Jimi Hendrix’s Kite by Chris Green
It is seven o’clock on a Saturday morning and I am enjoying a leisurely bath before going to the car boot. This does not usually get going until about eight thirty at this time of year, so I have plenty of time. My bath is a large cast iron Victorian model with claw legs that I liberated from a skip. Purists of Victoriana would maybe not approve of the zebra pattern I have painted on it, but I find it relaxing and in keeping with the jungle theme I have carried through the bathroom. It looks particularly good against the yucca and the kentia palm. I am sipping at a cup of guava and echinacea tea and scanning the ‘miscellaneous’ classifieds in the ‘Advertiser’, something jumps out of the page: Box kite, large, rainbow colours, once owned by Jimi Hendrix, £27, no offers.
Why on earth would it matter to someone looking for a kite that Jimi Hendrix had owned it? It was not like it was a guitar, or even a jacket. And why £27? I try to remember if Jimi Hendrix is a member of the ‘27 Club,’ that elite band of rock stars that died aged 27. Perhaps ‘box kite’ is a metaphor for Jimi’s ‘mind-expanding’ drug use? The ad has a mobile number. I phone it. There is no reply. Perhaps seven is a tad early. I leave a message on the voicemail.
Having been made redundant eighteen months ago, I quickly discovered that life can be much more rewarding when your time is your own. It is like having a soul again. I have not been idle. I have renovated, decorated and furnished a large terraced house during the time, not to mention landscaping my garden. What had been a ‘property’ that I occupied space in is now a home that I live in. While everyone is being encouraged to paint their houses in neutral colours so they they can sell them on, I have gone all out to make mine as distinctive and as brightly coloured as possible. From my Yellow Cello sculpture in the front garden and the Patrick Heron style front door to the Mondrian pattern patio at the back of the house, mine is a statement of individuality.
The tools of the trade are charity shops, classifieds, auctions, ebay and car boots. All that is needed is a careful eye for a bargain. Last month I sold a folded movie poster for ‘Mulholland Drive’ at auction for £350. Age Concern had been embarrassed to sell me this gem for £5 because it had a small tear in one corner. I sell things most days. Last week I sold a Leika camera that I had picked up for £20 for £250 on ebay. I do not need premises, only a phone line. People have too much disposable income and are coerced constantly into borrowing too much on their plastic. The economy is fuelled by the idea of built in obsolescence. Harassed twenty four seven by merciless advertisers to buy new ranges of commodities, they repeatedly accumulate too much clutter. What people need most now is space to accommodate the new items. Second hand prices of most goods are at an all time low. My Nokia mobile, which I live by, cost me just £5. Bargain hunting is fun. I do not miss the office or the High Street stores one bit.
It is spitting with rain when I arrive at Strawberry Fields and there are fewer vehicles than there will be later in the season. This is not a problem. Ninety five percent of the stock at car boots is utter junk. The skill is to spot the valuable or interesting amongst the junk. You do need to get up quite early sometimes, other than this good judgement is all that was needed. At boots I never start off by offering more than half the asking price. After all it is a buyers’ market. In between buying a set of tyres and some ornamental grasses, still having change from a twenty, I continue to piece together the ’27 Club’. Jimi Hendrix I had calculated definitely was a member, as were Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Brian Jones. These were the luminaries that Kurt Cobain had reputedly wanted to join, when he put the gun to his head.
I do not normally pay too much attention to CDs at car boots but I cannot help but notice Axis Bold as Love, arguably Jimi’s finest album, on a trestle table that otherwise had little but kitchen utensils and ornaments. The dazzling Hindu iconography of the front cover screams out. I don’t think that Axis would not have been a casual purchase for anyone. You might expect to find Greatest Hits occasionally, but this was a most unexpected find. Just as I am paying the 50p my Nokia rings.
‘Hello,’ I say.
‘Hi man,’ says a man’s voice that sounds as if it is coming from outer space. Perhaps it is the slowness with which he speaks. ‘You called me about Jimi’s kite.’ Or the long spaces in between his words.
‘Yes’ I say, ‘interesting ad. What’s the story behind it?’
‘Heeey, look man! It’s a long story. Not now eh, I’m a busy man. Do you want to see it or don’t you?’
I think his manner a little abrupt, even if he is not from Earth. But, I do want to see the kite, so I humour him. I listen while he gives me a complicated series of directions. I hope I am writing them down correctly. So far as I can judge ‘Rainbow Bridge,’ which I’ve never heard of, is about fifty miles away. I arrange a viewing for 1 o’clock. This gives me time to have an unhurried second-breakfast somewhere along the way.
I have not played any of Hendrix’s music for years. While he is frequently named as the greatest ever guitarist, few people actually listen to his music. You hear Crosstown Traffic on TV adverts and sometimes you might hear a snatch of Stone Free, to accompany a trailer, but these are minor works in the canon. I look at the track list of ‘Axis’ to refresh my memory. I can already hear it in my head note for note. I put the CD in my £15 Alpine player and set off. What a treat! Jimi’s playing sounds so fresh. As I listen to his fingers sweeping up notes along the neck of his Stratocaster, I begin to imagine him flying a kite. A multicoloured box kite, soaring on a brisk westerly, fluid and free. He has such fantastic dexterity; he would be a natural at flying a kite. I remember also that he was a paratrooper when he was younger. He would have been familiar with floating in space. He would understand the air currents. He could have been an Olympic contender at kite flying.
In Tesco at Forecastle, I order a nine item all day breakfast and am faced with a choice between The Holy Grail and The Daily Horror on the news-stand. ‘Send Them All Back Home,’ yells the Grail, ahead of a paranoid tirade against asylum seekers. I choose The Horror. The Horror enlightens me with a story about a junior cabinet minister’s sex change operation, and about England striker Rena Spooky’s cocaine binges with his girlfriend, Shagga (will he be suspended ahead of the all important World cup qualifier against Bhutan, wonders England coach, Tunc Moloko). After another cup of tea, I set off across country to Rainbow Bridge. It is 11 minutes past 11.
There comes a point when you have to finally admit that you are lost. When your sense of pride regarding your spatial awareness must be abandoned. Having driven round and round in what seems to be some kind of motocross circuit for the best part of an hour, I reach this stage. I am lost. The last obvious landmark was a series of derelict huts on a disused RAF base about an hour and a half back. I am sure, well almost sure, that I followed the directions properly and came off the B42 or whatever it was at Beckett Hill, and forked right at the first junction as instructed. Since then it has been a progression of ever more narrow country lanes, and now tracks and bridle paths. As far as the eye can see in any direction there is a patchwork of fields and woodland, following the geometry of the landscape. This is remote country. There has not even been a farmhouse. The last road sign I saw was the one at the Beckett Hill turn-off, which said Landsfree 3 miles. As it is overcast I do not even have the sun to guide me. I take out the mobile to phone ahead, but there is no signal. Have you ever heard of a place called ‘the back of beyond?’ This is it!
I get out of the Volvo and scan the horizon in every direction. No sign of life. No buildings. Nothing. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I detect what appears to be a small movement. I squint to try and get a better look. It appears to be a red and white electric milk float making its way up a slight incline from left to right, across my field of vision. It seems a peculiar sight out here in the middle of nowhere. Reason suggests firstly, milk comes from the country and there would not be large profits in a such a rustic milk round and secondly that the short life of a battery might be an inhibiting factor. However, presumably the milk float is headed somewhere. I turn the car around and head in its general direction.
I come to a fork in the road and take a right thinking this might represent a short cut. After five minutes or so I find myself in thick woodland. The trees are now in full leaf and little light is getting through the canopy. I catch several fallow deer in the beams of the headlights. I stop the car, and am leaning heavily towards the idea of turning back and heading the way I came, when there up ahead and coming towards me is the milk float. The track I am on is little more the width of my car. The milk float continues heading straight for me. And there is no one at the wheel. It has no driver. To avoid a collision I back the Volvo up turning into a small clearing, only to collide with the stump of a recently felled beech. The tyres and the grasses I bought earlier tumble about in the back of the car. The milk float carries on regardless at a steady ten miles an hour, milk crates rattling as it makes its ghostly way through the woods. I am seriously shaken. I look at my watch. It is 11 minutes past 11. Time seems to have stood still but my mind is racing. I can think of no rational explanation to any of this, but feel that I really need one. I feel faint and take a series of deep breaths. I dust myself down and begin to follow. What else can I do? Gradually murky daylight filters through and we come out of the woods and are back in open country. The patchwork of the landscape spreads like a mantle towards the distant horizon and what seems a very large and empty sky.
