Related Topics
I spent the other weekend at a house party in rural Nottinghamshire: heartbreakingly beautiful women, wet dogs, badminton lawns, wines that enfolded you in a soft embrace, east wing, west wing, Scarlatti on the spinet, mauve cocktail cigarettes, shiny mahogany commode in the 14th bedroom and scrambled eggs a la Escoffier in the silver chafing dish. It was bliss in a specifically English way. And over the two-and-a-half days I turned into a psychopath.

On the first evening, as I went to retrieve something from the car, I spied an alarming figure emerging through the trees. It was our host, a mild-mannered philosopher, the gentlest chap you could meet, and he carried a gun - a .22 rifle with telescopic sight, night-beam and silencer. A sniper's gun, a ghastly, violent object whose sole purpose was the imminent dispatch of living things. He had, he said, been shooting rabbits which were vermin. Rupert, I said, I'm appalled. How could you - a humanist, a neoPlatonist, - even contemplate...?

So we argued awhile about the ethics of firearms (he said banning handguns would solve the problem; rifles didn't count) and went to dinner. Lots of Chateau Lynch-Bages '68, port, odiferous cheeses, coffee in the drawing room and Andrew said: "It's midnight. Coming for a stroll? We could take the rifle if that's all right with you...." Grudgingly I joined in, but purely as the voice of liberal-humanist decency. I represented the Rabbitist tendency. I was only there to see fair play.

It all changed in 15 minutes. Not 200 yards across the greensward, I said, "Let me have a look at that," and was suddenly clutching the noisome firearm like Robert de Niro in his woolly hat. The telescopic sight focused in and out of small brown bodies playing jump-the-daisies. The cross-hairs beckoned. A hunter's moon obligingly fingered the trees. "Just round this corner," hissed Rupert, "there's always stacks of the little blighters." I flattened myself against a tree, brought the sight to me eye, switched on the night-beam and swung round: "Eat lead death, motherf******s."

When the smoke cleared, I had fired 10 viciously explosive shells in a deadly salvo, missed 128 rabbits, ricocheted off a gate, a "Keep Out" sign and a Dutch barn (at least I hit that), sent a cloud of cordite like an Independence Day shadow over the whole county, woken all the slumbering brigadiers of Nottingham and lost all credibility with Friends of the Earth. I stood, stricken with remorse. Yesterday I was St Francis, now I was the greaseball in Desperado. What was happening to me?

It got worse. A week later I was in Hastings on a family seaside jaunt. My son, who is five, said he wanted to look at a lovely bow and arrow in a shop window. Ah, bless him. And where was this little toy shop? Just down this street... but it wasn't a toy shop. It was the Hastings Arms Company, a spectacular arsenal of knives, swords, kung fu flails, axes, archery equipment and crossbows. In charge was a vast and threatening goth called Bill, whose bald head and forked beard marked him out as the obvious model for a dozen Sword and Sorcery book-jackets featuring a chap called Tharg from the planet Zorbo. He introduced me to the range of swords, bloody great things with nicknames: "Barbarian", "Claymore", "Excalibur", "Lowengrin", more worryingly, "Terminator" and less worryingly, "Alfonso" (in homage to a famously violent Italian waiter?). "Seen these, 'ave yer?" Bill asked abruptly, waving a catalogue whose pages were filled with crossbows, bristling with bolts and quivers. Suddenly I was back watching William Tell played on television by Conrad Phillips when I was Max's age, entranced by the post-Christian image of a lethal crucifix. I must get one, I thought, I simply must. There's no harm in them... Then I looked up. The fantasy- comic Bill was brandishing a metre-long, twin-bladed battleaxe and bringing it down, very slowly, on his forehead, for the amusement of local bikers.

I left the shop. Jesus, that was close. Another mid-life crisis narrowly averted.

`His plays are elliptical," says Michael Billington of Harold Pinter, whose biography he has written. "They require his audience to use their imagination." So do his obiter dicta. A recent profile of the Great Pauser quotes the observation: "Any writer who pops his head over the trenches and dares to speak in this country is placed outside the pale." Now there's a whole smorgasbord of mixed metaphors and allusions - battlements, parapets, trenches, Oscar Wilde, Cromwell, western Ireland, colonial rule, Jewish ghettos.... a miniature history of conflict and injustice in 21 words.

The neighbours are up in arms in my Dulwich backyard, where Railtrack, owner of the railway at the end of our garden, has started chopping down trees. Fearing an autumn of crap excuses about "leaves on the track" it has decided to total any arboreal flora up to 10 metres from the line. Dulwich Estates, normally the most intrusive throng of local bureaucrats outside a Swiss canton, say they're not bothered. But the prospect of having to look out on a denuded embankment, hear the clash of the Paris- bound Eurostar without a softening baffle of trees, and witness the destruction of beech, ash and sycamore is too much for sensitive types like us. So we're lobbying Tessa Jowell, the local MP, and trying to get the Railtrack villains to talk to us before they send in the chainsaws. The whole thing is pure Chekhov, but the spirit of Les Miserables hovers weirdly overhead. To the barricades!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Deputy Head of Science

£22000 - £36000 per annum + MPR / UPR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our cli...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

My limerick response to Mike Read’s Ukip Calypso

Simon Kelner
The number of ring ouzels have seen a 30 per cent decline in the last 10 years  

How the sight of flocks of ring ouzels helps to turn autumn into the new spring

Michael McCarthy
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London