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

–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.

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.”‘

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.’

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.

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.

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.

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

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.’

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

    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.’

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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


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.

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.

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.

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.

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


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


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.

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


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.

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’.




    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?


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

in his underpants.

    ‘So is
everything all right?’


still painting?’

not doing anything,’ he says (which is true – he’s talking

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

the moment? Are you thinking of moving on?’

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.

I say. ‘I’ve written you a note.’

he says, not looking up, throwing roots behind him.

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.

I put it through the letterbox?’

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

day,’ I say, on leaving. ‘Goodbye.’

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