Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Prince and the Pauper



We looked similar apart from the fact he was an Arab and I’m a Brit – two young men about the same age; he was wearing a V-neck sweater and a pair of Levis, and so was I; we both had wristwatches and wore brown shoes. We both liked Woody Allen films, which was why we had gone to see Manhattan at the Odeon in Panton Street.
We shared some popcorn and drank Coke but then, just before the end, he wanted to leave. No explanation just upped and started leaving. I hesitated but then got up to follow him as he walked across Leicester Square to the amusement arcade; I stood irritated while he pumped coins into the slots and then we went to the garage where I’d parked the Jag, and I dropped him off at the Dorchester. He didn’t ask me in for a drink, which is good because I didn’t want one. He asked me if I’d come around in the morning and I said I would then I drove back to South London.
My wife said I should stop complaining; we could go and see Manhattan anytime and that he probably had a lot on his mind, and he hadn’t meant to be rude. I said, “For two pins…” and she said, “Two pins what? Shut up; you need the job and he’s a good payer."
The job was being Prince Faisal’s driver: Somehow I’d bagged a prince from the House of Saud and she was right, the pay was good.
He’d sent the security home; he liked to walk around with someone not wearing a suit; maybe he needed a friend. We’d both worn V-necks but his was cashmere; we’d both worn watches but mine was a Timex. Timex, Rolex, how similar they sounded.
Faisal was a funny one, not like the others who came over every summer when they were scorched out of their palaces, to have sex with European women whilst their wives were out shopping for gilt elephants and diamond encrusted toilet seats. At nights the men would hire riverboats and knock back whisky while they gambled. The boats would stop now and again so the German pimp could let one clutch of mauled working girls off and let a fresh batch on. Brothel boats.
Faisal didn’t do the boats; he was a brooder who had no time for the booze, cards or scrubbers, yet it wasn’t a higher calling, he wasn’t in the least devout. He was a modern man who seemed to be constantly grappling with the crazy serendipity that had, all in the space of fifty years, propelled his tribe from camel herding sand gypsies into masters of the universe to be feted and fawned over by western statesmen, and given a licence to strut the globe like gods.
While he wore a Savile Row suit and yapped on his house brick cell phone making plans for his kingdom, his grandmother with tattoos on her forehead was walking through Shepherd’s Bush market buying purple things, looking at the world through a slit in a robe and thinking how did I get here? It was a pikey’s dream.
I often wonder how different my life might have been if I had stayed with my Arab. The offer was there. I could see the whole scenario: me driving fast cars, living on cigarettes and coffee while I led cavalcades of armoured limousines through the Levant, stopping off so UN VIPs could con flab with men with falcons on their wrists; or smuggling white girls in and out of palaces, collecting ruby encrusted casks of cocaine from seaports, and riding Lear jets with potentates and strippers.
Then I got to wondering about the two of us: that afternoon that Faisal and I went to the cinema to see Manhattan; had that been a date? It’s happened before - gays trying to swing me, even rich ones - but never on this scale. I’d bagged a Prince! If only I’d cottoned on at the time. That must have been it! Because after an hour and ten minutes of the film I hadn’t made a move, he’d got the hump and went to play one armed bandits while I stood and watched him. Was that it? The Chauffeur and the Sheikh? Well if it was a date. I should have shown a bit more interest. What would I have said to him? “You are my prince?”
Faisal liked me well enough but I didn’t like his brother a pudgy-faced man-baby that you wouldn’t let near your kids, who squeaked like Sweep and eye-lidded me with a ‘you are a maggot’ kind of leer. Perhaps he could sense my disgust. He’d just broken his arm in some altercation in an Edgeware Road sex salon, which the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital generously fixed for him before he was whisked out of the country on a diplomatic visa. His bodyguards loathed him and he revolted his own brother so Allah alone knows how the man-baby would have treated me back in Riyadh - perhaps as his gimp. Curiously I haven’t seen or heard a thing about him since that year; could some powerful forces have deemed he was too filthy to keep around and needed cleaning up?

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Sympathy for the Devil



I am diabolical. I am the antichrist. Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me. Anyway that’s what several of my mates’ various girlfriends used to say. I’ve never got it. I look in the mirror and a wrinkly old approximation of me looks back. It might not be pretty but it is me, so why the soubriquet?
Two of the friends in question liked to occasionally go out and get mental drunk, and take drugs. And whenever they did it, they’d ask me to go along with them. How could I resist? They’d wake up with appalling hangovers covered in Foster's, spew, kebab juice or maybe mascara, with an animal or a man dozing beside them having shit the bed and missed work, and they’d blame me. ‘Fucking Overbury,’ they’d say to their girlfriends, ‘leading me astray,’ and there you have it.
One of them, Duncan, had three successive girlfriends all of whom expressed the view that I was the prince of darkness. The other one, Hamish, only had the one. She used to sell coke but in her view, of the two of us, I was the demon. When we first met one merry Friday night, I was out with Duncan and Hamish in a Fulham bar and she was friendly. Everyone got a bit bright eyed and loud but then when the Polish waitress pointed at me and said, ‘You are Withnail,’ she got spooked and started darting questioning glances at me from under her fringe.
The evening turned into a long wild apocalyptic night. After the girlfriend split, the three of us went to the notorious Club UK a Wandsworth acid house club where an excited Duncan shot off on a drug hunt while I stood next to a table of Chelsea fans who were feeling for the very first time in their lives, waves of brotherly love: ‘I fucking love you man,’ was the general drift of the eavesdroppings. Hamish just gabbled, disappeared, came back, gabbled some more and bounced away to all the farthest extremes while I remained a rock, my back to the wall, setting up a safe haven in the vast, dark, throbbing club.
When a guy asked me if I wanted some pills, I said, ‘why not?’, and there being no good reason why not I weighed him in some money and he gave me a handful of them. Mid transaction, a small army of black-jacketed bouncers massed behind the dealer and addressed me over his shoulder. ‘Are you dealing mate?’ The dealer’s wide eyes remained fixed on mine pleading. I stared at the bouncers. ‘Dealing? No. Oh no. No I’m not.’
‘Well you look like you are.’
‘No honestly, you can search me.’
With that I raised my hands, one of which was full of pills, into the air, to allow the frisk. The dealer took the opportunity to melt away. They roughly went through my several pockets, then, with miraculous and unique special timing Duncan burst into the scrum of bouncers oblivious and shouting, ‘I’ve found some speed.’
This unintentionally brilliant diversion turned their attention away from me and onto him, which on the face of it was a good thing for me and a very bad thing for him but, vague as I am about the events of the next few moments, we somehow both got away with it, I think on the basis that although he had found some speed, he didn’t actually have it yet. The bouncers were probably quite good at battering people but less so at frisking. ‘It’s in my hand you dummies!’
The bouncers in Club UK were a firm of dealers themselves under the control of Tony Tucker one of the three Essex boys implicated in the Leah Betts death who met death themselves when in 1995 they were shot in their Range Rover. Tucker was charging dealers £1,000 a week for access to the club, so the bouncers’ interest in dealing extended as far as finding the independent operators and taking them out the back to be maimed.  I consider myself lucky to have retained all my limbs. My admiration for the guy who sold me the pills increased; then it increased again when the buggers kicked in and I went off into a sweaty oozy mambo for about four hours.
When I came back to reality, Hamish was slurring into my ear, “Have you seen Duncan? I can’t find him anywhere.” I unstuck myself from the wall and went on a slow recce. He'd got form in getting lost; known to just split with some girl he’d known for a moment or go walkabout with a head full of chemicals. He vanished in New York once and I  eventually found him at nine in the morning in a bar full of transvestites.
During the search four hundred quid’s worth of root canal surgery broke off into my mouth. Suddenly, I had a mouth full of expensive dentistry and cheap chewing gum. Oh Christ, I’ve been chewing gum for four hours as well as gurning and it’s tugged my fillings out. That put a dampener on things.
I forgot all about my mate, said goodbye to my other mate and exited the club at five in the morning to find a cab. As I walked past the twenty or so uniformed bouncers outside on the steps, one of them said, “Ere mate, were you with that little bloke earlier on?”
“Sorry, what little bloke?”
“The one you was with, the little bloke with the brown coat.”
Fearing that this was somehow leading up to me receiving a kicking, I hedged… “I was briefly with a little chap, yes.”
“Well he stripped off at the bar. He was trying to buy drinks for people and took all his clothes off. Then he said to the barman, ‘I’m terribly sorry, I don’t seem to have any money on me.’” He looked at his henchmen and they all laughed.
“We put his trousers back on him and wrapped him up in his coat and sent him home. You should have seen the fuckin’ state of him. There was money all over the floor of the cab. We couldn’t find his shirt or his pants.”
“Oh, er, OK, thanks very much for sorting him out.”
“No problem. Hope he got home all right. Anyway, when you see him, tell him we’ve got his shoes in the office.”
“Right I will. Thanks.”
Stuffing my bridgework inside my trouser pocket I shuffled off home.
The consequences of that evening were threefold: I never got round to replacing the bridgework and eventually lost all the teeth on that side of my head, which was incredibly stupid and annoys me almost constantly.
Duncan was so concerned about what had transpired (he had no recollection of it and I had to explain the little I knew), that he went into therapy and various forms of counselling. This has continued for twenty years or more. Me telling him that the vision of him standing at a bar stark-bollock naked trying to buy people drinks was one of the funniest things I’d ever heard didn’t lift his mood one bit.
Hamish contracted motor neurone disease and died. That night was the first time he had taken a pill but it wasn’t the last. He became a bit of an enthusiast before he became ill. His illness and demise was all a tragedy but the last stages were appalling. She, bless her, devoted herself to him right to the end but anytime I saw her, she rarely spoke to me. I concluded that in some way she thought I’d caused it all. When I went to the funeral, she just glared at me. Then she died. Cancer, the usual; she wasn’t even forty. Undoubtedly the strain of nursing him for years had taken its toll.
Seen through the prism shared by these four women, I sent one of my best friends into therapy and killed the other however despite the evidence against me there are no horns on my head. I’m just a scapegoat.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Creep



CREEP lived in 25,000 acres of army land in Essex. There were outbuildings, woods and streams; there was a live round firing range and a cardboard town mock up of Belfast where human shaped targets would pop up at windows like Banksys that squaddies could shoot at; a little piece of Ireland near Colchester.
There was also a couple of burned out tanks in the middle of a barbed wired enclosure with ‘Achtung Minen’ skull and cross bones warning signs on it. And there were red flags everywhere telling you to keep out, which we certainly didn’t. It was a teenagers’ adventure playground; we explored it, drove beaten up cars all round it, crashed into trees, set fire to it, nearly drowned, had air rifle wars. All we had to worry about was blowing ourselves up, getting shot by the army or caught by the Ranger but the Ranger was Creep’s dad.
Creep wasn’t a creep. His name was Cawley so Creepy Crawley was abbreviated to Creep. He was a longhaired greaser with a Norton Commando and I spent what seems like years clinging to the back of it with his hair whipping me in the face. Alongside would be Zoomy who rode a BSA Gold Star, and one of a range of pillion passengers, all of us pissed on cider.
Bikes and cars: we had a hot rod Mini that used to belong to Timo Mäkinen up on ramps in his barn, which we intended entering for rallies but never got round to it. It had ‘Team Toss’ sprayed down the side and its very existence along with ours seemed to annoy his dad. And there were other cars, unfinished projects and wrecks littered around the farm. His mother was secretary of the village Conservative association, educated and posh, she could swear in a magnificent cut glass accent that thrilled us lads: “Fuck, frig and fucking fornication,” I heard her say when she was looking for her car keys. Then “Steven,” that was Creep’s name, “do we have to have that car in the driveway?”
“Which car mum.”
“The painted one.”
“Er, they’re all painted mum.”
“Look, I’ve got the ladies from the association coming round for coffee later and I don’t want them to see that car.”
“Which one?”
“You know which one.”
“Sorry mum, I’m not sure…”
“The one with all the rude words on the side.”
“OK, I’ll move it.” He never did.
It was a Cortina Estate with three punctures and a colossal tree-shaped dent in the front. It also had ‘4000 VOLTS OF COCK POWER’ sprayed down its side. 
I had an MGB, which I wish I still had - leather seats, spoke wheels, half race cam, overdrive; anyway, I digress. It also had an eight-track cartridge player and a Uriah Heep cassette. Creep and I back from the pub were sitting outside the farmhouse listening to the closing bars of Gypsy, when there was a CRACK! and I saw Creep duck down. “Get down, get out!” he yelled opening his door and dropping onto the ground. Without knowing why I did the same. He shouted again, “Dad, no. Don’t shoot.” Then I heard, “You fuckin’ boys,” CRACK! “Turn that fuckin’ shit off.” He was in his pyjamas firing his .22 at the car from his bedroom window and had put a hole in the soft top of the MG right near where my head had just been. But he was right; it was shit.
The farmhouse kitchen was the heart of the house; there we watched his mother butcher a rabbit. It was gutted and hung on the door, then she said, “Now let’s get his little jacket off” and with a RRIPPP, in one deft movement she had its skin off. One night we were clustered round the Aga smoking Old Holborn; on his way to bed the old man said, “If you don’t keep the noise down, I’ll bore a hole in the ceiling and piss on your heads.”
Creep’s mate Parky had a Mini too and we used to chase through the narrow village lanes at mad speeds often ramming each other or pulling alongside at 70 mph and seeing who would give in first. One day Parky’s Mini shot through a hedge and landed upside down in a field; he went though the screen and woke up with his dog licking his eyeball, which had popped out. His face was heavily scarred after that and we used to point at his injuries and call him an ugly c***.
We had a band and Creep was the roadie; when we needed some equipment he went to the saleroom and bought a Marshall stack – two 4x12s and a 100-watt amp. Except we didn’t have any money so that night driving home from work on the Commando, he intentionally rammed a car that was nosing out from a junction and did some impressive bouncing down the road and bleeding, which led to an insurance pay out.
A couple of times, the band rehearsed in the ‘engine house,’ a concrete bunker that housed a V8 Chevrolet engine, which dragged the targets on cables across the firing range. It had just enough excess space in it to set up our drum kit, and the treasured Marshall stack. The cacophony bounced back off the walls and machinery and numbed every sense except, one night when I could hear a thunderous percussion that wasn’t the drummer. Then we could all hear it and stopped playing; Creep’s dad was shouting “SHUT THE FUCK UP” and beating the corrugated iron door with a shovel.
The father son relationship was becoming very strained. I went to call one day and his mum said, “he’s still in bed. You can go up if you like but be careful.”
“Be careful. Why?”
“Oh, he’s got that gun thing up there.”
His bedroom was in the attic and you had to lift a flap to get access. I could hear thudding sounds so I tentatively lifted the lid and peered in. Creep was lying in bed shooting a harpoon at pictures of the royal family on the bedroom wall. Each time he tugged on the line great lumps of plaster fell out of the wall. When he got home from work that night his dad had thrown all his possessions out of the window and chopped up his bed.
As a sideline, Creep would do a bit of smuggling. Zoomy’s brother was a numismatist and bought coins and medals at international fairs. Creep would accompany him and then carry the coins back into the country evading the import tax. He got to meet militaria guys and started a collection of Nazi knives and other stuff. On a trip from Belgium via Belfast to Essex, he managed to import an M16 automatic rifle into the country, stripped down and hanging inside his jacket. These were different times. What would happen now if a longhaired greaser wearing a combat jacket and army boots turned up at Belfast airport security with an Armalite?  
We didn’t know the full extent of his collection but someone did and one day he had a visit from Special Branch. He had got hold of some plastic explosives and had blown up some rabbits in the field, “Once you’ve killed a rabbit, you can kill a man,” he’d sometimes say, but vapourising wildlife wasn’t the reason he was raided; he’d been grassed by a jealous husband. They found explosives, detonators, the M16, some grenades, flares, a punch dagger and all sorts of other boy’s toys he shouldn’t have had.
When it went to court, his solicitor managed to defuse the situation by referring to the M16 as a hunting rifle and dismissing the actions of his client as high-spirited foolishness. “My client isn’t a terrorist your honour, he is merely an idiot.” Unbelievably he got away with a fine and some probation. Those were indeed different times. Creep rewarded his lawyer by having an affair with his wife.
Sadly the old man lost his job over it and moved from his farmhouse wilderness to a two up two down on a housing estate. He died pretty soon after that. Creep and I lost touch but I went to his fiftieth. There on his wall was a huge picture of him and my ex wife on the Norton.
Apparently the mock up of Belfast down in the Essex countryside has been transformed into a village in Afghanistan, a little bit of Helmand Province just outside Colchester.

Monday, 30 September 2013

The Devil Cat



It was when it pissed in my face, I concluded it had to go. When I’d unstuck my eyelids, there, not a foot from my nose was the cat’s rear ‘eye,’ an erect tail and a pair of testicles which, had they been shaved, might have looked good on a man. There was also that unique tomcat pong, fouler than a Ryanair bog, and it was coming from me having originally come from it. I was lying on my sofa drenched in cat’s piss. While I was still assessing the enormity of this assault, the cat emitted a howl that was somewhere between a slipping fan belt and a sexed up baboon. This was no cheeky stealth piss; this was a full on home invasion and a challenge to my very manhood.
Intending to kill it there and then I leaped to my feet but before I was on them, it was out through the cat flap and down the garden laughing at me.
There had been numerous other incursions but I took them lying down. The devil cat was jet black and so, pretty much, was my own cat, which led to a series of double takes and mistaken identities, when I’d wake up – I’m given to sleeping on the sofa - look across at a black cat asleep on the other sofa, and then look across at another black cat asleep on the armchair. By the time I’d figured out which was the interloper, it had vamoosed.
Not only was it eating all my cat’s food, spraying all over my house and then sleeping it off on my sofa, it was attempting to aggressively shag her, a thing she had once experienced, but having had a litter and been spayed could now only dimly, if at all, remember. Her supine disinterest didn’t deter the rapist fucker though and she had fur ripped out all down her back where he’d pedalled her in sexual frustration. She also had an alarming infestation of fleas and ticks, an assortment of scabs and a lesion that wouldn’t heal.
He was a big boy, like a teenage Labrador. Muscly and sleek, he was obviously wild and was probably living in the park. I leafleted the street asking if anyone owned him and if so could they get him neutered but no one replied. In fact some neighbours told of their own experiences of him brazenly wandering around their houses in the daytime, eating their dog’s food and splashing that distinctive throat-catching fragrance all over their furniture. He had balls all right.
I developed a grudging regard for him and considered trying to catch him and keep him but first those knackers would have to go. On my first attempt, I put the cat flap into ‘in only’ mode but he was having none of that; when I chased him down the stairs he just went through it like it didn’t exist, taking the cat flap door with him.
The second time, I kettled him in the kitchen and got the door shut. I’d read that if you chuck some water over them, they don’t come back, so I sloshed a couple of cups over him. He went ape shit and tried to climb the wall, actually making it up to the picture rail where he hung like a pelt. I realised that without a noose on a stick, an assistant, a cage, a pair of heavy gloves, and maybe even a riot shield and mask, if I tried to grab him, he would rip me to shreds, so I had to let him out.
Being drenched didn’t deter him for a moment, and now he knew I was his mortal foe. I’d see him from my balcony staring insolently up at me. I got a heavyweight water pistol and whenever possible, I’d give him a soaking but it was water off a cat's back and he’d just amble off. Someone suggested silly string; you know the stuff you spray around at parties? If you can cover them in neon string, apparently they are humiliated and leave the area. I couldn’t get near enough to check that theory but I reckon he might have even enjoyed it and done a little dance.
I bought an air rifle but it wasn’t very accurate and I only wanted to scare him, not scar him so I didn’t have the heart to shoot him. In desperation, I nailed up the cat flap and for weeks had to let my cat out at four in the morning.
He disappeared for a while and, thinking and hoping that a bus had flattened him, I reinstated the cat flap, and tranquillity was restored. Then one dark morn, I woke up covered in piss and it wasn’t my own. I bit the bullet and took my cat to the vet for de-flea-ing, de scabbing and to be jacked up with antibiotics.
‘Eighty pounds please.’
Could you put a chip in her?
‘One hundred and sixty pounds.’
Oh and I need an infra-red cat flap.
‘That’ll be two hundred and forty pounds.’
And do you have a cat trap?
‘Call it two eighty. Would you like pet insurance?’
I set the trap with some tuna in it and I had the blighter within the hour. I heard the door clang shut, and then him crashing around inside the trap like something possessed. The plan was that having caught him I’d take him to the vets to be neutered but this was midnight, the vets wouldn’t be open for hours and when I lifted the cover on the cage, the furious animal was covered in blood where he had been hurling himself at the door. No way could he stay in there for eight hours. Either he’d kill himself, or he’d get out and kill me.
I thought for a bit then I slipped on my gardening gloves and, keeping my fingers clear of the scything claws, put the cage into the boot of the car, drove through the Blackwall tunnel with the car rocking as he crashed about behind me, and dumped him in Hackney. I thought, ‘if you can get back from there I’ll adopt you.’ On the way back, I briefly glanced out of the window half expecting to see the monster loping along beside the car. Obviously neither the Celia Hammond Trust or the residents of Hackney would have approved of such tactics but they’d never had a testosterone filled tomcat piss in their face.
It was the 31st of January 2013 when I took the black bastard down, when I vanquished the beast. 31.1.13 and my 60th birthday, a time when old men get to reflecting on the loss of youth, about vigour, potency, the draining away of ones powers; had I still got what it takes? I think the question was unequivocally answered that night. Don’t piss in my face. In a scene straight out of Beowulf, I slayed my Grendel, or at least moved him to Hackney. I felt like baying at the moon.
But now and again I do wonder how he’s getting on.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Brockley Squat


When the little chap asked me if I wanted a blowjob, I knew I’d reached the fag end of the evening. I sighed, said, ‘no thanks, I’ve just had one,’ (or I should have said that), and made my weary way up the garden, struggled through the mêlée in the hallway and lurched into the street wondering how the hell I would ever find a cab in this wee small hour in this wide and exclusive boulevard.
Behind me, all four floors of the party pumped. The house in a posh part of Brockley had been a squat for many years; the parties were legend: bands, bonfires, bottles, hippies, punks and goths, screaming, fighting, smashing glass; the neighbours usually left for the country on party nights and the police had long designated it a no go area.
Earlier I’d been in the mini rave going on in the basement lurking by the door when three likely lads came in each swigging from individual bottles of champagne. Two of them were big; the third was bigger, with two-foot long hair. They all looked pissed; he looked pissed, decadent and dangerous like he’d just got back from a world tour of crack dens with added absinthe and violence. That didn’t stop me extending my palm and quipping, ‘It’s a fiver each lads.’
‘Eh?’
‘To get in; a fiver each.’
The chief champagne swigger leaned into my face. ‘You what mate?’
‘Only joking mate. Heh heh… You could have bought some drink for someone else though.’ Christ where does this suicidal chutzpah come from? From the neck of a bottle.
‘You fucking what?’
Then he made a cobra like stab with his forefinger, his middle finger and the finger with no name; he  thrust them into my mouth between my top lip and my gums, and forced me up against the wall. I couldn’t move. I was impaled on the end of three rigid fingers and I’m not sure my feet were touching the ground. Was he Bruce Lee? Where do you learn something like that, Kosovo? Whatever, I had certainly lost all my mirth, my eyes were watering and through the tears, I perceived that either the champagne bottle or a club hammer fist was being drawn back to deliver the coup de grâce.
‘Leave it! Leave it!’ and other similar phrases like: ‘He’s not worth it,’ yelled his mates as they dragged him away. Mercifully he also thought I wasn’t worth it; he extracted his steel fingers from my chops and I slumped halfway down the wall. They split to explore the wild cavorting on the other three floors but not before he'd invited himself into the DJ booth and wooshed all the graphic equaliser faders up and down, while the terrified female DJ stood by and watched. The sound went ear piercingly shrill and tinny then concussively booming and muddy while I attempted to compose myself in front of a crowd of nervously tittering watchers.
It was then I went down the garden and stood with about a hundred others around a roaring bonfire. I couldn’t immediately see my mate Mick but the security blanket of dark and warmth was helping me recover slightly, then a little chap behind me said, ‘Hi how’s things?’
‘Er… Ok, yeah. Thanks.’
‘Good party eh?’
‘Yes, they usually are here.’
‘Oh, you’ve been to one before?’
‘Yeah. A couple. Have you?’
‘No. I’m not from round here.’
‘Oh. Where are you from?’
‘Stepney. You?’
‘Dulwich.’
‘Oh right Dulwich… Listen, would you like a blowjob?’
‘Uh…’
‘Only I could suck a tennis ball through a garden hose.’
‘Oh… that’s… that must come in handy… uh…’
‘We could go into those bushes.’
‘Listen, that’s very kind of you but I’ve just had… well, a strange experience and I think I’ll give it a miss. Nice of you to think of me though… er… ’
At that point, I saw Mick throw an old door on the fire and it almost immediately put the fire out. It was a fire door. I melted into the darkness and made for the street.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Beautiful Freak


DBA, in the East Village NYC… I don’t know what DBA stands for… Don’t be alcoholic? It’s the closest thing to an English pub I ever came across in my month in Manhattan. A proper boozer, it smelled just like the old country. Dedicated to beer; no frills, ales from the US, UK and the better parts of Europe usually pulled by unusually beautiful young bartenders.
One night it was a beautiful freak bartender. Freak? Head to toes tats under red slash lipstick. Freak? At some point in the evening, she dropped her dress from her shoulders and served up pints in her bra and pants performing her duties in her undies. Freak? An hour later, she took the lot off. Me and several others gaped at the stripped down, ornately decorated, booze-charged eye-full of tart and art.
She was a musky, sultry gipsy; she'd do the kiss thing with her lips and make big tips, at least doubling the takings of the drug-dealer doorman. Her shifts in the company’s other bar in New Orleans had taught her well. Show off. Strip off. Whenever you can; get them off, strip off. Pace it but do it. Don’t be predictable but do it. The beautiful have always sold their bodies. If I had a beautiful body I’d have painted it black and hung it in a gallery, with an eye-popping price tag. Who wouldn’t?
Fully clothed and off duty one night, she was leaning on the other side of the bar. I said something flirty, she swung the lasers in my direction and up went the heat. She focussed and smouldered coal-black eyes, blood-red lips, densely inky skin. And she was smouldering just six inches from my nose. ‘Is this the way you deal with those boys down south in the Big Easy?’ I gasped, loosening my collar. ‘Burn?’
‘Hmm. Watcha doin?’
‘Gotta go. Good to see you again’
‘Sure you won’t stay for another?’
‘Wife’s waiting.’
‘Oh. Shit, sure, you’re married… Is that forever?’
‘Well, you know.’
‘Know what?’
‘Kind of.’
‘Are you happy?’
‘Well, you know.’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘Kind of.’
‘Jesus.’
‘Jesus what?’
Beat
‘Stay and have another.’
‘I can’t.’
‘Why not?’
‘Because I find you incredibly attractive but kind of terrifying.’
‘That’s a good thing though, right?’
‘No… it isn’t.’
‘I’ve heard that the English are bad in bed/’
‘Do you mean Michael Jackson ironic bad? As in quite good? Is that what you mean?’
‘No, I mean bad as in bad.’
‘Oh. Anyway, are you working tomorrow?’
‘Are you coming in?’
‘I might.’
‘I’d like to meet your wife again.’
‘Really?’
‘No, not really.’
‘The Illustrated Woman.’
‘Pardon me?’
‘The Illustrated Woman.’
‘You gotta problem with it?’
‘Of course not. It’s... it’s just that…’
‘What? It’s what?’
‘It’s beautiful… and different.’
She turned away.
That was the first significant encounter. This is the second

We came back from seeing the Psychedelic Furs and swung into DBA. It was New Year’s Eve and all the freaks were out. You get possessive about bars even when you’re an Englishman in New York. Despite the fact this bar was only my adopted bar, and despite my love of New Yorkers, my adopted bar was full of fuckin’ freaks. It was however New Year’s Eve and this is their home not mine, so perhaps I should have summonsed up a little more seasonal bonhomie.
There was this old bloke on my stool plonked in pole position, in the window, on my stool at the end of the bar, well not exactly my stool, but the stool I’d adopted. I stood too close to him. Two old has beens glared it out like pigeons squabbling over a chip.
‘Hi, we just got back from the Psychedelic Furs.’
‘The what?’
‘English band. I believe they live in New York now.’
‘OK.’
‘Happy New Year.’
‘Yeah.’
‘I love all this.’
‘All what?’
‘New York. I feel at home here. Are you a New Yorker?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Which part?’
‘This part. You don’t know who I am do you?’
‘No.’
‘I’m Taylor Mead.’
‘Pleased to meet you; I’m Steve Overbury.’
‘You still don’t know who I am do you?’
‘And you don’t know who I am.’
Beat
‘I’ve been in 35 Andy Warhol movies.’
‘Wow. Shit. What’s your name again?’
‘[Tut] Taylor Mead. He made a whole movie about me. Well, it’s about my ass.’
‘Your ass?’
‘My backside.’
‘Oh, your arse.’
‘It’s called Taylor Mead’s Ass.’
‘No shit.’
‘Hopefully not.’
‘Can I get you a drink?’
‘Fuck off…’









Cut me up


Had a girlfriend once, who five times a week used to get dangled from the roof of Raymond’s Revue Bar, upside down in red fishnet tights. She was a looker; I’m sorry I missed the show, but I guess it was there she met the Rolling Stones’ engineer whom she married, a handsome black-haired talent from the inner circle. She had a big, brief glamorous flurry of backstage passes, hotels and fast cars; then he got wiped out in one. Great car, shitty brakes: a three-litre, two-seater sports with a power bulge in the bonnet but with only the stopping power of Bambi on ice. They don’t make them like that any more and there’s a reason for that. His death left the new bride pregnant and dressed in black.
The lifestyle ended over night although some of the Stones’ old ladies kicked in from time to time – free tickets, goodie bags for the kid. He’d been making big money but had spunked it all. Eventually the young widow was in a two bedroom Peabody in Brixton, wondering where all the good times had gone. Then in I rolled offering a pale imitation life. We had weekends away, played happy families, but she didn’t do it for me; I wasn’t serious but she was so when I bailed out it was quick and a bit brutal.
A couple of weeks after the split, a package arrived; I didn’t often get them so was a bit curious, smiling as I ripped it open. Inside, a stack of my clothes, socks, underwear, shirt, a sweater, stuff I’d given up for lost when I ran away. But, isn’t that nice, she’s washed and pressed everything? That showed a forgiving nature. Maybe I’d call her and thank her. Bygones be bygones. Except the shirt and the pullover had been cut lengthways up the back, the socks had no toes and the underwear had… well… been castrated.
The thing that bothers me most about it though, the bit that won’t fuck off and leave me alone is the night when her kid wouldn’t stop crying and I slapped her. And when she cried again, I did it again. And her mother let me do it. Was that the price she had to pay for having a man? Did she lay there with her eyes screwed shut trying not to listen? There’s not much mitigation to accompany my confession except it was a long time ago, I didn’t know anything about kids; my parents had always knocked me about. I thought it’s what you did.
Later I got to think about how many other men’s hands that girl had felt, although I do believe her mother picked up with a nice guy. I wonder if the kid remembers me. I hope to Christ she doesn’t. If I had the balls, I’d track her down, apologise and ask her forgiveness. Redemption would be good.
But what if she did remember and wouldn’t give it? What about if she’s still traumatised by her dad’s death and being bashed by me, and others unknown? What about if she never made it off the estate and died scagged up behind a sofa? Could I live with that? Well yes I could, it’s not the shittiest thing I’ve ever done but I wouldn’t like it one little bit. Truth is I won’t go and see her because she might get her scissors out and cut me up.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Teletubbies




Press trips: beanos, junkets, jollies. The mid 90s was for me an orgiastic, halcyon age of expense-account lunches and afternoon delight. As media whores go I was down on all fours with my face in the trough, so if you see anything you fancy help yourself.  It was the early days of satellite TV and a good time to be working for a listings magazine. Each new channel had a roomful of desperate press officers that wanted their channel listed, all fighting over a slim share of a tiny audience. We were gods to be feted and bribed.

Some of the channels were under-the-stairs operations like the Cat Fancier Channel - OK I made that one up - but alongside the tiddlers were some big players like Sky and all the Americans: Nickelodeon, Discovery and the mighty Disney. As far as freebies went, cheapskate Sky was good only for an occasional piss up and once a day trip to the Isle of Man, however with the Yanks, I made a right pig of myself and travelled the world. It was a dirty job and I was just the man...

Apart from four-wheel drives in the Sahara, helicopter rides in the Andes, Eurostars to Paris and a flamenco night in Madrid with a couple of gay TV chefs that I’m very glad I can’t remember, most of the press trips were to the USA, and I did The Big Easy, The Big Apple and the City of Angels. The best was the last: Disney hosted a tour around the TV studios, where we were forced to do interviews and – yawn - you know, work, but then they compensated us with lashings of fine foods, vats of wine, and five star hotels.

At a dinner at The Ivy, the LA version, a household name (male) tried to take me home, and at another, at Spagos, I saw Arnie trying to fit his thighs under one table while Shaquille O’Neal and Magic Johnston tried to fit their canoe-sized sneakers under another. So-far-so-nice for me.

One night, the young PR girls were quivering with excitement; we were off to meet a new young pop star that was also doing some TV for Disney. Space was tight around the star’s restaurant table so I, along with a gay Times journalist (rather than a Gay Times journalist), as the two elders of those assembled, gallantly declared an utter lack of interest in the face-on-a-stick pop star and volunteered to sit together at the next table. So grateful were the PRs that they bought us some top-notch bubbly and went off to cluster around the pop star whose name I couldn’t be bothered to learn so can't recall.

Then, in through the door swept a big guy in a big suit with slicked back hair, closely followed by an even bigger slab of beef who could only be a WWF wrestler or a minder or both. The lead guy was clearly IMPORTANT and shouldering all the journos aside, plonked himself down opposite his protégé, who cow-eyed up at him while the muscle glared around the table. This, they explained, was the MANAGER.

The Times journalist and I chatted and drank oblivious to the kerfuffle at the next table, then suddenly two chairs were pulled up and these two Sopranos rejects, their job obviously done, were sitting at our table, the hot shot Manager asking what did we think of the pop star? Not quite our thing, we explained. ‘Thing! Not quite your thing; and what is your thing?’ This was said with not a little rancour and a spray of crumbs from a half-chewed bread stick. The Times guy gently soothed him with pseudo stats that employed the word 'demographic' and I gamely changed the subject. ‘Do you manage anyone else?’

Manager and Muscle exchanged half smiles. ‘Do I manage anyone else Steve? Well, yes I guess you could say I do.’ They flashed their funny little in-joke smiles again. ‘Have you heard of Barry Manilow?’ At this point around half a pint of Cristal champagne shot down my nose and the Times guy looked like someone had just unzipped him and cupped his balls. ‘Have I heard of Barry Manilow? Wow! Fantastic! A real star, a proper star.’ I half turned to the commotion at the next table thus implying, ‘Not like this twerp.’ The Manager started to look irritated again and the Muscle, who had been staring around the room, started taking a bit more interest in me. Maybe he would get some fun tonight. Maybe his boss would tip him the wink and he would be allowed to pound a couple of faggoty-looking Brit journalists starting with the tall, stupid-looking one. The evening was looking up.

I deftly turned the subject back to Barry, expounding why I thought Could it be Magic might be one of the greatest pop songs ever written yadda yadda, how good he looked, despite the extensive surgery he’d obviously had done, and how he really should come out of the closet as it would be a great boost to his flatlining career. The Times journalist didn’t know whether to applaud this or make a run for the door; the Muscle was staring holes in my head and the Manager picked up a knife.

Realising the pit I was standing at the bottom of was getting pretty deep and that I might soon be waist deep in my own sweat, I dug even more furiously, embarking on a lengthy thesis about how Barry was so far up the shit scale, he'd gone all the way round and reappeared at the cool end. ‘You know what I mean? It’s beyond ironic; the schmaltz, the false sincerity, the fake manliness, the perm, the fucking nose. I mean, it’s like dripping plastic but yet he kind of gets away with it.’

Irony. Oh Jesus Christ, Americans don't do that do they, well this violent looking fucker and his henchman didn't. The Times journalist looked like he’d just unloaded in his pants and the hubbub at the next table dropped to a burble and then complete silence in anticipation of the Godawful something that was just about to occur at the table where I sat.

I’ll give him his due, the Manager had class; he seemed to shake like a wet dog for an instant, then somehow regained his composure and put the knife down, having decided against driving it into my eye socket. He reached for the bubbly and poured me another glass – possibly my twelfth – and then composed something resembling a smile on the thin lips of his jowly chops.

‘Anything new happening in England right now Steve?’ he breathed in an act of superhuman restraint. I blinked and stared at the Times journo whose eyes dropped. This guy would not want to talk about the relative merits of Blur and Oasis. Then it came to me: ‘There’s this kids’ show doing great business,’ I blathered in manager speak. ‘It’s got all these different coloured little people and it all takes place in a kind of psychedelic garden. There’s a vacuum cleaner called Noo Noo and they live on toast and custard.’

I could see the Manager looking confused, while the Muscle looked quite interested. Was I taking the piss? Was this his moment? But the Times guy was smiling and furiously nodding. Perceiving that I’d somehow pulled a miracle iron from the fire and realising that instead of being kicked to death up an alleyway there was now the slimmest of chances that we might get out of this stinking mess alive; he spurred me on.

‘And there’s this song,’ I gushed, and so thrilled at our Houdini escape were we, that the TV editor of the London Times and myself leaped to our feet and in front of twenty astonished young journalists, an orange skinned pop star and the head of the Corleone family sang: Tinkywinky, Dipsy, LaLa, Po…

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Killer Driller


I first met Jerry the dentist when he crashed into our table in the Dog and scattered all the drinks across the floor. ‘Terribly sorry,” he belched and weaved off to the toilet. He was a big man and it took a lot of beer to get him wobbly but he frequently managed it.

He needed to be big because he often had to carry his patients around his surgery. That was because he would, if asked, administer a general anaesthetic for routine dentistry, extractions, fillings and the like, not just the big stuff. Inevitably, this made him very popular. But of course, like most dentists, he was a greedy bastard who needed a good turnover of appointments to make money and that meant you didn’t get long. In - needle in the arm, drill, delve, fill and finish - done and dusted. Except the patients didn’t wake up right on cue. Some of them would slumber on and intrude into the next appointment, occupying valuable chair space.

As you sat nervously in reception, you’d hear Jerry call their name, ‘Michael. Wake up,’ Then a bit louder, ‘Michael! Come on, wake up now.’ Then you’d hear slapping sounds as he knocked poor Michael around a bit trying to rouse him; then failing all else, he would carry the patient into reception and park him or her on a chair. It wasn’t unusual to see three or four people sitting with their heads lolling over to one side, mouths hanging open, dribbling, sometimes bleeding, falling on to you as you read your Good Housekeeping magazine and tried to ignore this unconscious person in your lap.

After one of these treatments, you would feel a bit light headed, slightly euphoric but able to function and although Jerry used to advise that you bought someone with you to get you home and that it would be a good idea to go to bed for a while when you got home, you were quite able to get there under your own steam. But the amazing thing was, that having done so, when you woke up a couple of hours later, you had absolutely no memory of how you got there and what might have happened to you since the moment the needle went into your vein.

It was inevitable that some of the lads would start experimenting with this phenomenon. One of them, Mick, during a course of dental visits, was in the habit of dropping into his local, the Palmerston on the way home, where frequently there would be day time drinkers all too ready to play their part in a drama involving a drugged up, bleeding, friend who though he was walking and just about talking, was to all intents and purposes, still unconscious.

They would assist him in buying himself, and them, several pints of Holstein, a particularly heady lager. There would be loud story telling and other boisterous behaviour – they drew the line at giving him more drugs – and then in the darkness, he would make his way back home, via the supermarket, sleep for 24 hours, wake up refreshed but with his bed full of tinned pilchards and cheese, not knowing how it or he came to be there.

Sadly general anaesthesia is rarely available in dentist’s surgeries these days, yet another mad thing you are no longer allowed to do to yourself in these safety conscious times, and I for one mourn its passing, along with the passing of Jerry who I’d imagine either drank himself to death or was struck off for killing someone.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

The Penge gunman



Lordship Lane, Dulwich has always had a catholic assortment of retailers along its length, but I wonder if any other London high street has had a militaria shop that also sold dolls? Brens and Barbies, Tommy guns and Tiny Tears. That’s a pretty unique line in stock. 

I’d often looked in the window of Target Arms, at the decommissioned machine guns and defused grenades and even at the Flamenco dancer dolls and wondered about Mr. and Mrs. Target with their differing interests and how they agreed on the subdivision of the window display. Did they select items that they thought were somehow complementary like perhaps the aforesaid flamenco doll leaning against a Spanish Civil War gas mask or a geisha sitting on a Samurai sword?

When we had a feral cat problem, I thought I’d get an air rifle. In reality, the cat was just an excuse. As a kid, I’d always wanted an air rifle but dad said no. However, dad was dead now so I was the boss and no one could stop me. I asked the bloke in Target Arms if he knew how I could acquire a .22 and like magic he pulled one from under the counter and said, ‘You can have this one if you want it.’ So I bought it for forty quid.

Forty quid is not enough for a good air rifle as I found out when I tried to fire it and the damn thing fell apart. After about five wildly off target shots, it literally fell apart in my hands, mid shot, so I took the various bits back to the gun and doll shop. “Ooo,’ said the dolly lady, ‘my husband is out at the moment, but leave it all here and he’ll fix it.’

When I went back to collect it, he was behind the counter, at first trying hard to remember who I was, secondly figuring out where my gun was, and thirdly working out why he had it in the first place. ‘It fell part when I tried to shoot it,’ I bleated. He started reassembling it while I waited. I sparked up a conversation with the only other customer, a hard looking bloke in a combat jacket sitting on a stool against the counter, like he was drinking at a bar.

He said, “You wanna get a gas powered one. The pellets travel miles. I was doing a loft conversion for my daughter and her chap the other day and he got pinged in the forehead, just here, just above the eye. I thought, ‘Fuck that, where did that come from?’ So I scoped it,’ he looked around the shop doing the telescopic sight thing with his hands, ‘and I figured out, that before it pinged him in the head, the pellet must have come in through the Velux and bounced on a tile. I could see right across Penge through the scope. Then I clocked this house over the way and I knew where it had come from. Fuckin’ obvious.
“I went straight round there and this kid came to the door. I said, ‘Go and getcha dad,’ Then this bloke came to the door. I said, ‘Your kids…” And he went, ‘What? Whaat my kids? What my fucking kids?’ Bristling. Chewing as well.

I thought, ‘Right you cunt.’ I said, ‘Your fucking kids have just shot my daughter’s boyfriend. I know from the distance involved and the look on your kid’s stupid face that the gun’s illegal and he’s too young for it anyway. If I have to come here again, it’ll be with the filth and that little slag’ll be on a five.’ That shuttim up.”

Then the shop chap, who had been fiddling around with the sights on my gun said, ‘Bollocks I’ve dropped the fucker,’ meaning he’d just wrung the sight adjuster off the top of my gun and had watched it bounce off across the floor. ‘Fuck, bollocks.’ He added.

The man from Penge pulled out a telescopic tool thing from inside his capacious camouflage jacket – there were other shiny implements in there - and said, ‘Here, I’ve got a magnet.’ The owner said, ‘Nah, it’s gone under the fuckin’ er… whassername,’ meaning the shop counter. After much crawling around and the deployment of telescopic magnets and torches, the sight adjuster was located.

While he mended the gun and tried to set the sights I examined some Gestapo handcuffs and a Mills bomb. To test the gun, he fired a pellet at a target, low and to the left of the shop door. This is the shop door right? The door that customers walked in and he was firing a gun towards it. He fired a shot, which missed wildly. ‘Down and left,’ my companion advised and adjustments were made. Then he fired again and the shot bounced off a bit of Dexion shelving and my comrade at the counter got a ricochet. ‘Ouch, you bastard,’ he said rubbing his forehead. The gun shop man had just shot one of his own customers with a ricochet just like the bloke’s son in law had been. I was beginning to see that it was a very cheap gun and that I should have invested a bit more and that two thirds of the people in this shop were insane. Then I hoped that no one, in a room full of guns, crossbows and daggers, would for some reason somehow think that any of this was my fault. But it was obvious he’d been shot before and didn’t mind that much.

Meanwhile, just across the road, BBC producing/pop up blogging/can’t afford Hoxton thirtysomethings, were happily queuing up outside the butchers for completely natural, organic, line caught, corn fed, can’t believe it’s not rendered, pain-free abatoir eco steaks while in the shop opposite the shop keeper had just shot a customer.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Dulwich Dogs - part 2



Among the pantheon of hard men was Rog Carter, who also owned a formidable hound: Mick was a massive lollopy Great Dane that when he yawned could probably fit a baby’s head between his jaws. The Carter family was legion: intricate scams, bank raids, brothels, protection - generation on generation of bare-fisted opportunists. Rog ran security; a slim man often surrounded by giants. He employed the best, thuggish and devoted henchmen who were usually unencumbered by the ravages of intelligence.

On the doors, Rog told the giants whom to hit and they dutifully hit them, then when Rog told them to stop hitting they did that too, the clumpings always erring on the side of judicious; strategic rather than sadistic. And unless you deviated considerably, you could often escape being clumped at all; Rog would instead engage his secret weapon – charisma. With that and scything wit he’d hustle you back in line, unselfishly denying his own bloodlust in favour of keeping it all sweet because it just made sense.

He could intimidate you, amuse you, nick your bird off you and get you to invest in a timeshare all at the same time. It was like talking to a smiling, violent pickpocket with a sideline in magic tricks. By the end of his charm offensive, they’d shut up, lined up, handed over all their possessions, were pissing themselves laughing and loved him for life.

Ordinarily.

If someone refused to get the drift and was stupid enough to demand a physical conclusion, Rog might finally get the hump, impatient with the lack of respect and receptivity and give the clown a clout himself.

Small yet wiry with a quick right hand, PAM, PAM, PAM; it was soon over and under the rain of light peppering punches, for most the lights went out, no broken jaws, no detached retinas, just a fast acting sedative that left the recipients shocked and awed. Some of them were almost grateful, like a man visiting a whorehouse to get the demons sucked out of him. Some of them shook their heads then almost immediately smiled and shook his hand, the tacit message: “Thanks mate, I probably needed that, you’ve done me a right favour.”

Cynthia Payne, the grand dame bordello keeper of Streatham was once asked, if after all she’d witnessed, she still liked men. “Oh men are alright dearie so long as you get the spunk out of them,” she replied. The queue jumpers and velvet rope cowboys that Rog encountered were the same Friday night breed, full of pent up hot piss and vinegar, vocabularies halved.

The classic ‘on the door’ story is surely the tale that Sebastian Coe was once late for a cricket match at Lords and tried to get in the wrong entrance.
“Sorry mate, you’ve got to go down to the other gate.”
“Yes, I know but could you let me in here because I’m late. You see I ‘m meeting John Major.”
“That may be sir. I’m sorry, but you have to use the other gate.”
“Look mate, don’t you know who I am?”
“Yes sir, you’re Seb Coe, so it shouldn’t take you long to get down to the other gate.”

Rog’s classic was at a star-studded event for the racing driver Jacques Villeneuve and his new beau Danni Minogue at the Dorchester hotel when a likely lad had foolishly tried to dash himself against the security.
“Sorry sir, private function,”
“Don’t you know who I am young man?”
“Apparently not sir.”
“I’m the son of the promoter and I’ll have your job.”
“Wow sir, well, now you’re definitely not coming in.”
“OK look, I’ve got to get in, I’m meeting Jacques and Danni.”
“Sorry sir, there’s Jack and Danny all over the place in there.”

When Tall Paul the builder was burgled and the only things stolen were some of his wife’s undergarments and Jessie his dog, a sympathetic Rog was instantly engaged to seek retribution from the only known suspect, a flaky chap from the pub who’d been to the house once before and freaked everyone out. Rog saw things utterly clearly: ‘What kind of arsehole nicks a man’s wife’s knickers and the kids’ dog?’ he reasoned.

You need a thief to catch a thief and perhaps you need a dog to recapture a dog. Mick the Dane was dragged from his bed to play his part in a drama; the door was knocked, the miscreant answered, Mick smelled out Jessie immediately and was in like a huge rat up a drainpipe. Thrown against the wall by the Dane, after a few short words, the flaky chap handed over Jessie the dog, together with the pants, a quavering apology and a promise to vanish. Nothing was ever heard from him again; summary justice. Discussing it later over beer, Rog came to the conclusion that taking along the pistol had been unnecessary.


Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Skull





How Rizla thin the veneer of civilisation. Just how far have we really crawled from the primordial ooze? How rapidly would we revert to the brutish, blood soaked ways of the Cro magnon; flint marks on bones, body parts sizzling on the fire.

I recently asked the local butcher if he could get me a deer’s head with the antlers. I fancied nailing one to a tree in the garden to freak the foxes out, or do I mean the neighbours?
He matter-of-factly pondered my request, then said he would have a word with his game distributor. After all, the heads have to go somewhere he reasoned. Had I considered that it would still have the flesh and fur on it? How would I get it back to the bone? I could leave it out in the garden for a year or so, or I could boil it in a big pot for a couple of days. 'Goat’s head soup,' he laughed. 'Chuck in a couple of onions,' I said, adding that I wanted a deer not a goat and that I’d look on the Internet.

A subsequent visit to the butcher threw up this bit of dialogue, which was ear wigged by those in the queue behind me, two genteel ladies and a rather impatient trendy looking chap.

Butcher: Did you get anywhere with your head?

Me: You can get them on Ebay.
Butcher: That would save you boiling it
Me: Absolutely, I didn’t want the wife catching me boiling heads
Butcher: You can get anything on that Ebay
Me: Not entirely. I did think that if it was that easy to get a stag’s head, then I’d try and get a human head
Butcher: A human?

Me: Well, the skull of a human. I don’t really want a head, you know with a face. I wouldn’t want the kids seeing me boiling a face on the cooker
Butcher: And can you?

Me: No, you can’t get human heads; I meant a skull
Butcher: It’s probably not allowed
Me: That’s probably a good thing, I mean that you can’t get body parts on Ebay
Butcher: I saw a programme the other day and this bloke in a laboratory was getting a skeleton. I always thought they were plastic but it was a real one.
Me: Where did he get that from?

Butcher: Dunno. Bangla Desh I think. It was a little one
Me: What? Was it a child?

Butcher: Think so

I thanked him and paid for my sausages and left the shop passing the three customers who had all gone very still and for some reason recoiled from me looking horrified as I made for the door.