Thursday Night and Friday Morning

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Thursday Night and Friday Morning by Chris Green

A car outside my window sounds its horn three times and I stir from my sleep. I was on a golden beach listening to the gentle echo of summer voices. Dolphins were playing with gondolas in the surf. A woman with long dark hair and iridescent tantric tattoos who I met on a balloon trip was rubbing oil into my back and talking in soft Italian. A man in a harlequin suit with a limp was selling doughnuts, and dwarf camels, as small as cats, were frolicking around pyramids that children had made in the sand.

I drift back off, but the disturbance outside has been enough to change the landscape of my dream. I am now in a crowded marketplace and a hooded figure riding a jet black quad bike and waving a dead fish is chasing me past stalls selling large bongo drums and ritual masks. He is shouting at me in a language I do not recognise. I wonder if it is Welsh, but it may not be. I shout back in a language I do not recognise. It is dark and I trying to find my car. I cannot remember what make of car it is or where I have left it. I have the thought that it is not a Maserati or an Alfa Romeo, but this does not seem to help much. There is a large moon low in the sky and shapes of a craggy landscape are in silhouette. I am running. I have a battered leather suitcase in my hand. I have not packed it properly and Monica’s clothes are spilling out onto the cobbled stone street. I make an effort to look back but I know the scene is disappearing. There is a faint light ahead, but this too is becoming fainter and more distant.

The horn outside sounds a piercing continuous note. I feel disorientated. My flailing arms meet with a sharp cry of feline disapproval and my bedside lamp crashes to the floor. It takes me a while to take in that it is Thursday night, or to be more precise 1 a.m. on Friday morning, and that the car outside is a taxi to take me out drinking. I had completely forgotten.

I do not mean that I have missed a rendezvous with friends. Or that I need a drink. I am not an alcoholic or anything like that; in fact, I only recently started drinking alcohol. And I am not by any means a night owl. Early to bed, early to rise, me.

I will try to explain. The new law obliges me to drink. Firstly the government passed licensing laws permitting round the clock drinking. They argued at the time that twenty-four hour opening for pubs and clubs would reduce binge drinking and help to tackle the problem of violence and antisocial behaviour on the streets at 2 a.m. when the clubs closed. As many pointed out, it was an absurd argument. I can remember fragments of conversations with friends and colleagues at the time and no-one in my recollection had expressed enthusiasm for the idea, although Monica did start coming home in high spirits in the middle of the night once in a while. The general consensus was that if those so inclined were given the opportunity to drink more freely, surely they would become more drunk and less concerned with respectful behaviour on the street.

The real motive behind the legislation emerged, that twenty-four hour drinking was a measure to try to buoy up an ailing economy. The hope was that it would present entrepreneurial opportunities to the licensing trade and offer service jobs for the marginalised sections of society. Primarily it would be a great revenue raiser for a government committed to not raising income tax. It was one’s duty to drink for Britain.

Despite blanket advertising of all alcoholic drinks at every opportunity everywhere you could advertise alcoholic drinks, it didn’t work out that way. Drink sales rose only slightly. Regardless of a proliferation of new bars and clubs, opened by wide boys and fly-by-nights hoping to cash in, many people stayed in as they had always done, not drinking, or perhaps buying the odd bottle of wine or pack of premium lager with their shopping at the supermarket. A majority of the population were responsible citizens at heart, still interested in family life or concerned with the practicalities of getting up in the morning and going to work. Clubbing remained the preserve of those under twenty-five with few commitments. I am over twenty five and Monica’s occasional friskiness aside, twenty four hour licensing did not initially affect me that much.

But matters did not end there. Despite widespread protests from the medical profession, Muslims, pregnant women, diabetics and those living in areas where there were pubs and clubs The New Licensing Act, phased in over a six-month period last year, makes it compulsory to partake. Everyone under 65, regardless of gender, race, religion, occupation or financial circumstances is now required to go out clubbing at least once a week – or face a fixed penalty fine of £400. Prisoners and those in secure mental institutions are exempt. While exemptions are also in theory possible for others, for example, the blind or terminally ill, the application forms for an exemption certificate have apparently not yet become available.

Being under 65 and not blind or so far as I know terminally ill, the new licencing legislation began to affect me. Not least because Monica started coming home less frequently, and then not at all. But here is the real killer clause. If I have not consumed the necessary weekly units in one of the approved establishments by Thursday, I have to attend one of several new clubs on the High Street opened to cater for drink-dodgers, and drink my quota there, or pay the fine, deductible at source from my salary. The simultaneous introduction of identity cards simplified the administration. A central database now keeps track of each individual’s consumption throughout the week. Thursday night is now the busiest night of the week everywhere as like me, many others struggle to meet their target.

The DirectGov leaflet, DD17 spells out my options. I can drink a dozen designer bottles (DNA, KGB, WKD, Colaholic, etc.), thirteen pints of Guinness, ten pints of Strongbow, eight cans of Special Brew, three bottles of wine, ten double vodkas or ten doubles of another spirit. All equally unpleasant in my opinion. I generally opt for ten double absinthes in a half litre glass. This way I can get the business over with and be back on the street throwing up outside the bus station by about 2. 30, and be on the earliest clubbers bus, which leaves at 2.45. It also represents the cheapest option. Ten designer bottles in Scuffles would set me back at least £60, whereas ten double absinthes in a half litre glass costs a mere £30. I did email the Home Office website, suggesting I just send a cheque each week for the £30, but the reply I received ignored the request and threatened me with court proceedings.

The cab waiting outside for me is a DriveU2Drink taxi. DriveU2Drink is a cab company employed to help facilitate compulsory clubbing. I throw on a tracksuit, breeze through a brisk bathroom routine, turn off the ambient CD of ocean sounds I use to help me sleep, put the anxious cat out, and make it to the cab, all in about sixty seconds.

It is my usual driver, Bryn. Bryn is not a man who finds it easy to relax.

‘Ten minutes, I’ve been waiting out here boyo,’ he says, lighting a cigarette from the one he is just finishing. ‘It’s not like I haven’t got other calls to make.’

He looks me up and down disapprovingly.

And I do not think they will let you into Scuffles dressed like that.’

Everyone wears sports clothes in clubs,’ I protest.

Not tracksuits like that, they don’t. It looks like it came from HomeBargains. Where’s the logo? You’ll have to go and change, and remember that the meter is running.’

I don’t anticipate that Bryn will be keen to stop on the way for me to get a kebab from Tariqs’, so I grab a slice of carrot cake from the fridge to provide something to help absorb the alcohol.

I live on the Rolf Harris estate in the suburbs, for the time being at least until my divorce from Monica comes through (or the estate gets renamed following recent allegations), and the town centre is a four mile drive. Bryn uses the distance to rant about the price of petrol, Eastern Europeans, asylum seekers, chavs, hoodies, smackheads, crackheads, gays, Blacks, Asians, speed limits, traffic calming, the royal family, the police, and modern art.

Having just taken up a post as a community worker, I wonder if I should take him up on some of his prejudices. As we drive on, I feel that there would be little point. His enmity seems to be free-floating. He could just as easily be ranting about the NHS, schools, social workers, Yanks, Chinese, transsexuals, celebrities in space or whatever is on the front page of his tabloid today.

We drive past Corporation Square, the hub of the sprawling Tokers End council estate. Around Betterbet there is a lively throng of locals keen on getting a bet on the night football, or as Betterbet is next to Bruisers’ Bar, perhaps the Mauler-Stitch bare-knuckle fight from the Milton Keynes Colosseum. Betting Tax has recently been reintroduced, but is proving not to deter punters. And as compulsory lotto and compulsory scratch cards have been such a success, compulsory betting is now being considered as another means to boost government coffers. The residents of Tokers End are clearly ahead of the game. They need little encouragement.

They will bet on anything, see,’ says Bryn. ‘The Christmas number one, the Christmas number two, the discovery of life on Mars, the pope to break a leg skiing, The Finnish Wife Carrying Championship, where the next terrorist attack will be, how many will be killed in the next hurricane.’

‘I know someone that bets on virtual horse racing,’ I say.

‘Look you,’ says Bryn. ‘My next door neighbour trains virtual horses. He tells me that when you buy a virtual horse, the fitness level is only about fifty percent. This increases by between two to five percent each time you train it, see. He trains his virtual horses six times a day.’

I nod, trying not to get crumbs of carrot cake on the floor. Perhaps the recipe would benefit from an extra egg.

‘How are things between you and the missus?’ asks Bryn, breaking off from his tirade.

I confide that things are not good. That Monica is staying with friends, and that letters between Hoffman, Cohen and Partners and Gallagher, Dreamer and Shed are arriving daily.

‘Tough business, I can sympathise with you boyo.’ says Bryn. ‘I had the same thing with Tegwyn, see. Tegwyn liked the pop too. I had to sell the Beamer, you know. Heavy shit, the drink. You cannot imagine how much I hate this fucking job.’

Stacey is a single mum. Her daughter, Jade is three years old. Stacey is forced to take the DriveU2Drink cab one Thursday night to fulfil her obligation. She has no babysitter. She cannot afford one. All her disposable income goes on her weekly night out. While Stacey is at Moonies, Jade burns herself on the electric hob. The neighbours hear Jade’s screams, break the door down and phone for an ambulance. They phone Stacey on the number that they have been given, but Stacey cannot hear the phone over the thumping jungle music. In years gone by, Social Services would have become involved in a case like this. There is no talk of prosecution. Stacey’s case is summarily brushed under the carpet. There are many Staceys. There is probably one living next door to you, so, if you do not have to go out drinking on Thursday nights, be vigilant.

We drive on, the details of Bryn’s divorce passing in one ear and out the other. The overturned Passat outside The Cold Store suggests that little has improved in Tokers End over the past week, but at least the council have removed the burnt out police car from outside the housing office. The ten foot high supermarket trolley and paint can sculpture adds a spark of interest to the drab paved area, taking attention away from the mountain of polystyrene fast food containers in the overgrown planters. Bryn takes a right into Bob Marley Avenue to avoid the traffic calming on Malcolm X Street. The boarded up windows of the Lebanese café on the corner boasts a selection of new spray can art, some of it quite colourful and creative. Art of the state, I believe it is now called. The overall effect is unfortunately compromised by the puerile fascination of less talented taggers for obscenity. Budgens’ supermarket, which has over the years suffered more than most from graffiti and vandalism, now has a large red sign saying closed until further notice and the premises of Accessible Finance next door thanks to a recent ram raid has become accessible to all. A row of clamped cars outside the Baghdad House flats suggests the police were round earlier as part of their crackdown on expired tax discs. Even the Tokers End Community Centre minibus is clamped.

I remember, almost fondly now, the time that Monica and I were clamped several years ago when we were shopping in Soho. We still had the Cosworth then, so it must have been before the gallery went bust. Just after the Diane Arbus exhibition. It was after the loss of the gallery that Monica started drinking. ….. I wonder what she is doing now. We haven’t spoken since the solicitors became involved. She will not be happy with Giancarlo. She will always play second fiddle to his Maserati, or his Alfa Romeo, or whatever car he is playing around with in his workshop, and he is nearly twice her age.

‘Hard not to be bitter, you know what I mean,’ says Bryn.

I hadn’t realised we were still having the same conversation. I agree, bitter is part of what I feel, but I do miss her.

We stop at the temporary traffic lights on Karl Jenkins Way where they are building the new twenty four hour retail park to replace the recently demolished factories. A lengthy wait in a long line of other DriveU2Drink and BoozeCruise cabs gives Bryn the opportunity to acquaint me with just how many famous Welsh people there have been: David Lloyd George, Dylan Thomas, Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Charlotte Church to name but a few. The relative obscurity of his other nominees does not seem to help his case, leaving me with the thought that perhaps the Welsh are not cut out for fame.

The lights eventually change and we move on past the HSBC Hospital and the John Lewis Primary School towards the centre of town. Bryn points out the Lost Cause public house, hidden away behind a battalion of mobile phone masts.

‘The only pub in town that still allows smoking,’ he says, lighting up another cigarette. ‘They’ve turned the inside into the outside.’

Smoking is banned in the workplace of course and this includes restaurants and bars and, it occurs to me, taxis too. The government’s attitude to smoking is, some cynics feel, a missed opportunity. Compulsory smoking in public places would bring in heaps of revenue for the Chancellor, and help to pay the escalating bill of our foreign conflicts. By bringing in more revenue and systematically reducing the number of claimants, promotion of tobacco might also have also help to tackle the pensions crisis. Legislation of a few class B or C substances as well, with a little favourable promotion, might finance an invasion of some more middle eastern countries to help secure our supplies of oil and gas.

I don’t watch the news very much, in fact, I hardly watch television at all. Monica succumbed to the Sky advertising early on and I still have a choice of about four hundred channels, but if I have some spare time in the evening I prefer to work on one of my stories on the computer.

‘Why do you always write about ghosts?’ Monica used to say. ‘All of that went out with Harry Potter. And nobody wants to know about your dreams. There’s no money to be made in that supernatural stuff.’

‘There’s no money to be made in watching Celebrity Love Triangle night after night,’ I may have replied. ‘It’s not about the money.’ But of course, it was about the money. After the gallery closed, Monica showed no signs of wanting to go out and earn any.

‘Tegwyn used to have these visions, see,’ says Bryn returning the focus to his own marital breakdown. ‘I suppose you could say she lost touch with reality. I thought it was the drink, like. But then they put her on this new medication and she could see into the future. She would say something like, Idris is going to win eighteen million on the lottery – and it would happen. Exactly eighteen million, Idris won. One day not long before she left she said, ‘I can see increasing signs of unrest. When’s that going to happen, Tegwen? I remember saying.’ ‘twenty fifteen,’ she said. And here we are.’

Wayne was allergic to alcohol. Drinking brought him out in hives and affected his breathing. Although Wayne was diagnosed with anaphylaxis early on, he found over the years that he could manage the odd glass of wine at a function without major effects. However, when faced with the compulsory Thursday night binge at WhiteRiot his breathing became constricted and he collapsed by the bar. Collapsing by the bar was not so unusual here, so there was a delay before he was attended to by the stewards and taken to hospital. Held up further by the Thursday night mayhem in the streets and with the Thursday night bottleneck at A and E, he died waiting to see a consultant. You will know someone with alcohol intolerance. Keep an eye on them when they have to meet their weekly target.

As we approach the outskirts of town the streets shows increasing signs of unrest. Bryn’s radio operator spits staccato messages to let the drivers know which streets to avoid. Even so, each bar we pass had a noisy mob of hammered hooded hooligans outside taking advantage of all night happy hours. The smoking ban inside licensed premises has served to promote large unruly alfresco gatherings. We can hear loud urban music coming from every direction. Gangs of pale six-foot pro-wrestlers, with shaved heads, tattooed biceps, and rings hanging from their ears, eyes and noses parade chanting and singing. Black youths are taunting Asian youths and Asians are taunting blacks in front of a bank of CCTV cameras. The gold jewellery on display looks like it could be an advert for El Dorado. An air of uncontrolled mayhem reigns. Fights are breaking out here and there between groups decked out in rival brands of leisure wear. It is like a noisy playground where the children have just become older. The muted wailing of police and ambulance sirens is continuous and we have to pull over several times on Eminem Street to let emergency vehicles pass. Outside Blazes, a predatory gang of teenage girls with short skirts and large bare waists swigging out of pink bottles shaped like penises shout and swear at a gang of teenage girls with shorter skirts and larger bare waists, swigging out of red bottles shaped like penises. Bryn tries to negotiate a path through the two groups of marauding youngsters. Missiles fly through the air as the two gangs meet. We are caught in the crossfire and a pink penis narrowly misses the windscreen of the cab. The red penis, which follows it, is more accurate and a large crack appears in Bryn’s line of vision. Instinctively he winds his window down and hurls some abuse. Ill-advisedly, I feel. Next thing we know, a writhing mass of tattooed teenage flesh is all over the cab. The girls scream madly, baseball bats smashing against glass. The cab follows an uncertain path down Cameron Street towards the Thatcher Monument as it was rocked up and down. Several vehicles coming toward us collided, there was some kind of explosion, and that is as much as I can remember.

The HSBC Hospital is nowhere near the top of the Daily Telegraph Performance League Table, but there again it is not near the bottom. It is at 106 out of 187 hospitals in the Mortality Rating. It could be argued that the figures are a little skewed by the fact that the HSBC has borne the brunt of last year’s fish flu epidemic. It is still well ahead of The KFC Hospital and The Vodafone Hospital in its average waiting time at A&E, just four and a half hours. After midnight on Thursday this, of course, rises fourfold. The Telegraph’s ratings show that the HSBC’s record of successful operations is below the national average, and it is 123 out of 187 for cases MRSA, but perhaps all of this is beside the point. The hospital’s reputation is built primarily on being a leader in experimental research.

Anyway, whatever its merits, it is in the HSBC Hospital that I find myself. I don’t remember if I have signed any forms of consent but I have been placed on a programme to test an experimental new drug called Contradil.

While the manufacturers are hailing Contradil as something of a universal panacea, tests have revealed that it might not be without side effects. Among the documented side effects are sweating, dizziness, visual disturbances, sickness, nausea and mood swings. Among the undocumented side effects are paranoia, time disorientation, loss of reason, inability to stay awake, and vivid dreams.

Dr Black is injecting me with plasticine. The room has the warped geometry of a Maurits Escher painting. It is one of many in a large gothic house that is both familiar and unfamiliar. It is at once my school, my parental home, and my workplace. But still I do not know my way around and it is dark. I am anxious because I am late for something. I have missed an exam or an appointment and am searching for clarity. The corridor is charged with the bitter aroma of absinthe. On a large screen, gangs of pale six-foot pro-wrestlers, with shaved heads, tattooed biceps, and rings hanging from their ears, eyes and noses parade chanting and singing. There is a commentary. I recognise the voice. It is my own, but my speech is slurred. I climb up a flight of stairs that takes me downward. I become immersed suddenly in a pool of clear warm saliva. Hank Williams is singing a song about being chained and manacled. I begin humming along to the tune. Someone joins in on the harmonica. They wanted to harm Monica. I am in a different room now; this one is long and narrow like a gallery. Its walls are of weathered blocked stone as if they should be outer walls. I struggle on my hands and knees along a row of Diane Arbus photographs, which keep changing. I know the people in some of the photographs, but their faces are stretched into grotesque caricatures. Now I am in another room, an upstairs room with an exaggeratedly concave ceiling. I go through a small gnarled wooden door and find myself in a grey corridor. It is damp and water trickles down the walls. I switch on a torch and there are bugs the size of rats on the floor, and rats the size of cats. Petrified, I make it to the other end of the corridor, where I crawl through the eye of a Lebanese hunchback. I find myself in white open space with a transparent green and magenta yin yang motif window hanging from a tree. I peel a large succulent peach. Now I am on a golden beach listening to the gentle echo of summer voices. A woman with long dark hair and iridescent tantric tattoos who I met on a balloon trip is rubbing oil into my back and talking in soft Italian. A man in a harlequin suit with a limp is selling doughnuts, and dwarf camels, as small as cats, are frolicking around pyramids that children have made in the sand. A car outside my window sounds its horn three times.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

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Jimi Hendrix’s Kite (2015)

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Jimi Hendrix’s Kite by Chris Green

Part 1: The Twenty Seven Club

It is seven on a Saturday morning. I am enjoying a leisurely bath before going to the Strawberry Fields car boot. This gets going at about eight thirty so I have plenty of time. My bath is a large cast iron Victorian model with claw legs. I liberated it from a skip. Purists of Victoriana would maybe not approve of the zebra pattern I have painted on it, but it is 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 a cup of echinacea tea and scanning the Miscellaneous classifieds in the Advertiser, when 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. 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.

When I was made redundant eighteen months ago, I decided to express myself at home. Do what I wanted with the house. Live my own kind of life. If I didn’t do it now I reasoned, I never would. I was nearly sixty for Heavens sake. Both the children had grown up and left home long ago and recently my partner, Judy had joined them. I didn’t have a mortgage, so what was the point in getting another job.

While homeowners are 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. Conformity is the curse of the modern world. From the trompe l’oeil front door to the Mondrian pattern patio at the back of the house, my house is a statement of individuality.

I make a living by buying and selling. 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. Clic Sargent had been embarrassed to sell me this gem for £5 because it had a small tear in one corner. Last week I sold a Leika camera that I picked up for £20 for £250 on ebay. I do not need premises, only a phone line.

The economy is fuelled by the idea of built in obsolescence. Harassed twenty four seven by merciless advertisers to buy new ranges of commodities, people repeatedly accumulate too much clutter. What they need most in their lives is space to accommodate the new items. I help to give them that space. Second hand prices of most goods are at an all time low. 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 the boot and there are only a few vehicles there. 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. I have honed this skill and 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. I calculate that Jimi Hendrix definitely was a member, as were Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Brian Jones. These were the icons 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, 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 is a most unexpected find. I take it as a good omen and just as I am paying the 50p my Samsung 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 echo on the line. Or 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 familiar with the ways of 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 breakfast somewhere along the way.

I have not played any of Hendrixs music for some time. 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 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 reading 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 Backwater, I order a nine item all day breakfast and am faced with a choice between The Daily Grail and The Horror on the news-stand. Send Them All Back Home, yells the Grail, ahead of a paranoid tirade against migrants. I choose The Horror. The Horror enlightens me with a story about a junior cabinet minister’s sex change operation, and about England striker Rane 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 eleven minutes past eleven.

Part 2: If You Can Remember The Sixties

There comes a point when you have to finally admit that you are lost. When any sense of pride regarding your spatial awareness must be abandoned. Admittedly Judy had undermined my sense of spatial awareness over the years, but I still felt I could find my way around within a small margin of error. But having driven round and round in what seems to be some kind of alien landscape for the best part of an hour, I reach this stage. I am lost. L.O.S.T. No doubt about it. 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 Winwood, 3 miles. As it is overcast I do not even have the sun to guide me. I take out the mobile to call ahead, but this is more out of habit than faith. Of course there is not going to be a signal. Have you ever heard of a place called the back of beyond? Well, this is it!

I get out of the Volvo and scan the horizon in every direction. No sign of life. No farm animals. Not even birds. No buildings. Nothing. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of what might be a small movement. I squint to try and get a better look. It takes a while to come into focus but 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. What a peculiar sight out here in the middle of nowhere. Reason suggests firstly, milk comes from the country so 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. But, 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. Perhaps this is Winwood. maybe the earlier signpost wasn’t referring to a village. Winwood might be just that, a wood.

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. Signs of life at last. I stop the car. No deer. Nothing again. Just trees and more trees. I 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 eleven minutes past eleven. 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 pink bubble. Because I am a fan, this powerful image is instantly recognisable to me as Rover, the spherical guardian from the cult 1960s TV series, 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 and suffocates 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.

3: For The Benefit Of Mr Kite

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 Winwood. 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 Hockney and turned right at Mellow Yellow 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. The directions say, last house on the left. I park outside the small semi-detached stone cottage. 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 good taste. I half expected to find a ramshackle house with a goat tethered by a piece of frayed rope, Purple Haze 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 70 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 number 27 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 seems to capture the era perfectly. The times, they were a-changing. There was something in the air.

‘You like it, man? What about the sideburns, eh? That was taken in 1968. Or was it 1969? Olympic Studios, in Barnes. I had a …… I suppose you could call it 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?

‘I don’t know. ….. 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 The Electric Bananas? I was with them 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, I could 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 waits for me to show that I understood what a prime reciprocal magic square is. I don’t, but nod 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 have by now had chance to think this through. If I felt like debating the issue I could point out that there are lots of famous musicians that did not die at 27. Otis Redding and Nick Drake died at 26 and Marc Bolan died at 28 for instance, Bob Marley was 36 when he died, John Lennon lived to the ripe old age of 40, and many even those who have led dissolute lives are still alive. And for the record Buddy Holly was just 22 when he met his maker. Besides, some of those on his list are a little obscure: Tim Buckley and Robert Johnson are 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.’

Part 4: Eleven Minutes Past Eleven

Dr Robert tells me that he feels I am suffering from false memory syndrome. This is as a result of the accident. I was unconscious for 48 hours, and my Volvo, tough car though it was, was a write off as a consequence of the collision. Beckett Hill is 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 is 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 research on memory indicates that the actual act of remembering inevitably 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 seems especially pleased that I can remember my bank details. He is optimistic that, given the appropriate stimuli, my memory will in time begin to function normally.

Dr Robert leaves and 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 Sunita Kapoor. Nurse Kapoor 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 met during my stay Nurse Kapoor 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 does seem very friendly, I do not mention this concern.

Nurse Kapoor asks if I have tried reading to take my mind off of things. I tell her that I do like reading but I do not have a book and I have read all the Collectors Weekly magazines that my friend Annie brought in. As she uses the EZ lift to replace me back in my bed, she promises she will find me some books.

‘There are many good books in the nurses’ rest room that might be interesting you,’ she says. ‘I do like to have a good read myself. I have just finished a story called The Garden of Forking Paths by Jorge Luis Borges. It is quite short but it is very complicated. It is about a Chinaman who is a German agent in the war. He goes to the house of a man named Stephen Albert whose name he has got from the phone book and shoots him. 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 mentions a book about time written by Chinese philosopher Ts’ui Pen. Dr. Jayawardene is telling me that it has a subtext. The subtext is that at every point in time and space, history branches out in an infinite number of different directions. This offers you endless realities which all occur at once and it also suggests 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 this afternoon,’ she says, ‘but now I have to see other patients on the ward.’

‘I’ve got The Advertiser, if you would like to read it,’ says the heavily bandaged patient in the next bed.

‘Thanks,’ I say.

Instinctively I find myself turning to the classifieds. I scan these, arriving at an item in the Miscellaneous. It reads Mistral Malibu Wind Surfer with mast, boom and sail, once owned by Jimi Hendrix, £27, no offers. I look up from the paper. It is eleven minutes past eleven.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

The 16:06

the1606

The 16:06 by Chris Green

The 16:06 from Paddington is usually on time. I rely on its punctuality to catch my connecting train from Taunton to Bridgewater, where I live. It runs at the right time for me. I do not like to work late on a Friday and I don’t want to spend a lot of time travelling. After all I have been up in town all week and feel I deserve a break. I want to get home. As a bonus, in summer this service gives me a chance to listen to the closing stages of Test Match Special on my iphone.

The train is often nearly empty. Most people travelling from the capital catch later trains. But, after five thirty I find the trains are a nightmare, on any day of the week. Paddington station becomes like something out of a wartime evacuation blockbuster. Why would anyone put themselves through this day after day?

Had the 16:06 been on time, the seat next to me would in all probability be empty, perhaps for the entire trip, and I would be able to relax and prepare for the weekend.

‘Is this seat taken?’ she asks. She is wearing an Afghan coat and her hair is braided.

I am tempted to say yes, but my better nature prevails. And she does have a nice smile, but this is as far as it goes. I am twice her age and I think we would have little in common. I mean. Afghan coat? In June? In 2015?

She spends several minutes depositing, arranging and rearranging a startling array of hand luggage. There are haversacks and rucksacks and tote bags of every colour. There are scarves and hats and even a potted plant. The tent alone needs its own seat. How did she manage to carry it all. At least she doesn’t have a dog.

She takes off her coat and places it on top of the tent. She finally sits down. She is wearing a tangerine cheesecloth smock. My nasal passages are invaded by the powerful aroma of incense and patchouli. I try to ignore her by turning away to look out the window, but it becomes clear that she wants to talk. I try turning up the volume of the cricket commentary, but she carries on chattering, as if I am hanging on her every word. Eventually I take my headphones out and look her way.

She explains that she has been camping out. She came up to London last weekend to go to a concert and stayed on.

‘Who did you go to see?’ I ask, out of politeness.

‘Blind Faith,’ she says, excitedly.’ They played a free concert in Hyde Park.’

‘Who?’ I say.

‘Blind Faith,’ she repeats. ‘You know, Eric Clapton. Steve Winwood.’

‘Oh,’ I say, while I turn this over in his mind. To say, have they reformed I feel would just prolong the conversation, but to the best of my recollection the concert she is referring to took place in 1969. I think my parents went …. both of them ….. together.

‘I’m Luna,’ she says. ‘But you can call me Loon. Everybody does.’

Tempted to say, sounds about right, I manage to resist. ‘Pleased to meet you, Loon,’ I offer instead.

‘You’re a Pisces, aren’t you? Luna says, looking me in the eye.

‘That’s right, Loon. I am as it happens. How did you know?’

‘You are imaginative, creative and kind.’

‘Am I?’

‘And compassionate and intuitive.’

‘That’s pretty good, isn’t it?’

‘But, you are lazy, weak willed and pessimistic.’

‘Ah, I see. Not so good then.’

‘But you have Leo rising.’

‘Is that good? I knew a Leo when I was in the army but he wasn’t very good at rising.’

‘And the Moon in Scorpio.’

After a few false starts (what do those whistles and flags mean), the train finally sets off. I look at my watch. It is twenty to five. Even if the driver goes like Harry in the night, there’s no chance of catching the connection now. I have no idea what time the next one leaves Taunton. I am about to check on my iphone, but Luna interrupts me.

‘Don’t be uptight,’ she says. ‘Be here now, man. Just go with the flow.’ These are expressions I remember my dad using, yet oddly he never seemed to practice them. Dad wanted to control everything. And you had to watch out if things didn’t go according to plan. This is why I moved out at eighteen. This was why Mum ran off with Didier, a Belgian gymnast.

As the train powers its way towards Reading, Luna talks about macrobiotics, Malcolm X and The Mothers Of Invention. She talks about International Times and Oz. Everything about her is retro, backdated. She does not seem connected to the modern world. It is as if she carries her own time bubble around with her which keeps her separate from the here and now of this railway carriage. She is either completely unaware of this, or is acting a role. I begin to wonder if it is not perhaps an enormous hoax at my expense, a television spoof maybe. I look around me for cameras. I do not see any.

Luna holds forth about cosmic evolutionary development, transcendental understanding and what she does to balance her chakras. I am not convinced I have chakras. Perhaps my parents had chakras. They were a a bit far out. They seemed to go for all this Eastern mysticism. Guru this and Swami that. I narrowly avoided being taken to an ashram in Rishikesh one time by feigning yellow jaundice and was sent to stay with Aunt Trudi in Fife, while they buggered off to the subcontinent. They came back just the same, arguing at the slightest opportunity.

I try to divert the conversation on to more earthly matters. I am anxious to get back to the Test Match commentary. The match had reached a critical stage when I left it. Following another famous collapse, England were eight wickets down with twenty overs left, trying once more to save the game.

‘What good is all this …… esoteric wisdom?’ I say.

‘Wisdom is your third eye,’ she says. And knowledge is your third arm.’

I do not think I want a third eye or third arm. They sound just plain ridiculous.

Luna is still away with the fairies. She begins to talk about the journey, but it is not the train journey she is referring to, it is life’s journey.

‘Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls,’ she says.

What a load of twaddle, I am thinking. She needs to work in the city for a couple of months. She would soon realise that the universe didn’t give a damn about you.

As we pull out of Reading, Luna says that the train will soon sweep past the Westbury White Horse, a giant chalk horse carved into the landscape. It is meant to represent the Celtic horse goddess, Rhiannon. She explains about The Golden Bough, earth magic and ley lines.

‘Do you know they levitated the stones for Stonehenge from Wales along ley lines,’ she says.

‘I don’t believe in magic,’ I tell her. ‘It’s all done with mirrors.’

‘Watch this!’ she says, and with it she vanishes. Her luggage disappears too. All of it. It is as if she never ………..

In fact everything has changed. I find myself aboard a completely different train. The carriage is old. From the 1970s. It has ripped cloth seats, no smoking signs and windows you can open. It is the type I remember from the trips to Torquay that I was forced to go on as a teenager to please one or other of my parents. Twelve year-olds don’t build sandcastles, I would tell Mum. Or, no thankyou dad, I’m too young to smoke dope. And why would I want to if it makes you listen to Emerson, Lake and Palmer?

To my astonishment I discover that I have a Mohican haircut, a studded leather jacket, ragged drainpipe jeans and an old khaki rucksack. How old would I be? About fifteen or sixteen? Despite the amazing transformation, I find my train of thought is still linear. I am still in the mindset of going home to Bridgewater for the weekend on a train that is a few minutes late which means that I will probably miss my connecting train. I take a look at my watch. It is a old watch. A digital model with a silver strap. It says 17:25. I look out the window to assess the train’s progress. I know this journey like the back of my hand. We are halfway between Reading and Swindon. I do a quick calculation. This is consistent at this stage with the 16:06 being a few minutes late.

In the seat next to me is a girl in her late twenties wearing a charcoal office skirt suit and dark patterned tights. She has long black hair and cakey make-up. She reminds me a little of the actress, Megan Fox. She has kicked off her high heels. Perhaps she has been on her feet all day. At the perfume counter of a department store maybe. Or running up and down the corridors of an advertising agency. She is scrolling through some pictures of celebrities on her laptop. One of the celebrities is in fact none other than Megan Fox. The lookalike Megan Fox seems to be in her own world, protecting her space with an air of disinterest. She does not want a train conversation. When I look her way, she pulls her skirt down an inch or two and turns herself slightly to face the aisle. She is wised up to the ways of teenagers with strange haircuts, frenzied eyes and nasal jewellery.

I pick up the rucksack. It has some half recognised names of bands scribbled on it in felt-tip pen. The 4 Skins, The Slits, The Dead Kennedys. I find a silver Sony transistor radio in the front pocket. It looks oddly familiar. I switch it on. I fiddle around with the tuning dial and find a crackling cricket commentary. It doesn’t take long for me to realise that I am now listening to a different match. One from a bygone era. This one has Viv Richards and Clive Lloyd batting. Ian Botham is bowling. This would make it England versus West Indies….. 1979? Megan looks around, disapprovingly.

I switch the radio off. I feel the sudden need to start a conversation with Megan. I have to find out what she feels might be going on. What is her take on this major lapse in logic and reason? Surely she is out of time in this 1970s railway carriage, the same as I am out of time. We both belong to 2015. The real world. Surely. Why are we so misplaced? Has Luna really had something to do with this ….. this shifting time? Sorcery? Magic? We are passing the Westbury White horse. Should I tell Megan about the horse goddess, Rhiannon as an opener to show her that I am not just a dissident punk? Not an spotty adolescent on an inappropriate train leering at her lovely long legs.

My youthful demeanour precludes much in the way of approaches to an attractive older woman. I cannot for instance say, ‘are you going all the way?’ This would be like saying, ‘are you up for it?’

‘I’m getting off at Swindon,’ she says, looking up from her laptop.

‘Oh,’ is all I can manage. Is she telepathic?

‘So. You will have the seat to yourself, all the way to Taunton.’

‘Thankyou.’

‘Do you really like those bands, by the way?’

‘Which bands?’

‘The ones on your, what would you call it ….. rucksack?’

‘Well. I did. Once.’

‘But you’ve moved on.’

Given my appearance, I figure she is not going to believe me if I says that I go to lunchtime concerts at St Martin in the Fields, listen mostly to chamber music and sing in the choir at St John The Baptist church. I settle for the less committal, ‘I guess so.’

‘I do like Nirvana,’ she says.

I cannot tell if she is winding me up. Is she aware of what is going on? Might she be in on it? Could this be a phenomenon that is more widespread? Something that’s happening all over? Like Mr Jones in the song that Dad used to play, I certainly doesn’t know what it is.

‘Could you log on to some news sites,’ I say. ‘Huffington Post, …… BBC News, …… Google News. See if there’s anything there about temporal irregularities.’

Megan looks at a bit of a loss. These aren’t sites that she visits often. She shrugs.

‘See if there’s anything trending on Twitter or Facebook maybe.’

The train slows down. A hazy announcement comes over the loudspeaker, ‘the next station will be Swindon. Change here for ……….. ‘

Megan starts to gather up her things and gets up to leave. ‘Look out for me in your dreams,’ she says, cryptically.

The train waits, the diesel engine idling. Being alone brings no clarity. It only serves to add to my confusion. My reason is so ravaged that my brain wants to shut down. A sinister tune plays in my head. Descending chords over and over as the sound of the diesel engine resonates. Change here for …… Change here …. Change. ….. Change. ….. Change. ….. Change. The lights go out. It is dark. The blinds are all drawn. Why are all the blinds drawn? Have I descended into …. Descended into? Descending chords. Over and over. Dark. Dark. Dark. Change here for. …..

When the lights come on I find that time has shifted once more. I am no longer a fifteen year old punk. I am a British soldier in uniform. Royal Welch Fusiliers. With service ribbons. Bosnia. Srebrenica. Battle honours. All the stuff you take home on leave neatly packed. The carriage too has been through a transformation. It is cleaner, shinier, newer, the seats no longer torn. I look around. I have no fellow passengers. The couple with the corgi have gone. The old lady who was reading the murder mystery has gone. The man with the silver euphonium has gone. The barber’s shop quartet with the red striped jackets have gone. The carriage is empty. I make my way to the end of the carriage and lean my head out of the window to see what is going on. The platform too is completely deserted.

I decide I must get out to investigate, but just at this moment I feel the familiar shudder of rolling stock as the train starts to move. There is a second or two when I could still climb down if I wish, but the train accelerates quickly and the opportunity is lost. I look at my new watch. Five past six. This one is not digital. It is analogue with a vengeance. With its many dials it tells you the time all around the world. I take a seat and look out the window. I could pull the communication cord, but I don’t want to do this, at least not yet. Maybe there’s no need to panic. I recognise the buildings as we pull out of Swindon. They are the ones I have become familiar with. Perhaps the train is still headed for Taunton, even if everything else about the journey is wrong. I must go with the flow and see what happens.

‘Tickets Please!’ calls out a voice.

A wizened old man in a black uniform with some shiny bits and badges shuffles along the aisle. He is short and thin with little round glasses. He looks like Gandhi.

I ask him if I am on the right train. If I can establish this, the fine details of my misadventures can be worked out later. Along with some rational explanations. At home. On the internet. On the phone. You can get to the bottom of most things retrospectively. The important thing right now is to get home.

‘Yes sir. The train is going to Taunton,’ says Gandhi. ‘Unfortunately, we are 58 minutes late due to an alien spacecraft on the line at Wootton Bassett. It has gone now though, so we should be able to make up some of the time.’

‘Alien spacecraft?’

‘Yes sir. Just down the line at Wootton Basset. Is that where you are from, sir?’

‘No. There’s an RAF base there, isn’t there?’

‘We get a lot of people for Wootton Bassett. It’s where they hold the funerals for the dead soldiers. But then you would know that wouldn’t you sir? Being in the army and all that.’

‘Yes. Yes I suppose I would. Now. About this alien spacecraft.’

‘Yes sir. We get a lot of those around here, too. Salisbury Plain, Stonehenge, Avebury, Warminster. They seem to like this part of the country.’

‘They probably navigate along the ley lines.’

‘Ley lines, sir?’

‘Ley lines apparently are mystical alignments which harness the earth’s magnetic fields. They work like a primitive GPS. Now tell me. Where did all the other passengers go?’

‘They all left the train at Swindon, sir.’

‘What’s going on at Swindon?’

‘Oh. Some TV cook is giving a talk there, I think, sir. I’d love to be able to stay and chat with you, sir, but I’ve got to get along the train. Could I see your ticket please?’

I search for his ticket, but I don’t seem to have one.

‘I realise that you are in the army, sir, but travelling without a ticket is against the law and we cannot make exceptions. I’m going to have to charge you the full single fare plus a penalty which is the equivalent of the full single fare. That will be let me see. London to Taunton is it? Two hundred and eighty four pounds.’

I offer him a Visa card.

‘What am I supposed to do with this?’ he says. ‘In any case it has expired.’

‘Excuse me,’ I say. ‘But could you tell me what year it is?’

‘You can pretend to be stupid if you wish, sir,’ says Gandhi, ‘But it won’t wash with me. I can issue you with an Unpaid Fare Notice, if you like. But you will still have to pay it. Army or no army.’

Isambard Brunel always had a sense of drama. His Great Western Railway from Paddington to Penzance is full of surprises. I know as soon as we enter the two mile long Box tunnel that something is bound to happen. It does. The lights go out once more. We are in darkness. As we emerge from the tunnel, I catch a whiff of patchouli. Luna is back. Not only that, somehow we are back on the original train. I am back in my city suit. I have my iphone in my hand. I am logged in to the cricket live text. The match is in the final over. England are nine wickets down and the tail enders only have to survive three more balls to save the match.

I might be back in present time, but Luna is cutting in to normality like static on the airwaves. She is the radio interference from a rogue FM station on a stormy night.

I take a look around the carriage. All the other passengers are reading their papers, playing with their tablets or talking on their phones. One or two are looking out the window as the 16:06 from Paddington crosses the River Avon on its way to Bath. Each one of them seems confident in the authenticity of their worlds. There appears to be consensus among them that this is 2015. Luna is the stranger at the party. She is stuck in a 1969 mindset. Forget the magic tricks for now, 1969 is clearly her reality.

She starts to tell me more about going with the flow.

‘Going with the flow isn’t about being passive or being lazy,’ she says. ‘It’s not aimless wandering. The flow that you are going with is the ocean of cosmic intelligence. Going with the flow is about wakeful trust and …….. ‘

The train is coming into Bath now. I make the decision to get off here to take a cab the rest of the way. I have made a note not to catch the 16:06 from Paddington in future. It’s a bad choice. It takes far too long. Too much time travelling.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

FILM

film2

FILM by Chris Green

I have never watched an interactive film before. IF, as it is becoming known, is a revolutionary idea to get the audience involved in what they would like to see happen on the screen. I am watching with an open mind. I feel that democratising cinema in this way has great potential, so long as it avoids the perils of lowest common denominator that have befallen 3D. IF is being hailed as a way to combat dwindling cinema audiences. You will not get this experience at home, is its slogan. The idea behind IF is that at the end of each scene the screen fades to black and the audience is given a multiple choice question about what they would like to happen next. The director, in this case, Leif Velásquez, might have filmed many different options for each segment. Film budgets have reportedly gone through the roof since IF’s introduction.

There are some very odd camera angles. It appears that Leif likes to keep the cameras running all the time to catch the actors even when they are out of character. He must have had cameras everywhere to get some of the shots. Leif is what is often described as a cult director and this is one of the smaller productions running at the Cinelux. Modest though Screen 19 might be, it seems most of the audience have firm ideas about how the narrative should be driven. With so much audience participation the plot becomes almost incomprehensible, marred by more gratuitous violence and profligate sex than is strictly necessary for a story about the life of an ageing landscape painter in the Lincolnshire Wolds. Bradley and I leave our seats a few minutes before the film is scheduled to finish in order to catch the 10:30 bus home.

I insert my CineCard into the checkout machine in the foyer and begin to answer the barrage of questions that appear on the touch screen. Did I enjoy the film? How many stars do I give it? Will I recommend it to friends? How often do I visit the cinema? How many are in my party? How far have I travelled? The database has information about me that it tells me I am overdue to confirm. Is Source Code still my favourite film? Is Purple Rain still my favourite movie song? Cinema feedback has become intrusive. Last time I came it was a simple yes or not to did you enjoy the film. Now they seem to be doing everything possible to keep you in the cinema. It gives CineLux yet another opportunity to advertise their upcoming productions, which they fire at you from every corner of the prodigious foyer generating information overload.

A queue of people has formed behind me and Dale, the young male assistant in his turquoise CineLux uniform can see I am struggling with the questions. He comes over to help. Dale has a supercilious customer service grin. I tell him that I have a bus to catch and he says he will be as quick as he can. You don’t need to answer all of the domestic product questions, he says, deleting the list, and you can skip the ones about your income group if you press this. He guides me through the rest of the questions and as the barrier lifts I thank him. I cannot see Bradley. I wonder where he has got to. I imagine that he must have made his way through his checkout quicker than me and will be waiting outside.

I leave the warm interior of the CineLux and find myself in the midst of a thick fog. This has descended since we have been in the cinema. I probably shouldn’t see this as too much of a surprise as city fogs have become a regular occurrence. Pea soupers they are calling them, after the London fogs of the nineteen fifties. Meteorologists blame them on industrial air pollution. There has been much talk about taking measures to tackle them, but with the political impasse little has actually been done to clean up manufacturing processes. The loss of life through tuberculosis is constantly trumped by the drive to match China’s output. The argument put forward by many industrialists that the fogs were made worse by the atmospheric conditions of the summer months is wearing thin now that it is November. There have been half a dozen in the last few weeks, sometimes lasting for days.

Despite the thick fog, the streets are busy. I do not come to these parts often. I try to get my bearings. To move out of the way of the masses that are now leaving the cinema, I carelessly step off the pavement into the trajectory of an articulated lorry which is going much too fast for the conditions. The leviathan narrowly misses me. Why do they have to come through the city at night? Isn’t it time that they re-opened the ring road? Is it really because of a nuclear leak? The driver gives a blast on his horn which sounds like a rock concert. I step the other way and a black Mercedes van with tinted windows narrowly misses me. It has a white logo on the side, MovieMax or something. Isn’t that the name of a film production company? Someone shouts something at me out of the window.

Bradley is nowhere to be seen. I imagine that he is making his way to the bus stop. Bradley is three years older than me, but as his brother, I feel responsible for him. While his autism is what they call high functioning, it does give him the tendency to go on ahead, unaware of any companions or any complications there might be. He does not always see the need to put his intentions into words. It would be fair to say that he sometimes has difficulty with communication, and social interaction. He might have been fired by a sudden interest in something and already be back at the house we share.

It is but a short distance to the bus stop, but with visibility down to a few feet, I get lost somewhere along Church Street. There is a lot of redevelopment and scaffolding is everywhere. The shops seem to have all changed since I was last in this part of the city and I can’t even see the church. The miasma is all enveloping. Even if I can find the bus stop, the buses will have surely stopped running. I begin to worry again about Bradley. What on earth could he be thinking, going off like that without me? I wonder about catching a cab. It is unlikely that cabs ever stop running.

I have to wait half an hour for a cab. I ask my cabbie, Gayna if she has by any chance picked up Bradley. I tell her that he is about six two and he is wearing a dark green padded hoodie with an orange logo on the front. I explain that he can be a bit direct and does not make eye contact when he speaks to you. She says that she hasn’t seen him, but she kindly radios her fellow cabbies and puts the word out on the street to look out for him. I am her last fare tonight, she says, as we trundle out to the suburbs at about ten miles an hour. She thinks the fog is getting worse and comes out with stories of the near accidents she has had. Her colleague, Maccy was not so lucky she says. He got mown down last week by an army truck at the Mason Williams roundabout.

Bradley does not turn up that night. I am not at first unduly alarmed. Although we have no family nearby, Bradley does have a number of friends; perhaps not friends in the traditional sense, but people who look out for him. He may have taken it into his head to drop in on one of them. After I have phoned round the ones I have numbers for and drawn a blank, I begin to feel a little concern. I let myself into his room and have a look around. It looks just as it always does, meticulously tidy, books lined up neatly in alphabetical order on pristine shelves and clothes neatly folded in drawers, shirts ironed and hanging neatly in the white-wood wardrobe. Nothing looks out of place. What in these circumstances would constitute a clue? I really do not know what I am looking for.

Heather, Bradley’s Support Worker returns my call from earlier. She says, ‘Bradley was fine last week. We had a great chat about probability. He really knows his stuff with with numbers and IT.’

‘Can you think of any reason he would go off?’ I ask. ‘Or anywhere he may have gone?’

‘No. But he is quite capable of doing things by himself, Parris. Don’t underestimate his abilities. He is more capable than a lot of people think. He practically runs the centre when he’s here. His only weakness is with customer facing issues. Although he helped out with a performing arts workshop recently. He seemed to loose his inhibitions a little one he got into it.’

‘Right’

‘He did say he likes playing online poker. He can calculate the odds. Card counting, he calls it. Between you and me I think that he’s won a bit of money. But I think that he thinks you don’t approve.’

‘I haven’t said that,’ I say. ‘I don’t think we’ve fallen out about it.’

‘He was excited about being in a film’, says Heather. ‘Excited probably isn’t the right word when you are talking about an ASD with HFA, but he was let’s say very positive about it. While he’s not OCD, he has a strange POV for an HFA.’

What on earth was she talking about? ‘We went to see an interactive film together,’ I say. ‘I think it must have been that. That’s when he disappeared in fact.’

‘Probably,’ says Heather. ‘I’m always getting details wrong. Look! I’ve got to go into a meeting. But I will have a think and get back to you.’

Heather doesn’t get back to me. When I phone back she is in another meeting.

I don’t feel that Heather has done enough to convince me that Bradley is safe. I decide to report Bradley missing.

‘Do you know how many people go missing in the fog,’ says Sergeant Sangakkara.

I tell him that I don’t. Does he want me to guess?

He doesn’t give me a figure, but neither does he show much sympathy as he takes the details, even after I mention Bradley’s autism.

‘How do you spell that,’ he says.

He tells me he will be in touch if there are any developments. It is clearly a practised line, which means he doesn’t give a damn. He doesn’t even ask me to phone him if Bradley turns up. He probably didn’t want to be a policeman, he would have liked to be a pro-wrestler or something.

I rack my brains for an explanation. Am I missing something? Has Bradley said something that might have given me a clue? I begin to look at everyone suspiciously as if they might know something about his disappearance. I keep an eye on the news. The winds have picked up they say and the fog is dispersing. Flights are to resume from several airports. Two hundred people are trapped in a mine in North East China. Antarctica is now even smaller than they thought. There is tension in Iraq, Iran and Syria. There is always tension in Iraq, Iran and Syria. Why is it still on the news? The ring road is still closed. There is speculation that there might be some connection with terrorism. No-one it seems is available for comment.

I phone the CineLux. Perhaps they can give me some information about Bradley, from his checkout answers. I realise as I am dialling that it is a longshot.

Someone called Keisha introduces herself.

‘My name is Parris France” I say. ‘I came with my brother Bradley France to see Landscape on Screen 19 earlier this week, eleventh of November. That’s 11/11.’

She makes a joke about my name.

‘Yes, a lot of people remark on that,’ I say. ‘It’s Parris with a double r.’

‘How can I help, you Mr France?’

‘My brother is missing,’ I say. ‘I was wondering if you could have a look at Bradley’s checkout record to see if it might throw any light on his disappearance.’

Do I mind if she puts me on hold? I listen to a minute or two of Miley Cyrus. Ugh!

Keisha comes back on the phone. ‘I’m afraid we have no record of Bradley France being here that night, or in fact any other night. Are you sure you have the right cinema?’

I confirm this and suggest that she may be mistaken. She assures me that there is no chance of a mistake. ‘Perhaps he used another name,’ she suggests. ‘Several hundred people visited that evening. It would take a long time to go through each one and check out if they were genuine.’

I am by now desperate for news of Bradley and keep the phone by the bed just in case. It is a day or so before the silent phonecalls start. There is no pattern to them. They come at all hours. None of them brings up a number on caller display and each time I pick up, there is no one at the other end. I want to believe that these are automated calls, but once or twice I detect some background noise, traffic passing, or a dog barking. The information is too vague to offer any real clues. Predictably each time there is no call return number. I don’t want to think that it is Bradley trying to reach me because his silence during the call would indicate that he is in a particular kind of situation which means he cannot speak. On the other hand, even if he is in danger, it would mean that he is alive. I recall seeing a psychological thriller about a woman who is driven to suicide by silent phonecalls. I cannot remember what it was called. Perhaps it was Silence or Mute or something like that. All I can recall was that it was incredibly scary.

Syreena, my married girlfriend, usually comes round to visit me two or three times a week, depending on when she can get away. To my chagrin, she is only able to come round on Thursday evening this week and the phone rings right in the middle of our lovemaking. I have the impression that Syreena secretly resents my continued support of Bradley. Although she has never said as much, she feels Bradley might be pulling the wool over our eyes with what she refers to as his condition. I hope we don’t fall out over it.

She has to get back, she says, because Mikhail will be back at ten. She does not specify where he will be back from. I do not know much about Mikhail. Syreena has never offered the information and I have never asked. Our clandestine liaison probably works better this way.

‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I will make it up to you.’

‘I’ll try and come over at the weekend,’ she says. ‘I expect everything will be fine by then.’

After about a dozen silent calls, I register with a call tracking service. TracknHack promise results, but it seems that they just want my money; they don’t actually have access to any special technology that would enable them to do so. I think about phoning Sergeant Sangakkara to chase up the police’s progress, but something tells me there won’t have been any. I’m sure that he won’t step up the investigation on the basis of a few silent calls. I decide to leave it for another day.

I experiment with different passwords and am finally able to get into Bradley’s Facebook account, but after a good look around I find no clues. Bradley has surprisingly few friends and there are no recent status reports from those he does have. I can’t put my finger on why I feel it, but it feels as if he, or somebody else, has been tidying the account up. I turn my attention towards his googlemail account. After an hour of trying to get into his email account, I give up. His password is too difficult. He has not chosen something easy like IwntAstrONGpasswd28!! Someone has deleted his file history and there is nothing at all in Documents or Pictures. I do not have a lot to go on.

If there has been a fatality, the authorities surely would have come knocking. Bradley always carries ID and this is after all his home address. I try to use this as comfort, but my sense of optimism seems to be on a rest day. I begin to fear the worst. I do some internet research into the methods investigators use to find a missing person and discover that I am already employing them.

Bermuda is a small British overseas territory near the western edge of the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic. The nearest landmass is over six hundred miles away. Bermuda is famous primarily for The Bermuda Triangle. This is unfortunate if you live in Bermuda and your family fly a lot or sail a lot, as many aircraft and ships have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. My family were in such a position. My father ran a courier business, although it is widely believed this was a cover for his undercover activity with the secret service. My parents light aircraft disappeared with both of them aboard shortly after taking off for Martha’s Vineyard. Searches were not so sophisticated back then; There were fewer satellites and GPS had not come in to being.

The loss of one’s parents in tragic circumstances is not a thing that you ever come to terms with. The pain does not go away. It is nearly twenty years since it happened, but I often think back to the carefree summer days when we enjoyed a family picnic on the beach at Horseshoe Bay with a gentle breeze coming in off the sea. Or swimming in the calm waters of Jobson’s Cove with its pink sands and volcanic rocks. Or Bradley and I playing volleyball with our friends on Elbow Beach in the school holidays. In Bermuda, you are never more than a couple of miles from the coast. This idyllic life was taken away by a freak storm, or was it a magnetic fog that blew the plane’s instruments. Losing my brother in the dismal fogs in Britain’s second city would be adding insult to injury. I’m praying that lightning never strikes twice.

When they finally called off the search for the plane, we moved to England to stay with Uncle Cliff and his partner, Richard in Gweek in Cornwall. I was fourteen and Bradley was seventeen. Gweek is a village on the Helford River which is not in fact a river but a ria, a series of creeks flooded by the sea. Activity centred around boats and once we became used to having two uncles, we settled in easily. Bradley became very interested in boat engines and could spend all day taking one apart and putting it back together, withdrawing into his shell. Gradually Bradley’s ASD was diagnosed and his needs became a priority, although it wasn’t until eight years later after I had graduated from Birmingham University, that he moved in with me here. Despite the fogs that over the years began to envelop the Midlands, there are more facilities here that take account of Bradley’s condition and he can more or less lead a normal life.

My neighbour, Dermot is at the door. He looks sober.

‘This parcel came for yer man Bradley earlier,’ he says. ‘I took it in for the UPS delivery man, so I did.’

‘I must have been asleep,’ I say. ‘I didn’t hear him.’

‘No worries,’ he says. ‘I haven’t seen Bradley around a lot lately. Is he all right?’

‘He’s disappeared,’ I say. Don’t you remember? I told you about it the other day and you said the same thing then.’

‘I think I may have just got back from O’Reillys‘. You’re as full as a catholic school, Niamh says to me sometimes. I like that, full as a catholic school. She’s got a grand way with words, Niamh.’

‘I was telling you about Bradley disappearing,’ I remind him.

‘Oh, that’s right. I believe you did say something. Hey, wait a minute! A week ago, no it might have been a bit longer, some men came round for Bradley and they looked a bit odd, so they did. I thought at the time, what’s the craic, they don’t look like they’re from round here. They were in a black Mercedes van with tinted windows.’

‘But there are lots of vans with tinted windows driving round here.’

‘No, not drug dealers vehicles. I think this one had some big white writing on the side and a logo.’ Dermot sketches something in the air.

‘What do you mean, they didn’t look like they were from round here?’

‘Well they didn’t have al Qaeda beards, I reckon …… and they weren’t Irish. And they weren’t Caribbean either. The van had a lot of …. you know, equipment in it.’

‘Would you be able to describe them?’

‘Some of them had, ……. like suits on, dark suits.’

‘You don’t remember when this was?’

‘There was a soft rain fog I remember, but that does not help ye much now does it?’

The fog seems to be descending again as we speak.

‘I expect you noticed but the ring road is open now that they’ve finished filming, Dermot says. ‘Must be quite a big film, don’t you think?’

With a cheery shrug of his shoulders, he says he must crack on. We have only been talking for a couple of minutes but his departure leaves a vacuum. A creeping desolation settles over me. I’m not very good on my own any more. I need company. What I really need is for Bradley to come through the door and everything to be all right. It would be good to talk to someone. I wonder what I have done with my counsellor’s number. I can’t even remember her name now. Janelle Council? Milly Stover? No, she was my acupuncturist. Clora Kaiser? No! It’s not coming. It was a few years ago that I had my problem.

I am racked with indecision. I don’t seem to know what to do with the parcel. I should open it. Should I open it? It is addressed to Bradley. I think perhaps I should open it, but scared of what I might find, I just stare at the large rectangular box wrapped in brown paper and parcel tape. There is no return address on it, just Bradley’s name and address in black marker pen. What might be inside? The more I look at it, the more I become paralysed with fear. It is very light. Much lighter than a box this size should be. Everything about the balance of the package is unsettling. The chilling thought runs through me that it might contain Bradley’s soul. I recall seeing the film 21 Grams. The title refers to the apparent loss in body weight when the soul leaves the body. Bradley’s soul boxed up, what an absurd idea. But the package is so light. If I put it down I think it might just float away, like a helium balloon. Gingerly, I shake it. There is no sound.

I take the plunge and start slicing at the package tape with a kitchen knife. There is no torque and I have to hold the package down firmly with my other hand to stop it slipping away. I too have a sense of slipping away. My mind begins to wander, my thoughts become more and more fluid. I think about what Dermot was saying about the black van with the tinted windows. I didn’t let him finish telling me about the men who came with the van. He told me about the ones in dark suits but he was about to tell me about the others. There was equipment in the van, he said. Could they have been a film crew? And, what he said about the ring road. They were filming, he said. Filming. I think back to Landscape, the interactive film Bradley and I watched, what now seems like aeons ago. It was Bradley’s idea to go and see the film. With IF, they film lots of different scenes and let the audience choose. Lots of different scenes! Very odd camera angles! I wonder …… It begins to dawn on me what is happening. I notice there is a camera lens in the smoke alarm. And another in the ceiling light. There are small cameras all around the house. There is even one in the flowering bird of paradise plant and two in the eyes of Bradley’s OwlMan poster. They are everywhere. Why haven’t I noticed them before? Isn’t that Leif Velásquez peering through the window? He is wearing a jacket like Bradley’s. It has got the same logo on.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

Bob Marley’s Surfboard (2015)

bobmarleyssurfboard2015

Bob Marley’s Surfboard by Chris Green

I don’t have Bob Marley down as a surfer. Maybe I am showing some prejudice but to me, surfing conjures up images of blond hair, VW campers, and The Beach Boys. Although I have never been to Jamaica, it is hard to imagine that the government yard in Trench Town Bob grew up in would have offered many opportunities for surfing. Or that the tight security on his punishing touring schedule would have allowed this kind of freedom. It is a surprise therefore when on my daily trawl through the miscellaneous collectibles on ebay I see Bob Marley’s surfboard advertised.

Collecting celebrity memorabilia is not without an element of risk. Painstaking research is necessary and it sometimes takes a trained eye to confirm that an item is genuine. With Elvis’s medicine cabinet, authentication was relatively easy. It was not the gold EAP monogram, the inlaid rhinestones or the bullet holes that gave it away, but primarily the sheer size of the cabinet. Only someone with Elvis’s huge appetite for prescription drugs could have needed one so large. The shipping cost me nearly as much as the cabinet and then I had to modify the houseboat to get it inside. Quite often there is an element of trust involved, for instance, Roy Orbison’s prescription Wayfarers. Had I not bought them on a bona fidé collectors’ site, I would have avoided these. But how could you certify an item as random as Bob Marley’s surfboard?

I encountered similar problems authenticating Buddy Holly’s yoga mat. Who would have thought that growing up in post-war Texas that yoga would have been a significant feature of Buddy’s daily life? Who would have thought that he would have had time for yoga, what with writing hundreds of songs, touring non stop and then dying at the age of twenty two? But a little research showed that Buddy had in fact met beat writer, Jack Kerouac on several occasions and seemed to have picked up a little Eastern philosophy from him. Buddy may well have written Peggy Sue or Raining in my Heart on this very mat.

A few exchanges of emails with the advertiser of the board reveals that he lives in the small village of Rhossili on the Welsh coast. This part of the coast is popular amongst surfers and the seller, who is called Grover, maintains quite simply that he acquired the item from a fellow surfer who strangely enough is also called Grover. Grover is a common name in those parts he assures me, nearly as common as Delroy or Tupac.

I wonder momentarily what happened to home-grown names like Rhys and Ifan, but do not dwell on it. There is business to be done.

How does Grover know that it is Bob Marley’s surfboard’, seems the obvious question so I mail this enquiry to him.

While he is a little light on verifiable facts, he informs me that surfing is very popular amongst reggae artists and Peter Tosh, Gregory Isaacs, and Prince Fari are all frequent visitors to the Gower peninsula. And Beenie Man was there just last week on the beach with two sistas in tow. If I am interested, he also has a pair of Oakley sunglasses that once belonged to Big Youth on his ebay auction site and a wetsuit belonging to Althea of Althea and Donna.

I have a look on his other ebay items. There are in fact no bids on either of the items that he mentioned, nor Burning Spear’s barbecue, or Max Romeo’s snorkel. But with the houseboat absolutely chocca, I am not especially interested in C listers mementos. I have resolved to concentrate my attentions on memorabilia of major celebrities.

Alarmingly, though, the bidding on Bob Marley’s surfboard has gone up to £1000. Clearly other collectors are after it too. And still two days to go. I need to make my way down to Rhossili to research first hand before committing myself to what could be a reckless bid on the item.

I browse the Gower websites and although these are thin on the ground I cannot help but feel a little concerned that their photos of surfers reveal a noticeable absence of dreadlocks. Not even a token Rasta. But there are photos of miles and miles of sweeping empty beaches. It seems plausible that the Jamaican surfers prefer the more private spots where they can light up their spliffs and chalices and that they have managed to avoid being caught on camera. The sites all stress the point that The Gower is the country’s best kept secret.

I decide, what the heck! Either way, it doesn’t matter. I had a bit of a windfall selling Kurt Cobain’s tennis racket I deserve a nice break by the sea. I haven’t had a holiday since Rosie left last year. Rosie didn’t have the same enthusiasm for living on a houseboat that I do. She wanted a summer house and a fitted kitchen and somewhere to hang her dresses. I hear from Geoff that she is now living in Reading with someone who directs television commercials. All water under the bridge.

Looking at the map Rhossili is not all that far away, perhaps a hundred and fifty miles, and the Volvo needs a good run. To be honest, it probably needs a proper service, but this can wait until I get back. I pack a few clothes in a bag, the laptop, a few cans of Red Bull and some crunchy nut chocolate bars for the journey and set off. It is mid morning and the weather forecast for the rest of the day is good. I stop off at Blockbuster to take back my overdue DVDs and the pharmacy to pick up my tablets.

I bump into Wet Blanket Ron outside the newsagents. He asks me if I am still interested in buying B. B. King’s suitcase.

I am not really sure I do, but I am too polite to give Ron the brush off. He takes offence quite easily.

Why don’t you advertise it on ebay, I ask?

I was waiting to see if you wanted it first,’ he says. He has that hangdog look about him.

I am anxious to avoid a long conversation. Something awful is bound to have happened to him lately and he is just waiting for the right opening to tell me all about it. I tell him I am off for a few days and that I will be in touch when I get back.

I drive down the M5 towards the M4, a route I took many years ago, when I was beginning my career in collectibles. On that occasion, I bought Eddie Cochran’s wristwatch from an auction in Chipping Sodbury. My intention had been to buy Brian Jones’s alarm clock, but I was outbid. This was around the time that Stacey moved out, saying that I was obsessed with dead pop stars and that there was so much junk around the flat that there was no room for her and the children. I argued of course that none of it was junk and I was certainly not obsessed and anyway not all of the pop stars were dead. For instance, David Bowie, whose stylophone I had just bought, was not dead. Nor were Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich as far as I knew. And where would we be without their tea towels?

I missed the children very much at first, especially Simon, the elder of the two. He was the one most affected by Stacey and I splitting up. Garfunkel, of course, was too young to realise what was going on, although we have kept up a relationship and he does still come to see me occasionally on the houseboat.

I become distracted by the Glamorgan welcomes Careful Drivers road sign. The sign has its equivalent in Welsh and displays a silhouette of the profile a dreadlocked Rasta with a colossal spliff in his mouth, which to me fails wholeheartedly to illustrate the point about driving carefully. As do the billboards advertising Red Stripe, the hooray beer, that line the road at strategic vantage points. The ads show four scantily clad Caribbean babes driving along a sand track lined with coconut palms in a stripped down Landrover, raising cans of Red Stripe in the air. The tagline is Stir it Up. What on earth is going on in South Wales?

To calm myself I switch on Radio 4. I manage to catch the beginning of The Archers (a new outbreak of bovine viral diarrhoea in Ambridge) before I lose the signal completely. I try scanning the radio for another station to listen to but all I can pick up is a station playing Dennis Brown’s Money in My Pocket, which I have to admit sounds pretty good. The tune finishes and an animated DJ starts gibbering away in Welsh, with a marked trace of patois, or perhaps it was patois with a hint of Welsh. I picked up ‘riddim, niceup, herb, collie, rasclaat, irie and jah’. He follows this by cueing in Night Nurse by da cool rula, Gregory Isaacs. ‘Dis Niceup Radio,’ he interrupts just as the vocal comes in.

As an admirer of landmark sculpture I have long been impressed by The Angel of the North and The Wicker Man, but the figure of Ethiopian leader and Rastafarian icon, Haile Sellasie by the side of the A483 puts them to shame. It is truly spectacular; it must be two hundred feet high. I have to remind myself that this is 2015 and we are in South Wales, a place not renowned for embracing new cultural ideas. What I am witnessing suggests a major Jamaican influence in these parts, adding considerable credence to Grover’s claims. Which is good? Isn’t it?

I try to conjure up the picture of a Welsh male voice choir singing Exodus, Movement of Jah People, which is now playing on the radio. Or indeed Shaggy tackling Men of Harlech. The DJ comes back on. ‘An a jus lass nite mi dideh. No one cyaan test Shabba.’ I can pick out the odd word but that is all. I almost hit something coming the other way; Since Abertawe (Swansea) navigation has been a nightmare as the place names and road signs are no longer displayed in English, just Welsh, their legibility was further impaired by being on a background of red, gold and green, with what I imagine to be the conquering lion of Judah alongside the Welsh dragon. Even the speed camera I pass is red, gold and green. The Gower is living up to being the country’s best-kept secret.

Given the circumstances, it is quite easy to get lost and after several miles without a sign of life, I consider that this is the case. To add to the predicament, the Volvo, which has been behaving remarkably well of late, becomes a little hesitant. After a few hundred yards of juddering along the dirt road, it stops completely. I recognise the symptoms. I remembered the same thing happened when I was on my way to pick up Buddy Holly’s yoga mat in Romford. This is not a mechanical problem; the bloody thing is out of fuel. I passed a filling station just after Cardiff but there was a long queue. There hasn’t been another one. Sooner or later, even on a track like the one I am on, a motorist will be along. I will flag him down and get him to give me a lift to the nearest filling station. This is the optimistic view.

It could be however that I am naturally pessimistic, as I haven’t even thought to try the phone. I mean, you don’t get a signal in South Wales, do you? One of the main reasons people come here is to avoid being contacted. But after twenty minutes of free-fall meditation lying on Dusty Springfield’s air bed in the back of the Volvo to calm myself, there is still no sign of the cavalry. I feel the old Nokia is worth a shot. Remarkably, there is a signal.

I go through the identification with the AA centre and everything seems to be going smoothly with Loretta until she asks, ‘what is your position?’

I have to admit that beyond it being somewhere in South Wales, I have absolutely no idea.

I also have difficulty with the question, ‘what was the last place you passed through?’ I explain about the roadsign being in red gold and green.

That will be The Gower. They’re all like that in The Gower. But we’re looking at quite a large area. Can you see any landmarks’, asked Loretta?

There are fields and hedges and a field of tall leafy plants in the distance. I have the feeling this is not the precision Loretta is looking for.

I suggest she might be able to use the global positioning information from my mobile phone.

Her ‘we’re the AA, not International Rescue’ is I feel unnecessarily sarcastic.

With the conversation with Loretta going nowhere, it is fortuitous that Delroy should choose this moment to appear out of nowhere. At around six foot six and built like a Russian war memorial, Delroy cuts an impressive figure. With locks nearly down to his waist and an alligator grin, he offers his hand and introduces himself. I pretend not to notice that his ring finger is missing. I ask instead where his car is. Delroy laughs and adds that he lives nearby, pointing beyond the field of tall leafy plants that I suddenly realise are cannabis plants. This probably explains why he is carrying an AK47.

He does not point the gun at me; it is more a sartorial accessory to his camouflage gear than anything else. He seems to sense that I pose no threat. After all, I do not look like a policeman or a gangster. And , there is a beaten up twenty year old Volvo, with 250,000 miles on the clock, that might have helped him to arrive at his judgement. It is very much a ‘this man is harmless sort of car’. Nevertheless was guarding a twenty acre cannabis plantation I might be less accommodating, but as it is Delroy is quite open. I explain that I have run out of diesel. He laughs out loud again. When he laughs, his whole body contorts as if he is performing a hip hop dance. Once he settles, he says, roughly translated, ‘no problem a friend of his named Tupac has a farm where we can get some red diesel.’ I thank him and we strike up a conversation about The Gower. I explain how easy it was to get lost. Delroy laughs again and tells me he knows why I had come, and that he knows Grover who is selling Bob Marley’s surfboard.

What are the odds against that? I say.

Ain’t no odds mon, is Jah,’ he says. ‘im know you come so I is ‘ere to mek ting ting so.’

He phones Tupac on his mobile and although the phone conversation lapses into a more rootsy patois, making it more difficult to follow, the jist of it seems to be that Tupac is going to bring the diesel over and that we just have to stay put. There is also some discussion about Charlie who might or might not be on his way.

Delroy starts to tell me a little about the board, pretty much confirming what Grover told me earlier. It is a two metre single fin pop out board and it is red, gold and green and has the conquering lion of Judah painted along it with the words Jah Rastafari melting over the tip. Delroy adds a little biography. Bob was originally given the board by a blind Australian aboriginal in recognition of his contribution to the cause of black emancipation, a gift for all that Bob had done to ensure that black people everywhere should no longer have to endure the fiery cross of the oppressor. Bob was deeply honoured and wrote a song in gratitude called Righteous Surfer. It has never been released. No-one knows if Bob ever used the board.

Tupac comes along in a heavily customised Suzuki jeep with a can of diesel. They carry on talking about Charlie and the rocks he is bringing on his rebel boat. They seem concerned about ‘bag a wire’ and ‘the babylon’.

We fill up the Volvo and the fumes make feel nauseous. Delroy and Tupac begin laughing and joking about my technique. Suddenly, there is an air of unease. Tupac’s phone rings or perhaps it is Delroy’s. It is a very short call. It is one of those situations where you feel instinctively that something is wrong.

A fleet of police helicopters is overhead. It is like a military invasion. The expression, shock and awe, for some reason, springs to mind. A mad scramble follows. Armoured vehicles arrive from all directions. Two of the vehicles collide sending a blanket of flame into the air. Shots ring out. Delroy catches one in the chest. Clouds of thick black smoke from the burning vehicles add to the battlefield effect. Delroy and Tupac may or may not get into the Jeep. In the confusion it is hard to tell. Everyone seems to be ignoring me so I dive into the Volvo and drive in the direction I came with my foot firm to the floor.

I keep my eye on the television news for the next few days and buy a selection of the broadsheets and even the South Wales Evening Post but there is no mention of the incident. I am just reducing my dosage of diazepam and getting my life back to normal when I receive an email saying ‘an ebay item you were watching has been relisted: Bob Marley’s Surfboard’. I delete it.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Two

ron2

The Continuing Story Of Wet Blanket Ron – Part Two by Chris Green

I can hear a phone, one of the emergency ones I keep in my office drawer. Each has an individual ring tone, but I’ve lost track of which ring tone is for which client. It seemed a good idea, at first, when there were just a few. I selected Hey Joe for hitman, Joe Luga, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking for cocaine dealer, Charlie Snow, and Ace Of Spades for card sharp, Vince Shuffler. But now there are twenty three phones in there, it doesn’t seem so clever.

What is that tune? Oh no! It’s Leonard Cohen, Bird On A Wire. That’s Ron Smoot. Wet Blanket Ron! Why the fuck is he calling?

I debate whether to leave it. Leonard Cohen’s cracked voice persists. Halfway through the second verse of the song, the one about the stillborn baby, I give in and answer it.

Ron is speaking fast. Something about being stuck in California and a plane crash. It is hard to make sense of what he is saying. I get him to slow down. He repeats what he has said.

‘What do you mean, your friends are on a flight to Chicago that is going to crash?’ I say. ‘I didn’t think you had any friends.’

Ron misses the put-down. ‘You might remember, Mr Diaz, that I got a job with a company called N Vision Inc,’ he says.

I don’t remember. I tend to choose to forget conversations with Ron. Life seems better that way.

‘And my job is to tell people in advance that bad things are destined to happen to them to give them chance to avoid them.’

What on earth is he talking about?

‘Sounds a bit far out,’ I say. ‘You haven’t been taking those mushrooms again, have you, Ron?’

‘Look! Tom and Tom are on a plane that is going to go down,’ he continues. ‘I tried to tell them, Mr Diaz, but they got on the flight anyway.’

‘I’m finding it quite difficult to follow you, Ron,’ I say, looking for an opportunity to end the conversation.

I suddenly remember that I have a client called Tom Carlevero. He is a computer technician. I had to cover up some hacking that he had been doing a while back on a Government computer system. Tom Carlevaro is gay and he has a partner called Tom Soft. Tom and Tom. Surely it couldn’t be this pair of Toms that Ron was talking about. That would be far too much of a coincidence. In these days of rainbow communities and gay marriage, there must be dozens of Tom and Toms.

‘Who are Tom and Tom?’ I say.

‘They are friends of mine,’ he says. ‘Look Mr Diaz …’

‘Their surnames, Ron. What are their surnames?’

‘Tom Carlevaro and …..’

‘I’ll get back to you,’ Ron,’ I say. I end the call and switch the phone off. He is bound to try to phone me back.

Now which is Tom Carlevaro’s phone, I wonder, looking in the drawer. I call in Shelley, my secretary. She is the one who keeps all the phones charged for me.

‘What is it Mr D?’ she says, blowing on her fingers to dry the nail varnish.

‘Tom Carlevaro,’ I say. Which phone?’

‘This one,’ she says. ‘The one with Go West ringtone.’

I do a redial. There is just a chance that Tom has ignored the cabin crew’s instructions and kept his phone switched on during the flight. I am in luck. He has. I explain to him what Ron has told me. He starts to tell me about the close shave he has had with Ron in Los Angeles.

‘No time for that now, Tom,’ I tell him. ‘Your plane is going to crash, buddy.’

I have to hand it to Tom Carlevero; he is a very resourceful man. On the basis of my phonecall which must have sounded like I was loony tunes, he somehow manages to persuade the captain of the 737 to turn back and land at Los Angeles. Can you imagine convincing a major airline to do something like that without arousing suspicion. I mean, what on earth could he have said? I do hope there’s no comeback on me. I feel I have done a good turn. I may be many things, but I am not a terrorist.

But as soon as I put the phone back on and return it to the desk drawer, Ron is back on, saying that this was not what was supposed to happen. He says the plane was supposed to come down in Kansas, with many casualties, but Tom and Tom were not supposed to be aboard when it did. Now he says he is in trouble with someone called Kojo or Mojo or something at N Vision Inc for interfering with the course of fate. Who the fuck are N Vision Inc? What is the guy on, for God’s sake?

Perhaps I should tell you a little about myself. My name is Brent Diaz and I’m what’s known as a fixer. I get people out of a hole in any way that I can, for which they pay me a lot of money. While I try to operate legally, this is not always possible. Now, one of the issues that I have here is that the last time I encountered Ron Smoot he was broke. The chance of a paycheck here is a small one.

Ron’s life has been a catalogue of misfortune. This wouldn’t be so bad if he kept it to himself but he insists on sharing it with everyone. How about this? He was attacked by a swarm of wasps on his wedding day, Friday 13th May, bitten by a shark on their belated honeymoon and mugged outside the court at their divorce hearing. He has been struck by lightning, not once but three times. After one of his many road accidents, the ambulance taking him to hospital crashed. You do have to wonder if his ill luck isn’t connected to his negativity. He isn’t just half empty, his cup is bottomless. He’s the living embodiment of a minus sign, a powerhouse of negative energy.

All is not lost on this occasion, however. Remarkably, Ron has not lost his job over the plane mix up. That must be a first. Perhaps it has become difficult to recruit people prepared to deliver bad news.

After I hang up, I ask Frankie what he knows about N Vision Inc. Frankie is my right-hand man, my facts at your fingertips man. He’s like google without broadband. He knows everything. He tells me he thinks that N Vision Inc is an affiliate of The God Corporation.

‘And they know that things are going to happen before they do?’ I say.

‘Apparently so,’ Frankie says.

‘Couldn’t we find some way to take advantage of that,’ I say.

‘Just what I was thinking,’ he says. ‘Next time you get a call from Ron, we’ll analyse the situation before recommending any action.’

‘Better still, I could keep in touch Ron. I could phone him every now and then to see what is in the pipeline,’ I say. ‘I’m sure he will be happy to have a friend.’

‘Good plan.’

‘And if anything goes wrong.’

‘Which it probably will do.’

‘We can take advantage of that too.’

I leave it for a few days and then Give Ron a call.

‘How are you, Ron?’ I ask.

‘Not good,’ he says, with the air of a prisoner who has just been shown the noose. He goes on to tell me that the head gasket on his Rover blew. He had to push it about half a mile, uphill, to the nearest breakers, as they wouldn’t collect. They gave him a cheque for £50 but when he got home he realised that they hadn’t signed it, so he had to go back there on the bus and then they were closed.

‘I thought you had a Citröen Saxo,’ I say. I have been doing my homework. In my line of work, I find it pays dividends to get inside the head of your clients.

‘The Saxo was impounded at Heathrow while I was in California,’ he says.

‘Oh dear,’ I say. ‘Things still OK at N Vision Inc are they?’ I am nervous I am about to hear the word, ‘sacked’, but surprisingly things are still OK at N Vision Inc.

Later that day Ron phones me back with a surprise request. ‘Can I borrow your car, Mr Diaz?’

What a cheek, the guy has. Has my offer of friendship backfired already?

‘I think I’m probably going to be using my car, Ron,’ I say. As it happens I have two cars, a BMW, and an Audi, but I’m hardly going to let Wet Blanket Ron in on this.

N Vision Inc have given me this new assignment,’ he continues. ‘The rock star, Johnny Angel is playing a concert at Kingsholm stadium in Gloucester tomorrow and he’s going to be shot. I have to stop it happening.’

‘Gloucester! That’s a hundred miles away,’ I say.

‘That’s right. That’s why I need a car. I’ve bought an old Skoda Fabia, but it’s not going to be ready until the weekend.’

‘You could rent a car.’

‘I’ve just cleaned out my bank account to pay for the Skoda.’

‘Second hand Skoda’s aren’t that expensive are they? They must have stopped making the Fabia over ten years ago.’

‘It was quite cheap but there wasn’t much in my bank account, Mr Diaz. I’ve had a lot of bills lately.’

‘Now, have I got this right?’ I say. ‘N Vision Inc called to tell you that Johnny Angel is going to be shot tomorrow in Gloucester and your assignment if I’ve understood you correctly is to prevent this from happening. The only way that you can do it is get a car to get there, you can’t afford Hertz and you don’t have any friends that will lend you theirs, in fact, you don’t have any friends, so you are asking me to lend you mine without much hope of being able to pay me.’

‘That’s about it, I suppose, yes.’

‘And meanwhile, I have to swallow this mumbo jumbo about some weirdos being able to see into the future.’

‘I’m still not sure how this works, Mr Diaz,’ he says. ‘But Kojo says that most people think that time is linear, but it isn’t. Kojo showed me the day after tomorrow’s papers. It’s on the front page in all the dailies. Headlines like Angel Falls, The Day The Music Died and Gay Rocker Shocker’

‘Not very imaginative,’ I say. How about Goodbye Norma Jean?’

‘I think that was the other fellow,’ says Ron.

‘Aha, so it was,’ I say.

‘So what do you say, Mr Diaz. Can I borrow your car? I’m desperate. …….. And I’m sure Johnny Angel would thank you.’

I used to be a fan of Johnny Angel, back in the day. I remember buying some of his early albums. I loved the song about him standing by the wall and the one about the spaceman. I’d never seen him play live, though.

‘It’s a mad idea, but I haven’t been to a rock concert in years and this one sounds as if it might be to be quite theatrical,’ I say. ‘How about I take you?’

What on earth made me say that, I wonder, after I’ve said it. Was it to do with what Frankie said about being able to take advantage of precognition? Or, have I been taken over by dark forces?

During the journey, I try to get some sense out of Ron about N Vision Inc. Frankie has researched them and come across very little. Even GCHQ have a more visible web presence. Ron tells me about Amir, Kojo, and Kazumi, the team of exotic personnel who run the show and about the constantly morphing office interior with random wildlife wandering about. He says that the reason people don’t know about the offices is that the building is invisible from the street. Apparently there is some scientific explanation for this.

He goes on to tell me about his ill-fated field missions to date. He starts with the tale of not saving research scientist, Maxwell Loveless from a gas explosion.

‘You mean to say that you were given the assignment, but didn’t manage to save him,’ I say.

‘Kind of, but that was not the objective,’ says Ron. ‘My job was to let his mother, Eileen Loveless know that her son was going to die.’

‘And she didn’t think to save him?’

‘Apparently not.’

‘I still don’t get it,’ I say.

‘I just do what they ask me to do,’ says Ron. ‘Next, I had to warn entrepreneur, Garret Wing that he was going to be shot. But he didn’t take any notice.’

‘So, another failure really,’ I say, already having visions of Johnny Angel’s bloodstained body slumped over the piano. ‘Why exactly are we doing all this?’

‘Amir says we cannot intervene directly, we can only take measures to alert the victim that something is going to happen. If the victim takes notice for instance, then the newspaper headlines that I talked about will change, but if he doesn’t, then the page will never have existed. A different page will have replaced it. Amir says that reality isn’t a straightforward business.’

‘So I’m beginning to find out,’ I say. ‘So what about Tom Carlevero? How do you know Tom, anyway?’

‘After my breakup with Heather, I rented a room in his house,’ he says.

‘Ah yes. I remember your breakup with Heather,’ I say. ‘She ran off with your best friend while you were in hospital, didn’t she? And you called me, and like a fool, I sympathised and said I would, uh ….. help. That was how you came to be on my list wasn’t it?’

‘And then you didn’t answer any of my calls until yesterday.’

‘I’ve been out of he office a lot.’

‘Anyway, to continue my story. Tom Soft moved in with Tom Carlevero and later they went off to California to get married and asked me to look after the house while they were on honeymoon.’

‘OK. Enough of that. Let’s get down to the job in hand,’ I say. ‘How are we going to get in to the gig. You’ve got tickets I take it.’

‘Well, no I haven’t.’

‘And you also have no money.’

‘No.’

‘So I’m expected to pay. Is that it?’

‘If you wouldn’t mind. They’re only £50 each. Oh and another £50 for backstage access. I’ll recompense you.’

‘When you get paid by N Vision Inc I suppose. And when will that be? Have you been paid at all yet?’

‘Well, now you come to mention it, no.’

‘They didn’t think of phoning Johnny Angel’s management and doing it the sensible way, I suppose.’

‘Might that not come across as a threat, Mr D?’

‘But it would have simplified the situation.’

I can’t help noticing that there are more hold-ups on the route west than usual. Every light we come to is red. Roundabouts which are normally clear have long tailbacks. I find myself behind a succession of slow moving tractors and learner drivers. There seem to be an unusual amount of lane closures and temporary traffic lights. I’m not superstitious or anything like that but it feels like something is in the air. Meanwhile, Ron tells me about his skin complaint, his anti-depressants, and the viruses on his computer. He throws in a few stories about Heather’s infidelity for good measure. I recall seeing a television programme about magnetic force and energy where people could project their thoughts beyond the limits of the brain into the atmosphere. The programme was concerned primarily with projecting the power of positive thought. Surely Ron’s sphere of negative influence could not extend to the environment around him, could it?

We approach the last section of dual carriageway. Traffic is at a standstill. Not what we need at this stage. Time is moving on. A diversion is in place, in the distance an army of police vehicles, fire engines, and ambulances. We make our way through the slow moving traffic. Unconcerned with what may have taken place, Ron uses the time to regale me with further tales of woe. The time he lost his passport on the way to the airport, how his numbers came up the week after he stopped doing the lottery, that his home insurance lapsed the day before the house fire. The reports may have gone on indefinitely but for us finally arriving in Kingsholm.

‘How are we going to do this,’ I say. ‘Have you got a plan of action, or do you want my input?’

‘I thought we would go backstage, ask his manager if we could speak to Johnny and then just tell him that he can’t play tonight because he’s going to be shot,’ Ron says. ‘Kojo says to deliver bad news you need to be assertive. No point in beating around the bush.’

‘So after I’ve driven all this way and paid out good money, I don’t even get to see him play Crocodile Rock.’

‘That’s not one of his,’ Ron says. ‘That’s the other guy again. ……. What were you thinking would be best then, Mr Diaz?’

‘Your methods don’t seem to have had much success so far, do they?’ I say. ‘I’ll let you know when we get inside.’

As we approach the stadium we see a huge crowd has gathered outside. Surely with such a big event they should have opened the gates by now. The concert is due to start in a few minutes. As we get up close, we can see a large illuminated message board reading ‘JOHNNY ANGEL CONCERT CANCELLED’

Why is the concert cancelled? No further information is given. There is mass confusion on the street. No one seems to know what to do. These people are all psyched up. They were ready to party. You can almost smell the disappointment in the air. No, perhaps it’s skunk you can smell. And alcohol. A couple of minor scuffles break out. I manage to catch the attention of a steward with a walkie talkie.

‘What is going on,’ I ask.

‘Haven’t you heard?’ he says, as if its common knowledge. ‘Johnny Angel’s helicopter was shot down over the ring road. The helicopter burst into flames. Everyone aboard was killed instantly.’

Although he should be used to things going wrong by now, Ron is inconsolable. He has his head in his hands. Having messed up his previous missions, he probably saw this as his last chance to get a result. Now he will almost certainly lose his job. But things are set to become a whole lot worse. As I guide him slowly along Kingsholm Road back towards the car, through the open window of a white transit van we catch the end of a news bulletin on the radio. It is turned up loud.

.. Police are treating the bringing down of the rock star’s helicopter as a terrorist act. They have released the names of two men they are anxious to apprehend in connection with the incident, Ron Smoot and Brent Diaz and have launched a search for the pair. The men are believed to be heavily armed and travelling in a black BMW …..…

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

Footsteps

footsteps

Footsteps by Chris Green

You may not have heard of Tregorran. Most people haven’t. It is a tiny hamlet, remote even by Cornish standards. Although I keep hearing that providers are investing millions of pounds to tackle poor reception in rural areas, I have no phone signal where I am staying at Little Wormwood Cottage, a rural retreat, accessible only a long windy track. I only pick up the voicemail message from Unknown Caller when I come into range the next day. There is no spoken message, just a background track which sounds like footsteps in the rain.

I put it down to a phone in someone’s pocket accidentally dialling my number. Although I do not use the phone that much, it could be someone whose number is not in my phonebook, a casual acquaintance for instance or a tradesperson that I have contacted who has saved my number. The odds that the keypad itself could hit eleven digits in the right order to correspond with a mobile phone number are ten to the power of something astronomical.

I think nothing more of it, but to my alarm, the same thing happens again the next day. It is a carbon copy of the first. Both calls were made at 10:24pm by an unknown caller and both times the message consists of footsteps tramping in the rain, lasting for one minute thirty seconds. This really spooks me. It is not something that can have happened accidentally. This is way beyond the realms of coincidence. Something is definitely not quite right.

I listen carefully to the calls several times, playing them back through the car’s speakers. It sounds like a single set of footsteps. The tread is rhythmic and purposeful. There is the suggestion of waterproofs rubbing together, perhaps from a jacket or pair of wet weather trousers. It has been raining heavily on and off for days here in Cornwall. The calls may not have been from Cornwall of course. In fact, why would they have come from Cornwall? I know very few people here. They could have come from anywhere, Alaska, China, anywhere, although it’s fair to say I cannot recall having contact with anyone so far flung. I think I detect a suggestion of light traffic on a wet road in the background, but I am not sure. There are no voices to be heard on either recording.

The man in the dark suit and the Men In Black sunglasses standing outside the village post office in St Mervyn looks distinctly out of place. I give the sinister figure a wide birth but as I walk past, he barks out something in a foreign language. Whether he is addressing me or not I cannot tell. Then I notice another figure in a dark suit with even blacker sunglasses talking into a phone outside the twelfth-century church. How is it that he is able to get a signal around here when I am not? He is pointing in my direction. If that isn’t threatening enough, there is Vladimir Putin mounted on a black horse outside the butchers’ shop. Reason would suggest it is not the Russian leader, but the resemblance is uncanny and he carries with him the same air of menace. He is holding what looks like a hunting rifle.

I don’t aim to stay and find out what these outsiders are doing in this sleepy backwater. I double back over the stone bridge where my Golf is parked and dive into it. It is not a fast car but after some cute manoeuvres I manage to lose the black sedan that I find is following me up the narrow muddy country lanes. I have been here several days and have become used to the lie of the land. My pursuers clearly have not.

Nothing seems to make sense. Why am I being hounded? I have come down here to do some writing. To finish of a story about fly fishing ready for publication next month. And to spend some time with my partner, Jodi. She’ll be here later. She was supposed to arrive yesterday but was delayed. She is in advertising. Precise arrangements can be difficult as project times often overrun with television campaigns and the like.

Perhaps these interlopers, whoever they are, have confused me with someone else. If they want me, why don’t they just confront me directly? Why would they make themselves so obvious? They are just drawing attention to themselves. Are they just trying to frighten me? If this is the case they are succeeding. I am terrified.

When I get back to the apartment, much to my relief Jodi is there. I explain to her what has been happening.

She is not impressed. I am a little disappointed. I was hoping she might be more understanding and supportive.

‘So you had a couple of strange voicemail messages,’ she says. ‘I get lots of them. I don’t know why but that’s the way it is with phones these days.’

‘But the two calls were identical, and at exactly the same time on consecutive nights,’ I protest.

‘Even less reason to be concerned. It’s just a technical hiccup at Vodafone.’

‘O2,’ I correct her.

‘OK. A gremlin at O2. I’m sure these things happen all the time.’

‘What about the men in the village?’ I say.

‘Two men wearing shades. Don’t you feel you are being a little over-sensitive?’

‘But it wasn’t even sunny,’ I say. ‘And what about Vladimir Putin?’

‘On a horse, you say. People do ride horses in the country.’

‘But then they chased after me in the black sedan.’

‘Oh come on now! If professionals were tailing you, don’t you think they might have managed to keep up with you on these slow roads? They turned off. They were going somewhere else. The world doesn’t revolve around you, you know.’

‘I guess not,’ I concede.

‘Anyway,’ she says, putting her arms around me. ‘Aren’t you pleased to see me?’

‘Of course.’

‘So, Where are you going to take me? What delights does the back of beyond have to offer?’

I tell her that there is not much going on out of season.

‘I know a place,’ she says. ‘The one that was named after that Daphne Du Maurier book’

‘Jamaica Inn?’

‘No not that one, the other one.’

We drive a few miles to The House On The Strand. We take Jodi’s car just in case. No-one follows us. Since we were last down here, The House In The Strand has been converted into a gastropub and has a French chef.

I have Boudin Blanc in Leeks and Mustard Sauce which turns out to be sausages in cream and Jodi has Battered Cod with Marie Rose Sauce and Chick Pea Fries which looks very much like fish and chips. The presentation is nice though and the Pistachio Mascarpone with Milk Chocolate Port Truffle, and the Dulce de Leche Crème Fraiche with Almond are both delicious. The second bottle of Shiraz is even better than the first. While we are trying to decide who is the most fit to drive back, Jodi goes off to the Ladies.

I have almost forgotten about the earlier traumas. Perhaps Jodi is right, I do occasionally indulge a little paranoia. I am looking forward to a few days relaxation with her now. We can wine and dine and make love. We can tour around taking in the beautiful landscape. We can swim in the sea and perhaps hire a boat to explore the bays. We can go to the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens. The Minack Theatre. St Michaels Mount. Cornwall has plenty to offer.

Jodi often spends a few minutes powdering her nose, so at first, I am not concerned when she doesn’t return, but after ten minutes or so I begin to worry. She has never spent quite this long. She has taken her handbag, so I give her mobile a ring. While mine is working fine here, she seems to have hers switched off. My next thought is that, thinking that we were ready to leave, she may have gone out to the car. I go over to the window and take a look outside. Her Polo is still in the car park. She is not in it.

A waiter comes over, concerned that we are trying to do a runner. Frantically I explain the situation to him. He asks me to calm down and offers to send a colleague to the Ladies to investigate. His colleague returns. Jodi is not there. I am beside myself. My paranoia comes flooding back, this time with interest. Perhaps the lady has just gone for a walk to clear her head, says the maître d’, pointing out that we have had quite a lot of wine. And the second bottle was 13.5%. Just then my phone rings. Thinking it must be Jodi, complete with an explanation, I answer it. It is not Jodi. There is no-one on the other end. All I can hear are the familiar footsteps in the rain. It is not raining outside. It is 10:24.

‘Who Is This?’ I yell into the phone. ‘Why do you keep phoning me? What Do You Want?’ The caller does not respond. The footsteps continue, their dull trudging rhythm regular as a metronome.

Everyone in the pub is looking at me. I don’t care. It seems unlikely that the caller will respond, but like a madman, I keep shouting into the phone. After an eternity, the call ends. The display says that the call has lasted just ninety seconds.

I turn my attention back to Jodi’s disappearance. I begin to ask other diners if they saw anything. Having witnessed my behaviour on the phone, they are reluctant to cooperate. Several of them are already asking for their bills. From the few that are still civil, it appears no-one saw Jodi go to the Ladies and no-one saw her leave the establishment. No-one saw anything suspicious. They are of the view that we have had a lover’s tiff, Jodi stormed off and that I called her on my mobile and started shouting at her. The maître d’ is asking me to leave. He is threatening to call the police. There is no need. One of the customers has already done so.

For a rural force, The Devon and Cornwall Constabulary arrive on the scene remarkably quickly as if they have been waiting just up the road. There are four of them in blue fatigues, all built like Bulgarian shot-putters. They issue stock commands from the police lexicon, all of which suggest I should not move. The press arrive. Legions of them. What is going on? Surely the crime rate around here cannot be so low that a small disagreement in a pub can warrant so much attention, but as the officers are putting the handcuffs on and leading me away to the patrol car, the paparazzi are snapping away like I’m a disgraced celebrity.

I have not been in this position before, but police custody is probably the same the world over. You are bundled into a cell, probably drunk, by burly officers, and subjected to maximum indignity and discomfort for the duration of your stay. The cell probably has concrete floors and walls, with bars on one side so the duty officer can keep an eye on you and a wooden bench for you to sober up on. It probably smells of urine, body odour and vomit. In all these ways the one in which I find myself at a remote location in Cornwall might be seen as typical.

What may be different here is that there is country music playing, loudly. Very loudly. This cannot be with the motive of settling the prisoner in. It can only promote thoughts of self-harm or worse. Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry is followed by Merle Haggard’s If We Make It Through December and Dolly Parton’s I Will Forever Hate Roses and then the daddy of them all, Jim Reeves’ He’ll Have To Go. God! This music is awful. Tennessee must be a living Hell.

The pounding in my head makes me think I may have had more of the wine than Jodi, and, didn’t I start off with a pint of beer? This is not the time to be listening to Billy Ray Cyrus’s Achy Breaky Heart and I do believe they have turned it up. Do they know how much I hate country music? Is this a special programme for my benefit? Eddy Arnold’s Make The World Go Away is now playing, over and over. They must have left it on repeat and buggered off. Why would anyone want to listen to this, even once? The potential damage to the brain from earworm is unimaginable. This is surely a tried and tested technique from Guantanamo Bay. If introduced in prisons here the threat of 24/7 Eddy Arnold I imagine would significantly cut offending rates.

To add to my suffering, I can’t help but be concerned as to what might be happening to Jodi. She must have been abducted and if I can be detained in this manner, then perhaps she is too. God forbid! Jodi likes her creature comforts. I like her to have her creature comforts. I do my best to ensure she has her creature comforts. I love Jodi more than anything in the world. But to get back to my situation, if she too is being held, she is not going to be available to bail me out. How am I going to get out of here to help her get out of wherever she is? Will I ever see her again?

Fuck me! what is happening to me? Everything is escalating out of my control. I lie down on the bench to try to temper the bouts of nausea. Hard though it is, I try to arrange my chaotic thoughts into those of reason. My captors didn’t seem concerned with charging me so much as just banging me up. This is odd. Police like their procedures. Perhaps they are not real police ….. but villains …… although this does seem like a real police station. But surely real police wouldn’t just abandon me doomed to listen forever to a loop of the Tennessee Plowboy. This is not the kind of professional behaviour one expects from modern officers, it is more like the antics of pranksters.

My mind keeps returning to the footsteps. That haunting repetitive sound keeps thumping away in my head. What is it about those footsteps? From somewhere at the back of my consciousness I dredge up a faint recollection of an advertising campaign that Jodi was involved with a year or so ago. Gradually I am able to build up a picture of a series of television adverts. They are filmed in black and white with a retro man trudging home through sludgy snow late at night. He is looking forward to his cup of hot drinking chocolate and as he does so a red glow forms around him. There are no words or music on the ads, just the hypnotic sound of the footsteps and logo of the company in the corner of the screen.

Could Jodi be responsible for my present situation? Could she have made those phonecalls from an unregistered phone, arranged the men in black, the Vladimir Putin lookalike and the car chase? She would know the effect that these things would have on me. She would know that I have a tendency to blow things out of all proportion. It would then be easy for her to get me drunk and then disappear. She is in a position to recruit actors to be paparazzi and brutish policemen. It would be like casting an advertising campaign. But here’s the coup de grâce. More than anyone, Jodi knows how much I hate country music. But then, why would she do this to me?

Oh! My! God! Might Jodi have discovered that I slept with …… her sister, Suzi, when she was away at that conference last year? I wondered what she had the hump about when she came back from Pilates last Thursday. Pilates normally relaxes her. I heard a while back that Suzi’s friend, Amy had started going to the class. I am aware that Amy can be spiteful. She must have dropped a hint about our clandestine liaison into the conversation somewhere.

Jodi must have realised that tackling me about it there and then would have met with my denial. Nevertheless, she must have thought, no smoke without fire. Keeping her discovery to herself then would then have given her chance to quietly plan her revenge. To further humiliate me, she may even be making a film of my entire Cornwall escapade. I am in all probably being filmed right now. Movie cameras are so inconspicuous these days, indistinguishable from the CCTV cameras we are so used to seeing every day, like ….. that one over there.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved