Someone has just come up this road on a motorbike. I couldn't see him because of trees but I couldn't not know he was there. His bike's engine smacked the air, every stroke of the engine seemingly separate, a local thunder clap, an aural assault.
My old dog, whose ears and eyes are weakening, rose with arthritic effort from the mat behind my chair and growled and stiffened, ready in his dotage to defend the den. And I in my not-quite-dotage seethed at the intrusion on my peace.
I have nothing against motorbikes. Most of Asia rides a motorbike, with its children between its knees and no helmet on its head and I wish it nothing but well. The motorbike suits a hot place with too many people and terrible roads. The Asian motorbike is a tool of transportation, and tools are honourable things. We are the tool-making species.
Where I was 15 I worked a year of Saturdays cleaning out fridges in a fish shop. I saved my pay and on my 16th birthday I blew the lot on a moped. It was a Mobylette, sky-blue, French, unreliable, 49cc and thrice blessed. It was on those 49cc that I drove out of childhood. It was motorised puberty.
That noise behind me as I rode was the snapping of apron strings. I was the young pup venturing and believing that none had so ventured before. The bike was a feeble thing and up hill I had to pedal and downhill I often crashed, but at 16 you still have rubber in your bones and the liberty was a wonder.
At 17 I traded up to a Honda, a proper little motorbike, the bike of Asia, with gears and without pedals. On it I rode the moody switchback of adolescence, the fierce new feelings, the love, the grief, the self-dramatisation. As I rode I sang to the sky in an exaltation of despair. I grew my hair to my shoulders. On the side of the crash helmet, just above the temple, I painted a bullet hole spouting blood.
I drove the bike sober and I drove it drunk and late one drunken night with Andy Grant on the back I drove it straight into the arms of the cops. They took it and us away. And that was that for me and motorbikes. Indeed for 12 years that was that for me and motorised vehicles. When I got back on the road aged 29 it was in a car.
The bike itself never mattered. It was what the bike gave me that I loved: range, freedom, autonomy. It gave me a greater sense of dominion over the world than anything before or since.
I did not see who rode the bike up here just now but neither did I need to. I know exactly what he's like and so do you. And yes, of course he's a he, and a woeful, pathetic he. Otherwise his bike wouldn't be tuned to make such noise.
New year, new decade, new you?
Don't tell me he's a bike enthusiast. I know a bike enthusiast. The engine on his bike is as big as the engine on a family saloon but it doesn't assault the ears, it doesn't deafen. It's tuned to an almost musical whine. He takes it to remote and empty roads to drive at terrifying speeds, to lean it almost horizontal on the bends. It wouldn't thrill me but I can understand that it thrills him. The bike is his emotional indulgence. Let him depart in peace.
But not the man who just drove up this road. He drives his bike as an act of aggression and self-advertisement. He chooses to have it make the noise it makes so you and I and all the world will be obliged to grant him the attention he's found no other way of gaining. He's like the 10-year-old disrupting the class because he can. The 10-year-old's excuse is that he's 10 years old. What's his?
Look at him. Look at the way he dresses in black to threaten and in leather for the jackboot swagger. Look at the paunch, the tats, the beard, the shaven head, the feral stupidity, all of it bespeaking thwarted testosterone, wishful aggression.
In the States he'd vote for Trump. In Trump he'd see a reflection of his own absence of self-knowledge, his own smug ignorance, his own brute egocentricity, his own indifference to the needs of others. To quote Golding, whom neither Trump nor he would read in a hundred thousand years, he's the reason why it's no go.