Thursday, November 11, 2004

Chapter 10

It seemed natural to ask Arnie Todd if he’d thought of taking on a trainee. He said yes, he could do with someone sensible. He’d been cutting my hair since I was tiny. I used to go with Dad. Arnie used to put a board across the arms of the chair to get me the right height. I was scared of the chair because it was like in the dentists, but Arnie calmed me down. When Dad left us Arnie always asked if there was any news. I know what people say about him but he was good to me.
It was a lovely and peaceful at work. I’d sweep up a bit between customers. Arnie’d make cups of tea and we’d sit on the window-ledge watching the world going by on Fortuneswell.
Somehow seeing the others didn’t seem so important. Me and Karen were together a lot, and I was busy organising things. I opened an account up the building society. I had a Post Office one before but that was more of a kiddie’s thing. Then I was getting us sorted out to go on the waiting list for a Council place.
Karen was never keen on arranging things like that. I said we could go through the form from the Council, then I’d try giving her a bit of a trim. She looked a bit anxious. I said, ‘Don’t worry. I won’t take much off.’
I’d started doing the odd paying customer by the time Hello Cruel World played their first concert. Kiddies and pensioners mostly. Less likely to get shirty. So I gave all of the band a free haircut, the Saturday before the gig. It was my way of showing I was still interested in what they were up to.
They all took the mickey but it was only in fun. Danny said I’d made everybody look like Stan Laurel. I didn’t mind the teasing as long as they weren’t horrible to Arnie.
It was strange seeing them all again. They seemed different. I suppose people just grow up at their own pace. I’d been seeing a bit of Christy but I couldn’t go to watch any practices because of working Saturdays.
About a fortnight before the August Bank Holiday, Fred’s posters started popping up in bus-shelters. He’d copied an old picture from that film, ‘The Village Of The Damned’, and put the groups’ names in like they were the stars of the movie. At the top it had, ‘An Exploding Plastic Predictable Event.’ At the bottom it had, ‘Be there or turn into your parents.’
It said the concert was in the afternoon on Bank Holiday Monday but it didn’t say where. People had to phone Eddie. He arranged to meet people in Portland Cemetery so he could take them to where the concert was.
Christy told me they were playing on the cliffs above Clay Ope. I liked that; being in the know. Me and Karen made our way straight there. We took some sandwiches and a Thermos, to make a day of it.
All the equipment was set up with a generator for the electric and everything, but most of the audience hadn’t arrived. Me and Karen found ourselves a nice spot and got settled.
I meant to do a review for Ed and Fred’s magazine, but when it came to it I couldn’t really think what to put. It was like at school. I did my C.S.E project on the New Wave groups, but I just ended up pinching bits out of Sounds magazine. The Sounds people seemed to put everything better.
Ed was clever like that; good at making things up. In that second Milk, Milk, Lemonade, the one with the headline ‘Land of a thousand dunces’, he didn’t just do about the bands, he put all bits of description, like in a book. I’ve still got a copy: On the village green at Easton there is no pond, there is no cricket team, white in slow motion in the afternoon sun. There are only dough-faced adolescents, always there as they always will be, wheelying on pushbikes or huddled on benches over Players Number 6.
Round the corner in the cemetery, other youths are gathering. The graves are packed in like tightly parked cars. Those waiting read the ages on the stones. The children are near the back. Big ones at the front, small ones at the back, like a family photograph turned to face the wall.
Even what he wrote about the bands was clever. The Dead Loss Orchestra were on first. They only did this one song that went on for ten minutes. Ed wrote; Jeff and Andy thump and throb like they’re in another band, concentrating like children trying to read without moving their lips. Meanwhile Max picks out a melody which reminds me of the tune played by the crashed ice-cream van in ‘Day Of The Triffids’. This is a good thing.
He said The Bad Detectives played their instruments like someone with soap in their eyes trying to find a towel. Bit uncalled for, I thought. They were just nervous. Ian the drummer kept speeding up. Halfway through ‘Looking For A Clue’ he let go of one of his sticks and it hit the singer Dave on the head. Dave went over and punched Ian right off his stool. There was no need for that either.
Hello Cruel World were on next. I went over to wish them luck. They were really nervous too. Danny said he could smell the adrenalin when he went off for a wee.
Christy wandered off for a bit. When he come back he was all white and his eyes were watering. Karen reckoned he’d been sick. I thought, oh, he’ll be okay. It wasn’t like at school when I used to look after him a bit. We were still best friends but I had someone new to look after.
They did well. Best of the lot I think. They got a good write-up; It starts with four wooden clicks. The chug, crunch and chop of Phil’s guitar is stitched together by Animal’s lines of stabbing notes, looping, never repeating. Patrick supplies the pulse underneath, the words when necessary. At the back, Danny and Christy hunch over their work, throwing secret sideways glances, like two people cheating in an exam. It’s the sounds coming from Christy’s gadget that linger. Slices of half-nonsense, overhearings, eavesdroppings, they come in at random moments like bad memories, and stay.
Hello Cruel World make their mistakes into choices. Hello Cruel World make themselves understood.
Only Patrick spoilt things a bit. Half way through he went over to the amp Christy was using and turned it down. Patrick and Phil had words when the song ended. Over the mic you could hear Patrick saying, ‘He’s putting me off. It’s like shagging with the telly on.’
Last were The Shakespeare Monkees. They were such a din. Danny looked so embarrassed. They had to stop when Fred’s fuzz pedal started making a noise like the Clangers.
Afterwards, me and Karen went to say goodbye to Christy and the others. They were all sat in Olly’s Morris Traveller. I opened the door and said, ‘Blimey, it stinks of fags in here.’ I didn’t know they’d started all that nonsense with smoking the drugs. They went into hysterics laughing. Except for Christy. It must’ve just been decided I suppose.
He said, ‘I think I’ll walk on with you.’
Phil said, ‘Don’t be daft Christy. Come back to Olly’s with us.’
Christy said, ‘No. I could do with a bit of air,’ and he got out.
We walked along the path towards Wide Street. It was nice, with the sun going down behind us and nobody about. Then Christy told us he’d left the band.
I said, ‘Why?’
He said, ‘Because they want me to.’
I said he could come round Karen’s for tea, but he wouldn’t. Karen reckoned he would’ve felt a bit of a gooseberry. He went his own way on the corner. It was a shame it turned out like that. Nobody likes unpleasantness. But all in all, it’d still been a nice day.

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