TonyInterruptor | Nicola Barker | Granta


Nicola Barker

‘When I was eighteen, the vision was to make music that didn’t exist, because
everything else was so unsatisfactory.’

‘Blue cheese contains natural amphetamines.
Why are students not informed about this?’

– Mark E. Smith



One day, he just stood up in the middle of a live music performance and said, ‘Is this honest? Are we all being honest here?’

He pointed at Sasha Keyes who had just begun what he (Sasha Keyes) felt to be a particularly devastating improvised trumpet solo, and added, almost pityingly, ‘You, especially.’

The interruptor had a good voice, a strong voice. It was fundamentally classless but with the slightest suggestion of northern grit. It had a pleasing timbre: low, grave, sincere. And the line was delivered in such a way that it seemed at once spontaneous but considered, indignant but measured. It was heartfelt. There was . . . somehow or other, there was soul.

Many people couldn’t (or didn’t) hear what the interruptor was saying because they were so intent on the performance. His words were just so much sound to them. They had – for the most part – paid for their tickets, and while the tickets weren’t expensive (as befits an improvisational jazz show in a moderately affluent southern English cathedral town), nor were they cheap. Insofar as value for money is relevant to art, that audience – an attentive audience, a great audience – were determined to get it. They were focused (there may even have been a degree of breath-holding) and the overriding consensus was that they were all definitely getting a bang for their buck:

Effortless flair –
Deep concentration –
Implacable scowling –
Occasional nonchalance –
Undeniable finesse –
Subterranean grunting –
Utter humourlessness –
Visible sweat –
Patent commitment –

Honest, though?

Sasha Keyes was/is both a fantastically complex individual, and an extraordinarily talented trumpet player. A virtuoso. That much, at least, is not up for debate. It’s known.

Sasha Keyes was/is reputed to have made Prince Charles cry after he slaughtered ‘My Funny Valentine’ (fearlessly, magnificently) while sailing down the Thames on a London barge. The (then) future monarch was held physically and aurally captive by this one-man last-minute booking and his legendarily uncompromising trumpet (Jamie Cullum had cancelled because of flu. The events organiser was summarily fired. This story may possibly be an urban myth, but it certainly rings true).

It also goes without saying (almost) that the gig wasn’t much fun, but then who buys tickets for an improvised jazz set by Sasha Keyes and his Ensemble (the Ensemble didn’t consider themselves to be ‘his’ or ‘an ensemble’, so much as a group of individuals who just happened to be playing together, several of whom actively despised each other) in the spurious belief that ‘fun’ would be involved? To expect (or require) ‘fun’ would be like going to a railway station (any railway station) and trying to book yourself onto a direct flight to Acapulco. This was an altogether different mode of transport. Fun was neither a point of departure nor arrival.

Over time, this moment – which we are now calling, for the sake of clarity, The First Interruption – would acquire a kind of mythical status. It became a little piece of Performance Lore; a source of ferocious interest/contention/amusement/debate across at least three creative disciplines, the subject of four books – this being the third – and the root of approximately 2.5 million tweets and memes. Even Sasha Keyes himself would eventually come to see his involvement in The First Interruption as a marker of status (never a source of pride), although this uncomfortable accommodation was still a very long way off.


A very, very long way off.

And yet . . .

Even while we are calling it The First Interruption, can we be absolutely certain that this is indeed so? Was The First Interruption really the first interruption? Surely it must be highly likely that TonyInterruptor (John Lincoln Braithwaite to his mum and all the teachers who repeatedly threw him out of class) would have interrupted countless other live music performances, but these interruptions had inexplicably (but also explicably) escaped public record? It is absolutely certain that he would’ve left many live music events in complete disgust, as such was his nature, and to vote with your feet he considered a small yet revolutionary act of defiance (especially if the venue was seated and he was positioned, as he invariably was, dead centre, three rows from the front).

To stand, at a critical moment, during a live music performance – or a play, or a reading, or a maths class, or a poetry recital – and to leave (with all the adjacent kerfuffle . . . where’s my anorak got to? Oops, I forgot my gloves), must surely be to surreptitiously disrupt and undermine a generalised feeling of consensus around what is ‘good’?

For the record, The First Interruption wasn’t especially notable or even outrageous (although some were outraged – Sasha Keyes in particular), but for a selection of obscure reasons it became significant. It represented a perfect storm. For a storm to be perfect there will always be a rare combination of meteorological factors (a serving of warm air from a low-pressure system hitting a portion of cool, dry air from a high-pressure system, with a dash of tropical moisture thrown in like a condiment), which, just as in jazz improvisation, facilitate the creation of something potentially mind-boggling. Perhaps perfection is always a subtle and random combination of disparate factors? Perhaps perfection is simply the unplanned conjoining (and unifying) of the unlikely? So brief! So fragile! (Sasha Keyes once keenly disputed this idea, out of sheer perversity, during a heated post-performance exchange with Fi Kinebuchi. We can imagine Kinebuchi making this perfectly sensible and uncontentious point in breathy undertones with her trademark, flowery, birdlike gestures and Sasha Keyes gazing at her with an icy dismissiveness before saying something withering like: ‘Have you thought about this a lot, Fi?’)

In just this way (i.e. the perfect storm way) there was the timing of the Interruption, the content of the Interruption, the general tone of the Interruption, the personality of TonyInterruptor himself (could we rightly call it charisma? This is a chapter in itself), the reaction of his interlocutor (Sasha Keyes), the presence of a disgruntled zoomer, India Shore, who had been compelled to attend the performance by her architecture professor father (Lambert Shore) in the belief that it would be, at some level, improving and educational for her.

Some people thought they heard what he was saying. Larry Frome (kicking butt on his ARP Pro Soloist 1975) was actually staring straight at TonyInterruptor, somewhat dazedly (and wondering how long Sasha Keyes would solo this time around) when he heard the words,

‘Sasha Keyes is a dick. A blowhard and a dick.’

This bears no resemblance to what TonyInterruptor actually uttered, but Larry Frome to this very day insists that it was so, even in the face of prodigious documentary evidence to the contrary (recorded on a mobile phone: #firstinterruption). This has opened up an entirely different area of enquiry #fromediffers around ideas connected to meaning and intent, and whether the human ear hears only what it wants to up to (approximately) 87 per cent of the time.

It’s interesting to wonder whether TonyInterruptor would even exist (as a meme, a metaphor, a celebrity, a concept) without Sasha Keyes – the very person whose sincerity he had pointedly and spontaneously called into question that particular night. Did Sasha Keyes actually create TonyInterruptor by sarcastically christening him, post-gig, with an idle, throwaway comment? Do we all inadvertently create our own mortal enemies by imagining them into being (and naming them) then spending inordinate – even heroic – amounts of energy fiercely battling with them through this crazy, mind-boggling delusion we call ‘time’?



‘A dick? Are you sure?’

Sasha Keyes is perched, uncomfortably, right on the edge, the lip, of the only comfortable chair provided in the small but nicely appointed artists’ changing room. Larry Frome is keenly aware of this fact because he has lower-back issues and had assessed which chair might be best suited to his needs on first entering the changing room prior to soundcheck. Once this assessment had been made, he had allowed himself to believe that any other band member (they weren’t a band, they were just random individuals ‘performing’) who sat in that particular chair and deprived him of it was a complete arsehole. Almost the entire band were arseholes, apparently; especially Sasha Keyes (who, in Larry Frome’s view, behaved like an arsehole approximately 90 per cent of the time).

Larry Frome is six foot three and incredibly thin. He is forty-seven years old and looks a little bit like Gil Scott-Heron. He enjoys wearing motorbike goggles even when he isn’t on a motorbike (he once hired a dirt bike during a weekend on the Canary Islands in the early 2000s and stole the goggles – happily losing his deposit of €175 – because he liked the feeling of pressure around his eyes).

Larry Frome is celebrated for being extraordinarily frank and literal (he still remains disappointed that he didn’t see an actual canary on the Canary Islands, for example) but is generally liked among his peer group of musicians because he only ever speaks at a low whisper, which takes the edge off his caustic proclamations. Over time his trademark goggles (which have two tiny holes bored into the reinforced plastic on either side to preclude excessive quantities of condensation) have rubbed a kind of permanent parting onto the back of his head. His Afro hair has formed into two distinct bubbles. It is a strange but a good look.

Larry Frome suffers from ADHD and is incapable of sitting still for more than three minutes at a time unless he happens to be deeply engrossed in something. Generally the two things that engross him most deeply are vintage synths and arguments. He rarely eats and finds swallowing difficult because he sometimes completely forgets how to do it properly unless he isn’t concentrating.

‘That’s not even remotely close to what I heard,’ Saul Timpson shrugs, distractedly removing one of Fi Kinebuchi’s dark hairs from the arm of his new, bright yellow Crew jumper.

Saul Timpson always acts with a measure of grandiosity – as if he were the rightful heir to the key-cutting, shoe-mending business, Timpson. But he isn’t. He’s just a 63-year-old geography professor from Reading with a talent for the cello who sometimes gets gigs with Sasha Keyes (whenever Cecil Home is busy) because his sister was Sasha Keyes’s first ex-wife and he is a fat-headed but fundamentally amiable sycophant. He also holds an especially important place in Sasha Keyes’s heart for introducing him (as a raw, unschooled nineteen year old) to Pharoah Sanders and the whole concept of ‘sheets of sound’. Other ensemble members sometimes refer to Timpson, pityingly, as ‘The Whipping Boy’.

‘What did you hear, Tims?’ Sasha Keyes demands.

‘I heard “Is this honest? Are we being honest here? You especially.” Tims points at Sasha Keyes. He holds out his pointing arm with a measure of Gothic aplomb, like the Grim Reaper.

‘What the fuck? Some random, fucking nobody,’ Sasha snarls, ‘some dickweed, small-town TonyInterruptor . . .’ He temporarily runs out of invective because his levels of upsetness are too profound to be fully encapsulated by mere words (or ‘worms’ as Larry Frome likes to refer to them – semi-seriously).

‘TonyInterruptor,’ Larry Frome echoes. ‘One worm? Heh!’

‘Surely the title of an early Fall single?’ Simo Treen chuckles, also impressed, in spite of himself.

Simo Treen plays piano.

Simo Treen has been fascinated by the tonal peculiarities/sonic and compositional variations of birdsong forever – long before anyone else was even vaguely interested in the subject (although, to be frank, everyone has always been interested in the sonic and compositional variations of birdsong). Treen deftly follows up his Fall comment with the apparently unrelated observation that ‘Sasha has never really had the capacity to fully galvanise a group of people.’

‘What the hell?!’ Sasha turns on him, outraged.

Never had the capacity to fully . . . ?

This is precisely the kind of unnecessary sideswipe for which Simo Treen is legendary. He is a small but very muscular and hairy man with immense hands. He insists on always wearing shoes with impossibly pointed toes even though they must, inevitably, compromise his use of piano pedals. For this reason he has perfected a style of pedal-free piano playing. Nobody knows which came first: the pedals or the shoes. In-the-know contemporaries like to call this ‘the Simo Treen shoe/pedal conundrum’.

‘TonyInterruptor,’ Fi Kinebuchi notes, thoughtfully, ‘I expect you are familiar with the Krishnamurti quote that “when you teach a child that a bird is named ‘bird’ that child will never see a bird again”?’

‘What the . . . ? How the . . . ? Shut the fuck up, Fi,’ Sasha snaps. Fi’s possession of a vagina makes her interjections, if possible, even more irritating to Sasha Keyes than Simo Treen’s (and this is a proven, scientific fact).

You shut up you fucking dick,’ Larry Frome whispers, almost inaudibly, while fishing around inside his mouth for one of Fi Kinebuchi’s hairs, which he appears to have partially swallowed.

(Larry Frome and Fi Kinebuchi are currently an item although they live in different cities.)

‘Krishna . . . ?’ Simo Treen echoes. ‘What exactly has TonyInterruptor to do with birdsong again?’

Nobody can ever really tell whether Fi Kinebuchi is actually the profoundly mystical and otherworldly intellectual that she appears to be. She plays the autoharp and the lyre but also the guitar. She lectures in music at Christ Church University (several of her students were in attendance at the gig – Lambert Shore regularly corners her in the staffroom) and is generally known (by herself – on her social media – and therefore by the world at large) as ‘The Queen of Strings’.

Some people (notably Sasha Keyes) think that a) she is the ‘queen of strings’ but the mistress of none and b) that she just googles things and then randomly inserts them into conversations no matter how pertinent or relevant they may be. This means that she is invariably surrounded by a perplexing nimbus of question marks. She wears these like her queenly ermine. Sasha Keyes thinks she plays a devilish and cunning peek-a-boo within the voluptuous folds of this furry cloak.

Sasha Keyes was married to Fi Kinebuchi for seven years. For six of those years Fi Kinebuchi was living abroad and studying medicine in Oslo. One month before taking her finals, Fi Kinebuchi abandoned her degree. Sasha Keyes found this impossible to comprehend at the time. He still hasn’t forgiven her.

While we are on the subject of fur: if Fi Kinebuchi were to be said to resemble anything then it would be an Alaskan Klee Kai. This is a relatively new toy breed of dog that (in turn) slightly resembles the Alaskan malamute and the Siberian husky and was recently popularised by the dog Nico in American reality TV show Couples Therapy. The Klee Kai is adorable and dynamic and sheds its hair all year round. Fi Kinebuchi is tiny with a pointed face and bright blue eyes. She is adorable and dynamic and possesses a fabulous frizz of curly hair which she sheds all year round.

Saul Timpson (who is greatly enjoying his current role in the conversation as ‘interpreter’ / He Who Brings Clarity) says, ‘When you name a thing you at once create and destroy it.’

Fi Kinebuchi turns to look at Tims with a measure of astonishment.

Did I really just say that? How wonderful!

‘Oh thanks for helping us all out there, Tims.’ Sasha Keyes rolls his eyes (while simultaneously deciding if he agrees with this helpful precis or not. He doesn’t, because he refuses, on point of principle, to ever agree with any of Fi Kinebuchi’s gnomic utterances).

As Sasha speaks, Simo Treen is inspecting the venue’s hashtag on his iPhone and noting that there is already a post on the stream in which TonyInterruptor can be seen (at a slightly unusual/unflattering angle) asking whether everyone is being honest. He immediately likes it and inserts the comment ‘#TonyInterruptor’ to the feed then copies the post onto his Snapchat, adding the comment: ‘#TonyInterruptor . . . heh heh WTF?!’

He then starts a poll to the bottom of the post: ‘Agree? Disagree? LET’S VOTE PEOPLE!’

There is a gentle tapping on the small refreshments table, which currently holds a selection of empty water bottles and crisp packets. It is Tod Knowles. Tod Knowles is a percussionist. He is tapping on the table with a plastic straw. Tod Knowles likes to announce every utterance he produces (he doesn’t say much, otherwise this tendency might be extremely wearing) with a small, preliminary drum roll:

Ppprrrrrum-pum-pum pum!

‘I dunno. Did I get this wrong or did this interruptor guy actually say that our music-making lacks integrity? Did I get this wrong? Because . . . yeah . . . that kinda hurts man. That stings.’

A short silence follows. It’s almost as if nobody has considered this idea previously, aside from Sasha Keyes who took the whole thing as a personal (rather than a communal) insult. But yeah . . . now he comes to think of it . . . Sasha starts to smirk then stops smirking. Does this improve things for him, personally, though? Isn’t it always better to just be slap-bang at the centre of attention (negative or positive)?

‘I like to think that I’m an honest person,’ Fi Kinebuchi muses, ‘but in terms of performance . . . ? Hmm.’

‘Hmm?!’ Sasha Keyes parrots, satirising her, enragedly.

(An ‘honest’ person?! Really?! Off being a mature student in Oslo for six years and then, Oh sorry, I just don’t think I actually want to do this after all . . . ? Total bollocks.)

Fi gently expands on her position: ‘This was an improvised set, yes, absolutely, but surely we are all subject to various group dynamics which subconsciously – or consciously – underpin . . . Would you stop filming me, please, Simo? I actually find it a little bit disconcerting.’

‘What I think Fi is attempting to say,’ Saul Timpson delightedly returns to his ‘interpreter role’, ‘is that we all operate within a certain unstated understanding of who does what, when and for how long. A kind of unspoken contract, I suppose . . .’

‘Does he have an “off” button?’ Larry Frome whispers.

‘Does he have an “on” button?’ Sasha Keyes counters (also at a whisper).

‘I’m not entirely sure if that makes any sense,’ Larry Frome responds.

Sasha Keyes rolls his eyes. These people are fools. A bunch of fools. He takes a quick swig of his beer.

‘Did you brush your unruly fucking mane over this table earlier, Fi?’ Sasha asks, pulling a long strand of said mane out of his beer glass. ‘I thought we agreed you’d always tie it back in our communal spaces?’

‘Oh fuck my head is going to explode,’ Larry Frome sighs.



Lambert Shore is excitedly telling his wife, Mallory, about a brief conversation with TonyInterruptor, which took place while queueing for their coats after the gig.

TonyInterruptor did not deign to introduce himself even though Lambert Shore had gently tapped his arm, held out his hand and said, ‘Hi. I’m Lambert Shore. I’m an architecture professor at Christ Church University. My daughter . . .’ He indicated, vaguely, over his shoulder towards India, who was casually knocking back the advances of a boy in the year above her at school, while also surreptitiously trying to persuade him to sell her his old vape (which happened to be an unregulated parallel handmade box mod from True Mods. This vape was made in 2015, which to India – who was made in 2007 – rendered it impossibly desirable and antique).

‘Um . . . yes . . . that’s my daughter. She actually filmed the comments you made earlier – entirely by accident – on her iPhone, and posted them onto her social media . . .’

TonyInterruptor gazed at Lambert Shore, then peered over at India Shore, then glanced back at Lambert Shore, blankly, as if he had entirely forgotten about said ‘comments’.

‘Okay,’ he murmured, after a couple of beats.

‘Are you local?’ Lambert Shore wondered, still holding out his hand.

‘Uh, you’d probably need to define your terms . . .’ TonyInterruptor frowned (as if agreeing to the requirements of a concept as broad as ‘local’ would involve more fudging and compromise than he could comfortably tolerate during a brief conversational exchange). After what felt like an inordinately long interval, TonyInterruptor took Lambert Shore’s hand and shook it, wearing an expression of gentle bemusement (to shake someone’s hand? Seriously?! I mean what better demonstration of white supremacy/capitalist grind than this smallest of formal gestures?).

‘I object to handshaking on ideological grounds,’ he confessed, ‘but you seem well-meaning so I’m happy to respond in the vernacular you’re most comfortable with.’


‘I object to handshakes on ideological . . . ?!’ Mallory parrots, astonished. ‘Are you serious?’

‘His exact words,’ Lambert nods, gravely.

‘Why would you object to a handshake of all things?’ Mallory demands (although Mallory habitually approves of – and objects to – pretty much everything in her life with equivalently rigorous levels of vigour).

‘I know literally nothing about the history of handshaking,’ Lambert confesses, somewhat forlornly. ‘Perhaps there’s more subliminal political meaning embedded in this everyday gesture than we realise – I dunno – like an unconscious allusion to something intrinsically fascistic . . . ?’

‘You have such an embarrassing man crush on this lunatic!’ Mallory guffaws. ‘What did you say his name was again?’

‘He didn’t actually introduce himself.’

Lambert Shore is tight-lipped. He is wounded. Does Mallory always need to be so . . . so relentlessly sassy and unapologetically tart and . . . and so insufferably ebullient?

(The answer to this question – on purely empirical grounds – is a resounding YES. At one stage in their relationship these had been precisely the characteristics that had rendered her irresistible to him. She was just so . . . so marvellously impossible.)

‘Huh? Why not?’ Mallory persists (she always persists, like a seagull up to its knees in sea-swell, determinedly dissecting a crustacean as it rolls ceaselessly back and forth).

‘I don’t know. Careful? Private? Highly secretive? I don’t know.’

Cuss-ed. Just plain cuss-ed!’ Mallory snorts.

‘I was a total stranger approaching him at a gig . . .’ Lambert shrugs.

‘Paranoid. Obsessive. A complete egomaniac.’


Lambert Shore scratches his head.

‘What does he look like?’

Lambert considers this question for a moment. ‘Quite tall. Lean. A mix of Anders Danielsen Lie – the Norwegian actor – and . . .’

‘I know who Anders Danielsen Lie is, Lambert!’ Mallory exclaims. She is unloading the dishwasher and almost drops a mug in her irritation. ‘Please don’t treat me like one of your idiotic students!’

Lambert Shore opens and then closes his mouth.

(At one stage Mallory was one of his idiotic students.)

‘The handshake?’ Mallory demands. ‘Weak? Flaccid?’



Mallory straightens up.


Lambert suspected TonyInterruptor might actually be an alien from another planet, but he nodded his head, obligingly (the nod representing the registering of something essentially inexplicable yet nonetheless marvellously profound), before doggedly ploughing on: ‘I was just fascinated to understand what you meant exactly when you called Sasha Keyes “dishonest”, earlier . . .’

‘Hmm . . .’ TonyInterruptor simulated a slight surprise at Lambert Shore’s ‘angle’.

‘Might you release my hand now, perhaps?’ Lambert Shore asked.

‘Oh . . . Okay. Yeah . . .’ TonyInterruptor let go of Lambert Shore’s hand (his excessive shaking had brought an almost farcical element to what was previously – in Lambert’s mind, at least – a perfectly straightforward and amiable gesture of greeting).

TonyInterruptor inspected Lambert Shore intently. Lambert Shore was/is a small, slim, perfectly formed late-middle-aged man with a boyishly handsome face and a greying blond quiff. He always combines expensively tailored suit jackets with beautifully faded jeans and impeccably crafted trainers.

‘I don’t think I did call Sasha Keyes “dishonest”,’ TonyInterruptor reasoned. ‘It wasn’t an attack. I’m not in the business of attacking things – or people. I think I simply asked whether we were all being honest. It was a completely spontaneous enquiry into the true nature of improvisational performance, which I suppose became, in turn, almost a part of the performance, and so – at some level – the most authentic thing about it.’

TonyInterruptor started to pull on his jacket. He was plainly intent on leaving.

Lambert Shore (a man of considerable ego himself) silently pondered whether TonyInterruptor might be an egomaniac.


‘Wow,’ Mallory Shore interjects. ‘The vanity of the man! Those are precisely the kind of pretentious comments you might be expected to make after a couple of drinks. Was he rat-arsed?’

Lambert ignores this. ‘So then I said, “Is authenticity intrinsically more important or interesting than musicianship in performance? Do the two things always necessarily need to coexist?” ’

‘Haha. Oh you were pissed,’ Mallory chuckles, drolly. ‘How did he respond?’

‘He said, “Yes,” then immediately added, “Radiohead slash Muse . . . although I don’t have much time for either, as it happens . . . The Beatles slash The Monkees. Truth is beauty.” Then he laughed. Then he ruminated for a moment and said, “I feel like I aged approximately five years during the course of this conversation.” Then he walked off.’


Before he walked off, TonyInterruptor smiled. When TonyInterruptor smiles the sun comes out. He rarely smiles, except in triumph. Lambert Shore mentioned the laugh to Mallory but he didn’t mention the smile (he was still smarting from the ‘man crush’ comment), although he was completely dazzled by the openness of the smile and gazed up at TonyInterruptor in that moment with something amounting to awe.

This man was truth. This man was beauty.

I dunno. Kind of. Somehow.


Daydream Believer!’ Mallory squeaks, outraged (she is an ardent fan of The Monkees). ‘How dare he?!’


Lambert Shore shrugs. He knows (and indulges) Mallory’s intense feelings about Michael Nesmith.

‘An existential question about the nature of . . .’ Mallory Shore continues unloading the dishwasher. ‘What does he mean by that, exactly?’

Mallory Shore is a trained barrister.

‘I suspect he’s calling into question whether most “improvisation” is truly spontaneous,’ Lambert responds. ‘He probably feels like it’s generally just the rolling out of a series of familiar musical tropes – recurrent themes and motifs – all dependent on various traditional ideas about non-traditional musical composition, as well as established power relationships in the group etc. But he was also saying that what he did – his interjection – was improvised, or truly spontaneous, and therefore honest.’

‘And he couldn’t just wait until after the performance to make that point, maybe quietly, to a friend?’

Mallory pauses. ‘If he has any friends. Was he there with a friend?’

‘He became a part of the performance. If improvisation actually means that a thing is truly unplanned and spontaneous then surely . . . ? Um. No. So far as I could tell he was attending the gig alone.’

‘He’s taking everything back to first principles when in actual fact there are no first principles . . .’

‘Um. Very possibly.’

(Lambert Shore doesn’t really know what Mallory Shore means.)

‘I mean there’s a contract,’ she persists. ‘An informal contract that if I pay money and buy a ticket to go and see a live music performance then I should expect to be able to watch that performance without another audience member unduly compromising it. You know, clambering onto the stage with a penny whistle and tooting along, singing loudly, clapping out of time at inappropriate moments . . . That’s the agreement. That’s the contract. The venue promises to deliver the performance to me – whatever it may be, improvised or no – without interruption. I must also fulfil my part of the contract because otherwise I will get turfed out for compromising the performance for the rest of the audience who are also informally contracted to behave in a way that is conducive to the well-being of the whole . . .’

Mallory Shore is not a practising barrister because she spends much of her time looking after her eight-year-old daughter, Gunn, who has special needs, and is also (like her mother) magnificently quarrelsome. When she gets the opportunity to work, Mallory is a superb legal copy editor (on travel insurance documents, mortgages etc.). She loves to submerge her ferocious intellect into astonishingly mundane levels of detail. There’s almost a kind of mischief in it. To be so unrelentingly precise in the creation of something cast iron and unassailable.

Lambert Shore PhD stopped paying attention after ‘that’s the agreement’.

‘Show me the thing on your phone,’ Mallory demands, while simultaneously grabbing her own phone from the kitchen table and going to India’s Snapchat herself. India is not her biological daughter. Mallory would never have christened a child of hers with the name ‘India’. The very thought is inconceivable to Mallory, who feels strongly about everything (including names).

Lambert Shore takes out his phone nonetheless, finds the link to India’s post on it, and then blinks at the number of likes. He notices Simo Treen’s comment/hashtag.

‘TonyInterruptor,’ he marvels. ‘Simo Treen himself has hashtagged him! That’s hilarious.’

‘TonyInterruptor? Sounds like the title to a Fall song,’ Mallory muses. ‘Good heavens! She’s received over three thousand likes! Who even knew that Sasha Keyes – or Simo what’s-his-name – had that level of pulling power?’

Lambert has now crossed over to Simo Treen’s Instagram and sees his post.

‘This thing is going viral!’ he exclaims. ‘There are already 418 comments. People are really engaging!’

‘Talk about a storm in a fucking teacup,’ Mallory clucks.

‘I dunno. Is this good or bad?’ Lambert wonders out loud. ‘I can’t decide.’


Is this good or bad?

Lambert Shore can’t decide. He looks to Mallory for guidance. Mallory always knows what to think, thank God.

He suddenly notices India standing in the doorway, listening intently to their conversation. Her expression is inscrutable.

‘Did you see this thing?’ he asks, holding out his phone. ‘It’s blowing up, kiddo!’

‘“Blowing up”?!’ Mallory snorts.

‘Is this seriously how normal people talk to each other in their kitchens?’ India demands, aghast. ‘Because if it is, I swear to God I may as well just end it all now. It feels like . . . I dunno . . . like being dead already. Like having your brain gradually syringed through your ear. Like . . . urgh . . . like being roasted alive in a firepit of stupid blah blah blah. Do the two of you ever say anything real to each other? Is anything ever actually real in this house?’

She pauses. ‘Honest?’ she rejigs, effortlessly. ‘To be honest? With each other? With yourselves?! Do you even have any idea what that means?’


Artwork courtesy of the author

Extract from interview with Mark E. Smith by Luke Bainbridge and published in the Guardian, 3 May 2009, used by permission of Guardian News & Media Limited. Extract from interview with Mark E. Smith by Tony Werrington, published in the Wire, issue 151, September 1996, used by permission of the Wire.

Nicola Barker

Nicola Barker is the author of twelve novels – including Wide OpenDarkmansThe Yips and In the Approaches – and two short story collections. She has been twice longlisted and once shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2003. Her novel H(A)PPY won the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize. Her most recent novel is titled I Am Sovereign.

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