Nothing could have prepared me for what I witness next. There in front of me bouncing its way across the landscape in a spectacular fashion at about the speed of a fast car is a large white bubble. Because I am a fan, this powerful image is to me instantly recognisable as Rover, the spherical guardian from The Prisoner. In the series, Rover hunts down any person who attempts escape from the secret seaside resort known as the Village. When Rover catches an escapee, it envelops their body, suffocating them. I am both fascinated and frightened at the same time by this surreal sight. Each bound takes it about fifty metres. Rover leaps over trees with consummate ease. Fortunately it does not seem to be heading towards me and for this I am thankful.
With the appearance of Rover, I begin to read some significance into the driverless milk float. In the deep recesses of my consciousness, I recall an episode of The Avengers the cult 1960s TV series. In this episode, there was a milk float that had no driver, and there was a disused airbase like the one I had passed earlier. As I can remember nothing about the plot, this does not really help with an explanation of these incidents beyond that there might be a connection. It is after all quite unusual for sixties television to come to life twice in the space of a few minutes. I begin to wonder whether the Tardis from Dr Who might be about to materialise.
I arrive at Rainbow Bridge at quarter to one. The journey has been relatively straightforward, taking me through some beautiful countryside. The directions I hurriedly took down earlier on the back of an envelope for all my concern about their vagueness, were accurate. I turned off the main road at Beckett Hill and forked left at the next junction, which took me through a beautiful little hamlet called Landsfree. I passed a large area of mature woodland on my right and stopped a few miles further on at a nursery and garden centre for a cup of papaya and ginseng tea (I couldn’t resist buying a pampas grass for £5). I passed through Twobirds and turned right at The Frog and Nightgown which took me just as my directions had said to Rainbow Bridge.
Rainbow Bridge is not a large village. There is only one street, the main one through the village. I was told the last house on the left. I park outside the small semi-detached stone cottage, with a picket fence. The cottage is built on an incline with a steep gravel path leading through a lawn up to the front step. The place looks in good repair. The door and the windows are nicely turned out. There is a Georgia creeper growing up the front of the house, a brightly coloured border, and a Chinese fan palm and a bamboo growing in Moroccan-blue glazed pots.
I knock on the door. The leaded stained glass diamond-patterned panel in the door is particularly impressive. Mr Kite has taste. I half expected to find a ramshackle house with a goat tethered by a piece of frayed rope, Third Stone from the Sun playing at deafening volume, an untidy bunch of latter-day hippies sprawled in a haze of ‘skunk’ smoke, the acrid smell of which would assault me the moment the front door opened. The ashtrays would be full, the heavy velvet curtains would be drawn, a black and white mongrel dog would be slumped on a threadbare settee, rugs would be hanging on the walls, and dishes would be piled up in the sink.
I am revising my appraisal when on the second knock, the door opens, releasing with it a cloud of acrid blue smoke. From within this a tall, lean figure with oriental features and dark slicked back hair appears. Inside a fine set of laughter lines, his eyes are deep set and he has a scar above the right temple. It is a difficult face to put an age to. He might be anything between 50 and 60 years old but his style of dress seems to belong to a younger man. He wears red loafers, distressed green denim cut-offs, and a baggy crimson sweatshirt with ‘The Poverty GAP,’ using the Gap logo, printed on the front. He wears a chunky gold neck chain and his stubble is designer-plus.
He seems a little surprised to see me, unsure of who I might be. I tell him I’ve come about the kite.
‘Hey man! You made it OK then.’ Mr Kite’s voice has inflections of Jack Nicholson about it. ‘Only I wasn’t sure about the directions I’d given you, man. You know what I mean.’
