An Open Letter to James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem

Dear James,

It has been a while, old friend. I won’t pretend to ask how you are as I know all too well – and I am glad. You deserved it, you really did.

As I sit here writing I realise that I don’t know whether I am writing to thank you or to blame you. My hope is that, as the words come out of my fingers, my thoughts will take form and, by the time this letter has come to an end, we will both know one way or the other.

I was 15 when we first met. My parents had just bought a desktop computer, thereby marking the end of our working class roots, and I was beginning to lose interest in school. I was hopelessly in love with a girl from Park Side Comprehensive and we were going on a date at the weekend to watch Meet The Fockers. I decided that I needed to impress her and so I sat down at the large cream box and connected to the internet.

[Reader, just to clarify, this letter is not about to take a sinister turn; feel free to read on and loosen the knot in your stomach.]

At 15 my musical tastes were exclusively informed by the NME. They had recently reviewed your first full length album and awarded it a meaty 8 out of 10, well above my listening bar. Please forgive me for this next revelation (it is not one I am proud of), but once I was finally connected to the internet the first thing I did was find a torrent of your album and illegally download it. You have to understand that I was a broke 15 year-old kid who had access to a seemingly unlimited library of free music. We will discuss this later, but, for now, you should know that I would download anything that was rated above 6/10 by the NME, leave it to gather digital dust in my expansive iTunes library, and instead play a select few albums on constant repeat. Yours was not one of them.

No, I think it is safe to say that at 15 I was too early for LCD Soundsystem. Daft Punk is Playing at my House was the only song I saw any redeeming qualities in; the others were too long, devoid of guitar hooks with obtuse and inaccessible lyrics. Nonetheless you had been awarded a staggering 8 (stars?) and so I decided I would force a few listens. Sadly, my adolescent self hadn’t yet grasped the concept of a ‘grower’. My teenage id instead demanded instant gratification along the lines of The Fratellis, The Vines, and (worse) – Jet. I gave up halfway through the first spin.

Some years went past with my ill-gotten download of LCD Soundsystem slowly aging alongside stolen copies of Antics, Kid A and Agaetis Byrjun. I occasionally spotted your debut when scrolling from Bloc Party to Late of The Pier, but never gave it a listen. In fact, by the time 2007 rolled around, I had even turned my back on Daft Punk is Playing at my House; you were an antique, in the same category as the Kaiser Chiefs or Embrace. Another boring guitar band. And then you released Sound of Silver.

Some months ahead of its release I had upgraded my musical bar from the NME to Pitchfork (the >6/10 benchmark remained the same). Your sophomore won a staggering 9.2 (thumbs up?) out of 10! I couldn’t believe it – dad-rock band LCD Soundsystem? 9.2/10? Surely that was a mistake – I don’t think I had seen a score above 9.0 since I had started reading Pitchfork. I was excited. I opened the review. “As close to a perfect hybrid of dance and rock music’s values as you’re likely to ever hear” read the opening paragraph.

[Reader do not mistake me for an obsessive at this part of the story – the review is open in a tab next to this word document.]

James, I must apologise once again. Although I now had a job, and did occasionally spend my minimum wage on CDs, I was skeptical after my failure to appreciate your first album, and so I once again found a torrent to illegally download Sound of Silver. After a download time of roughly 45 minutes – which may sound long but bear in mind it was 2007, and I’d waited almost three hours for LCD Soundsystem in 2005 – I ripped it to a CD and took it to my room. You’re probably expecting this to be the tipping point in the letter, right? No. I didn’t like it. I think I made it through an entire listen and again only found one track with any redemptive qualities (you don’t need me to tell you what it was).

I could probably have ended my jaunt down memory lane after slating your first album, but I know that you yourself have been a critic of that record. Not that you are right to criticise LCD Soundsystem – far from it – but I felt it important to tell you that the seminal Sound of Silver also washed over me like tepid water. Several years passed and I carried on listening to it piecemeal; gradually Get Innocuous wormed its way onto my driving playlist, Someone Great sound-tracked a messy breakup, and talking about the happy-sad ratio of All My Friends was my mascot of indie-credibility; however, it was still a fair few years until we really got to know each other.

Everyone downloaded music in the 00s. Honestly. Paying for digital music just wasn’t a ‘thing’; CD purchases were acceptable but kids that paid for iTunes downloads had more money than sense. The tipping point came with In Rainbows when Radiohead validated the millions of hours of digital theft stored on hard drives around the world, by releasing an album for free. I am sure this is a debate we would enjoy over a beer some time, but it is not the point of my letter. It is, however, crucial to our next encounter.

[That’s 1000 words there, feel free to stop at any point dear reader.]

Black Friday 2015. I was living with a flat-mate and found myself a weird mix of jealous and scornful of his record collection: Bach, The Rolling Stones and Joe Bonamassa. I did not want to own these records. I wanted to improve them. And so, I bought a discounted turntable as an early Christmas present. Obviously a turntable is essential to a record collection, but it’s also useless without any records. I was employed now, earning more money than my parents’ joint income at its heights, and I felt it was time I repaid the community I had been stealing from for a decade. However, as a complete novice I had no idea where to look, and so clumsily typed ‘vinyl’ into Amazon. Guess what was suggested?

When I met my girlfriend I began to believe in serendipity. We met in our fourth year at university, the year after all of our three-year degree friends had graduated. The prospect of returning to a sleepy town with no friends and an uphill struggle to improve my grades was not particularly inviting, and I left it late to enroll. This resulted in a slim choice of accommodation and I was forced to take the most expensive hall on campus, with a rent bill equal to >90% of my entire student loan + grant. That year was a 2-meal-a-day struggle, but I met the love of my life, so clearly it was meant to be.

I have no idea why Amazon (where I was working at the time, I should add) suggested I buy This is Happening. It had been years since I had thought about you, but as soon as I saw you there in that black suit I got this weird premonition of anticipation. I added the vinyl to my shopping cart and checked out. Amazon has this great feature where a digital version of a physical music purchase is added automatically to your digital music library, however I resolved myself not to listen just yet. Instead I read the review of your final album on Pitchfork – another 9.2 – in which they featured a quote from an interview you gave to The Guardian: “I spent my whole life wanting to be cool… but I’ve come to realize that coolness doesn’t exist the way I once assumed.”

As soon as I read that I knew that we would have a very long relationship. I had also spent my entire life wanting to be cool; dressing in a certain way, liking certain things (or, rather, disliking other things), downloading music to impress girls on dates… you had summarized my entire young adult life and demolished it. What did it mean to be cool? James Murphy was what it meant to be cool.

I hope this letter does not come across as false-flattery. I can’t think of a way to express my feelings towards you other than through admiration and respect, and I’m sure being referred to as ‘cool’ will make you squirm in discomfort. I’ve seen you in interviews, I’ve seen your attempts to deflect any question about your role as a cultural icon, and it adds to the many reasons I admire you. Please believe me when I say that, for me, you are the epitome of cool.

Anyway I digress and we still have some ground to cover. The record arrived and I listened to your music the way you intended it to be listened to; analogue, retro and loud. Obviously I loved it. In the years between my flirtation with Sound of Silver and that first spin of This Is Happening I had taken my musical blinkers off; Antics, Kid A and Agaetis Byrjun were now among my favourite albums, and I had fully grasped the concept of a grower. [Ignore the phallic images that conjures, please.]

I spent months discovering your music. Something inside me had changed and suddenly it all made sense. I really, really lost myself in your work for a while and became a borderline obsessive. Don’t worry, I’m not about to send you a lock of my hair or a toenail or anything, I just want to paint a picture of a 26 year-old guy, who had grown up with some of the greatest music ever made around him, and he’d ignored it in favour of Franz Ferdinand’s third album. Seriously. What a fucking idiot.

By the way, at this point in writing I seem to be leaning towards thanking you. I feel like that’s where I’ll end up but, again, we are still not quite done, are we?

The fact I had become an LCD anorak is important. I’d gone through your entire library, including the running album 45:33 (small side note: thank you for the 5 kilos I lost, by the way), and I was wondering what to go to next.

“I was really a failure. Like really really really…really…really really really a failure.”

That’s the opening line of an interview you gave with SVT Play, available on YouTube. The clip is called Interview with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem about how to deal with Failure. If you haven’t seen it, I cannot recommend it strongly enough, even if it is a bit weird to watch yourself talk about…yourself. Honestly, man, this interview changed my life.

Suddenly it felt OK to be living with a flatmate when my girlfriend had moved out of our home and back in with her parents. It felt OK to be trapped in a job on a career path I hated. It felt OK that I hadn’t written a best seller and that I wasn’t even fucking trying. The fear of failure at all of those things had paralysed me for years, and when you articulated those exact same feelings, the knot around my heart loosened. It was OK that I hadn’t tried yet. It was definitely OK that I hadn’t succeeded yet. When you have thoughts and feelings that aren’t shared by anyone around you, but one of your personal heroes admits to them – well, it’s remarkable. It’s like having a bucket of cold water thrown in your face. I suddenly felt less alone.

[Dear reader, if you’re still with me – obviously I was not alone at this point in my life. Like I said earlier, I had found the love of my life. It’s a complicated feeling and it’s why I’m writing this letter. But dearest beloved, please don’t be offended.]

It’s cold and dark outside now. I’m listening to the fade out on Black Screen from your #1 billboard album American Dream. Congratulations again on that, by the way; when I said you deserved it I really, sincerely meant it. I won’t keep you for any longer and I was right about writing this, I feel a new sense of closure. Not that our relationship is over, James, far from it. No, I feel closure about the second to last paragraph. I don’t think I’ve ever articulated that before and it feels like I’ve worked out a splinter, a thick knot of something inside me, something dark and brooding that has now faded away.

Before you get too big-headed, unfortunately I should tell you that you are not the hero of this story. Music is a one-way dialogue from artist to listener; you talk to me but I can’t talk back, and this letter is the same thing. You have an opinion but frankly I’m not interested in it, in the same way you continued to make music when I was 15 and thought you were shit. I am not deluded into thinking you are a tangible part of my life, you don’t have any idea who I am. You should, however, know that it’s because of you that I took accountability for my life.

That discovery took place over a year ago. I would update you on the status of the things I was scared at failing at, but I won’t. It doesn’t matter, because it’s OK to try and it’s OK to not and it’s OK to succeed and it’s OK to not. There is only one thing that I should update you on.

I felt alone, I no longer feel alone.

Thank You.

 

 

 

 

 

[Reader, as a thank you for sticking with me, please enjoy the video I talked about earlier, it’s worth a watch. It might just change your life.]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYCz06bS380

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The Idiot

Iggy Pop — Nightclubbing

There’s a story on the news aboutta guy who ate a dover sole whole, got it stuck down his throat til he couldn’t breathe no more, his friends called an ambulance when his face went blue; meanwhile I’m a fuckin’ idiot cos I don’t know the first thing about Tianaman square? Bullshit. Don’t even know how it’s spelt but I sure as shit can use a semi colon.

There’s a guy on the tube wearing a tweed blazer tryin’ to ignore the bead of sweat making its way from his neck to his back, he could take off the blazer an’ that bead of sweat would be no more, and yet I’m the fuckin’ idiot cos I didn’t know you’re s’posed to serve a latte with warm milk instead of boiling it first.

There’s a tune in my ear from Annie Clark about a monster hankerin’ for a sacred cow but everyone knows Hindus don’t eat cows, it’s the catholics that eat baby Jesus, and yet I’m the fuckin’ moron ‘cos it took me months to notice Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett aren’t the most famous Kurt & Courtney out there.

My yellow coat has a brown line along the neck ‘cos I wore it to a festival and never washed my neck, and when I got back I never washed the coat neither. I’ll admit that one’s pretty fuckin’ stupid.

I’m mindin’ my own business on my way to work, keeping my elbows sharp in case some prick next to me thinks the arm rest is single occupancy, realising it’s much faster to drop a few letters here an’ there when you’re talkin’ quickly but it’s a bitch to write, and then I look up from my phone and realise everybody on the tube is paused. It’s mega-weird, they’re not moving an inch.

I pause K&C halfway thru their continental breakfast and it’s like the tube-sounds have paused too. I take my headphones out and nothin’. It sounds like how I’d imagine space would sound, there sure as shit ain’t nobody screamin’, my ears have got that weird feelin’ where you need to chew somethin’ to get ‘em to pop.

The tube ain’t movin’ which is nuts ‘cos I never got that slanty slowdown you get when the tube driver hits the brakes. What were we smokin’ last night, man? That’s a line by the way, I gotta job in the city, I ain’t smokin’ nothin’ but Marlboros. There’s an old dude opposite me halfway through a page turn of his paper, if he’s havin’ me on he’s doin’ a bang up job; the other folks I can see are all starin’ into the distance or leanin’ against the pole, to be honest you wouldn’t notice anythin’ out the ordinary if it weren’t for Fred. That’s the old geezer’s name in case you weren’t payin’ attention.

I think about standin’ up but I hate standin’ up on tubes in case they jolt forwards and I fall onto an old, pregnant, blind, and black woman, so instead I sit still but get a good lean on. There’s a skinny bloke in front of me wearin’ skinny grey jeans round his skinny drainpipe legs with a skinny tie on a skinny shirt drinking what I expect is a full-fat latte and I lean forwards toward him to get a look down the tube; a real good lean, lean in so good that my hairspray quiff crunches against him and gets messed outta place. Normally I’d be fuckin’ pissed but judging from the freaky sci-fi time pause shit goin’ on I got bigger fish to fry.

 

 

broom closet

Big Black — The Model

I want your money / That’s / What I want

The lobby was grand. Black columns decorated with gold leaf trim grew out of a white marble floor, my suitcase wheels made almost no noise, gliding along behind me as I approached the desk.

A short Asian woman greeted me. One of those rich places where the staff don’t smile. It’s more honest that way I guess.

“Good morning sir. Here to check in?”

“Yes, I have a reservation under Greene.”

“Just a moment please sir.”

She tapped some keys on her keyboard, the small black machine next to her whirred into life and a white keycard slid out.

“Have you stayed with us before sir?”

This suit I had on must be working. If she had seen me in my clothes from yesterday she wouldn’t have needed to ask that question.

“No, I have not.” I flashed a shark smile.

“Very well, you are in room 427. It is on the fourth floor, the elevator is just to your right,” she motioned to the black elevator doors behind one of the columns. “This is your keycard,” she tapped the white plastic card, her eyes were hazel and soft. “You will need to swipe it to use the elevator and then again to access your room. Please do not lose it as there is a fifteen dollar charge for replacements, which will be added to your bill at the end of your stay. Breakfast will be served in the restaurant” – another point, this time to the glass doors to the right of the reception desk – “between six and nine thirty tomorrow morning. The bar closes at eleven pm, however the front desk will be staffed all night should you require anything else.” She did not smile at me. She was being rude. It was sexy.

“Thank you” – a glance at her chest, small pert breasts framed in an oversized bra cup, red text on a white plastic gold framed name badge – “Elaine.” My eyes stayed on her chest and I felt my leer being returned with a blush. Women – so fucking predictable.

Dudes in the wild

LCD Soundsystem — On Repeat

I / wish I could complain / more about the Rich / but then / All their / Chil / dren would line the streets / come to every show / No-one / Wants that

Snarling lyrics cut through the crowd like a blunt knife, kids on pills smack their lips oblivious to the taunt, kids on cocaine chew gum and kids on booze close their eyes and pretend they are on cocaine or pills. It’s 2003 in New York City and everybody is angry about something. A girl falls into me and tells me to watch it which tips my mood over the edge so I leave through the fire exit.

Outside the club a pair of storms are brewing. The sky is the arena for one and the taxi queue for another. A pair of young men wearing tight skinny jeans with matching bouffant quiffs are angrily arguing over a space in the back of a yellow cab.

“Look buddy – I’ve got witnesses here who will back me up, this is my cab, I’ve been in line for almost fifteen minutes.”

This is accompanied by a sharp jab to the ribcage of the rival.

“Witnesses? It’s a fuckin’ cab, chill man, you can get the next one.”

An open palm push into the chest of the first man.

“You’d better back off.”

“Back off?”

“Yeah”

Another open palm push into the chest of the first man.

“Push me again.”

A laugh from the rival – well, a sneer, a jeer, he asks his friend to hold his beer and begins to take off his jacket. It’s tight leather and the air is damp, either the jacket has shrunk or his arms have swelled and for a moment he’s unable to roll the sleeves down past his wrists, briefly incapacitated in a scenester straight jacket. The first man should have seized the opportunity to strike but instead laughs and lights a cigarette. It’s a mistake that costs him as the rival quickly frees himself from the leather cuffs and squares his shoulders –

Before he is able to land a blow the second storm breaks and the heavens open. It’s heavy rain, the sort that makes a small indent in your skin and makes you wonder if it is in fact hail, and the onset is so sudden that both men are briefly distracted for a second. There is a collective groan as the onlookers screw up their faces and raise jackets over their heads. Nobody has brought an umbrella ‘cos who brings an umbrella to a gig? I take refuge against the red brick wall, the wind is coming from behind the building so it mostly keeps me dry. I recognise Nancy from school in the crowd and relish the opportunity to talk to her about tonight, she might even smile at me.

The rival turns to re-don his jacket which is held patiently by his accomplice (lover?) and the first man makes his move; a swift shove to the shoulder blade. The rival stays on his feet.

“You got somewhere to be?”

It’s a bad line – they’re fighting over a cab after all – but the provocation works. The accomplice holds out the jacket but he doesn’t take it. The first man senses he may have made a mistake and the rival’s chest rises as he inhales deeply through his nose. His white vest is flecked with raindrops. Suddenly –

CRACK

He turns on his left heel, swinging his body weight through the rotation and channelling it into his arm, he punches through the air through the rain through the gasps of the crowd and connects with a dull thud into his target – the chin of the first man. His fist briefly flares with pain as the knuckles slam into bone and his wrist is jarred by the resistance it has met. The rotation continues until his torso is bent in an exaggerated post-punch contortion. His hair is now out of place.

The CRACK in fact belonged to a lightning strike less than fifteen miles away. The crowd gasp, some of them jump, unsure what has shocked them more, and the first man is knocked backwards. His feet slip on the now damp concrete and his legs struggle to support him; he falls into the onlookers, flailing his arms behind him. They catch him with a collective sigh and haul him upright again. Nancy looks bored now.

The slam of a car door. The rev of an engine. The slush of tyres.

The rival has taken the cab and is making his escape.

The first man’s jaw hurts – his teeth feel a little loose and he thinks he has bitten his tongue in shock. He can taste blood. To make matters worse the rain has caused his hairspray hairdo to flatten like candy floss held under a tap. A few onlookers murmur “are you alright man” or “that guy was a real dick” but the platitudes don’t help relieve the pain in his jaw nor the embarrassment in his gut.

I put my headphones in to drown out the sound of the club and set off down the street, the opposite direction to the victor of the fight. The rain has soaked through my converse to my socks and my feet are cold. I remember that I have homework to finish and begin to wonder why I came out in the first place.

Underage drinking in suburban clubs doesn’t get you laid

Bloc Party — Your Visits Are Getting Shorter

This time the music didn’t work. My feet were like lead, my limbs stuck out at right angles and my hips had no rhythm. We’d been here for minutes but it felt like hours.

“Wanna get a drink?”

Thank god, a reason to get off the dancefloor. Jake had clearly seen me awkwardly hopping my feet out of time with the drums and felt sympathetic. He was good at that, sensing unspoken thoughts and feelings, and it made the girls like him more than the rest of us. I nodded enthusiastically and he clapped me on the shoulder with a laugh and steered me towards the bar.

The barman looked bored. Customers are mostly rude to bar staff because they forget that they don’t set the prices, or because they are impatient and assume they’re next in line, or because it’s hard to be polite while shouting over the speakers and when you’re pissed. I’d hate to have to stand there and serve drinks until I got tinnitus, but at least they don’t have to dance. And girls want to talk to them.

“What do you want man? My round,” Jake said. Truth was it had to be his round because there was no way a gimp like me would get served. I’d had to borrow Val’s older brother’s idea which had somehow worked on the bouncer, who had mistaken a seventeen year old shy kid for a twenty-four year old Italian; unfortunately barmen tended to be a bit smarter than bouncers.

“Just a beer, thanks bro.”

Bro? Where did that come from? Jake didn’t seem to react but I expect he made a log of it to laugh about later with the girls.

I stood my distance so as not to make it obvious who Jake was buying for. It wouldn’t have made a difference, the bar was so empty tonight that the barman could see plainly that the underage-looking kid he was serving was buying drinks for the similarly-underage-looking kid standing a few metres away. The DJ let two songs bleed into each other and for a few seconds they were out of sync, the drums and the bass fighting against each other. The barman took pity on us and fetched two bottles of becks from the fridge behind him.

TThhEe PPaARRtTYY

The Wedding Present — My Favourite Dress

When Steven looked in the mirror he did not like what he saw. An old, balding, fat man with sad eyes looked back at him, struggling to maintain eye contact, guiltily shuffling his pale feet, wiry black hair creeping out from the elastic rim of his socks. How the fuck did it come to this?

Steven ran a hand through his fading hair. The cut on the back of his index finger was pink where he’d scratched yesterday’s scab before it was ready; no blood but sore to touch. The juice from the lemon he had sliced earlier had burned like acid and he’d struggled to keep in a grimace in front of the guests.

Tiny creases criss-crossed across his shirt on his stomach forming a combover for his belly, a middle aged Unknown Pleasures t-shirt. The waistband of his underpants had rolled down to his hips from where he had been sitting down, folded down by the folds of his fat stomach, thankfully tucked below his felt trousers.

His drink was on the edge of the bathtub, sweating cold drops down the grooves of the glass onto the porcelain surface. Beads of perspiration dribbled down his forehead, slipping across his brow like a cattlegrid, the second line was racing to catch up with him. He inhaled through his nostrils and smelled the alpine scent of toilet bleach over the crystals of cocaine in his nose hair.

A knock at the door. A giggle. A man’s voice. A thud into the wall.

The couple looking for a room to have sex in moved on after trying the door handle and Steven splashed cold water onto his face. A drop stuck to his left eyebrow. He looked at his watch. Five minutes left of 2017.

10k BUDDHAS

Joy Division — Isolation

He didn’t have long, he thought he could hear the screams coming from the trail as his pursuer threw the pilgrims aside. His heart was beating in his chest and his lungs gasped for air as he forced his legs to continue running up the steps to the bend, ignoring the ramp to the right and instead picking his way through the ornate statues that lined the path and through the branches that scratched his arms and ripped his jeans, he reached up and grasped the ledge above him with his fingertips and used the broad back of the statue to push upwards with his feet and pulled himself up to the next level where he paused and looked behind him.

The trail snaked down through the trees but you could see its descent to the summit of the mountain from the golden buddhas that lined either side. The status were wooden with a yellow laminate coating that was in various states of disrepair, each statue depicted buddhas of various shapes and sizes; big fat ones that smiled at the pilgrims as they climbed, tall thin ones that sneered at those that struggled with the ascent, broad stately ones with outstretched arms pointing to the top of the mountain as inspiration. Alex was near the top so he could not see the three armed men guarding the entrance of the trail. He could, however, see Sylvester striding furiously towards him, a small family scattered behind him fleeing in the opposite direction, children screaming in fear at the bloody brute. He did not have the head start he thought.

Alex carried on running. The steps were levelling off as he neared the summit, and the onlookers were distracted from the sight of his dishevelled appearance by the screams of pilgrims below them that encountered Sylvester. His lungs ached, his legs felt like lead and his face was dripping with sweat but he fought onwards, the faces of the Buddha status becoming a yellow-gold blur, his path was straight and then –

An ornate red structure burst over the lip of the trail. Alex felt a new surge of adrenalin course through his exhausted limbs – he was near the village! He felt his feet gain pace and after a few more strides he stopped climbing upwards and turned a corner into a sprawling square. There was a small white temple in each corner and the giant red pagoda in the centre. He stopped running and looked over his shoulder. He seemed to be alone. He could not hear any screams.

Now uncertain of the location of Sylvester, Alex felt a knot tighten in his stomach, and he became suddenly aware of a stitch in his side after the gruelling run-turned-slow-jog. Every step caused him to wince in agony and he was seeing stars due to the lack of oxygen in his body – he made it to the centre of the square and collapsed against the building. It was wooden and the paint was peeling, leaving fat red flakes on his palm.

For a few seconds he took ragged, panting breaths, and began to feel his legs seize up when –

“Alex!”

Jean?

“Alex, up here!!”

A woman’s voice screamed towards him and he whirled on his heel, determined to find its source. The point of the pagoda shielded his eyes from the sun, and in its shadow he could just about make out the silhouette of a woman leaning out of a balcony near the top, waving desperately at him.

“JEAN! Jean-”

The sight of her was like a jolt of electricity, he hauled himself upright only his legs did not cooperate; they buckled and he fell onto his outstretched palms, his knees collided with the concrete step below him. He felt sharp stones pricking into his palms.

Sylvester had heard the voice as well, just a few hundred metres below Alex. He too had whirled round in shock but was yet to crest the summit, so had not seen the woman at the top of the pagoda; if he had, he would have perhaps taken a different course of action. Sylvester knew that there was no way to access the top level of the structure. He knew that Jean was currently in the Paris bakery. He knew the history of the village. However, at this precise moment, he was focussed on the task at hand – ensuring Alex reached the summit – and so it was for this reason he removed his gun from the waistband of his trousers and fired a shot into the air.