Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Intrigue & Intoxication

Crotch-kissers and gusset-suckers of a SW6 allegiance, discard your dribble bibs, down the clouded dregs of your final, lovingly-supped pints, retrieve your ring fingers from your dilberry makers, and drape your attention across the ensuing ham-handed doggerel.

I shall pre-empt your most pressing enquiry, tout de suite: “Where have you been?” I hear you wail from deep within the reverberating nothingness of your existential dungeons.

Confabulating marshmallow alibis in a craftily uplit alcove?
Fondling a trombonist from Bow?

Poppycock in a knocking shop!

The harrowing, hand-wringing, actuality is that I’ve once again been cruelly deployed as an unwitting buffer in prevailing intra-parental hostilities. An impotent little sapper conscripted by opposing sides in a shabby campaign of matrimonial warfare, without even a tin helmet in which to ensconce my imperilled noggin.

It was late afternoon last Friday, and that incorrigible old North End Road was a crucible in which all kinds of canny, underhand commerce had been a-simmering since first light. Fruiterer and fishmonger alike had barked their hearts out and were now keenly shoe-horning themselves into any ale-dispensing aperture going.

As usual, my father, gin-pickled grumbletonian and feckless scourge of this exalted manor, had installed himself as captain of the HMS Oblivion. It was a ship that had left dry dock many hours earlier. He was denting the leather in The Goose, where he had been steadily coaxing himself into a profoundly kippered condition.

I had been skulking around outside for most of this time, getting bumped and buffeted by the crowds like a hapless little pinball. My only comfort came from a still-warm turnip and chive pasty from the Well Bread bakery smouldering away in the pocket of my charcoal, pin-stripe overcoat. A few baby carrots nestled in the breast pocket, cunningly camouflaged against an orange paisley pocket square.

But hasn’t a muddle-minded understrapper like me got fresher fish to fry? You know, brogues to buff, hats to steam, and tufnells to darn? Not to mention refraining from ogling the flower-seller’s daughter five times a day to kneel and pray in the direction of our black and white mecca?

In one, chums. Unfortunately, Ma had ordered me there on a sub-rosa scouting mission. Apparently, hovering over Pa recently as he plummeted the scuzzy depths of one his impenetrable post-booze slumbers, she had heard him mumble some kind of spittle-coated serenade: “Lovely lady G”, he had dribbled, “My beautiful, beautiful Ginny”. Her suspicion, as a consequence, had become inflamed.

To be brutal, the thought of him doing the blanket hornpipe with anything other than his imagination set my braces quivering. It was almost enough to send me scuttling away to the nearest seminary to take a life-long vow of non-penetrative canoodling.

Her interpretation of this seedy sleep-talk had no doubt been influenced by a previous incident shamefully engraved in family legend. Several years ago, Ma had discovered him in an unlit utility cupboard concealed beneath a dim and rancid stairwell in Clem Attlee Court. Squinting through a thicket of mops and brooms, she caught him touching giblets with ‘Easy’ Elsie Blow, notorious suet-fleshed slattern and bane of the North Fulham Purity League.

Later, pinned to his favourite armchair with a toasting fork poised to puncture his chest and skewer his heart, he claimed that Elsie was on a First Aid course and that he had merely been showing her his war wound, which was still prone to weeping. Well, Ma gave him a wound of her own that day that ensured his beard-splitting days were over. The meat tenderiser hasn’t been seen since.

Nevertheless, here I was in full-on, underage espionage mode, trying to catch sight of his festering spectre through intermittent chinks in the bustling clientele.

It was a tall task, as the pub was packed and poorly-lit. Thirsty men monopolised every seat and stool, coveted every livid inch of Pollock-patterned carpet: moth-eaten, wife-beaten, and all committed to liberation through alcohol. A porridge-coloured fog hung menacingly above a mottled array of trilbies, caps, depilated domes and disappointed hair-pieces. It was so dense that the watery yellow light leaking from the occasional light-bulb merely seeped onto and around it, fringing it with a sickly, jaundiced aura. Its constitution was not, as in days past, cigarette smoke, but a mouldering miasma of dust, dandruff, fugitive food particles and navel lint, coagulating within a bulbous cloud of steam and evaporating perspiration. Some punters have claimed, at the end of a complicated evening, to have seen it circumnavigate the ceiling of its own accord, like an airship that has slipped its moorings.

