Be Here Now

beherenow

Be Here Now by Chris Green

1:

‘I recommend you listen to two hours of Einaudi each evening,’ says Dr Hopper. ‘His soft piano music is perfect for quiet contemplation. You will notice a remarkable improvement in just a few days.’

‘Two hours of Einaudi?’ I repeat. ‘But I like listening to experimental jazz on my iPod, when I go jogging around the heath in the evening. John Zorn, The World Saxophone Quartet, The Kilimanjaro DarkJazz Ensemble, this sort of thing.

‘And cut out the jogging altogether,’ Dr Hopper continues. ‘Exercise is no good at all for relaxation. No wonder you feel so stressed out. You need to be still. Focus the mind. Get some Rothko prints on your walls to focus on.’

I point out that Rothko had suffered aneurysm of the aorta as a result of his chronic high blood pressure and committed suicide, overdosing on antidepressants. I watched a series recently on the tragic deaths of 20th Century American painters.

‘Did he now? H’mm interesting…. All the same, his paintings instil a sense of calm. His aim was to relieve modern man’s spiritual emptiness. Take my word! You will sleep much better with the influence of Rothko’s paintings and Einaudi’s music. Try some Gorecki some evenings as well. The Third Symphony is a good place to start’

‘Isn’t that The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs?’ I say.

‘That’s the one,’ he confirms. ‘Not sorrowful at all in my opinion, though, quite uplifting in fact. I like to listen to it when I am driving to the surgery. Now, let’s see. What else can we do? I expect you’ve got a houseful of unnecessary consumer durables, probably a 60 inch TV, a laptop and a kitchen full of white goods and gadgets. Am I right?’

I nod.

‘Be a good thing too if you get rid of those too. Clear the house a bit. Too much clutter is one of the principal causes of stress. What colour are the walls of the rooms in your house?’

I conjure up a mental image of each of the rooms, in turn, a mishmash of orange, pink and purple and explain that Sandy and I don’t have a unifying colour scheme.

‘Best to paint them all blue then,’ he says.

I have not seen Dr Hopper before. He is new to the practice, and I am beginning to feel his approach to medical matters is a little unconventional. My usual practitioner, Dr Bolt is on sabbatical. Dr Bolt would have blamed my symptoms of stress on the long hours I put in at the charity shop, written a prescription for selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and left it at that, but Dr Hopper seems determined to pursue a more holistic approach.

‘Phones are the worst thing for stress,’ he continues. You are constantly on edge in case they ring and so you never get to completely relax. Mobile phones are producing a race of neurotics. I get half a dozen people in here a week suffering from various neuroses and I ask them, have they bought a new mobile phone recently, and the answer is invariably yes. I take it that you have just bought a new smartphone.’

‘Last week,’ I tell him. ‘A Samsung Galaxy. It does just about everything but I still can’t work out how to make phone calls with it.’

‘You need to get rid of it,’ he says. ‘You can leave it with me if you like and I will send it to Africa.’

Why do the people of Africa need these pocket neuroses, I wonder. Aren’t their own lives already stressful enough? But I keep quiet.

Over the course of the consultation, Dr Hopper tells me to avoid red meat, red peppers, red cabbage and red wine, in fact, anything red. He tells me where I can find an Auric Ki practitioner and where the nearest Buddhist meeting is. He even gives me the contact details of a group of Yogic flyers.

When I get home Sandy is hoovering the lounge carpet, a Mashad design in a mixture of reds blues and purples, which now given Dr Hopper’s insight, does seem to clash with the orange and yellow geometric pattern of the wallpaper. Sandy is always very thorough with the Dyson, so I escape to the kitchen, to try a cup of the jasmine oolong tea that Dr Hopper recommended and am struck by just how much clutter there is. It is quite a large kitchen with enough space for a dining table, but possibly not two. How long have we had the second one, I wonder? It does make it hard to get to the sink. All the work surfaces in the kitchen are covered in blenders and toasters, slicers and grinders, squeezers and juicers, coffee machines and waffle makers.

‘Why do we need three microwaves?’ I shout through to Sandy, but she is now cleaning up behind the brocade settee with one of the new attachments she has bought for the Dyson and she does not hear me.

While looking for the kettle to boil water for my tea, I find an arsenal of new kitchen devices, an ice cream maker, a yoghurt maker, a salami slicer. I don’t know what many of the gadgets are. Is this an avocado flesh remover or a fish descaler? The competition for the most useless kitchen device seems to be fierce. The drawers are crammed so full of pea podders, tin openers, knife sharpeners, garlic crushers and mango stoners that I can hardly get them open. I begin to realise that I might have a little trouble persuading Sandy that de-cluttering the home is a remedial imperative. Most days boxes from Amazon arrive, with more prospective chaos and confusion, and some days when I come home from work early, I find a collection of catalogues from couturiers piled up on the mat in the vestibule awaiting Sandy’s approval.

Clearly what I need is a strategy. While I am sipping my soothing cup of jasmine oolong, I weigh up my options. I could start moving things that we do not use up to the loft, except that the loft is already full of things we do not use, and the garage too. I could accidentally cancel the home insurance, disconnect the intruder alarm and arrange a burglary. Too risky. And there would be the guilt and the stress of being found out. I could, of course, come right out with it and say that Dr Hopper has given me three months to live if we do not embark on a life laundry.

Sandy comes into the kitchen.

‘How did you get on?’ she asks.

‘Dr Hopper says that I have to give up jogging,’ I begin.

‘What! After I bought you that new Le Coq Sportif jogging suit and those Nike trainers. Why’s that?’

She seems to be suffering from post-hoovering tension, so I proceed cautiously. I decide to leave the Einaudi part until later. I picked up The Essential Einaudi from the specialist classical music shop on Morricone Street, along with a couple of Philip Glass CDs that he recommended. Sadly, Gorecki’s Symphony of Sad Songs was out of stock.

‘And he thinks we might benefit from living more simply,’ I continue. Including her in those benefiting might help to get her on board with the idea of a life laundry at a later date. ‘And perhaps get a nice painting or two.’

‘It was a doctor you went to see, wasn’t it? she says. ‘Not a shaman or an art dealer.’

Sandy puts on her FatFace coat dismissively. ‘I’m going to Homebase to buy a new lava lamp for the alcove in the study,’ she announces. ‘I might have a look at the sales too. Can you think of anything we need?’

‘Forty litres of moonlight blue silk paint,’ is on the tip of my tongue, but I judge that the moment is not the right one.

It does not matter, because while Sandy is out at the shops, a trip that I judged from past experience of the January sales will take all afternoon, I find some blue paint in the shed. In no time at all, I have done a passable job in rag rolling the walls of the spare bedroom. Although the room is in estate agents’ terms, compact I feel it could serve, at least temporarily, as a meditation room. Sandy has been trying to get me to decorate the room for months, and while we have not decided on the colour scheme, I feel she will soon grow to like the calming effect of blue. I am pleased to find that there is sufficient space in the loft to accommodate Sandy’s exercise bicycle, the sunbed, the standard lamp and the writing desk, which breaks down quite easily. I then turn my attention to an internet search for the recommended art work. I discover a surprising number of Rothko prints available on eBay so I order several, all of which are enigmatically titled Untitled. I feel better than I have in weeks. I have no headache or nausea or anxiety. My body feels relaxed and my breathing steady. I can hardly wait to try out the Einaudi.

Sandy returns at about six and asks me to help her in with the bags. Accessorize, Blacks, Blue, Cargo, Clarks, Debenhams, Habitat, Heals, Homebase, Holland and Barratt, Jigsaw, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, The Body Shop, Waterstones, and White Stuff, I think, but I may have missed a few.

‘I’m exhausted,’ she says. ‘The shops were a nightmare. No evidence of austerity. I tried phoning you but the number was unavailable. Can I smell paint?’ From her tone, I detect an air of disapproval and can see trouble ahead.

2:

I meet Anisha at Transcendental Meditation classes at the community centre. We hit it off right away. We have so much in common; we both adore the music of Einaudi and Gorecki and love Rothko’s paintings, and we are both drawn towards the colour blue. Besides this, we both feel that jogging is pointless and both dislike experimental jazz. Anisha says that it sounds as if all the musicians are playing different tunes at different tempos. I agree that this just about sums it up. Anisha has also resisted the idea of having a mobile phone or even a landline and does not own a computer or a TV. It is through Anisha that I become properly introduced to the concept of minimalism as a lifestyle. Zen is a word she frequently uses.

‘Less is more,’ she is fond of saying.’An over-abundance of possessions breeds discontent. I feel free from the worries of acquiring and maintaining things that I don’t really need.’

Anisha does not ask me to move in with her immediately but at the end of February when she finds out I am sleeping in the spare room at home, she suggests it. Since her daughter has been at university, she says she misses the company and while she is at one with herself as she puts it, she would love to have a soulmate. Not that moving in with Anisha involves very much on my part. I take two holdalls of clothes, a toothbrush, my meditation mat, and a book of Haiku verse. And of course, my small collection of ambient CDs.

The interior of Anisha’s house is decorated entirely in complimentary shades of blue. Even her Rothko prints are primarily blue. The plan of the house is uncompromisingly minimalist with no bookcases, shelves or chests of drawers. All the hard furniture is built-in and the storage is behind false walls. The house is so tidy, one could be forgiven for thinking that no one has been living there. The bedrooms have foldaway beds. The living room has a blue rug and a solitary vase in one corner with a single artificial blue bloom. The kitchen shows no evidence of its culinary purpose. Even the kettle is tidied away. The only sound one can hear comes from a subtle water feature in the Japanese garden behind the contemplation room.

‘Hidden storage and a sense of order,’ she explains are the key. ‘All clutter is a form of visual distraction. Everything in our vision pulls at our attention at least a little. The less clutter, the less visual stress we have.’

She does not need to convince me. She is preaching to the converted.

Each evening after we have tidied away the wok, we listen to Einaudi in the music room. We sit in silence and let Ludovico’s trance-inducing melodies calm us. Sometimes we give each other massages with essential oils and twice a week make tantric love on the low deco bed. We both share the belief that it is beneficial to have a routine. We still go to Transcendental Meditation classes on a Monday evening. By diving within as he describes it, TM apostle, David Lynch says you can experience the field of silence and bliss and harness the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us. This is exactly what Anisha and I are finding too. TM gives us stillness, serenity, and peace of mind. We discuss other approaches to spiritual awakening with our friends, Dream and Echo, who we met at the Monday classes. We find that they go to Tai Chi on a Tuesday, Angel Readings on Wednesday, Crystal Healing on Thursday, and Astral Projection on Friday. We briefly consider joining Dream and Echo for perhaps one of the extra classes but decide that it would be a mistake to allow our social calendar to become too crowded.

One evening, while Anisha and I are listening to Dolce Droga, I suggest that we buy a baby grand piano and learn to play. I have seen a second hand Yamaha at a reasonable price, I tell her. From Anisha’s reaction, you might think I was suggesting playing an Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers CD.

‘Where would we put it?’ she screams. I can see what she means. It would be a difficult item to hide away.

This is the closest I have seen her to becoming agitated. As a compromise I suggest we might buy a small keyboard instead. She sulks all the way through Giorni Dispari. She is clearly against the idea of anything that takes up surplus space so I do not mention the subject again.

In May, I find I have to go back to the marital home to pick up some important papers. There have been changes. Gary, a soft furnishing salesman Sandy met when she was shopping in the Avarice Retail Park, has moved in. The house now resembles a DFS warehouse, but with all the furniture crowded into about a tenth of the space. The hallway is an obstacle course and the front room barely navigable. I find the clutter deeply upsetting and feel physically sick. I can’t even get into the study to find my papers. Sandy says that she will get Gary to clear some stuff and I can come round again another time. I very nearly stop at The Black Hole Inn on the way home for a Carlsberg Special. Fortunately, the New Age radio station I have taken to listening to while driving puts on a particularly soothing piece by Brian Eno just as I am coming into the car park.

With the arrival of summer, Anisha and I make the decision that we will both work part time so we can enjoy the shade of the Japanese garden through the long afternoons. After all our needs are few, it isn’t as if we need the money. Mindfulness is the key. Through the quiet contemplation offered by the garden, we feel we can harmonise the spirit with the essence of all things. We can in the words of the great Ram Dass, be here now.

This works well through June. Listening to the gentle trickling of the water feature we feel calmer and more centred day by day. The heat of July, however, seems to increase my libido and I find myself wanting to make love more frequently. Anisha is determined to that we should stick to the routine of Wednesday and Saturday evenings. ‘Breaking routine is not healthy,’ she says. One Wednesday evening she insists that it is too hot for any activity and that she wants us to wait until the heatwave has finished before we resume our passions. I consider trying to remind her of what she said earlier about breaking a routine being unhealthy but I let it go. It is never good to have an argument so late in the day.

A couple of evenings later that I feel the urge to go jogging and ask Anisha if she would mind.

‘Jogging,’ she yells. ‘I thought you hated jogging. I suppose you’ll be wanting to listen to experimental jazz next.’

I think it best not to tell her that I have been listening to a Mulatu Astatqe and The Heliocentrics CD in the car.

By way of an apology, I bring Anisha a large spray of blue carnations which I hope might heal the rift. She, in turn, apologises for shouting at me. It seems that things are back on an even keel. That afternoon, we sip valerian tea and listen to the soft cascading of the running water in the garden. The occasional fluted warble of a blackbird provides us with music. We cook a nourishing vegan stir-fry in the wok and settle down to listen to Einaudi. Later that evening, I find that the flowers I bought her have been tidied away.

3:

Before my initial visit to Dr Hopper, I had suffered from all the classic symptoms of stress and paranoia. I was forever anxious that the phone would ring or worrying that the computer might have a virus. Had I installed the latest anti-spyware? Was the firewall up to date? Anisha had steered clear of these things. She wouldn’t even have known what a firewall was or how to send a text message. At home, Sandy and I were always on the go and there was no space. It seemed that we forever waiting for a service engineer to come for one of the electrical items that had gone wrong, or choosing this item from a new range in a catalogue or sending an item back that had been wrongly described at Amazon. The hedges needed clipping or the lawns needed mowing. The house insurance needed updating or the one of the cars’ MOT was due. The HD TV needed retuning because there were fresh channels or we had to go shopping because there was a new coffee jug in House of Fraser. Life was too short for all of this nonsense.

Since my initial de-cluttering and the very first meditation classes, I have been able to think more clearly. Even my early experiences of Einaudi and Rothko in the blue room brought about a positive change in my thought patterns. I have fallen in easily with Anisha’s obsession with harmony and things being in their proper place.

‘Be empty, be still. Watch everything. Just come and go.’ is a favourite piece of Zen wisdom of hers.

With this as my mantra, I have found living in her space calming. I feel safe. I like order and tidiness.

But now and again, I have this nagging feeling that we are missing out on something. Maybe just once in a while, it would be nice to listen to some music that has words. Or occasionally, watch a film. Is there any room for growth with the unremitting stasis of a strict routine and everything in place? Perhaps there is no need to have everything apart from the Rothko prints hidden away out of sight. The incident with the flowers has made me realise that too much is being hidden. Not just around the house, but on a personal level too. There are too many secrets. Perhaps in the months we have been together, Anisha might have opened up a little about her background and her life before we met. What, for instance, has become of her daughter who has gone off to university? She never talks about her and there are no signs of her around the house. I do not even know her name and Anisha has never once mentioned the father. Admittedly I do not talk a great deal about my past, about Sandy, or for that matter Lucy or anyone else before Lucy. And of course, I have no children. But considering all the diving within that we have been doing, it does seem bizarre that so little about Anisha’s past has surfaced. If the relationship is going to continue to work, I have to find a way of bringing things out into the open.

An opportunity arises the next day. I have just finished raking the gravel in the garden into its wave pattern and Anisha has just brought out the Tibetan tea on a flower tray. I decide to try a gentle enquiry.

‘What is your favourite childhood memory?’ I ask.

Anisha looks at me as if I have just rapped her around the head with a rifle butt. …. After I have cleared up the broken cup, I go to find her in the meditation room. By then, she has stopped crying. I put my arms around her and she responds by putting her arms around me and we stay this way for some time.

‘I’m sorry for my outburst,’ she says, finally. ‘Things have just been getting on top of me lately.

I have been wondering for a little while if we might benefit from a holiday. Something to take us out of ourselves. I recall that Dr Hopper singing the praises of Mundesley, a quiet backwater in North Norfolk with spectacular views and miles of deserted sands. He goes there every year and describes it as the perfect place to relax and be in the present moment. As I massage Anisha’s shoulders, I suggest it. I tell her about Mundesley’s blue flag beach, its rural location, the bordering fields, and its proximity to the picturesque village of Trunch. To my great surprise, she says that she will think about it.

When I get home from work a few days later, Anisha tells me she has been to the doctors. She has never mentioned going to a doctor before and, given her views, I assumed that she had always avoided medical practitioners, preferring instead new age remedies to tackle ailments. I wonder momentarily if she might be pregnant. This might explain her recent mood swings. How would I feel about being a father? I’m not sure. First thoughts are that the wheels on the bus going round and round would put substantial pressure on our minimalist lifestyle.

‘I’ve never told you this but there’s a history in my family of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,’ Anisha says. ‘So I phoned for an appointment with Dr Bolt at the local practice, but he is on paternity leave, so they gave me an appointment with Dr Hopper. He’s a new doctor, I think. Quite young with green hair. Anyway, he was very understanding and once I had given some background details, he told me that I had nothing to worry about. My behaviour is perfectly normal, exemplary in fact. Rituals are healthy and to be encouraged and that my life sounds very harmonious. He was pleased to hear that I did not overdo the exercise or go jogging.’

I decide there is nothing to be gained by telling her about my earlier visit to Dr Hopper.

‘He approves of Einaudi,’ she continues. ‘In fact, he lent me a new CD. And he feels it is good that I am a vegan. But he told me to be careful of red peppers and red cabbage.’

‘Which we don’t eat anyway,’ I say.

‘He suggests I might need a holiday, a change being as good as a rest. He said he knows just the place and you’d never guess where he goes every year with Mrs Hopper.’

‘No,’ I lie. ‘I probably wouldn’t be able to guess.’

‘Go on! Guess!’ she prompts.

‘All right, Poland.’ I say. It is good to see that she is being playful. The meditative life can be a little intense at times.

‘Now you’re being facetious. They go to Mundesley, in North Norfolk,’ she beams excitedly. ‘Dr Hopper describes it as a quiet backwater with spectacular views and miles of deserted sands. He says he thinks I would enjoy it there. He says that there is a meditation centre nearby and a Reiki practitioner in the village. So, I think we should go. This is synchronicity, don’t you see.’

I agree that it is an astonishing coincidence.

‘How did you hear about Mundesley?’ she asks.

I am prepared for this. ‘My parents used to take me to Cromer,’ I lie. ‘Just a few miles up the coast.’

I go on the internet at the library and do a search on Mundesley to make sure that it is going to be quiet enough for us at the end of September. I discover little of any note happens after the end of the summer holidays. All of the accommodation in the area appears to be vacant and I have no trouble in finding us a small cottage in between Mundesley and Trunch with a super-king sized double bed and a French window which opens out onto the patio. It does not have a TV or a telephone I am told by Margery Gedge when I enquire. And it is, she confides, a long way from a shop, so we would need to bring provisions. It sounds perfect.

4:

The cottage is pretty much as it was described, compact but offering peace and quiet in beautiful scenery. Tranquil and secluded were the favoured terms in the brochure Mrs Gedge sent. The cottage is built of Norfolk flint and has a small flagged patio with a cherry tree. The rooms are small but quite tidy. Even so, Anisha manages to find a few items that need putting away, kitsch ornaments, pictures of boats, and the rubber plant. There is enough room under the stairs for most of the unsightly bric-a-brac, but the glass fronted bookcase with its collection of Danielle Steel and Dick Francis paperbacks does not fit and she has to cover it with a throw. We read through the visitors’ book and notice the cottage had been occupied infrequently over the summer months. Among the comments was one from a Sandy and Gary, saying kitchen poorly equipped, no cappuccino machine and only one microwave. We are briefly taken aback but reading on we notice that this pair are from Essex, so it must be a different Sandy and Gary.

Sadly there is no CD player to play the Debussy CD I bought Anisha for her birthday. Although Debussy is a bit of a departure for her, she seems happy with the present, and she has even read the cover notes about the composer and the pentatonic scale. Having no meditation music in the evening worries Anisha a little at first, but we just cannot face the thought of going to Cromer to buy a player. Cromer would be bustling with fractious shoppers and unruly day trippers, probably a pensioners coach trip or two, and nowhere to park. Instead, we listen to the silence and gaze at the Rothko painting we’ve brought along.

Experimental jazz is not something that I expected to find much of in North Norfolk but on Monday when we are in the store in a nearby village to buy rice and vegetables, I notice a flyer in the window for JazzNorfolk. An experimental jazz workshop is taking place at the Overstrand Parish Hall at 10.30 on Thursday. It is only a small poster that blends in with the rest of the ads in the window so I do not think that Anisha notices it. I realise that it is likely that she would disapprove if I tell her about it and express a wish to go to such a function. Before we came away, I had been playing a Groove Collective CD in the car and began to realise how much I had missed the edgy unpredictability of contemporary jazz. I have not told Anisha of course. I have however managed to introduce Erik Satie into our small repertoire and had slipped in a Ravel piano piece one evening but there is perhaps a long way to go before she stops thinking of radical artists like Groove Collective as the devil’s music.

We fall into a daily ritual of a morning walk along Mundesley’s endless stretches of beach, our bare feet sinking in the soft sand. Apart from the occasional dog walker most days, we have the beach to ourselves. Anisha seems particularly relaxed on the walks and once or twice begins to open up about her past. I discover her daughter’s name was Gaia. She went off to university in Vancouver and is living close to Anisha’s ex-partner, Gideon. Gaia has not replied to any of her letters for nearly a year. Anisha finds this upsetting, which is why she has never mentioned it to me. While it is encouraging that Anisha has started to confide in me, each time I try to dig deeper she clams up. I am only able to find out snippets of information. She once owned a Coventry Eagle bicycle and liked to go cycling in the country. She was a girl guide young leader and had been good at netball. But I still do not know where she grew up or if her parents are alive. This does not bother me I realise as much as it should. I wondered if Anisha’s apparent lack of baggage was not part of the initial attraction. She had no past for me to wrestle with.

As the week goes by, I find myself wanting to go to the experimental jazz workshop more and more. It is so tempting. An opportunity too good to miss. Overstrand is just a mile or two up the coast. The late-night improvisation sessions after hours at Ronnie Scott’s all those years ago go through my head. All you had to do was take along an instrument and you could join in and play some avant-garde jazz. I used to take along my bass clarinet. I was not very good but that didn’t seem to matter. None of the musicians at these sessions would be playing in tune anyway. This was the heyday of free jazz with its contrapuntal tempos, polyrhythmic drumming, honking saxophones, washboards, bass clarinets and muted trumpets. You might get a band made up of two basses, violin, and kazoo. Someone came along one time with a conch shell into which he’d drilled a mouthpiece and played a cracking duet with someone else on musical saw. I remember a composition of mine for slide guitar, clarinet and garden strimmer. My favourite unusual improvised instrument from those sessions was Ronnie Scott’s floor polisher. We had the blues player, Big Bill Broonzy on floor polisher one time with Memphis Slim on hatstand.

All Tuesday and Wednesday, I try to think of a way that I might be able to slip out for a few hours to go to the workshop. Anisha and I do everything together so she is unlikely to go off on her own to the hairdressers or the shops for the day as Sandy might have done. I wonder if I might go on an errand to get some runny honey or some Greek yoghurt and pretend that the car has broken down in Overstrand and that I am waiting for the AA to come. Not that I have a phone to phone the AA, or any means to let Anisha know.

‘I’m just going out to buy you another birthday present,’ I could perhaps say ‘It’s a special surprise.’

Or what about a sudden toothache and the nearest dentist would be in Cromer. Or I could, of course, come right out with it, say I am going to the workshop, and face the consequences.

On Thursday morning, we are pacing briskly along Mundesley beach, bright and early. The wind has turned round to the east and it feels bitterly cold. It is nearly ten o’clock.

‘Not a day for being outside,’ the lone dog walker on the beach called. ‘Come on Tarquin!’

A dishevelled schnauzer stops sniffing the clump of seaweed that has been detaining it and moves on to inspect a piece of driftwood. Anisha and I agree that on a day like this we ought to be indoors and draw our coats around us in a demonstrative shiver.

‘Wind’s coming off the North Sea,’ the dog walker shouts back. ‘It’ll be raining cats and dogs by midday. Leave it, Tarquin!’

We feel a few spots of rain. We quicken our pace until we are almost jogging. Out of the blue, Anisha says ‘ I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we go along to that experimental jazz workshop in Overstrand?’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

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SOMEONE LEFT THE CAKE OUT IN THE RAIN – Making Sense of Sixties Songs

someoneleftthecakeoutintherain

SOMEONE LEFT THE CAKE OUT IN THE RAIN – Making Sense of Sixties Songs by Chris Green

BUS STOP

The number 22 bus is late. As I stand there waiting, I find the song, Bus Stop by The Hollies running through my head. Call me anal but I now want to try to understand the song’s bizarre lyrics. It is one of those songs that is so catchy I can still remember them all.

It is a wet day and the fellow singing, Allan Clarke, I believe, is waiting at the bus stop. A pretty girl comes along, well let’s assume for the point of argument that she is pretty. Allan doesn’t want her to get wet and spoil her new hairdo so he offers to share his umbrella. It is presumably a standard black umbrella as the song came out in the mid sixties before golf umbrellas and the like were commonplace. He leads us to believe that his gesture is chivalrous. But, he soon forces himself upon her and makes her miss the bus. Perhaps he has her pinned up against the wall. If so, how is he managing to do this and still keep the umbrella aloft? Perhaps she is struggling to get free so she can catch the bus but he is preventing her. What if she now gets the sack for being late for work? He doesn’t seem to care.

Every morning he finds her waiting at the stop, we discover from the chorus, so I suppose that her employer must have overlooked her lateness and is giving her another chance. Also, she must have forgiven Allan’s predatory advances from that first rainy day. Perhaps deep down she feels flattered by the attention. He tells us that some mornings she has already been to the shops and she shows him what she has bought. This cannot be a new outfit as clothes shops, or boutiques as they were called back then, would not be open so early. So, what is it she is showing him? Her bits and pieces from the corner shop? Perhaps she has bought a Reveille magazine and some Basildon Bond stationery from the newsagents.

The sun comes out we are told and the ice is melting and they no longer have to shelter. Hang on! Where did the ice come from? In the song, we are led to believe that all through the summer they employ the umbrella and by August she is his. This unseasonal cold snap is a bolt out of the blue, a big leap in the narrative. I think that this deserves more of an explanation, Allan. Perhaps you could ask Graham who wrote the song. Graham Gouldman, later of 10cc.

But, to move on, the other people in the queue are now staring at the pair as if they are, to quote the singer, quite insane. We cannot be sure why this is. It is left entirely to our imagination. I imagine Allan is probably getting the girl to do a silly dance or something or perhaps he is showing her how to turn the umbrella inside out. But, he goes on to say that everything turns out well because his umbrella leads him to a vow. Maybe he promises to stop whatever embarrassing shenanigans it is that has been causing the others to stare at them. Perhaps he has been having a battle with the bottle and has vowed to give up drinking and start going to meetings. We just don’t know.

He goes on to tell us that someday his name and the girl’s are going to be the same. This, to me, is the most puzzling line in the song. Is she perhaps going to change her name to Allan or is the singer going to start calling himself Helen or whatever the girl’s name is? This is not made clear. It could even be that they are planning to join a cult that requires you take on a communal name.

The number 22 bus finally comes along and my thoughts turn to counting the number of empty seats there are and guessing how many stops it will take to fill them.

MATTHEW AND SON

The Earth tilts on its axis by 23.5 degrees. I wish this were a smaller number. It is this ridiculous wobble that causes it to still be dark at eight in the morning towards the end of October. The blackness in the morning makes it harder to get up. As a result, I miss the eight twenty three commuter train which is going to make me late for work.

While I’m waiting for the next train, the eight fifty seven and hoping that no-one at work has noticed that I’m not in, Cat Stevens’ Matthew and Son, starts going round and round in my head. Cat’s sad protagonist has to be up eight. He can’t be late because Matthew and Son, won’t wait. Because Cat refers to Matthew and Son in the singular, I am left to speculate whether it is Matthew or the son who won’t wait. Perhaps Matthew is semi-retired and the son takes care of the day to day running of the business. Or perhaps the son is a lazy loafer who spends all his time on the golf course. Or it could be that Matthew and his son are both retired or even dead and that the old established firm is now run by a tyrannical manager.

I can’t help wondering if it might be a good idea for Cat’s fellow to be up a little earlier than eight as he, along with the other workers, has to run down to platform one to catch the eight thirty train. Half an hour does not give him much time for his shower and ablutions and he almost certainly will have had to leave the house without having his cornflakes. And then he still has to get to the station. Who knows, this might be half a mile? Perhaps he should set the alarm for seven thirty or even seven. Then he would not have to run for the train. He would be able to saunter down to the station listening to a pirate radio station on his little Japanese transistor radio.

The work’s never done, there’s always something new, Cat tells us. Well, surely this is the nature of most jobs, Cat. If there weren’t something new to do then there would be no need for so many staff. Matthew would be able to lay workers off and then where would they be. There are perhaps not many openings for clerical workers locally. For some reason, that is not adequately explained, the workers have to take the files to bed. Back then, these would not have been Word or Excel documents that they could peruse on their laptops but great big lever arch files that they would have had to lug home on the train.

Now we come to the killer line of the song. The workers are only allowed a five minute break. Just five minutes to drink a cup of cold coffee and eat a piece of cake. Why is the coffee cold we are left wondering and what kind of cake is it? Fruitcake? Victoria sponge? Battenburg perhaps. And who supplies the cake? Is this an overlooked aspect of Matthew and Son’s generosity that Cat with his socialist principles does not want to mention? After all, things can’t be that bad because Cat says that M and S have people who’ve been working there for fifty years and this without a pay rise. If things really are bad then perhaps it is because the workers do not appear to have a union to represent them and are all too timid to challenge the poor pay that they get. While one wants to think the best, it is difficult to have sympathy with workers that are that so lily-livered, especially as Cat tells us that all of them have huge rent arrears. I can’t help thinking that his protagonist should try and find another line of work before it’s too late.

My eight fifty seven train arrives, a mere thirteen minutes late and I am able to concentrate instead on the music the ruffian on the adjacent seat is playing on his phone. Slipknot, I believe it is.

WALKING THE DOG

Everyone on the Esplanade seems to be out walking their dogs today. There are people from all walks of life in all shapes and sizes walking their German Shepherds, Poodles, Labradors, Labradoodles, Collies, Retrievers, Spaniels and Jack Russells. I seem to be the only one without a dog but since Kimble ran away last November, I haven’t been able to face the idea of getting another one.

As I’m making my way past the clock-tower feeling a little left out, the lyrics of Rufus Thomas’s Walking the Dog start to creep into my head. Baby’s back, dressed in black, silver buttons all down her back. What on earth is Rufus on about? Is Baby the name of his dog? Is she perhaps black with silver markings on her back? High, low, tippy toe, she broke a needle and she can’t sew. What’s this got to do with dogs or dog walking? What does he mean, she can’t sew? Of course she can’t sew, she’s a dog. Rufus seems to have completely lost the plot. In the chorus he tells us, he’ll show us how to walk the dog but if the truth be told, his mind seems elsewhere. He should be concentrating making Baby familiar with a few simple commands as he’s taking her through the streets of downtown Memphis, not coming out with a lot of mumbo-jumbo. The dog will need some dog leash training. I found Tom Golfer’s Dog Training for Idiots to be very helpful when I was starting out with Kimble. Kimble was quite a large dog and Tom’s excellent primer instructed me in just about everything from the system of rewards that I should apply to the effective use of a choke chain on a busy thoroughfare.

The song continues with more jive talking. Rufus’s pooch isn’t going to respond favourably to any of that nonsense. Utter gibberish to a dog. Baby, if that really is the dog’s name, will be looking to Rufus, as her pack leader, to give cool clear direction as to how he wants her to behave. He needs to reinforce the basics like sit and heel. All this stuff about jumping so high and touching the sky and not getting back till the fourth of July. It will only confuse the poor animal. Yet again Rufus choruses that if we don’t know how to do it, he’ll show us how to walk the dog. I’m thinking he must be out of his head on drugs. How else can you explain his nonsensical dog walking ideas?

I’m coming up to the entrance to Kimble’s favourite park. I have to walk through the park to get to the shops. Another old sixties song is trying to come through now. The one about the park melting in the dark and the sweet green icing flowing down because someone left the cake out in the rain.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

Marzipan Imbroglio

marzipanimbroglio

Marzipan Imbroglio by Chris Green

When I read the post on Facebook that striker, Gary Trevor has signed for Mars United FC for a record £300 million, my first reaction is, oh yeah, sure. I run it straight through the bullshit detector on my browser, expecting it to confirm it as a fake news story, like so many of the posts on Facebook these days. To my surprise, it doesn’t. Gary Trevor it seems really has signed for the interplanetary club. Admittedly, he has never shown Mensa potential but surely even for someone as thick as Gary, this move is nothing short of crazy. For one thing, he will he be likely to lose his match fitness during the long flight. For another, there will be no pitches suitable for a big fixture on the red planet, nor any teams except perhaps Mars Athletic for Mars United to play. And what will happen about Gary’s famously profligate private life?

To make sure everything is working correctly, I check out some old favourites. After all, you never know who might be moderating the news checking sites that seem to be springing up. Perhaps the one my browser uses may have been hacked. But, the results are pretty much what I would expect. The bs detector says there is only a two per cent chance that Elvis is still alive and a one per cent chance that the American president really is an alien. Yet, there is a hundred per cent chance that the news about Gary Trevor’s transfer to Mars United FC is correct. Higher even than the question as to whether the new Pope, Clive Christopher is a Catholic which comes in at ninety nine per cent.

‘There’s no point in going on social media any longer,’ Lenny says when I mention Gary’s bizarre move to him. ‘Every post you see is immediately contradicted by another.’

‘But bs detectors are supposed to have put an end to all that,’ I say. ‘They are meant to filter out misinformation.’

‘Yeah! Course!’ Lenny says. ‘But, it’s not just social media. The internet is littered with bogus information. You just have to suspend belief when you go online.’

‘You used to be able to see the internet as a means to correct all the lies you read in the daily newspapers,’ I say.

‘Not anymore,’ Lenny says. ‘What about this, Stan? I came upon a story about Chick Strangler on Google just now. Chick’s always been a heavy rocker. Right?’

‘The heaviest,’ I say. ‘Famous for his destructive stage act and ……. er, uncompromising lifestyle.’

‘Quite!’

‘Who could forget the hotel trashings and the wild orgies that set the tabloid press alight?’

‘Or his prodigious drug use?’ Lenny says ‘And all that stuff with reptiles? Anyway, I’ve just read that he’s recording an album of country classics. Chick Strangler. Country classics. Think about it. But, this too checks out on newscheck.com. To add credibility to the story, there is his new version of John Denver’s Annie’s Song, if anything a watered down version of the original. Lies Or Not even shows the album cover.’

‘You’re saying it’s not really Chick?’

‘What do you think? It’s difficult to tell the Daily Mail site from the Daily Mash.’

‘But it always has been, Lenny,’ I say.

Patti is not interested in the exploits of Gary Trevor or Chick Strangler. In the battle of the sexes, it may not always be reported this way around but Patti feels that women have more important things to think about.

‘I know you and Lenny go for all of this celebrity chit chat,’ she says. ‘You blokes put celebrity before substance. But it’s the serious stuff that worries me. Is Asteroid Kardashian going to hit us and are we really at war with North Vesuvia? In fact, is North Vesuvia really a country? Ain’t It The Truth says it is a country in Asia and FactFinder says it doesn’t exist.’

I suggest that perhaps we are both making the same point. Patti feels we are not. She maintains there is a big difference between the trivial and the afflictive.

‘What about the Shropshire famine, Stan?’ Patti says. ‘Thousands are dying in Ludlow and Oswestry.’

I don’t mention the woolly mammoth sightings that are all over the internet in case she thinks they might come under trivial.

Perhaps all the fake news is tied in with our fascination with fiction. Perhaps we have allowed fiction to spill over into reality. Reality? There’s a slippery customer. Albert Einstein maintained that reality was merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one. If I looked up Albert Einstein on Whosthat now, I would probably find he was married to Queen Victoria and built a large concert hall in the middle of London to stage rock operas.

If we could only return to those days of honest no-nonsense reporting of the facts. To the time when there was universal truth. In the not too distant past, there was no such thing as fake news. There was no need for authenticity checks on everything you came across. Back then, you could believe what you read. There might have been reports of virgin births and people coming back from the dead, but you knew these were from a reliable source. If you read about someone walking on water or living inside a whale, you knew it was right. It was a golden age of honesty and trust. Nowadays, you just don’t know what to believe.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 5

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The Continuing Story of Wet Blanket Ron – Part 5 by Chris Green

DALE

‘Dale Loveless! What are you doing here?’ says Annette Lard. ‘Everyone thinks you are dead. Even that guy that writes the stories about you thinks you are dead. You know, the one that writes the Wet Blanket Ron stories. I can’t for the life of me think of his name. Anyway, he came into the bookies where I work about a month ago to tell me. Apparently, his friend, Marlin Snider told him. A hit and run driver in Black Dog Way, he said. Tracey Minger said the same thing when I saw her at BronzeTan. ……. It is really you, isn’t it? Only I’ve been feeling a bit funny since Doctor Gauguin put me on these new pills and I get confused easily. …… What are you doing here alive, anyway?’

‘Not a good to see you, Dale or a how are you, Dale, then,’ says the downbeat figure sitting with his black and white mongrel dog on the bench outside the railway station.

‘Look! Why don’t I buy you a coffee in that café over there? We can have a chat.’

‘Can’t drink coffee. Blood pressure.’

‘Perhaps a cider or something.’

‘I’ve been trying to stay off the pop since I’ve been out of prison.’

‘You living back round here then, Dale?’

‘For the time being. Ted Drinker is renting me a room above his car lot.’

‘I suppose he felt guilty about that Rover he sold you. The one that blew up.’

‘No, I don’t think so. Ted doesn’t do feelings. Anyway, I’ve bought another one off of him since that. A Kia.’

‘Oh, that’s nice. Good little motors, Kias.’

‘Well, no. Not really. That one blew up too. The day before yesterday.’

‘I don’t suppose you’re working or you wouldn’t be sitting around here in the middle of the day.’

‘I’ve got a job interview to go to tomorrow.’

‘That’s good. Where’s that?’

It’s at that new er, ….. phone shop down past the Scott Mackenzie roundabout.’

‘Oh yes,’ I think I’ve seen the one you mean. The one with the tinted windows and purple dishes on the roof. It’s quite an unusual …… structure isn’t it? But, of course! I remember now, Dale. You used to be an engineer of some sort before all your …… troubles started.’

‘Seems a long time ago now. Anyway, I don’t expect I’ll get the job but wish me luck anyway. Look! I’d better take Leonard here for a walk down by the canal before it starts to rain again.’

‘Well. It was good to see you, Dale. And you know where I am. I’m still at BetterBet. Look in anytime.’

‘Probably not a good idea after the last time.’

‘Oh, that’s right! I remember now. You had all that money on Can’t Lose and it fell at the last fence.’

AUTHOR

I don’t know where my ideas for stories come from. I just seem to pluck them out of the air. It’s as if authors are able to tune into a radio wavelength that non-authors aren’t aware of. Other writers, I’ve spoken to, like Philip C. Dark and Guy Bloke describe it as being like a sixth sense. They say their stories bear an uncanny resemblance to things that are really happening somewhere that they are not supposed to know about. Some might see it as sorcery. I’m not exactly sure what Zeitgeist means, but it might be best to think of inspiration in those terms. There’s something unexplainable out there in the ether.

The bottom line is I don’t know where my idea for the new Wet Blanket Ron story comes from. After all, in the last one, I killed the character off. Wet Blanket Ron was dead. What is it that makes me want to bring him back to life? One reason might, of course, be his popularity. I had angry letters from my readers when I killed him off. One fan, in particular, a long-term follower from the sub-continent stopped just short of issuing a death threat. I believe the same thing happened to J. K. Rowling when she threatened to kill off Harry Potter. I had only killed Wet Blanket Ron off because Dale Loveless, the fellow I had originally based Ron’s character on, was dead; killed in an unfortunate road accident.

But this is not the primary reason I am bringing Ron back. Quite simply, I wake one morning with the idea for a new Wet Blanket Ron adventure going round and round in my head and feel compelled to write it down. So I need to pretend that Ron’s accident never happened. Or maybe he survived it. Let’s get that bit out of the way. Ron was unconscious but came round in the ambulance taking him to hospital. He survived. Here he is.

RON

Arriving at PurplePhones for his interview, Ron finds the walls are lined with rows of futuristic-looking phones, tablets and other spectacular communications devices, all of them purple. Some funky music is belting out from invisible speakers. He thinks it might be Prince.

As Ron looks at the gleaming displays, bemused, a tall man in a purple suit twirling a cane comes across and greets him.

‘I’m Miles Highman’ he says.

It takes a little while for Ron to realise that Miles Highman is the man’s name and not a passing reference to recent drug abuse. Miles guides him into a purple pod. He gestures for Ron to sit down on a purple bucket chair, and invites him to stroke one of a menagerie of purple cats. This is not the direction an interview for a job usually takes but stroking the cats makes him feel less nervous.

Although Ron has deliberately tried to hide it away at the bottom of his CV, Miles Highman asks Ron straight away about his work with NVision Inc. This was an episode in his life that Ron was anxious to put behind him. His role had been to deliver bad news to people or relatives of people before it actually happened. This was supposed to prepare the victims for what was to come or enable them to take action to avoid it. Like so many things in his life, this project did not turn out well. Due to a series of mishaps, Ron was unable to alert the West Midlands mother to her son’s upcoming death in an explosion nor was he able to convince the Manchester businessman that he was to going be shot. Sadly both died as a result.

Because Ron badly needs a job, he keeps quiet about his disastrous record of outcomes with the company. He does not mention how he was unable to do anything about a plane crash in California that he was sent out to prevent. He merely tells Miles that working at Vision Inc. was an eye opening experience and he is sure he can get a reference from Amit if need be.

DALE

‘Hey! Dale!’ Marlin Snider calls out in the middle of the pedestrian precinct.’

‘Oh! It’s you. Hello, Marlin. What do you want?’ Dale says lugubriously. He has the air of a man who does not want to engage in small talk.

‘Annette told me you were …… er, alive. Good to see you. What are you doing, man? Did you get the new job?’

‘I did, as it happens, Marlin. In fact, I’m working now.’

‘Working? What are you doing exactly, Dale? …… It looks to me like you are standing around in the middle of the shopping centre waving your arms around.’

‘It’s called working, Marlin. I’m in telecommunications.’

‘Hey. What are you talking about?’

‘I’m in front line promotion. I’ve got to use this little device here to er …….. temporarily disable everybody’s smartphone. Look! This is how it works.’

‘It’s not a very ethical kind of job, Dale. That’s worse than …. ‘

‘Well! Needs must, Marlin. It’s all right. I’m not going to disable your phone.’

‘Still, Dale.’

‘Then later on, in about ten minutes, someone is going to do a fly by and drop thousands of flyers advertising PurplePhones new range of incorruptible new communication devices. The manager tells me that this is the way business is done in the modern world.’

AUTHOR

After the initial idea for the new Wet Blanket Ron story, I find myself struggling for a way to take the plot forward so it is fortunate that I run into Dale Loveless’s friend, Marlin Snider in the Goat and Bicycle. I am surprised to discover that Dale has found a job, but I am cheered by Marlin’s news. Not only has Dale found a job but it is the kind of job that is a gift to a writer of speculative fiction. A gopher for a colourful new phone company with plans to shape the future of telecommunications. The future might have once been Orange, but now it seems, the future’s Purple. And, imagine the trouble that Wet Blanket Ron will be able to get into for zapping peoples smartphones. I might as well tip Inspector Crooner off now and instruct Ron’s brief, Brent Diaz to expect a desperate phonecall from his dissolute client. I don’t. This would only spoil things for later.

To add to the bounty, Marlin tells me that Dale has a new girlfriend. He says he hasn’t met her but apparently, she is a stunner. Given Ron’s record on relationships, there is plenty of potential for things to go wrong here. After all, Wet Blanket Ron readers would expect nothing less than a car crash romance. I press Marlin for more information. He is unable to give me much more information but this does not matter. I can fill the details in as required. Here we go.

RON

Ron has never been out with anyone like Lola before. Lola is special. Lola must have the best. He has never been to L’Ultima Cena before. It is the top Italian restaurant in town. But, with the promise of being paid handsomely for his endeavours in promoting PurplePhone, he feels he can splash out. After Crostini misti con Sottoli, Straccetti di Pasta al Germe di Grano con sugo di Lepre, Cinghiale alla Cacciatore, Insalata Radicchio e Rucola followed by Torta della Nonna and helped down by two bottles of Amarone, Ron takes his vision of loveliness back to his flat with a view to taking the relationship to the next stage. He has taken down the black out blind, put away the magazines and carefully prepared a play list with no Johnny Cash or Leonard Cohen. He has even hidden his self-help books and his copy of Jude the Obscure in case Lola should think he is a depressive.

Needless to say, things do not go according to plan. Picture if you will, Ron’s horror when he discovers that Lola, like her famous namesake from The Kinks song, is someone who needs to lift the toilet seat up. Perhaps, in hindsight, like Ray Davies, he should have spotted the tell tale signs, the dark brown voice, the physical hug, the five o’clock shadow. Perhaps even the name should have offered a clue.

Disgusted, Ron throws Lola out. Hardly has he wiped away the tears than there is a loud rap at the door. Thinking that it is probably Lola returning, remorseful and apologetic, he does not answer it immediately. The knock becomes more persistent and is accompanied now by a cry of ‘Police! Open Up!’ While nervous breakdown is fighting sense of déjà vu for control of Ron’s failing mental faculties, the door gives way to the enforcer or big key as it is referred to in the job. Not Inspector Crooner this time but a bunch of burly thugs dressed like Darth Vader. They are pointing guns and shouting in tongues.

DALE

‘Let me see if I’ve got this right, Mr Loveless,’ says Dale’s assigned solicitor, Dawlish Warren in the interview room at the central police station. ‘You were at home with your girlfriend, Deirdre watching Peaky Blinders when the police called round unexpectedly.’

‘That’s right, Mr Warren,’ Dale says.

‘And they said they wanted to talk with you about the work you were doing for ….. is that PurplePhones?’

‘Yes, PurplePhones. It’s a new mobile network.’

‘And what exactly was the work you were doing for PurplePhones? I thought for a moment back then you might have said you were disabling peoples smartphones so they no longer worked.

‘In a manner of speaking, that’s what I was doing, yes. But….. ‘

‘Aware that you were almost certainly committing a crime?’

‘I suppose so, yes.’

‘In any event, the police weren’t happy with your explanation that you were just sending out a jamming signal and so they brought you here for questioning.’

‘Yes. That’s about it.’

‘Then, out of the blue, you yourself received a phonecall from a …… Wet Blanket Ron?’

‘Yes.’

‘Yet you say that Wet Blanket Ron is a fictional character.’

‘Yes. I know. Confusing, isn’t it? He said he was phoning on one of the new PurplePhones.’

‘And what did he want? This, Wet Blanket Ron?’

‘That’s just it, Mr Warren. He wanted to know what was going to happen next.’

‘What do you think he meant by that?’

‘He said that as his character in the stories was based on me, I would know what was in store.’

‘And what did you tell him?’

‘I told him I didn’t know what was going to happen but I didn’t think it would be good. He said that was pretty much the story of his life.’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

The Sadness of the Post-Truth Pianist

thesadnessoftheposttruthpianist

The Sadness of the Post-Truth Pianist by Chris Green

You don’t hear Mozart a lot on the radio these days. While his music isn’t officially banned like that of Beethoven and Bach, playing it is strongly discouraged. You can no longer buy decadent European music in the shops. No Fauré, No Debussy, no Chopin and certainly no Sebelius. Jingoism has spread to most areas of culture but it is perhaps most noticeable in music. Fed daily by post-truth sound bites, prejudice is now rife. England’s isolationist stance has strengthened its grip. Classic FM now feeds its listeners on a diet of Elgar and Vaughan Williams and even the latter is a bit suspect because of his Welsh sounding name. Wales and Scotland are of course long gone, this by mutual agreement in the aftermath of Brexit, so no Karl Jenkins or …… William Wallace. No, I guess you’ve not come across William Wallace all that frequently either. Perhaps the bagpipes were a natural obstacle for Scottish classical music that was never successfully overcome.

For those of us that really love music, it is thrilling to hear Wolfgang Amadeus’s Piano Concerto no. 23 again. It is heart-warming that in this stifling climate of fanatical bellicism, one or two broadcasters like Miles London still risk playing European music. Miles, despite his British-sounding name, has always been a champion of free speech. It could be argued that he gets away with his stance by virtue of his name. John Schafernaker was imprisoned for playing Shostakovich, this before the Russians actually appeared on the blacklist. Others, like Martin Paris and Michelle DuBois, were not only taken off the air but deported. Boys born today are required to be called Hugh or Rupert, Trevor or Nigel while girls must be named Audrey or Doris, Millicent or Lesley. In exceptional circumstances, Mary and Jane are allowed but notice has been issued to Registry Offices up and down the country to no longer allow names like Jennifer or Anne that have their origins across the Channel.

I used to enjoy going to Ristorante Rossellini for a Caprese salad with pesto sauce followed by tagliatelle Genovese and tiramisu. My partner, Patrizia and I would share a bottle of Rosso di Montalcino. Puccini or Donizetti would be playing gently in the background. Luigi would come over during the meal and ask if everything was a tuo piacimento. Sadly, Italian restaurants have all been closed down and Patrizia has been repatriated. Cheese on toast with a bottle of brown ale on my own at the Dog and Duck with whippets running around and Ed Sheeran blaring out is just not the same.

Puzzled by how the wave of nationalism grew so rapidly, I decided to investigate its origins. What had happened to the idea of the global village? Jingoism seemed to be going against the general tide of cultural exploration. After all, until recently we had been all too willing to go on Mediterranean holidays. We couldn’t get enough of the sun, sea and sex. We were quick to develop a taste for wine, olive oil and garlic. We readily took to café society and al fresco dining and brought it home. Pizza parlours proliferated and late night kebab houses opened in every town. We didn’t even baulk at eating snails or some of the unsavoury things Germans put in their sausages. We eagerly participated in European sporting events and brought over so many European footballers that it was difficult to find a British one in any of our top flight teams.

The turn of the tide appears to have been the outbreak of mad cow disease in the late 1990s which prompted the EU to refuse to buy our beef. This struck at the heart of the British psyche. Cows, it appears were the linchpin of our culture. British beef, British beef, British beef, we chanted. We railed and railed but to no avail. Our continental comrades refused to listen. Brussels quickly became branded as the root of all evil. We wanted a life without the interference of Johnny Foreigner. Everything bad that happened could now be blamed on the foul capital of that slimy little lowland backwater that nobody wanted to visit.

But, to fully explain the demonisation of all things European, perhaps we might turn our eyes once more to music. Every year the United Kingdom, as it was then, would carefully craft the perfect song to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Each year it was announced in the press that this time we stood a realistic chance of taking the trophy but each year we would get fewer and fewer points. This was a travesty as we felt, with some justification I understand, that we produced the best pop music in the world. This was the area in which we excelled.

I wish I could go back to those days before the ignominious tabloid headline about bovine TB. To the days when you could hop across the Channel on Eurostar. To when you could peruse the Picasso paintings in the Tate or buy an Alfa Romeo legally. To those days when Bruch’s Violin Concerto was number 1 on the Classic FM Countdown. To the time when I was a dazzling young pianist, fresh from an Amadeus Scholarship and enjoying the first fruits of success. I had hopes and dreams. I did not need self-help books or a prescription for anti-depressants. Things were better then.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

NIGHT

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NIGHT by Chris Green

In the middle of the night, Hank hears voices. He is not sure if this is the chatter of revellers coming home from the clubs, blown in on the wind or if Mrs Oosterhuis has left her television on. Alongside this, there is the noise from the night workers laying the new cables for the listening centre and the beefy Alsatian from two doors down barking flat out at a visiting fox in the garden. As if this weren’t enough, the ghost of crooner, Randy VanWarmer is at it again. Hank puts his wax earplugs in to try to block the noise out but still, he can hear voices. He tosses and turns. He knows from experience when the insomnia demons visit like this, they do not easily go away. Even if the voices stop, the door is open and they come flooding in. He is at their mercy.

The voices don’t stop. Nor does Randy VanWarmer. Hank gradually becomes aware that he is not going to get back to sleep. Finally, he wakes Linda up. It annoys him sometimes that Linda can sleep through anything, even Mrs Oosterhuis’s television on loud at 3 a.m.

‘Can you hear anything,’ he asks?

‘You’re not going to go on about Randy what’s-his-name again, are you?’ says Linda, moving restlessly in the bed. ‘Look! I can’t hear a thing. Now, can we go back to sleep?

Are the voices in his head, perhaps, Hank wonders, this not for the first time? Nothing more than figments of his imagination?

Clint, a colleague of Hank’s at Desperados, the country and western club where he helps out behind the bar at weekends tells him about Rose Pink, a therapist that his wife, Betsy Lou has been seeing and suggests that Hank makes an appointment to see her. Betsy Lou has come on in leaps and bounds, he says and can now even go to the gun shop on her own.

Hank makes an appointment to see Rose Pink the following Thursday morning. He is a little apprehensive as he has not done anything like this before. He has always seen therapy as some kind of punishment for drug addicts and psychopaths. Not something for average Joes who live a normal life. Despite his reservations, he steels himself and goes along to the house in the suburbs where Rose Pink practices. At first, she does not appear to hear him over the Black Sabbath track that is playing, an odd choice, he feels, for a psychotherapist. In the break between tracks, he manages to get her attention. She comes to the door. She is wearing ripped jeans and a Breaking Bad t-shirt. Hank guesses that she is a few years younger than him, the right side of forty, perhaps.

She turns the music off and apologises for keeping him waiting. She sits him down in a comfortable chair and after a shaky start, Hank begins to tell her about his nocturnal demons.

‘Who is this …… Randy Van Wormer,’ Rose Pink asks?

‘Van Warmer. It’s Randy VanWarmer,’ says Hank. ‘He’s a singer-songwriter. From Colorado but grew up in Cornwall. He’s a bit of a one-hit wonder. He had his big hit back in 1979. It was called Just When I Needed You Most. When my father left her and ran off with a waitress from Hungry Jacks, my mother played it over and over for days. It’s a truly heart-wrenching song. Have you never heard it?’

‘No, I don’t believe I have,’ says Rose Pink.

‘You are lucky, then,’ says Hank. ‘The ultimate unwelcome earworm.’

‘I see.’ says Rose Pink.

‘Anyway, Randy VanWarmer died in January 2004 on the very same day that my mother died. I was seven years old. From that time I became aware of his ghost.

‘Come on now, Hank!’ says Rose Pink. ‘You don’t believe all that crap, do you? You’re a grown man. I mean, look at you. You must be six foot, even without your Stetson. Don’t you think it’s time to get a grip? Pull yourself together!’

This is not the type of response that Hank expects. It says on the Internet that empathy and understanding are the bedrock of psychotherapy. Rose Pink’s take on it seems to be an unnecessarily aggressive one.

‘Look, here’s an idea,’ she continues. ‘Before you go to bed, why don’t you play Guns N’ Roses, Paradise City a few times. That’s what I do if I feel stressed. Paradise City will see off any other potential earworm. Guaranteed! Now! About these other things that stop you sleeping.’

Although he is beginning to lose faith in Rose Pink, Hank gives her a brief account of the things that keep him awake at night, the night workers laying the cables for the spy base, the singsong of chatter of revellers coming home from the clubs, Mrs Oosterhuis’s television, the neighbour’s Alsatian.

‘Let’s look at these one at a time,’ Rose Pink says. ‘There’s not much you can do about the cabling, or perhaps the revellers, but the other issues are easily resolvable. You could threaten Mrs Oosterhuis. You could tell her that the next time you hear her TV you’ll come round and put a hammer through the screen. And the fellow with the Alsatian. Why don’t you just go round and punch his lights out?’

‘But once I get the idea that I’m not going to be able to sleep, it stays there,’ says Hank.

‘For Christ’s sake, man! The answer to that one is easy,’ says Rose Pink. ‘Don’t get the idea in the first place. Drink a tumbler of rum or something before you go to bed.’

Hank suddenly begins to realise why Clint’s wife, Betsy Lou is usually swaying from side to side when he sees her.

Despite this, Hank decides to give the rum cure a go. He buys a bottle of Captain Morgan from BargainBooze and while Question Time is on, pours himself a generous tumbler. Although Linda gets upset about him shouting ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’ at the politicians, the public, the pundits and even the presenter throughout the programme, the rum seems to do the business. By 11:30, he is sleeping like a baby. He did not even need Gun’s n’ Roses.

Hank wakes at 3 am. however. Against the background of the neighbour’s Alsatian dog barking madly at a fox in the garden, he can hear the raised voices of revellers coming back from the late-night clubs and Mrs Oosterhuis’s television turned up louder than ever. Perhaps she has been out and bought a new 56 inch model. As if this weren’t enough, he can hear Randy VanWarmer’s ghost belting out his erstwhile hit. And more. The elaborate sonic picture reverberates around his aching head. Next to him, Linda is sleeping the sleep of the just.

Hank gets up and makes himself a cup of tea but it is no good, the demons are with him now. No matter what he does, he knows he will continue to be at their mercy. If just one of them would stop. For instance, why can’t the fox just slink off somewhere and what are people still doing coming home from clubs at 5 am?

Although it is the busiest time of year at the surfboard repair centre, Hank tells them he is sick. He says it must be something he ate. He phones Rose Pink and she manages to find a lunchtime slot in her schedule, one that she says she sets aside for emergencies. She does not hear his knock at first but eventually, the Sonic Youth track comes to and end and he knocks again. This brings Rose Pink to the door in her black t-shirt and punk Goth leggings. He notices that her hair is a different colour to the previous day, more purple.

‘This had better be good,’ Rose Pink says, by way of a greeting.

‘Thankyou for seeing me at such short notice,’ says Hank. ‘It’s very good of you.’

‘Just get on with it, will you?’ says Rose Pink. ‘Did you do what I said?’

‘I did. I drank nearly half a bottle of rum but I woke in the night and there was what I can best describe as a new intensity to the disturbance,’ says Hank. ‘As if it’s all closing in. And getting louder. And going on for longer. Added to which, Randy VanWarmer seems to have also found a new song. It’s called I Never Got Over You.’

‘Sounds pretty miserable,’ says Rose Pink. ‘But you do seem to like this …… slit your wrist country and western stuff.’

‘I like real country and western,’ says Hank. George Jones, Merle Haggard …… ‘

‘Now you are splitting hairs,’ says Rose Pink. ‘It’s all indulgent, self-pitying drivel. You have to distance yourself from all of that crud. You need to rock a little.’

‘But …… ‘

‘You have to take the rough with the smooth. Tackle things, head on. Take control of the situation.’

‘But ….. ‘

‘Christ, Hank! What are you, a man or a mouse?’

‘I thought that therapists were supposed to show understanding and compassion.’

‘Oh that’s what you read, was it? Well, buster! That’s not therapy, that’s babysitting. Real therapy requires shock and awe tactics. Goddammit! How else is anyone ever going to address their shortcomings? How do you think anyone is ever going to change if someone constantly mollycoddles them and says there, there?’

Following the session, Hank decides it is time he did something about his sorry situation. He wants to be a man, not a mouse. He begins by phoning Clint.

‘I’m not going to be able to help out at Desperados any longer, Clint,’ he says.

‘That’s a shame,’ says Clint. ‘Why’s that, Hank?’

‘All the songs we play at the club are so depressing,’ says Hank.

‘What! Willie Nelson depressing? Surely not,’ says Clint.

Next, Hank goes around to see his next door neighbour but one.

‘About your dog,’ he says.

‘What dog?’ says the neighbour. ‘Bruiser died three months ago.’

‘Why have you brought that hammer round?’ says Mrs Oosterhuis on his next call.

‘I’ve come to give you an ultimatum about your television,’ says Hank.

‘I don’t have a television,’ says Mrs Oosterhuis. ‘In any case, a television wouldn’t be much use to me. I’m blind.’

Hank thinks he spots a flaw in her argument.

‘If you are blind, how did you know I had a hammer?’ he says.

‘I have very good hearing,’ says Mrs Oosterhuis. ‘I grew up in the veldt in the Transvaal.’

Following on from his bout of assertiveness, Hank finds that things are a little better that night. Just a trickle of revellers speaking in hushed tones make their way home from the clubs, Mrs Oosterhuis’s television is much fainter and the dog comes out with little more than a muted ruff when the fox comes in the garden. And Randy VW barely gets past the opening line of his hit. This is, of course, comforting but Hank wonders why he can still hear any of these noises at all. At breakfast, Linda suggests that he must face the possibility that he is delusional. Quite forcefully, he feels.

Hank debates whether he might need another session with Rose Pink to clarify exactly what is wrong. Her unconventional approach to therapy appears to have given him a nudge in the right direction but perhaps there are more holistic ways to address his …… what should he call it? Confusion? Anxiety? Phobia? Neurosis? Not that he thinks it is going to be a walk in the park but half the battle, as he understands it, is admitting that you have a psychological problem. He is pleased to see on Facebook that a group of neuroscientists have discovered a song that reduces anxiety by sixty five per cent. If he could perhaps replace Randy VanWarmer’s heartfelt lament with this, then he might be in business. He could play the tune, say five or six times during the day and then another five or six times before going to bed.

After several hours of listening to Weightlessness, Hank’s breathing is barely discernible. When Linda comes home late from the salon and finds him motionless in his chair with his eyes closed, she thinks he is dead. She turns off the ethereal music that is coming from the hi-fi system and calls the NHS out of hours service. She tells them that she does not know what has caused Hank’s catatonia but that lately, he has been showing signs of ……. confusion.

‘Don’t do anything until the doctor gets there,’ she is told.

To steady herself, she pours herself a glass of the rum that Hank brought home. She calls out his name repeatedly to try and rouse him but he remains immobile.

‘I’m sorry about this morning,’ she says. ‘You haven’t gone and done anything silly, have you? You haven’t taken anything?’

She goes over to him and puts her hand on his wrist. She thinks she can detect a faint pulse but not being medically trained, she can’t be sure. She might also be imagining it but thinks she senses a slight movement in his chest.

‘Hank!’ she says, gently shaking him. ‘Hank! Wake up, Hank!’

There is still no response. It is at this moment that the doorbell rings. Linda rushes to the door.

‘I’m Dr Spurlock,’ says the diminutive man in the overcoat and the large black bag standing there.

‘Thank God you’ve come,’ says Linda. ‘Come on in.’

‘Any changes with your husband, Mrs Hank?’ Dr Spurlock asks.

‘No. No changes.’

‘Shall we take a look?’

Dr Spurlock puts his bag down and begins to examine Hank. He feels for a pulse and then takes out his stethoscope.

‘Now, tell me,’ he says. ‘How long has your husband been like this?’

‘It is hard to say, Doctor,’ says Linda, pushing her tumbler of rum out of sight, behind a potted plant. ‘He was like it when I came home from work a little while ago.’

‘It looks as if he is …… floating, Mrs Hank. My guess is that Mr Hank is somewhere up there on the ceiling. Not usually a common condition but we’ve come across this a lot lately. Has he been listening to …… Weightlessness by any chance?’

‘He did have some strange music on when I got home, yes.’

‘That will probably be Weightlessness, Mrs Hank,’ laughs Dr Spurlock. ‘Now if you’ll just stand back, I’ll just give your husband a shot and that should do the trick. It will bring him round and in no time, he will be as right as rain.’

In the middle of the night, Hank hears voices. He is not sure if this is the chatter of people coming home from the night shift at the foundry, blown in on the wind or if Mrs Oosterhuis has left her television on. Alongside this, there is the thumping bass from the Reggae sound system at number 44 and the fierce Rottweiler from across the way howling defiantly at the moon. As if this weren’t enough, the ghost of crooner, Randy VanWarmer is at it again. Hank puts his wax earplugs in to try to block the noise out but still, he can hear voices. He tosses and turns. He knows from experience when the insomnia demons visit like this, they do not easily go away, even if the voices stop. But, the voices don’t stop. Nor does Randy VanWarmer. Hank gradually becomes aware that he is not going to sleep. There’s something inherently treacherous about night.

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved

The Rhubarb of Doubt

the-rhubarbofdoubt

The Rhubarb of Doubt by Chris Green

I have nothing scheduled for the day and am just catching up on my Minecraft when Tara Vain pushes open the door to my office. I have my feet up on the desk and a blunt burning down in the ashtray. I was not expecting anyone. Since the downturn, there has been a lamentable drop in business. No-one can afford to hire a private detective any more. Custody battles are no longer pursued. Cuckolded spouses are tolerating greater degrees of infidelity. People are more readily relinquishing their identity to computer fraudsters. Things are so bad I have had to let my assistant, Brody go and have had to auction my prized Mercury GM. If things become any worse I will need to consider downsizing my premises.

The sight of a stunning babe in a summer dress and designer jewellery standing there takes me by surprise but not so much as when she comes out with her request. Not perhaps her request per se. She wants her husband found and tailed. No problem there. This is the kind of thing that Mason Edge Associates do as a bread and butter activity. The bombshell comes when she says that her husband is in Devon in England. We, of course, are based in Los Angeles.

‘This might seem like a stupid question,’ I say, ‘But why not hire a private detective in England? In Devon, perhaps. Surely they must have them over there.’

‘Because, Mr Edge, I live in New York,’ she says.

‘New York?’ I say. ‘This is LA, lady. Or didn’t you notice Sunset Strip on the way in?’

‘I liked the name,’ she says. ‘Mason Edge Associates suggests integrity.’

‘That’s good to know, Mrs …..’

‘Vain,’ she says. Tara Vain.’

‘Well, Mrs Vain. We do have a certain reputation around these parts,’ I say. ‘But I was unaware that this stretched as far as New York.’

‘I have a house in Los Angeles too, Mr Edge,’ she says, sitting herself down and adjusting the hem of her dress – upwards. ‘I mean, who doesn’t? But I no longer live there.’

I slide a leaflet across the desk. Is this to pretend that I have not noticed her long legs or might it be to get a little closer? Perhaps, it is a little of both. Maybe the gesture is unintentional. I can’t say that I’ve completely taken to Tara Vain. Well, apart from the legs. Everything seems to be a bit of a game to her. Perhaps I am missing Belinda more than I thought, at least in the physical sense. Belinda moved out to pastures new at the onset of the downturn. She was not ready for hardship.

‘This will explain my rates,’ I say.

‘No need, Mr Edge,’ says Tara Vain. ‘I’ve been on your website. This gave me the low down on the numbers. I’m sure you will do a fine job. Now, let’s get on.’

‘And the expenses will of course need to include flights,’ I say. ‘I assume they do have airports in Devon, England.’

‘Very droll, Mr Edge,’ she says. ‘I’ve booked all your flights and hired a car for you. I’ve even found you a comfortable hotel in Exeter.

‘Exeter. Yes, I do believe I’ve heard of Exeter,’ I say. ‘In the south-west, isn’t it?’

‘It’s a little way from London, yes, but I’m sure you’ll manage to find your way around. And they even have electricity there these days.’

‘And you believe this is where your husband is?’

‘Somewhere around there, yes. I’m sure you will find him. Devon is not a big place.’

I have the Google map up on the computer. Devon is a huge space but I let it go. After all, she is paying for my time.

‘Tell me! Why do you want me to tail your husband, Mrs Vain?’ I say. ‘Marital indiscretion?’

‘In a manner of speaking, I suppose,’ she says. ‘But it’s more complicated than that.’

Supremely confident up until now, she seems suddenly uncomfortable. She pulls the hem of her dress back down and leans forward. ‘Look, Mr Edge. I’ll be honest with you. OK? Matty has run off with my lover, Yannis. They are having …… an affair.’

‘Ah! I see,’ I say, not flinching. Deviation in one’s proclivities is becoming more and more commonplace in matrimonial cases.

Tara Vain bluetooths me some photos of her husband along with some of her and Yannis together on a yacht somewhere. She says she is not able to give me much more information on what exactly they might be up to as she has lost touch. They have both changed their phones, she says and she suspects they are both using different names for their social media activities. She suggests that Matthew Vain and Yannis Milos or whatever they are now calling themselves might be embarking on a new business venture together in Devon and this would be a good place to begin my investigation.

‘What line of business is your husband in?’ I ask.

‘Matty’s a bit of a wheeler-dealer,’ she says. ‘He’s done a bit of everything. He doesn’t stay at anything long.’

‘What about Yannis?’ I ask.

‘Yannis’s an entrepreneur too,’ she says. ‘A rather dashing one. Yannis’s full of ……. surprises. That’s why I fell for him, I suppose.’

I am fortunate with the choice of hotel in Exeter as, on arrival, I discover a nearby one burned down the previous week. The oldest hotel in the country, apparently. We don’t have anything like that in LA. Everything is new. My room is quite small but the bed is comfortable and there are some paintings on the wall. Modern stuff, I suppose you might say. A bit like Dalí. There’s one called The Rhubarb of Doubt and another called The Damson of Hope. There are another two in the lobby, The Onion of Despair and The Marrow of Certainty. Lord knows what they mean but they are quite vibrant. Apparently, the manageress’s son is doing joint honours in Horticulture and Fine Art at Dartington College nearby.

I do not have a particular strategy for my investigation but I feel it would be a good idea to start with the gay clubs in Exeter to see if Matty and Yannis might be around. After all, the gay scene in Devon is unlikely to be an extensive one. It’s more of an urban phenomenon. I look in at a gay sauna place near the hotel. This is not at all like the establishments in you find in LA. No razzmatazz here. It is little more than a shed. There is no steam room, no jacuzzi. Just as well as I was not anxious to try these out. I have a quick look upstairs at the relaxation rooms and the so-called cruising area but clearly, Matty and Yannis are not there. I do not feel inclined to linger. In the evening, I do a whistle-stop tour of the two clubs in town that Google lists as gay haunts but again there is no sign.

After a similar foray into the unknown in downtown Torquay the following day, I begin to think that I might be barking up the wrong tree. Perhaps I am just showing my preconceptions of what gay life might entail. Belinda always used to maintain I was homophobic. They are the same as anyone else, she would say. She has one or two gay friends so I’m sure she’s right. There is no reason why they should be any different. There is certainly no reason why two men who have not hitherto come across as gay, at least to Tara Vain, would have habits that are different to two straight men. They might even play soccer or go fishing. They would not necessarily frequent gay haunts. I realise I’m not going to find them by pursuing this line of enquiry. It looks as if I might have to do some real detective work after all.

I wonder why Tara wants me to find her husband at all, especially as she intimated she does not want him back. My understanding is that under New York law, divorce is easy as finding a police officer in a doughnut shop. But, she is paying for the service so why should I complain?

Tara phones me from Chicago to find out how I am getting on.

‘Chicago!’ I say, ‘What are you doing in Chicago?’

She says that her hairdresser is in Chicago, so she has flown out to get her hair restyled. It is clear that while the rest of us are struggling, Tara has money to burn. I don’t pursue it. Instead, I give her an update on my progress, or lack of.

‘Matty and Yannis are probably looking to start some kind of business over there,’ she says. ‘In which case, they will be looking for premises. Why don’t you start looking around the commercial property agents?’

This was more or less what I had planned for the next day but I find it is often best to let the client feel they are in control so I agree with her and tell her I will report back. I take a careful look through the commercial property to let on Rightmove for a twenty mile radius of Exeter and come up with hundreds of selections. On the assumption that the pair would hardly come over to Devon to embark on a small venture, I filter the results by price, top down. This still leaves a sizeable number of choices. No-one seems to be taking up commercial property. The downturn seems to have hit them harder down here in the south-west. Business, it seems, is centred around London and the south-east. I decide to take a drive around the major towns and look at a few of the options. If I engage one or two of the agents in general chat, I might be able to find out something.

The Nissan Micra is smaller than I am used to, but everyone over here seems to drive around in these miniature cars. Something to do with the narrow roads, I suspect. It isn’t so much that they drive on the wrong side of the road over here as they are forced to drive down the middle. They do have something called the Devon Expressway but it’s more like a country lane. No need for my Pacific Coast Highway playlist on these roads. The other thing I miss is a dank-ass burrito. You can’t get one for love or money in these parts.

‘What line of business are you in?’ asks Myles Harman of Travis and Babb in Newton Abbot.

‘Import and Export,’ I tell him.

‘Aha,’ says Myles. ‘I guessed that it might be something like that. You’re not from round here are you?’

‘You noticed the accent, then,’ I say. ‘Look! I don’t suppose a colleague of mine from back home called in recently. A Matthew Vain. Perhaps with his er, partner, Yannis Milos.’

‘To be honest, Mr Edge, we don’t get a lot of Americans here in Devon.’

‘How many square feet of floorspace do you think you might need for your operation?’ asks Richie Lunsford of Creamer and Vest in their Dartmouth branch.

‘I was thinking we might need a large premises and perhaps one or two smaller units as well,’ I say, hoping that this might perhaps remind him of a recent enquiry by other Americans. It doesn’t. I broach the subject directly but he all but ignores it. There seems to be some kind of language barrier. I’ve noticed it once or twice since I’ve been here. It’s as if my accent masks the fact that I want a normal conversation. It’s as if I am speaking to them from behind a TV screen and they don’t know how to respond.

‘Are you OK with premises on an industrial estate or do you need to be in town?’ asks Ben Shaver of Sadler Betts in Paignton.

‘I’d need to consult with my clients, Matthew Vain and Yannis Milos,’ I say. ‘I don’t suppose they’ve called in themselves, only I know they’re in the area.’

‘No. I don’t recall the names,’ says Ben. ‘In fact, you are the first one to enquire about commercial property for some time. There’s been a bit of a slump in the market, recently.’

‘The south coast of Devon has a rich history of smuggling,’ says Kieran Wagstaff in the Salcombe branch of Sadler Betts. He clearly does not get a lot of opportunities to chat and sees himself as something of a local historian. As I am a visiting American, he sees it as his duty to educate me.

‘And there’s talk that on dark nights it still goes on today in these waters with all the remote coves and no coastguard patrols. Contraband, drugs and lately even people come into the country this way. When Sadler Betts took on those units you are looking at the particulars of, I did wonder if this was what they had once been used for or perhaps what they would be used for in the future.’

‘But you have had no enquiries,’ I say.

‘No I’m afraid not,’ he says. ‘Not even from a developer. And we’ve had them on our books for several months now. The market is a little weak at the moment.’

Kieran Wagstaff’s words set me thinking, though. What greater entrepreneurial opportunity for two American wheeler-dealers could there be in these parts than a bit of good honest smuggling? Granted, Matty and Yannis had not taken up any of the Sadler Betts units but they could well be based somewhere around here. I decide to concentrate my search on this particular stretch of coast.

YMCA is an odd name for a juice bar, I think to myself. A juice bar? A brightly-coloured juice bar surrounded by lush vegetation, screaming out its presence, here in the otherwise sleepy village of Wembury? Could this be it? Y.M.CA? Of course. Yannis and Matty from California, with the underlying tongue in cheek gay connotations? It has to be. Perhaps it is the start of a chain of juice bars they are setting up all around the south coast. And beyond. I peer inside. There, amongst the palms and yuccas that decorate the place, are several young people sitting at tables, sipping smoothies. I can just make out the two figures behind the counter. These match the pictures I have of Matty and Yannis.

I call Tara Vain, half expecting she will be in Miami buying a crystal chandelier or in Denver buying chocolate confections, or something. How would she like me to proceed? But, her cell is switched off. I discover I don’t have another number for her.

I take another look inside YMCA, my eyes right up to the glass. This could easily be a tourist stop-off in L.A. The walls are bedecked with pictures of Malibu and Venice beaches, the Hollywood Sign, The Beach Boys, orange groves and all things California. It looks as is if Matty and Yannis might be trying to establish a brand. This is probably how Burger King, KFC, Subway, Papa John’s all got started. Begin with a small outlet somewhere by the coast where rents are cheaper than in the capital and slowly but surely expand the franchise worldwide.

I’m thinking, it won’t do any harm to go in and have a healthy smoothie, avocado and strawberry or kiwi and almond, or perhaps a purple power smoothie with mixed berries and vanilla extract. I step inside. West Coast singer-songwriter Jonathan Wilson’s Gentle Spirit is playing softly. I quietly sit myself down at a table near the window. To my surprise, Matty and Yannis come straight over to greet me. In his striped apron, Matty looks taller than I imagined and Yannis seems to have filled out a little since the photos of him were taken.

‘Ha! A fellow American,’ says Matty, even before I have spoken. How can he tell, I wonder? Is it the way I carry myself, the way I dress, my haircut?

‘From downtown L.A.’ says Yannis. How does he know? Has he seen me around the city, perhaps?

‘The game’s up, dude,’ Matty continues. ‘It’s over. We know Tara sent you.’

‘You were quicker than the last guy,’ says Yannis, smiling. ‘The last one took nearly two weeks.’

‘What! ………. ‘ I say, trying to take aboard what he is saying. ‘Why?’

‘I agree,’ says Matty. ‘You’d think she could find something more worthwhile to spend her inheritance on, wouldn’t you?’

© Chris Green 2017: All rights reserved