By Michael Jackson

DrinkswiththeDevil

MichaelJacksonjourneystotheheartofdarkness
AcounterblasttoJ.K.Rowling?PhilipPullmanhastakenofflikearunawaytrain,andtheengineerisstillstoking.Thefireboxisaninferno.Pullmanwritesaboutdaemons.“Shamelessblasphemy,”snarlstheAssociationofChristianTeachers.Pullman’strilogyHisDarkMaterials,adaptedfortheNationalTheatre,hasledtodebateswiththeArchbishopofCanterbury.IhavebeeninvitedtoPullman’shometospeakatawriters’gathering.Ihopethisisnotoneofthosegroupswhereeachmemberreadsfromhismostrecent
workandtheotherscriticise.“Yourpieceonmachoeating–duck’sbloodsoupversushaggis–wasn’tveryblasphemous,wasit?”No,notthatkindofgroup.“MynameisMichaelJackson,andIamaworkaholic”?Northat.Idosomehomework.IcheckPullman’spresskit.“Themostexercisehetakesisunscrewingthetopofthewhiskybottle,”sayshisbiofromRandomHouse.Ihavebeeninvitedtohishometoconductatastingofmaltsforacoupleofdozenwriters.ThisisonlythesecondIhavedoneinaprivatehouse.ThetastingissetfortheSaturdaybeforeBurns’Night.IdecidetoinvitemyladypartnerFrecklesandmakearomanticweekendofit.
Thedirectionsendinacountrylane,whereIshouldfindacottage“withlightsblazing”.WillDaddyDaemonrideouttogreetme?ThedooropensjustasIstumbletowardtheexaggeratedblaze.“Michael?Becareful.There’sastep”Thatisasapocalypticasitgets.Imanagetoretainmyfooting,andacaseofexpensivewhiskies,andshakehands.TheDevilisindisguise,asatall,wellproportionedman;hairthinning;whiteOxfordshirt;chinos;deckshoes.Theredlacescouldbedemonic.Yes,IamnowonfirstnametermswiththeDevil.Themainroomofthecottageissurprisinglylarge.Severalknockedtogether,Isuppose.Boughtwiththewagesofsin,eh?Surelysomereligiouschappiecouldbepersuadedtodecreemybooksasbeingblasphemous?Isupposetheydon’tdeliverifyoudrophints.It’sthesamewithhonorarydegrees.Philipgetsoneeveryday.Ireallymuststopgoingroundsaying:“Me.Me,me.”“Iwouldofferyouadrink,”saysPhilip,adevilwithsocialskills,“but…”Heisstoppedshortbythesightofglassesandwhiskiesemergingfrommypreciousbox.Iamplacingthemonalarge,oval,table.“Americanwhiteoak,”heassuresme.“Quercusalba,”Ireply,gnomically,likeacharacterinoneofhisbooks.“Applewood,”saysFreckles,pointingtologthefire.ThebreakinmybletheringisspottedbyFreckles.ShefillsitwithtwoofPhilipsbooks,whichshewouldlikehimtosignforfriends.“Doyouthinkhewouldmind?”shehadaskedme.“Idoubtit,”Iresponded.IoncechairedaneveningwithArnoldWesker,afterwhichsomeoneaskedhimifhewouldmindsigningafewbooks.Hesaidthat,ifanyonewasniceenoughtobuyhisbooks,theleasthecoulddowassignthem.Crisplyput,MrWesker,andmyviewexactly.Signingbecomestediousonlyinthelasthourofabeerfestival,whentheautographeeshavenoideawhytheywantmyJohnHancockbutnonethelessdemandthatIinscribeeverythingfromtheirbaseballhattotheirboots.Boobs,too,onacoupleoflesstediousoccasions.FrecklesisstillintheDevil’soffice.Howlongdoesittaketosigntwobooks?Shedidsaybooks,didn’tshe?Weneedtogetstartedwiththetasting.Whenthatisdone,wecangetonwithourromanticweekend.(Tobecontinued...)