Lazysquirrel

The ramblings of Lazysquirrel.

Nico Side 2: Nico – Chelsea Girl

In Media Res: A plot device whereby the story starts somewhere in the middle..

1995-1996 Somewhere in Camberwell.

I open up one eye. My head is dangling slightly off of the end of a large sofa. I have a hangover and I'm waking up slightly painfully.

With my one open eye I scan the room. On the wall there is a black and white photograph of a penis.

On an adjacent sofa there is an Irish woman, E. She groans awake.

“Jaysus! – what happened?”

Surveying the room, empty wine bottles, a bottle of spirits. Overflowing ash tray. That happened.

There is a smell of fresh coffee being brewed. Really good coffee. I am aware of music. A finger picked electric guitar, a Germanic singer, slightly flat but tuneful. Strings accompany the guitar and punctuate the end of each verse. No drums. Perfect hangover music.

“The Fairest of the Seasons” – Nico, Velvet Underground chanteuse. Her first solo album. When she heard what they'd done to it with strings and flutes, she hates it. I think she was wrong. She'd make her next albums her own way.

The owner of the 'penis' arrives with three cups of coffee. He (A), shares this flat with an artist and explains that the photograph of his appendage is one of her works.

He's a genial host and an interesting man. E and I join him on the flat roof of the flat. It's high up on a council block overlooking Camberwell and Peckham. It's a beautiful fresh morning. E and I thank him for the coffee and hospitality.

Months earlier...

I am in another friend's flat in Camberwell. I have a tumbler of whiskey in one hand. My friend is looking through the slats of the blind onto the street below.

He walks away from the window towards me and seems to double in size suddenly.

The ceiling of the flat I later discover is sloped: it is an Ames room optical illusion.

To soundtrack this film noir scenario, there is a soundtrack of busy jazz. Ornette Coleman, Charlie Hayden, Garbarek, Miles Davis. My friend is a fierce intellectual. He mistakes me as one even remotely able to keep up with his conversation.

“Let's go out”, he says.

Camberwell Grove: A colourful pub full of colourful people. Ex pop stars, struggling actors, wheelers, dealers, schemers...

He introduces me to E. She has recently moved to Camberwell from a small town in Ireland. Like me she is hell out of place in London. She's a talker but fun. She explains she's been having trouble with a threatening landlord.

We go back to her flat and there is a bad atmosphere. There are some distinctly threatening looking characters there. Her landlord turns up and he's threatening her. Someone pulls out a gun. The landlord's face goes white, he flees the flat.

E and I are shaken. People leave.

I am alone with her in the flat.

“Please can you stay”

It's not a romantic story. It's not that sort of story. It's not sexy.

We're both huddled under a duvet. She's terrified and eventually falls asleep. I spend the night with one eye open on the door.

Epilogue:

E and I have more adventures. I get knocked over by a car and somehow escape unscathed.

The jazz club thing..

The pop star thing..

Her being furious at me for chickening out of an open mic event..

Her disastrous boyfriends...

E had not visited my flat before. On this occasion she wanted to.

I had cats. She was VERY allergic to cats. In minutes her eyes swelled shut and it looked like she had been punched in the face.

We had to leave to get her some antihistamines.

Bless her, she laughed about it but we'd just be good friends.

We lost touch but I think she married a Scotsman: The last time we met she had just met him. Being a good Catholic girl and he a Presbyterian my last bit of advice to her was to maybe lay off of the conversation with him about how they could be buried together.

I guess it worked as the last I'd heard of them both, they'd moved to Scotland.

Reflecting on this piece it was written before the EVENTS of you know what. It still makes me laugh in a an odd way as it was based on a lunchtime discussion with work friends when I worked in an office in Central London. How were we to know that this was going to happen.. for real.... Ray

It’s the first week into the global catastrophe that has wiped out most of the population apart from a small group of survivors at Croydon IKEA.

One group of survivors has commandeered the bedding and soft furnishings department. Their leader has stockpiled all of the IKEA meatballs. He is a big stocky man with a commanding presence and no one in his group of survivors would dare challenge him for more than their share of a meatball a day. Today he is on edge. There is something out there moving beyond the soft furnishings. He is holding a large pair of binoculars and scanning through a shower curtain. This man is survival expert Ray Mears.

From behind a futon, a nervous pair of eyes is hiding from him. It is a scout from the rival surviving party. He is a tall thin man with long dark hair, a goatee and the remains of a floral shirt which has been partially ripped to fashion a sweatband to tie back his long flowing hair. It is interior designer Lawrence Lewellen-Bowen and he is fighting for his life.

The rival survivors in the kitchens and garden section of IKEA are nervous. Their leader is a short thin man with a quick and tactical mind. For days they have survived only on IKEA Dime cake and the sickly sugar desert has quickened their nerves and rotted their teeth.

Lawrence looks across anxiously to their leader and nods. Their leader nods back. With the stub of an IKEA pencil he gouges out the sugar rotted stump of a molar tooth. Tonight they will bring the attack. Tonight they will dine on IKEA meatballs but for now they will wait for that right moment. This man is survivalist Bear Grylls.

Ray Mears refocuses his large binoculars and frowns.

Something is out there beyond the shower curtain.

With apologies to Hunter S.

Pam We were somewhere around the Brenzett straight on the edge of the Dungeness when the Battenburg cake began to take hold. We can’t stop here, this is Trilobite country!; Shouted Pam Ayers through a mouth crammed with Battenburg, spilling sticky crumbs on the dashboard of my open top Morgan. Good people eat good cake! She continued, pounding the melamine dashboard for emphasis. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of Greatstone and the world. Whatever it meant. Strange memories on this nervous night in Romney Sands. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. Dymchurch in the middle nineties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . . History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened. My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Bailiff’s Sargent, half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big Austin Allegro, across the St Mary’s Bay drainage outlet at a hundred miles an hour wearing Flared trousers and tie dyed shirt jacket . . . booming through the Folkstone ring road at the lights of Brookland and Lydd on Sea, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . . There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across St. Mary’s Bay, then up the New Inn or down 101 to The City of London Pub. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . . And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . . So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Hythe and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

For anyone who knew me in Romney Marsh. See you on the other side.

Van Dexys Midnight Runners’ made a cover version of “Jackie Wilson Said” by Van Morrison. In 1982, They performed it on Top of the Pops, but in front of a picture of Scottish darts player Jocky Wilson. There remains some debate as to whether it was a misunderstanding or a deliberate act.

My Beauty is a solo album by Kevin Rowland, lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners. It was released in 1999, eleven years after his solo debut The Wanderer. It is notable for the album cover on which Kevin Rowland is inexplicably wearing a Basque. It did not sell well.

In the early 90’s I attended the Fleadh festival in Finsbury Park in North London with my older friend Jim.

It was an unusually warm and sunny day and revellers moved between the stages with their plastic pints.

I’m enjoying an Australian band in one of the side tents but Jim is anxiously nudging me to go catch “Van The Man” on the main stage. I’m in no hurry, I’m several pints refreshed and I’m enjoying the band. In the corner of my eye there is a slightly short and very thin woman with dark curly hair, unusually long flat shoes, a floral frock and just a hint of a face I recognise. I tilt my pint and move out to the field of the main stage.

By now Van the Man is in full swing with his band. He’s playing “Caravan” and he’s giving it the full soul treatment. Nah-nah-nahs and a call and response with the sax player.

By now I’m horribly drunk and I’m not feeling it.

I then do something so stupid that I live in fear for my safety to this day.

There’s a pause in the music.

I shout out: “Play Brown Girl in the Ring!”

There is a stunned silence in the crowd.

Jim mutters: “Oh Jesus Christ. No.”

Van the Man is frozen in front of the microphone. From beneath his fedora there is a vein in his neck that is pulsing.

He stands there for what feels like a minute.

A white knuckled hand balls tightly into a fist. He snaps the headstock clean off of his acoustic guitar and the strings curl out in the exctasy of sudden release.

The sax player moves towards him: “Van.. please.. not now”.

Van is a short and portly man but he springs like a gazelle from the main stage.

It starts as a walk and the crowd part nervously. The vein in his neck beats a faster tempo.

He is now running towards me at surprising speed.

“Run!”, Jim shouts and I drop my plastic pint glass.

I’m through the main gates of Finsbury Park, revellers flee in chaos. I’m heading off as fast as I can along Finsbury Road and towards Blackstock Road. I’m breathless and terrified but I hear the heavy rasping breath and pounding feet of Van behind me. He’s not letting up.

A whispered voice from a side street; “Quick! This way!”

I follow a short, thin lady into a side alleyway and she knocks on the side door of an old pub. “Too-tye-aye”, she whispers to the door and behind the door, the latch opens and we are led down a dark corridor, up a long staircase into a large dark room.

As my eyes adjust, I see a group of women in Edwardian dress, but they are all tall and some have the trace of a five o’ clock shadow.

At the locked door we can hear Van Morrison, hammering and howling like a wounded bull.

A candle is lit in the room and to the rear of the wall there is a large poster of the darts player, Jocky Wilson.

I look closer at my rescuer. The short thin lady I had met earlier is in fact Kevin Rowland and the group of women are Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

“Big” Jim Paterson, in a long floral frock, clutching a trombone case speaks first:

“In 1982, we performed ‘Jacky Wilson Said’ on Top of the Pops, but in front of a picture of Scottish darts player Jocky Wilson.

It was all a terrible misunderstanding

Van Morrison has NEVER forgiven us.

To this day, we hide for our lives as women.’

Kevin Rowland looks at me with a sorrowful but kind expression:

“It’s ok, you are one of us now. Too-tye-aye sisters”

‘Too-rye-aye”, the band chorus together.

I am handed a dress.

In memory of John Cleary

Elvis Kilburn: So I’m stuck outside a house for an hour waiting for someone to turn up for an appointment and I gaze up idly to the first floor windowsill of one of the flats. A truly enormous and weird looking bird looks down at me with a look of complete contempt. This bird looks as close as it is possible to look, like an avian version of an obese Las Vegas period Elvis. He has rather filthy white plumage on his chest and back and what looks like a black quiff of feathers on his head. He can barely move he is so fat. His feet I notice are webbed and very dirty. Beside him there is a metal tray which he lazily pecks at. He scowls at me with a look of arrogant boredom, spreads his filthy tail feathers and craps extravagantly over the parapet of the front door porch.

An elderly lady walks past and notices me looking at this debauched avian Elvis:

‘Ah, so you’ve met my friend. Nobody knows where he came from but he’s been here years. He’s some sort of foreign sea bird who got lost in Kilburn years ago. He used to perch on the church opposite but he has moved over to this house as the people in that flat feed him and sometimes let him in to their flat’.

‘Everyone on this street knows of this bird, he’s been here years’.

And with that she slowly walks off. And I’m left looking up at this sickly Falstaffian feathered celebrity who scowls back at me and unleashes another showering torrent of crap.

Written whilst waiting for Geir to turn up to see Howe Gelb, or was it Robyn Hitchcock? At the Union Chapel in Islington. One of my favourite venues in London. I did walk out of a Residents show I went to there, but then, everything had been going wrong that week and being shouted at by a mad man in a cow costume wasn't helping my mood. Bonkers The Compton Arms is a small pub off of a small side road in Islington. It’s been there a long time and by it’s very nature of being in a small side road, time has left it alone. I walked in there on Tuesday evening to wait for a friend to turn up. The nature of an old pub means that a lot of dead ex-drinkers like to still go there, particularly if there is nothing too vulgar or modern. The Compton Arms is this type of pub. On walking in, the small bar is occupied by a handful of locals who have been clearly drinking for most of the day. The dead prefer the slightly quieter tables to the side of the bar. On one of these tables sits the ghost of George Orwell quietly nursing a pint of brown ale whilst watching the living at the bar. To the table opposite him is the Earl of Compton, clearly worse for wear and smelling of the river Thames. He has duckweed in his hair and fronds of pondweed draped across the epaulettes of a once smart frock coat. George Orwell idly picks at a pack of ready salted peanuts.

I order a pint of Bonkers Conkers. The bar lady asks me about me choice.

• Bonkers Conkers? Have you had it before? • Yes, but I can’t remember when.

Man at the bar asks me:

• What does it taste off? • I suppose, slightly like Conkers. Have you ever licked a conker? That slightly metallic autumnal taste? • Sounds delicious.

At the living end of the bar a tired married couple in their fifties are clearly ruined. They have been drinking for England for the whole day. She clutches a half drained glass of white wine. He is wearing a brown trilby and sports a neatly trimmed moustache. They are accompanied by a lady clutching a small sleeping dog and a large man with a shaved head and tattoos.

Tattooed man turns to his audience.

• I read it in the paper today. They have a tablet they are proposing for the working man to curb drinking. They say it will be prescribed for anyone who drinks over three pints a day.

Brown Trilby replies:

• Three pints? I know how many pints I’ve had by counting my change at the end of the evening. I know I get a twenty pence piece change for every round.

He reaches into his blazer pocket.

• Hmm.. Nine pints. Time to go home I think.

The bar lady nods in agreement.

• Just mind the bloody stair carpet this time.

I join George Orwell at his table and watch on. George isn’t saying much. The Earl of Compton is saying even less. Thames mud is grained deep into his forehead and his shoulders are sloped forward. George Orwell eats another peanut slowly.

The lady with the sleeping dog hears a tune from the speakers above their table. It is not intrusive but there if you listen. Too loud and the ghosts would not stick around.

• Oh I like this one. It’s a soul singer? What’s his name?

Brown Trilby briefly wakes from his alcohol slumber?

• Soul? • How do you turn a duck into a soul singer? • You stick him in an oven until he’s Bill Withers…

His wife makes a decisive move. Time to go. They slowly stagger off to the door and leave.

I ask for a refill of my Bonkers Conkers. It’s tasty and refreshing. I make a hand motion of a tipping glass to George Orwell. He nods quietly and I bring a pint back to the table for him too.

Five minutes pass and the music changes again. It’s someone imploring us to do the Hippy Hippy Shake. Neither George Orwell or The Earl of Compton appear to be much in the mood for The Hippy Shake. In fact, the Earl of Compton looks positively ruined. His clothes emit a haze of foul Thames water.

The pub door opens. It is the man with the brown Trilby hat. He sits down next to the Earl of Compton. George Orwell smiles at him and raises his pint in his right hand.

• Stair Carpet.

Says the man in the brown trilby.

George Orwell carefully takes a peanut out from the packet. He skilfully takes aim with a curled index finger and thumb and propels the peanut in to the Earl of Compton’s pint. It sinks slowly in a cloud of bubbles.