The colonel is shaving. Badly. In the penumbra of the corner of the metal shed, there isn't much light. Since the move from the deconstructed Aldi in the north end of the city, the texture of everyday life has changed.
In spite of his literary antecedents, his military standards of personal and mental hygiene, he inhabits a windowless converted container adjacent to the recycling skips in Waitrose Superstore car park, Trumpington, which the Royal Mail does not regard as an actual address, even if for the purposes of local taxation, the city council does.
The colonel has a named person to write to. His endless emails have pointed out that, given his fictional status, liability for council tax must surely be zero, regardless of the logic of property law.
The colonel reflects. He colonel likes to work out the odds. He lives an improbable existence.
- No bally light to do a good job of shaving. Damn it!
Today, however, he's had a minor triumph. A swivel mirror from the Park & Ride car boot sale gives enough coverage to see a small area at a time, using the light from his cheap Nokia that only ever texts, calls and calculates, shopping two-for-one offers mainly.
- When my pension comes, the first thing I shall do is get a solar panel. Sod the damn council!
The colonel relishes the capacity he still enjoys to talk to himself. Which he does. Frequently. Whether alone or in public. He never answers his own questions though. That way lie the mad.
I ever so slightly complain about the inclemency of the weather, but he's having none of it.
- Don't talk to me about rain. In Malaya, it was so hard it hurt. Raindrops hit like rubber bullets. Left actual bruises on the skin.
The colonel starts to open a tinned Fray Bentos pie and reads:
As you enter the Superstore you are stripped of your mortality. Here you would like to spend eternity. The ideology of restraint and co-operation. The purity of focus of the walled paradise. There is something about the orchestration of the brand that exudes semi-coercive partnership and social engineering. In my dreams: a hostage situation. Saint Joan of Arbury stands behind the amply-stocked delicatessen with the head of marketing in her left hand, and in her right the Barbarian's schimitar forms an arc of counter-cultural rebellion. The Joan of Arc Gang and the Barbarian are at the epicentre of a Venn Diagram that intersects with provocative agents, the State, the Colonel, the staff and customers of Trumpington Superstore and Waitrose's social exclusion card scheme. Loyalty. Loyalism. Submission...
- What do you mean?
- I mean, emphasized the colonel, that if he can't be arsed to write any more, we don't exist. Whatever the bloody council says!
- Surely, we don't need to wait for him. We know where Joan and the comrades went. We just don't know what happened.
- We know nothing of the sort. You have assumed they went in. We have no proof. And even if they did. It's likely they've been got at, my lad. All this partnership nonsense they feed them up on. Brainwashed. We had it done in Malaya.
- That may be the case young Trotsky. But until the collective acts, we are, how do you people like to put it?... we are fucked, frankly.
WE AWAIT EXECUTION...