‘No I found it easily,’ I say. ‘Nice drive. Lovely scenery.’
He seems to want to stay on the subject of his directions. ‘I couldn’t remember if I told you to fork left or right at Beckett Hill, man. You dig? Don’t turn right. Big mistake if you turn right.’
‘No. I turned left like you said. Look, here!’ I show him the envelope. ‘Why? Where does it take you if you turn right?’
‘No-one knows, man. You get lost. You know what I mean.’ He seems more friendly than he did on the phone. He grins a lot. ‘It’s sort of like a black hole. Like the Bermuda Triangle. …… Anyway come on in man, let me show you the kite.’ He offers me the large spliff he has been smoking. I decline but I am already beginning to feel stoned from passive smoking.
The hallway is like a gallery with an exhibition of framed photographs, mostly black and white in black frames, but a few of the pictures are in colour and these are in green, red or yellow frames. My gaze settles on one in particular. This must be Mr Kite when he was younger with Jimi Hendrix. They are seated on stools playing acoustic guitars. He plays right handed and Jimi plays left handed. They mirror each other like John and Paul. It is a fantastic shot. I move closer to study it. The clothes, the hair styles, the whole ambience of the picture capture the era perfectly. I am transported back in time. Those were the days. There was something in the air. The times, they were a-changing.
‘You like it, man? What about the sideburns, eh? That was taken in 1968. Olympic Studios, in Barnes. I had a flat in Putney at the time. Jimi used to crash there if he was working late at the studio. We went out a few times to fly the kite in the park around the corner. You know what, even then he would take his guitar. He would walk down the street with it like a travelling minstrel. Happy times man.’
‘Should I have heard of you,’ I ask?
‘No, probably not, I was with lots of bands in the sixties. I was a bit what you might call wayward. Never stayed with anything very long.’ He takes a final pull on the spliff. ‘Heard of Traffic? I was with Traffic for a while, and some American bands. California mostly. My name’s Dave by the way’
I introduce myself, he puts the spliff in an ashtray and we shakes hands.
‘In here,’ he says, leading me into a ‘deceptively spacious’ front room. The kite is laid out on the floor. It is fantastic. Rainbow is an understatement. It has so much colour. It is so spectacular it makes everything else in the room look grey. Even the yellow walls, the Ken Done curtains, and the art deco settee, and the Matisse prints on the walls.
‘It’s brilliant,’ I say. I’d like to buy it, but I’m curious, why £27?’ Why not 25 or 30?
With this he becomes animated. He has clearly been waiting for me to ask.
‘Twenty seven’s a cool number, man. You know. The house number’s 27. Didn’t you notice? I always take number 27. I’ve lived at 27 Mulholland Drive – a long time ago. 27 Ladbrook Grove, 27 Love Street, 27 Mandela Mews, 27,Icould go on and on, man. My birthday’s on the 27th. And Jimi’s was. We were both born on November 27th. 27 is a magic number. It is the cube of 3. It is the result of a prime reciprocal magic square of the multiples of 1/7.’
He waited for me to show that I understood what a prime reciprocal magic square was. I didn’t, but nodded anyway.
‘And did you know there are 27 books in the New testament,’ he continues. ‘But …. I know what you’re thinking, man…. the 27 club. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Tim Buckley, Robert Johnson and Kurt Cobain all died at 27.
I had thought the last point through. If I had felt like debating the issue I could have pointed out that there were lots of famous musicians that had not died at 27. Otis Redding and Nick Drake had died at 26 and Marc Bolan had died at 28 for instance, Bob Marley was 36 when he died, John Lennon lived to the ripe old age of 40, and many had not died at all. And for the record Buddy Holly was just 22. Besides, some of those on his list were a little obscure: Tim Buckley and Robert Johnson were hardly household names.
‘Why don’t you want to keep the kite,’ I ask?
‘It’s my life laundary man,’ he laughs, as he licks the edge of a cigarette paper. ‘It’s not the sixties anymore, you know what I mean? What do I need a kite for? You’ve got to let go.’
Dr Robert tells me that he feels I was suffering from ‘false memory syndrome.’ This is as a result of the accident. I have been unconscious for 48 hours, and my Volvo, tough car though it was, was a write off as a consequence of the collision. Beckett Hill was a notorious accident black spot. I have now been in hospital for a week, recovering from a catalogue of serious injuries, including a fractured skull, damage to my neck, my thorax, and broken bones in my arms and legs. Dr. Robert was a visiting consultant, specialising in head injuries.
‘A false memory,’ he tells me ‘is a memory, which is a distortion of an actual experience, or a confabulation of an imagined one. Many false memories involve confusing or mixing fragments of memory events, some of which may have happened at different times but which are remembered as occurring together. Many false memories involve an error in source memory. Furthermore, memories are often mixed; some parts are accurate and some are not. Some involve treating dreams as if they were playbacks of real experiences.’
He adds that my accounts of the day leading up to the accident are colourful and detailed compared to most examples of false memory, but that research on memory indicates that the very act of remembering involves creativity and imagination. As I can remember important things like what my name is, where I live and what my bank details are, he does not seem to be too concerned about these flights of fancy. He is optimistic that, given the appropriate stimuli, my memory will in time begin to function normally.
After Dr Robert leaves, a nurse that I have not seen on the ward before helps me back to bed. I notice from the badge on her blue uniform that her name is Padma Gupta. Nurse Gupta can see that I have been a little troubled by the discussion with Doctor Robert and tries to put my mind at rest. Unlike one or two of the nurses I have hitherto met during my stay Nurse Gupta seems genuinely concerned about my welfare.
‘It is not unusual to be confusing things that have happened with things that have not,’ she says as she manipulates my wheelchair around the trolleys on the ward. ‘Imaginings are very powerful. My religion is based upon powerful imaginings.’
As she is wearing a ‘bindi’ on her forehead I take it to be Hinduism she is referring to. I do question whether seeing, or imagining I saw, the Tardis materialise in the middle of hundreds of square miles of gently undulating countryside might be a little outside the realm of those studying the Upanishads, but as she did seem very friendly, I do not mention this concern.
Nurse Gupta asks if I had tried reading to take my mind off of things. I tell her that I do not have a book, that I have read all the ‘Hello’ and ‘OK’ magazines that my friend Lucy has brought in, and in the absence of either a hospital shop or a patients’ library, I have nothing left to read. As she uses the EZ lift to replace me back in my bed, Nurse Gupta promises she would find me some books.
‘There are many very good novels in the nurses’ rest room that would definitely be interesting you,’ she says. ‘I do like a good read. I have just been finishing a book called Labyrinths by a writer called Borges. That is a very strange book. There is a story in it called The Garden of Forking Paths. This is about a Chinaman who is a German agent in the war. He goes to the house of a man whose name he has got from the phone book and shoots him. The man’s name is Stephen Albert. When the story of the killing turns up in the papers, the Germans know, through a secret code they’ve devised, where the important British munitions dump they must attack is located: a French town called Albert. The story talks about a book written by Chinese philosopher Ts’ui Pen. The book itself comments on the notion of time. The story is quite short but it is very complicated. Dr. Clapton is telling me that The Garden of Forking Paths has a subtext. He says it questions the idea of history as a single path and instead is suggesting that history branches out in an infinite number of different directions at every point in time and space. This is giving you endless possibilities of what is real, all occurring at once and the possibility that you can be whatever you can imagine.’
‘It sounds quite a story,’ I say. ‘I should like to read it.’
‘I will bring it to you in this afternoon,’ she says, ‘but now I have to see other patients on the ward.’
Having found a copy of the Advertiser, I ask Nurse Gupta if, before she leaves, she could set up my ‘able table’ so that I can read it. Instinctively I turn to the classifieds. I scan these arriving at an item in the ‘miscellaneous.’ It reads ‘Malibu surfboard, balsa core, covered in red fibreglass, plywood fin, once owned by Jimi Hendrix, £27, no offers.’ I look up from the paper. It is 11 minutes past 11.
© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved