The land of maybe

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The Independent Culture
We are driving through Crouch End in a silver Volvo with the sunroof open, when a sleek blue beast passes on the other side of the road, a BMW three-litre CSi. Roz says that's the kind of car she should be driving. She is sick of being a Volvo driver. I don't have the heart to tell her that she drives like a Team Volvo natural, always opting for brake over accelerator.

One morning, a poor Chinese farmer woke to find that a storm had passed in the night, destroying all his fences. His only horse had taken flight, and was nowhere to be seen. His friends from the local village gathered to offer their sympathy. "What terrible luck," they said, shaking their heads. The old man shrugged and said, "Maybe".

On the back seat are our respective eight-year-old daughters, and we are all going ice-skating at Alexandra Palace, despite my misgivings. I have this nagging worry that I may break a leg, which probably makes me the perfect Team Volvo co-driver. With less than a week before I leave for Paris, it's all going far too smoothly. Something has to give, so why not a tibia? Plaster of Paris. There must be a column in that.

Roz knows all about ageing playboys and their midlife crises, having picked up the pieces on more than one occasion. Naturally, she is more concerned that I'll end up with a broken heart. No chance, I say. Where there's no hope, there's no danger, and my infatuation with Zoe is hopeless. Anyway, I'm going to Paris to write a book, not chercher la femme. No, no, says Roz, changing tack, I'm sure it'll all work out wonderfully. Maybe, I say.

The next day, the farmer's horse returned, bringing with it four beautiful wild horses which the old man caught easily by re-erecting the fallen fence. When they heard the news, his friends were delighted and came to offer their congratulations. "What good luck that storm brought after all," they said. The old man shrugged and said, "Maybe".

Later that day I'm standing in The Water Rat with Ed and Eugene, ranting about how nightlife started out as a street thing, then became an elite thing, then a mixture of the two, then went underground again, then overground, only to end up like a madman's shit, all over the place. Once, nightlife offered at least some specious form of resistance to mainstream consumerism. Now we've got total integration of nightlife as a lifestyle option, a complete package: buy the CD of the club sponsored by the soft drink that advertises in the style magazine that features the sports watch, trainers and T-shirt that you should wear while listening to the CD of the club, etc. My rant is cut short by Soul Coughing, probably the most dynamic and original American band since Nirvana, and certainly the best reason I can think of for going into a pub.

The next day, when the old man's son set about taming the wild horses, he was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. The villagers couldn't believe the farmer's luck had turned sour again. "What a terrible thing to happen," they said. The old man shrugged and said, "Maybe".

Eugene is telling us about his holiday with Chris in Australia, and how they went scuba diving. So Chris takes an E, and 30 feet down he's disco dancing on the coral reef. But when Eugene feels the pressure on his head, he panics. Terrified that his lungs will burst, he rushes back to the surface, gasping for breath.

Ed rocks on his bar stool, and points out a T-shirt slogan which says pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Ed explains: when Dorothy, the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man finally enter the Emerald Palace, they are confronted by a terrifying vision of the Wizard of Oz, who orders them to turn around and go back to Munchkinland. But Dorothy, suspecting a caper, peeks behind a curtain and finds a little old man barking orders into a microphone: the so-called Wizard. In a desperate bid to maintain the now-shattered illusion of omnipotence, the little old man shouts repeatedly into his mike: "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" This slogan, I realise, has been ringing in my ears for months now, pressing down on my head. Sometimes I react like Chris, sometimes like Eugene.

The next day, the army came and camped on the old man's farm, then entered the village to conscript all the young men, before setting off to wage war on a neighbouring country. With his badly broken leg, the old man's son was the only youth to be left behind. Once again, the villagers were delighted. "Your son's injury was a blessing in disguise," they said. The old man shrugged, and said, "Maybe"

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