“What’s it called,” Dale said, “when you have one of those bloody great blinding flashes of insight that changes the way you look at things?”

I said I wasn’t sure: a few different words sprang to mind.

Dale twitched his paintbrush irritably.

“It’s something to do with a road,” he said.

Road to Damascus, I said.

“I had a road to Damascus moment,” he said. “Last New Year’s Eve, of all times. I bloody hate New Year’s. That was part of it, realizing that I bloody hated New Year’s Eve.”

A group of them had been at his flat, he said. They were getting ready to go out, and he starting thinking about the fact that he hated it and thinking that everyone else probably hated it, too, but that no one was prepared to say so. When everyone had their coats on, he announced that he’d decided to stay at home.

“I just suddenly couldn’t be bothered,” he said.

Why not, I said.

For a long time he didn’t reply, painting the strands of hair one after another until I thought he either hadn’t heard my question or was choosing to ignore it.

“I was sitting there on my sofa,” he said, “and it just suddenly happened.”

He stirred the paintbrush in the dish, coating each side again carefully with the brown paste.

“It was this bloke,” he said. “I didn’t really know him. He was sitting there doing lines that he’d laid out all neatly for himself on the coffee table. I suddenly just felt really sorry for him. I don’t know what it was about him,” Dale said. “He’d lost all his hair, poor bastard.”

He unclipped a new section and began to paint it. I watched the way he distributed the paste all along the strand in even strokes. He started at the root but became more meticulous the further away from it he got, as though he had learned to resist the temptation to concentrate his labors there at the beginning.

“He had this funny, pudgy little face,” Dale said, pausing with his paintbrush in the air. “It must have been the combination of the baldness and the funny face that did it. I thought, That bloke looks like a baby. What’s a baby doing sitting on my sofa shoving coke up his nose? And once I’d started seeing it that way, I couldn’t stop. Suddenly they all started looking like that. It was a bit like being on acid,” he said, dipping his paintbrush again in the dish, “if I can cast my mind back that far.”