Light Fandango

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LIGHT FANDANGO by Chris Green

July 1966: Sunny Afternoon

We are in the midst of a heatwave, there are smiles on people’s faces and Sunny Afternoon is at Number One. It seems that the gloom and austerity of the post-war years, which in my nineteen years is all I have known, have finally been stripped away. There is a new sense of optimism. According to Magic Max, the time is right for change. It’s the dawning of a new age, he says. A cultural shift is taking place. You only have to look around you to see that people are getting out a bit more and beginning to dress more colourfully.

There isn’t often a lunchtime rush at Licensed to Fill sandwich bar, more of a steady trickle of customers throughout the day. Although local artist, Gooch did some creative sign-writing to draw attention to our little establishment, we are not in what you might call a prime position. We are off the lower end of East Street. We are at the wrong end of Blind Alley to get the office workers from the banks and insurance companies and too near to the Eight Bells to be attractive to browsers from the gift shops in Coleridge Close.

However, today we are inundated. Swarms of young people in their gladrags are tentatively looking the place over to see what is going on. The singer from the Small Faces came in yesterday. I don’t know what he was doing here in the provinces but he seemed to know what he wanted. So, word has probably got around that there is more to be had at Licensed to Fill than cheese and tomato toasties and tuna mayonnaise baguettes. What we have is hashish. Nineteen kilos of Morocco’s finest that Arlo brought back last week in his converted camper van, along with his stories of how they smoke it freely everywhere in Marrakesh and Tangier. We can’t really put a sign up at Licensed to Fill advertising our new line as it is definitely illegal in the UK, but by the interest we are now getting perhaps we won’t need to advertise it. Word of mouth might be sufficient. Arlo says we just need to be cool. I think he means we need to keep an eye out for the law. Not that we see them too much in Sinton Green. It is not a crime hotspot.

Arlo runs Licensed to Fill with his partner, Orla. They bought the lease from Mr and Mrs Broccoli a few months ago. I am helping out at Licensed to Fill through the summer to supplement my meagre student grant. It was either this or deckchair attendant at Broad Sands beach which is ten miles away. An easy decision, as I have no transport. Licensed to Fill is a relaxed pace to work. We have a background soundtrack of all the latest releases as they come out. Arlo and Orla are hip to what’s happening. We’ve got Stan Getz, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. We’ve got Blonde on Blonde, Pet Sounds, Love, The Byrds’ Fifth Dimension and something by a new band called Jefferson Airplane. All to be played loudly.

September 1966: Tomorrow Never Knows

Magic Max might be right. Things are moving on. We have the Mothers of Invention. We have Seven and Seven Is. We have Revolver, with the transcendent, Tomorrow Never Knows. There is a new word, psychedelic. It’s not in the dictionary yet, but it will be. The whole language that we speak is changing. Guys are now dudes or cats and girls are now chicks or babes. Good things are a gas or a blast and bad things are a drag or a bummer. We’re having a name change too. Arlo and Orla have decided that the name Licensed to Fill is yesterday. James Bond is old hat. Gooch is painting a new sign. I’m not sure about the durability of a name like New Hat. People might think that it refers to a milliners, but it is Arlo and Orla’s decision. If they really were set on a hat theme, perhaps Mad Hatter might have been a better choice, considering the clientele we are getting lately. The dude in the floral brocade trousers and the lime green cowboy boots and the tall one in the orange boiler suit with the corkscrew hair, for instance. And the cat in the space suit, the one we call Major Tom. Someone should write about these people. They would make a great story, or a play, or maybe a song.

Our trade links with Morocco have been streamlined. Now the hash is brought over, hidden in cases of clothing and textiles. Being shipped it may be, but it is flying off the shelves. I think Arlo has an arrangement with the police, whereby he bungs them a few quid now and again and they turn a blind eye to what is going on in Blind Alley.

We have a monkey called Harold who performs magic tricks and a crimson-bellied parakeet called Oscar who mimics every sound he hears. Oscar can say hello, how are you today and would you like coleslaw on that. In addition, he warbles and whistles his way through the day like an accomplished flautist. His repertoire includes Autumn Leaves and Blue Rondo a la Turk along with passable imitations of Paint it Black and Norwegian Wood.

November 1966: Sunshine Superman

I missed enrolment. Somehow, it just slipped my mind and it’s been six weeks now. I won’t be going back to university. I can’t see the point. Sociology seems such a waste of time. All that number crunching about people’s lives and examining the ins and outs of matters that should simply be allowed to run their course. Besides, the opportunities for gratification are so much greater in this brave new world I am exploring through my connections with New Hat.

The cultural landscape, as Magic Max refers to it as, is becoming stranger by the week. I’m not sure who the Foucault and Bourdieu dudes that he speaks of are, but we do have conversations about the likes of Andy Warhol, Marshall McLuhan, RD Laing and Kurt Vonnegut, well, mostly Kurt Vonnegut, as I have just read Cat’s Cradle. We have started selling International Times, a cool new underground newspaper at the café. The editor, Miles is a friend of Arlo’s. But most importantly for us, the music is breaking new ground. With Sunshine Superman, Good Vibrations, Da Capo, and Don Cherry’s Symphony for Improvisers, stylistic boundaries are being expanded. Melody Maker is calling it progressive pop.

We have begun showing art-house films on Thursday evenings, Jean-Luc Godard, Truffaut, Resnais. I’m not sure what some of them are about but perhaps that’s not the point. They are ambiguous, dreamlike, surrealistic. Perhaps this is enough. Weird is cool. Last Year in Marienbad was long and baffling but oddly enjoyable. Orla says you should not look for meaning in everything, you should go with the flow, whatever that means. She punctuates her conversation with aphorisms, like, be here now, do not hate, meditate, and you’re either on the bus or off the bus.

