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What experience and history teach is this – that nations and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted upon any lessons they might have drawn from it.

G.W.F. Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, 1830, translated by H.B. Nisbet, 1975


When vices become habits, it's time to stop; but when habit's the vice, it's hard to tell. The little bourgeois monster in every skull clings to the illusion of control and builds its hopeless defenses to invite attack. Predictability is the ally of the death squads and comfort is their calling card. Nemesis is a great kidder. She likes us to think she cometh swooping and enveloped in clouds of flame, all the better to sneak up in mufti and catch us from the back.

Pause to clear the throat and quote from Chapter 8, above:

Essentially, they stuck to the youth market, negotiated their own agreements with importers from an approved roster and paid a franchise fee that guaranteed non-interference from the multi-nationals and provided some limited insurance against hassles from the constabulary.

The mutandi having been mutated in the usual unpredictable ways, Blackie and Whitey soon found themselves barreling down what looks suspiciously like the same old tunnel they had known a couple of years, several cultures and half a world before. They didn't see it at the time, of course, or they probably wouldn't have. Then again, Blackie had a good LSE Marxist education and might have relied on the master's famous dictum about history coming round twice, as tragedy and as farce. Not that he believed the CP bullshit, but it's a damn good line, even if Uncle Karl did rip it off from his wisecracking mate Fred rather than the more prosaic Hegel (who, as Alex Cockburn pointed out, sounds much more impressive than Engels, both now and certainly in 1852). Faced with a cabal of academic leftists, Blackie would publicly have insisted, of course, that Doris Day put it better: Que será, será. Six weeks at Number One is plenty to burn a line into an eleven-year-old brain, and that kind of audience gets even more pissed off if you pretend that Queen Doris wrote her own multilingual material.

The meeting with Jacques was serendipitous, but what sent them down their slippery path was the happenstance that another of Yusufi's relatives, or perhaps friends, in any event his supplier – for of course he could lay his hand on a little hash if you wanted, though he didn't make a big thing out of it – was the same Ahmed that Whitey had once so Biblically known in London. As coincidences go, it really wasn't much: Hash was very common, but professional dealing was less so, and Kabul, like everywhere else, evidently had a real population of a couple of hundred, the remaining millions being there mostly for decoration. Like everything else that went on around the Grape Place, the meeting was tinged with inevitability and no surprise at all.

Whitey was rolling when Ahmed first showed up. The hookah was fine but he retained a yen for the traditional three-paper number. Blackie was trying to get Yusufi to explain the fine points of the national sport, Buzkashi, a combination of the more vicious aspects of polo, American football, ice hockey, the Eton wall game and bare-knuckle prizefighting before the Marquis of Queensberry started messing with it, the 'ball' being the headless corpse of a recently sacrificed goat. Inured as he was to the soon-to-be-legendary eccentricities of the British football fan, Blackie was beginning to doubt that any fine points actually existed, when he noticed his mate look up and nod briefly in the general direction of the door. Pushing through the beaded curtain was a face that took a moment to place.

"Ahmed," grunted Whitey, sitting cross-legged with the fixings on a battered copy of Time magazine on his lap.

"Ahmed," said Yusufi, rising to his feet and bowing slightly.

"Fuck me," said Blackie, not meaning it literally.

"English," grinned the newcomer pleasantly.

"Chai?" offered Yusufi. When all assented, he clapped his hands and summoned the lad from the kitchen, who returned instantly with glasses and sugar and boiled sweets.

Ahmed took a seat, and a hit, and a sip, and batted the verbal ball around softly.

"You like our country?" he served with gentle ritual at the pair of them. Clearly he remembered Whitey and apparently he didn't consider that their sexual relationship was anything so pedestrian as to be presumed or assumed or resumed or consumed or even necessarily sumed at all. Or maybe he did. He was very accommodating to Blackie, who was fighting back paranoia and jealousy and similarly unhip emotions, and covering his fears with conversation.

"Yeah, man," he replied with studied casualness, "Of course it's the people, innit?" and opened his arms to gesture over towards Yusufi and Ahmed both.

Those worthies bowed in acknowledgment.

"Most kind," accepted Ahmed.

"Long time," ventured Whitey, who knew Blackie was in trouble.


Tea was cooled with the breath and imbibed noisily through the sugar and teeth.

"Been in England lately, then, have you?" tried Blackie.


Some useful instinct kept the visitors no closer than that to the subject of business, which was hovering above the surface of all four minds but below the vocal level. Given that they had so little else in common, however, the atmosphere was a little strained. Yusufi explained to Ahmed that he that he was explaining the rules of Buzkashi to the English, and then explained to Blackie and Whitey that he had explained that ... it made for slow going. Ahmed seemed to be of the opinion that the sport had gone to the dogs in this effete modern era, which gave him something in common with middle-aged aficionados everywhere. Blackie brought up the prodigious Stanley Matthews (of Blackpool,* England, the World and surely dimensions as yet undiscovered) as evidence that football wasn't what it was either, but failed to elicit a spark of recognition. Whitey circulated a second joint and fortunately the talk became unimportant.

"If you will excuse us," suggested Blackie after a while, "Perhaps you two have something you wish to discuss?"

"Please, take time," remonstrated Yusufi and Blackie almost did but Whitey read the comment correctly as a ritual dismissal.

"Later," he nodded.

"Later," agreed Ahmed, and they gradually disengaged so the English could depart.

Naturally the tourists became the immediate focus of attention, but Ahmed chose immediately, as if without calculation, to downplay his interest. He admitted having made their acquaintance some time before, in their homeland, but he concealed the exact nature of their connections, both personal and professional. Yusufi was a good man but there was no percentage in revelation for the sake of mere gossip.

Meanwhile, not a hundred feet away, the tourists themselves were figuring the implications and looking for the angle.

"You reckon he knew we were here?" wondered Blackie.

"Nah," guessed Whitey (accurately).

"I dunno, man," argued Blackie, working it like a rough-edged tooth. "It's a pretty weird coincidence, I mean, the only fucking Afghan we know and shazam just like we rubbed the lantern up he pops."

"'f he'da known, he'da looked surprised." Wisdom struck and it was over.

"Wanna do business?"



"Man," ventured Blackie as it all meandered into focus, "I mean ... we are doing business, aren't we? We wanna hang around a bit, we got the set-up, right? The chemist's shit's cool but if we got our hands on a little weight, we could break even, no sweat. Be like the old days. And ten to one fuckin' Ahmed's in with the fuzz."


"And this is a pretty fucking cool place to hang out a while."

"Shitty fucking nick, I bet."

"Well, yeah, sure, but that's where your contacts come in, right? And your good old baksheesh. Find the flow, just do your number and go with it."

Whitey probably knew better but he forgot. They decided to wait a while – they didn't really have any other option – but the seed of the idea had been planted, lightly fertilized and gently watered. Dedicated public servants that they were, if the choice came up, it would surely be no choice at all.

*Sir Stanley ended his career in 1965, aged fifty, playing for Stoke, his home-town team.