The Worm

The heavyweight of the loaded silence of the deadweight of all these books stacked, boxed and shelved about: the interior of this shop is almost solid with books. It’s like a cement block fissured by a blow struck, yet it’s holding together, though seams of openness, aisles, have become available throughout to pass along, to navigate its mass. I am the mosquito stowed in the hold of the amber of this, of this dense mass of (set) hardbacks and (cloy) softcovers and whatever else are its constituents. It cannot be catalogued not ever now,: the shop is as stocked as still living allows: I must breathe, I must have access to the john, to the butler’s kitchen, to the spiral stairs to my rooms. The shop barely allows customers. The place is a huge fire risk, I know, I know: I light and smoke my pipe with such due diligence the effort aches in every fibre of my being, each draw is so very likely to be my last: one loose spark, one spilled cinder! I sit at this desk, ledger opened in readiness of a sale, the drawer with the money box inside ajar (in readiness), my tartan vacuum flask standing sentry (patient, patience, readiness) and I assume I will die at any (given?) moment. The heavyweight of this silence.

The place was once a gas. A light and heady thing to occupy moments of my being without any hurting. I would open up maybe twice, thrice a week for just as bloody well long as I bloody well liked. I would mooch abroad on these buying trips to auctions and far-off taprooms and bosoms. I could live on ether it seemed, on the fumes of malts and dark rums and calvados and thumping perfumes. I’d laud the trophies, the kills, the unearthed treasures of my travels (the first editions, rare imprints, texts that ought to be taken seriously, curiosities) about the shop, succulent morsels, gilded icons, playful gewgaws, polished-mahogany texts: shelved and mounted and cased objects to be admired, their existence appreciated, too fearlessly bookish to be bought, to sell, to lose.

The Worm was a museum of dalliance, a veil-disguise I donned to project a notion of ‘endeavour’. I didn’t want mater and pater turning bullish in the china shop of my genteel-foppish-epicurean-dilettante shiftlessness. I was that thing I did walking beaches, staking driftwood upright in the damp sands like it made something significant of the time spent, the moment torched: a feckless creativity. I had to be seen to be making good sense of the grandame’s legacy, my cut of the booty she left. And, it was a dream, the daydream I’d often escape into, this make-believe of an oak-beamed, oak-panelled and age-softened oaken comfort, of tender-sweet stirrings of leather, wood and grate polish, the nurture and tang of an open fire, of the conferred, inferred wisdom of tomes: so, I bought the freehold on the shop, had the upstairs storerooms converted into a lazy man’s wet-dream of an abode and...

...and I lingered. Later, the enterprise was liquid, thickening about me: I indulged too indulgently in the coset of ale and spirits, in my chequebook largesse and bravado (rarity rubs off, cash was rarified). To continue to sustain my idyll of idleness I had to release/imprison myself in the ‘doing of business’: I had to profit by the assets I was allowing to freeze within and upon the walls of The Worm: I became the book dealer I was meant to be. The distinguished, haughty stock I held diminished into vox pop (vox pox), all Penguin and thrillers and Napoleonic warfare. That’s when I took on The Staff - the sniffling, ever be-scarfed Eric and the breadstick blonde, Tina - so the shop could be opened seven days a week, while I fugged off on my trawl of salerooms and saloon bars and boudoirs.

The Worm prospered. Mater and pater took pride. And I was newly indulged, a gypsy of entrepreneurialism, living off the fat of (The Staff’s labour): I was sodden by commercialism, epic in my wining and dining of ‘the trade’, pickled in the juices of wheeling and a dealing.


Wet, drenched, I would purchase bulk, hulking cases of spew books from ‘good fellows well met’ and, fettered... link by link, yard by yard (crate by cardboard box), I was overladen and The Worm began to keel over (‘good chap, bottoms up!’).

The weight of books became a brad, I was nailed down, something fixed - no further afield than a nostalgic daydream or a spirited stupor was the extent of my enterprise. And, with little consultation, the world looked elsewhere for its imaginative and knowing kicks - following a breadcrumb path off the bookish track. The Staff dwindled - the coiled python of Eric’s scarf (and grandiose misery) spiralled, he was left a minaret of a shit that we had to scoop up and bin (I see him pass by nowadays, he’s a Walnut Whip, a cone of scarf and a tuft of greying locks) - one day Tina, grown stale as Tutankhamun (but far, far less exotic), crumbled, desiccated to dust and, puff, was gone with the wind.

I was left, alone. Alone, holding my breath, waiting for the SPLAT of collapse, a weedy Atlas to be, ultimately, snuffed by the mass of his world, a flame put out with a pinch of spit. Mater and pater, the ancients, continue to consume copious quantities of country air - I am kept afloat, a precarious balance - I am held, in stasis, wanting not needing. The Worm and I are - we go nowhere, we are set here.

I do not go without. Still, I go without. I have a livelihood, yet I fear for my life. I fear my life.


The Absence

Poured into the bowl of my lap, a weight: its vibration a soft rattle: it shifts with the satisfaction of a yawn. The creature remains nestled in its absence. Its name? A tortoise-shell: Elena’s hairbrush (its bristles nettle stings), Aunt Taffy’s sunglasses (the white fabric splashed with pansies, pinched at her waist, its hem trembling at her knees). Aunt Tatty. That tom, Taffy. Father’s sister, Tatty: she’d settled the warmth and rosiness of those starlet sunglasses on the child’s nose, behind that child’s ears, a joyful presence wide across a burgeoning face, kept in place by an intense steadiness of the head, chin held high. She was furious, I’d emptied talcum powder all over her dressing table: I was being beautiful.: Elena chased and caught me, lifted my skirt and spanked me, she used the hairbrush father had brought from Singapore: later, mother thought I’d a rash, where the bristles had stung my backside. Where is Taffy? What are these hands in my lap: twigs and wax. She faded, Tatty: did she marry? Did I never think to ask? Elena, she is dead: I said something, a reading or a farewell. Lally. Lally came after Taffy. Lally with his gigglish purr. Why is she standing out there, is she smoking? She chain-smoked, it seemed: is she still not allowed into the house? She’d kiss her fingertips and press them to the glass: the small window to the side of the front door. Mother would brush Ellie’s hair as she did mine and I brushed my doll’s. Mother never did brush my hair. What was it that mother died of? Father seeped away into his grave. Elena was in Australia. Father passed and she sent a wreath, she telephoned once and it was ever so early, before even Georgie was awake. I woke alone all those years: did I mind? He brought me home Taffy: company he said. Lally. Inky. Brandy. Aunt Tatty, the fizz of her perfume, a powerful cherry. Ellie was always lavender, as a young woman she was lavender. Mother was lavender. Cherry and tobacco that was Tatty. Did I smell of cats? Georgie bought me perfumes, fetched them back from his travels. Where is Georgie now? I will wake alone.


The Knackers

Scrap metal whinnies and barks from the merchant’s yard near distant. Nowadays there’s money back in the business. Those trucks with the caged beds prowl the streets about, the driver’s barking fitful for stuff through Tannoys - copper pipe, cables they’ll strip out for the aluminium, mobile phones they’ll amass and flog to those that reclaim the gold. It’s not recycling, not for the punters, those knackered-greyhound fellows you see pushing Asda trolleys of nicked and keenly salvaged metals uphill to the Scrap, eager to raise the pennies for booze or potions, habitual fellows who scavenge a life - but never a living. Smart, decent folk pull up, more (far more) often, open the boots of their well-kempt cars to the scrapman’s gaze - his head tipped forward, chin to chest, eyes sharpened to a razor’s edge, lips licked tight and releasing a doubtful hiss. Nah, mate, just junk, worthless to me - to you - nobody’s going to take it - no market for it, bother of extracting what little there is - look, to be kind, I’ll save you the trip to the municipal dump - save the petrol that’d cost - all I can do - ?

People are poor - proper poor again (getting there or they’ve arrived). And the value of stuff, the worth of it - the need of it - has regained meaning, substance in existence. Hunger is balanced against eating. Water has its pecking order - to hydrate, to sanitise, to quench, to waste. Everything is metered. Everything but what is earned is going up and up and sky-high. Earned - bought with some effort that seems always to outweighs its recompense - earned - not the puff flattery of the wages they balm and buff the arsecheeks of the City with - earned. Earned.

I get angrier. I don’t want to live angry. It’s only me it hurts. I see myself reflected looking out through the living room window, a red-faced and grimacing man - a menacing stranger. I don’t like the way this world, this buckled place we inhabit now, I don’t like it the way makes me feel, how it effects me. It’s killing me. It wants me dead.

It needs me dead. There are those it wants to subjugate - to enslave. There are those who are them - those with the weight to bear down on everyone else. And there’s me - us - those who are unusable. I am of no use to them now, I’m spent.

There are people who are scuppered, I’m one. Some scupper themselves - smokers who develop cancer, gamblers who lose - they are participants in the disease that sinks them. I’m not one of them. My disease just occurred. I was without it one moment, the next I had it. I couldn’t have avoided it, or lowered the risk of it, or anything proactive. Some would say it was fate and was always going to happen - if that’s the case, I wasn’t in on it - if someone could’ve read it in me I never met them or knew to seek them out or was I told.

Now I can’t work. I can’t achieve much for myself, let alone others. Nobody will employ me because I can’t do anything much. I exhaust myself going through the drab routine of my day - bed, washing, dressing, eating - each punctuated with sleep, pills and the noise of my body roaring loudly in me.

I can think. I can look, read and ponder. I’m one of the inside out. There’s no paid employment in the realm of thought and imagination, not in there, within itself. There isn’t much paid employment in the world for thought and imagination anyway.  I used to manage - literally manage - a bookshop - I was the manager. Now I don’t manage, I cope.

I’m not poor. I’m not rich. My needs are met - because my needs are dictated by my disease. I already owned all I need and more besides - shelter and stuff - and I’d health insurance and there’s the NHS and I’d savings and ISAs and things. I’ve enough because once I had more than enough. Not that I was rich - I was a single man who enjoyed his work and felt occupied in his living and never needed anyone else, who never involved anyone else, in his life. Perhaps I am a lonely man. I don’t think of myself as one, but others must do. I don’t feel alone. My lively body is company enough.

I like people. Enjoy the experience of them. Life is unfair - always has been. Life is being made unfairer. Some people, a minority who live out-of-scale lives, are making life as unfair as they are capable, and they are lavishing in the consequences of this imbalance.

I’m well read. Not well-educated, but well read. I know that history is spattered with man’s contempt for man. Jesus Christ, he’s supposed to have said ‘the poor are always with us’. And I see we are all poor. Those without the wherewithal are poor. Those that are cause of suffering are poor. All are with us - always are. Things improve with time only to worsen with more time.

Are those that die freed from poverty? Are those that die the truly rich?

I want to avoid those questions. I don’t want them asked of me. I don’t want to answer them.


The Same and Different

It’s always different, even when it’s the same. The wind might come scooting down the street colourful with smells of fruit and veg, or fat with the stink of butchered meats, or metallic with fish. Or the wind might stand still, loiter, beery and tobacco smoked, unwashed - almost no different to any of us seated on the terrace here. Indoors, the air has just the one weight, only we grow heavy, only we change. Summertime, they fold back the frontage and in and out seep through each other - in summer, with the sun, the wind holds on to rot, the bewildering stench of flowering, ripeness and decay, shouting out about life and death.

I don’t want to leave the street, be too far removed from the pavement. There’s many of us, all alike, all difference. I wouldn’t say we haunt the place. It’s haunted, I’d say the place is haunted - it’s something we’re attracted to. It’s my life. It’s been others death. I’ll die, but only the way a life must end - and, as I admit, this is my life being here.

It became my life, the greater extent of it, when the buses ended. I mean, the buses didn’t quit, I was retired and that particular stuff of life cleared out, making room for this. The hours aren’t so different, much the same - it’s like I say - something is constant, survives change - a comfort, a familiarity, a contentment. Here I see faces I know. Even strangers have faces I know. I understand it here.

They open at 11 of a morning. They don’t quit until midnight, not that I’m here after 5pm. Somewhere else I’d be a regular, called that. Here, it’s not the sort of establishment you could be named a regular. The staff see hundreds of punters all day, your face might lodge in some of the heads - on a slow day, they might recall your tipple one round to the next, but that’s fleeting. They’re young, they’re soon carried off downriver, headed to the sea, to the greater adventure youth assumes awaits.

I walked off the boat into the dank and grey of late October, 1959. It was an adventure, not one I’d go repeat, it wasn’t such a thrill. I’d a job awaiting me, the buses. I’d lodgings, I’d a community to room in. I carried on life just the same and different to before. I can’t think what would or could have been. I just continue to live, carry on my journey to death - and it might well be an adventure.

I don’t recall making any decision not to marry, to get a family. It’s not that I’ve lived without making decisions, who could. It didn’t occur to me. There were women, some I liked more than others. I lived with Helene for many years. She passed away in the early 1990s. She never suggested she’d have liked to marry. If she had, I’d have made a decision - I’d have married her, I think. I was lonely after the cancer took her. Life was the same and it was different. I find comfort in the sameness and hope in the difference. The buses were the greatest extent of my life back then, as the fabric shop was hers. Helene left me better off, I was left the flat above the shop and the shop to rent out - now I lease them both, I’ve a fair pension too. I took a small place a level walk away from here - I’ve all I need, and I’ve never wanted, been one for wanting.

Now, Geoff’s an educated man, though I don’t think he’s a clever man, and he can’t fathom my lack of purpose - and I’m sure he’s right, I must have one - have to. You need a reason to be, to continue - I can’t think what mine is. I live. I’m living. I’ll cease to live in time. ‘Are you simply waiting, Melvin?’ he suggested. For what am I waiting? ‘An extremely patient man might well await the answer to that’ Geoff said, ‘the most patient might never doubt the answer’s arrival - they might suspect the answer is the patience itself. Death could be its reward’. I don’t know, he might be right - but what does it matter. He’s okay company, Geoff. He speaks when he has something to say, remains silent when he hasn’t.

I’m a responder. I mostly respond. I don’t often ask. Rarely question. I’m never curious. Old Rolands, he’s a man always interested in people - Rolands goes and gets himself in all manner of scrapes. When I see bruises and scabs on a fella, I see a man who’s been beaten - I see that fella often bruised, newly scarred, I see a man who suffers a beating, who can’t avoid a beating. And I don’t need a fella like that in my life. Now, Rolands, he has to ask, to take part ownership of the man’s story, have it to retell, to impart - he sees it as currency. Rolands is a man that suffers too, he can’t avoid the pitfalls of asking and of knowing or the consequence of asking and knowing. Like a shit-arsed mutt, Rolands spends his days swotting at the flies he attracts - aggravated by the necessity.

It’s not that I don’t get involved. It’s that what I’m involved in, it doesn’t involve others, not much. My day is sorted, always sorted. I’m never at a loose end. I wake dead early and I read in bed, I’ve a teasmade on the bedside and ginger snaps in the drawer - it’s been a pleasure of mine for the longest time. I read thrillers, crime thrillers and that. I get them from the library stands midway between here and my flat. If I can’t recall if I’ve read one, if the covers changed or something like that, I ask the girls on the counter to check - they can do that, she knows what I’ve had out. I don’t like to get into one and find I’ve done that book already, that is a disappointment - doesn’t happen often. When I’m ready I dress and head down here, stopping along the way for any supplies I’m short - everyday I need my smokes. I order food around two thirty, and I’m heading off about four thirty. I take a longer route back to the flat, so by the time I’m in my chair I likely sleep. I get a snack about seven thirty, nothing needing cooking. I have the telly and a fat glass of rum going until I start to dose - I won’t sleep in the chair, I get myself to bed, making sure the teasmade’s set for the next day. It’s my life, much same as its always been - there’s no going to work, no Helene to include. There’s here, Wetherspoon’s, where work was and the warmth of rum where Helene was. If I could have her back, I’d have her - but I can’t have her back. I’d have carried on working too. But those things reached their end. I live on.

I get asked to loan or give some of the others cash, but I never will. If they ask, I pretend not to hear. They don’t have much, some never have and some have pissed it away. Lots don’t ever seem to accept the life they’ve participated in, don’t try to make a home of it, they splash about like non-swimmers. There are rough bastards too, and they’ll demand money, with menaces - I never keep too much on me, I know what I’ll need one day to the next - it’s not complicated to forecast. I play those situation, when they’re threatening, by ear - I don’t pay out, it’s unnecessary mostly. If I have to give them something, if that’s my decision, I’ll say ‘go on, take it, happy to help you out, you’d do the same, you need it more than me’. If they raise a fist to me, I’ll raise one back at them. I won’t take a beating, but there’s no shame in being outclassed. Most people seem to live uncomfortable lives.

I’ve seats I prefer, but I’m never disappointed if they’re taken - why should I be, I’ve no dibs. I need to sit when I’m outside smoking, if I can’t be seated on the terrace, I wait on a vacancy. If I need to smoke, I’ll stroll down the street to find a place on a bench. I make my decision - others don’t and grieve for all the possibilities.

I’ve decided to die of the cancer inside me - it’ll take its own sweet time - time enough. I take the pain killers I’m offered, as I take the increasing discomfort. Maybe soon I’ll decide to regret my decision to let the cancer kill me - but even then I’ll live - live the same and different until life is done for me.


The Record Collector

Do you think I would leave you dying

I might slick away the tears that are forming, but I am not embarrassed by my feelings. Harris's Two Little Boys, it's one of those things that men feel, immensely—like the immensity of the Zulu's saluting the men at Rorke's Drift (or Hookey going back for the Colour Sergeant), or the sobering of Dean Martin in Rio Bravo and the sobering of Robert Mitchum in El Dorado (but, why is there no drunk to sober in Rio Lobo?).

Rolf Harris  Two Little Boy/I Love My Love (1969 - 7" Columbia-DB 8630) £3-7 Mint
John Barry  Zulu (1964 - LP Ember-NR 5012) £20-25 Mint 
Dean Martin / Nelson Riddle And His Orchestra – Rio Bravo (1959 France - 7" EP Capitol-EAP 1-20016) £10-20 Mint
Nelson Riddle Orchestra  El Dorado (1967 - LP  Columbia-S(C)X 6155) £25 Mint
Jerry Goldsmith  Rio Lobo (CD 2001 - Ltd.Ed. LP Prometheus-PCR 511) £15-17 New

When there's room on my horse for two

Allie Blandy was my best mate, between April '69 through to the second week of October '76. Alexander Vernon Blandy lived two doors down. We started infants together. We used to lie on our bellies on the floor of my room, our heads intimate with the faux teak and matt black of a portable record player, listening to Harris.

 Fidelity HF42 record player 

Climb up here, Joe, we'll soon be flying

We'd listen so intently our mouths were sculpted by the words. We'd never sing out loud. Naw, we were emotional mutes, not girls. We'd walk conjoined, arms about shoulders, keeping a three-legged pace going (our kissing legs acting as one). We were blood brothers, obviously. My viruses became Allie's. We'd no secrets. We'd squat, side by side, and shit in unison in the bamboo alongside the rail track. In the heatwave of '76, we liked to piss on the scorching rails to watch it sizzle into skittish ball-bearings before it evaporated. We used to try out wanking—we'd egg ourselves on saying the dirtiest things we knew (tits, titties, boobs, boobies, fanny, bazookas, wee wee, wee wee hole, lady's arse—the list wasn't endless, it was as repetitive as it was imaginative—knicker fish, poo poke, poo pokey, fish knickers, poo poo poker). But wanking was useless. In the October of '76, the Blandy's went off to South Africa for six months. I remember waving them off, it was made a big deal. I guess I cried, I don't recall. I was gutted, I know that much. Dark days.

Back to the ranks so blue

Allie's father sold us a cabinet hi-fi to raise funds for the trip to Africa. It was immense—a mahogany sideboard with a turntable, tuner, pre amp and speakers built-in.. The front was fabric, covering the speakers—an odd spongy, metallic kind of fabric that vibrated along with the sound. It was oldwell, older than mebut it was devastatingly fresh in my life. I was gifted the price of an LP to make up for Allie's absence. Mum took me to Lennard's, this biscuit dry establishment that sold records and sheet music. I spent a lifetime selecting. Mum was pretty patient, until she cracked. 'I'm counting to ten' she warned, 'pick one or go without, enough is enough'. I chose—I thought the cover ultra cool—Futuristic Dragon by T Rex. Mr Lennard tutted, shook his head and sighed when taking for it. Mr Lennard was the gristle and stringy meat you push to one side of your plate. He was ancient. He died in '77, the same week that Marc Bolan was killed—Terry Lennard, the son, took the shop onrenamed it 'Dad's Record Store'. People took to calling him Terry Dad. He did away with the sheet music'I trashed the sheet music and the shit music' he says to anyone reminiscing about Dad's. Terry owns a pub now—with a shit jukebox. 

Motorola SK-43M console. Cabinet made by Drexel (1960). Five speakers by Jensen.
T Rex Futuristic Dragon (1976 - LP EMI -BLNA 5004) £22-26 Mint

Can you feel, Joe, I'm all a tremble

T Rex became my everything for the next few months. I'd spend hours stomping on the spot and shaking my page-boy (haircut), dancing to T Rex. My flared jeans whipped about my calves and monkey boots. I was bought an electric yellow tee shirt with Bolan's face and shock hair emblazon across the chest, the nylon held an electrical charge—like ants in your pants or headlice or bedbugs. I started a scrapbook, filled it with anything related to Bolan, T Rex or Tyrannosaurus Rex (I was vehement the difference be observed). My parent's friends gave me posters, even a couple of other T Rex albums* (the band wasn't back in vogue yet).

All alone I sit at home
With my chrome guitar
Even Michael Mouse
He has a house with someone there
T Rex  All Alone (Track 4, Futuristic Dragon)
* T Rex Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow (3-way foldout sleeve, numbered)
(1974 - LP EMI-BNLA 7751) £250-300 Mint
*T Rex Bolan's Zip Gun (diamond-cut sleeve - blue/red label) (1975 - EMI-BNLA 7752) £20-25 Mint  

Perhaps it's the battle's noise

Mid November '76, I got a postcard from Allie. It didn't say much—'...it's hot, I seen a lion to stroke in the wild, I have a big room to myself...'. There was a collage of five photographs on the front of the card of an elephant park—one of them was of an elephant—there was a native village, some yellow flowers, a tall cactus, some shrubs and a game warden. The cover of Futuristic Dragon featured Marc Bolan riding a flying dragon with smoke billowing from its nostrils. I meant to write back to Allie to tell him about T Rex and that. I never did write.

Christmas 1976—my father walked out. He'd been seeing a woman from the Hetherington estate (a warren of grey concrete council houses with grey concrete gardens). This woman had her own kids. He left us the day before Christmas Eve. He left me a present under the tree. It was a record, I could tell that much. Christmas Day was nothing that year. I sat on my bed eating nuts and dates and chocolate. I watched some tv, with the volume low. My mum put out cold meat and pickles, I was to help myself. The turkey stayed clogging the fridge. Mum sat in the hallway, talking on the phone—coiling and uncoiling the receiver lead. I couldn't play my albums. I didn't dare open my father's gift, and what was the point if I couldn't listen to it. I placed the unwrapped present at the back of my wardrobe. On Boxing Day, I was collected by my grand parents (my mother's parents) and spent the holidays with them. They had a Fidelity record player. I hadn't my own records. I had no Marc Bolan, no T Rex or anything with me—no scrapbook, nothing. I was bereft. Again.

Fidelity UA2 Music Master

Gone away is the bluebird
Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song
As we go along
Walking in a winter wonderland

Grandad Holland was retired from the docks. A lot of the vinyl he owned was American or German or Japanese. I listened to a load of Dean Martin. Grandma and me liked The Dean Martin Christmas Album—especially the song Winter Wonderland. It was that Christmas I saw Rio Bravo for the first time. Grandad sat next to me on the settee, I leant my head against him—he smelt oily sweet and tinny, like his workshop. Gran brought us dinner on trays. I forgot everything, but Dean Martin. And, soon, he was joined by Jerry Lewis. They showed the Lewis and Martin pictures in the mornings, I'd scoff breakfast in front of the box—snorting egg yoke and baked beans, laughing, helpless.

Dean Martin  The Dean Martin Christmas Album (1966 US - Reprise Records - RS 6222) £5-8 Mint
Dean Martin  The Dean Martin Christmas Album (1966 Japan - Reprise Records - SJET-8179) £80-130 Mint

In the New Year, I was told I'd be stopping with my grandparents for longer, for the foreseeable future, until things settled, until my mother found her feet, until... Until 1979, when mum got a job in the city and I could go with her—she'd bought a two bedroom flat in a tower block. I ran hell for leather up the twelve flights to the door of my new home. Mam had new clothes, she looked good. The decor was bold, orange and chocolate and white and stripped pine. My room was huge. Mum had pinned a poster of Bolan on the wall, I had to think twice who it was. My T Rex albums were there, and the scrapbook. I wondered why I hadn't done a scrapbook for Martin and Lewis—not enough images of them about in those days—they were has beens (or mementos). I was a teenager. Bolan was dead. Martin and Lewis were kind of underground, still to achieve full cult status. I was reborn. And—sledgehammer impact—we didn't own a turntable!

Mum had bought a ghetto-blaster (or what we called 'a radio cassette player'). She'd got some bloke to record my albums onto cassettes. It wasn't the same experience playing cassettes. I enjoyed making mixtapes of the Radio One Top 40 on Sunday evenings, editing out the shit and Tony Blackburn. I began a notebook listing all the singles in the charts (or just the top 10 if I wasn't bothered) and their positions. I'd put one, two to three asterisks by those tracks I thought worthy. I asked mum for a subscription to NME, she liked that—her new friends thought it was cool. They started to fetch me cassette copies of their albums—'Tudor, you've got to hear this, it'll blow you away'. I manufactured my own inserts, using cuttings from the NME and Letraset. Mum got me drainpipes and Workers for Freedom clothes and I was pretty happening.
20th October 1979

10 (↑16) The Chosen Few  - The Dooleys*
9 (↑26) When You're in Love with a Beautiful Woman - Dr. Hook*
8 (↓5) Whatever You Want - Status Quo*
7 (↓6) Since You've Been Gone - Rainbow***
6 (↑11) Every Day Hurts - Sad Cafe
5 (↑9) One Day at a Time - Lena Martell
♡4 (↓3) Dreaming - Blondie**
3 (↑4) Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough - Michael Jackson**
2 (↓1) Message in a Bottle - Police**
1 (↑2) Video Killed the Radio Star - Buggles***

But I think it's that I remember

In 1982, my father turned up at our door. I'd just completed my O Levels. I was knocking about town, partying and going to gigs. And, one morning, I still had my head down, and he was knocking at the door. Lucky mum was out at work. He must've known she would be. He had a kid with him, little one that could barely walk. 'Um. Hi, Tudor' he says. I knew who he was, I guess, but I wasn't certain—I remembered him different. 'It's me—your dad'. I laughed. It seemed ridiculous, him having to introduce himself. I made us a coffee, put some biscuits on a plate. He asked me about school, I said I might not go back in the autumn. He said it was a pity if I didn't. He gave me a cheque for a thousand pounds. That was about it. He left contented, and I dashed into town to deposit the wonga in my Post Office account.

When we were two little boys

I went to stay for a week with Grandad Holland in late August—my grandma had passed away in 1980, it was sudden. I thought I'd broken her heart moving back in with mum, but that was just me projecting what I felt. I'd loved living with my grandparents and I loved living with mum. And grandma died so abruptly, not long after I left. Anyway, I was knocking about town with grandad and this lanky fellow walks up to me and goes 'long time no see, Tudor!'. I was a right loss. 'Don't recognise me, do you', fellow says. I didn't. He was young, but looked older than me—weathered—I took him for twenty or so. 'It's me', he says, which was less than helpful. I'm blank. 'Me, Allie—Allie Blandy, mate'. I hadn't given this once bosom pal of mine a single thought in all the years since his postcard from South Africa, since Bolan, since. I felt really awkward—no, I felt overwhelming dismay. I didn't want this, for this piece of the 'far country' to now appear like some floating island in my present. Allie was tangled into the knot of late '76, knit amongst my dad's leaving, that abysmal Christmas, leaving mum—a knot added to by grandma's death, my dad's recent visit. I must've suppressed everything I'd felt back then, the continuing loss—I hadn't realised. And Allie, as he was, there in front of me, grown, he wasn't anything to me—I didn't like the look of him, nothing about him appealed to me. I ran. I ran away.

I ran a few streets. I was outside Dad's Record Store. I went in. My heart was galloping still. I was flicking through the vinyl, numbly. I didn't want to think, to recall. I was frightened because I didn't understand what was happening inside of me. Thenthere was Dean Martin looking out at me from the cover of his Christmas Album. I was flood with the presence of my grandma—I mean it, she was there—I was with her, it was so good to experience her love again. I took the record to Terry Lennard to pay for it. Terry tutted, shook his head and sighed.

When I got back to the city I purchased a Marantz turntable to replay my old vinyl. I was ignorant back then. Next day I had to go buy an amp with a phono stage and speakers. I spent a good chunk of my dad's gift—it seemed to please mum, my spending his cash on extravagances. 'I'll put you through college, sweetheart' she'd tell me. I never went. I got a job with Tower Records. By 1990 I was managing an Our Price. In 1998, I set up my own store dealing vinyl (secondhand, collectible, white labels and reissues from Japan and the US). I closed the shop in 2009—I use the premise to stow the vinyl I deal online and a chunk of my own collection. The business has always been called Grandma Holland's. People call me Tudor Holland (mum liked that) or Grandma Tudor (which is cool with me).

Marantz tt-6200

Mum had cancer. Lymphatic. It was mercifully quickfor her. She died in January. Last Christmas was special. We said 'let's not have a repeat of '86, let's bloody have the bloody time of our bloody lives'. We did. Grandad was with us, staggering about on his sticks, drunk as a lord—he wore a paper crown everyday for a week. Mum's friends were round in a constant stream. It was such a party. Mum was so happy—it made us so happy. There was time enough for grief once she gone.

I managed to begin clearing out her clothes and things today. I found my dad's Christmas present, the one he left for me in '86—still wrapped—it was a the back of mum's wardrobe. I opened it.

Pink Floyd - The Dark Side of the Moon (1973 sealed first pressing, solid light blue triangle label, black inner,
2 posters & 2 stickers, gatefold sleeve - Harvest-SHVL 804) £500-800


The Human Resources Consultant

Tears stir just below the surface, it reminds me of live bait - I will think of my father, the grubs and worms he used when he fished, which is all he ever did after they shut the steelworks - I have to look straight into their eyes, I'm paid to do that, and I say '...your job is at risk' - their emotions are stampeded - they would cry, but you don't, do you? - the stink of gut oily fish on my redundant father, wasn't so unlike the stink of oil-smut and steel he used to carry home. Home. Work and home - they must be kept distinct - one cannot impinge on the other - it, it would be impossible - yet, they make this mistake, endlessly. It's the young that get it - though they get the least - they are never concerned with columns of figures, just the sum, the total at the bottom - they don't want to consult, they want it quiz show style - they see whatever they get as a prize - they're too young never to work again (they don't care if they never work again). The rest - those in livery, those in the cheap suits, right through to those in the bespoke, all of them - they 'empty out' - it's what makes it easy for me, they are deadened, an emotional fuse blown - hollowed, they leave the room, invited to take the rest of the day off - they leave the building - look out into the car park, you can see them in their cars, paused, hands on steering wheels, the office or factory evaporating, home looming large, larger than before - home colossal. You can insure against 'redundancy' - you can. There are those who are 'violent' - 'there, girl, your daddy's not going to hurt you, or me, or anyone - he's just expressing his anger, that's all - he's been ill-treated, and many of his friends, like Uncle Jus and Uncle Si, and he has to let it out, what he feels - he's shaking his fist at the moon, girl' - they pound the table - everything used to spring and clatter down, the plates, the cutlery, the glasses and bowls, everything skipping with each blow - 'who the fuck are you?' they'll accuse me, I state my name and my role (transposing the 'who the fuck are you!' I reply with inside) - and, yes, we are strangers - we're meant to be strangers - except, we are not. I've met them thousands of times, it's Groundhog Day for me. And they - they might not know who I am - but they care - they care who I am - it seems vital they know who I am - 'what are you?' some ask - I'm H.R.. Human Resources. I never say 'consultant', not to a punter - I prefer they associate me with 'head office', with some pantheon of bosses and directors - after all, I'm not to blame - I'm not the cause of job losses. I've even helped them find new employment, a few of them. Uncle Si found work - mother and I came South along with him - left my father on his riverbank - Uncle Jus followed soon after - of course, Uncle Si wasn't really my uncle, he was Uncle Just's best mate - they got on their bikes, they re-skilled - I haven't seen my father now in twenty years, I've told my kids that he's dead.


A Representative

What I do, is nothing.

I don't mean I do nothing. I'm a bleeding grafter. It's - just - it's like Tinkerbell - what I do it exists because it is seen to be done - it's believed because it is seen to exist. Do you get that? Tinkerbell is a figment of belief, and you want to believe in her or else she's not there to believe in.

I'm the knock, knock man - I'm a foot in the door. What I do, is I wrangle appointments with buyers, budget holders, with commissioning managers, with head honchos. If somebody wants an in with, say, Mister Elusive of IBM, or whatever, I go get.

It's self-employment, I'm self-made, I made me up, but it pays. I'll take a percentage of the profits on any volume business done via one of my introductions. I am 'Hicks-Sudbury Solutions'. I'm the Rep's representative. I'm Rumpelstiltbloodyskin spinning gold out of straw. The whole firm consists of me, myself, my iPhone, my laptop, a spanking website and my BMW. All I've got to sell is a need to believe in me. Nobody really looses out. So, I might persuade a client to purchase something that doesn't need replacing or upgrading, yet - they pay a reasonable price for quality goods and service. I dish my clients up to decent companies, I can't afford to be associated with any shoddiness, it would puncture the bubble. I am naked, I know it - it's the clients who dress me in Emperor's clothes - they can't afford for me to be naked, not once they've bought into me. Business-wise, I walk about swinging my dick for all to see, but they don't see. My nakedness is their nakedness, it's a fairytale they're caught-up in.

I've no need of an office, any of those overheads. Right now, I work out of a cafe in an art gallery - they've free wi-fi, spot-on coffee - and, because the art's all this, that and tat, contemporary or whatever they say, it's quiet - I like it there. The cafe staff, youngsters, they're good people - they all are, the gallery staff - paid the shittiest money, stretched this way and that, trying to please - I've never seen turds so well polished - that's belief, there, the power of it. I am inclined to be convinced myself.

The other day, I was looking at this photograph of, well, nothing - there was an orange, plastic bench against a red tile wall, an expanse of grey floor - some railway station somewhere - everything was well-lit - nothing stood out. Nothing is what stood out. I found myself seated on the bench, looking out of the photo - I felt I fulfilled the space, like the seat was mine - my throne. I was standing there ages, watching myself and experiencing the elsewhere depicted. I asked if it was for sale - of course, it was - I asked the price - it was okay, it could've been more. Nobody tried to convince me to buy, so I went back to my cold calling. Only, all afternoon, I was aware that some part of me was still seated on that bench in the station in that photograph. 


The Projectionist

Never could abide hot beverages hot—nor take them milky, though the milk cools them—I've always waited on luke warm. I used to drink tea from the saucer, as a nipper, it was something my gramps did, he taught me. But I grew up and I had to make do with cups—now I'm overgrown, I could be a gramps myself, I can drink from a saucer again—I don't have to wait.
 They assume I'm a film buff. I'm not. It was a job. The picture house opened, they advertised for a 'Projectionist's Assistant'—my father marched me down there, I got taken on—I was the only applicant. I liked the work, it was habitual, it was undemanding. I had to watch for the seams where cans are switched, otherwise—well, I prepared what needed doing and I waited—I'd recall my past lives.

Furthest back—I recollect sleekness—I was sleek and wet, the air was water and it tumbled about me, so polished and easy, or rough and shattered, or kneading, or jellied—I'd break into brilliance now and again, into a lightness, into a siren call.

 You belonged to a church or chapel when I was young. A church or chapel you didn't go to—that your grandparents or their parents went—where you were christened or dedicated, where you'd be married, where your progeny would be 'given up to' God—a place that made sense of a suit. Our church was Spiritualist. We were a family who listened to the dead. Mam held conversations with them, the departed—she'd cluck her tongue into the roof of her mouth, grimace, falter and they would talk, through her. Mam channelled Harry Houdini, Alexander the Great, Leslie Howard (she loved to channel Leslie, doe-eyed, English blond Leslie). Now, mam loved the pictures, she'd go after a service, to the double-bills. It was mam told father about the job, the job I got and kept for sixty years. She didn't need a ticket when I was there, I'd arrange for her to be walked through, we kept a clutch of seats back for family, friends and bribery (Councillor's didn't pay, the local plod, the clergy we recognised - by sight, not by sanction). I never saw a movie from the auditorium, I watched few from the booth. I'd my past lives to recall.

Grit biting on knuckles; sure muscles, uplifting; weights and temperatures of smell; everything at once, all of it meaningful, throughout me. She-form is tender fruit where I am pleased to touch her form, like wet shining stone from a less burning pool. The reading tip of my reach against the slip of exposed bone shown when her face is open, as if ready for feeding. The slip  depth my reach falls into where body branches meet, where I am striking weapon, sparking rock. Close under, the near space, closer under, us, the emptied skin that is ours, my success, me for her, for both holding, under, in its dark weighty with us, warm from our spill.

 Once God had me, he could keep me. A hat and scarf given at Christmas don't wear the person they were gifted to. I am God's to wear. I'd never disoblige him. So, I got on, did what needed doing in my life, presenting the latest cinema to those that cared, to those that wanted to fondle in the darkness, obtaining and maintaining what I cared to, and reliving my previous incarnation. I might've become a practicing Spiritualist, taken to the pulpit-stage of the steel or creosote churches of the circuit, a messenger boy between here and there - it bored me though, other people's lives, the mediocre salutations from beyond. I prefer life, all the lives I have remnant wherever inside me.

A heft of sore cloth on me. Everything about me is in these garments, not just in them as I am in them, but imbued into the fabric: the oils of what I've eaten, sweated and spilt; the yeast of ale, sweated and spilt; arse rub and cock spit; dung, urine, others, leeching up from the hems. Tiring to wear, too worn into comfort to take off. And strange, disturbing, alluring stinks clasp me. Smoked, caramelised, fused and evacuated smells. Ash discoloured fingers, evil tinctures, startling blemishes and bloodless pimples dirty my hands and forearms. My beard tastes of rot, many rots, of woodland mulch and festering meat and metalled water. I grind, gut, blend, pinch, cinder, clinker, fume, distill, capture, glass, putty, infuse, defuse, refuse to be deterred from making, summoning properties, unpicking the thread essence. I will come to a greater understanding of divinity through incision and the blessing of flame and the suckling nature of water. I will have wonder in my palms, which will illuminate the night of people's souls.
  Women don't concern me. People don't. I'll tolerate shades, I must, they will always come to me. I am a weakness in the fabric of this world, spirits pass through, pressing forward towards me. I have company in myself.

Pale and pliable as kidney fat, the moist breath of the rig suckles the straw to my back, straws jabbing and blunted against my flanks as I am shucked, side to side, by his pressing and nuzzling body. He is a firmness of distance inside of me, trying to travel far, and further. He journeys well enough for me. He is someone, a trinket that I will fondle and lose, the fields are busy with gaud I've let fall. And the nubbins of flesh I've shaken off. I'm just a poor lass, shackled and freed by that poverty. I do as I want, as I can. I take pleasure, before pleasure is taken from me. The farm is a brute, yet it keeps my rind soft about leather sinew and carthorse muscle. It is a wrestling match, a grappling and shin kicking, goes on between me and the farm. It will win out, I will give out, taken in wedlock, sired and hollowed, become no more than a ladle to stir and to serve, and I will pass away, all must, and ancient in the youth of their passing - only the landed live to be old. We live like spit passed on, spat into the mouths of our calves, as it was into us, and on, on. There must be a death to it too, all things end, they must.
  Life goes on, it seems to vary its pace, it doesn't, I know its beat, the heartbeats that fill a day. I live in my sleep, life continues, it isn't a pause. What sleep is to me is a change of reels, I recognise the scratch that signifies the switch from wakeful visitations to shut-eyed visitations. I am habitual. And nobody ever leaves me, they always return. I am a cinema, in myself, I am a cinema.

It tickers inside me the passing of time, frame by frame, twenty five each second, it's a rhythm I've fallen into, bodily. I know the tail end of a reel is... now, it's counted out in me. I stand, adjusting the clothe about my knees, there, see the score that signals the run-in, and now two projections in perfect sync, then, one. Load the next reel, and return to... Never could abide hot beverages hot.


The Barber

Guess what, they never ask. Heads coat me in the bird shit of their desperate need to natter, they come out with...[shakes his head]. Well, they throw snippets of their tedium in the air like bird seed, like I'm a bird, like I want feeding - when it's them, they want reassurance because it's intimate, barbering. I mean I touch them and they blush, they do, it's what starts them off, attempting to talk up a distraction. I might think they're gay, tad over-sensitive to my hands in their hair, the firmness of my manoeuvring their skull this way and that. So they talk...they yawn words. When they have got a worthwhile story, they desiccate it or they over-inflate it. They stupefy you. And, yeah, I'll puncture a silence with a question from the barber's arsenal - you know the ones. It's akin to a mercy killing. Otherwise, they tighten in the chair, trapped in the moment, hating themselves for seeming gay, for not being bloke enough, for being so fucking ordinary. There are plenty of folk who ought to hate themselves, I'm not being kind when I ask about their weekends or holidays or cars or the football, I'm making my job easier. Talk is a muscle relaxant. I want to be fast, proficient and tipped - a stiffened neck slows me down. Punters want to be in and out quick as. But, it's just, if I were in the chair and I looked up and saw, I'd be curious, suspicious. I'd feel threatened, perhaps. But, they don't ask. Not once. If they did, now, that'd be talking.

 Hey they could say what's behind that tattoo on your right forearm?

 What? This one? The Barber scissors with a bloody ear between its blades? Oh, yeah, it's an memorial to my father, the old...[a blunt sigh]. He taught me to cut. I didn't want to know, but he insisted. He was a wide man, my dad. Not a big man. He stood five feet four. He had this step he used to reach the tallest of heads. He was broad. Not fat. He filled a door sideways. They say a man is built like a brick shit house, well, my dad was, but only on the one dimension, the width. He was a hard man. And I don't mean for a barber he was a hard man. If he'd been a docker or a Marine or anything tough, my dad would've been hard.

 What he couldn't beat into me, as a kid, he'd beat out of me, until there was room. Yeah, he was mean. He thrashed my mother, she never left him, she'd even provoke him, I think she liked it. I'm not being flippant. I think mum used to get off on a spanking, on being dominated. She'd never any bruises to her face, and she'd never have a word said against him. Mum, she'd feed me, keep me in pocket money and out of the house, she was a passable mother - we got on okay. Dad, I hated his guts, which suited him.

 I was cutting heads before I'd done with school. I was going to bolster dad's business, he thought. At fifteen, I finished with education. I was due to go full-time in the shop - was I heck. It was Nineteen Seventy-Seven, and my rough upbringing and being a working-class oik and being unfussy in my desperation to get away and the fact I could cut hair meant I could uncut it, made me a Punk - I was a Punk I said. Tatty Harris, his brother invited us into a squat he had functional in Camden. Can't say I was expecting dad to take it well, I knew I'd take a beating. I was prepared, meaning, I was ready to be pounded. The ferocity of his attack might signify the depth of his affection for me, that he'd miss me. Anyway, he knocked me fairly senseless, then, to mark it as a special occasion, he picks up his scissors and lops off my left ear from behind. That's the last memory I have of dad, him standing there in the shop door, as I stumbled off down the street, deaf with blood and swelling - and he seemed to be shouting, not at me, but into my ear that was in his hand.

 So, when I turned forty, and I was still cutting heads, because that was what dad beat into me and I couldn't unlearn it, I got the tattoo - my dad's scissors, my ear - to remind me we aren't masters of our own fortune, not really, others shape us, make us what we can become, if not what we are.

 But, they never ask about the tattoo. And they never mention my lack of an ear. It's a pity, I think. I don't mind talking about it, it's real and feels meaningful. I can understand its not being a story you'd want told you by someone wielding a scissors - someone who seems as pissed off with his lot as me - I can appreciate they might prefer to talk about the cricket or fuel prices or anything else. Makes them seem gutless though. When I was younger, and Punk had given way to a faux Italian Barber Salon in Hammersmith, when I was utterly bitter, I'd loose a plumb of gob down the back of a punter's head and rub it in, rub it right the way in.