You Never Can Tell

younevecantell2019

You Never Can Tell by Chris Green

Annie and I are sitting in a café called Lemon Jelli sipping peppermint tea. The space is laid out to look like a continental bar with comfortable seating and 1930s French travel posters on the wall. We have come to Newton Abbot for the market. Annie is shopping for shoes. The flimsy ones she bought last week have not lasted well.

How old do you think I am?’ says a swarthy stranger sitting on the table next to us. ‘Go on! Have a guess!’

We have not registered his presence up until now. We exchange glances. By the tone of the question, we assume that he is probably older than he thinks he looks. In truth, with his hair greased back like a fifties icon and his short-sleeved plaid checked shirt, he looks about seventy four.

Sixty?’ Annie says, diplomatically.

No,’ he says, smiling. ‘I’m seventy four. I don’t look it, do I?’

No, you don’t. You must live a healthy life,’ I say, turning away and hoping to end the conversation.

It transpires that he lives in Torquay, but he comes from Somerset, Taunton to be precise. Taunton is about sixty miles north of Torquay. He used to be married but is not anymore. He says he doesn’t want to talk about this. He has an eighteen year old daughter, but he doesn’t see her very often except on birthdays and Christmas. She lives in Somerset somewhere but he doesn’t specify where. He used to be an electrical engineer with a company that makes microwave ovens but he retired early at sixty four after his triple heart by-pass.

What’s Torquay like?’ Annie asks, before I can stop her. ‘We were thinking of going there one day while we’re down here.’

Torquay is great,’ he says. ‘I like living in Torquay. A lot of people say bad things about it, but really its very nice. I know there are lots of druggies, hanging around the streets, but you get that everywhere now, don’t you? I don’t take drugs. I never have, well, only prescription drugs for my heart condition. I’m on twelve different sorts. That’s why I don’t drive anymore. I nearly crashed the car and thought, sod this for a game of soldiers. So I sold the car. That was nine years ago. I’ve got my bus pass of course. I can get around with my bus pass. That’s how I got here today. On the bus. It’s a good service from Torquay to Newton Abbot. And I can get to Exeter and Teignmouth. I can even get back to Taunton, but I don’t like to do that often. You can’t live in the past, can you? You’ve got to move on.’

I start to realise the conversation is going to be a more of a monologue.

Torquay Man doesn’t like gambling either.

It’s another addiction, isn’t it?’ he says. ‘You can bet on anything, these days, can’t you?’

Anything,’ I agree. ‘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…..’

My humour is lost on him. He is not listening. He begins to talk over me.

I still bet on horses,’ he says. ‘But I don’t stay in the bookies anymore, I put my bet on and then leave. If I stayed and the horse won, I would probably put the money on another horse and it would probably lose. Sometimes I come here to go to the races. I do like to see the horses running around the track and Newton Abbot is one of the best summer jumps courses.’

I didn’t know there was a racecourse,’ Annie says.

It’s just up the road. Are you staying around here?’

Teignmouth,’ I say, giving Annie a conspiratorial wink. We are actually staying in Dawlish, a few miles north of Teignmouth, but do not want Swarthy Stranger to get wind of this, just in case he finds out where we are and decides to call in.

Ah Teignmouth!’ he says. ‘I lived in Teignmouth for a while. In the 1980s. It was a nice place back then. Clean white beaches. Trips around the bay. But now it’s all street drinkers. In the bus shelters. On the prom. On the pier. Everywhere, they are. It’s all right to have a drink, but some people don’t know when to stop, do they? My Uncle Albert was one who liked a drink. I would say to him when he’d had a few, like, Albert, I’d say, I can’t understand a bloody word you’re saying. ……. I used to drink too, mind you, back in the day, when I came back from Aden. Saw some terrible things out there, I did. Make your hair curl. I was a Scammel driver in the Sappers, you know. You don’t hear them called Sappers anymore do you? You wouldn’t believe it now, would you? But all those years ago I was in the Royal Engineers.’

I don’t think it can be anything we say, because Annie and I aren’t been given the opportunity to say very much, but something seems to darken his narrative. A free-floating malice creeps into the monologue. What we took as the friendly banter of a lonely old man becomes a platform for his intolerance and bigotry. The idle youths that hang around the shopping centre ought to be rounded up and sent to boot camps in the Bristol Channel. Benefits scroungers should be put to work cleaning out the sewers, and immigrants should be turned back at Dover or shipped to concentration camps in the Channel. Prisoners should all be put on treadmills and the treadmills linked to the National Grid. It is if he has just read a year’s worth of Daily Mail headlines.

I am now hurrying to finish my peppermint tea and Annie is putting on a few of her scarves and cardigans. Torquay Man can see we are getting ready to leave.

Just one more story before you go,’ he says. ‘You’ll want to hear this one.’

Another time,’ I say, and with this we are out of the door and walking along Queen Street in the direction of the car.

What an awful man!’ I say to Annie. ‘You didn’t have to encourage him so much.’

I thought, at first, he just needed someone to talk to,’ Annie says. ‘It’s not easy being old and lonely with nothing to look forward to and time slipping away.’

But he didn’t even seem to have time for his family,’ I say. ‘Anyway, let’s get out of here.’

We are parked in the multi-storey car park, a few streets away. We normally avoid these, but when we arrived in Newton Abbot this morning we found ourselves corralled into it. We cannot get near it now. The streets on the approach to the car park are cordoned off. Ahead of us, there is a carnival of flashing blue lights, as police cars, fire engines and ambulances line the streets. People meander this way and that in confusion. No-one seems able to tell us what is going on. Rumours are circulating about a there being a bomb and some local residents have been evacuated.

The first I knew about it was these two men in flak jackets in my back yard,’ the lady in the unseasonable raincoat with the black and white cat on her shoulder says. ‘They said I had to leave right away. I asked them what was going on and all they could tell me was that they had their orders.’

East Street and Tudor Road are closed off, bloody pigs everywhere.’ the man in the orange boiler suit and the Jesus beard says.

They’re shutting down the market,’ the man with the Sticky Fingers t-shirt and the battery of nasal jewellery says. ‘Can you imagine. The market never shuts. This is Newton Abbot.’

We can’t get anywhere near the multi-storey,’ I say.

There’ll be a few hundred cars in there at a guess,’ the corpulent traffic warden with the limp says. ‘God help us if that goes up.’

Probably another suicide bomber, like the one in Plymouth last week,’ the thick-set man with the bull terrier says.

I didn’t hear an explosion,’ Unseasonable Raincoat says.

You don’t always hear them these days,’ Jesus Beard says. ‘They have silent bombs.’

A new task force in army fatigues arrives to move us back further.

Could you tell us what’s going on, please?’ I say.

What about my market stall?’ Sticky Fingers says. ‘I didn’t lock it up. I got thousands of pounds worth of rare albums there.’

I think I may have left the iron on,’ Unseasonable Raincoat says.

All comments are greeted with a taciturn silence from the surly militia. Methodically they kettle us like protesters at an anti-capitalist rally.

Get your hands off me,’ Jesus Beard yells.

He is forced into a doorway and handcuffed.

This provides the incentive for rest of us move back behind the barricades. These guys are serious about security.

You might imagine that emergency situations like would be tense, but in reality very little happens. Soon, because they can do nothing about it, people accept the situation and start drifting away. Jesus beard is probably back at home lighting a big spliff and Sticky Fingers Man has probably found a welcoming pub, somewhere where he can tell his tales of the glory days with the blues band that never quite made it.

I expect Lemon Jelli is full up now,’ I say to Annie. ‘They’re probably all going there.’

Do you want to go back?’ Annie asks.

We take a look at each other and decide to give it a miss. We listen to the busker making his way through the Paul Simon songbook instead.

Shame about the shoes,’ I say.

‘We can get some in Exeter tomorrow,’ Annie says.

Eventually, without any explanation, we are given the all clear. It takes half an hour or so to get out of the car park and then we find ourselves in a formidable queue of traffic. Everybody is trying to get out of Newton Abbot. Annie is on her iPhone, trawling the news sites to find information about the incident.

It says here that explosives experts were called to two suspect packages found in the town centre,’ she reads from the Exeter Express and Echo website. ‘This prompted a large area to be evacuated. Both devices were detonated safely in controlled explosions. Police are looking for an elderly man with a swarthy complexion and slicked-back hair who was seen acting suspiciously near in the vicinity earlier today. There are reports of a man fitting this description at both of the crime scenes. More details will follow as the information comes in.’

You think it was him?’ Annie says.

It does sound like it, doesn’t it?’ I say.

Shouldn’t we let the police know?’

Let them know what? That we had a conversation with a seventy four year old man from Torquay. Besides, he’s not still going to be at Lemon Jelli now, is he,’ I say. ‘He’s long gone.’

Do you think that this was the one more story that he was going to tell us?’ Annie asks.

You mean like he might have wanted us to turn him in?’ I say. ‘I guess we’ll never know.’

Who would have thought?’ Annie says. ‘He’s not what you think of when you think of terrorists.’

It goes to show that you never can tell,’ I say. ‘Terrorists don’t all have big beards and unpronounceable names.’

He never did say his name, did he?’

But he was definitely clean shaven.’

© Chris Green 2019: All rights reserved

Andromeda Dreaming

andromedadreamingnew

Andromeda Dreaming by Chris Green

It was a warm Wednesday in September. I was walking the dog in St Peter’s Park and there was Lars Wimoweh on a seat eating his lunch. Lars could tell straight away from my demeanour that I was feeling a little below par and he asked me what was wrong. I began to explain my recent disappointment over our house sale falling through.

Open yourself up to the universe,’ Lars said. ‘You will discover that things begin to fall into place. The universe only knows abundance.’

This sounded encouraging. Abundance was something I felt I could live with. Despite Rover wanting to get back to the stick game, I asked Lars to elaborate.

It’s all to do with cosmic energy,’ he continued. ‘What you must do is learn to connect with the cosmic forces.’

In the time I had known him, I had noticed that Lars appeared to get over his own problems easily. He possessed an inner calm. He did not get flustered. So, I followed his advice and took the plunge. I opened myself up to the universe. I started dreaming of Andromeda. I had, up until now, been under the impression that action brought good fortune. This was how it was according to the song from Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But, from what Lars was telling me, it appeared that the reverse might be true. You should let the universe make the decisions.

Things began to change, just as Lars suggested they would but they did not change for the better. Things came flooding in but not in the way that I had hoped. They were not the right things. First off, I lost my house keys in the car park at the transcendental meditation centre and thus found myself unable to get in to prevent our house being flooded through Leanne having left the bath tap running. To make matters worse I discovered that the house insurance had elapsed the previous day and I had failed to spot that the renewal was due because, I suspect, I was dreaming of Andromeda. Next, I lost my job at Bricks and Mortimer and although I quickly found another position at Job Done Building Services, I quickly lost the position as I was constantly dreaming of Andromeda and, as the gaffer, Jimmy Jazz explained, not getting the job done.

Take my word, once you start dreaming of Andromeda, you find it hard to break the habit. If you have a tendency towards Andromeda dreaming then it is important to balance this out with discipline and routine. Lars had not mentioned this. He omitted to tell me that you need to be rooted, to have your feet on the ground. But, of course, you do need to be careful here. You must not be too inflexible. Being too set in one’s ways can easily lead to stagnation, frustration and, as a result, you will become a magnet for drawing in negative energy. I can’t help but bring to mind the tragic case of an acquaintance of mine, Ron Smoot, who was so downbeat that his life became a catalogue of disasters, which in turn made him more downbeat, earning him the moniker, Wet Blanket Ron.

It is not, therefore, a simple case of being open to the universe or closed to the universe. You need to be open to being open or closed to the universe dependant on the circumstances. You clearly need to develop a strategy which takes all factors into account. Mindfulness might be the key. It seems that mindfulness amalgamates dreaming of Andromeda with sprinklings of rationality. Mindfulness focusses attention on the present moment, therefore on the task at hand. If I had been focussing a little more on the present moment and not recklessly dreaming of Andromeda, perhaps I might not have had the accident with the blue tractor on the blind bend in Leafy Lane on the way to the Sparklehorse concert. The one that landed me in hospital with multiple fractures.

Following these episodes, the obvious answer would have been for me to take a reality check. The problem was that, having started dreaming of Andromeda, it was difficult to stop. I found myself distracted pretty much all of the time. Concentration on the mundane became impossible. My thoughts meandered like a restless wind inside a letter box. Where did that come from? Oh yes. On and on across the universe. I’m sure this must have been how John Lennon felt when he wrote the song. Perhaps he had had a friend like Lars, who told him he should connect with cosmic forces.

I decided to contact Lars to ask him how he managed to balance his life. How did he keep the restless wind in check? I called him up but repeatedly found that his phone was switched off. Why, I wondered, was this? It was not until a week later when I was walking Rover in St Peter’s Park and still irrepressibly dreaming of Andromeda that I found out. Lying on a bench was an old copy of The Falconmarsh Gazette with the headline Unlucky Strike. Lars Wimoweh, it said, had been struck by freak lightning at a Tai Chi workshop at Stonehenge. What cruel irony in a universe that only knows abundance. I wonder if it is time to stop dreaming.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

GHOST

ghost

GHOST by Chris Green

‘You remember that creepy old man I told you about?’ I said. ‘The one I saw outside the kite museum. Well, Dad! He’s back.’

‘I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about, son,’ Dad said, looking up briefly from his Melody Maker. On a Thursday, his day off, Dad liked to read this cover to cover. It gave him all the latest news from the music business. He’d probably be off out later to buy a new LP by Jefferson Airplane or The Doors and I’d have to listen to that blasting out downstairs while I was trying to get to sleep. Or, perhaps he would have another go at playing I Am The Walrus on his Stratocaster. Mum would tell him to keep the noise down and they would have another row.

‘I was playing on the beach with Eddie,’ I continued. ‘You know, down by the groynes, and there he was. The same man. It looked like he was coming right out of the sea but he had all of his clothes on. Not just shirt and trousers either, a big overcoat and hat and everything.’

Still, Dad showed no surprise.

‘He had a wrinkled old face, Dad, and a big grey beard and piercing eyes,’ I said. ‘He seemed to look right through me.’

‘Uhu.’

‘He was spectral, Dad,’ I said, experimenting with a word I had learnt from my Collins dictionary. Even at twelve years old, I was keen on words. I wondered if one day I might become a writer.

Dad was unimpressed by my growing vocabulary. In fact, Dad seemed unimpressed by anything I did. Sometimes I wondered if he was really my Dad at all or whether there was some hidden family history that I wasn’t being told about.

‘He called out to me, you know,’ I continued. He seemed to know my name. Then he came out with something which I could not understand. It was as if it were in English, but not in English. Anyway, I looked around for Eddie, but by now Eddie had spotted a new boat coming in. You know what Eddie’s like when he spots a new boat. He had started running towards it and didn’t see the old man.’

‘Uhu.’

‘So I ran away as well.’

‘Good thinking, lad.’

‘He shouted something after me, but I still couldn’t catch what it was.’

‘Uhu.’

‘But this fellow’s sooooo old, Dad.’

‘Everyone’s old to you, son. You think Elvis Presley is old. He’s only, what? Twenty nine, thirty perhaps?’

‘Well. Twenty nine is old, Dad. But that’s not the point. The old feller on the beach was reeeeally ancient. He’s like the missing link.’

‘Uhu.’

‘And when he looks at you, you feel a shudder. It’s as if he’s somehow connected to you. Like a shadow……… It’s really weird. Like something out of science fiction.’ Not that I had read any. Science was of no interest to me although I had decided I was definitely going to be a writer.

‘Come on son! Now you’re being weird. ……. Hey! You haven’t been rooting around in my desk drawer, have you?’

‘No, Dad. I have not. I wouldn’t do that. Anyway, you always lock it.’

‘And you took aboard what they told you in those …… drug talks at school, didn’t you?’

‘I was there, if that’s what you mean. ……. Why are you asking?’

‘Oh, no reason, son.’

…………………………………………

The spectral old man appeared before me again a year or so later at the disused Red Rock Quarry where I sometimes went on a Wednesday afternoon when I was skipping Double Chemistry. The same sudden materialisation, otherworldly profile, resounding voice and incomprehensible soliloquy. He was substantial, yet at the same time insubstantial. Once again, I was terrified. Once again, I ran. Dad was not in residence by this time. He had left a month or two previously, following what Mum termed irreconcilable differences. Adultery on Dad’s part, I imagined or perhaps she too had discovered what he kept in his desk drawer. So, this time, it was Mum that I told about my experience, in retrospect a huge mistake. Mum’s approach was entirely different to Dad’s. Whereas he was casual, she was pro-active. She felt that I should see a psychiatrist and despite my protests, marched me off to see Dr Biggott to see if he could arrange a referral.

The term schizophrenia is more carefully defined today but in the late nineteen-sixties, it was an expression that was applied liberally, an umbrella term for a smorgasbord of disorders. Dr Harmer was an ardent fan of the term. Most symptoms of anxiety, he felt, could be explained this way. In the treatment of adolescents, classifying them as schizophrenic at the outset saved a lot of time with elaborate and unnecessary diagnosis, leaving him with more free time with which to concentrate on his female patients. The rewards, he found, were greater here.

‘I am not seeing things or hearing voices,’ I told him. ‘That is not what is happening.’

‘Ah, yes,’ he said. ‘This we find is the usual response. Many people come to me and say they have seen a ghost but its all in the imagination. Imagination can be very powerful, you see.’

‘But this is not a ghost. He was really there,’ I protested. ‘Large as life.’

‘You see you’ve just said it there,’ Dr Harmer continued. ‘If he was as large as life, then he wasn’t really there. The key is in that little preposition. I think we’ll start you off on some thorazine and then perhaps put you on a short course of ECT. This usually does the trick.’

The treatment may or may not have, as he put it, done the trick but it certainly changed the goalposts. I didn’t see the ominous stranger in the flesh again for a number of years, but I regularly had nightmares about him. In the dreams, it would always be dark and I would be lost in an unfamiliar place on the edge of town or perhaps the edge of the world. There would be the eerie echo you get from silence. Then, he would slowly materialise, a giant ghostly presence towering above me, causing me to cower in the shadows. He would issue a stentorian proclamation, like God shouting down to Moses, I would wake up in a sweat.

As a teenager, recurring nightmares aren’t the kind of thing you talk about to your friends for fear of being ridiculed. Nor are they a matter you bring up with your peers when trying to make your way in the world as a young adult. Even after I married Maddie, I was reluctant to disclose why I sometimes woke up in the middle of the night screaming. She probably wouldn’t have thought that seeing an old man in a big black coat and hat in a dream was much for a grown man to get in a stew about. And of course, she was probably right. She had once said, ‘You know what, Myles. Sometimes I think you are afraid of your own shadow’, and this had stuck with me. I always tried to play down the trauma that the dreams caused me.

When it comes to dreams, though, while the content can be surreal and deeply unsettling, it is often not the content but the timbre of the dream narrative that is really terrifying. An unspoken background commentary can dictate how the dream feels. It can insist that there is an underlying air of menace, something sinister and threatening about what is going to happen. You are now tuned into your repository of deepest secret fears. All rationality is out the window. You are at the mercy of the demons lurking in the depths of your unconscious. All manner of ghouls and monsters seemed to inhabit my netherworld.

Dreams, however, are dreams and I never came to any physical harm in any of these episodes. The spectre, it seemed, merely wanted to make me aware of something and while I got the palpable impression that his message was of great importance, to my frustration, I could never understand what the message was. It always came out as amplified babble. Once or twice, I nearly caught the drift of what he was saying, but as soon as this happened, he would vanish again and I would be left once with after images without this clarity. Nonetheless, night-times were harrowing. Although my ghostly visitor didn’t appear every night, he turned up frequently enough to make me frightened of what each night might bring. Even Dr Nice’s powerful sedatives were not enough to protect me from the possibility of a visit.

…………………………………………

Then, one day it happened. There he was. Not as a surrealistic Neptune rising out of the sea. Not as a despotic archetype running amok in a nightmare. But there, in the flesh, sitting calmly beside me on a park bench. Maddie had gone into town shopping and I had been walking the dog in Providence Park and sat down to rest for a minute or two. Maximilian was a ten mile a day dog. I had put on a few pounds since I put away my running shoes. The skiing accident in Switzerland too had added to my mobility problems. I was no longer a ten mile a day dog walker. Suddenly, he was next to me, having materialised from out of nowhere. But after the initial shock of finding him within a whisker of my personal space, his aspect seemed to be no longer threatening. The familiar coat, hat, thick grey beard, the swarthy features and the roadmap of lines crisscrossing his face had now taken on a friendly air. My companion could easily have been a fellow dog walker taking a breather to exchange dog behaviour anecdotes.

He began to speak. In contrast to his delivery in the earlier encounters, his voice was now gentle, compassionate. At first, I was unable to understand his words. But I found that this was more a case that I was unable to understand that I was able to understand. Although the language was not my own, once I had become accustomed to its nuances, I found that I could follow what he was saying. Perhaps it was some kind of sorcery or Douglas Adams’ Babelfish at work. Or maybe it was just that I was now older and had a greater understanding of the world. I wasn’t well versed in Chomsky, but I reasoned that this must be down to the same imperceptible process whereby a young child finds he suddenly understands what a parent is trying to communicate. Perhaps a dual nationality child clearing up the confusion from hearing the two tongues spoken.

‘I’ve been trying to tell you something important for years now,’ he said. ‘But each time, I have appeared to try to guide you through the mysteries of self-discovery, you seem to have been consumed by fear. You have to be able to grasp the wisdom of the dream.’

‘Are you saying that it’s just my …….. my perception of you that has been the stumbling block?’ I said.

‘Exactly,’ he said. ‘You have been crippled by inner conflict. All your life you have been fighting with yourself. You have taken on the opinions of others. You have not trusted your inner impulses. As a result, you have been unable to make meaningful decisions. This has made you weak. This has made you condescending. But you can put all this behind you. I believe you are ready now.’

While this was encouraging, I was not really sure what he meant. None of my counsellors had hit upon inner conflict being at the root of my neuroses. They only seemed to want to let me rabbit on for fifty minutes, repeat the last line of each of my ramblings as a question and then say that they would see me next week. If I said something like, ‘My parents were selfish. They don’t understand me.’ They would come back with, ‘so you think your parents don’t understand you.’

‘I cannot stay in this realm so I don’t have long,’ he said. ‘So listen carefully.’

He told me that I was the only one who could sort out my problems. There never had been and never would be anyone else that I could rely on. It was a common mistake to think that the answer lay somewhere out there. The answer was inside. I needed to discover my essence. Find my proper place in the cosmos.

‘You are unique and valuable,’ he said. ‘Nothing that anyone else ever says or does makes the slightest difference to who you are and what you truly feel. Things may have been bad in the past but you must let go of them. They are of no consequence.’

His aphorisms began to sound a little like the ones I had come across in Maddie’s self-help books over the years but nevertheless, they hit home. The meeting had a profound effect on me. Something fundamental changed that day, the day I realised that I was part of something very large indeed. The universe. A small but integral part of the universe. A stillness came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter ceased. Past and future dropped away. I reappraised who and what I was. It was as if I had been born in that moment, brand new, mindless and innocent of all debilitating memories. There existed only the present and what was clearly given in it.

I took stock and went about making changes in my life. I persuaded Maddie we should move to a more rural location. The town had over the years turned into a tourist hotspot. It was now noisy and vulgar and the traffic was so bad it was no longer worth going out in the car. I stopped seeing my therapist. I realised she was, like many practitioners, a charlatan. There was no sense in throwing good money after bad here for little or no return. Perhaps most importantly of all, I gave up my job at the software development centre where I was a technical author. This is not the kind of writing I had envisioned I would be doing all those years ago. It was dull and soul-less. Furthermore, there was no joy in being a wage slave. Every day the task ahead was basically to describe how to reduce everything to either zero or one.

Although previously I had never managed to keep so much as a spider plant alive, something inside me told me I should move into horticulture. It didn’t happen overnight but, slowly but surely, I became a successful orchid grower. My ghost orchids, never before cultivated in this country, became much sought after. By nurturing the delicate plants, I found I was also feeding my spirit. I began to live in the light. I no longer had nightmares.

…………………………………………

Perhaps I was a little slow on the uptake but it was not until the turn of the millennium when I looked in the mirror and saw the old man’s face looking back at me that I realised who he was. I have been gradually morphing into that face in the mirror ever since. I believe I am nearly there now.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Across The Universe

acrosstheuniverse

Across The Universe by Chris Green

There has been a secret underground line in the south of England for years. It can be accessed through a network of tunnels originating from the basement of a former Turkish dry-cleaners in Dulwich. The line runs for sixty miles deep underneath the Weald to the coast near Newhaven. It is believed to be the deepest underground tunnel anywhere in the world. It took over twenty years to build and it houses the extraterrestrials who were intercepted at Warminster in 1980. Leaving Dulwich, it is thought that there are just two stops, one at a clandestine underground military establishment and the other at a colossal subterranean dormitory village and recreational facility a couple of miles further on. There is a covert service exit at the other end but this is heavily guarded. Walkers are discouraged from going near the area by a series of signs warning against unexploded mines.

Keeping the X-Line, as it is referred to, secret has been a formidable undertaking, surely one of the major achievements of our security forces. You may have been labouring under the misconception that the principal objective of GCHQ and MI5 has been one of global surveillance because this is what we have been told. It now looks as if this may not be the case. Its main focus may have been keeping news of the X-Line project out of the public domain. While initially, the operation’s cover may have relied on the premise that Turkish people do not have a lot of dry cleaning done, this does not explain how its growth from a small shop front to that of a huge edifice covering several blocks has been concealed. Might those that have questioned the development or accidentally stumbled upon the truth have been systematically liquidated?

One or two of the extraterrestrials have been sighted above ground, but these reports have been hushed up. When photos of these taller, thinner, paler creatures were put up on the internet a while back on forddriver.onion, the site was unceremoniously closed down. The proliferation of 9/11 accounts and New World Order explanations has been sufficient to keep most conspiracy theorists busy, so the posts passed largely unnoticed. Weekend conspiracy theorists are not going to spend a lot of time following up the odd alien sighting possibly put up by a paranoid bipolar Photoshop photographer. The post also suggested that military personnel had interbred with the tall aliens and that the resultant hybrid race is beginning to establish itself in the hidden depths below the Sussex countryside.

………………………………………………

Helped along by the reactionary press, in just a few years, the politics of the country has lurched ever further to the right. The abandonment of welfare benefits and the reduction of the minimum wage have resulted and there is a think tank currently looking at plans to cull the disabled. With opposition parties no longer opposing, freedom is rapidly being eroded and, brainwashed or not, Joe Public seems to be going for it. Persecution of minorities is now the norm. The press is full of tirades against Eastern Europeans, Blacks and Asians, unmarried mothers and gays. There are of course no longer any immigrants. Racial purity and ethnic cleansing are the new buzz words. But where there is a discourse, there is also a reverse discourse and some of us are finally getting together to fight back. We can remember the optimism of a bygone era and would like to see a return to love and peace and freedom of speech.

Few people not involved with the secret project have ever been down the X-Line. As an undercover investigative journalist with The Lefty, I am one of a select band who through subterfuge hope to see first hand what is going on. We are an ill-equipped but determined bunch. Otto Funk is nearly seventy but he is as fit as a fiddle. Otto used to publish Undercover, but although this went under a few years ago, he still feels the need to further the revolutionary cause. Otto was the one who first drew my attention to the X-Line. He says that he has been researching the story for years. He says his big break came when he discovered Ford Driver’s unpublished manuscripts. Ford Driver, he says, had been amassing information on the X-Line project since its inception. Otto acknowledges that it might have been a mistake for Driver to put pictures on the internet and his death he says is shrouded in mystery. Otto remains undeterred in his resolution.

May Welby is the editor of Loony Left, a radical socialist magazine that comes out now and again. She is also the one who came up with the photos of the tall extraterrestrials. May’s pictures of them match Ford Driver’s descriptions exactly. They may even have been taken from Driver’s defunct web site. For the benefit of those of you that remember it, May Welby was the one that broke the BorisGate scandal a year or two back. Stanton Polk is the kooky publisher of Peace Frog magazine. Peace Frog is something of a relic of the hippie era. It still talks about revolution in the head and posts pictures of Jimi Hendrix on the cover. To be fair, Stanton has probably only come on board because he is as barmy as a box of badgers and doesn’t appreciate the dangers. Nanci Gatlin puts together The Underdog, a publication sold on street corners which remarkably is still going to print despite an unsustainable drop in sales. The last issue sold fourteen copies. ‘Everyone seems to want to be on the side that’s winning, these days,’ Nanci says. I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere before but I can’t place where. Calvin Sharp runs Ethical Spy. The title is perhaps misleading as there is nothing ethical about it, nor has it very much to do with spying. At least not in the sense that you think of it. It is a top-shelf porn mag. Calvin though is the only one of us with real military experience. He was in covert ops in the first Gulf war, so that makes him, at least, sixty. He had a stroke last year but there seems to be no holding him back. Importantly, he has a cache of ex-army handguns, which he says may come in handy later.

Otto tells us that the warriors from the breeding programme, although lean, might be endowed with super-human strength. As journalists, although we are always anxious for a good story, we are a naturally suspicious lot. We do not believe everything we hear, well apart from Stanton Polk possibly. Stanton believes Elvis Presley is still alive. The rest of us though realise there is a tendency to exaggerate a story each time it is passed on. Everyone adds their two-penneth. Otto’s story might indeed be one of those.

However, it would be foolhardy to underestimate the risk we are taking by going in. We need to be fully prepared. We sit around the table and speculate about what might be happening below ground. What is the aim of the project? Might it be more than an exercise to hide away a handful of captured aliens? Otto suggests it might be an experiment to investigate the compatibility of their extraterrestrial genes with the human gene. The fearsome levels of security that Otto has told us about appear to suggest something apocalyptic.

To avoid suspicion, we have had fatigues made up to resemble those worn by the rangy strangers in the photos and we have had our skin bleached so that we can blend in with the lanky super-humans. We have browsed reactionary Neo-Con web sites to learn the language of the right. There are hundreds of Neo-Con web sites. If you go through TOR, they are hard to escape. Intolerance has been spreading through cyberspace unchecked, like a malignant cancer. Expressions like calibrated ethnic cleansing, white supremacy and reprogrammed meta-human now trip off my tongue.

We have discovered a remote location on the downs which gives access to the tunnels. This is where in the dead of night they remove the weekly waste from and surreptitiously take it to landfill. This is where we plan to make our entry. We imagine that below it is the main living area. The entrance does not show up on GoogleMaps. Otto suggests that Google could be behind the breeding programme. I think he is joking, but who knows? It is quite difficult to ascertain who is behind what these days. Nothing anywhere is quite what it seems.

………………………………………………

We are surprised by how easy it is to get inside the compound. As soon as the grey garbage truck emerges from the tunnel, we casually walk in the entrance before the hatch closes. The squad of guards that we were told would be there appear to be on a tea break or something. There is absolutely no-one about. We can’t even make out any security cameras, but on the basis that with such a sensitive project there must be cameras somewhere, we try to act as if we belong. We have practised our nonchalance, with an acting coach in preparation. We are able to make our way to what appears to be a service lift, still without seeing a soul. We cautiously press the button and get into the lift. It is much smaller than we imagined it might be. This could not have accommodated the truck that has just left or indeed its cargo. It has just two buttons, Up and Down.

As the lift starts to descend, Beatles music begins to play through hidden speakers. Loudly, especially for such a confined space.

All You Need Is Love,’ Nanci says, apparently unphased by the surreal experience being stepped up a notch. Perhaps she worked a little closer with the acting coach than I did. I am finding it difficult to remain calm. It is bound to be a trap.

Quad sound too,’ Stanton Polk says. ‘It’s the remixed version from the Cirque de Soleil soundtrack album.’ He sees no irony in the juxtaposition. He is on planet Polk. He sees things differently from the rest of us. He has spent much of his life off of his head on one thing or another.

Not what you would expect the neo-Nazis harbouring tall aliens would be listening to, really is it?’ Calvin says, nervously fiddling with one of the several guns that he has secreted around his person. ‘Something is not quite right here, chaps.’

Otto is beginning to look a little unsettled and May, who up until now has displayed steely confidence, tries to hang on to me to stop herself from fainting.

It occurs to me, not for the first time, that none of us, not even Calvin with his military background is really cut out for this kind of mission. How could we ever think we could pull this off? What is it we were hoping to get anyway? Even if we get out of here and one of us manages to publish something about the experience, we are not going to be allowed to get away with it. We will be hunted down.

I don’t want to be stating the obvious,’ I say. ‘But, this has trap written all over it.’

Not a very soldierly approach, giving us time to be ready,’ Calvin says. ‘It would have been more straightforward for them to have intercepted us and taken us out and then. Don’t you think?’

Perhaps it’s easier for them to do that down below,’ I say.

All You Need Is Love is followed by I Am The Walrus. It’s not the most sing-along of the Fabs tunes, but Nanci starts singing along to it. I wonder if perhaps Stanton Polk may have shared some of his substances with her before setting off.

For those of us without the benefit of Stanton Polk’s pick-me-ups, the lift descends agonisingly slowly. It is clearly going down a long, long way. My ears are now popping and my head is bursting.

………………………………………………

They say in the event of a traumatic experience, your brain releases adrenaline which speeds up the rate that it processes information. This is apparently why it is said that your whole life flashes before you when you are about to die. And as we descend into the bowels of the earth, I am certain that I am going to die. What other outcomes can there be? I Am The Walrus gives way to While My Guitar Gently Weeps. We are all going to die.

I am drinking homemade lemonade on a summer’s afternoon. I do not know these ladies in dusty pink cardigans. They are old. Mummy has gone to the post office, they say. Will Mummy be coming back? I ask ….. Why is Miss Crabtree slapping my legs with a ruler? It wasn’t me, miss. It was, it was Ja….. I have done nothing. …… pi equals three point one four one six ….. 1066….. I hope you don’t expect anything from this school, because ………. Is Ann really going to let me do it? Without a rubber Johnny? …….. Do you, David, Andrew Norman take …… I do, I do. ………. I don’t. I won’t. Yes, you will ……. No Nukes, No Nukes, No Nukes. Are you going to arrest me, officer? ……. Don’t go, Kristin, don’t go …… I’m not going to pay that……. We’re going to craaaash….. Publish, and be damned. ……. Aliens, Otto? Really? Where? What? You mean underground?

The lift finally comes to a stop. This is it. We wait in anticipation for, for ….. we don’t know what. But no one now expects it to be good. I can’t put my finger on who or what has changed the mood, but it is now one of discomfiture and fear. Shouldn’t we have expected it to be something like this? It was always going to be dangerous. While My Guitar Gently Weeps segues into Across The Universe. The lift doors stay closed. Is the waiting for the bad thing you think is going to happen worse than facing the bad thing that is going to happen? The others scream at me to press the button, first to open the doors, but then for the lift to go back up, but the button doesn’t work and The Beatles are relentlessly going on and on about going on and on across the universe.

………………………………………………

Eventually, the lift door opens and we are greeted by a pair of rugged-looking thugs with Force Security sweatshirts. They are brandishing semi-automatic handguns. They look alert.

I’m Billy Shears,’ says the bulkier of the two. He is built like a Challenger tank.

The one and only Billy Shears, perhaps? I do not say this. He does look as if he means business.

And I’m Rocky Raccoon,’ says the other. Rocky is the smaller of the two, lean but still mean looking. I can’t help but think that they have chosen their names inappropriately.

Welcome to uh …… The Cavern,’ Billy says.

It seems a well-practised line, but Rocky chuckles.

You are probably wondering what’s going on,’ Billy says.

An understatement.

So long as you remain calm, there is nothing to worry about,’ Rocky says.

Remain calm? Where does calm come from? They have guns. They are guards. We are reporters.

Firstly, We’ll have your guns on the floor in front of you,’ Billy says. Instinctively, we all look in Otto’s direction.

Then we might show you around,’ Rocky says. ‘What do you think, Bill?’

I can see you are reporters,’ Billy says. ‘You have that journalist smell about you. But, you won’t be reporting anything that you see here today.’

We’ve had reporters before, you see,’ Rocky says.

Regularly,’ Billy says.

And we wouldn’t like what is happening here to be misrepresented,’ Rocky says.

We could, of course, lock you up, or send you away with a flea in your ear,’ Billy says. ‘But now that you are here we may as well give you the tour.’

But if we do that we will have to erase your memories before you leave,’ Rocky says. ‘Security, you understand.’

But don’t worry. The procedure is quite safe,’ Billy says.

We’ve used it on all the others who have been curious as to what’s happening here in …… The Cavern,’ Rocky says.

And no-one yet has come to any harm,’ Billy says.

While I do not feel that we are out of the woods yet, the pair do seem to be taking a friendlier approach than they did when we first arrived.

So, if you wouldn’t mind,’ Rocky says. ‘Your guns please.’

That would be you he’s addressing, I believe, Mr Sharp,’ Billy says. ‘I sense that the others haven’t bothered to arm themselves.’

Drop them right there in front of you,’ Rocky says.

We watch as a cache of Brownings, Glocks, and Heckler and Kochs makes its way from Calvin’s person onto the paved area.

Excellent! Then we can begin our little …… magical mystery tour,’ Billy says.

It all started when in February 2008, NASA beamed the Beatles’ song Across The Universe into deep space,’ Rocky says.

This was at the time considered to be nothing more than a gesture,’ Billy says.

It was more to show that we could do it, than with any hope of making contact,’ Rocky says.

Time is, however, relative,’ Billy continues. ‘And this group of odd, but essentially peaceful extraterrestrials travelling through space and time picked up the transmission. They landed at Warminster in Western Wiltshire in 1980, having found the approximate site of the source of the transmission.’

Give or take a continent or two,’ Rocky says. ‘And three decades ahead of time.’

Time travel can be very imprecise, you understand,’ Billy says.

A bit like it is on Doctor Who,’ Rocky says.

They said that they were keen to listen to some more tunes like the one they had heard,’ Billy says. ‘This was the express purpose of their visit. They had no music at all back home, you see. In their haste to explore the cosmos, the arts were completely overlooked. For relaxation, they listened to recordings of power tools and hammers.’

Our government at the time naturally wanted their landing to be kept secret,’ Rocky says. ‘As have all governments since.’

Imagine if our friends from across the ocean had got wind of it,’ Billy says.

Our guests would all probably be in Guantanamo Bay,’ Rocky says. ‘Or on a Saturday night TV special.’

Also, the government didn’t want the public to be alarmed by seeing unfamiliar life-forms wandering about,’ Billy says.

There might have been a panic,’ Rocky says.

There was a responsibility to safeguard the newcomers as well,’ Billy says.

So they built a base from which they could come and go,’ Rocky says.

They have been coming and going for years,’ Billy says. ‘And back home on their planet they now use Beatles music as an energy source.’

Where are the ….. aliens?’ I ask. ‘When are we going to see them?’

There are only a few of them here at the moment,’ Rocky says. ‘The others are off on their …… travels.’

I wonder how they manage to come and go and where they land their spaceships and why no-one sees them. They couldn’t get from here to Warminster every time these days, not even under the cover of darkness, and wherever their landing site is, wouldn’t the comings and goings be seen? Then I remember that according to Otto witnesses get liquidated. But how many witnesses can be liquidated without something getting out? And if they close web sites down, new ones always spring up. There are a million unanswered questions. And how does time travel fit into all this? What is time travel? I’m a rationalist. Well, at least some of the time. But then you do have to have some belief in the strange and unlikely to be a journalist. What is it that is really happening here that they feel the need to erase our memories before we leave? Are there more surprises to come? I begin to wonder, not for the first time today, whether anything at all that Otto has told us is true. But we’re moving on. Things are speeding up now.

What about the breeding programme with humans?’ May Welby asks. Not a good question, I feel at this point.

Billy appears noticeably angered by the insinuation. ‘What on earth are you talking about, lady?’ he says.

I do think that would be impossible,’ laughs Rocky, doing his best to placate his prickly associate. ‘We will introduce you. You will be able to judge for yourselves. Ah, look! Here comes old Flattop. He has brought George and Ringo along to say hello.’

Two tiny mud-grey creatures with domed heads and large eyes waddle towards us. They can’t be more than two feet high. They are wearing brightly coloured clothes. They have headphones on and singing along to the tune. These are a far cry from the seven-foot-three super-beings we were being told to expect. We don’t, however, get the opportunity to register our shock. The pair are accompanied by a burly thug in a Force Security sweatshirt. This apparently is Old Flattop. He stares sternly, firstly at Otto, and then at May. A look of recognition spreads over his face. It is not a welcoming look.

You two miserable hacks have been down here before,’ he barks. ‘We redacted the experience from your minds, but still you are back. Perhaps you would like to explain why that is.’

Things are beginning to make sense. Otto and May may have spun us a line. As we try to work out what their motive might have been, the gun in Billy’s hand is twitching. Cute and cared for the extraterrestrials might be in their safe little haven down here below the South Downs, but I don’t now have a good feeling about our welfare in this situation.

Perhaps Scotty is now our best chance. I hope he gets the message about beaming us up I am about to send from my phone.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

 

Sticks

sticks5

Sticks by Chris Green

1.

‘Broadband?’ says Mr Silver, scratching his head. ‘No, we don’t have broadband here. Whatever that is when it’s at home.’

‘The internet,’ I say. ‘Are you still on dial up round these parts, perhaps?’

He looks around for someone else to ask, but there is no-one else in the shop.

‘It’s OK, I can manage without it for now,’ I say, sensing his embarrassment. It is well known that fibre optic coverage is poor in rural areas. I don’t want to come across as too metropolitan.

‘Sorry,’ he says, sheepishly.

‘But I do need an aerial for my TV,’ I say.

‘We don’t actually stock them,’ he says. ‘But we can probably order one for you. You want one that gets BBC and ITV, I expect. It will take about two weeks. And then if you want we can get Mr Eager to fit it for you. Mr Eager has a ladder.’

‘Is that all you can get here, BBC and ITV?’ I say. ‘No digital?’

‘We’re a hardware store not a magic show,’ he says, fiddling with the buttons on his knitted waistcoat. ‘You’ve moved into the Devlins’ cottage by the old mill haven’t you?’

‘I moved in yesterday,’

‘How are you settling in? ‘

‘It’s OK,’ I say. ‘But it’s not well equipped.’

‘You’ll probably be needing a kettle then. Would you like a whistling one or a standard one? We’ve got both types.’

‘I’ve got a kettle,’ I say. ‘An electric one.’

‘An electric one, eh? I don’t think I’ve seen one of those.’

‘But I will need a new plug. At the cottage they are still using the round pin sockets.’

‘We do have plugs. How many would you like?’

‘I’d better take a dozen then while I’m in here.’

‘Anything else we can help you with?’

‘I can’t seem to get a signal on my phone. I suppose that it drops out a lot out here in the sticks. I know Vodafone is not the best, so I might have to change networks. I thought you might know.’

I take out my Samsung and show him. It’s as if I’ve shown him the Orb or the Diadem.

‘What the blazes is that?’ he says.

‘You are a bit behind the times here,’ I say. ‘It’s a 3G smartphone,’

‘A 3G smartphone. Well, I never. What does it do?’

‘Well, not very much without a signal.’

The shopkeeper’s bell rings and another customer comes in. He exchanges a rustic greeting with Mr Silver. I am anxious not to become the centre of attention in this small community. I have come down to this hinterland to keep a low profile. I tell Mr Silver I will call in later for the plugs.

I had not been to view the cottage before taking on the six-month tenancy, as it was too far away and due to the turn of events, I felt I needed to move quickly. Conway and Tillotson were very helpful in finding me somewhere, but the pictures they sent did little to convey the degree of isolation of this community. I realised that Littlechurch was something of a backwater, but I had expected it to have a few concessions to modernity. The juggernaut of progress tends to take no prisoners as it ploughs its path, but somehow it seems to have completely bypassed Littlechurch.

But, shouldn’t I have realised when I first arrived yesterday that something was odd? The sit up and beg bicycles left unlocked outside the houses were relics from a bygone age. The fact that all the cars were old and that there were so few of them should also have given me a clue. How could I have missed the headline on the board outside the grocers come newsagents about Sputnik? Or the poster advertising The Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness at the village hall next Thursday afternoon. Yet I noticed none of these things. All I can say in mitigation is that I was tired after a long drive.

I make my way back to the cottage to take stock. As I drive up, some boys in grey flannel short trousers take a keen interest in my Ford Focus. It’s an everyday sort of car but they behave as if they have never seen anything like it before. Concerned by their interest, I decide to park it round the back out of harm’s way.

The prices in the village are still in pounds, shillings and pence. Surely this is taking heritage and preservation too far. It occurs to me that my cash might not be accepted here, nor I imagine my Visa or Barclaycard. Fortunately, I do still have a cheque book. I can use this to make purchases and just write the cheques in the old money. On the plus side, I expect everything will seem remarkably cheap, which is just as well because I do need a whole range of provisions. I do not even have milk to go in my tea. For that matter, I do not even have tea to go in my tea.

I figure that it is best to try and fit in here while I discover what is happening. I call in to Coward’s General Store and Newsagents, a brown and gold double fronted shop with period detail. You don’t see those cutaway typefaces much any more. The art of the sign-writer is disappearing. A vintage green and cream BSA Bantam is parked on the pavement. There are adverts outside the shop for Senior Service, Craven A, Gold Flake, and Woodbine. My first cigarette I recall was a Woody in the bicycle sheds in my last year at Frank Portrait Junior School, over forty years ago. I was sick and could not go into Mr Crudd’s afternoon class. But somehow this did not deter me. Smoking for young lads was less of a life choice then, it was almost compulsory.

I step inside. The shelves resemble Robert Opie’s packaging museum. Brooke Bond Dividend Tea, Bovril, Fray Bentos, Bournvita, Golden Wonder, Daz, Omo, Sunlight, Brylcreem, Alka Selzer, all these forgotten brands. Ah Bisto! brings back memories of Sunday lunches, beef one week and lamb the next, my sister Sarah and I subjected to the horrors of Two Way Family Favourites on the radio while we waited for the joints of meat to catch up with the stewed vegetables. There was no daytime TV then.

A middle-aged man wearing a starched white shirt, striped braces with a polka dot bow tie emerges from a cloud of cigarette smoke and interrupts my reverie.

‘Hello. I’m Mr Coward,’ he says. ‘Mr Silver was telling me about you.’

I don’t introduce myself by name.

‘You’ve moved into the Devlins’ cottage by the old mill haven’t you? he says.

‘News travels fast in these parts,’ I say.

‘Long John said something about a strange phone you have,’ he says.

Given my situation, I should know better, but Mr Coward seems one of life’s innocents, so I show him the phone. He thinks that it is very clever that you can take photos, add up numbers and type into it, but he is disappointed that you can’t use it as a telephone.

‘LJ also said you were talking about something called the enternet,’ he says. ‘He thought I might know what is was, but I’ve never heard of it. I even had a look through my Pears’ Cyclopaedia. What is this enternet?’

‘Internet, not enternet,’ I say.

‘Internet,’ he repeats, waiting for me to elaborate.

It is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to link several billion devices worldwide, and it is an integral part of our everyday lives,’ though simplistic, seems too complicated an explanation for this situation. How can I begin to explain browsers, search engines, surfing, emails, streaming, gaming, social networking, VOIP and podcasting to someone who has not come across the Internet.

‘It’s a bit like the post office,’ I say instead. ‘But a lot quicker with its deliveries.’

Mr Coward tells me it can take as long as two weeks for a letter from London to reach them, then launches into a brief history of Littlechurch which is brief because Littlechurch has little history. It used to have a lot of sheep and there are now not so many. They built a little church in the fourteenth century but parishioners stopped going so it was de-consecrated in the 1930s. It has never been a market town and the railway missed it by ten miles. Most of the houses now have electricity. There is a pub called the King’s Head and the police station is open every second Wednesday.

After I have put away my provisions, I venture up the hill to the King’s Head, thinking I might be able to have a hearty meal there along with a pint or two. The King’s Head it turns out does not serve food.

‘Never has, never will,’ says Amos, the landlord. ‘Pubs are for supping.’

‘I’ll just have a pint of your best,’ then I say.

‘Fraid we’re right out of beer,’ he says. ‘Been waiting for a delivery for over a week. All we’ve got is farmer’s cider.’

‘I’ll have a pint of that then,’ I say.

‘Draymens’ strike,’ Amos continues. ‘I’ve lost nearly all me regulars. There’s just these two left.’

Albert and Joss look up from their cloudy green liquid.

‘You’ll be the new bloke what’s just moved in to the Devlins’ place,’ says Albert.

‘What’s it like up there since old Ma Riley got butchered?’ says Joss.

‘What?’ I say. I am surprised that Mr Coward omitted this from his potted history. This elevates Littlechurch from a sleepy backwater to somewhere where something happened.

‘You mean you didn’t know about Ma Riley,’ says Albert studying the look of shock on my face.

‘Right gruesome it was. Cut her into little pieces and put her in plastic bags in the dustbin, he did.’

‘Place has been empty ever since,’ says Joss. ‘Couldn’t let it. No bugger wanted to live there. How long has it been, Amos? A year or more do you think?’

‘Take no notice of them,’ says Amos. ‘They’re pulling your pisser.’

2.

I don’t know if you have ever found yourself in a place where there is no stimulation whatsoever. A place where you wish there were church bells to liven things up or wish that Jehovah’s Witnesses would drop by for a chat. You will be familiar with the expression stir crazy, especially if you know someone that has been in prison. Perhaps you yourself have been in prison. Well, let me tell you, you don’t need to be locked up to be stir crazy. After two weeks of living in Littlechurch I am climbing up the walls. I am completely without home entertainment. Although I have fitted round pin plugs to my laptop and to my phone charger there is no sign whatever of wifi and no hint of a phone signal no matter where I take them in the village. Not only is there no wifi but I have no TV and LJ’s store has just sold out of radios. To to cap it all the mobile library which is seen as a bit of a highlight here has stopped coming. I go in to Cowards to get an evening paper each day but for some reason they have always just sold out.

‘Local people have become very interested in news about Sputnik,’ Mrs Coward says. ‘The Gazette says they might send a man into space soon.’ Mr Coward has not been in the general store much lately. Perhaps he’s been selected as a candidate.

Mrs Coward is a much duller conversationalist than her husband. Yesterday was a good day for drying the washing but today not so good. The best day was about a week ago when the washing dried in a matter of hours. I am wondering what Mr and Mrs Coward get up to that requires her to do so much washing.

The draymens’ strike has not been resolved and the Kings Head hasn’t had its delivery of beer. Even the supply of farmers’ cider has run out. Without even Joss and Albert to entertain, Amos has closed the pub altogether. There is not another pub nearby, in fact there is not another village nearby. Sputnik’s progress aside, people in Littlechurch appear so incurious. They don’t appear to venture outside their houses very much. It is rare to meet anyone on the street. When I do come across someone, they have that faraway look in their eye. About half a dozen of them come along to the village hall screenings. It turns out that The Ladykillers starring Alec Guinness was not just a one off, they show it every Thursday afternoon and on a Friday evening as well. After the third viewing, the jokes begin to wear a little thin.

I decide it is time to find out if the heat has died down back home. One day I suppose I will have to go back and face the music. While it is hard to imagine vandalism being a big problem in Littlechurch, I find to my chagrin that both phone boxes have been vandalised. Perhaps it was the boys in grey flannel short trousers I have seen a couple of times. I take a trip to the Fina filling station a mile or so from the village, but as I feared it does not sell unleaded petrol. To add to my isolation, they have just started major road works on the only road in and out of Littlechurch. The signs say that the road will be closed for seven days. LJ explains that this is due to a recently discovered geological anomaly which if not attended to will cause dangerous subsidence in the future. They have to reroute a stretch of two hundred yards of road. I tell him that they seem to have closed about four miles and they have an armed guard.

‘You should have had a notice through your door about it,’ he says. ‘Quite interesting geology we have around here. There are elements of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.’

‘No, I didn’t get anything through the door.’

‘No, neither did I, come to think of it, but that’s the Ministry of Transport for you.’

‘Aren’t you worried that it will affect your business?’ I ask.

‘I only run the shop as a kind of hobby,’ he says. ‘I started off making nesting boxes and before I knew it I was making raised planters and garden furniture. People started buying things that I made and I couldn’t keep up with demand. But, still it keeps me off the streets.’

‘I’ve been meaning to mention that, there never seems to be a soul on the streets.’

‘Oh really! I hadn’t noticed that myself. I’ve always thought of Littlechurch as a busy little place. There was even talk not so long ago of having a coffee morning at the community centre. That was before it closed of course.’

3.

Just a few days behind schedule the road opens again and I manage to get the Focus to a filling station that sells unleaded. It is touch and go, with the fuel gauge on red all the way. I am fortunate, the forecourt attendant says. They are one of the first garages to stock unleaded. He is curious about my car. Did I import it? he wonders. He finds the number plate a little puzzling too. I just play along with him. It’s astonishing how backward things are in this part of the world.

From there I am able to drive the final ten miles to Biggerchurch. Biggerchurch is a thriving metropolis compared to Littlechurch. It still has a church I notice as I drive around looking for a quiet spot to park. Apparently Biggerchurch even used to have a branch line railway station before the Beeching cuts and was once a market town. It looks much more cosmopolitan than its neighbour. It has a fish and chip shop, an off-licence, a laundrette and even has some 1960s housing. Vodafone still isn’t connecting though. I spot an un-vandalised phone box. All I need now are some coins that fit.

I see from a psychedelic poster on the bus shelter that there is a free festival in a farmer’s field nearby starting later with Jethro Tull, The Pretty Things and The Incredible String Band. This explains why the town is packed with hippies. Groups of them in uniform of jeans with sewn in patches to make them flared topped with tie died green and orange safari jackets maraud the narrow streets. One such group gathers outside Keith Shakespeare Radio and Television to watch an old black and white set showing footage of the moon landings.

‘Far out, isn’t it, man,’ says a flower child lost in a menagerie of decorative neck-scarves. ‘Those cats are too much.’ It takes me a moment to realise firstly that he is talking about the astronauts on the TV and secondly that he is addressing me.

I give a non-committal reply and turn down the spliff he offers me.

‘Hey! Look! He’s jumping up and down. What a gas!’ says a hippie chick with lank blonde hair and a plague of nasal jewellery. She nudges me in case I miss the action. She is wearing an Afghan coat. In July.

On the screen, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in their spacesuits are demonstrating zero gravity. It is difficult to get excited about something that happened so long ago. I am more concerned about my own here and now, or my own here and then. But, whatever is happening in my own personal hyperreality, at least, I am a dozen years further along.

‘They’re not really on the moon of course,’ says a swarthy freak with big Afro hair and chin curtain beard. ‘Look at the shadows, man. They’re just like you would see from studio lights on a Hollywood film. The whole thing’s a fake.’

This sounds a familiar argument. Is this the very genesis of conspiracy theory? I ask them if any of them have change for a five pound note so that I can make some phone calls.’

‘You’re jiving me, man,’ says the dark skinned one in the brightly coloured Moroccan hat. ‘That’s Monopoly money or something you have there.’

This has the effect of killing negotiations with any of the others.

I take my fiver into the nearest shops and I find a similar reluctance to acknowledge the currency. The man in the saddler’s holds it up to the light, before shaking his head. The butcher waves a meat cleaver at me. The lady in the pet shop threatens to call the police.

This was how it had all started. With the police. The arrest. Perhaps I overreacted by disappearing before the court case. Perhaps I shouldn’t have come down here. I might have got off with a community sentence. After all, it was an innocent mistake. You’ve probably done the same. Purely by accident you’ve probably put the shop takings for the week into the wrong account. Into your account. I have to admit that I did think at the time the cashier at the bank looked a little surprised. Did you find this too?

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

 

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

 

BROWN SAUCE

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BROWN SAUCE by Chris Green

I offer no excuses. It was the third time in a month that I had crossed the border. There is no-one else I can blame for my arrest and subsequent detention. As I await my trial, I would like to be able to say I am remorseful or that she made me do it. But that I was bringing it for my friend, Margarita counts for nothing. I knew the risks. What a fool I was to think I could bring brown sauce into the country after President Ludo had decreed that only red sauce was allowed on savoury snacks. Brown sauce trafficking is after all now a capital crime in Ludova. Even with small amounts for personal use, you can face seven years in jail.

It all goes back to the time that Margarita came to visit me in Goland last year. During her stay, Margarita developed a taste for brown sauce on her cheesy comestibles. With President Go’s more liberal regime, both red and brown sauce are allowed in Goland, along with Worcestershire Sauce and Tabasco. If you know where to get it you can also buy pickle and chutney.

The border crossing itself was easy. I’d been told by others even should you be caught at a border post, as there is a lucrative black market in brown sauce, the guards are easy to bribe. They are poorly paid and all too willing to turn a blind eye. They merely confiscate the sauce and let you through. Each time though, I was able to drive straight through in my green Tata Nano. The border guards seem to mostly sit around smoking some kind of pungent herb.

Metropolitan Ludova is a different matter though. Here the sauce law is enforced vigorously. Specially trained squads of officers with sniffer dogs roam the streets looking for offenders. They hang out around butcher’s shops keeping an eye out for customers who buy bumper bags of bacon or sausages and follow the suspects home. They are known as Brownies and they work on commission, the more brown sauce they impound, the more they get in their pay packet at the end of the month. I should have hidden the sauce before I went to buy the bacon, but I wanted to surprise Margarita with the whole works. I was caught with twenty bottles, not a big haul, but without a good defence barrister, enough to put me away for a long time.

There is little chance of escape. The prison guards are heavily armed and chew dark green leaves all day to keep them alert. They amuse themselves by singing raucous patriotic songs about President Ludo and they taunt the prisoners by making jokes about brown sauce. All the food in here is swimming in red sauce. Even things you can’t imagine putting red sauce on like turnips and rhubarb are doused with the stuff.

As I sit here staring at the bare walls, feeling sorry for myself, I cannot help but think back to all the spicy scrambled eggs and toasted sandwiches that Margarita and I enjoyed during her stay in Go City last year. And the bacon baps dripping with brown sauce we shared on our days out at the yak races, these washed down by sweet black tea from our Thermos. Margarita hasn’t been in to visit me since I’ve been here. I’ve heard nothing. I’m concerned she might by now be enjoying burgers with lashings of rich and tangy HP or Daddies with someone else from across the border.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

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

DRUGS

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Drugs – a short story by Chris Green

We are lounging in the garden of Astral Parlour, the name we have given to a pair of crumbling farm cottages deep in the Cotswold Hills. It is a summer afternoon and the sun is high overhead. There are about a dozen of us. I can’t say for sure which of us are supposed to be living there and which of us are just hanging out, but we have temporarily taken over the cottages. I can’t remember who made the arrangement, but I think they said we would do a few repairs and a bit of painting in return for accommodation. At eighteen I believe I am the youngest, although no-one here is much over twenty five.

We are drinking jasmine tea, at least I think that’s what it is, although Nathan East was round cooking up some datura earlier. Nathan’s something of a herbalist. Datura is used in ceremonies in the east. It has hallucinogenic properties. Anything with hallucinogenic properties seems to be welcome at Astral Parlour. Zero, the mad Jack Russell that someone here has adopted is running round, frantically chasing her tail. I wonder whether she has had some of Nathan’s brew.

Meanwhile, the chocolate has run out. Someone needs to go and get some. No-one wants to drive the old grey A35 van the two miles to the filling station. It has no tax, no MOT and no number plates, and besides, everyone is too stoned. Quinn has been rolling joints all afternoon. I don’t know much about the geography of dope cultivation but he said it was Nepalese temple balls or something. I’ve noticed that my friends tend to make a big deal out of the origin of what we are smoking. There is a strict hierarchy and Nepal is near the top along with Afghanistan and Kashmir.

Everything around here is kind of strange lately. Things haven’t been the same around here since those purple tabs. They were a thousand mics, whatever that means. We were up for days.

Dewi is telling us about the brain police.

‘When we were busy on that stuff last week,’ he says. ‘That’s when the brain police came to visit.’

He is making us listen to Burnt Weeny Sandwich – again, in case there are some subliminal messages that he hasn’t picked up on. I didn’t realise it, but subliminal messages are everywhere, not just in television and advertising. A secret alliance of top people is trying to control our thoughts, we just don’t realise it. Frank Zappa must be one of these.

Dewi comes from a remote village in Wales, whose name I cannot pronounce. I don’t think the folks around there get out a lot. I can’t remember how Dewi arrived here. First thing I can remember he came at me with his hair swinging wildly and thrust Babylon by Doctor John The Night Tripper at me and said, have you heard this, man, it’s far out. Marianne thinks Dewi may have arrived in a spaceship. She could be right. He is always telling us about the UFO sightings in Wales.

I’m fed up of listening to the Mothers Of Invention and Captain Beefhart and his Magic Band. Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Trout Mask Replica are both complete nonsense. To be honest I liked it better when Mike was still here and we had Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Mike shouldn’t have been arrested. It wasn’t him who shot the Major’s pig. It was Chadwick Dial. With his shotgun. Chad is a freak in the true sense of the word. He has a Quasimodo stoop and random strands of matted hair coming out from all corners of his head punctuated by random gaps. He can only see out of one eye, but the other one follows it around like a lost dog.

We used to have all kinds of people over when Mike was around. He was well connected. We had some circus folk for a while, a magic show came to stay and a theatre troupe used to drop by. Steve and Jimmy from Traffic came over one time and brought Quinn a guitar. Quinn doesn’t play it any more. He just rolls spliffs all day long and stares at the silhouette of the tree that is shaped like a tap against the western sky.

What is happening? …….. I’m being buffeted in time and space. ………. Waves of consciousness are coming through the static. Where am I? Who am I? ……… I am he and he is me, or something like that. …….. I wonder who can be writing this. ……. Here we go again.

Is it a decade later? It seems to be. Dewi is now living back in Wales. Another place with an unpronounceable name. He comes up to the Cotswolds on a visit. He happens by sheer chance to run into Chadwick Dial in The Frog and Nightgown. At closing time after several pints, Chadwick Dial, never one to miss an opportunity gets Dewi to give him a lift to a house party on the other side of town. Dewi has some coke and Chad helps him get through this. The two of them get into an argument over a girl Dewi is making a move on, a friend of Marianne’s he says. By this time everyone is well bashed and the argument quickly gets out of control. Dewi goes to leave, but Chad and some other revellers, who see him as a stranger, stop him in his tracks. At Chad’s instigation they begin jumping up and down on the bonnet of his Sunbeam Alpine.

Dewi eventually manages to get them off. He does a swift hairpin turn and puts his foot down for a quick getaway. It could be that they have changed the priorities since he lived in these parts but he manages to go the wrong way down a one way street. He does not know where he is. He finds himself heading out of town in the wrong direction. He is heading towards Stroud. His erratic driving draws the attention of a police patrol. They give chase, sirens wailing and blue lights flashing. Dewi tries to shake them off. Unable to control the powerful car on a bend Dewi ends up driving into a stone wall. He dies on impact.

As I make my way up the M5 from Bath I am hoping that I do not suffer a similar fate. It is three a.m. and I am driving an old Austin Maxi with Nathan East as a passenger. We are being tailed by a jam sandwich patrol car. I am well over the drink drive limit and the car is full of cocaine. The bastards are following me at a distance of about twenty feet with their headlights on full beam. There are no other cars on the road so it is quite clear that they are just trying to intimidate me, trying to make me wonder when they are going to pull me over. I am nervous about night driving at the best of times, but the day’s intake of drink and drugs turns this into a state of blind panic. My feet are shaking on the pedals. I am gibbering. Nathan too is gibbering. I can already hear prison doors slam behind me.

I approach my exit. It is do or die. Will they follow me or will they carry on up the motorway? With the headlights nearly blinding me, I miss the turn-off from the exit road and find myself back on the motorway still heading north. I realise the game is up. The police are still behind me. They put the sirens on and pull me over. Nathan and I get out. We have to put as much distance between the police and the cocaine as possible.

Nathan mitigates my blunder by saying, ‘the lights, man, you were blinding him.’

Nathan looks out of his head even when he is not, which is seldom. I don’t feel he is helping my case.’

The officer with the night driving glasses goes through the routine of, is this your car, what’s the registration number, have you been drinking, to which I manage to give the right answers.

‘We’d turn you over,’ says the other officer, the senior of the two. ‘But we can’t be bothered tonight. It would mean too much paperwork. And you’ve probably only got enough hash for a joint or two. But get your tail light fixed before you go on the motorway at night again.’

The scene is fading. I feel like I’m swimming in the sea and I see people on the shore, but they’re getting farther and farther away. …… Wait! …….. The atmospheric radio is retuning. …… Where are we now? …….. Ah! I don’t think I like this one. Why am I here? ….. Can someone get me out of here!

They’ll never find it. They’ll never find it. I am willing them not to find it. It’s not that well hidden, but they’ve been searching the flat for an hour now. Will they find it? There’s seventeen ounces there. Behind the water tank, wedged against the wall. It’s a sizeable stretch for me if they do find it. They must have been tipped off. There would have been a fraction of this amount only yesterday.

I try to think of who might have grassed me up. The Welsh rugby playing next door neighbour with the dogs? He will have witnessed all the comings and goings? That little jerk that hangs around with Brad? The gopher who sits around in his BMW while he does his business. The woman I was seeing last year, what was her name? Cheryl, Cherry, Shelley? Perhaps these drug squad guys have been sitting in a car outside for days watching me. No, surely I would have noticed. Perhaps they have been following me.

They are going through my personal things, my unpublished stories, the candid photos I took of Saskia, the letters that I did not send. D.S. Bowser is telling me that they nearly got me three months ago when they raided Saskia’s. I remember it well. About a dozen of them in blue fatigues burst in, but they did not know what they were looking for. All they got was a cannabis plant in the greenhouse. The officers concerned did not realise who I was until recently, D.S. Bowser says.

I am going to have to go down to the station anyway, because of what they found in the cupboard. It was only a gram or so of billy, but I can’t imagine they’ll overlook it.

‘Can you get someone to look after your daughter?’ Bowser asks. ‘She’s a bit young for police cells.’

Does this mean they are about to give up the search? Settle for what they’ve got? I wonder who it is best to phone. I phone Saskia. She is not there, so I leave a message in such a way that she knows what’s going on. She may need to let others know not to call in. Just in case.

‘Come here Sarge!’ says an excited voice.

I instinctively know that the game is up. They have found it.

Is that it? ……. Is that all there is? I feel woozy. …….. Have I been asleep? ……. Unconscious?…… Where am I? There are tubes and cath…. What do they call those things they put in your arm? I can’t get a handle on anything. It must be the drugs. ……… I think I may be coming round from …… From what? I can smell formaldehyde ………. I hope the ………… procedure was a ……. a success.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Where’s Your Car, Debbie?

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Where’s Your Car Debbie? by Chris Green

‘Where’s your car, Debbie …… Debbie where’s your car,’ screams a cracked voice. There is an air of desperation about it. It is coming from some distance away. It sounds like it is coming over a PA system in the park. As we approach, Betty and I notice that a large crowd has gathered to listen. There are now hundreds of people in the park, perhaps thousands. Earlier when we had a cup of tea at the café by the bowling green, the park was empty. Betty was saying how peaceful it was, and wondered if we ought to bring a picnic down in the new basket that Bob and Ros bought her as a retirement present.

To find out what is happening, we ease our way forward through a throng of unkempt rebel youths. Many of them look no more than ten or twelve. But then most people look young to us these days. As we near the front, we see two tattooed men in vests jumping around on a makeshift stage. One of them is strangling an electric guitar while his friend is banging on a a drum and shouting hysterically ‘where’s your car, Debbie, Debbie where’s your car.’

‘The man is obviously having some sort of breakdown,’ says Betty. Betty was a psychiatric nurse. She tends to view everything from a mental health viewpoint.

Rather than coming to his assistance though, everyone in the crowd is treating his existential crisis as an excuse to leap up and down. Why are they celebrating his sorry plight? What has happened to compassion?

‘Debbie must surely be in the crowd somewhere,’ I say. ‘Why isn’t she helping?’

‘Where’s your car, Debbie, Debbie where’s your car.’ the man screams over and over.

‘Look at him. The poor man is at his wits end ,’ says Betty

‘What make of car do you think it is?’ I say. ‘A Ford perhaps, or a Vauxhall? A Nissan or a Toyota? If we knew, Betty, we might be able to help. We might have seen it on the way here.’

‘It would of course be helpful to know who Debbie is,’ says Betty.

‘For sure,’ I say, looking around to see if there are any likely candidates. There are no obvious Debbies.

‘I expect the poor man’s life saving drugs are in the car or something and he needs them,’ Betty says. ‘What on earth is Debbie thinking?’

‘Of course, the pair of them might just be trying to get a lift home.’ I say. ‘And Debbie whoever she is doesn’t want to give them a lift. She doesn’t go that way or perhaps she hasn’t got any petrol.’

Betty tells me I can be a bit cynical at times. She says I am unfeeling. But I think I have a point. The man cracking up over there seems be a bit of an attention seeker. And now he has got his audience.

‘You could be right,’ Betty says, as we edge closer. ‘They don’t look like they are from round here, do they, Bill?’

‘You don’t think it might be some kind of ……. street theatre do you,’ I say. ‘Look. ……. There’s a name on the drum. It says Slaves.’

‘You not heard of Slaves, man,’ says the youth spilling Tennents Super down his ripped vest. He lurches towards me. ‘Slaves is big, man. You wanna look out for them. They’ll be headlining Glastonbury soon. That’s where you old folks go, innit. Glastonbury. Look out for Slaves.’

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

Cadence and Kascade

cadenceandkascade

Cadence and Kascade by Chris Green

I wake in an unfamiliar room. My head is pounding and my mouth feels like a dried up drainage ditch. I am used to more formal surroundings, when I wake, a comfortable bed and sometimes a cup of tea. My recall of how I came to be here is nil. Across from me, a few feet away lies a naked woman with a snake tattoo running up one of her thighs. She is asleep amongst a heap of Film Noir print cushions. She has her back to me. At first I do not recognise her. It slowly dawns on me this is Kascade. On a small rococo table beside her sits a retro black bakelite telephone. A zebra patterned rug hangs on the wall over her. A large aloe vera plant skulks in the corner. There is musty smell in the air. Four identical black cats sit in different parts of the room at exactly the same angle in the same upright position looking towards the window. It takes me a few moments to realise that they are stuffed. I go over to the window. It looks out on to a pool of dark water. The pool is rich with vegetation and is brown in colour. This is a strange space. The room is large. There is a lot to take in.

Another woman has come into the room. I’m not sure where she has come from. A little of the puzzle falls into place. This is Cadence. She is my partner. Kascade is a friend of Cadence’s. This must be where Kascade lives. Cadence told me that she moved house recently. Even before she took up with Ivan, Kascade struck me as a little kooky. Ivan is a taxi driver or is it a taxidermist. He is Albanian. He may be using his taxi driving or taxiderming as a cover. He may have connections with the Albanian Mafia. This view might be influenced by the stereotype, but who knows? Kascade is a travel writer, but she hasn’t done much travelling or much writing lately. The drugs she takes can have that effect, although she does come over as something of a femme fatale.

Cadence and I must have arrived last night, although I can remember very little. I feel something is wrong. I suggest to her that we need to get back.

‘What!’ she says. She looks as dazed as I feel. Her eyes are sunken and her hair is matted. Her dark mesh tights are laddered and her pale jacket is smeared with something. There is probably no point in asking her anything about last night at present.

‘I think it would be good if we got on home,’ I say.

‘Back home,’ she says. There is something strange about the way she emphasises home. I am not sure why. Perhaps she does not consider our flat as home. Technically I suppose it is my flat although Cadence has been living there on and off for nearly twelve months. Perhaps she feels she has somewhere else to go. Maybe this is why we are at Kascade’s. I try to remember what has happened.

‘Yes, back home,’ I say. ‘I feel weak. I think I may need to eat soon.’

‘And having breakfast is going to solve everything is it?’

‘Well, perhaps we could have a talk at the same time. Find out what’s happening between us.’

Cadence greets this with an icy stare. She goes into another room and returns with a scuffed black leather overnight bag. She throws it across her shoulder. I do not seem to have any baggage. There is clearly something about the situation I am missing. Until I can discover what this is, I decide I must back off.

Kascade is still asleep. Cadence scribbles a note for her. We take our leave along a dark corridor. It is difficult to get one’s bearings. A succession of rooms lead off. Some have doors but others do not. No light comes through from the rooms. It looks as if the space might be used as a storage area. It must be a very large building. Perhaps it is a converted warehouse. Maybe a warehouse in the process of conversion. In the nineties it may have been used for art shows or parties. There is a menacing echo to our footsteps as we tread the floorboards. I cannot find a light switch. I bump into a large spiders web and send its occupant goes scurrying across the floor. Cadence is several steps ahead. She is definitely in a mood about something. I wonder if it is about something that happened last night. The freight train running through my head denies me access to the recent past.

We find ourselves at a staircase and go down some steps. We make it out into the daylight. Where is the car, I wonder. Did we not come in the car? I go through my pockets. I do not even have the car keys.

‘Did we come on foot?’ I ask, but get no reply.

It looks as though it has been raining heavily but it is not raining now. I remark on the flooded streets, but Cadence seems to be giving me the silent treatment. I begin to recognise where we are. It is Toker’s End, a part of town that I have not been to often. It must be two or three miles from where we live.

Toker’s End is named after the nineteenth century philanthropist Sir Charles Toker. While similar areas in other parts of the country have been subject to gentrification, Toker’s End has bucked the trend and is heading towards dereliction. With its tall Victorian buildings, it was once a well to do area, but over the years it has been bought up of Greeks and Macedonians and converted into flats and bedsits. Legendary slum landlord, Dinos Costadinos (Costa) I believe owns the whole of Prince Albert Street and according to urban legend has never once called in a contractor to take care of any maintenance or repairs.

As we walk along, I feel an odd sensation of disengagement. I feel like I’m floating. Street sounds seem muted. A muffled soundtrack of distant voices seems to play in a loop. This is punctuated by the hiss of tyres as the early morning traffic eases its way through the surface water. I feel sense of doubt about my surroundings. At any moment the scene might evaporate. The lines of everything I cast my glance upon seem hazy and indistinct. The bright coloured street art daubed on the run down apartments in George Street is blurred like an impressionist painting. The torn poster of the neo noir movie, Dead Ringer in the bus shelter is dissolving. The shop front of the Bangla convenience store looks frosted over. The roadsigns are melting.

After several blocks we come to the river. It is a fast flowing stretch before it reaches the old mill. The river is normally shallow here, but the water has come up over the low stone bridge. We look for another place to cross. There are one or two places we could maybe wade through, but then we might as well do this over the bridge. Whichever way we cross we are going to get wet. We would need to double back the way we came to reach the main road bridge.

Why have we come this way? I wonder. In my daze, I realise I have just been following Cadence. It occurs to me that we are heading for Finnegan’s Wake, where Irish poets with a lunchtime thirst vent their anger in Open Mic sessions. Finnegan’s is one of Cadence’s haunts when she wants to give life a miss. She seems to be struggling with sobriety lately. A visit to Finnegan’s is unlikely to help. I suspect that soon we are going to break up. I cannot live this way. I cannot take Cadence’s mood swings any more. Should I tackle it head on right now or leave it for later. I feel at forty years old I should have left all of this behind. I don’t like to have arguments in the street. I make the decision to leave her to it and go home instead. The riverbank seems as good a place as any. If Cadence doesn’t come back later, all well and good. This is the end of the road as far as I am concerned.

When I get home there is no sign of the car. I cannot be sure where I left it, but I report it’s disappearance to the police. I tell them it was taken from my home address. Twenty four hours later, much to my astonishment, they return it. It was taken by joyriders, Detective Sergeant Lucan suspects. The forensic boys have gone over it but come up with nothing, he says. Apparently there’s a lot of it about. It happens every Saturday night. Car theft should have become harder with more sophisticated locking systems, but still it is on the rise, he says. Fords are the easiest to steal, his oppo, D.C. Hammer tells me. I check the car over. There appears to be no damage. They have even left my Cocteau Twins CDs in the glove compartment. I sign the form to say that the vehicle has been returned and congratulate them.

Cadence does not come back, that night or the next. At first I am a little concerned, but this quickly passes. When something no longer works, it is good to move on. Presumably the feeling is mutual. I get into a routine of going to work and coming home. Gradually I begin to feel better, but I still have no recollection of what happened that night at Kascade’s. I imagine it involved some kind of intoxication, but I have overindulged on numerous occasions in the past with complete recall afterwards. There is something about the blackout, and the abstraction I felt the following day that disturbs me.

It is nearly a week later that I read in the local paper about Ivan’s corpse being found. The report is splashed across the front page. There is a grainy photo of him. It looks as though it was taken a while ago. He looks younger. While they have not established the cause of death, the police are treating it as suspicious. They are appealing for information. They do not know the actual day or time of his death, but they want anyone who saw him over a three day period to come forward. Or anyone who may have witnessed anything suspicious in the vicinity last weekend. I cannot recall exactly when I last saw Ivan, but I have a strong hunch that it may have been last Saturday at Kascade’s. The report mentions a blue Ford Mondeo. My heart starts thumping like Lennox Lewis in training. Phlegm rises in the back of my throat. I feel I am going to be sick.

I try first to contact Cadence, but as expected her phone is dead. She has not picked up the charger. I have a number for Kascade and try ringing it, but it goes constantly on to voicemail. It may not even be the right number so I do not leave a message. I would not know what to say anyway, under the circumstances. I wonder what I can do about the car. While there are a number of blue Ford Mondeos on the road, my burgeoning paranoia tells me that it is mine that they might be looking for. After all, it was unaccounted for last Saturday night. Surely soon one section of the CID will cross reference it with the other section and come looking for me. I do not know what to do for the best. Needless to say my memory of events has not returned.

That the police have not established the cause of death begins to worry me. I appreciate that there are procedures that must be followed, but how difficult can it be? If the body is found chopped up and put in the freezer, then you can possibly rule out suicide. If the victims head is caved in then you know that he has been hit over the head with a heavy object. If there is a bullet hole in his chest then you can assume that shooting was the cause of death. If the victim is found face down in water then he probably drowned. Why am I thinking that Ivan did not die in any of these ways? Why am I thinking that he was suffocated by a someone pulling a bag over his head? Where is this coming from? Perhaps it is a thriller I have read recently or a movie plot is leaking into my consciousness. Surely it is a common theme in the thriller or horror genres, but despite racking my brain I am unable to come up with an example.

I comfort myself that no matter how wasted I was last weekend, killing someone is not something I would be able to do. It is not in my character. While Cadence is a little unpredictable and has been known to hit out on a few occasions, I cannot imagine that even if she lost control this would run to murder, and what would be the motive? Kascade, on the other hand is every bit as volatile as Cadence. In fact she is possibly more unpredictable in both appearance and behaviour. Furthermore she has had a one on one relationship with the deceased. There would be both more of a motive and more of an opportunity. Designer drugs might have played a part. Ivan comes up with all sorts of things I’ve never heard of. Both of them could just flip in the blink of an eye. I remember the time that Cadence and I went with them to the Stealing Banksy exhibition at the BankRobber Gallery in Notting Hill. They were laying into each other so much that the stewards had to pull them apart. After that they wouldn’t let any of us in to see the stolen street art.

Ivan’s death could have been an accident of course. Probably not if it were suffocation with a bag, but then you never know. Until the cause of death is announced, it is pointless to speculate. The problem I have is that the announcement is only likely to come when the police come and speak to me. What do I have for an alibi? Any way you look at it whether I committed the act or whether I witnessed it, I am in trouble. Even if it was nothing to do with any of us, I am stuck for an alibi. What if there is DNA evidence in the back of my car or the body was carried in the boot. How am I going to get out of this one?

I haven’t seen my therapist, Daniel DeMarco in a long time. Not since my oneirophrenia cleared up and I stopped having hallucinations. He probably won’t be able to get me off the hook for a murder charge. He may not even be able to re-stimulate my memory about last Saturday night, but he will be able to lend an ear. Daniel is good at listening. He uses what he describes as non directive therapy. He is so laid back that sometimes he is asleep by the end of the session. The remarkable thing is that by this time you’ve resolved the issue that you came with. Admittedly with my oneirophrenia it took a little longer, but on other occasions when I’ve gone to him with a problem, he has neutralised my anxiety in a blink of the eye.

He sits me down in a comfortable chair and seats himself opposite me. As he does so he hums a little tune. I think this is designed to relax me. Or maybe he suffers from earworm and has just been listening to John Denver.

I open up about my predicament. Everything just comes pouring out in a torrent of wild emotion.

‘Hmm,’ he says when I have finished.

‘What do you think that I should do?’ I say. ‘Should I get rid of the car in the canal and get on a plane? Should I tell the police it was me? Or perhaps I should just end it all.’

>Yes. I see,’ he says. ‘Which one of those makes you feel most comfortable?’

>’Comfortable! Comfortable. None of them make me feel comfortable. Nothing about the situation makes me feel comfortable. Splitting up with Cadence doesn’t make me feel comfortable. Having blackouts doesn’t make me feel comfortable. Being a wanted man doesn’t make me feel comfortable. I’m at my wits end. I don’t know where to turn. I’m desperate, Doctor DeMarco.’

‘Dan. Dan. You can call me Dan.’

‘I’m desperate, Dan.’

It is the middle of the night. Cadence has let herself in and has snuck into bed beside me. I am still awake. I cannot sleep much at the moment. She snuggles up to me and we make love, as if nothing has happened. It may not be the tenderest of couplings, but we are both happy with the result. There has never been anything wrong with the physical side of our relationship. It’s all the rest that is the problem. Is has often puzzled me how the physical and the emotional can be so separate.

It’s all very well lying here sated, but I can’t ignore the problem at hand. It is not going to go away that easily.

‘Ivan’s dead,’ I say. ‘Someone killed him.’

Cadence studies my face for a moment and sees that I am not joking. ‘What are you saying? she says. That you think it was me. Is that it?’

>It seems our peaceful reconciliation was short lived.

‘No that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just trying to find out what happened.’

‘He probably had it coming,’ she says, giving no indication of what this means.

‘So you don’t know anything more about it than what the papers say. What happened last Saturday night?’

‘That’s typical of you isn’t it? You fuck my best friend and then you claim you can’t remember.’

‘What!’

‘I suppose you thought that I was sleeping with Ivan. That’s why you slept with Kascade. Is that what you are going to say? And now that Ivan’s dead you think I killed him. Perhaps it was you who killed him. Have you thought of that?’

‘As it happens I have thought of that. In fact I’ve been thinking of little else.’

‘I suppose you can always blame it on that condition of yours. You have an excuse for everything, don’t you?’

She is already putting her clothes back on. I try a more gentle approach and ask her to calm down.

‘Whatever it is, we are in it together,’ I say, but this does not stop her walking out on me again.

I am no further forward. In fact if anything things have moved backwards. I still have not eliminated myself or Cadence from the murder suspects but there is the additional complication of my apparent clandestine liaison with Kascade to consider.

I get up and do some research into Ivan Luga on the internet. Perhaps there will be a clue buried in there somewhere. There are a number references to people with this name. I hone in on the Facebook profile of an Ivan Luga in the UK. This is our man. His profile photo shows him with the head of a stuffed tiger. He likes David Lynch films and death metal music. He reads Haruki Murakami and nihilistic poetry. I would have thought he might be a little challenged by the language barrier with some of his choices. He has posted a number of pictures of circus freaks. There is a shot of him brandishing a Remington hunting rifle and another of him posing with a pistol. He has 64 friends, about 50 of which have Eastern European names. The photos of them suggest that these are shady characters. There are some statuses in a language I take to be Albanian. The English expression crystalline powder occurs in the middle of one or two of the posts, along with the name, Molly. It seems an odd subject to be mentioning on social media. But this is an odd profile. What sinister world am I uncovering? I feel a chill run down my spine.

It occurs to me that whatever I might reveal here, I am not going to get anywhere with it, as I cannot go to the police. Anyway, Ivan is dead isn’t he? I am just about to leave the site, when I notice that one of the statuses is dated yesterday. That’s impossible. There must be some mistake. I take another look. The content of the post seems to be of little significance. It is just some gobbledegook about TOR and SHADOWCAT. I have no idea what it means, but it is a status and it was definitely posted yesterday. The Keyser Söze that has commented on it is presumably an alias. It cannot be the real Keyser Söze. But this is a development in the puzzle. Either someone else has taken over the account or Ivan Luga is not dead.

Kascade’s arrival is a bolt out of the blue. There she is on my doorstep. She has on a little red dress showing nearly the full extent of her snake tattoo. She has a smile that would get her noticed in any crowd and a twinkle in her eye. This does not look like a woman who has recently murdered someone, but then neither did Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.

>’Didn’t we have a great time last weekend,’ she says, ‘We ought to do it again. Why did you leave so suddenly?’

I explain to her about Cadence and I going our separate ways.

‘I wondered if that might happen,’ she says. ‘Never mind. I’m here now.’

I start to explain to her about developments since we last saw each other.

‘No! I haven’t read the paper,’ she says. ‘What do you mean, Ivan is dead?’

‘But he may not be,’ I add.

‘He hasn’t called me,’ she says. ‘I am thinking that perhaps he has gone off travelling somewhere and couldn’t take me. But you are saying he is dead.’

‘But may not be,’ I repeat.

‘Show me the paper!’ she says.
I show her the report.

‘That’s rubbish,’ she says. I don’t even think that the photo is of him. He has younger brothers. It might be one of them.’

‘You’d better let me in on what happened last weekend,’ I say.

‘I don’t remember too many of the details,’ she says. ‘But I do remember us ending up in bed together.’

‘I don’t remember this,’ I say.

‘Well, then you should,’ she says. ‘You were sensational. The Molly probably helped though, don’t you think?’

‘Who’s Molly,’ I say.

‘Not who, it’s a what. I thought you had taken Molly before,’ she says. ‘Don’t you remember? We’re not talking MDMA here. This was the real deal, straight out of the lab. Ivan brought a new batch of it round.’

‘Did he? And I took some?’

‘Yes! We all did. It was dynamite. Anyway, we all went out to Frenzy and then that new club, Vertigo. And we ……. I wonder what has happened to Ivan.’

I can’t tell from her expression if she is trying to be ironic or not. She doesn’t seem to want to elaborate. Her present intentions it seems are elsewhere. I try to remember what happened in Basic Instinct. Catherine Tramell, the Sharon Stone character got away with it, didn’t she? Also, I seem to recall that there was a sequel.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

Jimi Hendrix’s Kite

jimihendrixskite2

Jimi Hendrix’s Kite by Chris Green

It is seven o’clock on a Saturday morning and I am enjoying a leisurely bath before going to the car boot. This does not usually get going until about eight thirty at this time of year, so I have plenty of time. My bath is a large cast iron Victorian model with claw legs that I liberated from a skip. Purists of Victoriana would maybe not approve of the zebra pattern I have painted on it, but I find it relaxing and in keeping with the jungle theme I have carried through the bathroom. It looks particularly good against the yucca and the kentia palm. I am sipping at a cup of guava and echinacea tea and scanning the ‘miscellaneous’ classifieds in the ‘Advertiser’, something jumps out of the page: Box kite, large, rainbow colours, once owned by Jimi Hendrix, £27, no offers.

Why on earth would it matter to someone looking for a kite that Jimi Hendrix had owned it? It was not like it was a guitar, or even a jacket. And why £27? I try to remember if Jimi Hendrix is a member of the ‘27 Club,’ that elite band of rock stars that died aged 27. Perhaps ‘box kite’ is a metaphor for Jimi’s ‘mind-expanding’ drug use? The ad has a mobile number. I phone it. There is no reply. Perhaps seven is a tad early. I leave a message on the voicemail.

Having been made redundant eighteen months ago, I quickly discovered that life can be much more rewarding when your time is your own. It is like having a soul again. I have not been idle. I have renovated, decorated and furnished a large terraced house during the time, not to mention landscaping my garden. What had been a ‘property’ that I occupied space in is now a home that I live in. While everyone is being encouraged to paint their houses in neutral colours so they they can sell them on, I have gone all out to make mine as distinctive and as brightly coloured as possible. From my Yellow Cello sculpture in the front garden and the Patrick Heron style front door to the Mondrian pattern patio at the back of the house, mine is a statement of individuality.

The tools of the trade are charity shops, classifieds, auctions, ebay and car boots. All that is needed is a careful eye for a bargain. Last month I sold a folded movie poster for ‘Mulholland Drive’ at auction for £350. Age Concern had been embarrassed to sell me this gem for £5 because it had a small tear in one corner. I sell things most days. Last week I sold a Leika camera that I had picked up for £20 for £250 on ebay. I do not need premises, only a phone line. People have too much disposable income and are coerced constantly into borrowing too much on their plastic. The economy is fuelled by the idea of built in obsolescence. Harassed twenty four seven by merciless advertisers to buy new ranges of commodities, they repeatedly accumulate too much clutter. What people need most now is space to accommodate the new items. Second hand prices of most goods are at an all time low. My Nokia mobile, which I live by, cost me just £5. Bargain hunting is fun. I do not miss the office or the High Street stores one bit.

It is spitting with rain when I arrive at Strawberry Fields and there are fewer vehicles than there will be later in the season. This is not a problem. Ninety five percent of the stock at car boots is utter junk. The skill is to spot the valuable or interesting amongst the junk. You do need to get up quite early sometimes, other than this good judgement is all that was needed. At boots I never start off by offering more than half the asking price. After all it is a buyers’ market. In between buying a set of tyres and some ornamental grasses, still having change from a twenty, I continue to piece together the ’27 Club’. Jimi Hendrix I had calculated definitely was a member, as were Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Brian Jones. These were the luminaries that Kurt Cobain had reputedly wanted to join, when he put the gun to his head.

I do not normally pay too much attention to CDs at car boots but I cannot help but notice Axis Bold as Love, arguably Jimi’s finest album, on a trestle table that otherwise had little but kitchen utensils and ornaments. The dazzling Hindu iconography of the front cover screams out. I don’t think that Axis would not have been a casual purchase for anyone. You might expect to find Greatest Hits occasionally, but this was a most unexpected find. Just as I am paying the 50p my Nokia rings.

Hello,’ I say.

Hi man,’ says a man’s voice that sounds as if it is coming from outer space. Perhaps it is the slowness with which he speaks. ‘You called me about Jimi’s kite.’ Or the long spaces in between his words.

Yes’ I say, ‘interesting ad. What’s the story behind it?’

Heeey, look man! It’s a long story. Not now eh, I’m a busy man. Do you want to see it or don’t you?’

I think his manner a little abrupt, even if he is not from Earth. But, I do want to see the kite, so I humour him. I listen while he gives me a complicated series of directions. I hope I am writing them down correctly. So far as I can judge ‘Rainbow Bridge,’ which I’ve never heard of, is about fifty miles away. I arrange a viewing for 1 o’clock. This gives me time to have an unhurried second-breakfast somewhere along the way.

I have not played any of Hendrix’s music for years. While he is frequently named as the greatest ever guitarist, few people actually listen to his music. You hear Crosstown Traffic on TV adverts and sometimes you might hear a snatch of Stone Free, to accompany a trailer, but these are minor works in the canon. I look at the track list of ‘Axis’ to refresh my memory. I can already hear it in my head note for note. I put the CD in my £15 Alpine player and set off. What a treat! Jimi’s playing sounds so fresh. As I listen to his fingers sweeping up notes along the neck of his Stratocaster, I begin to imagine him flying a kite. A multicoloured box kite, soaring on a brisk westerly, fluid and free. He has such fantastic dexterity; he would be a natural at flying a kite. I remember also that he was a paratrooper when he was younger. He would have been familiar with floating in space. He would understand the air currents. He could have been an Olympic contender at kite flying.

In Tesco at Forecastle, I order a nine item all day breakfast and am faced with a choice between The Holy Grail and The Daily Horror on the news-stand. ‘Send Them All Back Home,’ yells the Grail, ahead of a paranoid tirade against asylum seekers. I choose The Horror. The Horror enlightens me with a story about a junior cabinet minister’s sex change operation, and about England striker Rena Spooky’s cocaine binges with his girlfriend, Shagga (will he be suspended ahead of the all important World cup qualifier against Bhutan, wonders England coach, Tunc Moloko). After another cup of tea, I set off across country to Rainbow Bridge. It is 11 minutes past 11.

………………………………………………………………………………………

There comes a point when you have to finally admit that you are lost. When your sense of pride regarding your spatial awareness must be abandoned. Having driven round and round in what seems to be some kind of motocross circuit for the best part of an hour, I reach this stage. I am lost. The last obvious landmark was a series of derelict huts on a disused RAF base about an hour and a half back. I am sure, well almost sure, that I followed the directions properly and came off the B42 or whatever it was at Beckett Hill, and forked right at the first junction as instructed. Since then it has been a progression of ever more narrow country lanes, and now tracks and bridle paths. As far as the eye can see in any direction there is a patchwork of fields and woodland, following the geometry of the landscape. This is remote country. There has not even been a farmhouse. The last road sign I saw was the one at the Beckett Hill turn-off, which said Landsfree 3 miles. As it is overcast I do not even have the sun to guide me. I take out the mobile to phone ahead, but there is no signal. Have you ever heard of a place called ‘the back of beyond?’ This is it!

I get out of the Volvo and scan the horizon in every direction. No sign of life. No buildings. Nothing. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I detect what appears to be a small movement. I squint to try and get a better look. It appears to be a red and white electric milk float making its way up a slight incline from left to right, across my field of vision. It seems a peculiar sight out here in the middle of nowhere. Reason suggests firstly, milk comes from the country and there would not be large profits in a such a rustic milk round and secondly that the short life of a battery might be an inhibiting factor. However, presumably the milk float is headed somewhere. I turn the car around and head in its general direction.

I come to a fork in the road and take a right thinking this might represent a short cut. After five minutes or so I find myself in thick woodland. The trees are now in full leaf and little light is getting through the canopy. I catch several fallow deer in the beams of the headlights. I stop the car, and am leaning heavily towards the idea of turning back and heading the way I came, when there up ahead and coming towards me is the milk float. The track I am on is little more the width of my car. The milk float continues heading straight for me. And there is no one at the wheel. It has no driver. To avoid a collision I back the Volvo up turning into a small clearing, only to collide with the stump of a recently felled beech. The tyres and the grasses I bought earlier tumble about in the back of the car. The milk float carries on regardless at a steady ten miles an hour, milk crates rattling as it makes its ghostly way through the woods. I am seriously shaken. I look at my watch. It is 11 minutes past 11. Time seems to have stood still but my mind is racing. I can think of no rational explanation to any of this, but feel that I really need one. I feel faint and take a series of deep breaths. I dust myself down and begin to follow. What else can I do? Gradually murky daylight filters through and we come out of the woods and are back in open country. The patchwork of the landscape spreads like a mantle towards the distant horizon and what seems a very large and empty sky.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I witness next. There in front of me bouncing its way across the landscape in a spectacular fashion at about the speed of a fast car is a large white bubble. Because I am a fan, this powerful image is to me instantly recognisable as Rover, the spherical guardian from The Prisoner. In the series, Rover hunts down any person who attempts escape from the secret seaside resort known as the Village. When Rover catches an escapee, it envelops their body, suffocating them. I am both fascinated and frightened at the same time by this surreal sight. Each bound takes it about fifty metres. Rover leaps over trees with consummate ease. Fortunately it does not seem to be heading towards me and for this I am thankful.

With the appearance of Rover, I begin to read some significance into the driverless milk float. In the deep recesses of my consciousness, I recall an episode of The Avengers the cult 1960s TV series. In this episode, there was a milk float that had no driver, and there was a disused airbase like the one I had passed earlier. As I can remember nothing about the plot, this does not really help with an explanation of these incidents beyond that there might be a connection. It is after all quite unusual for sixties television to come to life twice in the space of a few minutes. I begin to wonder whether the Tardis from Dr Who might be about to materialise.

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I arrive at Rainbow Bridge at quarter to one. The journey has been relatively straightforward, taking me through some beautiful countryside. The directions I hurriedly took down earlier on the back of an envelope for all my concern about their vagueness, were accurate. I turned off the main road at Beckett Hill and forked left at the next junction, which took me through a beautiful little hamlet called Landsfree. I passed a large area of mature woodland on my right and stopped a few miles further on at a nursery and garden centre for a cup of papaya and ginseng tea (I couldn’t resist buying a pampas grass for £5). I passed through Twobirds and turned right at The Frog and Nightgown which took me just as my directions had said to Rainbow Bridge.

Rainbow Bridge is not a large village. There is only one street, the main one through the village. I was told the last house on the left. I park outside the small semi-detached stone cottage, with a picket fence. The cottage is built on an incline with a steep gravel path leading through a lawn up to the front step. The place looks in good repair. The door and the windows are nicely turned out. There is a Georgia creeper growing up the front of the house, a brightly coloured border, and a Chinese fan palm and a bamboo growing in Moroccan-blue glazed pots.

I knock on the door. The leaded stained glass diamond-patterned panel in the door is particularly impressive. Mr Kite has taste. I half expected to find a ramshackle house with a goat tethered by a piece of frayed rope, Third Stone from the Sun playing at deafening volume, an untidy bunch of latter-day hippies sprawled in a haze of ‘skunk’ smoke, the acrid smell of which would assault me the moment the front door opened. The ashtrays would be full, the heavy velvet curtains would be drawn, a black and white mongrel dog would be slumped on a threadbare settee, rugs would be hanging on the walls, and dishes would be piled up in the sink.

I am revising my appraisal when on the second knock, the door opens, releasing with it a cloud of acrid blue smoke. From within this a tall, lean figure with oriental features and dark slicked back hair appears. Inside a fine set of laughter lines, his eyes are deep set and he has a scar above the right temple. It is a difficult face to put an age to. He might be anything between 50 and 60 years old but his style of dress seems to belong to a younger man. He wears red loafers, distressed green denim cut-offs, and a baggy crimson sweatshirt with ‘The Poverty GAP,’ using the Gap logo, printed on the front. He wears a chunky gold neck chain and his stubble is designer-plus.

He seems a little surprised to see me, unsure of who I might be. I tell him I’ve come about the kite.

‘Hey man! You made it OK then.’ Mr Kite’s voice has inflections of Jack Nicholson about it. ‘Only I wasn’t sure about the directions I’d given you, man. You know what I mean.’

No I found it easily,’ I say. ‘Nice drive. Lovely scenery.’

He seems to want to stay on the subject of his directions. ‘I couldn’t remember if I told you to fork left or right at Beckett Hill, man. You dig? Don’t turn right. Big mistake if you turn right.’

No. I turned left like you said. Look, here!’ I show him the envelope. ‘Why? Where does it take you if you turn right?’

No-one knows, man. You get lost. You know what I mean.’ He seems more friendly than he did on the phone. He grins a lot. ‘It’s sort of like a black hole. Like the Bermuda Triangle. …… Anyway come on in man, let me show you the kite.’ He offers me the large spliff he has been smoking. I decline but I am already beginning to feel stoned from passive smoking.

The hallway is like a gallery with an exhibition of framed photographs, mostly black and white in black frames, but a few of the pictures are in colour and these are in green, red or yellow frames. My gaze settles on one in particular. This must be Mr Kite when he was younger with Jimi Hendrix. They are seated on stools playing acoustic guitars. He plays right handed and Jimi plays left handed. They mirror each other like John and Paul. It is a fantastic shot. I move closer to study it. The clothes, the hair styles, the whole ambience of the picture capture the era perfectly. I am transported back in time. Those were the days. There was something in the air. The times, they were a-changing.

You like it, man? What about the sideburns, eh? That was taken in 1968. Olympic Studios, in Barnes. I had a flat in Putney at the time. Jimi used to crash there if he was working late at the studio. We went out a few times to fly the kite in the park around the corner. You know what, even then he would take his guitar. He would walk down the street with it like a travelling minstrel. Happy times man.’

Should I have heard of you,’ I ask?

No, probably not, I was with lots of bands in the sixties. I was a bit what you might call wayward. Never stayed with anything very long.’ He takes a final pull on the spliff. ‘Heard of Traffic? I was with Traffic for a while, and some American bands. California mostly. My name’s Dave by the way’

I introduce myself, he puts the spliff in an ashtray and we shakes hands.

In here,’ he says, leading me into a ‘deceptively spacious’ front room. The kite is laid out on the floor. It is fantastic. Rainbow is an understatement. It has so much colour. It is so spectacular it makes everything else in the room look grey. Even the yellow walls, the Ken Done curtains, and the art deco settee, and the Matisse prints on the walls.

It’s brilliant,’ I say. I’d like to buy it, but I’m curious, why £27?’ Why not 25 or 30?

With this he becomes animated. He has clearly been waiting for me to ask.

Twenty seven’s a cool number, man. You know. The house number’s 27. Didn’t you notice? I always take number 27. I’ve lived at 27 Mulholland Drive – a long time ago. 27 Ladbrook Grove, 27 Love Street, 27 Mandela Mews, 27,Icould go on and on, man. My birthday’s on the 27th. And Jimi’s was. We were both born on November 27th. 27 is a magic number. It is the cube of 3. It is the result of a prime reciprocal magic square of the multiples of 1/7.’

He waited for me to show that I understood what a prime reciprocal magic square was. I didn’t, but nodded anyway.

And did you know there are 27 books in the New testament,’ he continues. ‘But …. I know what you’re thinking, man…. the 27 club. Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, Tim Buckley, Robert Johnson and Kurt Cobain all died at 27.

I had thought the last point through. If I had felt like debating the issue I could have pointed out that there were lots of famous musicians that had not died at 27. Otis Redding and Nick Drake had died at 26 and Marc Bolan had died at 28 for instance, Bob Marley was 36 when he died, John Lennon lived to the ripe old age of 40, and many had not died at all. And for the record Buddy Holly was just 22. Besides, some of those on his list were a little obscure: Tim Buckley and Robert Johnson were hardly household names.

Why don’t you want to keep the kite,’ I ask?

It’s my life laundary man,’ he laughs, as he licks the edge of a cigarette paper. ‘It’s not the sixties anymore, you know what I mean? What do I need a kite for? You’ve got to let go.’

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Dr Robert tells me that he feels I was suffering from ‘false memory syndrome.’ This is as a result of the accident. I have been unconscious for 48 hours, and my Volvo, tough car though it was, was a write off as a consequence of the collision. Beckett Hill was a notorious accident black spot. I have now been in hospital for a week, recovering from a catalogue of serious injuries, including a fractured skull, damage to my neck, my thorax, and broken bones in my arms and legs. Dr. Robert was a visiting consultant, specialising in head injuries.

A false memory,’ he tells me ‘is a memory, which is a distortion of an actual experience, or a confabulation of an imagined one. Many false memories involve confusing or mixing fragments of memory events, some of which may have happened at different times but which are remembered as occurring together. Many false memories involve an error in source memory. Furthermore, memories are often mixed; some parts are accurate and some are not. Some involve treating dreams as if they were playbacks of real experiences.’

He adds that my accounts of the day leading up to the accident are colourful and detailed compared to most examples of false memory, but that research on memory indicates that the very act of remembering involves creativity and imagination. As I can remember important things like what my name is, where I live and what my bank details are, he does not seem to be too concerned about these flights of fancy. He is optimistic that, given the appropriate stimuli, my memory will in time begin to function normally.

After Dr Robert leaves, a nurse that I have not seen on the ward before helps me back to bed. I notice from the badge on her blue uniform that her name is Padma Gupta. Nurse Gupta can see that I have been a little troubled by the discussion with Doctor Robert and tries to put my mind at rest. Unlike one or two of the nurses I have hitherto met during my stay Nurse Gupta seems genuinely concerned about my welfare.

It is not unusual to be confusing things that have happened with things that have not,’ she says as she manipulates my wheelchair around the trolleys on the ward. ‘Imaginings are very powerful. My religion is based upon powerful imaginings.’

As she is wearing a ‘bindi’ on her forehead I take it to be Hinduism she is referring to. I do question whether seeing, or imagining I saw, the Tardis materialise in the middle of hundreds of square miles of gently undulating countryside might be a little outside the realm of those studying the Upanishads, but as she did seem very friendly, I do not mention this concern.

Nurse Gupta asks if I had tried reading to take my mind off of things. I tell her that I do not have a book, that I have read all the ‘Hello’ and ‘OK’ magazines that my friend Lucy has brought in, and in the absence of either a hospital shop or a patients’ library, I have nothing left to read. As she uses the EZ lift to replace me back in my bed, Nurse Gupta promises she would find me some books.

There are many very good novels in the nurses’ rest room that would definitely be interesting you,’ she says. ‘I do like a good read. I have just been finishing a book called Labyrinths by a writer called Borges. That is a very strange book. There is a story in it called The Garden of Forking Paths. This is about a Chinaman who is a German agent in the war. He goes to the house of a man whose name he has got from the phone book and shoots him. The man’s name is Stephen Albert. When the story of the killing turns up in the papers, the Germans know, through a secret code they’ve devised, where the important British munitions dump they must attack is located: a French town called Albert. The story talks about a book written by Chinese philosopher Ts’ui Pen. The book itself comments on the notion of time. The story is quite short but it is very complicated. Dr. Clapton is telling me that The Garden of Forking Paths has a subtext. He says it questions the idea of history as a single path and instead is suggesting that history branches out in an infinite number of different directions at every point in time and space. This is giving you endless possibilities of what is real, all occurring at once and the possibility that you can be whatever you can imagine.’

It sounds quite a story,’ I say. ‘I should like to read it.’

I will bring it to you in this afternoon,’ she says, ‘but now I have to see other patients on the ward.’

Having found a copy of the Advertiser, I ask Nurse Gupta if, before she leaves, she could set up my ‘able table’ so that I can read it. Instinctively I turn to the classifieds. I scan these arriving at an item in the ‘miscellaneous.’ It reads ‘Malibu surfboard, balsa core, covered in red fibreglass, plywood fin, once owned by Jimi Hendrix, £27, no offers.’ I look up from the paper. It is 11 minutes past 11.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved