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Extract from ‘Cleaver’

In the autumn of 2004, shortly after his memorable interview with the President of the United States and following the publication of his elder son’s novelised autobiography, cruelly entitled Under His Shadow, celebrity journalist, broadcaster and documentary film-maker Harold Cleaver boarded a British Airways flight from London Gatwick to Milan Malpensa, proceeded by Italian railways as far as Bruneck in the South Tyrol and thence by taxi, northwards, to the village of Luttach only a few kilometres from the Austrian border, from whence he hoped to find some remote mountain habitation in which to spend the next, if not necessarily the last, years of his life. Ratting on your responsibilities, had been Amanda’s interpretation. She is the mother of his children. The responsibilities of a man at my time of life, the eminent and overweight Cleaver told his partner of thirty years, can be no more than financial, and, acting on a decision taken only hours before, he signed over to her a very considerable sum of money of which neither she nor their three surviving children could possibly have any immediate need, with the exception perhaps of the younger son Phillip who was always in need, but never accepted anything.

The following morning, climbing on the train to Gatwick, still rather dazed to find himself taking such a momentous step, Cleaver switched off his two cell phones. This is not just another of your many projects, he repeated to himself. He was sitting opposite a young man cradling a CD player, his lips silently singing. You are not, as has been the case on other extended trips, planning to write a book, or to make a documentary. The young man, he noticed, had a glazed look in his eyes. He hasn’t recognised me, thank God. The CD player was whirring. The culture, such as it may turn out to be, Cleaver told himself firmly, of the South Tyrol need not be analysed, ironised, criticised or eulogised. A recorded voice warned that the doors were about to close. The business of living in a remote mountain cabin need not be dramatised or serialised. Nor turned into a sort of Walden. The train began to move. The Thames was suddenly beneath, then behind. The familiar sprawl of South London accelerated away.

Nor can there be any question of recommending anything to anybody, Cleaver was still reflecting an hour later as the airport shuttle took him to Terminal Two, or of reporting home on any wisdom supposedly acquired. He was lucky to be able to purchase a ticket for almost immediate departure. I have no baggage, he declared. Nothing. Nothing, Cleaver finally muttered, as he adjusted a safety belt to his girth, will be brought back from this trip for insertion in the national debate. For so many years a master of the public voice, he would now leave it behind. Such is the extraordinary idea that has somehow thrust itself upon Harold Cleaver during these last few days of remarkable public notoriety and intense private turmoil: I must shut my big mouth.