A Colourful Day Out by Dot

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I was spending a quiet Wednesday re-shelving my collection of mid-twentieth-century boys’ annuals by colour, when my friend Janelle rang up suddenly in one of her usual pickles.

“David! David! You have to help me, I’ve done something a bit silly.”

“What is it now, Janelle? I’m really quite busy today.”

“Well, I’ve got this thing and I’m not sure what to do with it.”

“What type of thing would that be? If it’s attached to anyone, please don’t ask me.”

“No, it’s a large thing. It’s a car, actually. And a suitcase. I don’t know what to do with the car and the suitcase. I think I shouldn’t have said yes and I need you to tell me what to do now.”

I sighed theatrically, but we both know I love how she leans on me.

“Start at the beginning. Sit down, take a deep breath and confer order on your narrative.”

“I’ve taken lots of deep breaths, in fact I’m pretty much hyperventilating.”

“Slow and steady. How did you get the car and the suitcase?”

“It was this handsome stranger. He wanted me to do him a favour.”

“Okaaay…did he just come up to you at random and say ‘Take this car and this suitcase’?”

“He was attractive in a foreign sort of way. He had green eyes and a hat.”

“Green eyes and a hat. Do you mean he really did approach you at random?”

“No, he offered me a lift round the corner – I was struggling with the groceries – he gave me a ride back to my place and then he asked if I’d return the favour.”

“Didn’t your mother tell you not to get into cars with strange men?”

“He wasn’t that strange. Maybe faintly weird-looking. Anyway, he said to take this car, drive down-state, take off the licence plates and wait for him.”

“And this didn’t strike you as odd until just now? Down-state meaning what? Did he provide a screwdriver? Janelle you are a ditzy broad.”

“Don’t fire questions at me! What are you, a quiz show? No, he told me to drive thirty miles down the main road to the gas station in [name] [yes, I’m cautious] and park round the back, and I guess I didn’t think about the screwdriver thing. I was feeling fluttery, I suppose.”

“It must have been an exceptionally seductive hat.”

“He said I could keep half the money in the suitcase.”

“Now I begin to understand. You’re still a ditzy broad. Where are you? I’ll come and find you.”

Janelle is ALWAYS doing stuff like this.

So, I found her parked up in the loading area behind the supermarket, where she probably thought she was being very discreet as it wasn’t visible from the carpark, but any number of delivery men and shelf-stackers must have been wondering what the hell she was up to. The car was one of those big old classic cars that are very wide on the outside and yet strangely uncomfortable to sit in, with leather seats and no power steering. It could hardly have been more conspicuous. The suitcase sat on the back seat. It was a boxy cardboard suitcase straight from an antiques shop, clearly and only suitable for carrying bundles of banknotes.

I slid in to the passenger seat beside her and gave her my very best eye-roll.

“Janelle, this is obviously a hot car. We must get rid of it immediately. Do any of your friends own scrapyards, metal crushers, or handily deep ornamental lakes?”

“David, you know all my friends. Don’t make stupid remarks but just help me.”

“I think we drive the car around a bit and then dump it in a rough estate and let the locals take care of it. Meanwhile we can take care of the suitcase. Have you opened it? Start driving, by the way. You’ve been blocking this loading bay for long enough.”

Janelle gave me a wild look as she pulled off.

“We can’t dump it in an estate. We’d have to walk back with all the money, and anyway it’s too close. We need to get out of town, like he said.”

“I don’t think we should do what he said. Anyway, better plan – we disguise the car. It’s memorable and lots of people have seen you driving it. Let’s go to your place and you can exercise your creative streak.”

Janelle truly does have a creative streak; it’s one of the things I love in her. She designs fabrics and makes her own lampshades and paints furniture that she’s bought second-hand.

“And then we can drive it somewhere and burn it,” she replied.

“Yes, good idea. We should disguise ourselves too. Your neighbours can’t see in to your carport, can they, because of the tree?”

“No they can’t, but I’ll make extra sure and go in by the back way. David, I’m so grateful to you.”

“Don’t get too grateful yet. You don’t know, we might end up trying to murder each other for the money like in Shallow Grave.”

“Don’t joke!” said Janelle with a sob, and gave the steering wheel a worrying lurch. “Do you think the police are after me? Am I going to prison?”

“Not if I can help it,” I said as confidently as possible.

It was a nerve-wracking time with the car parked outside Janelle’s house. She’s fortunate both in the indirect route that she can use to sneak in from the drive of the house just behind her and in the tree that screens that side of her building, but it still felt very vulnerable. We had to think fast.

“Do you have paint? Can we change the colour of the car, maybe modify the letters on the licence plate a bit? There’s a C in the number we could change to an O and an 8 that could be made to look like a 9.”

“I don’t have the right kind of paint to paint a car, and even if I did it wouldn’t have time to dry. What are we going to DO?”

“Ribbons and flowers? Pretend it’s a wedding car?”

“I don’t have a dress I could wear as a wedding dress and you’re not wearing a suit.”

“Modern wedding?”

“No, that’s a silly plan! Weddings involve lots of extra people, anyway, it’s never only the two in the car unless it’s the ‘just married’ car, and the ‘just married’ car always has tin cans and things on the back. Think of something else.”

“I’m thinking of the suitcase. Did you bring it in?”

“No, it’s still in the car, which we need to disguise along with ourselves.”

“I’ve got it – do you have some big sheets of coloured paper? Let’s make a hippy car, but we’ll cut out the flowers and whatnot from paper and stick them on because we haven’t got the right kind of paint. It only needs to look convincing for a bit. I’m sure you have some scarves and floppy hats and things we can use to dress ourselves up to match.”

Janelle flung her arms around me. “That’s BRILLIANT and you will look ADORABLE in my sun-hat. I have some rolls of crepe paper that will be perfect.”

“I was thinking of you in the floppy hat, but I’m glad you approve of my idea.”

Janelle fetched the paper, scissors and glue and we hastily cut out large bright shapes free-hand.

“David, what is that meant to be?”

“It’s a heart. I thought we needed some hearts as well as flowers.”

“It’s all squashy and lopsided.”

“Real hearts aren’t symmetrical. They’re muscles and they’re often bigger on one side.”

“Your heart’s a mess, you just won’t admit to it. Here, give it to me.”

Janelle insisted on doing all the gluing herself after that, but it gave me a chance to tackle the suitcase. As I expected it was locked, but the flimsy old thing looked as though you could open it with a knife and fork. I settled for stabbing it with the scissors; that proved less effective than I hoped. Rather than struggle with it I decided to stash it in the house, but as soon as I lifted it I realised it wasn’t what we’d thought.

“This suitcase weighs hardly anything. I’m pretty sure it’s empty.”

“The BASTARD. He just wanted me to be his – his fall guy – patsy – whatever one of those people is.”

Janelle was quite immoderately upset at the thought that the man who had (we strongly suspected) saddled her with a car that had been recently involved in a crime had not also entrusted her with the proceeds of that crime, so we set off back up the sneaky route through the neighbours’ drive with me at the wheel. Thanks to her deft fingers the car’s new decorative scheme looked amazingly good for a product of crepe paper, glue and panic, and I told myself its exuberant irregularity would distract from the distinctive silhouette. The man had told Janelle to drive south so we were going north to some woods where we thought we could get well off the road to dump the vehicle. There was also a railway line in that direction and we reckoned we could walk to the nearest halt and catch a train back.

As we drove out of town Janelle had a wobble.

“Why don’t we just go to the police and tell them everything? Why didn’t we do that to start with? I can give them a description of the criminal and we’ll be heroes.”

“You’ll tell them we stuck flowers and hearts all over this car after you met a man with green eyes and a hat.”

“I can say more about him than that. He had dark hair and, um, eyebrows…”

I looked at her. She fell silent.

“Petrol! The tank is almost empty! And how are we going to burn the damn thing without it? We want a good explosion, we want it to go boom…”

I pulled over into a gas station – not the specified gas station – and filled up; the tank was pretty much full before I reflected that it was a bit stupid to waste this much gas on a car we were about to abandon. While I was inside paying, a police car pulled up and the patrolman went over to talk to Janelle.

Poor Janelle. Suddenly it all flashed before my eyes – Janelle in some interrogation room, for hours and hours, making pathetically little sense, being asked where she’d hidden the money. Not being believed. Would she indeed end up in prison? I noticed there was a back exit from the shop I could slip out of and I hated myself.

The patrolman left Janelle with a cheery one-stroke wave and drove off.

“He just wanted to congratulate me on the decorations and ask if we were going to the cultural festival at [name]. God, David, this is killing me. Drive a bit faster.”

We found an unmetalled track that led into the woods and bumped along it for as long as we could stand. The woods were damp, tangled and autumnal; I was glad because I didn’t want us to start a forest fire, and also because the heavy earthy feel of the place made it seem as though humans never came here, even though that was very clearly not the case. Finally we jolted to a stop in a dead-end side path that ended at an embankment.

Now we needed to set the car on fire. For this purpose we’d brought some matches and a long piece of string. We unscrewed the petrol cap and ran the string from the tank across the ground. Then with some fumbling I lit the end of the string. The flame ran a short way up the string and fizzled out in the leaf-mould. I tried again. The flame ran almost to the tank and then the string fell out into the grass. Janelle seized the matches from me, lit one and tossed it directly into the tank. I braced for the moment when we’d be blasted into the trees, but nothing happened. (I’ve since learnt that full petrol tanks generally don’t explode if you toss matches into them – half-full tanks are much better, apparently – but I must say it wasn’t something I’d ever needed to know before.)

“Dip the scarves in the petrol, bundle them up on the back seat and set them on fire there,” I said.

“You must be joking. Several of those scarves are vintage.”

“Okay, then, we’ll push the car over the embankment. Let’s go through it and wipe all the finger-prints off first, just in case.”

The car didn’t want to budge. The earth at the lip of the embankment was a soft cushion of leaf-mould in which it sank and stuck. We heaved and sweated at the bumper getting steadily muddier. I took off the idiotic faux-fur waistcoat Janelle had given me as part of my disguise and hurled it across the clearing in rage. Somehow this petulant gesture gave me an extra burst of energy and we succeeded finally in tipping the car over the edge, where it slithered down and came to a stop with its nose in a bush.

“That was horrible,” said Janelle, “and now I have to walk back in these shoes.” She’d worked hard on her outfit, but now her platform mules were in a sorry state.

“Take them off,” I said. Janelle set her lip and strode ahead of me out of the clearing, heading quite accurately in the direction of the railway line.

We hadn’t gone far when we came across another car, a nondescript Ford, parked on a parallel track.

“God, there was someone else here. Do you think they would have heard us when we were doing all that swearing pushing the car?”

“If they had, wouldn’t they have come to see what was happening? I think we’re alright. Janelle, what are you up to?” For she’d gone forward and was trying the boot. It wasn’t locked and opened smoothly, to reveal a canvas bag and a few other things.

“Look, here’s one of those wheel-nut-thingies. Should we go back and smash the car up a little? At least destroy the licence plates?”

“No!” I said. “Put it back and let’s get out of here!”

“There’s someone coming!” hissed Janelle, and bundled us both behind a thicket, the wheel brace still in her hand.

A man was approaching, walking rapidly over the twigs and leaves. As he drew near Janelle gave a tiny gasp and spoke to me under her breath.

“It’s him! He’s changed his clothes, but that’s definitely him!”

We held as still as we could, hardly daring to breathe. The man crossed the track and went to the boot of the car with his back turned towards us.

Janelle stepped out from behind the thicket and lammed him with the wheel brace. He fell full length on the ground.

“Oh God, I’ve killed him! David, come here!”

He was out cold but still breathing, and he didn’t appear to be bleeding.

“You haven’t killed him. You can rest easy on that front.” I felt in his pockets. “Here are his keys. Let’s take the Ford.”

“Look what’s in the bag – it’s his clothes from earlier. We can change him back into his criminal bastard outfit and see how he gets on.”

“You do the jacket and I’ll do the trousers.”

“I don’t trust you with the trousers,” she retorted. She was recovering from briefly thinking she was a murderer.

In fact it took both of us at both ends; undressing and dressing a completely inert grown man is not easy, even though he was a skinny sort and the criminal bastard suit was rather large on him. At one point he made a sort of moaning noise but then he relapsed again into unconsciousness. We moved him off the track so we wouldn’t reverse over him.

Before we left I ran back to the ditched car to fetch the suitcase; one of the things on the man’s key ring looked like a suitcase key. On my return I found Janelle had carefully placed his hat beside him and was staring down with an oddly sentimental expression.

“He looks like the babes in the wood, doesn’t he? I hope he doesn’t get hypothermia lying there in the leaves. I’m taking this as a memento.” She pulled the folded handkerchief (somewhat disarranged by our efforts) from his jacket pocket and stood holding it.

“Fuck him. Come on.”

We drove five miles before stopping to open the suitcase. It wasn’t empty, but all it held was a mass of shredded paper, the remains of printed sheets.

“Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies,” read Janelle, squinting. “Fleetwood Mac lyrics?”

“Maybe this was all some sort of strange performance art piece and no crime ever happened at all?” I wondered.

“He must have hidden the money in the forest. Shall we go back and look for it?”

I contemplated trudging through that woodland again and the ridiculous things Janelle would want to do with the cash if we ever found it.

“There’s absolutely no money in art,” I told her. And we drove home.

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The Basics: The Age of Entitlement

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Short version: shock revelation: keen fan of band loves their new album.

Long version: I think the point at which I fell for The Basics was watching a 2007 clip of them performing Hey There live in the Herald Sun studio. It was such a catchy, exuberant tune, such a strong-flavoured pastiche – pastiches being something I enjoy very much – and Wally in particular looked as though singing this song in a studio with the acoustic of a broom cupboard was about the most fun a human being could have. That combination of melodic songwriting, strong stylistic flavours (lots of different ones; they’re never boring) and a sense of fun remain, but with the years they’ve acquired a serious side. This new album has a political edge, as well as a broad stripe of melancholy lovelornness. It’s also assertively Australian. It’s very much the sound of them being defiantly who they are, in several different directions.

The album opens spikily with Whatever Happened to the Working Class, an acoustic folk jeremiad about the uselessness of politicians, the materialism of modern Australians and the general shitness of everything. It memorably rhymes “class” with “arse” (“Whatever happened to the working class? / Oh, we’ve got politicians sitting on their arse”). It’s pretty uncompromising and the lyric is to the fore: the long lines with numerous unstressed syllables sit over the music in a prominent way. This is one extreme of the album. The second track introduces the other side, though it has a similar tempo and is similarly melancholy. A Coward’s Prayer is a spacious, romantic piece of stadium-rock, dominated by Tim Heath’s swooping guitar lines and a soaring chorus melody with equally soaring vocal harmonies (and masses of reverb). In contrast to the political song that precedes it, with its extremely specific references to “Chisels, Oils and Js” on Australia Day, this is so open it needn’t even be a love song for a woman – it could apply to almost any close relationship in which the other person is at low ebb and the speaker feels he’s let them down.

When what you say is misunderstood
And what you’ve done does not feel good
I pushed you there, I know that now
But I’m trying to make it up somehow

Just hold on, I believe in you
Change will come, it’ll comfort you
Cause I never meant to cause you any pain
And I only wish that I could see you whole again

A real lighters-in-the-air moment – though I guess people use their mobile phones for that these days.

We now get a group of three upbeat songs. Roundabout is the recent single, an infectious piece of fifties-style rock’n’roll with a syncopated riff, one of only two songs sung by Wally – of the rest all but one have Kris on lead vocals. The lyric has a lot of fun with the sustained development of a metaphor: “Just when the open road was stretching out ahead / You and I were side by side, same destination in our head / Our life on cruise control, no need to check the mirror / And everything was somewhere out there in a straight line to the future / Till we hit a roundabout… You pull to the left, I pull to the right… Going round and round and round and round the roundabout”. It’s a super song, though it does make me glad I’ve never been in a car with any of the band. Time Poor is another political one, satirising modern busy lifestyles (“We’re time poor / That’s our burden / Time poor / It’s the western way”). It’s punky, shouty, sharp and funny. Good Times, Sunshine is the second Wally-voiced song; it was previously released in November 2014 as part of the Lucky Country EP (the link is to an earlier review of the track), but I feel it fits better here. I like the textures it explores, especially the scraper and shaker and the use of breath noises in the intro; melodically and harmonically it has Beatles-y echoes, and the lyric portrays someone who’s struggling but looking forward to things getting better (“Sometimes you drive me crazy/ But good times, sunshine’s ahead”).

Two quieter love songs follow. Every Part of Me is an understated grower, built over a light, rapid drum pattern. I enjoy the delicate textures and the balance between the quietly jaunty instrumental parts and the wistful sadness of the vocal (“Every part of me misses you every day”). Kris’s voice sounds very close here. To Think of You is a highlight of the album, building up from a minimal bass pulse and adding layers of guitar ostinato and later piano – though this is also a song that works beautifully in simpler live arrangements, and it stands on the strength of the melody and the feeling it expresses: looking back on a relationship that was never going to last but is still deeply missed.

Ashleigh Wakes is upbeat again, and a particular favourite of mine. It has a saturated, busy texture, a fantastic lively bass line and a jangly guitar tone reminiscent of Crowded House or even The Smiths – it very much has the feel of one of those socially-conscious eighties bands. It gives vignettes of characters working boring jobs for a predictable future, but in the chorus rebelling: “I ain’t going to take it any more / Cause my life is mine and mine alone / And I don’t need anybody keeping score / You can live any way you want.” It’s hard not to dance to Ashleigh Wakes, and the same is true of the afrobeat Tunaomba Saidia, another song that was previously released on the November EP. This song about a refugee fleeing Uganda for a scarcely better situation in an Australian camp puts into perspective the frustration and claim to self-determination in Ashleigh Wakes – first world problems? Who really gets to choose anyway?

The album finishes on two songs that have been in The Basics’ live sets for a while but not recorded in the studio. Hey Rain is a cover of a song by Bill Scott. Tim takes the lead, his warm, unpretentious voice just right for this deadpan, somewhat sweary ode to the wet season in northern Queensland, with Wally and Kris bringing out the sweetness of the song with their harmonies. They haven’t fancied the piece up too much from the live versions (one can be heard on Leftovers, another here) but have taken the opportunity to include both piano and guitar – it’s usually one or the other – and a bowed upright bass. Finally there’s Feels Like Love, which was on the live album /ðə ˈbæzɪtʃ/, a mournful romantic closer that makes the most of guitar and organ tremolo and of the blend of their voices.

I bought the iTunes version of the album so I got two bonus tracks. Both again are very consciously Australian. My Old Mate is a fun four-square pub rocker, again sung by Tim. It’s an affectionate but humorous performance of a certain kind of Aussie blokedom – fond of booze and rock, salt of the earth, not very reflective. The lyric celebrates my old mate, who’s really great and to be found hanging round where there’s a good time, my old mum, who’s lots of fun and hangs round where there’s free wi-fi, and my old gramp, who’s a bloody champ and hangs round in restrooms… There’s a coda in which Tim’s going to see his baby today, so it’s nice to think at least someone on this album eventually gets to have a shag – even if it’s, as it were, in extra time. The second is a live version of The Lucky Country, their scorching piece of political rock first released in November.

It’s interesting how message and genre work together in the political songs; the album explores different musical ways of commenting on the world. I don’t feel entirely comfortable with Whatever Happened to the Working Class, though it’s made me puzzle and think a lot, which is surely a good thing. Partly the problem is my British squeamishness over class and who gets to speak as or about the working class; the Australians I’ve discussed the song with have none of them reacted to it in quite the same way. They’ve also pointed out Whatever Happened relates to a tradition of blunt political songwriting that they’re more used to than I am. However, Time Poor is pretty blunt too and I find that extremely effective. For me the angry punk/rock mode of protest works better than  mournful folk, which carries a risk of seeming righteous and whingey (though I do like folk in general). Time Poor also benefits from its dramatic call-and-response element and its humour; it’s one of the best songs on the album. Tunaomba Saidia uses genre in a different way: it employs a Kenyan style, benga, in which it is normal, as here, to tell sad stories through happy music. For a non-African listener this makes the serious message creep up on you after you’ve heard and enjoyed the song several times. It also invokes an external perspective on Australian affairs – though its theme of poor treatment of asylum seekers is just as appropriate to Europe, and indeed all of these songs, despite their explicitly Australian frame of reference, address general Western problems.

Although it’s easy to treat the relationship songs as a separate group from the Australian and political ones, there’s a coherence between the darkly critical attitude of the political material and the soul-searching of many of the more personal numbers. The romance and tenderness of the love songs provide a balance to the scathing approach of a song like Whatever Happened; Ashleigh Wakes with its character-drawing and social commentary is a kind of bridge between the two positions. The album is well-sequenced, so there’s a good progression from item to item though the material is very varied. The songs are also tied together by the fact Kris sings most of them, and one gathers he wrote most of them too. He does a great job, but it might have been nice if Wally had had a few more leads; here he’s confined to retro belters. He recorded himself singing To Think of You on the piano at home and it’s a beautiful version – maybe he wishes he’d bagged this song at the time? But To Think of You seems to be personal to Kris. If, in its refusal to settle for one style, its relish of musical exploration and its humour, this album expresses who all three Basics are, the experiences and opinions behind it seem to be very much Kris’s.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that I love this record. Being already a fan of the band means that there’s a level of connection and sympathy that’s already in place for me when I listen to their music. I’m also very conscious that this is someone’s work, the product of much labour, time and emotional investment; of course that’s true of most records, but I feel it more strongly in this case. However, I don’t think any of this makes me listen uncritically, and being so fond of their previous releases meant I came to the album – which has been long awaited; it was recorded in March to April last year – with high expectations. I can honestly say those expectations have been met. This is a gorgeous collection of songs, by turns thought-provoking, moving and just massively catchy, and I’ve got it on heavy rotation. Five stars from me (admittedly one of those stars might be for the amazing beard Tim grew for the recording…) ★★★★★

You can listen to the whole album on Spotify. Order it here.

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Paris

Dot writes: Ken and I had our tenth wedding anniversary last week (how did that happen, where has the time gone etc etc) and to celebrate we went to Paris for the weekend, leaving the boys with my parents who’d heroically come over from Norfolk to mind them. We stayed in a small hotel in Rue de l’Esperance in the 13th Arrondissement. I was worried it was a bad choice, since it was selected on availability and price rather than any knowledge of the area, but it turned out to be well-placed for the métro and we were able to have excellent meals in local restaurants on both nights without walking more than five minutes from where we were staying. Although the restaurants had menus in English, which they provided to us, the rest of the clientele was all French as far as we could tell. This was encouraging. Plus, the highlight of the trip for me: on the second night the waitress initially brought us the French menu, because I had asked for a table for two and whether we could pay by visa in French and she didn’t immediately clock me as English. My French vocabulary has dwindled pitiably since I left school, and I only have a GCSE in it anyway, but I derive tremendous pride from evidently having – for those two brief phrases, at any rate – a good accent.

We hadn’t been to Paris before. We did obvious tourist things: the Eiffel Tower, the Musée du Quai Branly (perhaps this is slightly less obvious, but it’s very near the Eiffel Tower), a walk along the Seine, an exterior view of Notre Dame, and then the following morning the Musée d’Orsay, which houses paintings by the great Impressionists and Post-Impressionists as well as sculpture and Art Nouveau furniture. We also saw the Tour de France whizz past on its way to the finish line in the Champs Elysées. I was bowled over by Paris. It has horrible queues and some very confusing public toilets, but it is astonishingly magnificent and elegant. I was delighted by the unity and grace of the architecture, the broad streets, the river at the centre busy with boats, the trees, and the amazing proliferation of huge palaces and museums.

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Backstory

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Dot writes: this is an utterly self-indulgent post in which I’m going to jot down some notes about the little stories I’ve been putting up here recently. Although they are all very short and simple – the longest is A Reunion at just over 2500 words, and The Man in the Library is only 1660 words – they all involved some puzzling and arranging.

1. The Man in the Library

Writing this story, I was conscious of the patterns I was creating. For example: the books in Sarah’s list are all real books and derive from the things that she has seen or that have gone through her head in the preceding few paragraphs. So, A Glut of Tomatoes and Salad Vegetables refers to the salad sandwiches the man was eating earlier; Freud and the Lonely Planet Guide to New York both relate to Portnoy’s Complaint, which is couched as a man talking to his psychoanalyst and is set in New York; The Male Brain is there because Sarah is having trouble imagining the man’s viewpoint and is seeing him as an alien, if fascinating, creature (I made him argue back against this kind of gender essentialism later by telling her the book’s no good). At the end, Sarah borrows a book on Zaha Hadid: she is the first female architect to be mentioned in the story, and I was thinking that Sarah was now starting to look for female role-models rather than focusing so much on admired men. The nest-like house Sarah designs at the end is supposed to express something about her too, offering both cosiness/shelter and the opportunity to take flight. This was all a bit oblique and I think several readers felt the story just stopped in a rather unsatisfactory way, but in my head it had a good progression from teenage crush to intellectual and creative awakening. There was also the fact that it was obvious no romance was ever going to happen between a schoolgirl and a clearly quite nice young man rather a lot too old for her. He’s an impossible prospect as a boyfriend but does a pretty good job as a librarian.

2. The Passage Tomb

Writing this felt very intense and exposing; I was drawing on old but strong feelings, and also borrowing details from the lives of several real people (in fact all the stories have elements of real people in them; I switch things around, but I don’t seem to be able to make up characters out of nothing). I never quite made up my mind if it was set in England or Ireland. England, I think, but it does trouble me that I am vague about the geography of the seaside town Clare and Hannah visit: where exactly could you find a shale cliff with fossils in it and also a passage tomb? However, of the four stories I’ve completed so far this is the one I’m proudest of.

3. A Reunion

Initially I was vague about the setting of this story too, but as I filled in the details I needed to know what a solicitor’s career trajectory would be, so I got the details from the Irish Law Society website. That meant the story was taking place in Ireland. It ended up set in a lightly warped version of Dublin. The places are based on Dublin places but don’t map onto them exactly: for example, Tom’s flat is in a kind of mix of Stoneybatter and the area around Great St George’s Street. At the end of the writing process I went back through the dialogue to make it sound more Irish, or rather Irish-compatible; I didn’t want to end up with stage-Irish or a pastiche of The Commitments. It was an enjoyable exercise.

I realise that Julia and Tom’s past encounter is a rather sleazy little episode, but I like these characters, Tom especially, and find myself wondering what happens next for them. In particular, I’ve given them the problem that Tom is in the middle of buying a small, shabby apartment, while Julia part-owns a much shinier one in a posher area with her ex. (I think Julia’s ex, who is called Aidan, only left her a couple of months ago. She’s on the rebound.) It’s too early in their relationship to make big decisions about houses and so on, but if they do stay together Tom’s apartment is going to be a liability; it’s too small and it’s going to be hard to sell on. I worry about this stuff.

4. Triptych

Again, this threw up some practical problems and I also have thoughts about what else happens for these characters. At one point I was thinking of sending Adam off to Auckland, but I wasn’t sure there would have been opportunities there for both mathematicians and historians in the late 80s (the date is set by the fact that Becky is exactly my age, though not a portrait of me: she is my entry into this story). Sydney seemed safer, especially as, as Ken has pointed out to me, there are several universities in Sydney. I’m not sure what everyone else’s jobs are. June must have gone to one of the London colleges for her MA and met Adam through a choir or other organisation (since they are in different disciplines), but in order to be hanging around in Cheshire during the summer dissertation period in 1987 she must have finished her studies in 1986 and taken a (temporary?) job. So I think she’s about 23 in 1987; he is a couple of years older and has just finished his PhD. I expect he gets over her and marries someone else relatively soon; meanwhile June becomes a teacher – I made that clear in the story – and I think she also marries, but looks after her father after her mother’s death, and doesn’t have children.

Adam gets the last word in this story, so it’s his view we’re left with, but I’m conscious June’s perspective is never expressed. Caroline clearly has a very particular slant on things that’s not fair to Adam at all, but I left Michelle as a dangling detail that his letter doesn’t clear up. I think June can’t face leaving her family, and doesn’t have the confidence to take on a PhD, but there may have been other things going on that help to explain her behaviour. And I suspect Adam enjoyed kissing Caroline rather a lot, though I’m sure he’s right that she took the initiative and that he was fairly quick to put a stop to it.

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Triptych by Dot

I

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. No I didn’t – it was Nantwich. I realise that’s a lot less exciting, but we have to work with the dreams we’re given. And most of us, I think, have a house that to our sleeping mind is The House, the place some primitive part has chosen to stage all our trivial and less trivial inner dramas. In my case, it’s my grandparents’ house in Nantwich, in Cheshire; a place I never actually lived in but which I used to visit every summer, and where many of my childhood’s best adventures happened. In my memory it’s a very large house, with an even larger garden, and indeed I’m sure it was substantially larger than my parents’ crowded semi, with exciting features such as a balcony you could climb onto and a hatch window from the kitchen into the dining room that I remember crawling through when I was small. The garden had a long lawn with a rose arbour, suitable for afternoon teas, and behind it fruit trees that closed ranks into a tangle of branches. If you burrowed through the branches there was a kind of corridor at the back that linked the ends of several gardens, as the fences didn’t go the whole way to the rear wall. I remember it always being summer there, and always the school holiday, a place where I would play, make friends in the neighbours’ houses, and emerge at intervals to be fed.

This particular dream carried me back to the last summer I was there, the summer I was ten, the year before my grandmother died. I dreamt I was playing piano duets on my grandmother’s grand piano. In my dream, I played the piano wonderfully, better than I’ve ever managed in real life; the music flowed from me without effort. Playing alongside me was a man I hadn’t thought about for years, but he was the reason I could date the dream, because that was the only summer he was there: my aunt June’s fiancé Adam. He was playing at the bass end of the keyboard, I at the treble, and the roses from the garden had grown into the room and were garlanding and applauding us with their colours. The piano seemed to be floating up into the air, so beautiful was our music. Maybe the dream deteriorated afterwards into some standard anxiety scenario – maybe I played so long I missed the train, or maybe I noticed I was naked and now in my adult body, not my ten-year-old one – but what stayed with me when I woke was that vision of pre-lapsarian confidence and ecstatic music, at the piano among the roses in my grandparents’ house.

So, awake, I thought back to that summer and reconstructed what I remembered about Adam. There were, I think, seven of us in the house, sometimes eight: my grandparents, my mother, Pauline, her much younger sister, June, my sister Caroline and me, and Adam, plus my father for part of the time; he only had a short break from work. My mother and grandmother and June loved to have these weeks together, since normally they lived fairly far apart, and I remember them sitting in the garden, drinking tea and talking endlessly. My grandfather sat in his chair and read. Caroline listened to her walkman a lot and wrote letters to her schoolfriends; she’d grown out of spending much time with her baby sister. I went for my usual excursions from the garden and found some of the neighbours I knew from previous visits, but I remember being glad of Adam. He was a mathematician, as I recall, and supposed to be very brilliant, but he seemed happy to talk to me. He coached me through some maths problems that were officially too hard for a ten-year-old and was delighted when I got them right. He tried to teach me to juggle, which was less successful. He also played the piano with me, and that was obviously the source of the dream. I’d only recently begun lessons, but he hunted out some duets hidden in the piano stool and played the hard parts while I added the melody over the top. It was my first taste of making music that sounded genuinely good, and of the excitement of being inside a lovely harmony. In a way it’s bittersweet to look back on, because I didn’t manage to become the stunning pianist that, aged ten, I was sure I would turn into, but on the other hand it was the start of a love of music that has remained one of my greatest pleasures. And so, although that summer was the end of some things – of summers at my grandparents’, for my grandmother died and the house was sold; of June and Adam, for they never did get married – I remember it as a happy time, when I was safe and loved and felt life unfolding before me, when the roses were full of colour and I knew I could do anything.

