Later on we venture up onto deck and find loungers to watch the sunset from. It’s the first really good weather we’ve had although still threatening to rain. The sky is a beautiful turquoise colour in the west and sooty black behind us in the east. We sip our wine and sprawl about. Lisa has her book with her but it lies spread face down on her thighs. Those thighs...
Raz says ‘So Gabriel. I take it you’d be on Wen’s side in this debate.’
‘Maybe’ I say, guardedly.
‘You weren’t one of those blessed eco warriors or anti-globalisation thingummies were you?’
I consider my reply carefully. I don’t want to get into an argument here with Raz, not now. And as it happens I never was much of an activist but I was broadly on their side. Actually my main feeling is guilt because I did so little.
‘Actually I agreed with a lot of what they said. I believe capitalism is a crap way to run a world. I suppose it’s fun for entrepreneurs and gamblers, but you can’t trust it with the important stuff.’
‘Did you go on a lot of marches and things?’
‘Sometimes’ I say vaguely, ‘but I wasn’t much of a campaigner. I was never much good at joining in with things. It all seemed a bit futile.’
‘I always thought it was fascinating’ she says, ‘all those women at Greenham, and the road protesters... Of course I was in the Far East at the time.’
It occurred to me later that there might have been a note of longing in her voice but at the time I was waiting for the catch, the judgement, the condemnation, the ridicule, but it never came. Instead she leant back, her eyes invisible behind her sunglasses. She sighed a little and asked me if I thought I made much of a difference during my life.
‘No not really’ I reply. ‘I think I lived rather conventionally actually.’
‘Where did you live?’ says Lisa, leaning forward and looking at me very earnestly.
‘Bramber, West Sussex, in the end. You?’
‘Ah. I know Brighton’ and we talk a little about places we knew, and other towns and cities we lived in or knew well.
‘I only went back to England when it was time to die’ says Raz a little sadly.
‘Oh really?’ says Lisa.
‘Yup. Couldn’t stand the place in the end.’
‘Where were you before?’
‘Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia. Burma.’
‘Really?’ says Lisa, her eyes lighting up ‘Sounds fabulous’
‘What was it about England you didn’t like?’ asks Wen from under her hat.
‘Not just England darling, Europe in general. At the risk of causing offence I’d have to say there’s just no real money to be made in Europe any more – not even in London. It’s all gone a tad too Nordic for my taste, or too Latin perhaps, one or the other...’
‘Not Anglo-American enough for you Raz?’ muses Wen. ‘Capitalism not unfettered enough for you?’
Raz smiles indulgently at her. ‘Well I mean, it was all bloody sustainable this and renewable that. Even the immigrants wouldn’t come any more. I mean, whatever Ruth may say, it was a workable system, after a fashion, if you like that sort of thing, but Europe’s not exactly a global force any more is it?’
‘Should it be?’ I say. ‘Personally I’m ok with that. I have no delusions of grandeur. Maybe we’ve had our day.’
‘But Ruth’s right, it’s not going to give us the big stuff any more is it? You’re not going to get the grand monuments to civilisation from a society that has no higher ambitions than affordable housing and five portions a day. Now come on darling, you’re not are you? It’s not very aspirational is it? I mean have you seen Rangoon lately? And the bloody Indians are building a space shuttle!’
‘Raz’ I say, ‘why can you only conceive of greatness in terms of extravagance? Why does it always have to be the biggest, or the fastest or the noisiest?’
‘It’s the American disease’ says Wen. ‘Shock and Awe. The whole bloody globe’s gone Hollywood.’
‘But why couldn’t we aspire to be the healthiest’ suggests Lisa ‘or the best fed, or the most relaxed? That’d be quite an achievement if you ask me.’
‘Yes but... it’s a bit small don’t you think, a bit parochial?’ says Raz.
‘Maybe. Or maybe we’ve just grown up a bit. Anyway, there’s always the internet and cheap flights. People can still travel if they want to.’
‘Yes, but without trade...’
‘There you go again’ says Wen. ‘Why do you people always assume that if there’s not shed loads of money changing hands there’s nothing happening?’
‘Anyway there is still trade’ I say. ‘It’s just not rip-off third world imports any more.’
‘Oh, call me old fashioned but I miss the old cut-throat development economics. Rrrrzz...’
I let it go. Raz was probably a much more ruthless operator than Ruth ever was (After all Ruth only ran a shoe shop for God’s sake) but she’s better company. She makes me laugh.
‘What do you think about all this Lisa sweetie?’ she says.
I turn to look at Lisa and she flushes a little.
‘I don’t know a lot about it to be honest’ she says. ‘I wasn’t really paying attention. I mean, I cared of course. I just didn’t have the energy for it in the end...’
‘Seriously though’ Raz continues, turning back to me, ‘I understand that I’m an old style capitalist and I understand that gambling with people’s livelihoods is not necessarily an ideal way to run a world but Ruth is right, you wouldn’t have had half the stuff you had without us, and I don’t just mean the frivolous stuff. I mean important stuff like medicines and telecommunications and all the basic infrastructure – transport and utilities and so on. You lot take this stuff for granted, but...’
‘And we’re all very grateful Raz’ I say, patting her arm condescendingly, ‘honest we are. We couldn’t have done it without you.’
‘But maybe it’s about knowing when enough’s enough...’
‘Amen to that’ says Wen.
‘Hmm’ says Raz. ‘Well I don’t think that’s quite how it works but let’s agree to differ, for now. It’s getting late and I could do with a drink. No, don’t get up. I’ll get them. What are we having?’
As she gets up to leave with our order I reach over and hold her arm. ‘You’re not pissed off at us are you, ganging up on you?’
‘God no. I love a good old set-to – keeps me young.’
And with that we get one of her fruitier cackles and she heads down to get us our drinks. Wen is looking at the darkened sea and Lisa has her book open. I catch her give me the tiniest glance through her hair and then go back to her book.