My initial sightings confirmed that he was alone, although quite clearly incubating a grudge of some design: he had a face like a flat tire. Even for one so constitutionally sour, he looked nettled. Eavesdropping on a few departing patrons, I learned that that he had become engaged in a particularly vindictive skirmish with the barman concerning Mr. Sparky Hughes. They were bitterly disputing which was the greater: his shirt-collar size, or the coefficient of friction between his upper thighs.

Apparently, the thick-tongued sophistry he had managed to exhume from the cognitive mulch of his crepuscular mind was so belligerent and off-beam that he had been threatened with immediate cessation of credit. They might as well have condemned him to the gallows. Dragging his feet like a scolded child, he returned to his seat where, bristling with insult, he had proceeded to inflict revenge by force-feeding pistachios to the landlord’s dog - a bellicose pug named Dowie that was last seen sliding on it’s belly towards the beer-cellar hatch.

It could have only been a cursory sulk, as the next time I caught sight of him he looked in thrall to some gormless euphoria. He was cradling a bottle of gin in the crook of one elbow whilst sliding a single, shaky fingertip through the condensation that embraced its subtle curves. Radiating an unconditional love to rival that of a mother for her newborn, he slurred the undertones of some long-forgotten lullaby, whilst simultaneously muttering an enigmatic paean to the cradled beverage. Elementary lip-reading suggested “My lovely lady G”...

The bent penny dropped.

What a mutton-headed, piss-the-bed he is! I was smarting all over: he had just wasted an afternoon that I could have wasted perfectly well myself. I immediately declared my career in reconnaissance over, and set about my pasty with grim intent.

Turning away, I dissolved into the decaying movements of the market, gathering up a few squares of navy tissue and a coil of twine as I went. Limping instinctively towards the Thames, I began to absent-mindedly mould my pickings into a makeshift football. I popped it under the faithful stovepipe and continued on to seek out the solace of a dusky kickabout with Mr. Haynes.

See, me and the Maestro, we have a relationship based on loyalty and respect, and that’s the only sort worth considering in the context of this tawdry tale, eh, chums?

Flamin’ scallions and Up The Fulham!

Friday, 17 September 2010

Ice Cream & Irises

Lazily gazing at the flower-seller’s daughter, I flicked my tongue across a Piccadilly Whip.

I was not of a mind to contemplate kipper salads, long-limbed spinsters, or the unknowable depths of another’s despair. No, not when I was languidly suspended in a bi-sensory heaven.

The heat of the day was a blanket that suffocated sound and inhibited movement. Floating motes of dust, encased in sunlight, looked like tiny bubbles of air trapped in glass. The streets flickered like a faded home-movie unfurling in slow-motion, a surreal dream-sequence swimming in muted hues.

I was sitting on the kerb opposite the flower stall, one elbow resting on the scorching fender of Miss Wetherby’s (next-door-but-one) plum-coloured Karmann Ghia, savouring my frozen treat. As its icy sweetness assailed my synapses the girl’s smooth, elegant movements appeared to emit slowly-dissolving trails of light, hypnotic patterns that shimmered and overlapped as though contained within a kaleidoscope.

In the aftermath of this clammy hallucination, the cogs of the Maurice noggin began a-turnin’. I concluded that just as the mind may become enlivened by psychotropic substances, so the eyes could become intoxicated too if the sights they absorbed were potent enough.

With such a bewitching vision before me, I had to blink to stay sober.

It was captivating to see her so wholly immersed in her work, tenderly plucking leaves from erect stems, and lovingly fondling swollen blooms. She raised a crisp and vivid carnation to her nose and inhaled its perfume, before nuzzling it like a post-partum beagle with an unlicked pup. You could see her senses devouring her.

I surveyed her alluring wares: endlessly seductive, eternally out of reach. With frustration I wondered why it was that some flowers spread their petals and allowed themselves to be penetrated by an eager proboscis, whilst others remained tightly-closed.

How does nature’s dating game operate, I pondered? What are the elusive rules of attraction and when will I learn ‘em? Are we mere, besotted stooges in some metaphysical Blind Date? Lovelorn puppets of a scheming celestial Cilla?

