Nico and Camberwell

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.


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.