29 April 2014

Whose Reality Is It Anyway



In his book High Fidelity, Nick Hornby writes about the owner of a record shop and his unruly staff. They spend their days endlessly discussing their favourite tunes, dividing them sub-dividing each into increasingly bizarre sub-genres. Turing these endless conversations no decision is ever reached, although every possible scenario is talked through ad nauseam. These conversations glide across a quick sand of quickly moving parameters, constantly rearranging themselves. To anyone not in this select group, these discussions seem to be spoken in an alien language as the normal rules of conversation never apply.

Why should those conversations between music nerds be important during Mental Health Awareness Week? Because each of us think other people’s behaviour is strange, never are own. You've heard of the Yorkshire saying, ‘There’s nowt queerer than folk,’ well, it’s true. I for instance, can and sometimes do, spend many  hours rearranging my alarming large MP3 music collection on my home computer. That’s how I know about High Fidelity because I'm one of those nerds too.
But what if the person whether they are a spouse, relation, or close friends behaviour, is not just odd, but bares not relation to reality? Then, it’s not just a case of eccentric behaviour, but something more alarming and serious. How can you help someone whose understanding of the world you know to be faulty or worse dangerous?

Let me tell you about my Father. As a young man with a new family and a job working with a new technology called computers, he was trusted enough to methodically comb through pages of computer printouts searching for mistakes. If he missed any, and these mistakes were programmed into the computer it could cost lives, not just a few but hundreds. My Father was so good, he gained promotion and his new position saw him responsible for not just one computer programme but for several. In the end, for a gentle man who loved books, films and numbers, the pressure of his job and young family became too much.
Fast forward a few years, to rainy Saturday afternoons spend visiting his now school boy son who wants everything he sees in clothes shops and wouldn't stop talking about his friends, and what they do with their Fathers. A growing lad, who had inherited his Fathers' love of words and books, but sadly, not his understanding of numbers, dragged a Father, puffy and tired from psychiatric medication, around the local high street. We connected mostly through a rugby ball which, booted high and caked with mud dropped on a Father trying to keep his only casual cloths clean. A Father, whose behaviour could be called strange most of the time and at others could be frightening. But I never stopped seeing him. Even when, left outside the dark cavern of a local Bookmaker, for what seemed hours, I never told. I couldn't do anything about the unreality of his world, but I could that. I could not tell on him. I loved him enough for that.

A Las Vegas Past

Part 1


Chapter One


    Sunlight poured through the doors pinning my silhouetting to the entrance hall floor. Stepping into the hall I found myself standing in sticky fresh blood, which had splattered haphazardly over the grimy wooden floor. The whole scene looked like the set of a cheap horror movie. I closed and locked the doors behind me, using the key Taylor had left for me. This plunged the hallway back into its natural state of half-darkness.

The place was one of those fifty year old office blocks that are forever waiting to be torn down giving it an air of unloved feel. Once inside I could smell the under washed bodies who now inhabited the interior, and the all-pervasive smell of dope. Switching on my flash light I found more blood splattered around the walls of the first staircase. More had sprayed over the ceiling leading that lead to the ground floor stairwell I had to dodge around it to avoid the blood dripping earthwards from the newly formed stalactites. I drew out my Glock from under my left arm and holding the torch well away from my body started slowly up the slimy stairs. 

Reaching the first floor I found more blood smeared over the opposite wall and floor. The source of all this blood lay beneath a shattered naked light bulb. Pausing, I wrenched the empty revolver still tight gripped in his dead hand and tossed it back down the stairway. No sense in leaving unattended guns lying about. I edged forward along the dark passage sweeping the beam of my torch over the floor before me. I moved steadily toward the only other source of light apart from my own flash light it was there that I found Taylor. Staring up at me with glassy eyes, he lay on the filthy floor with his long legs out stretching out before him in a small pool of his own blood. Having positioned himself, not altogether wisely in my view, directly under the broken window he seemed about as spent up as an empty gun. One of the window drapes had been torn down so that rays of Las Vegas sunshine streamed over him, giving me the impression of a renaissance religious conversion painting. All that was missing was a halo around Taylor’s bullet head.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” he hissed at me through his cracked lips. 

“You left a charming message for me to come and bail out your sorry ass,” I replied putting my gun back under my arm and inspecting Taylors wounded leg.

“Only pussies carry Glock 26,” he countered, adding, “they’re for babies.” Satisfied with this abuse he turned his attention back to the closed door just up the passage way ahead of us.

A while back I had paid Taylor to get in touch with me if he came across any missing females in the age range of the girl I was being paid to find. At the same time, as a sort of favour, Taylor had put me in touch with the Organization. They had also hired me to locate a missing young hoodlum named The Kid. I was to return him as unharmed as possible, so that they could ask him some searching questions about a suitcase of their missing dough. Taylor had taken a cut for finding me work that I didn’t want, so I had ended up paying the bastard twice over. I hated working for dirty cops or gangsters, but as I needed to eat and generally keep the wolf from the door I couldn’t afford to be fussy.

Looking Taylor over again I found him OK apart from a nasty cut on his right cheek that had bled out running down to his shirt collar and the bullet wounded in his right thigh. This oozed Taylor’s blood away on to the passage ways fifthly carpet, and was a cause for concern. I reckoned that he had been lucky not to have taken the bullet higher up into the main artery of his leg. That would have meant curtains for Taylor and probably a wasted journey for me. I couldn’t run around the place shouting ‘Police open up!’ I had to leave that part of the job to Taylor. Despite all his childish bravado Taylor was suffering from shock he lay before me sucking up gulps of oxygen through his mouth, which made him sound like an overweight panting dog. The veins on the sides of his shaved head stood out vivid purple against the paleness of his white clammy skin. It was only now that I now understood his strange positioning under the passage way window he needed all the fresh air he could get. The stink of dope was much stronger up here than downstairs on the ground floor.

“I being paid to get the Kid to the Organisation and give my missing girl back to her kin, not to save you from your screw ups” as I spoke I opened my knife and cut vertically up the right leg of Taylor’s blood soaked pants until I got to the blooded area of the bullet entry. It hadn’t mattered what I said to Taylor at this point, I just wanted to say anything to stop him from thinking to clearly. I cut a strip of cloth out of the silk lining of Taylor’s suit jacket, telling myself that he could afford a replacement. Wrapping this around his leg, I tied it tightly around his upper thigh to staunch the flow of blood. All the while Taylor had kept his eyes on the door just ahead of us.

“Jesus”, he said, “You’re hurting me than that bastard down the hall did.” He flipped a hand out towards the dead man at the top of the stairs. Then he gave me the game changer. “That girl you’re looking for is inside that room up ahead.” This pronounced with a complete sense of detachment.

I took out my hip flask and gave him a nip of brandy then had some myself. Taylor of course was nothing without Butter Boy. When his partner had taken a bullet in the head people said that all the life seemed to have gone from Taylor. All that had been left was an old man who needed to find a new line of work but quick, real quick. It had been Butter Boy who had done all the strong arm stuff and Taylor had sat back to counted their money. If Taylor really had found the girl maybe he wasn’t as past as had been suggested. For a moment or two neither of us said or did anything. Each one had been taken over by his own thoughts.

“How is it,” Taylor said at last, visibly brightening after the brandy. He looked down at his blood stained right leg.

I wondered if he was talking about the wound to his leg or the leg of his pants. “Taylor if you’re lying to me I’ll shoot you myself.” At this stage I really needed to believe him about the girl, because I had put in four months on this case and come up with zip, adding, “You’ll live.” I put my knife back into its sheath that rested snuggly against the small of my back. 

“How many are in the room?” I said, getting the Gluck out again and switching the safety to off, adding, “Apart from the girl.”

He smiled and nodded towards the closed door while reaching up for my hip flask, I didn’t offer him anymore. Although still not sure whether my lost girl was in the room or not, I did know that Taylor had made a mess of his ‘rescue’ attempt, if that was the only reason that he should be in this building. I certainly didn’t need him drunk on my brandy because he just might decide to shoot the place up with me in it. 

“I got the big one down the hall though, “ he poked a blooded mitt again towards the body of the fat man laying at the top of the stair, “I had to shoot the mother fucker four times before he’d go down,” he added, scowling up at me because I’d replaced the brandy back in my coat.

“That fucker was dragging your girl with him trying to make for the back way into the building on the ground floor,” he said this while trying to stand up so that his words ran into one another. 

“When he saw me he changed his mind and started to drag then carried the girl back up the stairs.”

That explained the blood splattered by the main door. The fatty must have been just about made for Taylor. Anyone fitter would have taken the old bastard out of this game. I tried to help him to his feet and he winced when trying to put any weight on his injured leg.

“You’re going to help me,” he groaned suddenly looking his age again as the effects of my brandy had worn off. But apart from the smell of blood and alcohol on Taylor there was something else too, fear.

“Taylor, I’ll do what I can.” I said, adding, “We’ll manage as best we can.”

That said, he visible pull himself together again, checked his own gun, and after sucking in some more oxygen, he hobbled over to that closed door bringing his fist down hard on its grimy surface.

“Police,” he bawled, “open this fucking door.”

We both stood either side of the door and waited for their response to such a polite invitation.

20 June 2012

The Twin Deaths


The Killer started to shake uncontrollable, his mind became awash with the newspaper images of two call girls who had got themselves involved with senior government ministers, and possible Soviet agents, eventually bring down a British Government.
‘Someone should have killed those little tarts then and there, quickly and quietly with the minimum of fuss. Afterwards, chopped up into small pieces and flown far out over the North Sea their remains could have been dumped, where they belonged, into the cold waves below, nobody would have been any the wiser. After all who’d miss a couple of little tarts like that? But, instead we got a humiliating scandal smeared all over the newspapers, followed by a court case, only when that had been nearing its end had Ward chosen ‘suicide.’ That bastard had at least got what had been coming to him for trying to smarm his way out of pimping his two little sluts and then getting that fucking Ruskie involved.’
The Killer had slowed his pace eventually stopping altogether and had taken his handkerchief out with a theatrical flourish as if to blow his nose, so as not to attract attention. Forcing himself to breath in deeply, he gulped down lungful’s of fresh sea air, he then pretended to blow his noise and wipe his eyes against the stinging spray of a fresh coastal breeze. Finally feeling calmer, he resumed the habitual evening stroll along those same streets and houses that had greeted him morning and evening for the past year. Walking quite calmly again now and in a measured pace, his mind returned to the death of Dr Stephen Ward.
‘At least Ward had paid the correct fare for being the architect of the whole bloody charade. What a fucking little mess that bastard had got his country into. If it hadn’t been bad enough losing our empire to the bloody Yanks, now we have to kiss arse to the fucking Arabs because of their bloody oil.’
The Killer forced himself again to calm down again, remembering with pleasure, how he’d made the death of Ward look like a nice little ‘suicide.’
‘That smarmy rat hadn’t known what had hit him.’
 A wonderful feeling of power surged through the Killer’s body as his mind skimmed over his work that night. For a man of his experience it had not been difficult to make Wards death look less like murder and more like suicide.
‘Leaving no mess, no fuss, and no witnesses which, is just the way I like things. One thing I’ve learned in the army was you don’t rock the fucking boat, because if you do, that’s the end of you.’
Joining up at nineteen to escape his father this was what the Killer had always believed to have been the making of that shy youth into the Killer he was now.
‘Christ what a fucker my old man had been to his us all. The old bastard killing himself with drink was one thing, but then beating the living shit out of my dear old ma’ every fucking night of the week was quite another.’
The Killer had stopped walking again and was looking down the path that he’d now arrived at. Another evening circuit of after dinner strolling was now completed. It now looked like his evenings strolls would be his last in this sleepy seaside town. That morning he’d received a telegram giving only his cover name and a telephone number. The rest of the words on that piece of paper had just been rubbish, used against nosy parkers. The Killer didn’t like nosy parkers, as his neighbour’s in that quite street, part of a small sea-side town in England, had come to understand. The Killer stood completely still, staring at the black painted front door that seemed to also be standing as if at attention, staring back at him.
‘What secrets that old front door could tell the world.’
The Killer now had an important telephone call to make that evening. He had rehearsed the call in his mind all day, going over it for umpteenth time again during his evening meal. He’d been called back they needed him once more to help save his beloved country. However, as the Killer stood staring at his own front door, he changing his mind again, finally he told himself, ‘No, fuck em’ let the bastards sweat on me just this once.’
Walking up the path towards that wonderful door, the Killer suddenly, whilst putting his key into the lock, for what seemed like no reason at all, started to remember his first real leave from the army and how he thought he’d go back home to see how his mother and little sister were getting on without him around the house.
‘I decided not to call from the local pub first to let her know that I was on my way. I’d had a sort of bad feeling in the very pit of my stomach on that cold clear day. For the last eight months there had been no letters from my little sister and then none from my old ma’ in the last four months either. I’d decided to quietly slip into their end of terrace house. What I found out that evening had made me sick to the very pit of my soul. My little sister had had to take over running the entire household because of his mother being hospitalised into some grimy ward bed. Now, it seemed the old girl was never to leave it. If that hadn’t been bad enough, my darling little girl, my only sister, had also been expected to take over his mother’s role in the matrimonial bed too. I’d startled my sister, and due to her fear at seeing him back in the house again, the whole sorry tale had come out.’
The Killer had kissed away her sweet salty tears, she who was always to be stuck at six years old in his memory. Then the Killer had sent her out to a double feature at the local flicks, telling her to take that old school chum she’d been too ashamed to see anymore. The Killer had given his surprised sibling enough money, not just for the movies, but also for two Fish n’ Chips dinners to bring home afterwards.
‘Once alone in the darken kitchen he’d sat listening to the still house, waiting for my father’s return from his Working Man’s Club. It had been in the darkness of his mother’s kitchen that I’d pushed my army bayonet through my father’s throat and on into the spinal column, silently dropping the dead weight onto flagstone floor. No fuss, very little mess, except for his dying father pissing himself during death throws, then evacuated his bowls involuntarily after death. I’d cleaned up all that mess well before my sister had gotten home.’
While they’d both been eating their Fish n’ Chips, she had kept looking anxiously at their mother’s little china kitchen clock. The Killer had pouring a small amount of whiskey into his sister’s glass, her second drink of that evening, and casually announced, just before necking back a treble himself, that their dear old Dad wouldn’t be coming home anymore. She had looked up at him, her whiskey glass almost level to her lovely lips, in that moment the Killer knew he’d have killed a hundred men maybe even a thousand for just that special look his little sister wore on her face in that instant. Months afterwards the Killer thought just what that expression had meant, eventually he’d plumed for a disbelieving relief, sheer bloody relief that her daily and much worse nightly terror, was now at an end.
‘After we’d finish our food, with my sister holding an old torch left over from the war, I dug silently, half-way through the night at the back of own garden. We’d had been shielded, on that night of a full moon, by overgrown shrubs and bushes as their father hadn’t bothered to keep his own garden in trim, despite doing odd-jobs around his neighbours’ own tidy gardens for extra beer money. A nice deep hole I’d dug using the sweat of my own brow, during that long night, with my brave little girl shivering with the chill under a clear sky. I’d told to go on in and leave it all to me, but she wouldn’t budge, rooted to the spot, she had been, holding that dull beam of a wartime torch down into the grave of our abusive father. Neither she nor I have spoken of that glorious night since, but, we both knew, that they were all well rid of that bastard.’
The following week the Killer had reported his father missing at the local police station. The father being well known, not just the local police, but also the Metropolitan Police force, hadn’t warranted a major investigation at first. Eventually a few inquiries were made about what, if anything had happen on that last night the Killers father had been seen alive, but they soon lost any headway. A couple of Detectives had shown up on his sisters’ doorstep a week or so after the Killers army leave had been over. The Killers sister had played her part to perfection. Choosing the younger of the two policemen, she had ‘taken’ him into her confidence as the older one had been investigating around the house. Hinting at her father darker side, illegal gambling, wife-beating and a like, she’d gotten the young copper quite hot under his collar, finishing that sad tale with the recent death of her mother in hospital from cancer. When the older copper had come back from the garden wanting to ask some possibly difficult questions, about their nice tidy trim garden, with its freshly tilled earth, the young copper being posh and well educated, had quietly asked for a word with his older colleague outside. Coming back ten minutes later with the all clear, the young lad had even come back the next evening with a bouquet of flowers and amazingly, in those now far off days of rationing, an enormous box of Swiss Chocolates. The Killers’ sister eventually started to step out that young lad, who now is a Detective Chief Inspector. She eventually gave him a fine couple of boys, and a dear little girl who, the Killer always thought, had her mother’s eyes.’
The killer was standing at the foot of the path with his key still in his hand ready to enter its lock, time had seemed to stand still. Before her marriage the Killer had provided for his sister the cash to start at Night School, and the little girl had done him proud, even those elocution lessons had eventually paid off. At her own wedding to that posh copper, she’d not look out of place next to his haughty-tautly family. Thinking of his sister now, he realised she was the bravest person he had ever known. That was the country he fought for, a country of brave little sisters. Turning away from his front door and putting its key back in his pocket, the Killer quietly got into the car he’d bought only a few weeks earlier. As he pulled away from the curb and settled into the gentle flow of traffic, the Killer headed for a phone box over on the other side of his little seaside town, well away from nosy parkers with their prying eyes.

11 June 2012

A Meeting of Minds

How Pauline Boty met & painted Christine Keeler


        The blonde woman replaced her telephone receiver into the cradle. She stands alone in the sitting room of a rundown studio flat situated in London’s west end. The flat had been recently purchased by her theatrical agent husband for her to use as an artist’s studio. The blonde stood smoking a cigarette reflectively, slowly turning over in her mind the syntax of a recent telephone conversation. It had been an unexpected conversation, and she was left with a tingle of excitement at a meeting now due to take place. The feeling had started to grow during this conversation with her husband and had caused a knot to grow in the pit of her stomach. Now that the conversation was over she was left with the notion of proceeding down a road for which there had no route map.
‘Darling,’ her husband had said, his smooth educated voice rising slightly with his own sense of pleasure, ‘I’ve got her to sit for you,’ theatricality adding, ‘I didn’t really have to work for it, apparently she already knows about you.’
‘Oh really?’ she had found herself asking, ‘I wonder where on earth she could possibly know me from?’
            ‘Well, darling,’ said Clive his voice warming to his favorite subject of the media, ‘apparently she had heard you on the Public Ear, who would ever have thought of that?’
The blonde could not tell whether her husband’s surprise was that this particular woman would listen to an ├╝ber BBC Home Service arts programme, with a rather small and very exclusive audience, or that anybody should have listened at all.
She had found herself taking the defense about Public Ear knowing that Clive views regarding what her called the ‘great unwashed’ in modern British society always made her feel uneasy.
‘It does have a very loyal audience Clive darling,’ her voice had been strained with a flash of annoyance.’
Despite these comical comments, Clive had at first been keen on the idea when he had heard they were looking for a new face for the opening programme. He had persuaded his wife to take part in that first programme because unusually for the male dominated television world in the early 1960’s, a female face was being considered to front the project. She had proved to be so successful that the BBC had asked her back more than once, although this had later cooled after the more extreme of her paintings had been exhibited.
The programme had at first been described as ‘iconoclastic’ by the weightier of the Sunday papers. Clive, of course, had hooted with laughter at the review, saying it meant that no bugger actually had listened to it. Now it apparently appeared that Clive had managed to find at least one person, not in their immediate circle of friends, who had tuned in, maybe not to the first programme, but at least at some point. How strange though the Blonde women that it should have been Christine Keeler of all the women in London. Although she never considered that this particular women, whom she had wanted to sit for her, would be a fan of such an arty programme. Pauline wondered if this was due to her own snobbery, or because she listened to Clive’s family and over educated friends.
The blonde reflecting that her own family were not exactly doyens of the arts scene, they had even objected to her attending St. Martins Arts School. Even now, after finding some fame, if not fortune as Britain’s only female Pop Artist, they were still completely in the dark as to the importance of her work to the world of Pop Art, still finding the success of this new genre of art impossible to understand.
‘Yes Pauline darling, I know all about the audience figures,’ Clive had then said, breaking into her thought, tetchily adding, ‘The point is darling, that she knows about your political views and about the art you produce.’
 
Pauline wondered what this woman did really think about her art, or even the art scene as a whole. Perhaps she would want to talk about the arts in general way, not just making polite conversation, but showing a real knowledge and interest. Strangely perhaps, this had never crossed her mind earlier, even when the idea had come to her about using Keeler as a sitter, for the painting she had been planning about the Profumo Scandal.
             ‘Mind you,’ Clive had continued, his voice now trampling over her thoughts again, with a sigh the blonde tuned her husband back in to her head. At this point the conversation he was adopting his business tone, ‘she still asked for twenty bloody quid, I call that downright brassy.’
‘Brassy,’ was Clive’s favorite word for anything he thought of as common, uneducated, or even working class, part of the great world of the unwashed, as he liked to say. This word, Pauline was sure had its deep dark roots in Clive’s public school education.
‘All sitters get paid Clive,’ now it had been her turn to get tetchy tone in her voice, adding, ‘There is no need to negotiate my sitting rates, I can manage my own rates quite nicely, thank you Clive.’
Pauline had felt her voice beginning to rise and stretch in her annoyance, why had she felt the need to defend this woman? Maybe it was a reaction to how she had felt when her husband, like all the men in her, life felt that they should be able to have women under their personal control. Like the puppets on that new television series from America ‘Stingray’ that had been all over the newspapers recently, all had want to be the one to pull her strings. Even at St Martins, her fellow students, mainly being an all-male crowd, had liked to act towards her as big brothers would do to their little sisters. Well, thought the Blonde, she was her own boss, that she’d made clear from the beginning of her second term. Pauline Boty, she thought, was a match for any man, painter or otherwise and that included her own husband.
‘Yes darling, I do know all about models,’ Clive had answered primly. Pauline wondered how exactly, he had got to know about them.
‘Anyway she will be with you around three o’clock today, sorry for the short notice, darling’, his voice relaxed now again, happy to be in control again, adding, ‘but that was the best I could do,’ adding, ‘Oh, don’t forget to watch out for the Special Branch,’ finishing the call with a brief ‘Cheery ‘O’ the receiver gone dead.
Now sitting alone and smoking another cigarette, this parting remark started to play on her mind. There had been a piece in the papers about the poor cow still being followed whenever she went out. There I go again, thought Pauline, why is Keeler now ‘a poor cow,’ I’m starting to sound like Clive.
 
 ***

In a different part of the same London skyline, another woman, this time with striking red hair, was also considering a recent telephone conversation. She sat quietly smoking a cigarette watching as the smoke curled idly towards the living room ceiling. Finishing her smoke, the women got up and peered out of the front windows of a small mews flat. Outside was quiet and still, hardly a soul moved. The only sign of life like came from the two regular plain clothed detectives who were still keeping a not too inconspicuous eye on the flat.
The ‘Profumo Scandal’ had been over now for some months, and the redhead had spent some of that time in prison for perjury. Upon her release she had described the experience to her parents as it being much like school which, she had also hated. Now however the world had moved on and the busy new Labour government of Harold Wilson had far more important issues before it, but still the policemen had remained.

Any idea of the government was quite abstract for the red head, it belonging to a new jumble of faces and names most of which she could never match up. However brief her passing fifteen minutes of fame she had still enjoyed for a brief time ‘being somebody.’ In her life, as far back as this redhead could recall, she always had wanted to be ‘somebody.’
 
Turing her thoughts back to the telephone conversation, she realised that she hadn’t liked the man who had introduced himself to her as Clive very much. All Home Counties accent and brought up in a cosy atmosphere of old money and good education. There hadn’t been much money or education in her background. She had been brought up in a caravan with a single parent of a hard working mother and a lay-a-bout of a stepfather. Escaping their misery while was still in her late teens, she only found another, in the arms of pimps, losing a baby before turning twenty. Consolation from that experience had come only with her belief that any half cast bastard born into class conscious Britain would never have had much in life.
Escaping again, she had found herself in a London still recovering from the Second War. Working in a series life destroying topless clubs, the redhead soon grew tired of being pawed at by their drunken clientele. By the time she met Ward her mind was already resolved to chuck it all in. When Ward had offered her a way out, she hadn’t thought twice about it, grabbing at this escape ladder with both hands. Of course, it hadn’t turned out to be the different life she had been searching for. Ward had turned out to be no more than an upmarket pimp, who was soon busy introduced her to his upper class wealthy clients. Being embarrassed by her accent, forced Ward to pay for the redhead to have elocution lesions and gradually over time she had become a different person. The new Christine had risen one day, out from the ashes of her former self, even as she had lain dead beneath her own feet. 
Gradually, and with Ward’s help, Christine had caught brief glimpses of that new person which, not just he, but the redhead had wanted to become. This experience had left her wondering why men, no matter what background they came from, had to mould their woman into an image. The angel, or the a tart, beloved mother figure for their children, or their slut in bed, men always had to be in control of the lives of their women. Well now, she had been no angel in her life, but over time Christine had grown to hate those rich men as much as the low-life’s she had met in the strip clubs. That’s why Christine hadn’t liked that man who had called himself Clive she wasn’t going play the tart for anyone not anymore. Sighing, the redhead stubbed out her cigarette, moving away from the window.

***
 
The watchers below saw her shape disappear into the gloom of the flat, turning back to their murmured conversation, each one inclining his head slightly towards the others, as if in prayer. Their years spent huddling in back alleys and doorways had left each with his particular remedy for extreme cold or heat. Almost silently the voices audible only to each other, they returned to their conversation.
             ‘I telling you Frank’, the smaller man said while lighting a cigarette automatically cupping his heavy hands around the naked flame, ‘She is a right goer, the Sund’y papers said she’s up for anything’, he was grinning at his taller thinner companion. 
 
***

The sun was getting low in a washed out wintery sky over her flat in London’s fashionable West End. Pauline looked around the studio lighting yet another cigarette, two plumbs of smoke exiting her nose moving up towards the cloud of smoke that hung over her head. Looking out of her studio window on to the bustling street below, she caught sight of a man cleaning a car outside one of the Georgian town houses opposite. Like the building she was look out from it too had been converted into flats by, what had seem like press-gangs, of Irish labourers. Frowning at the sight of a car outside a house were see was sure none were owned, Pauline thought of her husband’s words about policeman and spies. Standing on tip-toe right in front of the window and turn her head as far as it would go around to the right, Pauline could get a look down the other end of the street. As she did so her blonde hair fell over her face covering up one eye. Pushing the hair back she could see two GPO men setting up a sort of a tent on the pavement. 
Just in that moment, as she was trying to connect these images to the thought of something sinister that had buried itself in her memory earlier, her telephone rang. In the still silence of her studio the shrill noise made her jump, and the cigarette fell from her hand that had been supporting her weight against the wall. Ordinarily this would not be an issue except on occasion the cigarette fell onto her new cream rug, ‘Shit’, she exclaimed grabbing the telephone receiver and the cigarette end at the same time managing to both speak into the ear piece and burn her thumb on the still lit cigarette.
Turning the receiver around the correct way, and stubbing out the offending cigarette Pauline heard the ‘pips’ of a call box then as the money was excepted came the words, ‘Hello, Hello!, can you hear me?’ It was a female voice which, she failed to recognise.
            ‘Yes, hello’, bellowed Pauline down the line, anxious now to know who this strange voice belonged too.
            ‘Alright you don’t need to shout for god’s sake, I’m down the road from your flat, not in Outer…,’ was the rather grumpy reply. ‘Hello is that Pauline?’ said the voice adding, ‘it’s Christine’.
Instinct now took over in Pauline and years of a good middle class upbringing and education took hold, even without her realising this at the time.
‘Oh, hello Christine’, she answered without a clue who this women was, but not wishing to give offence.
‘Look, can you tell me your address again please, when I took it down from your husband the other morning he said it so quickly, that I afraid I just sort of scribbled it down without really bothering looking at it’, the middle class accent was fighting with an underlying Northern burr, but as yet had not quite gained the upper hand
For Pauline recognition had final dawned, ‘Yes of course Christine, I’m so very sorry, he really is the limit isn’t he?’ Not waiting for an answer she rushed on with her address.
‘OK, pet…um, I mean, yes…thank you Pauline, very much I’ll be with you presently,’ Christine said quickly replacing the receiver, hoping to gloss over her nearly calling a famous artist ‘pet.’
Something about the telephone conversation hid away in Pauline’s brain, waiting to raise its head, the funny little clicking after Christine had hung up. 
Pauline absently wondered were Christine had picked up a phrase like presently, the word came from her Father’s generation, not their own.  Then looking again at the burn hole in the new rug she quickly discontinued from that train of thought. Imagining Clive’s reaction was not hard, Pauline knew he would not be at all happy about her burning a hole in one of his High Street Ken’ boutique purchases. Bugger she thought, you are a clumsy cow, wondering if she could just paint it white to blend the hole in?
Lighting yet another cigarette she blow a smoke ring which gave her such a childish pleasure she thought of Peter Blake and how had taught her how to blow smoke rings when they were student’s together at St Martins. Pauline was still close to Blake, looking upon him as the founder of the Pop Art movement in Britain which, she herself now belonged.
Laughing to herself, out loud she said, ‘Oh bugger you Clive and your ridiculously expensive rug, what’s it doing in my studio anyway?’
            She supposed it was Clive’s idea that an artist should be surrounded by beautiful and expensive things in their studio, providing inspiration no doubt. Well, bugger him, and bugger all the bossy men in her life for that matter too, she would do just as she pleased. Blowing another satisfactory big smoke ring, she then padded off to find some white paint. 
 
***

Sometime later, Pauline was uncertain exactly about the time as she had lost herself in a fight with the expensive rug, the bell went down stairs. Collecting her winkle-picker shoes she slipped each one in turn on as hopping toward the mirror to check her make-up. Here Pauline found that somehow, during the fight with the rug some white paint had got itself attached in her hair. Still picking the paint of stains of her blonde hair she opened the front door to be confronted by a slightly built woman wearing a head-scarf and dark glasses. The women stood quite still taking in the sight of Pauline, with her hands still raised to strands of hair. The idly wondered if the blonde facing her had nits. After both taking each other in, without a word Pauline stood to one side and the other women still wearing her scarf and dark glasses moved slowly past her into the rather ramshackle old hall. They walked back up the creaking stairs into the studio together without breaking their mutual silence. Once inside the flat Christine took off the head scarf, glasses and removed the cigarette from her mouth. Shaking the flaming red hair she was rightly infamous for with one hand, she offered the other out for a formal handshake saying, ‘Pauline Boty I presume?’
            ‘Christine Keeler I suppose’, said Pauline they awkwardly shook hands each not used to such displays of formality. Both women stepped towards each other the ice having been broken and exchanging kisses on each cheek just like the French. Laughing at their shared joke the women immediately became friends with each other. Pauline grabbing two wine glasses pouring into each a generous splash of last night’s house plonk from Oddbins, and started the story about an expensive rug, a cigarette burn and a tin of white paint.

27 May 2012

A Night in the Life of... (a poem)



Epigraph : Out of every one hundred aircrew,
twenty seven survived their tour of operations.

The afternoon heat now gone, darkness
descends heavy like a blanket. Shaking,
I climb into flight boots, their roughness
soothes taught nerves. Smiles fixed, faking
gayer moods. A taste of bile in throats,
eyes staring, minds a'racing, our silence
drown out by engine noise. I watch spokes
going a'round, as we are drive out. Violence
in the air, the lighting that binds together.

Our aircraft rises out of darkening gloom
like the ancient colossus battling doom.
The air inside feels heavy on my chest, lungs
bursting, pulse a'racing, heavily breathing
I clamber into position. All now come together
within the skin of our machine, none can
have a selfish thought. Here we make our
stand, 300 Spartans holding the pass, we
soar over a sea glinting as made from glass.

On nights like these minds drift like clouds
caught swirling in the sharp searchlights,
to those who dwell in darkened shelters
a'waiting our bombs. Our aircraft weightless
now as death falls from her belly, descending
on our foe, now trapped in Dante's hell below.
At these moments my thoughts are speared,
he who pays the piper calls the tune.* Fear
strikes at my heart, that I too one day will,
be made pay the piper, for sins I commit still.

Job done, we turn for home, our thoughts
begin to roam, to those who a'wait alone.
In rooms brightened by dawn's rosy fingers,
a whispered prayer said each night, touching
our beloved pictures by candle light. Sleeping
but alert for sounds that precede our drone,
telling them we are safely home. Throughout
                        the ghostly ball, bombers moon** shined on all.
 
Glossary
*The Unknown Warrior by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
**This term refers to a full bright moon which illuminates
the earth like daylight, making it easier to find the target.
On such nights mass raids would take place, taking
advantage of the conditions. However this brightness
worked by ways.