Realising that I was stretching my bijou thesis way beyond its capacity to endure scrutiny, I allowed the dilemma to disperse into the woozy Fulham air, like cottonwood fluff being teased from a branch by a tentative breeze.

Sucking lustily on my honeyed fingertips, I felt a small resolve begin to stiffen. I stood up and, palming away the dust of crumbled wafer from the weft of my pin-striped tufnells, determined to act on this slowly solidifying notion.

See, I had read about these pheromone characters in one of Mr. Rutter’s (antiquated bookseller) enigmatic tomes. I’d purloined it from the racy stash he keeps under his stall. But I didn’t need a book to know that if a theory cannot sustain itself in practice then it is worthless.

So, hands in pockets, plaid cravat askew, I strove to attenuate my limp as I aspired to a nonchalant swagger in her direction. I sincerely believed that I was reviving, right there on North End Road, the effortless dash of a Grant or an Astaire. Once up to speed, I strained to achieve the erotic chemical excretion that I had read about.

The ensuing sniggers and guffaws suggested that I was channeling Hugh rather than Cary. Those unwitting market-goers must have believed they’d stumbled upon the West Fulham heats of the Disabled Pimp Olympics. How hormones warp one’s self-awareness is one of evolution’s enduring cruelties.

A confluence of lush floral scents rippled from the stall and mingled with the dry, musty heaviness oozing from the market’s pores. It begat a somewhat curdled confection, suggestive of a drenched Afghan Hound on the rampage through the Selfridges perfume hall. Together with the heat and embarrassment, and a debilitating post-sugar dip, I was becoming somewhat light-headed.

However, approaching her sumptuous display I rallied. I feigned a casual fingering of the cuff-links, and began to whistle the opening bars of “If I Was A Chocolate Flake Would You Be My Ice Cream Cornet?” I felt that I was being consumed by fire, and struggled to maintain the melody through my sticky, sugared lips. I glanced directly at her, pleading silently for some connection but she was in thrall to her inner world.

Despite failing to penetrate her intimate circle, I was praying that the sentiment behind the song might nestle subliminally within her bosom. Buried there, perhaps it might find her rising one morning possessed of an irresistible urge to hunt me down, transport me to a secluded arbour in Bishop’s Park, and proceed to delicately weave fresh irises through my barnet.

With the tune dying on my lips and my hopeless strut unraveling, the entire conceit crumbled like a punctured meringue.

I was beginning to wonder if I should abandon what was increasingly looking like a unilateral romantic quest. As Mr. Rutter is wont to say: “When your horse dies, get off”.

Who knows, maybe it’s nature protecting me and I’m simply not ready for a paradiddle on Cupid’s kettle drums. Or even a little fiddle in the string section.

Yes, it was another one of life’s lead-filled gloves to the solar plexus.

I suppose, my black-and-white acquaintances, that by now we should be used to the unrequited love of a capricious mistress but, like soppy, forsaken spaniels, we keep coming back season after season, don’t we.

But can there be a purer love than that?

Scallions. Flamin’. Fulham. Up The.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Decorations & Detritus

My little frost-flecked Fulham-flavoured sprites.

Where have I been?

Deadheading busy lizzies in neglected suburban graveyards?
Playing head tennis with Les Dennis?

Amidst the profane chaos of your unravelling psyches, perhaps.

In actuality, I’ve been mooning around this manor like some forsaken phantom with no-one to haunt.

Ringmer, Hestercombe and Gowan, and all their blessed allies, lie engloomed within the fug of a Christmas passed.

Seasonal detritus dots them, discarded, forlorn.

And how pathetic my leaking brogues, only sustained these days by Parade Gloss and prayer, as they listlessly toe transparent sacks of Christmas wrapping stacked against the bases of lamp-posts. Bright red ribbon veins the pavements, as the crimson ink on a discarded gift tag slowly bleeds it’s greeting towards the kerb.

It’s over. The goose has been cooked, the copper cleaned. The angel has descended to earth and the gaudy baubles have all been boxed.

As I float about, living-rooms are subdued and lounges no longer resonate with festivity. Windows are dark now, their lacy tableaus of blinking lights dimmed for another year.

Scrawny firs and pineless pines lie abandoned on corners, curls of tinsel, like silvered catkins petrified by frost, trapped within their branches.

It’s queer, chums, but this recurring new year limbo always tends to attenuate my sparkle. In fact, the other day Mr. Rutter (antiquarian bookseller) cuffed me for skulking. The predictable sermon followed: “If you can’t be chipper, Maurice, at least be downright miserable. Suicidal, even. Mediocrity is man’s biggest enemy. Don’t mess with Mr. Inbetween.”

It only addled me further.

This pagan gaiety is fine, but a low pecuniary ebb always limits us. Christmas day, then, is like most days: a stand-up wash followed by a sit-down meal. Drink is drunk, the uneasy peace ultimately ruptures, and soon a swarm of cooking utensils is clouding the kitchen like chaff. It’s like an improv session at a knife-throwers’ convention.

Indulgences are few. Grilled kippers might melt beneath an extra scrape of butter. A few lobes of some grey mechanically-recovered game might be crowned by a solitary cranberry, menacingly crushed beneath the heel of Pa’s shoe. A cube of Raspberry Chivers with a marble poked inside can double as a pudding and a present.

Similarly the Maurice refuge remains undecorated, as Pa refuses to purchase anything that is not at least 40% ABV. He tried to convince me that there would be a market for paper chains backed with Whisky-infused glue.

Thus, as usual, Ma and me improvised. She purloined a candle from her part-time cleaning job at the church (the vicar insists upon fresh rushes up the aisle at this time of year). Inspired, and lacking any bona fide phizogs of Ol’ Santa, I cut a picture of Mr. Hodgson from the Hammersmith and Fulham News, fixed it around an empty pickled egg jar with a few spots of wax, and placed the candle inside.

It proudly illuminated our mantlepiece, radiating benevolence, right through to Twelfth Night.

Apparently, some erudite scholar once posited a world in which he wished it could be “Christmas every day”, which sounds like some kind of gluttonous dystopia if you ask me. Christ, imagine the walnuts!

Well, I know he’s lauded aplenty ‘round these parts as it is, and I’m not one for prostrating before false idols, but with St. Roy steering the sleigh around SW6 it’s pretty much Christmas every week anyway!

Flamin’ scallions and Up The Fulham!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Butterflies & Buttocks

Sun-kissed associates, loosen your neck-ties, top-up your iced tipples, and tilt your wicker trilbys to a more forgiving angle.

Then, collectively quiz me as to my recent whereabouts.

Like, where have I been?

Boiling up the bones of regret in a fog-bound bothy?

Sprinkling pepper on a salt marsh?

Negative: no boiling, no sprinkling.

The fact is, I’ve been out liberating a few rustic impulses on Putney Common. Now, that notion alone should be enough to undermine your pre-existing knowledge of human nature, your investment in a non-random universe, and your faith in phenomenological reality. To willfully mis-quote that esteemed philosopher Mr. Tom Jones: it is unusual.

For not only am I as urban as a pigeon roosting in the wheel arch of the Lord Mayor’s carriage, I’m also currently bedevilled with what I’ve christened ‘close-seasonal affective disorder’. Consequently, I’ve been presenting a rather saturnine aspect to the North End Road environs and it’s populace.

Starved of football-infused nourishment, the Maurice metabolism starts to drag at this time of year. The humours thicken and slow. I begin to droop like parched wisteria, and slump like an under-stuffed guy on bonfire night. Morosely I loaf about under my own personal cloud, frowning at acts of human kindness.

To aggravate my malaise, Ma has evicted me from her stall. She claims she’s been forced to “reduce headcount” due to “fiscal hiccups” or somesuch, even though my labours remain uniformly unrewarded and, in truth, represent little more than a benign form of slavery. I think it was just a random act of heartlessness contrived to imply business acuity. With similar intent, she often boasts to fellow traders of how the meagre profits she extracts are “selflessly reinvested in the local community.” In practice this amounts to Pa pocketing them, and spending the day getting progressively guttered in The Goose. Unfortunately, his submersion renders me little more than a nebulous shadow skulking outside the pub door. To him, ‘bonding’ is something involving highly-flammable adhesives and a g-clamp.

Even my pals have evaporated, ferried away to caravan in Canvey, chalet in Clacton, and winkle-pick in Whitby. Meanwhile, the closest the Maurice family gets to a holiday is arguing over a strawberry Mivvi outside the travel agents.

But, so as not to appear ungrateful to be drawing breath whilst others fester and decay beneath the ground, I may occasionally, in the pre-market quiet, rescue a few flaccid kale and cauliflower leaves, curling mournfully by the kerb, and fashion something football-shaped from them with a length of waxy twine. Glumly, I then proceed to nudge this cruciferous cluster around the streets of SW6. With eyes cast downwards to keep it close to my good leg, navigation becomes arbitrary. Somehow though, I always seem to end up on Stevenage Road. Then, with the charmless bravado of youth, I inevitably go on to challenge Mr. Haynes to a keepy-up contest. He beats me every time.

Anyway, sensing the sun behind my ears, serotonin slowly dispersing the melancholic fog, I experienced a compelling desire to escape the arid streets and frolic in a leafy arbour for a few golden hours. Oddly inspired, I even made myself a ramshackle butterfly net from a discarded bamboo and pair of Miss Wetherby’s laddered nylons – she made me peel them from her actual legs, and that liberated a few impulses by itself. I prepared a bottle of redcurrant cordial and a beetroot and chive pasty for sustenance and, as an aide, wrapped up my rations in one of Ma’s old tea towels - the one depicting ‘Endangered Butterflies Of Britain’.

I resolved to bag myself a brace of Glanville Fritillarys, or at least a Lulworth Skipper. Once ensnared, I would decant them into the emptied pop bottle for safe-keeping. I then planned to deliver them to a fanatical conservationist in exchange for a generous settlement, the ensuing acclaim leading irresistibly to a life of coruscating fame and glamour.

Leaving Fulham behind, I sloped over Mr. Bazalgette’s stately bridge, and hurried past the spot where homicidal maniac and pubic-hair connoisseur John Christie was buttonholed by the law’s long arm. The thought induced a shiver as I pushed on along the lower of the Richmond Roads.

Upon arriving at the common, I surveyed that unkempt meadow there, glittering lazily in the haze, and instantly noticed something glinting as it fibrillated just above the tips of the tall grass. A dot-dot-dash of morse flashes seducing me like a siren’s sultry refrain.

With the immediacy of the hypnotist’s finger-click I am in a trance and at the mercy of urges I cannot control.

I cleave eagerly though the long grass like a besotted spaniel just reprieved from castration, intent on one last shot at extending it’s bloodline. My momentum is such that even my unwieldy gait assumes an elegance. I am consumed with the exertion, and hopelessly in thrall to the bounteous rewards I have envisioned. In my imagination the sunlight splintering through the trees is a volley of paparazzi flashbulbs. They merge into a continuous curtain of light and I see a future where I glide from moment to moment bathed in the effulgent glow of unending adulation.

As I approach, the vista narrows, whilst the flickering nucleus of my intentions expands until it seems to fill my vision. At the final instant, it is wafted upwards by a balmy breeze fresh from the river. I leave the ground, my trajectory destined to intercept it at it’s apex. As I climb, time recedes. My feet are en pointe, my net arm extended. I am Neil Armstrong, pioneering, ascendant. I am Rudolf Nureyev majestically mocking gravity. I have subjugated nature. I exclaim in triumph as the prey yields to my prowess and nestles sweetly in Miss Wetherby’s redundant gusset.

Mission accomplished, I begin my return to earth. However, with toes still pointing, my landing is prematurely curtailed. Glancing down, I see the gleaming tip of a freshly-buffed brogue daggered deep between the buff buttocks of a gentleman who is, in every sense, naked. A similarly-attired female, glistening with arousal, inspects me from over his shoulder.

From deep within my core I ignite with embarrassment. I fear I may combust. With my free foot dangling, I veer around on the other like an arthritic ballerina. Only suction is keeping me upright. It wasn’t just nature abhorring this vacuum, believe me: I attempted a few fractured pirouettes and eventually managed to extricate myself from the startled lothario’s rear-end embrace. The resulting sonic event scattered a knot of crows grazing nearby, intuitively alert to the farmer’s shotgun.

Fearing he may re-enact the posterior intrusion with my bamboo, I made off towards the river without delay.

Once I had reached the cover of the trees I remembered the pursuit that had spawned my disturbing encounter. Expectantly, I teased my fingers into the soft gauzy folds of the net. Alas, what I extracted was no priceless entomological specimen, safely delivered from extinction. No, it was nothing more than a crudely torn square of lurid coloured foil. Reassembling it, I managed to identify the words ‘lubrication’ and ‘sensitivity’, but I was by then too crestfallen to comprehend. Limp and deflated, I tossed it to a passing Pomeranian, prancing blindly through the grass after it’s master.

I toiled on for the best part of the morning, but only managed to apprehend a Grizzled Skipper (no, not Mr. Murphy), some green leaf weevils, and a solitary cockchafer. Bone-tired and with braces slackening, I made my way on down to the river, unwrapping my tucker on the slipway opposite the Cottage. As I sat there, gazing at the empty ground, standing silent and inscrutable like a sentinel watching protectively over the Thames, I tried to calculate how many tides it would witness before it was teeming and in full-cry again.

Well that was a sum too far for the nascent Maurice noggin but, nevertheless, I knew that soon this painful gestation period would end, and we would be witnessing the birth of a bright new season emerging, blinking and bonny, from within that historic shell opposite.

And right there and then I decided that, in future, that was the only species I was gonna be pursuing!

Flamin’ scallions and Up The Fulham!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Myths & Melancholy

There are people and proceedings apparently assembled entirely from hearsay.

Biographies that persist through whispered myth, spun from wide-eyed playground hyperbole, promoted via bar-room boasting.

Infamous exploits that thrive within a loosely-tangled hairball of fact and fable.

Around North End Road, history pits the brickwork; it impregnates yellowing ceilings. There, through common conversation alone, people may be rendered real enough to rub shoulders with. And although no-one you know has seen them, everyone claims to know someone that has.

Is, for example, the existence of Munster Road’s elusive peek-a-boo dandy mere conjecture, or does he occupy a realm in the here and now? Many say they have seen him swing a gay parasol in the dusky twilight. Several attest to spying him saunter past Olive’s on the corner of Wardo Avenue, pausing momentarily to finger the leaves of the box ball tree that stands there.

Consider Mr. Dave, notorious brick-built barman of The Goose. Has he only ever pulled pints in the unrequited dreams of dry-mouthed drunkards, or did he really force-feed a 20 x 22 gram card of Mr. Porky pork scratchings (packaging ‘n’ all) to a hapless punter for “looking at him funny”, as market folklore decrees?

And what of ‘Easy’ Elsie Blow? Have you ever accelerated her sputtering pulse, or smudged her clumsy rouge with the heel of your hand? Perhaps her history solely resides in lines written on walls: grotesque slogans proclaiming her to be dirtiest puzzle in SW6; alleged invites to underage lads scratched in the bubbling cream emulsion of unheated, busted-seated, public conveniences.

She could be nothing more than an ongoing narrative of Chinese whispers, dictated via the urgent imaginings of deprived youth, but through the years she has been depicted in a litany so vivid that anyone would know her the moment she appeared.

Mooning around the kitchen once, I pressed Ma on the veracity of Elsie’s existence, but she didn’t answer. Instead she fixed me with her flinty eyes, and with grim vigour continued chopping the courgette she held pinned to the kitchen table. She clearly felt such topics to be forbidden fig for a freshly-weaned whelp like me so, sadly, my blinkers remained.

And yet, like a mercurial striker penetrating a well-drilled back four, the truth will ultimately wheedle its way though the most densely-woven deception. Like dogged chickweed winding through hairline concrete cracks to sprout into the light.

Last week, I was loping along towards the river to take in the tides. Hard sunshine kicked off corroding fenders and the market roar gradually decayed as I drifted further away. Generally looking like I couldn’t help it, I was struggling within my brain to evaluate the difference between a chamfer and a bevel when a tiny bulb of light burst in the corner of my vision.

I looked down the alleyway I was passing by, and there, through the opened doors of someone’s garage was, unmistakably, Elsie. Elsie. Unmistakably. At once, that multitude of after-hours murmurs found itself reconstituted into an irrefutable, copper-bottomed fact.

Frozen in mid-pucker, she was modelling hourglass corsetry for the readers of some rank magazine. She had spilled herself over the bonnet of a burnt-out Hillman Imp, like a marshmallow congealing on a hot stove.

I was dimly hypnotised. There she actually was, like some queasy conflation of a blowsy brothel madam and a dinner lady on Viagra.

The director of this squalid scene, weaselly in his soiled gabardine, flashgun primed, was evidently aspiring to some kind of Ballardian tableau. Framed as it was by the garage doorway, it looked more to me like a road safety poster targeting mature nymphomaniacs.

Where is the allure, I wondered, of exposing one’s chassis and gaskets to the world? Why divulge one’s vitals in the centre spreads of catchpenny publications that are doomed to curl and bleach in wire carousels standing off-kilter on suburban station forecourts? What fate for one’s flesh to be fondled only in facsimile by the grubby thumbs of bored salesmen with gout?

Collecting copper’s a diminishing trade right now, but are a few photographer’s farthings slipped into the willing gusset going to put sufficient steam on the table to justify such bruising indignity?

As I slipped away I sensed a rare melancholy consuming me. That uncomplicated optimism that springs, some say, from a robust dim-wittedness, felt punctured.

It got me thinking about the dead-ends and disappointments that might be awaiting me one day. It was like a future memory of a life unlived.

But how could I feel things I hadn’t encountered yet?

Had I acquired this awareness via the eye peeping through the door crack, the ear straining at the keyhole? Had half-remembered conversations and splinters of market chatter been absorbed subliminally, just like the tall stories spawned in these here streets?

Or perhaps it had been learned through actual experiences elsewhere, from recurrent episodes where the chafe of failure is felt first-hand. Speaking of which – I’ll see you at the school of hard knocks on Sunday!

Flamin’ scallions and Up The Fulham!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Horns & Hand-Washing

I was in the scullery rinsing linen for a shilling.

She was in the study playing scales on her flugelhorn.

Miss Wetherby (next-door-but-one) is a valued family friend, and often supplies vital subsidy when the pockets of the Maurice breeches become barren.

She’s also a liberal source of solace when the Mighty Whites are stymied. On the many occasions that they’ve reneged on the ‘mighty’ part of the deal, she’s entered her parlour to find me prostrate over the decaying Bakelite on which she allows me to listen to away games. Without hesitation she gathers me up and absorbs me into her bosom. Whilst not necessarily assuaging the pain of defeat, it does readily spawn other feelings that strive to compete with it.

As well as paying me to knead her smalls, she had promised that later on she would be serving me her ‘Cherry Delight’. I would be the first to savour her special recipe. It was already cooking she had confirmed with a wink.

There was a tidy pile of underwear resting on the draining board. Sunlight shimmered through the cobwebs criss-crossing the skylight and dappled the terracotta tiles underfoot. A sour smell leeched from the small iron drain cover in the centre of the floor.

With my hands plunged deep within her pants, it occurred to me that the benefit of conducting simple repetitive manual tasks is that the unrelenting rhythm often lulls one into a kind of meditative state. Untaxed, the mind is clear to pursue whims and fancies at will. And so it was that I, sluicing merrily away, allowed myself to indulge in a pleasant reverie involving the flower-seller’s daughter, and an alluring Banana Inbetween - a speciality of the renowned Well Bread bakery.

The stack was slowly diminishing, and the daydream’s denouement growing closer, when a small knot of suds liberated itself from the sink and floated up to settle on my nose. Unfortunately, being up to my elbows in borax, I was unable to attend to the irritation. I began twitching and puffing, trying to dislodge the offending bubbles when, unannounced, a pair of hands appeared before my face and gently wiped them away. I had been so embroiled in my imaginary escapade that I hadn’t noticed that the music drifting in from the study had stopped. The arms lingered there, encircling me from behind.

Suddenly my collar felt a little tight, my braces rather constricting. A prickly heat flickered up and down my legs. The aroma of Miss Wetherby’s signature dish baking slowly nearby became overwhelming.

She invited me into the study. She said she wanted to reveal her special piece. It was time for me to enjoy her “Così fan tutte”. The Maurice noggin began pulsating and reverberating like a boneshaker rattling along a cobbled street. What was she talking about? For a cork-brained upstart like me it was like to trying to crack a cryptic clue written in a foreign language. Confounded, I padded after her like a soppy-eyed spaniel.

Tripping dimly through to the study, I struggled to rescue a few shards of sense, tossed asunder in the mental turbulence. I lashed them together into a cogent thought and reassured myself that, as the woman before me was honorary treasurer of the highly-respected North Fulham Purity League, I was in safe hands.

And after that I remember nothing.