II

The evening after my dream Caroline skyped me. We talk at irregular intervals but when we talk, we talk intensely; we’re closer as adults than we were as children, now the six-year age-gap seems so much less significant. She wanted to vent about her sons, who are carefully adhering to the official manual of annoying teenage behaviour, but when her feelings were safely discharged she also had some news to pass on about Aunt June: she’d finally decided to leave her teaching job, because the school had become simply too unbearable to work in, and she was thinking of concentrating full-time on her garden and her chickens instead. This prompted me to tell Caroline my dream, wondering how different June’s life might have been if she’d married Adam.

“I don’t think she would have stayed married to Adam,” said Caroline. “I think you remember all this very rosily, Becky. I was that much older, and I can tell you one thing about Adam I doubt you noticed: he was a sexy bastard. With the accent on bastard. You realise he went off to Australia after that and simply didn’t come back? Poor June. If he hadn’t gone, perhaps the wedding would have gone ahead, but I can’t see the marriage would have lasted.

“It was so tense, that summer. Granddad buried himself in his chair and wouldn’t come out, and snapped at us when we talked to him. He didn’t want any man taking his little girl away, I reckon. Plus he was going a bit deaf by that point anyway. Grandma wasn’t her usual self either – she had headaches all the time; I think it was the start of her tumour, though none of us knew that then. And she and mum and June were endlessly chewing things over. Mum’s never said anything to me, but I’m sure they knew Adam wasn’t right for June. I caught bits of conversations – I remember hearing Mum say something about ‘blowing hot and cold’. Grandma talking about babies, how it would be hard if she were on her own. And there was some friend of June’s they were talking about, Michelle or something like that – I think he had a past with her. I mean, I was never quite present at those conversations; they tended to shut up when they saw me. But I got impressions… Of course June and Adam went off together sometimes, but less than you might expect, given they were engaged.

“He hurt her a lot. I can’t recall her ever mentioning him again. But it was easy to see what she saw in him. Well, it was for me – I was sixteen and frankly I fancied pretty much everything male and under thirty with a pulse, and there was a good deal more to him than a pulse. He wasn’t handsome, exactly, but he had really flirty eyes, and those pianist’s hands. You don’t think of maths as a sexy subject, do you, but I’d probably have tried a lot harder at it if my maths teacher had been anything like him… And he was good with you, I must say. I guess you gave him an opportunity to show off, and he liked to be admired.

“You could say he was good with me too. Or maybe bad with me. I had my first kiss with him, you know.” On the fuzzy skype screen I can see her pleased, secret smile. “In the garden shed one day, up against the bicycles. Like I said, he was a bastard.”

III

A month or so later I was near Nantwich and I decided to visit and look at my grandparents’ house. It was for sale; I knocked on the door, explained who I was, and asked if I could have a quick look around.

It was smaller than I remembered, unsurprisingly, but still generous. I was startled to find there were only three bedrooms – where had they put everyone? – but then I worked out that one of the bathrooms had once been a bedroom; when Adam stayed, he probably occupied it in solitary splendour, for my grandparents would never have roomed him with June, and she must have shared with me and Caroline. I was sad to see the hatch from the dining room to the kitchen had been lost, along with the whole wall it had been in, as the casualty of a trendy knock-through.

As I left, the owners put into my hand a small box. “We found this in the attic. We think it belongs to your family.” It contained letters of various dates. One of them, unopened, was addressed to June.

Sydney
20th December 1987

Dear June,

it’s now almost three months since I’ve heard from you. I’ve written and I’ve rung you, but the time never seems to be right for you to answer the phone and I haven’t had anything by post. I’m writing to your parents’ address, in the hope that maybe my letters to London have been going astray somehow. I miss you. I’m hoping you will reply.

In case you didn’t get my previous messages, this is what I’ve been trying to tell you: as we thought might happen, the university has offered me a job. My temporary fellowship is being turned into a permanent contract, and I want to take it. I want us to live here together. This could be a wonderful opportunity for you as well as for me. I’ve been making contacts in the history department (they wonder what sort of interest I have, from the perspective of maths!) and I believe they are doing good work in exactly your area. You have a flair for research and did extremely well in your MA; you should register here for a PhD, and I think you could end up with a job here too – I really do. I want a family too, but first I want you to do what I know you’re cut out to do. I love you and I admire you. I want you to use the talent that you have, and I can look after you and support you while you study.

However, I think probably you did get my letters, and in that case I hardly know what to say. I know it’s difficult for you to contemplate leaving your country and your family; your parents were unhappy enough at the thought of you moving permanently to London. I’m not quite sure how I endured that stay in Nantwich, with you blowing hot and cold on me and only Pauline on my side. I was very glad of Becky and the piano; she seems like a nice little girl. I wonder if you’re angry with me about Caroline, but can’t you see that the very fact I told you about it shows there was nothing else to it? What was I supposed to do when she backed me against the bicycles and flung herself at me? Well, since I’m being completely honest and I don’t think you’re going to answer this anyway, I admit I waited a little longer than I need have done before disentangling myself; she’s very pretty (she’s very like you) and I wasn’t getting much of that sort of thing from you that week. So be angry with me.

June, your house was so beautiful. I remember the roses and how lovely you looked among them. I remember the three of you, your mother, your sister and you, and how similar you seemed, how fond of each other, how closed to me. In London I knew you, but in Cheshire I only desired you. I still do, but it doesn’t seem much use now.

Yours, even so,

Adam.

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A Yorkshire interlude

Dot writes: ‘interlude’ maybe is an odd term to use for a work trip – I’ve just been to Leeds for a conference – but it felt oddly like one. Though the conference was huge and busy, and I was busy at it with a paper to give and three other sessions to chair, I was staying in a student residence away from the campus, tucked away at the end of a dead-end street, with trees outside the window and a strip of woodland behind; there were other people also in the house, but somehow I never saw them, and I felt very secluded. In the corner of my room were steps descending steeply into a strange little room with shelves and a sink in it, which made me think I’d been provided with my own priest’s hole, or maybe a linoleum-lined inner sanctum for my anchorhold. I sat at the desk and thought about my book project, with more focus and energy than I have for ages. At one point a squirrel came and sat on the window and looked in at me.

Cumberland Drive. I was in a house off the little lane at the end of the street

Cumberland Drive. I was in a house off the little lane at the end of the street

Priest's hole

Priest’s hole

View from priest's hole

View from priest’s hole

Fire door in residence. Only very thin locksmiths are allowed out in the event of a fire

Fire door in residence. In the event of a fire, only very thin locksmiths are allowed out

I took this on the evening of the last day of the conference; earlier this scene would have been full of people

I took this on the evening of the last day of the conference; earlier this scene would have been full of people

Trebuchet demonstation at the conference. A compact trebuchet for those seeking to destroy smaller fortifications

Trebuchet demonstation at the conference. A compact trebuchet for those seeking to destroy smaller fortifications

Medievalists contemplating a more aggressive approach to the rankings game. (You may recognise Julie, who was our au pair in 2012/13.)

Medievalists contemplating a more aggressive approach to the rankings game. (You may recognise Julie, who was our au pair in 2012/13.)

I’m afraid I didn’t get a picture of the squirrel.

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A Reunion by Dot

A man and a woman are in a coffee shop. As it happens, they’ve met before, but today they’re not here to see each other. In fact, he is quietly reading at a table by himself when she, looking for a seat, asks if she may join him. “Please do,” he says, looking up and gesturing. This is enough to spark a sense of recognition in her.

“Oh, hello.”

“Hello. Sorry, I’m not sure I remember…?”

“It’s Julia, Julia Kennedy. But I think I may have made a mistake. You look familiar, but perhaps… do you mind telling me your name?”

“Tom Ferris.”

“Oh! So that’s where I know you from. You were in The Aardvarks.”

“I was indeed, though it’s been a while. You must have bought one of our records or come to a gig?”

“Bought one of your records! I bought everything you released. I was a huge fan. I saw you as often as I could. I was heart-broken when you guys split up.”

There’s a pause in which they both wonder how he can answer this, and in which they size each other up a little. She’s very smartly dressed in a black skirt, white blouse, black suit-jacket and two-inch heels, with makeup and hair just so. He’s a lot less smartly dressed in red jeans and t-shirt with a leather jacket. He’s a big, fair, handsome man in his mid-thirties, running slightly to fat, with stubble that hasn’t quite achieved the status of a beard.

“So, do you still listen to much music?”

“Not as much as I’d like. I’ve still got all of your records, of course. But I’m pretty busy with my job so I don’t follow current music much these days. What are you doing now?”

“Oh, bit of this, bit of that…journalism mainly. Well, it’s a nice blast from the past to meet a fan. I don’t encounter too many of those these days. To be honest we never had that many of them anyway.”

“I don’t know. You certainly had a loyal following. And there were some bigger venues as well as the clubs and pubs.”

“So there were. I used to like playing festivals – that’s not really the same thing anyway.”

“I always liked the small gigs. Selfish perhaps, but I liked the intimacy. I saw you play in a couple of clubs – Macmillan’s, for instance.”

This is the point at which he realises something that she recollected rather earlier, viz. that, about ten years before, on a brown leather sofa in a small storeroom-cum-changing room at the back of Macmillan’s, while his bandmates courteously loitered in the bar, the two of them had engaged in sexual congress.

“Yeah, Macmillan’s. Good times at Macmillan’s. I don’t think we played another gig there after…that time.”

“A few years ago I could probably have told you exactly where you played on the rest of that tour, and the festivals after that, and the farewell concerts that autumn, but I don’t remember now. I guess I’ve moved on,” and she smiles.

“We’ve all moved on,” he replies. “Only way to move, isn’t it?”

And that would probably have been it – a chance encounter, a mildly uncomfortable conversation – had not Tom had an appointment with his solicitor that Tuesday.

“I’m very sorry I can’t be there,” says Mr Adams on the phone. “I’ve to go to a funeral down the country. But I’ve passed all the documents to my junior and she will talk you through them. You’ll be safe in her hands.”

It turns out the junior is Julia.

“So, this is the contract for sale. You sign here… here… and here. It’s a bit of a bargain, isn’t it?”

Tom is buying a one-bedroom apartment on the edge of a gentrifying area. The price is what they call competitive, owing to some spectacular 1970s carpets and the lack of a shower. He doesn’t have any spare savings to do it up, but he’s not going to tell Julia that.

“It’s affordable,” he says, “and a good size for one person.”

She explains the next stage of the buying process and watches while he writes a frightening cheque for the deposit and a somewhat less frightening one for her.

“Bye bye money,” says Tom.

Julia tidies everything efficiently into the correct trays and files. Then she has a look at the clock and mentally calculates how much she still has to do that afternoon.

“This is a day to celebrate,” she says. “How about I buy you lunch?”

“I’m not that poor,” he says. “I can afford lunch.”

“You’re not doing too badly if you can afford a flat in this market,” says Julia. “We could go Dutch?”

He has considerable misgivings but says yes. After all, she’s still very attractive.

“So, what have you been doing in the years since I…in the last few years?” Tom has decided that this might be easier if they talk about her.

“It’s kind of obvious,” says Julia. “I’ve been turning into a solicitor. I did the law society entrance examination. I got the Overend Scholarship, you know – that means I came top in the exam. Clever me. I had a training contract. I did more exams, didn’t do quite so well in those but they went fine. I got my first job as a qualified solicitor in the firm where I trained, and then after a couple of years I moved to Adams and Flynn. I bought some hair straighteners. And here I am.”

“Fair play to you,” says Tom. “And are you staying somewhere nice?”

“I bought an apartment in” – she names a fashionable urban area – “with my boyfriend a couple of years ago.” Tom rapidly assimilates the boyfriend. “But he’s left me, so now I’m investigating whether it makes sense to buy him out.” Tom unassimilates the boyfriend. “How about you? I’m surprised you didn’t stay in music.”

“I sort of did. One of my jobs is giving guitar lessons. But of the four of us only Brendan is still in a band. They’ve really taken off recently, in fact – The Equalizers, you’ve heard of them?” Julia assumes what she hopes is an intelligent expression rather than a blank one. “Sean of course left us to form Minor Strivings, but they didn’t last that long and he’s now in insurance.”

“Minor Strivings was a good name for a band. I have to admit, I loved everything about The Aardvarks except the name.”

“Yes, we could have been huge with a better name. Or maybe not.”

“So what did you do when the band split up?”

“Do you want the short version or the long version? OK, here’s the short version of the long version. I was pretty depressed as I’d poured a lot of energy into that band, so I decided I wanted to get right away from the whole thing and I went to the US on a working visa. While I was there I travelled around, did some busking, worked in bars, the whole package; it was fun I suppose, one way of killing a year. I certainly gained an encyclopedic knowledge of Greyhound coach routes. Then I came back, looked up a mate who worked for Pop Immersion and blagged my way into a job reviewing bands. Drunk on power and my lust for revenge, I ruined the careers of many a fine act.” He pauses. “Not really. I got married but she left me – we’ve got that in common. I had no money. I wrote a bleak, sensitive novel. I still had no money. So I started teaching guitar – lots of boys with brilliant air-guitar technique, trying to make actual sounds – and took on more journalism. These days in fact I’m mostly a film critic.”

“Oh, it must have been you who wrote that review of Project Doom that said the designer should get an Oscar and the scriptwriter should get analysed. I noticed ‘Ferris’ in the byline but didn’t make the connection. I enjoyed that film, you know. Watching films is my main hobby these days.”

“I enjoyed it too, but the subtext was seriously twisted. What did you think of it?”

“I always think about these things from the point of view of the girl. She’s so silent in that movie, isn’t she? I imagine her watching your man having nightmares about his mother and festooning himself with guns, and thinking ‘Would you ever get over yourself, yeh great eejit.’ And then she could make him a cup of tea.”

Tom laughs. “I have to review a film this weekend. It’s not an action movie this time, it’s an arthouse one, The Silver Wind. Would you like to come too? The Lifebuoy Cinema, Saturday at 7pm. What do you think?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

As he leaves the restaurant, he wonders why he’s arranged a date with someone who makes him feel like a failure. He’d be surprised to learn she’s wondering much the same thing.

Outside the cinema on Saturday he feels better when he sees her. In jeans and a short-sleeved top, with her hair unstraightened and slightly tousled from the breeze, she looks much more like the girl he remembers from ten years ago. For her part, wearing flat shoes she notices acutely how much taller and larger than her he is. During the film they share popcorn, but he doesn’t put his arm around her.

“What did you think?” she asks as they emerge.

“I thought it was shite,” he answers frankly.

“Really? But I thought it was rather lovely and moving. The piano score is gorgeous. And that part where the girl drops the letters in the stream and lets them float away, I found that really powerful.”

“Nah, hokey cliché’d crap. Seen it a million times. Face it, the film was shite.”

“Is that what you’re going to say in your eloquent review? The film was shite?”

“No, I’ll get out my thesaurus and say it was ordure.”

There’s a grin on his face, she’s smiling too, and they’re noticeably more relaxed together now they’ve had an argument.

“Fancy a drink? The bars round here are a bit dull but I know a good one about ten minutes that way.”

He leads her across the main road from the cinema, up a couple of small streets, and into an area that’s full of small, late-opening eateries, kebab joints, shops selling witchy clothes. The bar is long and narrow with tables tucked into nooks, and he ushers her to one of these and buys her a glass of wine.

“So, were you a follower of other bands or just of us?”

“There weren’t any others I was as into, but I used to go to gigs all the time. It was a really big part of my life and it just…stopped. Legal training is a lot of pressure, and my old friends had gone to different places and my new friends didn’t share that with me.”

“But you still have the flame of rock’n’roll hidden in your heart?”

“Perhaps. Mostly sausage roll. I try to eat healthily but sometimes I get dark desires.” She looks at him solemnly.

“Oh, do you now. And does Mr Adams know about your dark desires and your wild youth shagging bands?”

“I didn’t shag bands. Just you.”

“What, only me?”

“You were the only guy from a band, I mean.”

“Ah yes, you targeted me for your corrupting wiles.” He’s teasing but she’s a little annoyed.

“That’s pretty rich, when you were the ones cutting your swathe through the tender young music fans of Britain and Ireland.”

“Hardly. We were scarcely Led Zeppelin, you know. We just took the odd opportunity from time to time. Actually I’m not sure Nick ever did – maybe once. He’s a very quiet fella, is Nick.” Nick was the drummer.

“What happened to Nick?”

“He’s in the pink these days, actually. He has his own business dealing in rare musical instruments, and he’s written the definitive book on modular synthesizers.”

“Anyway. My point has to do with pots and kettles, and you’re the pot and you were a lot dirtier than me.”

“I admit I’ve been a bastard in my time. I did once hook up with a girl – a sweet girl, she deserved better – almost entirely because I couldn’t face another night on a floor with Sean, and I knew that the pay-off for a little bit of effort would be getting to sleep in a bed. My back was killing me on that tour, and Sean snores.” His grin is now extremely cheeky. “I lucked out – double bed.”

“Beats a sofa,” she says.

“Certainly does. It wasn’t a very good sofa, was it? Sorry about that.”

“I’ve definitely known better sofas. More prolonged sofas.”

“Jesus, yes. Sofas can be awkward when you’re six foot four.”

“I don’t regret it, though. Even though it wasn’t an especially good one. I like to be able to look back and remember a period in my life when I lived so intensely. Music did that for me – I mean, it wasn’t just the fan part. I like to know I was capable of being so swept away by something, when I’m doing some boring conveyancing at 6.30 in the evening.”

“Does your job really bore you that much?”

She thinks. “No. I suppose it doesn’t. I’m good at it and I like doing it well. I like Mr Adams, I enjoy seeing these little slices of people’s lives and helping sort out their problems. But it doesn’t compare to what you do. To all the things you’ve achieved, all the things you make.” He’s silent, somewhat disconcerted. “I read your book, you know. I found it in a bookshop after we met the last time. I really liked it.”

“It’s extremely nice of you to say that. You probably doubled my sales figures, too.”

“Oh, stop being so self-deprecating. You should be proud of what you do.”

“No, I am. I am proud of it. I suppose I’d like to set the world alight and be famous and everything, and it would be nice to have a tad more cash, but really, I was pleased with that book. I was pleased with our records too, back in the day. I knew we’d managed to make them sound how we wanted. I guess I’m just a bit self-conscious when you’re so smart and successful.”

“OK, I’m preening a little now. Perhaps what each of us needs is a fan. For mutual appreciation.”

“You’re a very pretty and intelligent woman.”

“You were always the cute one in the band.”

“This mutual appreciation thing is going quite well, isn’t it?”

She laughs.

“Have you finished your drink? Would you like to…um, the place where I’m staying at the moment, it’s just round the corner.” She takes his hand.

They cross another road, through a door, up some stairs. She notices the colourful clutter of his flat, the strewn desk, the vinyl collection and the guitar on a stand in the corner. The mattress is, happily, of an excellent quality. An hour later, lying satisfied in each other’s arms, they agree it was much better than the last time.

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