Scathing Letters

To: Chris Hanley, Andrew Gruselle | From: Alexandria Hill

The Independent, Friday, 26th January 2007

The other week a strange thing happened to me. I say that it “happened” because it was out of my control. I had dinner with a mercenary. Or should I say, ex-mercenary. I had no idea. In fact, as is probably the case with many mercenaries, he was charming. Cultured, present-day occupation as an architect, good sense of humour, spoke many languages – generally an all round pleasant person, who had the grace and generosity to invite me into his home. (But how did he pay for it!)

Yeah, I was pretty annoyed afterwards. I said to my friend who had taken me along: “What the fuck do you mean he was a mercenary?” And then I went on some giant tirade, rant from hell: “He killed people! He killed people! And I’m there sitting cross-legged on a grass mat eating chicken with him!” My friend then said: “Yeah, but you were comfortable enough to fall asleep.”

I yelled back: “Yeah, but if I had known I would never have accepted the invitation in the first place! And yeah, of course I felt safe enough to doze off. Who wouldn’t with Rambo around?”

My friend looked at me, yawned, and said in a New Jersey/LA Venice Beach drawl: “Yeah, but he’s a nice enough guy isn’t he?”

Ooooooh the complacency! I started to yap: “He murdered people, he killed people! He was paid for it! I never would have eaten with him had I known – at least not without some discussion!” My friend rolled her eyes. I snarled: “Eating with a mercenary, sleeping with a mercenary, it’s all the same – I wouldn’t do it!”

My friends red lips pouted and her eyes stared off into the distance.

“Yes, you would,” she said. “You’re running through the cross-fire. You don’t know which way to go. Shells splinter off the walls. Army fire. Sniper fire. The noise of tanks rolling in the distance. Helicopters spiral overhead. You are breathing uncontrollably. You lose a shoe in a ditch. You’re limping and hiding. The acrid stench of machine-gun fire wrapped up with death. You scurry, lost, down tiny streets and alleyways. You stop. Breathless. A hand covers you’re mouth. You’re thrown to the floor. A voice whispers in your ear: ‘I’m here to protect you.’ Yeah, sure you’d sleep with him.”

The next morning at breakfast, after spending half the night thinking about mercenaries, I said to my host: “You’re right. Maybe I was generalising and simplifying the mercenary argument. But still, the best scenario I can possibly come up with is good people who need private protection in places of conflict and danger. But, for now, I want to stick to the essence of the meaning of mercenary: they take the side that pays them the most. And just to be mercenary in itself is dishonourable.”

Well, I’m glad I got that one off my chest! This is the kind of thing I think about when I’m sitting in my bath.

I have a problem with my bath. I have actually written about it before. It’s too big for me. (Even though my mate Ronnie Wood referred to me as his “arty hippo mate” the day I did my belly flop off the boat.) My feet don’t touch the end. And it takes ages to fill. And I haven’t got any shower taps on it. In fact, looking around the bathroom there is a lot that I’m dissatisfied with. It all looks really nice, but it doesn’t function very well. The shower isn’t powerful enough. There is no door on it. In fact, the whole thing looks too masculine. I close my eyes and do a mental sketch of how to change everything. This always happens to me after I have been away for a few weeks. I come back home with Michael Jackson flat disease. It’s the desire to change everything, rather than a state of dissatisfaction. Also, when your mind has been opened up to new visions and horizons, when you have seen things that you never knew existed before, grappled around with mental challenges, whether ethical or intellectual, you’re left with a kind of hunger, a restlessness, a wanting to see further than you can see.

When we sat round the mercenary’s fire, he told a number of witty anecdotes – one relating to some guests who had arrived at the mercenary’s home with a giant suitcase full of foie gras, hams, hard cheeses, pâtés, a whole international hamper of luxury foods – which they kept under their bed, nibbling like gerbils on a midnight feast. The mercenary said he just could not understand their behaviour. We were all laughing about this. Yeah, it was pretty weird to travel half way round the world with an Italian delicatessen. It would have been really nice to ask these people what motivated them. We all sat around speculating. But had I known I was sitting at the table of a mercenary, there are so many questions I would have asked. How did you make the salad dressing? What was the marinade you used on the beef? Do you think yellow fever has really affected the meat supply? And how do you feel the Kenyan oysters compare to the South African ones on the Atlantic coast?

Such a wasted opportunity…