WHITHER SYD BARRETT?

10 OCTOBER 2002: WHITHER
SYD BARRETT?

from http://www.observer.co.uk/magazine/story/0,11913,804928,00.html

 

You shone like the sun

Syd Barrett was the prodigiously
talented founder of Pink Floyd, but


after just two years at
the centre of the 60s psychedelic scene, he


suffered a massive breakdown
and has lived as a recluse ever since.


In this extract from his
candid new book, Tim Willis tracks him down


and pieces together the
story of rock’s lost icon

Sunday October 6, 2002

The Observer

Remember when you were young,
You shone like the sun. Shine on you


crazy diamond. Now there’s
a look in your eyes, Like black holes in


the sky. Shine on you crazy
diamond.


–Pink Floyd’s tribute to
Syd Barrett on Wish You Were Here, 1975

The received wisdom is that
you don’t disturb him.The last interview


he gave was in 1971, and
from then until now, there are only about 20


recorded encounters of any
kind. His family says it upsets him to

discuss the days when he
was the spirit of psychedelia, beautiful Syd


Barrett, the leader of Pink
Floyd. He doesn’t recognise himself as


the shambling visionary
who, during an extended nervous breakdown


exacerbated by his drug
intake, made two solos LPs, Madcap and


Barrett , which are as eternally
eloquent as Van Gogh’s cornfields.


He doesn’t answer to his
60s nickname now. He’s called Roger Barrett,


as he was born in 1946.

    On a
blistering hot day, pacing the cracked tarmac pavement in this

suburban Cambridge street,
I wonder if I can act honourably by him.


When the DJ Nicky Horne
doorstepped him in the 80s, Barrett said,


‘Syd can’t talk to you now.’
Perhaps, in his own way, he was telling


the truth. But I could talk
to him as Roger; ask him if he was still


painting, as reported. I
could pass on regards from friends he knew


before he became Syd.

    Two housewives
in the street say he ignores their ‘Good mornings’


when he goes out to buy
his Daily Mail and changing brands of fags.

Apart from his sister, they
don’t think he has any visitors – not


even workmen. But they don’t
see why I shouldn’t take my chances.


It’s been a few years since
backpackers camped by his gate. ‘He


didn’t open the door for
them, and he probably won’t for you.’


    So I
walk up the concrete path of his grey pebble-dashed semi, try


the bell and discover that
it’s disconnected. At the front of the


house, all the curtains
are open. The side passage is closed to


prying eyes by a high gate.
I knock on the front door and, after a

minute or two, look through
the downstairs bay window. Where you


might expect a television
and a three-piece suite, Barrett has


constructed a bare, white-walled
workshop. Pushed against the window


is a tattered pink sofa.
On the hardboard tops, toolboxes are neatly


stacked, flexes coiled,
pens put away in a white mug.


    Then,
a sound in the hall. Has he come in from the back garden?


Perhaps it needs mowing,
like the front lawn – although, judging by


the mound of weeds by the
path, he’s been tidying the beds today.

    I knock
again, and hear three heavy steps. The door flies open and


he’s standing there. He’s
stark naked except for a small, tight pair


of bright-blue Y-fronts;
bouncing, like the books say he always did,


on the balls of his feet.

    He bars
the doorway with one hand on the jamb, the other on the


catch. His resemblance to
Aleister Crowley in his Cefalu period is


uncanny; his stare about
as welcoming…

In 1988, the News of the
World quoted the writer Jonathan Meades who,

20 years before had visited
a South Kensington flat that Barrett


shared with a bright, druggie
clique from his home town of Cambridge.


‘This rather weird, exotic
and mildly famous creature was living in


this flat with these people
who to some extent were pimping off him,


both professionally and
privately,’ said Meades. ‘There was this


terrible noise. It sounded
like the heating pipes shaking. I said,


“What’s that?” and [they]
sort of giggled and said, “That’s Syd


having a bad trip. We put
him in the linen cupboard.”‘


    It’s
a common motif in the Barrett legend: the genius mistreated,

forced to endure unspeakable
mental anguish for the fun of his


fairweather friends. But
it’s not necessarily true. There are some


terrible tales from that
flat in Egerton Court. But on this occasion,


as flatmate Aubrey ‘Po’
Powell remembers it, ‘Pete Townshend used to


come there, and Mick and
Marianne. It was an incredibly cool scene.


Jonty Meades was a hanger-on,
a straight cat just out of school. I’m


sure we told him that version
of events – but only to wind him up.’


    Similarly,
Barrett’s lover and flatmate at the time, Lindsay Corner,

denies the stories that
he locked her in her room for three days,


feeding her biscuits under
the door, then smashed a guitar over her


head. This time, however,
three other residents swear he did: ‘I


remember pulling Syd off
her,’ says Po. And that’s the trouble with


the whole Barrett business.
There are witness accounts by people who


weren’t there, those who
were there disagree – half of them, being as


totally off their faces
as Barrett was, must have a question mark


over their evidence. If
you can remember the 60s, as they say…


    By October
1966, Barrett was already well on the way to stardom. Pink

Floyd supported the Soft
Machine’s experimental jazz-rock at the IT


magazine launch party, a
2,000-strong happening in the disused


Roundhouse theatre, featuring
acid aplenty, Marianne Faithfull


dressed as a nun in a pussy-pelmet,
and Paul McCartney disguised as


an Arab. There was a giant
jelly and a Pop Art-painted Cadillac, a


mini-cinema and a performance
piece by Yoko Ono.


    ‘All
apparently very psychedelic,’ sniffed The Sunday Times of the


Floyd, thus encouraging
hundreds of difficult teenagers to check out

their new residency at the
All Saints Hall in Ladbroke Grove.


    Now once-
or twice-weekly, the shows took time to take off. Barrett’s


friend Juliet Wright remembers
an occasion when there were so few


punters that Barrett movingly
recited Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be’


soliloquy onstage. But soon
ravers were crossing London for the


lights and the weirdness,
titillated by music-press adverts using


Timothy Leary’s phrase of
‘Turn on, Tune in, Drop out’. With


Barrett’s nursery-rhyme
freak-outs lasting 40 minutes each, the Floyd

become known as Britain’s
first ‘psychedelic’ band.


    Apart
from playing a packed live schedule, the Floyd were in pursuit


of a recording contract,
rehearsing and making rough demos. Floyd gig


promoter Joe Boyd, who had
production experience, took them into a


studio in late January.
Barrett had written ‘Arnold Layne’ by then,


and perfected the relentless
riff of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’. EMI -


the same label as the Beatles
– signed them up on the basis of these


demos, nominating ‘Arnold’
as the first single. Barrett was

delighted. ‘We want to be
pop stars,’ he said, gladly grinning for


cheesy publicity shots of
the band high-kicking on the street.


However, by the beginning
of April, he was already railing in the


music papers against record-company
executives who were pressing him


for more commercial material.

    He was
even less cheery by the end of the month. Six weeks before,


‘Arnold Layne’ had been
released. This jolly tale of Barrett’s


childhood pal and later
Pink Floyd member Roger Waters’s mum’s

washing-line raider was
helped up the charts by a ban from Radio


London, due to its lyrics
about transvestism. But Barrett had grown


to hate playing note-perfect,
three-minute renditions on stage. On 22


April it reached number
20, its highest position. On 29 April,


Barrett was still playing
it, at Joe Boyd’s UFO club at dawn and on a


TV show in Holland that
evening. The band then drove back to London


to headline at 3am in Britain’s
biggest happening ever, the ’14 Hour


Technicolor Dream’ at the
cavernous Alexandra Palace.


    It was
a druggy affair. Floyd’s co-manager Peter Jenner was certainly

tripping that night, and
Barrett is said to have been. John Lennon,


Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix
were among those who played to a


10,000-strong audience.
There were 40 bands, dancers in strobe shows,


a helter-skelter and a noticeboard
made of lightbulbs which displayed


messages like ‘Vietnam Is
A Sad Trip’. The Floyd came on as the sun’s


pink fingers touched the
huge eastern window. Barry Miles, the 60s


chronicler, reported: ‘Syd’s
eyes blazed as his notes soared up into


the strengthening light,
as the dawn was reflected in his famous


mirror-disc Telecaster [or
rather, Esquire].’ The truth was less

rosy. Barrett was tired,
so terribly tired.


    There’s
a horrible ring of truth to Barrett’s old college friend Sue


Kingsford’s contention that,
in 1967, Barrett would regularly visit


her in Beaufort Street,
to score from a heavy acid dealer in the


basement called ‘Captain
Bob’. It certainly sounds more likely than


the rumours that Barrett’s
camp-followers were lacing his tea with


LSD. Kingsford’s boyfriend
Jock says: ‘Spiking was a heinous crime.


You just wouldn’t do it.
There was a ritual to acid-taking those days

- a peaceful scene, good
sounds.’


    Cambridge
pal and future Floyd member David Gilmour reckons: ‘Syd


didn’t need encouraging.
If drugs were going, he’d take them by the


shovelful.’ Gilmour tends
to agree with something fellow Camridgian


and Floyd’s bassist Waters
once said that ‘Syd was being fed acid.’


But Sue Kingsford giggles:
‘We were all feeding it to each other…


It was a crazy time.’ Despite
her attachment to Jock, she had a


one-night stand with Barrett.
‘We were tripping,’ she explains.

    Ah, but
what does she mean by tripping? Another of Barrett’s


Cambridge friends, Andrew
Rawlinson, comments: ‘Acid in those days


was five times stronger
than today’s stuff. On a proper trip, you


might take 250 micrograms.
But a faction believed in taking 50mcg


every day. [There was even
a popular hippy-handbook on the subject.]


On that, you could function
– you might even appear normal – but you


couldn’t initiate much.’

    Perhaps
that was Barrett’s way. But if he had actually taken a proper

dose of acid at the Technicolor
Dream then it was a fairly rare


event. He simply didn’t
have the time for anything stronger than dope


- which he did smoke in
copious quantities. And maybe for a few


Mandrax, the hypnotic tranquillisers
which, if one can ride the first


wave of tiredness, induced
an opiate-like buzz when swallowed with


alcohol. In legend, ‘Mandies
make you randy.’ They may have appealed


to Barrett because they
were fashionable in the late 60s – or because


they stopped his mind from
spinning.


    The band
weren’t worried by his behaviour, yet Syd was Syd. And if,

by the end of May, people
who hadn’t seen Barrett for a while thought


he had changed, his month
had started well. On 12 May 1967 the band


played the ‘Games for May’
concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.


Barrett wrote an early version
of ‘See Emily Play’ for the event,


which was essentially a
normal concert bookended by some pretentious


bits. The Floyd introduced
a rudimentary quad sound-system, played


taped noises from nature
and had a liquid red light show. Mason was


amplified sawing a log.
Waters threw potatoes at a gong. The roadies


pumped out thousands of
soap bubbles and one of them, dressed as an

admiral, threw daffodils
into the stalls. The mess earnt the Floyd a


ban from the hall and a
favourable review from The Financial Times.


    On 2
June, the Floyd played Joe Boyd’s UFO after a two-month absence.


Though the other band members
were friendly, Boyd said Barrett ‘just


looked at me. I looked right
in his eye and there was no twinkle, no


glint… you know, nobody
home.’ Visiting London from France, David


Gilmour dropped in on the
recording of ‘Emily': ‘Syd didn’t seem to


recognise me and he just
stared back,’ he says. ‘He was a different

person from the one I’d
last seen in October.’ Was he on drugs,


though? ‘I’d done plenty
of acid and dope – often with Syd – and that


was different from how he
had become.’


    Touring
the provinces in July, like the rest of the band, Barrett


resented the beery mob baying
for ‘Arnold’ and ‘Emily’. The Floyd


even wrote a white-noise
number called ‘Reaction in G’ to express


their feelings. But Barrett’s
inner reaction was harder to fathom.


With his echo-machines on
full tilt, he might detune his Fender until

its strings were flapping,
and hit one note all night. He might stand


with his arms by his side,
the guitar hanging from his neck, staring


straight ahead, while the
others performed as a three-piece.


    Perhaps
Barrett was making a statement. Perhaps he was pushing his


experimental notions of
‘music-of-the-moment’ to new boundaries.


Whatever else, he was now
seriously mentally ill. And almost


certainly he suspected it
himself.


    After
a couple of further concert debacles, Jenner and his partner

Andrew King were forced
to act. Though their debut LP Piper at the


Gates of Dawn was released
on 4 August, Blackhill cancelled the next


three weeks’ gigs and arranged
a holiday for Barrett and Corner on


the Balearic island of Formentera.
Hutt and Rick Wright would be


chaperones, accompanied
by their partners and Hutt’s baby son. Waters


and his wife would be in
Ibiza. When Melody Maker learnt of this,


their front-page splash
read: ‘Pink Floyd Flake Out’.

2 November 1967, US mini-tour.
Pink Floyd were not prepared for the


American way. They had expected
the San Francisco scene to be similar

to Britain’s. Instead, they
found themselves in humungous venues like


the Winterland, supporting
such blues bands as Big Brother and the


Holding Company (led by
Janis Joplin). The three nights they played


with Joplin, they borrowed
her lighting because their own seemed too


weedy. The crowd weren’t
into feedback or English whimsy -


acid-inspired or not. Barrett
was off the map, and when he did play,


it was to a different tune.

    At the
beginning of the week his hair had been badly permed at Vidal

Sassoon, and he was distraught.
The greased-up ‘punk’ style with


which he’d been experimenting
would be better. Waters remembers that


in the dressing-room at
the Cheetah Club in Santa Monica, Barrett


suddenly called for a tin
of Brylcreem and tipped the whole lot on


his head. As the gunk melted,
it slipped down his face until Barrett


resembled ‘a gutted candle’.
Producing a bottle of Mandrax, he


crushed them into the mess
before taking the stage. David Gilmour


says he ‘still can’t believe
that Syd would waste good Mandies’. But


a lighting man called John
Marsh, who was also there, confirms the

story. Girls in the front
row, seeing his lips and nostrils bubbling


with Brylcreem, screamed.
He looked like he was decomposing onstage.


Faced with this farce, some
of the band and crew abandoned themselves


to drink, drugs, groupies
and the sights. When they arrived in Los


Angeles, Barrett had forgotten
his guitar, which caused much cost and


fuss. ‘It’s great to be
in Las Vegas,’ he said to a record company


man in Hollywood. He fell
into a swimming-pool and left his wet


clothes behind.

    The Floyd
survived the tour by the skin of their teeth. On TV’s Pat

Boone Show, where they did
‘Apples and Oranges’, Barrett was happy to


mime in rehearsals – but
live he ignored the call to ‘Action’ four or


five times, leaving Waters
to fill in. Asked what he liked in the


after-show chat, Barrett
replied… after a dreadful pause…


‘America!’, which made the
audience whoop. On American Bandstand and


the Perry Como Show, he
did not move his lips, to speak or mime.


    Finishing
their commitments on the West Coast, the band began


thinking of how to replace
or augment him. The next day, they were in

Holland, handing Barrett
notes in the hope that he would talk to


them. The day after, they
were bus-bound on a British package tour


with Hendrix, the Move,
Amen Corner, the Nice and others, playing two


17-minute sets a night for
three weeks, with three days off in


middle.Though he had worked
harder, the schedule was too much for


Barrett. Onstage, he was
unable to function. Sometimes he failed to


show up and the Nice’s Dave
O’List stood in for him. Once, Jenner had


to stop him escaping by
train.


    Barrett
did play occasional blinders through out the autumn of 1967,

but these instances were
as unpredictable as spring showers, and the


band’s hopes that he might
‘return’ dimmed. The Floyd stumbled


through to Christmas, while
the three other band members hatched a


plan: they would ask David
Gilmour to join the group to cover lead


guitar and vocals while
their sick colleague could do what he wanted,


so long as he stood onstage.

    Barrett
couldn’t care less, and Gilmour, broke, bandless and driving


a van for a living – was
known to be not only a terrific guitarist

but also a wonderful mimic
of musical parts. Drummer Nick Mason had


already sounded him out
when they ran into each other at a gig in


Soho. On 3 January 1968,
Gilmour accepted a try-out. The band had a


week booked in a north London
rehearsal hall before going back on the


road.

    Four
gigs followed in the next fortnight, with Barrett contributing


little. He looks happy enough
in a cine-clip from the time, joining


in with the lads for a tap-dance
in a dressing-room. ‘But in

reality,’ says Gilmour,
‘he was rather pathetic.’ On the day of the


fifth gig the others were
driving south from a business meeting in


central London. As they
drove, one of them – no one remembers who -


asked, ‘Shall we pick up
Syd?’ ‘Fuck it,’ said the others. ‘Let’s not


bother.’ Barrett, who probably
didn’t notice that night, would never


work again with the band
that he had crafted in his image. And they


never quite put him out
of their minds.


    Not that
their minds were made up. Though the Floyd would go on to

huge fame and fortune, at
the time they believed they probably had a


few months left of milking
psychedelia before ignominious


disbandment. Barrett, as
Waters says, was the ‘goose that had laid


the golden egg’. Now their
frontman had become such a liability on


tour, they would rather
appear without their main attraction than


risk his involvement.

    However,
Barrett still had the band’s schedule. Waters remembers him


turning up with his guitar
at ‘an Imperial College gig, I think, and

he had to be very firmly
told that he wasn’t coming on stage with


us’. At the Middle Earth,
wearing all his Chelsea threads, he


positioned himself in front
of the low stage and stared at Gilmour


throughout his performance.
Now he had to watch his old college


friend playing his licks.
Undoubtedly, he felt hurt by this treatment.


    Though
the money from Piper came rolling in, Barrett’s work went


completely to pot. Jenner
took him into the Abbey Road studios


several times between May
and July 1968, bringing various musicians

and musical friends to help
out, but achieved next to nothing.


    Barrett
was all over the place – forgetting to bring his guitar to


sessions, breaking equipment
to EMI’s displeasure. Sometimes he


couldn’t even hold his plectrum.
He was in a state, and had little


new material. Jenner had
the experience neither as a person not as a


producer to coax anything
out of him. By August, he and King were


having less and less to
do with Barrett – which could equally be said


of the other lodgers in
Egerton Court.

    According
to flatmate Po, ‘Syd could still be very funny and lucid,


but he could also be uncommunicative.
Staring. Heavy, you know?’


    In the
spring of 1968, Roger Walters had talked to the hip


psychiatrist RD Laing. He
had even dri ven Barrett to an appointment:


‘Syd wouldn’t get out. What
can you do?’ In the intervening months,


however, Barrett became
less hostile to the idea of treatment. So


Gale placed a call to Laing
and Po booked a cab. But with the


taxi-meter ticking outside,
Barrett refused to leave the flat.

    By the
autumn of 68, he was homeless. Periodically he returned to


Cambridge, where his mother
Win fretted, urged him to see a doctor,


and blindly hoped for the
best. In London, he crashed on friends’


floors – and began the midnight
ramblings which would continue for


two years.

    By the
mid 70s, the Syd Barrett Appreciation Society had folded, due


to ‘lack of Syd’. But he
wasn’t quite invisible. In 1977,


ex-girlfriend Gala Pinion
was in a supermarket on the Fulham Road.

‘Where are you going, then?’
he said. ‘I’m going to buy you a drink.’


They went for a drink, and
he invited her back to his flat. Once


there, ‘He dropped his trousers
and pulled out his cheque book,’ says


Pinion. ‘How much do you
want?’ he asked. ‘Come on, get your knickers


down.’

    Gala
made her excuses and left, never to see him again. However, even


as an invisible presence,
he loomed large. The previous year, punk


rock had appeared and the
King’s Road had become heartland. Without

success, the Sex Pistols,
their manager Malcolm McLaren and their art


director Jamie Reid tried
to contact Barrett, to ask him to produce


their first album. The Damned
hoped he would produce their second,


realised it was impossible
and settled for the Floyd’s Nick Mason


(‘Who didn’t have a clue’,
according to the band’s bassist Captain


Sensible).

    Barrett
continued to do as little and spend as much as ever.


Bankrupt, he left London
for Win’s new Cambridge home in 1981.

    
From then until now, only a handful of encounters with Barrett have


been reported first-hand,
but some facts have come to light. An


operation on his ulcer meant
that Barrett lost much of his excess


weight. Win thought he should
keep himself occupied, so Roger


Waters’s mother Mary found
him a gardening job with some wealthy


friends. At first he prospered
but, during a thunderstorm, he threw


down his tools and left.

    By this
time, he was just calling himself ‘Roger’. In 1982, his

finances restored, he booked
into the Chelsea Cloisters for a few


weeks, but found he disliked
London. He heard the voice of freedom


and he followed – walking
back to Cambridge, where he was found on


Win’s doorstep – and leaving
his dirty laundry behind.


    The circumstances
of his final return to Cambridge were rightly


interpreted by his family
as a ‘cry for help’ and he agreed to spend


a spell in Fulbourne psychiatric
hospital. (It has often been said,


on the grounds that he has
an ‘odd’ mind, rather than a sick one.) He

continued for a while as
an outpatient at Fulbourne, with no trouble.


    Barrett
has never been sectioned. He has never had to take drugs for


his mental health, except
after one or two uncontrollable fits of


anger, when he was admitted
to Fulbourne and administered Largactyl.


However, he has received
other treatments. In the early 80s, he spent


two years in a charitable
institution, Greenwoods, in Essex. At this


halfway house for lost souls,
he joined in group and other forms of


therapy, and was very content.
But after an imagined slight, he

walked out – again all the
way to Win’s house. The increasingly frail


Win moved in with her daughter
Roe and her husband Paul Breen,


according to Mary Waters,
‘because she was so scared of his


outbursts’.

    Some
people think Barrett suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. It


certainly seems he can’t
be bothered to think about anything that


doesn’t directly affect
him. He kept rabbits and cats for a while but


forgot to feed them, so
they had to be sent to more caring homes.

Thereafter, the only intimate
contacts he maintained were with Win


and Roe. Otherwise, he seems
to have lost the habit – and become wary


- of human interaction,
limiting himself to encounters with shop


assistants and his sympathetic
GP, whose surgery has become a second


home. He was – and is still
– in and out of hospital for his ulcers.


    Paul
Breen revealed that his brother-in-law was ‘painting again’, and


meeting his mother in town
for shopping trips. It was a ‘very, very


ordinary lifestyle,’ said
Breen, but not reclusive: ‘I think the word

“recluse” is probably emotive.
It would be truer to say that he


enjoys his own company now,
rather than that of others.’


    As more
years went by, other news leaked out. Barrett was collecting


coins. He was learning to
cook, and could stuff a mean pepper. On the


death of Win in 1991, he
destroyed all his old diaries and art books


- and also chopped down
the front garden’s fence and tree, and burnt


them (though more in a spirit
of renewal than grief). He had been a


great support to Roe in
her mourning, but hadn’t attended the funeral

because he ‘wouldn’t know
what to do’. He still wrote down his


thoughts all the time. He
still painted – big works, six foot by four


- but destroyed any that
he didn’t consider perfect, and stacked the


rest against the wall. And
sometimes he was unable to finish them,


because obsessive fans had
climbed over his back fence, and stolen


the brushes from the table
outside, where he worked.


    A few
titbits, to finish. In 1998, Barrett was diagnosed as a B-type


diabetic – a genetic condition
– and was prescribed a regime of

medication and diet to which
he is sporadically faithful. His


eyesight will inevitably
become ‘tunnelled’ as a result – sooner,


rather than later, unless
he regularly takes his tablets. However, he


is far from ‘blind’, as
reported on the more excitable websites.


    For Christmas
2001, Barrett gave his sister a painting. For his


birthday in January 2002,
she brought him a new stereo, because he


likes to listen to the Stones,
Booker-T and the classical composers.


However, he evinced no interest
in the recent Echoes: The Best of

Pink Floyd (on which nearly
a fifth of the tracks are written by him,


despite the fact that he
only recorded with the band for less than a


30th of its lifespan). To
coincide with the album’s release, the BBC


screened an Omnibus documentary
about him, which he watched round at


Roe’s house. He is reported
to have liked hearing ‘Emily’ and,


particularly, seeing his
old landlord Mike Leonard – who he called


his ‘teacher’. Otherwise,
he thought the film ‘a bit noisy’.


 

    ‘Mister
Barrett?’

    ‘Yes.’

    His voice
is deeper than on any recordings, more cockneyfied than on


the TV interviews he gave
in 67. Behind him, the hall is clean but


bare, the floorboards mostly
covered in linoleum. I mention someone


dear to him, from his childhood.
She’d be coming to Cambridge in a


couple of weeks, and wondered
if Barrett might like a visit?


    ‘No.’

    He stands
and stares, less embarrassed than me by the vision of him


in his underpants.

    ‘So is
everything all right?’


    ‘Yeah.’

    ‘You’re
still painting?’


    ‘No,
I’m
not doing anything,’ he says (which is true – he’s talking

to me). ‘I’m just looking
after this place for the moment.’


    ‘For
the moment? Are you thinking of moving on?’


    ‘Well,
I’m not going to stay here for ever.’ He pauses a split


second, delivers an unexpected
‘Bye-bye’, and slams the door.


    I’m left
like others before me, trying to work out just what he


meant. ‘I’m not going to
stay here for ever.’ Does he just mean, ‘One


day, I might move house.’
Or is it a nod to the fate that awaits us

all? A coded message that
he may re-emerge into the world – perhaps


show new work or perform?
And is opening the door in your underpants


an unwitting demonstration
of self-confidence, or an eccentricity, or


worse? I retrace my steps,
cross the main road to my car where I


write a note that I hope
is tactful: ‘Dear Mr Barrett, I’m sorry to


have disturbed your sunbathing.
I didn’t have time to mention that


I’m writing a book on you…’
I plead my case, give my telephone


number, and return down
the cracked pavement.


    As I
reach the gate, I see him weeding in the front corner of the

garden, on his knees.

    ‘Hi,’
I say. ‘I’ve written you a note.’


    ‘Huh,’
he says, not looking up, throwing roots behind him.


    ‘May
I leave it?’ He straightens and stares into my eyes, but doesn’t


answer. He’s wearing khaki
shorts now, and gardening gloves, which


aren’t really suited to
receiving the note – and I would be tempting


fate to rest it on the side
of the wheelbarrow which he has bought

with him.

    ‘Shall
I put it through the letterbox?’


    ‘It’s
nothing to do with me,’ he says. So I do.


    ‘Nice
day,’ I say, on leaving. ‘Goodbye.’


    He doesn’t
reply, and I never hear from him.