Lately, I am finding it hard to get in to work on time. Ten am. seems very early. It’s not that work at New Hat is strenuous. It’s the changes in lifestyle. Late nights now seem obligatory. I’m often not in bed before six. It’s a good thing that most of the customers also seem to be late risers and that Arlo and Orla are not too concerned with New Hat attracting breakfast trade.

By midday, New Hat will be crowded with colourful people. There’s Satan Ziegler and the earth magic crowd, waxing lyrical about ley lines and UFOs. There are the dandies of the underworld and the laid back musos. Then there are the jugglers and the clowns. Denny, Lenny and Bozo are usually buzzing around doing their business and Spike and Stoner will be doing drug deals with anyone who comes in looking to have a little scene. Although they should be at odds, macrobiotics and toking sit surprisingly well together. By mid-afternoon, the seating area will be awash with half-empty dishes of millet and buckwheat, being used as ashtrays and the place will be bathed in a thick fug of blue smoke.

January 1967: Light My Fire

Arlo brought in an album called The Doors by a new band from Los Angeles called The Doors. The title refers to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, the celebrated author’s exaltation of psychoactive drugs. The music is minor-keyed, spacey and subterranean, with lyrics unashamedly about sex, death and getting stoned. It’s wild and free. New Hat has changed its name again. It is now called Soul Kitchen, after a track from the album. Soul Kitchen with the tagline, the doors are open.

Lots of cool things are starting to happen. The underground is burgeoning. It’s being called the counter-culture and its long-term aim is to overthrow straight society. This make take a few years but even Magic Max is surprised by the speed of change. A restless energy has taken hold. The emphasis is now firmly on youth. It’s a great time to be nineteen. Nineteen months ago I was still at school and now here I am living the most extravagantly decadent of lifestyles. There are Dita and Rita and Suzie and Pixie and, of course, there’s Mary Jane. Life is an endless party. I feel so alive, I’m probably going to live for ever. …….. There again, perhaps not. I’m with Pete Townshend on this one. I don’t think I’d like that. Imagine what it’s like being thirty five or forty. It must be awful.

April 1967: Strawberry Fields Forever

Soul Kitchen has been so successful that Arlo and Orla have taken out the lease on the vacant premises next door. It is colossal. We are going to have live entertainment and circus acts. You will be invited to bring flowers, incense, candles, banners, flags, families, animals, drums, cymbals and flutes to happenings here. Arlo feels that a few of these will really put Sinton Green on the map.

Artists and musicians from far and wide are already starting to drop in, despite the fact that we are miles from the capital. Peter Blake, the artist who is working on the cover for the new Beatles album has become a regular at Soul Kitchen and that dress designer who does the geometric prints comes in quite a lot. Salvador Dali, at least I think it was him, called in with a Siamese cat on his shoulder and promised to paint a mural. Brian Jones and his entourage dropped by last week, resplendent in their Berber finery and, I’m not sure, but do believe I saw Stanley Kubrick secretly filming here a day or two ago. I can’t be sure of everything. Things can be a bit blurry round the edges at times.

Rock music is reaching dizzying new heights. We have Cream. We have Pink Floyd. We have Purple Haze and Strawberry Fields and we now have paper suns. Paper suns are LSD. LSD or acid, as it is becoming known, heightens your awareness of yourself and your surroundings. You feel that you are floating and have a great sense of well-being. You experience things that were probably always there but you could never reach before. Acid helps you to appreciate music with all of your senses. You not only hear it but taste, smell, feel and see the music too.

Meanwhile, a moral panic is breaking out about acid. Nathan Blocker in The Daily Mail says that it makes you strangle kittens and jump out of fourth floor windows. That the God that people have claimed to see under its influence is not the Christian God but Beelzebub. Blocker goes on to says its advocates like Timothy Leary, Ram Dass and even Paul McCartney should be boiled alive, hung drawn and quartered or keel hauled. Well, something like that. Sufficient to say the paper is not in favour of LSD. My parents read the Mail, and aren’t what you might call free thinkers, so this will be their view too. I haven’t spoken to them since the row about Mao Tse Tung a year ago. I was only trying to wind them up; I didn’t really carry the Little Red Book around with me.

June 1967: A Whiter Shade of Pale

A Whiter Shade of Pale is at Number One. Everywhere people are skipping the light fandango and feeling kind of seasick. The crowd is calling out for more. Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is blaring out from living rooms across the country. The Fourteen Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexandra Palace in London, a tripped-out psychedelic gathering of the underground has set the scene for the summer. We are going to stage some far out gatherings of the tribes at Soul Kitchen.

But, philosopher-poet, Christian Dara, who sometimes pops in for his mint tea and Lebanese crêpe, says that this is it. The dream is already fading. It will soon be over. The underground, as it has been called, is becoming visible at ground level. The quiet revolution, he says, is being appropriated by the mainstream. There, it will be neutralised, cleansed and absorbed into the everyday. There will perhaps be a summer of beads and bells, love and peace and false sentiment and then it will be back to business. On to the next thing.

Why would turning on, tuning in and dropping out be any different to say, angry young men, teddy boys, mods and rockers?‘ he says. It’s just another fad. ……. In any case, it would not work.’

‘Why?’

‘It lacks substance. It’s impractical.’

‘How?’

‘OK, you’ve all turned on. That’s fine. You’re all sitting cross-legged on the floor. You all feel mellow yellow. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. ……. You’ve tuned in. You’re listening to some groovy music. You’re turning cartwheels across the floor. ……. You’ve created some cool art. You‘ve painted your rooms in a colourful way and everything around you is dripping in psychedelic patterns.

‘That’s what we want. Get loaded. Groovy music. Cool art. What’s wrong with that?’

‘Nothing. That’s fine. ……. But now, you’ve all dropped out. You’re calling out for another drink but there is no waiter to bring a tray. The waiter too has dropped out.’

‘Hey.’

There’s no plan. You have no plan.’

‘Perhaps we don’t need a plan. Life is organic, not mechanical.’

First of all, you need to identify how you want to shape your organic life. Decide what you want to create. Not what you want to stop, but what you want to make.

‘We’ll make love, not war.’

‘Well, that’s a start, I suppose, but what will you do then. You’ll have lots of babies.’

‘We’ll use contraceptives.’

‘But remember, the pharmacist who sells the contraceptives has dropped out. He’s off somewhere kissing the sky. You’ll have a growing population and no means to feed them. There are no crops. The farmer has dropped out. Or perhaps he has grown a different crop and he’s eight miles high. Should you not have factored all of this in? Everything will fall apart if you don’t have a plan. You will perish. You will …….. wait for it, turn a whiter shade of pale.’

That’s not going to happen.’

No. You’re probably right. Once they’ve woken up to what is going on, the powers that be will be on your case. And you‘ll be busted, busted and busted again and your dealers will end up in jail. And then you’ll have no drugs. And no motivation. At best, you’ll end up as small enclaves of weekend hippies, working at dead-end jobs to pay for damp basement flats, saving up to go to occasional pop festivals to listen to long-haired bands singing protest songs about police brutality and conflicts in far off lands. A far cry from skipping the light fandango.

© Chris Green 2016 : All rights reserved

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ABRACADABRA

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Abracadabra by Chris Green

I have just pulled into the DIY superstore car park when I catch a snatch of Abracadabra on the new radio station I have found. Blitz plays nothing but rock, which is fine, as none of the other stations will touch it. I have not heard the Steve Miller Band for ages and, while Abracadabra may not be their finest effort, it’s still a treat to hear, and far better than the mind-numbing pap you get elsewhere on FM. Unfortunately, steel impedes the FM radio signal and B and Q is a steel-framed structure, so as I get near the building, the radio begins to tune out. Reluctantly, I switch it off and grab a trolley. I make a mental note to play Abracadabra when I get home, loudly. But, the tune is in my head now. As I wander round the store, I can’t get rid of the infectious Abracadabra chorus.

Suddenly, as if by magic, there she is. She is in the same aisle as me, looking at the selection of specialist paints. She looks divine in her Sticky Fingers T-shirt. And what cool sleeve tattoos! She smiles at me. Her smile is like Stairway to Heaven. I smile back. Mine is probably more November Rain. I am conscious that I haven’t shaved for a few days. Taking me further by surprise, she comes right up to me. She tells me she recognises me.

‘I saw you unloading your white van in Serendipity Street yesterday,’ she says. ‘I’ve just moved in across the road. I did try to attract your attention at the time, but you seemed preoccupied.’

‘Sorry,’ I say, trying to recall how I could have possibly been too busy to notice this vision of grace and loveliness.

‘No worries,’ she says. ‘We have met now. I’m Ella Vallée, by the way.’

‘Ella Vallée. That’s a nice name,’ I say, successfully avoiding the temptation to say, ‘I bet you are.

‘My father was French,’ she adds, by way of explanation.

‘I’m Andy,’ I say. ‘I love France. I regularly take the van over to Calais.’

‘My name was Ella Crews,’ she says. ‘But I changed it back when my divorce came through.’

‘Oh,’ I say.

Cool. Attractive. Divorced. Flirty. This is promising.

‘I expect you are busy but I was wondering if you might pop round later on,’ she says. ‘I’ve got something I would like you to take a look at.’

And she’s inviting me round. It gets better and better. This is exactly what I need. I’ve been at a loose end since Mandy moved her things out a week or two ago.

But let’s not jump the gun. If something seems too good to be true, it usually is. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Best to try and play it cool.

‘I’ve got some things to finish up first,’ I say. ‘But I could swing by later, say about six.’

‘Here’s my number,’ she says. ‘In case you get lost.’

..……………………..………………….

When Sergeant Tom Crews returns home from his extended tour of duty in Afghanistan, he finds Ella has gone. She has taken all her things, and without them, the first-floor flat looks empty. She has left no note or any clues as to where she might be, just a pile of bills and junk mail on the mat in the hallway. Certainly, she has talked about leaving before. But this was, he thought, just talk. They had their differences. There was no doubt about that. Tom did not feel it was right for the wife of a serving army NCO to run around seeing bands like Foo Fighters and Rage Against The Machine, and probably taking all manner of illegal substances while he was fighting the Taliban in Helmand Province. Ella had laughed this off, saying that he shouldn’t have been fighting with the Taliban, the army was there as a peace-keeping force. And, they had clashed over Ella’s tattoos. While it was not unusual for army wives to have their husband’s names tattooed on their arm, or a rose or something like that on their ankle, some of Ella’s tattoos were quite explicit. The snake crawling up her thigh, for instance, and the butterfly cleavage tattoo. What impression must this give his colleagues about their marriage?

But, still, six years is a long time. You have to expect a few ups and downs. It is understandable that his feelings about his relationship with Ella have tended to fluctuate. One day he would feel lucky to have such an attractive wife to go home to and the next, in a jealous rage over something he had found out, he might want to knock the living daylights out of her. But, was it too late to save their marriage, anyway? Might they actually be divorced? Tom has a vague recollection that, after he had seen a post of her strutting her stuff at an Eagles of Death Metal gig on Facebook, he may have signed something, a communication of some sort that came through the post over there in Helmand, but he is not sure what it might have been. Lately, everything seems to be a bit of a blur. With the Taliban insurgency in the Gereshk District at its height, he has hardly had time to think. Under the circumstances, he was lucky to even get leave. It was only because he had begun to have blackouts that they had let him go.

..……………………..………………….

Ella may have just moved in to the Serendipity Street apartment, but, unless the previous tenants also had a taste for rock, she seems to have made the place her own very quickly. Or perhaps she has moved in with someone else, someone who had already made their mark. That’s a lingering possibility. The Jimi Hendrix mural running the length of the hallway looks quite an accomplished work. It’s also hard to imagine that the Pearl Jam posters in the front room would have been framed so professionally and just left on the walls when the last tenants moved out. I’m hoping that there isn’t a fellow on the scene.

‘Did you paint the walls purple and black,’ I ask when we get to the bedroom. ‘They look awesome with the yellow Fender hanging there.’

‘It’s not a real Stratocaster,’ says Ella. ‘It’s a cheap Chinese import.’

‘Nevertheless, I bet it sounds as good as it looks,’ I say, in a final attempt to make sure no bloke is going to suddenly crawl out of the woodwork.

‘I’m getting better. I can play the intro to Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker,’ she hollers, over the Guns N’Roses riff that is pounding the Kef speakers. ‘Could you help me off with these boots, Andy?’

She lies back on the low wooden bed, amidst the cornucopia of throws and cushions. Getting the long black boots off is a doddle, compared to the tight ice blue jeans. They fit her like a second skin. How long must it take her to get into them? And, my sweet Lord! Where does that snake tattoo end up?

..……………………..………………….

Tom Crews has no idea where Ella might have gone. She has no family nearby, in fact, he has never met her parents. He hasn’t had much to do with her friends and they haven’t had much to do with him. He has always thought of them as common and they have always thought of him as dull and boring, far too straight to be with Ella. Their apparent incompatibility has come up time and time again in their arguments.

After the earlier episode with the photos, Tom deactivated his Facebook account but now, in an attempt to find out what is going on, he re-activates it. He finds to his alarm that Ella is no longer on Facebook, or if she is she is no longer using her name, or her maiden name, Ella Vallée. He searches around the flat and manages to find a mobile number for her friend, Lola on a scrap of paper. He is not sure which one Lola is, but he thinks she might be the one who comes round in the studded leather jacket, the one that talks like Eliza Dolittle and is always chewing gum. Lola tells him, not at all convincingly he feels, that she hasn’t heard from Ella in a long time. Roxy, the one with the green hair, who he tracks down to Nail It is more straightforward. She just tells him to sling his hook.

In what can best be seen as a desperate measure, Tom goes into town and sits on a bench outside Pricks Tattoo Parlour in the High Street in the hope that Ella might show up there. It is a long-shot, but he does not feel he can stay in the empty flat. When Mikey, an old friend of his, comes up to him and asks him what he is doing there, he realises that he is acting irrationally and they go off to The Prince of Wales for a pint.

‘I bumped into Ella last week,’ Mikey says, once they have exhausted their reminiscences about the old days back in Toker’s End. ‘She was coming out of R3hab.’

‘What?’ says Tom, taken aback. ‘I didn’t. uh. I know she likes to smoke the odd spliff, but I didn’t realise she had a …… uh problem.

‘Of course, mucker. You’ve been away, haven’t you?’ laughs Mikey. ‘R3hab’s a new club. Opened last year in the old fire station. Ella stumbled out. About 2am I think it was. I had been to Cloud Nine. That’s a club too, by the way. Anyway, Ella was with some friends, Lola, I think the one’s called. And that one with the green hair. Oh! And I suppose I shouldn’t tell you this, but they went off with some blokes. I’m sure it was all innocent, like.’

‘Innocent? Do you really think so?’ says Tom. ‘At 2am?’

..……………………..………………….

The Stieg Miller Band, a Swedish tribute act are playing at R3hab and Ella has managed to get us tickets. I would not normally go to see tribute bands, nor I suspect would Ella, authenticity being important to us ‘rockers’ and all that. But, she explains that Mojo is describing the Stieg Miller Band as ‘the real deal.’ Some of the band members have apparently played with Armageddon and Lowrider, two of the top Swedish rock bands. I have not heard of either band. The only acts coming out of Sweden that I have heard of are Abba and Sigur Rós. Come to think of it, Sigur Rós might be from Iceland. Perhaps I am a few years behind with my reading of music periodicals. I already know what I like and I just like listening to the music. And if Stieg Miller sounds anything like Steve Miller then I guess that is enough to go on. After all, I do like the songs. I still have the Abracadabra earworm from the other day.

I would not normally go to R3hab either. It has a reputation for fights, or at least that is what Mandy and her friends used to say about it. But, Ella tells me there is nothing to worry about. Her powers of persuasion are such that I feel I have little choice in the matter anyway. She even kits me out with some new clothes for the occasion. From that designer shop I’ve never had the nerve to go in. I have never had a real biker jacket before. It’s very stylish and I’m sure that the super spray jeans will get more comfortable as the night wears on.

..……………………..………………….

‘Let’s get our arses down there,’ says Tom Crews after the fourth pint.

‘What are you on about?’ say Mikey. ‘Where are we going to get our arses down to?’

‘R3hab,’ says Tom.

‘R3hab doesn’t open until around 10pm, mucker,’ says Mikey. ‘And I expect they have a dress code. I mean, look at you. You’re wearing …….. a double breasted suit. They’re not going to let you in looking like that. When was the last time you saw someone other than Prince Charles wearing a double breasted suit? And isn’t that a regimental tie? I mean, come on, man!’

‘You don’t think it’s a good idea for me to go, do you?’ says Tom.

‘Well. It is a daft idea,’ says Mikey. ‘But if you are going to go you’ll need to go home and change.’

..……………………..………………….

The band are playing Abracadabra over and over. It sounds great, but why don’t they play another number. The Joker or Fly Like An Eagle, maybe. ………….. A man in an orange jacket of some kind is coming towards me. He has a serious expression on his face. …………… He walks straight past me. ……………… He goes up to the pretty girl in the Sticky Fingers T-shirt who is looking at the specialist paints, along the aisle.

‘Do you need any help?’ he says, with a strained smile.

‘Do you stock these acrylic eggshell paints in purple and black?’ the girl says. ‘You only seem to have pale colours here.’

Oh no! Has it happened again? ………………. Have I had another of my flights of fancy? I only came in to buy some replacement bits for my Black and Decker.

© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved

Where’s Your Car, Debbie?

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Where’s Your Car Debbie? by Chris Green

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

The Devil’s Interval

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The Devil’s Interval by Chris Green

I have not always been a killer. I blame my descent into malevolence and murder on Holst and Wagner. Oh! And Black Sabbath. Mostly Black Sabbath, in fact. Perhaps I had better explain.

It all began when in February 1970, I was listening to a Dutch radio station late at night with my friend, Ray. We were both eighteen. We had just moved into our first flat. We had come back from The Cellar Bar and had just finished a big fat spliff. It was a stormy night with the wind rattling the shutters. On the stroke of midnight out of the static of the night-time radio, soared an apocalyptic new track. It was like nothing I had heard before. It was hypnotic, sinister, demonic. Four stinging chords on the guitar repeated over and over with a screaming vocal. But what chords they were! This was music from the very depths of Hell. We caught on straight away that something was happening, but to paraphrase Bob Dylan, we did not know what it was.

Far out,’ Ray said. ‘It’s badass. ……… But at the same time, I’m a little scared.’

I know what you mean,’ I said. ‘It’s like a thundercloud blotting out the sun. It’s really cool, but you know that something real bad is going to happen.’

What was happening was, in fact, the birth of heavy metal music. It all started here at this very moment. At the tail end of the sixties, music had been heading in this direction with The Jeff Beck Group and Led Zeppelin, but their music was tame, legitimate by comparison. This was the real deal. The Dutch station we were listening to played the music with no DJ’s babble, but I managed to find out somehow that this was the title track from Black Sabbath’s eponymous album.

Much later I was to discover that the secret behind the track lay is something known as the diabolus in musica or The Devil’s Interval. The diabolus in musica was considered so ominous in the Middle Ages that it was banned by clerics for fear it would raise Lucifer himself. It consists of a tritone (augmented fourth or diminished fifth) and spanning as it does three tones, the interval violates a musical convention and sounds dissonant, producing an unsettling feeling in the listener. Playing the note of C followed by F sharp somehow encapsulates the essence of evil. Black Sabbath may have stumbled on this accidentally, but they were not the first in the modern era to use it. Wagner used it in Götterdämmerung and Holst used it in Mars – The Bringer of War.

The difference perhaps is that these two classical greats were fully aware of what they were doing. Dissonance was precisely the effect they were after. There were, of course, no stoned freaks listening to late night Dutch radio stations in their day whose lives might be driven off course by The Devil’s Interval. Wagner and Holst had only the hoi-polloi as an audience and many of these were beyond redemption anyway, involved as they were in either military manoeuvres and empire building.

I bought the album, Black Sabbath and over the next few weeks Ray and I played it over and over at deafening volume. Ray had just bought a powerful NAD amplifier and some Wharfedale speakers and this punched the satanic sound around the small front room of the basement flat, through the whole house, up the street and possibly the next town. Dozens of stoned freaks dropped by to listen and went off to buy the album. In no time at all Black Sabbath was the one of the three albums they carried around with them and rolled their joints on.

I can’t say for certain whether the tritone repeated over and over was a factor in the landlord’s suicide. We were so taken over by the music that we did not realise that he had gone. We just thought it odd that he hadn’t been round to collect the rent. I cannot claim therefore that this was the beginning of my killing spree. This did not really take off until years later.

If you’ve ever been to a Black Sabbath concert you will know what I’m talking about when I say that it can instigate feelings of violence. I felt rancour and malevolence to the very core of my being when I saw them play live at Malvern Winter Gardens. It was lucky I didn’t get arrested for flattening the bouncer. The Devil’s Interval resounded in my head for hours after the show. I was wired. I could not get rid of the feeling. On the way home, I punched the taxi driver. After this, Ray insisted that we give Black Sabbath a break for a while.

I met Linda and she carefully monitored of my heavy metal music listening, and for years, I managed to keep a lid on my violent tendencies. Linda was a nurse and knew people who might be able to help me.

You’re doing very well, Martin,’ my anger management counsellor, Hortense would say. ‘It’s been months since you hit anyone.’

I got married and did the things you do when that happens, bought a house, went to dinner parties, had children, slept with my wife’s best friend and got divorced. Ray met Mary and did the same, in fact, most of my friends did the same. It was never going to work, was it? It was a generational thing. I’m sure Linda and Mary slept with our best friends too but didn’t tell us. This was what happened back then.

At least you’ve got that out of your system, Martin,’ Hortense would say. ‘Now you need to get on with your life.’

It was now the late-seventies. Freed from responsibility, I felt the need for some more heavy metal music. Although punk had taken over mainstream rock music, fortunately, there was also a burgeoning choice of very loud heavy metal bands to listen to. If anything the volume had been turned up. These bands needed LGVs to carry their kit around. Many of them had also discovered the potency of The Devil’s Interval. I went to see Judas Priest play at Cheltenham Town Hall. They used the devastating tritone over and over in their set. I began to feel the violent impulses again. After the concert, I went on the rampage. I set about a complete stranger and impaled him on the trident in Neptune’s Fountain. While I was only charged with manslaughter, custody threatened to put a halt to my appreciation of heavy metal.

Thanks to a glowing report from Hortense I got off with a ten-year stretch and was out again in five. There were now so many metal bands that I didn’t know where to start, ACDC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Slayer, Megadeth, Def Leppard to name but a few. And amazingly Black Sabbath were still going. Hortense recommended that if I did listen to them I should do so with the volume down and under no circumstances should I go to a gig. She lent me some Al Stewart cassettes to listen to. I was not impressed. He sounded too posh to make meaningful music. Next, she tried me on Billy Joel. He was even worse, a real pussy. I was pleased when my machine chewed up the tape.

It is never easy for ex-prisoners to find work, so I was overjoyed when after a few weeks of twiddling my thumbs and feeling depressed I managed to get a job in a musical instrument repair workshop. The manager of Black Keys, Matt Black gave me a chance. I think he sympathised with my plight because his son, Jett had himself been in trouble.

Matt Black explained the rudiments of music to me. He taught me about scales, chromatics and dissonance. It was Matt who told me about the Devil’s Interval. It was just my bad luck that he continued to demonstrate it. The Planets apparently was his favourite piece of music and Mars was his favourite section of it. He played it on repeat in the workshop. At least this is how it appeared. Perhaps I had developed earworm, but as I rubbed the glue into the crack on the cello neck, the dissonance of Holst’s diabolus in musica echoed endlessly in my head. The frightening crescendo kept building until I could take no more. I brought the instrument down on Matt’s skull.

My barrister, Miles Wimpler buckled when he found out who was presiding over the case. Judge Bearcroft was notorious for his no-nonsense stance. The old curmudgeon was variously rumoured to have jailed people for loitering, for not wearing a seat belt and for stealing pencils from the office. He described me as a ferocious animal that needed to be caged. Hortense’s mitigation regarding the diabolus in musica fell flat. Judge Bearcroft had a low tolerance for musical mumbo-jumbo and he gave me a twenty.

I was out in ten, just in time for the Black Sabbath Reunion Tour. The publicity promised that they were going to play louder than ever. They did. Much louder. And Black Sabbath the key number in their set was deafening. The tritone echoed around the auditorium like a battle raging. I know I shouldn’t have gone. And I know I shouldn’t have killed Hortense. And it would be foolish to deny the connection. My rage was clearly a result of those demonic chords rattling round in my head. It was the Devil’s work all right. With no-one to mitigate my plea, this time, I got life.

I am a few years into my sentence. I was in Wandsworth at first, which was tough, but as prisoner numbers rose I got moved to Belmarsh, which is not quite so bad. I share my cell with Denzel, another lifer. Denzel was a big name in gangland in the early eighties. One of the characters in the film, The Long Good Friday was based on him. Denzel has been in here a while. It shows in his demeanour. He is massively overweight. We chat about Staffordshire bull terriers and Millwall FC.

I have got what others might consider a cushy job working in the prison library. The problem I have is that the library is right next to the Prison Governor’s office and Governor Kraut keeps playing Wagner, more specifically Götterdämmerung. Why is he doing it? Doesn’t he know about The Devil’s Interval? Isn’t he aware of my history, or is the bastard just trying to wind me up? I nearly killed Nolan Rocco yesterday in the canteen. I had my hands around his throat. What stopped me? It certainly wasn’t Floyd Edmondson. Big Floyd was egging me on. What stopped me was the thought that maybe one day I might be able to get out of here, but I know I won’t. Judge Block told me that life would mean life. And with the diabolus in musica pulsing round in my head, it is surely only a matter of time before I kill someone else.

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

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Now You See It, Now You Don’t by Chris Green

The arbiters of taste are notoriously fickle. While The Moody Blues were cool in 1968, if you listened to their music a few years later you would be considered a bit sad. But if anything their musical powers had grown. Their tunes became even better. Perhaps this was the problem. They became too musical. They no longer fitted in. As in other fields, fashions in music are fleeting. A case of now you see it, now you don’t.

I didn’t pick up on The Moody Blues again for years. In fact, it was the week before last. I came across a couple of their albums on CD in CLIC Sargent. In Search Of The Lost Chord and On The Threshold Of A Dream. Perhaps the owner had died and their CD collection had been part of a house clearance.

Mike Pinder is not a household name, but perhaps he ought to be. He was a pioneer, introducing the mellotron, the pre-runner of the synthesiser, to the musical world. Before he formed the Moody Blues, Mike worked as a tester for the company that invented the mellotron, so he knew the difficult instrument well. He subsequently introduced the instrument to The Beatles, a popular combo of the time, who used it to great effect on Strawberry Fields Forever and then on virtually every recording they made until their breakup. Despite the instrument’s ethereal sound being such an emblem for the times, The Moody Blues were the only band to regularly use it on stage.

But …… What I am doing back in ………. 1968? Somehow I’m back in 1968, listening to In Search Of The Lost Chord. …… I am used to the year being 20 something. ….. 2015, wasn’t it? Isn’t it? How can 1968 be happening now, like it is present time? In sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch actuality. …… I haven’t seen Yvette for over forty years. She is exactly how I remember her. Mia Farrow hair, flared jeans and cheesecloth smock. What is Yvette doing back in 1968? How did we come to be here? ……… We are in a large murky room lit only by a single red light bulb suspended from the ceiling. There are something like twenty people crowded in here, sitting around on beanbags and cushions. Incense and patchouli compete with the acrid hash smoke, that hangs in the air like captured stratocumulus. Someone has just passed me a joint and I am smoking it. I do not know him – or is it her. In the haze, it is difficult to tell the gender beneath the crusty hair and the Afghan coat. ……. House Of Four Doors is playing, with the volume on the Super Dansette record player turned up. As I look around, I think I recognise one or two of the others in the room, but I can’t put names to the faces. Things were like that back then. People came and went. We were eighteen. ……… In this scenario, we are still eighteen.

‘The expression, the Lost Chord,’ Yvette is saying, ‘refers to a song by Arthur Sullivan.’

‘Who?’ I say, passing her the joint.

‘Arthur Sullivan. You know. From Gilbert and Sullivan.’

‘Ah,’ I say. I find it difficult to imagine that The Moody Blues would have listened a lot to Gilbert and Sullivan.

‘Sullivan wrote the music at the bedside of his brother Fred when he was dying. The words come from a verse by Victorian poet, Adelaide Procter,’ says Yvette. She was always the clever one. Straight ‘A’s for Yvette. I always struggled with my grades.

‘Ah,’ I say.

‘It is about a divine chord that she hears when playing the organ that she cannot find again and imagines she will only rediscover when she reaches Heaven.’

‘Now you see it, now you don’t,’ I say.

The song about Timothy Leary flying his astral plane is now playing. I want to remark that people don’t write songs about Timothy Leary and astral planes anymore, but the place I want to make this comment from is fading fast. The idea about what I should regard as now is retuning like a random radio scan.

Across the room, or perhaps it is from across the universe, it is difficult to focus in on scale, they are talking about a story by the writer Jorge Luis Borges called The Garden Of Forking Paths.

The story is about the construction of a labyrinth that folds back upon itself in infinite regression,’ an adenoidal voice says. ‘All possible futures happen simultaneously, man’

Man says that this can be explained by quantum mechanics, man.

‘Yeah, like Einstein said it, man,’ says someone else. ‘Or was it the other guy? Dirac. Paul Dirac.’

No-one seems to know, but the conversation rolls around like thunder in the hills.

I continue to have difficulty working out who is who. It does not help that everyone, male or female seems to be called man. No, wait, one of them is called Buzz and another is called Doggo.

Doggo begins to talk about Schroedinger’s Cat. It is both dead and alive apparently. I lose the drift as other conversations begin to drift in and out, just as my consciousness is doing. Someone has turned the LP over. Voices In The Sky begins. The mellotron sounds like a symphony orchestra.

‘Am I really here?’ I ask Yvette.

She thinks this it is a strange question. She puts her hand on my forehead as if feeling my temperature. She laughs and tells me I shouldn’t get so stoned. Perhaps Yvette is still living in this time as her present time. Perhaps she has not grown up yet. I cannot remember if we saw each other much after this, or even at all. Perhaps she has not left the room yet. …….. Perhaps I have not left ……. I want to be able to feel that I have lived long enough to understand reality. But now I’m not sure that I have lived long enough. What if I’m only eighteen? ……. I might be imagining the irregular shift patterns of the job at the kaleidoscope repair shop. I might be imagining those years of living with Fabula and the twins in the Stroud valleys. I might be imagining Dr Alkerdahji’s diagnosis. Or, all this might still be in the future. …… Or, what if everything is happening simultaneously as in man’s story? Perhaps John Lennon was right and nothing is real. Might all of our experiences be an illusion? The universe could be a mental construction, a great thought rather than a great machine. After all, if matter is energy condensed to a slow vibration, then we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. Life is a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves.

I remember something about quantum theory that I saw, or am one day going to see, on television, or perhaps I am watching it now. It is known as the double-slit experiment. In the experiment, when scientists watch a particle pass through two slits in a barrier, the particle behaves like a bullet and goes through one slit or the other. Yet if a person doesn’t watch the particle, it acts like a wave. This means it can go through both slits at the same time.

Now you see it, now you don’t.

Dr Alkerdahji tells me I am improving. It is a good sign, he says, that the hallucinations are becoming less frequent. So long as I keep taking the medication, I might even be able to return to work at the kaleidoscope repair shop in a week or two. I am in CLIC Sargent again, looking through the CDs. £1 for A Saucerful Of Secrets and £1 for Dark Side Of The Moon. Another house clearance probably. Fashions in music are fleeting but somehow The Pink Floyd always managed to circumvent the arbiters of taste. Roger Waters is not a household name but ………

© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved

 

James Brown – The Godfather of Soil

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James Brown – The Godfather of Soil by Chris Green

Susanna and I were having a lunchtime glass of Chardonnay at Cafe Rouge. She had called me earlier at work. She had sounded a little distraught, so I had rearranged my diary to for us to meet up. She suspected Charlie was seeing a younger woman. Over the first glass or two, we had examined the evidence, his late nights at the office, the restaurant receipts in the MG, his increased interest in personal grooming, and the dropping off of his libido, this despite the Agent Provocateur lingerie she had purchased. Most distressing were the graphic photos she had discovered on his mobile phone. We had discussed the possible avenues of retribution open to her, clearing out the joint bank account, an affair with a younger man, bromide in his morning tea, or divorce papers. Towards the end of the bottle, Susanna decided to lighten the conversation.

‘Did you know, Amanda, that playing music to plants aids their growth?’ she said.

‘Is that right?’ I said. I was naturally a little dubious about such a claim. It had a Life on Mars ring to it. Susanna was prone to fanciful ideas at times.

‘I read it in an article by a Chinese botanist in a magazine I picked up at the dentist,’ she said.

I believe Susanna has a fairly upmarket dentist, mine only has months-old copies of ‘Hello’ magazine in the waiting room. Hello doesn’t usually have a significant science content.

‘Interesting,’ I said, hoping not to show my disinterest.

‘You have a good stock of plants around the house,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you give it a try?’

‘What kind of music do you think they would like to hear,’ I asked. I did after all have a large CD collection, made up mostly of those that Nick had left when he moved out to live with that tramp, Chloe. Chloe, for some reason did not seem to care for music, so Nick had never been back for them. It had been six months now.

‘All types of music, I imagine,’ Susanna said. ‘I suppose you will need to experiment.’

I didn’t get on to it right away, but after a couple of grey early summer months, during which my indoor plants, particularly the bromeliads, began to look a little sad, I decided that it would do no harm. I started in a conservative way, playing them Chopin and Einaudi, then Bach and Handel, chosen on the basis that soothing music would be more likely to be therapeutic. Gradually I introduced them to The Corrs, The Beach Boys and REM.

In late July, Susanna phoned. As soon as I heard her voice, I could tell that something was wrong. Over lunch at Le Petit Blanc, once the business of Charlie’s latest indiscretions were out of the way (their joint bank account balance had plummeted, he had brought the other woman to the house), I reported back to her. Some plants, I explained, had responded marginally better than others to different types of music, but overall there seemed to be very little difference in their growth patterns, although I was almost sure that Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had killed my cyclamen, Young mostly I suspected. I asked her if she had been back to the dentist recently.

‘No,’ she said. Her teeth were tickedy boo since she had been using the interdentals and the organic toothpaste that Mr Ondaatje had recommended. And the composite filling was holding up well, despite her fondness for Belgian chocolate.

‘You don’t remember anything else about the plant article,’ I asked.

‘I do seem to recall that it concluded that it is all to do with vibrations. Perhaps your little darlings need something a little more up tempo or with a little bass.’

Over the next few days I tried out Little Richard, Bob Marley, and James Brown. So far as I could tell, the lemon tree in the conservatory responded favourably to Little Richard. The yucca seemed to perk up to Bob Marley, while the palms preferred James Brown. It was difficult to keep track from day to day which music had what effect on which plants, so I set up a spreadsheet on the computer, and prepared special playlists, based on genre. I took to leaving music on while I went to work. One day pop, one day soul, one day jazz, one day rock, etc.

Remarkably, all the plants seemed to favour heavy metal. My curiosity raised by this, I found a forum on the internet on the subject of playing music for plants. I had not imagined that there would be such a forum, but I discovered that there were several. While there was by no means universal agreement on which music stimulated growth, many subscribers to the forums had arrived at the same conclusion. Heavy metal was the key to happy houseplants. The repetitive riffs and screaming guitars appear to promote rapid growth said wildoutlaw93 The heavier the better said thebeast666, and turn the volume right up. Try them on AC/DC, Twisted Sister and Judas Priest oilygrebo recommended, and of course Black Sabbath.

I now play Black Sabbath to my plants eight hours a day. I have set up speakers all around the house. I put Paranoid or Heaven and Hell on at eight before I leave for work and set the player to repeat. My croton which has never flowered before has produced a bloom, and my orchids are colossal.

The Englebys next door, I notice, have a For Sale sign outside.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved

CAT

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CAT by Chris Green

Ralph is at least nineteen years old. He is what’s known as a mackerel tabby. My ex-partner’s friend, Junko found him as a kitten at Catbrain Quarry and brought him round to the house.

‘I’ve got a new cat for you,’ Junko said. She knew our old cat had run away the previous week.

My daughter, Echo took to Ralph immediately. She laughed at the way he would run up the walls to chase a fly and she loved the way that he would nestle down on the dog’s head. It was Echo who gave Ralph his name, after Ralph Lauren Polo. Echo used to think that Polo was the designer’s surname. She was eleven.

What? You don’t believe there is a place called Catbrain Quarry? Look it up on the map. It’s near Painswick in Gloucestershire. Painswick has the largest number of cats per household in the country. No, it doesn’t. There are hardly any cats in Painswick. I made that up. How about this instead? This is true.

Following an online poll in 2013 the cat was named as the new Monopoly token, replacing the iron. The cat received the most votes on Facebook, beating the diamond ring, the helicopter, the guitar and the robot. It joins the wheelbarrow, shoe, race car, top hat, thimble, Scottie dog and battleship as tokens in the standard edition of the game. Other retired tokens over the years include the horse and rider, the cannon, the bag of money and the train.

There are variations. The world edition has a staggering twenty four tokens: a cowboy hat, a pretzel, an Egyptian head mask, a rickshaw, a Canadian mountie, a kangaroo, a London black cab, a Chinese dragon, a safari hat, a NASCAR race-car, a boomerang, a windmill, a camel, an Inca mask, a Sumo wrestler, a matador, an Inca statue, a surfer, Russian dolls, a baseball glove, an African mask, an Easter Island head, a football, and a koala. Where are onion Johnny, the dreadlocks rasta, and the oil sheik?

There are numerous collectors editions including the Shrek Collectors Edition, Nintendo, Coca Cola, Star Trek and The Muppets, not to mention The Simpsons and South Park editions. The John Wayne Collector’s edition has yet to adopt the cat as a token. It is singular in its focus. Its tokens are cowboy hat, belt buckle, cowboy boot, “Duke” the dog, John Wayne’s director’s chair and Stagecoach. In the spinoff, Ghettopoly, the tokens are: pimp, ho (whore), 40 oz malt liquor, machine gun, marijuana leaf, basketball and crack. The four railroad properties from the original are replaced by liquor stores. Other properties include a massage parlour, a peep show and a pawn shop. Promoting as it does ruthless capitalism most countries have adopted the Monopoly format and there is probably a localised Monopoly featuring the town you live in. Most likely it will now have the cat as a token.

I noticed early on that Ralph liked to listen to music. Along with bringing home mice and depositing them on the dining room table, musical appreciation seemed to be one of his favourite pastimes. He liked The Cocteau Twins especially and, quite surprisingly I thought, Led Zeppelin. He jigged his head to REM and Everything But The Girl and liked to sing along to Fleetwood Mac. A friend of ours at the time told us that his cat, Dave, liked listening to Handel and Vivaldi. We tried Ralph out on Water Music and The Four Seasons. His ears pricked up at first but as the music wore on, a bored expression came over his face and after a while he slunk off to the corner.

Recently I discovered a website, musicforcats.com They claim their music is based on feline vocal communication and environmental sounds that pique the interest of cats and is written in a musical language that is uniquely designed to appeal to the domestic cat. Kitty Ditties are playful and quick incorporating stylisations of some of the animal calls that are of great interest to cats. Cat Ballads are restful and pleasing. Feline Airs is based on the pulses of the purr. As the mp3s were really cheap I downloaded them all. Ralph was unimpressed. He didn’t so much as cock his head to listen. He knows what he likes. He established his musical tastes early on. If I want a happy purring cat I have to put on Automatic for the People or Rumours.

© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved