The tell-tale heart.

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 14.31.11I met him following a lengthy correspondence. He was shorter than I had expected and sported a prominent handlebar moustache, long after the 1970s but before the 118 commercials – with their pastiche of the athlete David Bedford – had made such appendages ironically fashionable with the Dalston set. This was the first thing you noticed. The second was more prominent and disturbing, a large wart on his right ear. You didn’t notice it at first and then you would be talking to him, or he would be talking at you, standing there three inches below the naked light bulb in his small Victorian kitchen, the dusty fly paper dangling from the fitting not quite brushing his dandruffed shoulder, and then it would just appear, as though it were a bug that had crawled out from his greasy black hair and around the side of the ear, and was now staring at you, and you at it. For that was what you had to fight very hard not to do, and yet your eyes were constantly drawn back to it, as he delivered his latest lecture on the principles of astronomy, or the failings of the English middle class, in his perfectly manufactured BBC accent. The wart was never mentioned.

The wart and the moustache were far from his only peccadilloes. He was given to irrational fits of rage, was once described to me by a minor publishing magnate as a pathological liar – I liked this, the medical exactitude of the term – and claimed to not know when he had been born. Everything in the kitchen was painted white and loo roll lined the shelves a la Howard Hughes, protecting them from dust and grease. The cups on the loo roll on the shelves had to all be facing in the same direction, the handles at an identical angle, and once he had thrown the kettle through a window because it was taking too long to boil. But it was the wart to which your attention was drawn.

One day I returned early from an assignation in town. It was a Friday afternoon, when he worked a half-day. I went into the bathroom to pee and found the sink filled with bloodied toilet paper. Moderately disturbed, I went back into the kitchen to call out for him and found him already there. He had had a haircut, the moustache was gone, his head now looked perfectly symmetrical. He began a detailed account of how he had removed the wart with a razor blade. Now he could talk about it, now that it was gone. Then he showed it to me: he had it wrapped up in more bloody toilet paper. It looked like the tell tale heart. Even in death, it still stared, it moved.



Tompkinson was required by the cult he’d joined to embark upon an extensive program of apology, making a list, blaming himself for the slightest indiscretion, prostrating himself before people who often couldn’t remember who he was. With his mother it was different: he considered himself lucky to have escaped her clutches, and now here she was, in her nightgown, brandishing a shoe box she’d kept under her bed for 26 years, opening it to reveal a sealed envelope.

Open this and all your questions will be answered she told him, grinning, almost drooling, handing him the knife. Careful, it’s sharp.