‘It wasn’t that he couldn’t say no to his wife. The truth was his manners were so perfect they threatened his direct impulses with total extinction.
Take their first Christmas together, newly-wed. She’d given him a reading lamp, tied it with a tinsel bow and plugged it in behind his chair.
‘The Sunday Times survey says it’s the best. It’s Japanese-designed.’
He could believe her. The searchlight beam would have lit up the furthest corners of Changi’s compound. Under her avid eyes he read for half an hour, by which time his ear was cooking nicely and dyslexia had broken out on the blazing white page. He switched off the new possession and closed his aching eyes.
‘Meaty,’ he indicated the book, fortuitously not a thriller. ‘Brain food.’
A week or so later he changed chairs. Solicitously the lamp moved after him. That was when Peter gave up the pleasure of losing himself for hours in other people’s words. The Japanese reading lamp had turned him into an original thinker; only on bad days did he think about the question of where good manners ended and compromise began…’