When I came to I was slumped in a voluptuous leather Chesterfield. The lady of the house was sitting opposite me, pert on a straight-backed chair, pressing a freshly-plucked stem between the pages of Flugelhorn For Beginners. Her face was fixed with a queer, beatific smile.

I managed to haul myself up from the depths of the armchair. I stood there wavering like a drunken captain on the prow of a storm-tossed ship, blearily scanning the horizon. It felt like all the strength had sapped from my little legs. She glided towards me serenely and, pressing a coin into my palm, leaned over and whispered a fragile “thank you” in my ear.

I turned to leave and, glancing at my reflection in the hallway mirror, noticed that my braces were twisted, and my hair was parted on the opposite side from usual.

I spent the rest of the day wandering around the market trying to resolve my confusion, struggling to give things a name. Eventually I conceded that perhaps some of life’s little mysteries are just a little too far out of
reach for a young ‘un.

For the time being, anyway.

Flamin’ scallions and Up The Fulham!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Peas & Philosophies

Flimsy conceits rarely endure, do they.

I was concentrating keenly, for concentration is required to perfect the art of wearing a hat in a built-up area.

As I moodled along Racton Road, the sharp winter sunshine sprung the colours from my schmutter, the air was cold and precise, and the wind rattled ‘round my ears.

I felt pristine, like a pea freshly-popped from its pod, and my braces were vibrating at some kind of mystically harmonious frequency that created an aura of serene wellbeing.

I imagined I was a demobbed squaddie recently recognised for acts of uncommon bravery on the front line, strutting past a line of court-marshalled malingerers loitering at lamp posts.

Increasingly spry, I felt my momentum smoothing out my congenital limp, and the fleeting grace it afforded allowed me to swivel crisply on my newly-cobbled heels into Tamworth Street.

Soon, however, my lofty reveries were fractured by the raucous approach of a gaggle of local girls. A giddy riot of jelly rolls, rouge, and rudeness, they were bawling in each others’ ears and collapsing against each other with laughter. Indeed, they seemed to find their very existence hysterical.

They were brash enough, blurting schwas all over the place, but I was so taken with the vision I’d spun of myself that I prepared to indulge in a slither of dangleation with them.

As they approached, I fancied I was filling out me tufnells nicely.

Alas, it was the bait that hides the hook. Drawing level, and about to give them the trusty wink and hat-tip combination, my fragile imaginings shattered:

“Does your grandad know you’ve nicked his trousers?” one of them shrieked, sending my eardrum into spasm.

“What a shockin’ bad hat,” yelled another.

“Are you minding those legs for someone else?”

It had become clear that there was fat chance of a tupenny fumble today, let alone taking one of ‘em up the Trocadero.

Now, I align with the axiom that apparel maketh the man, but just look at the trouble a silk handkerchief, a whistle of herringbone, and a wayward gait can get you in. In fact it tempts one to disappear into the drab parade, to make every day a ‘dress-down Friday’, just for a quiet life.

Still, there’s a salve for every sore.

See, Ma’s forever instructing me to disregard goading and leg-pulling. She advises employing philosophy as my ally. The insight of the wise will defend me ably, whatever the situation, she insists.

She’s always arming me with gnomic and knowing epithets from the Greek and Latin eggheads; regularly serving me a snippet of Socrates or a Sun Tzu strategy to suck on, and then recall whenever I find myself the object of opprobrium.

So, while these frenzied harpies were spinning me around, fingering my lapels, and tossing my hat like a Harris tweed frisbee onto a nearby rose bush, I recalled the maxim that she whispers in my little ear‘ole most often. I don't know if it issued forth from the noggin of Mr. Aristotle, or if it was coined by his mentor Mr. Plato, but she always dispenses it immediately before turfing me out into the world:

"Ridicule is nothing to be scared of," she says, and “don’t you ever…” - but I’m out the door before she can finish, enlightened and emboldened.

And so, as these mouthy frippets skitted off into the distance, still intoxicated with their own cleverness, I managed to still my quivering bottom lip by reciting that line. It’s true my delusions took a bruising, but it demonstrated that when the outlook is Lanesborough-grey, and life’s put the kibosh on your adolescent esteem, it’s not events what’s important, but how you look at ‘em.

Flamin’ scallions and Up The Fulham!