11 OCTOBER 2003, Page 23


The search for the good has been replaced by the desire for the nice. Appearance is more real to us than any reality, and deeper judgments have become not only unfashionable but also unmentionable, as being inherently unjust and prejudiced. But it is one thing to see the best in people, no doubt a charitable attitude of which we all sometimes stand in need; it is quite another to be unable to see the evil in them or to accord it any significance.

This is the state of modern man — and woman, of course. I was reminded of it last week when a youth of the baseball-capwearing community (all people with anything whatever in common these days being said to belong to a community, there being no other kind of community for them to belong to) was admitted, having taken too many of the pills that his doctor had prescribed for him to get him out of the room as expeditiously as possible. This, of course, not the hope of cure, is the reason for most prescriptions round here.

The pills had made him confused and aggressive, a confusion and aggression that his tattooed mother ascribed to the absence of heroin that she said he needed.

'He's never normally aggressive,' she said. 'He wouldn't hurt a fly.' Then she said that if we didn't give him his heroin, she would sue.

I interviewed his girlfriend. She was the barmaid type, already running to fat. Her bosom was pushed upwards by a tight bra, several sizes too small, with a force of geological proportions, and I noticed that on her right breast a multicoloured dragon had been tattooed. The black roots of her hair stood out from the bleached blond: this is the chiaroscuro of the slums.

I asked her what her boyfriend — who had punched a nurse on the nose and made it bleed — was like.

'He's lovely,' she said. 'You couldn't meet a nicer bloke.'

Even I, hardened misanthrope as I was, found this difficult entirely to credit.

I phoned the man's doctor. He didn't remember him very clearly, for he had few distinguishing features from the great mass of his young patients, so he looked him up on his computer.

`Ah yes,' he said, 'there's a warrant out for his arrest. More firearms offences. He did time for the same thing a couple of years ago. Also assault and GBH. Sniffs glue. Takes anything he can get, really. Never worked.'

No distinguishing features, of course, and the nicest bloke you could ever wish — or perhaps I should say expect — to meet.

That afternoon, I interviewed a murderer. I seem to be interviewing a lot of murderers these days. This one had taken his revenge on the man with whose wife he had been caught He had stabbed him to death as a wise precaution when he met him for the second time since he had been caught in flagrante with her.

'Why was that?' I asked.

'Because the first time he annihilated me,' he said.

'Hold on a moment,' I said. 'I have to write it down.'

Evidently he thought I was having difficulty in spelling 'annihilated'.

'Just put he kicked my f—g head in.'