Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chapter 22

Danny opened the box. Everything was still there. He took out the trips, and the weight. He locked the box, replaced it in the crack in the rock, and walked back across Butts quarry, to where the dogs were tied to the bumper of the Wartburg. This was his safe place now, out near The Bill. He didn’t use the house anymore. He’d hidden a quarter under a loose floorboard in the spare room. When he went back the door was locked. It had been ever since.
He thought about the night before. It was progress, moving up to getting a weight at a time. At least they were moving forward. But not quickly enough for him.
He couldn’t take his eyes off it when Dennis gently placed the weight on the coffee table. It was a beautiful thing; roughly rectangular, black like Bournville, bowed like timber. It was partly wrapped in heavy unbleached cotton. The cloth reminded Danny of woodwork aprons.
Nervous, Christy asked, ‘Should we cut it up here?’
Dennis smiled. ‘I wouldn’t bother. You could put that lot through a blender, it wouldn’t do you any good if you got pulled.’
Later Binny was telling them how he’d managed to get himself admitted to the local psychiatric hospital so he could sample the medication. Danny, only half-listening, noticed Dennis inspecting a plastic bag containing some small paper squares. ‘What’s that? Somebody shrunk your stamp collection?’
Dennis fished out a tab and handed it to Danny. On one face of the tab was a tiny cartoon drawing of a hinged box; a treasure chest or luggage trunk.
Danny felt a smile stretch across his face. ‘Yeah? Any good?’
The others were listening too, by then.
‘Yeah,’ Dennis said. ‘More of a holiday than any holiday. Impossible to describe though. Different for everyone. It’s like asking what it’s like to have someone else’s brain.’
Patrick rubbed his hands. ‘Looks like we’ll have to do some ourselves then.’
Danny said, ‘Not here I’m not doing it. I’m driving.’
Danny untied the dogs from the bumper and let them have their run. He sat in the driver’s seat, skinned up, and began splitting the weight. There was something about the place, about being there with the dogs every morning, which let him be still. He wasn’t sure if he liked it.
Without knowing why, he found himself thinking of Olly. He saw him in the greenhouse, looking after the plants. He saw him on the floor in the front room, playing Snap with the kids. He felt he should get back in touch.
He took one last draw, stubbed the roach, emptied the ashtray and bagged the gear. He went back to the rock, put the bulk of his share in the box, and returned the box to its hiding place. Returning to the car, he stopped to watch the dogs chasing in circles. He called them, walked on. You couldn’t afford to stand still. You had to keep moving, towards the next good thing, the gig tonight, the party after, doing the trips. And beyond that? Some escape attempt he couldn’t even imagine yet. There had to be somewhere to go, surely. He remembered Patrick’s last words to him the night before; ‘Don’t fuck off and come back three weeks later with a big grin on your face, will you?’ Fucking like to, Danny thought. Only not come back.

The Island of Dreams bingo hall, two doors up from the Merman, had once been the Majestic Cinema, and was still majestic, lower case, despite the frayed seats, the flaked paint. Eddie was topping up his Giro as a cleaner there. Fred got him the job having previously painted a mural of palm trees, beaches and waterfalls, for Tony the manager. Tony had said he wanted some cannibals with bones through their noses. Fred had refused. Ed asked Tony about hiring the place on a Saturday night for another Exploding Plastic Predictable event. Mistakenly anticipating a profit Tony insisted on promoting the gig himself.
In what were once the cheap seats, Animal and Patrick waited for Phil, Danny and Christy. Animal had been right that morning; three weeks and Christy had returned. All Christy ever did was go back.
In the carpark, Phil, Danny and Christy were sitting in the back of Terry’s mini, wishing it wasn’t a two door, wanting to just do the deal and get out. The dope went forwards, the cash went backwards. Terry and Mike from Doublethink oozed misplaced confidence. They thought it was a social thing.
‘What sort of stuff do you do then?’ Danny asked.
‘Quite reggaeish really, but new wavey too,’ Mike said.
‘Do you listen to much reggae then?’
‘Not really. I know what it’s like though.’
‘Sounds interesting anyway,’ Christy said, encouragingly.
‘Things are changing,’ Terry said. ‘That three chord shouty bloke’s stuff isn’t going anywhere.’
He turned to Mike. ‘It’s that realism, modernism split we were talking about.’
Bristling, Phil said, ‘Who’s this other band out of your lot?’
‘Our lot?’
‘Your lot.’ The posh lot.
‘They called themselves My Blue Peninsula but some oaf graffitied the posters for the gig so it read, My Blue Penis.’
Phil, Danny and Christy smirked.
Terry continued. ‘So at the last minute they’ve changed their name. To Daniel Dedooronronda! Brilliant isn’t it?’ He smiled.
‘Great,’ Danny said. He looked at Christy.
Christy lip-read the word ‘What?’, and shrugged.
Phil brushed the ash off his lap, leaned forward, ready to make their excuses.
‘You still working up the bakery Terry?’ Christy asked.
Phil sighed, sat back.
‘Yeah. Just temporarily. I’m taking a year out,’ Terry said.
‘How do you mean?’ Phil asked.
‘A year out. Between “A”s and Uni.’
‘Oh right. “A”s and Uni.’ He nudged Christy. ‘“A”s and Uni.’
‘Mm, “A”s and Uni.’
Danny nodded solemnly. ‘Yes. “A”s and Uni.’
‘Not sure yet though,’ Terry continued, oblivious. ‘Difficult thing choice, isn’t it?’
‘I’ll take your word for it,’ Phil said.
Terry turned to Mike. ‘As the man says, “Everything has been worked out except how to live.” N’est ce pas?’
Mike turned gamely to the tortured three. ‘What do you think of J.P.S.?’
‘Never touch them, mate,’ Danny said. ‘I’m a B & H man meself.’
With that he stood, reached forward, levered open the sun-roof and scrambled free. Phil and Christy followed, Christy shrugging, apologetic.
The three stood on the tarmac in the dusk, looking at each other.
‘I know.’
‘Wizard pot, what?’

