Thursday 18 September
Food – I am gradually accepting – is key to love. A liquid lunch, fun as it may be, can dilute feelings if served up on too regular a basis, depriving a relationship of its more nourishing qualities. My all-too-brief season with Sally is peppered with trips to Manchester’s independent eateries while at home my gnocchi surpasses itself several times during the five minutes it takes to prepare. Eventually, while we can still fit into an elevation machine, it is time for us to call on the badger at the Milton Tower.
‘The poet?’ he groans down the drainpipe, ‘I hope you’ve at least brought your muse.’
‘Then come up. Press 12 and 14 together.’
Byron’s top floor apartment is less bachelor pad, more eight bedroom single man’s solarium with space for his every illegitimate child and at least half of their mothers. Naturally, he lives alone, seeing no-one but the upstarts who run his business interests and the writers and publishers who promise him literary fame while hoping he sees fit to expand theirs disproportionately. Greeted by the occupant’s steam-powered butler – coal eyes glowing more in despair at his very creation than in warm welcome – I try to show no fear while gripping Sally’s increasingly podgy hand with my own clammy set of sausages. Finally our host arrives, through a trapdoor. The smoke clears. Startlingly, Byron wears a solid gold headdress of a type I have seen once before, in Manchester museum. It is based on Birdie Num-Num, the pagan god of pigeons. Horrifyingly, he is carrying a book of his own poetry.
‘I can see why you’ve made so many powerful enemies, Byron,’ I mumble bravely.
‘Silence,’ he barks metallically.
‘I have come to collect your dues,’ I murmur heroically.
‘Batson,’ he is speaking to me, but looking at Sally, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about. And I don’t suppose you do either. Now let me read.’
About halfway through the incoherent ramblings of someone evidently high his own supply, Sally relinquishes her grip. I wipe my freed hand upon my pantaloons in a way that makes it clear to Byron that I am in no way aroused. Conversely, I haven’t seen Sally’s eyes this wide since we were served melted scallops at The Anglican. She practically staggers through the door afterwards. I have no choice but to follow, not a cent retrieved for my masters.
‘What is it?’ I demand.
‘Did you understand not one word?’
‘I didn’t go to Cambridge. I didn’t even go to the other place.’
‘Perfect. Perfect Old Egyptian. I’m afraid he has cursed my heart forever.’
‘In a good way?’
Our happy days of going Dutch are so destroyed.