Peter Hammill - Options

What options are open to us! What challenges we all face daily! How noble a race is Mankind! How incomparable!

We are all born equal, with nothing, with the same, with zero, with one hundred per cent possibility. We can all make of ourselves whatever we want, whatever we believe in; and what we believe is ultimately what we are. We can all draw from the fathomless wells of human knowledge and experience. Every day, we do so, and every individual met, probed and felt is another equation solved in our self-examinations. We can all transcend. We can all achieve peace, or turmoil, or boredom, or a Good Life; whatever we self-destinate is ours. We can all become whole. Hope is not dead. Man survives.

Panander examines his chin in the cracked mirror. The mirror has streaks of dirt across it like the tracks of proud and un unrepentant tears. There are no tears in Panander's eyes: they are hard and cold grey. The pupils are small. The whites are blurred and capillaried with blood. There is a day's stubble on his chin. The stubble is dark, but patched and dappled in grey. The chin is taut and firm.

Panander decides not to shave; it hardly seems worth it. He feels the root of a back tooth with the tip of his tongue. His cheek rumples and distorts in the mirror. The tooth feels loose, but he is careful not to dislodge it; his tongue is funghied and furred.

There is a packet of untipped cigarettes lying on the bedside table, with five left in it. An empty, crushed packet lies in the wastepaper basket. On top of the suitcase on the bedside chair is a pack of two hundred duty-free cigarettes. Two packets are missing. There is a bottle of duty-free Scotch on the bedside table, and a half-full tumbler beside it. Panander picks up the tumbler and gulps from it. He does not shudder. He picks up a cigarette from the packet and lights it. He blows the smoke out very slowly, with a whistling sigh. He is waiting for somebody or something, and he has a lot of time.

It is two hours later. The level of the Scotch has dropped. There is a new packet of cigarettes by the bedside, and the old packet, crushed, has joined its sibling in the wastepaper basket. Panander is lying on the bed without shoes or jacket. His socks need darning and the material at the elbows of his shirt is threadbare. He is watching a moth do circuits around the light bulb. The shades is plastic and it is cracked.

Panander is sitting in this dirty little hotel room with cracked lightshade, with dusty mirror, with walls which seem to have been painted the colour of the dirt, with a ceiling scarred by many plaster repairs, with shaking, decrepit bed and musty sheets, and it all fits. Panander fits in the room. He is comfortable here; he is blending with his environment like a chameleon, like a sand crab, and the only parts of him which truly remain visible against the sombre background of the room are his eyes, which are hard and cold and grey. Behind those hard, cold, grey eyes he is thinking about what he is going to do when he leaves this place. He is thinking about the colours his skin must change to in order to blend with new and gaudier surroundings.

He is trying to decide which of two daydreams he will inhabit. Both are crystal-bright, sunny, and washed over in sheets of white. One has dark conifers and scabs of out-cropping rock through snow. It has speed and steaming breath, exhilaration and endless parallel lines biting across the white surface of the ground in pale grey. The other dream is horizontal, inactive, the gentle hiss of water on burning white sand, sparkling light on the endless deep blue of the sea, cooling palm fronds and long alcoholic drinks. In neither dream is there any waiting.


Another hour has passed. The moth is no longer flying around the cracked lightshade. It has died under the merciless onslaught of a rolled-up newspaper, and is now merely crushed tissue and moist juices spread over the crossword. The crossword has been completed, and so has the moth.

Panander is lying on the bed and thinking about his life. He is not sure that he likes it: there are certain moments and actions that he find almost unbearable even to think about. Other parts he lingers over with a dull sense of pleasure. He has been both a thoughtful man and a cruel one. Sometimes he has been gentle; sometimes he has been stupid. He is wondering what being happy means. He is wondering what Good is. He is thinking that maybe his dreams have been better than his life. His only comfort is the absolute certainty of the pronouns.

The door bursts open, and four men come through it. Three of them are wearing sombre, anonymous uniform. The colour and denomination does not matter in the slightest. They have black belts and sub-machine guns. The other man has on a badly-fitting, belted raincoat of sandy grey. Under the raincoat is a badly-fitting black suit. The cut and fit of his clothes do not matter in the slightest. He has black, greasy hair and an automatic pistol in his hand.

This is not what Panander has been waiting for.

These are not his friends.

These people were not included in his dreams.

Panander licks the root of one of his back teeth. It is loose. He pushes hard on it, and it comes away from the gum. A small capsule falls from its hollow onto his tongue. He punctures the capsule between his teeth. Sudden dreams come to him, sudden acridity and acidity. He crumples over onto his side, and his hands tear at his stomach.

The man in the raincoat walks over to the shabby figure on the floor and kicks it in the kidneys. Panander does not worry, wonder, think, dream, or feel any more.


Of course I do not know any spies. Of course I have never seen a man standing in a doorway wearing a sand grey raincoat and black suit with an automatic pistol in his hand. But I validate my life by writing about death and I fill my life with interest by writing about interesting death.

Of course, physically, it is no different from the last asthmatic gurgling cough. Of course it is no different from the screaming, distorted union with metal and upholstery on a foggy motorway night. The only interest lies in the last frame of the mind's movie. The only conclusions to be drawn are derived from the photofinish, the dead heat that ebbs away into the air and is gone almost before it can be analysed. Ultimately, no conclusions, analyses, answers -- only more questions.


Why did Panander, Rothschild, Kutz, whoever he may really have been or been imagined to be, explode his being with a capsule of hydrocyanic acid? Options already form their ranks; the network of motive and reason stretches out in a spider's web from them. On one of the threads lies the corpse, first trapped, now husked. How many options have bred this result?

What if he thought the intruders were about to shoot him out of hand? Did he wish to deny them such final control over him? Was this last assertion of individuality, his last, his only his? Did he side with the option of decision and self-determinism to the end? Suicide to deny murder? Suicide for Free Will? Suicide for a 'good name'? Was there really any choice?

Perhaps he saw it differently. Perhaps he saw already the grim lines of prison bars; dry bread, stale water, board bed, interrogation, lights, questions, questions, questions. Perhaps he saw humiliation, public and private; pain; destruction, within and without; endless non-life, endless anonymity, endless despair.

Was he already dead in the moment he saw all of this? Was he dead against capture, failure, ultimate repentance? Was he dead in the destruction of self-respect? The fast against the slow and tortured?

Do you think he thought at all? Do you think it could have been a charade, a joke, a game, another dream? Are you dead yet?


It is inevitable that, one day, each of us will lie, crushed and inwardly seeping blood, in our true colours at last, pinned against the blank spaces we fill with clever but isolating words and the black spaces that are our might-have-beens, our broken dreams, our failings. Perhaps we are all engaged merely in moulding our coffins.

What options are open to us!

Russian Peter Hammill / Van der Graaf Generator Page
Sergey Petrushanko, 1998-2023