Phil looked up from reading the running order of the bands. ‘What’s this?’ he asked Ed and Fred. ‘Plebs on first?’
Eddie winced.
‘I’m drumming for three of the first four bands, though,’ Danny complained. ‘I’ll be a fucking stretcher case.’
‘Well. Up to you, that is,’ Patrick said. ‘You’re the one who wants to be in three places at once.’
‘It’s because of the P.A. isn’t it?’ Phil said.
Eddie looked embarrassed. ‘What can you do?’
For once there was a decent P.A. It belonged to Doublethink. Terry’s dad, who owned the Music Mart in Weymouth, had bought it.
Richard Widmark’s Skidmarks were on first. Danny paced himself. No sense buckling yourself for some joke band. Their set of covers reflected Psychedelic Derek and Recurring Jeff’s obsession with 60’s garage psychedelia; ‘Psychotic Reaction’, ‘I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night’, ‘96 Tears’, ‘I Wonder Where She Is Tonight’. As a concession to modernity they did a cover of ‘Flying Saucer Attack’ in honour of Poly Styrene, who, the previous week, had supposedly seen a U.F.O in Doncaster.
Jeff stepped to the microphone and asked whether anybody had any requests. From just behind Phil a voice brayed, ‘How about a cover of John Cage’s “Four And A Half Minutes” ?’ There was a ripple of laughter from the heckler’s chums.
Phil nudged Christy’s elbow. Loud enough to be heard he asked, ‘Who let Lord fucking Snooty in here?’
Phil tried to relax as Hairshirt Boutique took the stage. They were a laugh at least. Fred had painted them a backdrop featuring the faces of Pope John Paul, George and Ringo. Their songs; ‘Jesus Had It Easy’, ‘Cheesecloth And Ashes’, ‘Spectacles, Testicles’ and the rest, were all about Catholicism. John had really only ever had one idea but he certainly got some wear out of it.
By the end of their set Phil’s unease had returned. He felt there was some connection between the unfamiliar faces in the audience and the throbbing in his fingertips, but he couldn’t work out what it was. Even the arrival on stage of the original line-up of The Shakespeare Monkees couldn’t lift his mood. Each of them wore a different teeshirt; Eddie’s showed the face of Eric Morecambe, Fred’s that of Philip Larkin, Linda’s featured a picture of Leon Trotsky, and Danny’s showed a mugshot of Colonel Sanders, the chicken supremo. They ended the usual set with the new song to which the teeshirts related; ‘Take Your Pick.’ The song was built around Ed’s theory that Eric Morecambe and Philip Larkin were twins separated at birth, and Trotsky was assassinated by a vegetarian hit-squad who’d mistaken him for Colonel Sanders.
Ed discussed the song’s significance in the next edition of Milk, Milk, Lemonade; the one with the headline ‘Beneath the beach, the pavement.’ He said the song concerned the idea of self-invention and the relationship between choice and identity. He concluded, cryptically, that the difference between your earlier and later, between what you get and what you’re given, depended on a willingness to open the box. Nobody knew what he was on about.
Phil felt his guts bubbling as he walked onstage with Hello Cruel World. He flexed and unflexed his hands, trying to get some life or feeling into them. Despite weeks of applying surgical spirit, his fingers were still as soft and pink as babies. The band steamed into ‘Hell For Leather’, hell for leather. After a verse and a chorus Phil could feel his grip weakening. He stumbled on the change into the next verse. Danny did a short fill to cover, smiled at him, then frowned. Phil felt his shirt sticking to his back. During ‘Dead In The Water’ he felt his skin start to shred. Soon the bleeding would start. He didn’t come back in with Animal after the quiet middle section.
Four bars into ‘Like Shit To A Blanket’, rescue came. Phil saw Tony thread his way through the crowd and step onto the stage. He knew it would all be over soon. Tony gripped Animal’s guitar round the neck. Hello Cruel World went out of time and stammered to a stop. Tony had spotted Animal letting people in through the fire exits he remembered from the Majestic’s Saturday matinees. As many people had got in through the back door as through the front. Tony ordered them to end their set. Sheepishly they obeyed.
As the band shifted their amps and coiled their leads, Daniel Dedooronronda mooched shyly onto the stage. Alan, with his sax around his neck, smiled nervously at Phil. ‘I quite enjoyed that.’
Phil wanted to nut him. He settled for flicking the ash from his Rothman into the mouth of Alan’s sax. He returned from punching the walls in the toilet in time to catch most of Daniel Dedooronronda’s set. Heretical in their guitarlessness, their music was angular and irritating, but they had enough friends in attendance to secure a positive response. They dedicated ‘Prospero W’ to Eddie. They dedicated ‘Whose Word’s Worth What?’ to Doublethink. They dedicated ‘My Blue Peninsula’ to Max and Dave.
Patrick leaned into Phil’s ear and said, ‘Why don’t they cut out the songs and just go round patting all their mates on the back?’
Next, Christy and Hello Cruel World watched, baffled and resentful as Doublethink impressed their well-scrubbed friends with their fuzzed up cod-reggae . Each song went over better than the last; ‘Re; Dub’, ‘Dub and Dubiety’, ‘Dread At The Controls’. Reversing out of a cul-de-sac of reggae related puns, they finished with ‘Double-Cross’. As the final chorus;
Cut yourself up,
Dust yourself down,
Start all over again, repeated and faded, there was a sudden wave of movement and talk near the door.
A voice rose above the others. ‘Who’s in charge here?’ it demanded.
Adrian from Daniel Dedooronronda strode towards the door with a lopsided smile and his arms outstretched. ‘Nobody is, sir.’
Christy and the band heard this. They thought, Sir?
Patrick was the first to see. ‘Fuck me. Coppers.’
‘Jesus!’ Danny said, remembering. ‘I’ve got five tabs on me.’
‘Just drop them for fucksake,’ Patrick said.
‘Don’t be a twat. Me brain’ll dissolve.’
‘Not do them. Drop them. On the deck, and walk away.’
‘Fuck that,’ Animal said. ‘Come on. Bogs.’
They scuttled towards the toilet while Tony tried to convince the officers that the event was a private party requiring no music licence, and Adrian promised that the building would be cleared noiselessly within half an hour.
While the other four stuffed their personal inside their pants, Danny pulled out a matchbox and slid it open. Each reached in and picked out a tab.
‘Have we got scissors?’ Phil asked. ‘Dennis said about doing a half the first time.’
‘We’ve got nothing to cut it.’
‘Ah, fuck it,’ Animal said. ‘Down the hatch.’ He balanced the tab on the end of his finger and sucked it in. The others did the same.

Once again someone had turned up and started acting the heavy father. Once again a convoy of people packed up and drove off with their tails between their legs. In the Wartburg, as the others looked at their watches, Danny talked over his shoulder. ‘I was thinking we could do with getting away again. Amsterdam I was thinking. Busking. If it works out we could stay longer.’
Patrick, Animal and Phil looked at each other and smiled.
‘You smell anything?’ Patrick asked Christy.
Phil laughed.
‘You smell anything, Animal?’
‘Yeah. Bullshit.’
The cars pulled up in Caroline Place, Weymouth. The only house in the street was a narrow terrace the colour of wet sandcastles, wedged between a carpet warehouse and a pub called The Duck and Rabbit. Mike stepped out of his car and walked up to the front door, took out his keys. This was the Mudhut, the new home of Doublethink.
Danny turned to the others. ‘Don’t fucking believe it. That’s the place I was saying about renting. They must have got in just after.’
‘How they manage the rent then?’ Animal asked. ‘Half of them’s still up the College.’
From the back seat Phil muttered, ‘Pater probably stumps up the readies.’
The five clumped round the home that should’ve been theirs. They clumped past knots of people sat cross-legged like picnickers. They clumped past people having conversations. Having conversations! It was supposed to be a fucking party! They clumped past Linda, dancing in the hallway, her huge boots clacking on the red tiles, her hands flapping like small birds nailed to something. They clumped past Anita from Daniel Dedooronronda explaining to Donald that she couldn’t think of a category her music fitted into. They paused as Phil said to her, ‘How about jazzy cack?’
They went into the kitchen. Terry and Gina were discussing whether Terry’s wearing of a donkey jacket represented an ironic statement or a gesture of allegiance. The five seated themselves around the kitchen table, which held a forest of bottles of already-spurned alcohol. They tucked into the Thunderbird, the sweet cider. As they waited to come up Eddie told them how he’d decided The Cows should play to their strengths, stop gigging, and just publish occasional set-lists in the fanzine.
Animal found himself watching the hairs on Eddie’s wrists. He stroked the top of his stomach and very quietly said, ‘Awww.’
Christy looked at him. ‘Do you reckon?’
‘I fucking reckon!’ Phil said.
Between sniggers Patrick nodded.
Danny stood suddenly. ‘I’m off for a wander.’
The five separated just as things started to fragment.

Danny cruised around the ground floor like a clipper in full sail. He realised, suddenly surprised, that he was on his fourth circuit of the living room. He stopped near Derek and John. John was telling Derek about Christ On A Bike. Derek was impressed. ‘Got this record you’d like the other week. Up this record fair in Bournemouth. Bloke there does rare old psychedelia. Bought the first single by Jesus Christ and the Nailknockers. Mint condition.’
‘Jesus Christ and the Nailknockers?’ John was warming to Derek already.
Danny leaned into the conversation. ‘Someone’s always got to bang in the last nail.’
‘Nothing.’ Danny frowned, then laughed. Where had that come from?

Ed and Fred were in the hallway, discussing a possible extra verse for ‘Take Your Pick.’
‘What about Samuel Beckett and Old Man Steptoe?’ Ed asked.
‘Stretching it a bit,’ Fred said.
‘I’ve got this picture of Beckett where he’s the dead spit. If you look at him a bit squinty.’
Phil sat on the stairs peering at them through the banister-rails like a baby in a cot. Gingerly he reached between the rails. There was glass there. Was there glass there? Was there?

Animal was standing on the kitchen table, doing his party piece; the opening speech from ‘Kick Out The Jams’ by the M.C.5. He announced that the time had come for each and everyone to decide whether they were going to be the problem, or whether they were going to be the solution. He told everybody that it took five seconds, it took five seconds of decision, five seconds to realise their purpose here on the planet.
Mike watched nervously. ‘Mind that table. It comes with the house.’
People started applauding Animal. Thin quick strings of lime green light formed cat’s cradles between their hands. Animal blinked hard and got down off the table.

In the corner of the kitchen Alison and Gina talked, while Patrick hovered, wanting a light.
‘I wonder about him sometimes,’ Alison said, nodding in Animal’s direction.
‘Mm. That Pontin’s thing,’ Gina said. ‘Sounded like something out of “Lord of the Flies.”’
‘Have you got a light?’
Gina looked at Patrick. He looked at her. Her eyes looked downwards and away. ‘It’s already lit.’
Her hair was like thick brushstrokes on an oil painting. He couldn’t take his eyes off its shimmer and ripple.
‘What?’ Gina asked.
‘Your hair.’

Christy was sat on the edge of the bath. There was a feeling in his stomach, a glow, like going down in a lift forever, or the lid lifting on something. He stared at the wallpaper. He watched the woodchips, like roaches, like albino cockroaches, scuttling, herding, unherding. I wonder where she is tonight. He clenched his eyes shut, squeezed the thought out of his head.

Instinctively they returned to each other. They clambered onto the living room sofa like they were boarding a life-raft. The wall opposite was covered in faded wallpaper with a pattern of large blue-grey thistles. The five settled down to watch, like puppies seeing television for the first time.
Animal watched as thistle-swans glowed orange and changed into thistle-phoenixes. The kitchen door opened. In the white fluorescent light the tailfeathers of a thousand peacocks spread like a thousand fans, or a thousand hands of cards. Every eye on every feather winked in perfect time.
Patrick watched the women, reclining, knees lifted to each side, heels tucked below buttocks, hair spread like haloes. All shapes, all sizes, not turning away.
Red Rickenbackers, then blue Rickenbackers. Phil could change them just by thinking. First red like Weller’s, then sky blue like Lennon’s. Red, red, red, red, blue, red, red, red, red, blue. Blue, red, blue, red. Then a hide stretched on a bench. Another hide. Then spreading like mildew across the wall, a thousand hides, stretched and pinned like moths. He wanted the guitars back. He put a hand across each eye. He opened his eyes. The guitars returned in a great rolling wave across the wall and vanished again. Get hold of something solid. Solid. Real. He stared at the wall of hides. There’s bricks behind there. There’s bricks behind there. But who bought the bricks?
It started in the left hand corner near the floor and spread. Danny watched the small child swimming breaststroke, an unnamed girl or boy, its legs bending and kicking. He would look after this one. Soon there was a whole wall of Busby Berkeley babies, kicking and swimming, and turning and sculling in synch.
Christy saw the shimmer, heard the lap of the waves. Across the wall a thousand divers entered the water, headlong with a massive, blue-grey splash. Then silence, rippling. Then, a thousand swimmers, coming up out of the water, lifting, triumphant.
Phil puffed out his cheeks, stuck out his bottom lip, blew a ripple along his fringe. ‘Fuck me ragged.’
‘What do you reckon?’ Animal asked.
‘Majestic,’ Christy said.
‘What?’ Danny asked.
‘Bit hectic,’ Animal said.
‘Just a bit,’ Patrick agreed.

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