalie would say something snotty, like, “Oh, I adore that hat. Look. Each of her ears is the flowerhead of a great blue daisy.”
But now she was beginning to maybe realize that it hasn’t been, all this time, the lack of so-called accomplishment that turned her neck red with simple embarrassment. It wasn’t that she didn’t have a title, that she didn’t sign her e-mails, ‘Rosalie McMahon, principal and founder of XYZ.’
No. The shame flowed through her veins from being without passion. She feared talking about whatever she was doing not because she had failed at something or had not arrived at some destination or that she had no recognized status, but because she didn’t truly care about anything enough to risk failing. Anything other than Peter or the children, that is. She could always be considered interesting or feel competent and important or heroic or valid when discussing her family. Rosalie cared deeply about them. They were her life. But that was it. There was no ‘other man,’ no surrogate children, no piece of art, no civilization she’d influenced, no ‘baby’ out there that she was creating or forming or nurturing or flirting with or sneaking around with or making love to, as it were, or opening herself up to. She had no one or no thing or no set of things that she invited across her threshold to envelop her and tell her secrets and listen to hers.
Being an editor at the publishing house was all right in her twenties. That might have led somewhere fulfilling. Writing articles about publishing was less all right in her thirties and forties while she raised a family. Having her own so-called agency for the last few years, once the girls became teenagers, has not gone as smoothly as her ego would have liked.
She is used, with her fundraising work at the schools and other non-profit endeavors, to putting her nose to the grindstone, pulling all-nighters, getting the disparate parties to go along and basking in the positive result at the end. And showing everyone how to have fun while we do it. But the British publishing business, from her chosen end of it anyway, is like some labyrinth. And, well, she has that little spatial problem.
When Rosalie was a little girl, her mum and dad took her and a friend to Hampton Court. She and Cecily got hopelessly lost in that monstrous hedge maze. Rosalie wet herself and hyperventilated. She had horrible asthma up until the time, in the mid-nineties, when she found that fabulous Dr. Chaudry, one of the pulmonary superstars at Royal Brompton. That day in the garden, a little old woman docent from Richmond held the girls’ hands and led them to safety. Rosalie still has nightmares about it, especially now that she is a literary agent. One minute she’s walking around Bloomsbury or Canary Wharf, and the next thing she knows she’s back in that hedge maze stumbling in circles about to fall over from vertigo.

“Well, anyone can be dealt with,” she soothed Ben. “One of Peter’s new clients is sort of a Sky Sports-wanna-be firm. Self important with very little grasp of reality as you and I know it. He warned me to be careful, Peter did.”
“But you ignored him.”
“Just this once, yes.”
“Hm,” Ben said. “Careful’s never gotten you anywhere has it?”
“Sometimes impulsive doesn’t work too well either.”
“You’re doing fine.”
“And everything will be fine. My … uh … the little things I do, allied with your solid reputation and charm, will carry the day. I’m sure of it.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to take advantage of the agency turmoil, and I don’t think I have done. There really was no better time for this book, like you say. And it’s looking as though a new, brighter firm will be born of the ashes, one in which, I think, the core philosophy will be that the client must be served.”
“That’s you.”
“So things are coming along. The bottom line though Rosalie, for me, is that I want to do this book. And you’re the person I want to do it with. And I’m more than happy to carry on with Jonathan James. So things are coming along.”
“Then why am I being sought out? Not that I mind.”
“Maybe one or the other, or both, wants to hire you.”
Rosalie hadn’t thought of that. Ben had more ideas.
“Or maybe Sizemore are being slightly more cunning like cornering me to script write for some sort of big production where several different clients and subsidiaries come together. Maybe they want you to be involved since apparently I’m under your spell.”
Rosalie knew him well enough now to know he was being sweet. “Or maybe they want to scare me,” she said. “Or sue me.”
“They’ll have to get past me to do that.”
“How many brave knights can one girl have?”
“I have friends as well, you know,” he joked. “Real hard sorts.”
“I’m sure you do, Ben. That’s lovely, but I wouldn’t want your children mixed up in something like this.”
     Rosalie asked Ben for the relevant phone numbers so she could beat the novelist’s “other” agent and the imploding agency to any punch that might send her headlong. The girls were headed out the door to swap the inky blue sneakers for the Bordeaux ones.

Wittgenstein-Ollie Reed commonalities:  Ken Russell, Derek Jarman, Michael Gough and ... Halo Jones.

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