On the bus my daughter Sophie got a phone call:
some Communist friend she hasn't seen for 12 years. (Are there still serious Communists around? Hasn't that creed been discredited enough these days?) He's going to meet her in Bury for a few hours of chat in a coffee shop--she says there's no romance (funny bloke, like many of the ones she gets in tow). He lives in Cambridge but they are both making it to the neutral ground of Bury to renew friendship. (Her and friendship. Few blokes want friendship with a woman, but maybe this guy looks at it Communistically.)
The other main topic is this six-month job she's got. They bought them all chocolate bars and easter eggs before sending them off for the long Easter weekend. Sounds as if the place is not so bad after all.
Though the work is tough and they keep giving them tests and you can be kicked out as one girl was for not hitting a certain percentage, Sophie says she just keeps her head down and mouth shut and does the work. (Another girl was fired for talking too much about irrelevant things on the job, another was cautioned for playing about with her mobile phone.)
Second or third week there, the staff were told to list their work history for the past five years. Along with references, naturally.
This was a daunting task for Sophie who has in that time left or been sacked from more posts than she can be expected to remember. She has created herself a real cat o' nine tails there. The references for many of these would be impossible to get or not worth having.
Amazingly, she managed to put a few things down which satisfied the boss.
As so often with Sophie though, it seems there are people in the place causing her hassle. (She rarely has trouble with the actual work, she's got a headpiece on her: it's the people skills that are lacking.)
The poor cow left the 'protection' of her mother's roof at age sixteen. (I couldn't have her at my place: the bedsit at Oulton Street where I existed, really and truly, in Third World conditions with very little say and no vote.) Since those days she has had numerous changes of address, different jobs. But with no help from anyone she managed to get herself an English degree (which proved useless in the job market). In the process she racked up a student debt which she won't have to pay until she leaves these minimum wage jobs).
As a father I may be a washout financially, but not, I hope, when it comes to other things.(Recently she sent a birthday card in which it said I was a great dad and had always been there for her. Thinking of my inadequacies, I coulda cried.)
Then we get a call--they have moved her and one particular girl who has been causing her grief, and another guy, into three corner positions in the office. They are the three answering the phones now--the others are on the mail. So she has benefited two times there: by being singled out as one of those on the phones, and also by getting some distance from her bugbear.
'That's a good sign,' I tell her. 'The managers have to keep their eyes out, and they've noticed how you apply yourself to your tasks. They've recognised that you've got a great telephone manner and it proves what just keeping your head down and actually doing the job you were hired for can accomplish.'
All I need to do now is get her that copy of Dale Carnegie's How To Win Friends And Influence People.
Over lunch in the waterfront Bistro, Gary said, 'Well, you know, back then we should have
formed a band and really gone for it.'
'Right,' I said, 'we should have put everything we had into it, man. You, me, Rick and Greg, even Dave. That would have made sense. What were we, nineteen years old and full of sap? And now here we are, standing on the sunset side of sixty.'
It's true. We could have made a dent if we had thrown everything else aside and said shit or bust.
How do the jobs we did since then stack up, after all? Though we have all led full lives that in many ways we would not alter if we could, still the well-prized paying jobs,weren't they after all rather trivial?
(The only good side of the jobs when you look back seems to be the camaraderie, man. A number of colleagues were great, though several weren't so hot.)
I was actually a student when we were wondering if we could get a band together, and didn't have enough to buy a second hand electric guitar, let alone an amp and wheels to get me to gigs, but really and truly I could have swung it. If I went all out I coulda. Instead of going back to college I could have stayed with Denise and married her, though even then she had that roving eye. Denise would have come along to our practice sessions and gigs all right and been as true to me as she knew how.
We could all have pooled everything. We had the interest in it, and some talent. As Gary says, it was amazing that we had a core of guys there who were all writing and playing. Most people simply do nothing--it wouldn't occur to them to try to create.
We have all written songs in the meantime. But now, when it would be possible to get all the necessary gear together, and we even have the TIME to do it all, well, we are all somewhat creaky and need some hair.
Of course, we didn't have any contacts. (But they would have come along, yes?) Naturally, we would have had to get management, move to London and the rest of it. (What would we have been giving up, after all!)
Gary can still, as he did then, emulate Steve Winwood on the organ and his guitar aspires to the liquid fire of Hendrix. But grey hair or no hair doesn't suit so well to the posing inherent in what we know of rock. Even the Stones, in their latest interview on TV, didn't allow a camera into the joint. Their oratory came over in the midst of a blackout.
I busk a little and sing with Vince in the Artful Dodgers, while Gary performs with still another incarnation of the 'Gamma Rays', the original line up of which was formed in 1968. The Gamma Rays were OK, but everybody knew it was just fooling around. The Gammas never really went for it.
Dave, the drummer back then, spent a lot of time snogging Lulu, who always dug his beat.
While Pat Hanford, who had a bass guitar, couldn't play a note: he had his amp turned off during gigs. He would just mime.
This made Rick, who was a mean lead guitar at the time but allowed himself to be eclipsed by others, said, 'Pat stands there with nothin' and acts like Bill Wyman or something. I tell you, he's got more guts than I have.'
'When he does play a note he's always in another key,' said Gary.
'Another key? He's in another world,' said Rick.
Rick certainly had no dedication to his plumbing. Like Gary, he ended up getting into the world of Psychiatric Care. Both of them would have thrown it in for five pence if I for one had said, 'OK boys, here's how it stands. We'll start playing a few pubs and the Labour Club and go from there.'
It could have happened for us, man. After all, even back then there were Parish Concerts and talent shows that put on 'the battle of the bands'.
The sepia retrospect: it's a well-known gimmick since the days of Homer when he smote his bloomin' what-you-call-it.
After you get your bus pass the mind tends to fly back to the days of 'green 19'.
I remember, I remember... the old Sixth Form Common Room which we inherited back at Greystoke Grammar.
We had gazed in wonder at our elders, the ones who had gone before us: some of these youths were cool beatniks, others were hearty tennis and rugby players. Many considered themselves Romeos.
Yes, that sixth form had had its day, they'd sung their swansongs at Greystoke and moved on. They were off either to idle or cram at university or do whatever they otherwise did, some going into insurance or the Bank. Some into industry, some no doubt digested at ICI or Fisons, who knows. Now we were the Sixth and the common room was ours.
Of course, watching that crowd leave made us think: the privilege of the Common Room necessarily happened to coincide with the incoming realities of the big world. The 'A' level exams were looming, so important to what was known as a lad's 'future'. The exams, yes. The 'Mocks' first, then the McCoys,my lad.
The more serious amongst us were already sorting out which universities to try to get into.
Naturally, it was not done to mention the reality of study in the Common Room. There, the topics were chicks, music, Dave Allen on TV, sport if that was your bag and--more about chicks.
One or two pupils reacted to the pressures of the time by leaving. The masters, the good ones, exuded an air of nostalgic sympathy, as if getting ready to welcome us into the tough world of men. We did what we could to shed the last traces of mother's milk and smooth away the marks of the cradle.
We were inheriting. Getting the keys to this piece of space where at lunch times and during 'free periods' (designed for private study, and not supervised by the teachers) we were left to our devices like demigods.
(During some of my free periods at the library I had noticed the Economics 'A' level students waiting at the bus stop Wednesday and Friday mornings to go into town to the Civic College for lectures. Soon I was walking out through the gates with them, but while they got off at the college stop I continued into town and got a bus home. It was OK so long as I got back in time for afternoon registration.)
Of course, even the craziest and worst of us knew that the Common Room had to be respected and looked after, for our own benefit.
The main thing was, the masters left us to ourselves. They could only come in if invited. The place was ours and had soft armchairs installed there, very similar to the ones in the Headmaster's study.
We could go in there, man, and make toast and instant coffee or a pot of tea. There was always plenty of school milk in those days.
And then there was the radio. The room was located in one of the huts on the edge of the playing field, not far from the Biology lab. There was hardly ever anyone about, so we could play Radio Caroline as loud as we liked.
This was the summer when the Small Faces had turned progressive, man, and 'The Universal' sounded really liberated and intellectual. The sound of the flushed outside khazi and the barking dog added to the general air of summer and freedom. Another epiphany came with 'MacArthur Park'.
There was even a section of the Common Room cordoned off for smoking--this area in particular had to be kept spick and span or the privilege was liable to be withdrawn.
The Bar is full. Doffing his trilby hat, he comes over and pulls out a chair. Red trousers below Afghan waistcoat under green ex-NATO combat blouse. Longish hair wolf grey, full beard wolf grey with charcoal. That slight hesitation and lisp, that tentative approach so well remembered from school. The same old Maurice, but with laughter lines.
For him it has been a life of casual employment, of various makeshifts and odd jobs like crop-picking. Anything seasonal and short-term. He has been all over Europe like that, and later South America. Tales of leaving bikes in barns, then coming back the next year and finding them still there (one machine was in better condition than before because of its temporary use by a German cycle-riding perfectionist).
A life of no particular attachment to a place or person, but he retains a flimsy loyalty to his figurative art. (Pencil or charcoal drawings, sometimes with a purple wash, or a bit of red, swamped in grey, delicate.) A loyalty also to particular brews of beer, a connoisseurship, and a loyalty to the pleasures of talk. He shows a Pan-like curiosity about other people and tends to credit them with the best of motives. Any peculiarites they might have, he relishes. All this is heightened by a delightful sense of mockery.
Most of us crave ties of some sort, though in youth many may like to think of themselves as romantic drifters like Shane or Cheyenne Bodie. Maurice is different, he doesn't particularly wish to travel, he just finds it impossible to settle. He's really a gypsy, more of a roller than the Stones themselves. He must have some odd ideas about comfort, but at least he stays clear of debt.
When we last had a drink he was working at Minter's Meats at Rendon. It was a summer job and he had a laid-on lift in the morning. It was a job, not to be loathed or loved, just a necessity to top the money up.
When I ask about Solange, the artistic French girl from Marseilles he'd been so thick with two or three years ago, he says with a grin that they fell out. Though they're still intermittently in contact
and he sometimes stands in as a father figure to her son who was four when they had their brief affair of exqusiste taste and intellectual ferocity.
'I'll be looking after a friend's house in Paris soon, for six weeks. It will be nice to have the use of the computer, home cinema, central heating.'
Here he is, approaching sixty and still no prospect of the comforts of life in a settled environment. He'll cop some comforts on the wing, six weeks' worth, that's the idea. No thought of really being 'settled'.
Perhaps to him they'd have been as galling, if they continued, these little amenities of life, as we'd have found the exxperience of subsisting in a tent or a convenient cardboard box.
But it's certainly an adverurous life he's led, and a fellow feels meanly about himself for not living that way too.
But Maurice says he respects me for sticking to the writing over the years, while so many of our contemporaries from Greystoke Grammar have in some way given in, either to sloth or Mammon, and have thrown away whatever talents they might have exercised.
'If you admire me for that,' I say, 'I can only marvel at your view of life, and the way you've gone out and lived it. You've got originality, boy--and guts.'
Maurice smothers a modest laugh.
Of course we are all as it were building a booth on a bridge where it cannot long remain, 'no abiding tabernacle', but Maurice doesn't even need that tea break of stability in which we pretend that things are solid and fixed, that we have the solidity of minerals when all the time a human being is not an object but a process.
Hey Coolios, new collection of Crowther posts available soon. Cover on the right.
They were fairly good digs in Oulton Street. Thinking back, they stand out somewhat. Amongst other things, they represent scouting for paradise and Eden's Garden itself in the old game of romance. I recall many Sunday afternoons roundabout there that resemble those lazy ones sung about by the Small Faces.
I was paying £11 a week for that bedsit with clodhopping Ted living above in motorbike boots.
It was a peppercorn rent, but when I was on nights I had to wait for the landlady to get back from Sainsbury's at 11:00 a.m. so I could help her up the steps with her stuff.
She also needed help with other things, like a pigeon lodged up the chimney. Once I arrived back from work and she was in tears because she had taken the fridge to bits and couldn't work out how to get the shelves and stuff back again.
I didn't mind assisting her because of the low rent, and also because she was very liberal in her ideas. It was a big double bed she provided there, and I was welcome to have girlfriends staying overnight. (Before me, the room had been let to a married office worker she called Fancy Pants. He only used the place at lunch times--he would provide lobster and wine for the women he took back for a mid-day break. There was more lobster than wine involved though, as they did have a full afternoon of work to go back to.)
The landlady had been a Labour supporter and worked as a secretary for the party in Hereford. So disgusted was she with the hypocrisy of the party hacks she met that she vowed to vote Tory ever after. (She knew that I couldn't vote, nor could Ted, because she never registered her tenants and we were not on the electoral roll.)
In those days Sundays always had that peculiar stale flavour. Then the afternoon parts at least were livened up somewhat when concerts started to take place on the grass outside the Mansion which was visible from the upstairs kitchen where Ted used to let his budgie out.
These open air concerts were free to attend, provided in its bountiful wisdom by the Borough Council. The acts ranged from brass bands to Christian outfits like Crazy-Paved Ladder who played California-style country rock along the lines of the Eagles.
After downing a lunch of beans on toast and a pot of tea in my room while listening to Desert Island Discs I would amble out and turn down Digby Street and through the park gates to see the the folk starting to spread out there on the grass in front of that majestic Elizabethan edifice.
Now and again promising-looking solitary girls could be spotted who might be persuaded to come back to the digs for a cup of tea. Occasionally there would be a group of nurses whom I knew as I was a hospital porter at the time. Joining them for a humorous piece of badinage laced with knowing gobbets of shop talk would leave me feeling like some kind of success. I know it impressed Jim Coates all right.
When Jim showed up we would 'board' any likely group which included eligible wenches. He was more single-minded in the hunt than I, but also prone to hesitations and sensitivities that did not help his suit. As Hazlitt says: in seduction, boldness is the thing.
There was also a Saturday afternoon I remember with Jim, in Burlingame's coffee shop. That day no one was about because there was some big football match on. I was one of the few who didn't know a thing about it.
There were only a few begrudging staff members around, running Burlingame's, and a few deadbeats like Jim who were just about as fascinated by the thought of the big match as I was. We were immune, or something. We were after some other excitement it seemed. Women, yes, but maybe something intangible as well.
Unless the explanation is that we simply lacked the football gene.
The Victorian Coffee House was full, so we moved down the road to Mrs Tolman's. Ray and I
ordered up jacket potatoes while Jade and Tina
preferred toasted sandwiches.
'Have you read Michael Drosnin's book about the Bible Code?' I said to Ray. 'They've found these messages in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah, about 9/11 and everything. All encoded into it 3000 years back.'
'In the Bible?'
'Yeah. The fall of the Twin Towers, the assassinations of the Kennedies, Sadat, Rabin, they're in there, man.'
'I've never heard about it,' said Tina. 'How does the code work?'
'It comes out like crosswords in a way. You see, the words are encoded in Equidistant Letter Sequencing. All the letters of the text are laid out in grids, with no spaces. Words and phrases show up, apart from the straightforward original meaning.
'Of course, the Bible is great for finding the craziest stories and the maddest details imaginable. You can hallucinate over it any day of the week. (It's mainly the Old Testament I'm talking about.) What do most people know about Jeremiah or the "Song of Songs, Which Is Solomon's"? There are whole sections of the Good Book that they never read out in church. Polite people ignore the chapters where David the General collects the foreskins of the Philistines as war trophies and sticks them onto his shield. And there was some army that the Lord struck down with "ermerods". Ermerods? In other words it was the piles, man.'
'But never mind reading the Bible straight, as it were. We're talking about the hidden meanings, the encoded words. These are impossible to find except by compiling these laborious charts or grids like crosswords with no black squares, or else using a computer. A Polish rabbi in the 1940s found some messages by using index cards, but really it was composed as I say 3000 years ago with a sort of inbuilt time lock on it in as it can't be accessed with any ease except by means of a computer.'
'So they had a computer 3000 years ago?' said Jade.
'It looks as if someone did, and that person could also see into the future.'
'So it was either God or a spaceman,' said Ray.
'God, however you may name him, would be highly eligible,' I said, 'because they always maintained that to Him the past, present and future are the same. He's not bound by time. It could be that the world was created by the Lord somewhat in the way Warner Brothers create a DVD with interactive menus. God can use the menus--we down here on earth are stuck with playing the DVD through from start to finish--and once only. We don't even have any dependable liner notes, until now maybe.... You know, I am tempted to get the computer program used by Rips, Drosnin and others--but I would have to learn Hebrew and also get a keyboard that writes from right to left.'
Then I break off. Why do I get the impression in these places that people are looking at us and grinning down into their grub or sighing with exasperation? We are only talking amongst ourselves after all, but to some it is like a Music Hall act, apparently.
A few are amused by the entertainment, such as the chap who recommends the stem ginger cake out of a blue sky when I go up to the counter to have a look at the desserts, but some are not so sympathetic.
One woman who was sitting close to us had a go at Ray when we left. With an expression of hatred she told him he ought to learn to close doors. (That was the last straw for her, I could tell. She had sat through our inane chatter and then when we went we had the audacity to go and leave a draught blowing through the place.)
Richard Kemper, David Jifkins, Rosemary Sharpe
and myself: four 'stars' off the Brains Table who ended up going to Greystoke Grammar. (In those days, kids who got fairly high marks consistently were put on a central table where the other members of the class could come and confer with them. The tang of elitism implicit there would probably rule this practice out now: teachers no doubt get a different drill and different panaceas are inculcated at training college and in their top-up courses.)
There were others on the table who came and went but we were the four who ended up passing the Eleven Plus exam. We were amazed that Carl Timms didn't make it, he seemed to us to possess an uncanny brilliance. (In our naivety we thought brilliance surely ought to be detected by the Eleven Plus.)
What good or bad it did us four who got through, I don't know. Rick, Dave and I went on to Greystoke Grammar all right. Rick soon proved not to be academically inclined. He ended up leaving school at sixteen--but as far as I can see was the only one of us who made it. He is now a millionaire, albeit not out of acting or music, which is where his aspirations lay early on. Rick was a fantastic guitarist, but out of the fast-picking, sight-reading school of Bert Weedon and the Shadows. (Hendrix, when he came along, was regarded by Rick as shite.)
Yes, Rick Kemper left school early to take up accountancy. The result: he made a fortune out of refrigerators and other 'white goods'.
Dave Jifkins was always marked low in exams at Greystoke as well. He didn't make it into the sixth form either. I lost track of him and met him some years later. Dave had been a timid soul at school and when I met him thirty years later I was surprised to be confronted by a towering shaven-headed fellow with an expressionless face which seemed to be covered with welts. He looked like a Gestapo brute. I think though he was still as shy as ever. Under the freakish exterior beat the heart of the over-anxious Mummy's boy, David 'Jiffy' Jifkins.
I met him, funnily enough, at a newly-started singles club. His wife had just left him and he had custody of the kids. He seemed more upset at the fact that he had just lost his job as well. I told him that Rick Kemper was now a millionaire.
'He might be able to do something for you,' I said, jokingly.
I heard later that he had contacted Rick, who offered him a job on the spot. Whether he took it, I never found out.
Of the four of us, Rosemary Sharpe was the one everybody knew would just sail through the Eleven Plus. which she did. Rosemary was a plump, quiet earth mother of eleven. You were hardly aware that she was in the class but she turned out clever stories and essays that were always read out to the rest of us. She talked to the teachers almost as if she were one of them.
She passed, of course she passed--but she wasn't particularly interested in going to Greystoke Grammar. Our teacher and the Head Master tried to intervene with Rosemary and her parents to get her to go. But it didn't seem to matter to Rosemary. Besides, her parents were a little worried about having to provide a uniform for her. If she went to the Secondary Modern school she could just wear her normal clothes.
Almost all of the other 26-odd pupils in our class who 'failed' the Eleven Plus I lost track of over the years.
And I? All I can say is, for good or ill I have arrived at a position where I am now writing this.
After completing two 70,000-word books about the Dalvad Dynasty--King Leonard, Prince Dion, Princess Faye, etc.--the momentum carried me 30,000 words into a third instalment, when I thought, hold on.
A Prince in Gangland and All the King's Hoodlums sell, but have not so far become break-out books. So let's hold on with this screed, I thought, and try a new tack.
Despite the fact that the third tale was unfolding pleasantly, with such new characters as the Duke of Norfolk (who lives as a tramp but has his boots stuffed with £50 notes), and such old friends as the Sansatchee warrior Prairie Dog from All the King's Hoodlums and the intellectual thug, Lester Biddiscombe, from A Prince in Gangland, the book could afford to wait while I tried something else.
Oscar Wilde said that where there is a supply there can, by definition, be no demand. So I am going to sit on my Dalvadian palm leaves until such time as I get a query or two from ebook land about what happens next to that blueblood who shaved his stubble and went to join the cloth caps and brown boots: Prince Dion, aka 'Harry Sims'.
The Dalvad books are urban fantasy, veering towards the steampunk. The new one would deploy some of my knowledge of the ancient world, it would be an epic fantasy.
So, I have almost finished the book, Till We Get to Gattamar, and it should be edited and formatted in a few weeks.
Gattamar is the next world that the priesthood and faithful followers of Agdon look forward to. Agdon is the god of fair Avrolar. The tale follows the misfortunes and trials of a priest, Tallowin Risnar. The drill is this: Avrolar is being occupied by the troops of the Kuresian Emperor. The priests of Avrolar, such as Tallowin and his friend Gurba the Midge, are being persecuted and eliminated. Tallowin's half-sister, with whom he is in love, has been enticed away by a Kuresian noble, but Tallowin has reason to believe she is leading the man on--for the greater good of fair Avrolar.
We've got treachery here, swordplay, love, a bit of sex and a barbaric stench of the life abundant.
One of the things about the tale is that in those days people were certain about the reality of the next life. They did not just bet on it, they counted on it. Tallowin for instance is wholly convinced that money lent in this life, and favours done, will be repaid if not here on this grubby ball of earth, then in the fields and hills of Gattamar itself.
Another book project running side by side with this is a collection of posts from my blog. These, as followers of these Columns will know, are pieces of approximately 500 words, covering the hip and the cool and whatever is lacking the same in the cosmos of which I have knowledge. These products of this chaotic 'work station' are in our opinion full of the authentic chlorophyl which is reckoned to spring ever green.
Perhaps like my other non-fiction book, Alleycats and Beatsters, the blog post book will sell better than the fiction. Even Mark Twain found it impossible to make a living from writing short occasional pieces, but it looks as if with the advent of the ebook that particular 'craft and sullen art' may have become a source of ready cash.
I believe a blogger needs to write the kind of post that he himself/she herself would like to read, and that's what I've gone and done.
As for me, I like to subscribe to a writer's blog where I feel I am being presented with something that exists in and of itself yet is light and casual, with no forced rhubarb. Not a pitch for Amazon, or shop talk about how to attract readers--these are valid subjects,but fairly dull if laboured at.
(With that said, shop or no shop, it's great to be at the centre of these webs, pulsating like a good 'un, performing something mystical which is known as 'building a readership'.)
We had heard about a cultural evening in Ludd's
Locker, an obscure pub on Bullivant Street. Poetry was on the bill, but in this case that was beside the point.
Christopher Tortt was taking the stage. The boy prodigy who was said to be able to pull incredible strings of melody off a piano keyboard one after another, all without the benefit of any musical knowledge or training. They said the boy could not name a single note of music on the stave.
Rick, who had had a lot of ten-shilling lessons from old steadfast Mrs Graves over the years, had heard reports of this improvising young Tortt from friends and wished to be there, so I turned out with him one January night when the daylong slush had lost its mushiness and was starting to vitrify.
'All out of his head,' said Rick, 'and they reckon he never repeats himself.'
The landlord went around with a little news sheet that you were supposed to buy--I told him I would read my friend's, at which point mine host warned me that these cultural evenings were making a loss and it was attitudes such as mine that made it difficult for the artist to get a break. I grinned and let my embarrassment mingle with the stench of wet woollens and rubber boots.
Anyway, though he was the star of the evening, Tortt had to be away early so as soon as the cellar of Ludd's Locker was full of paying customers he let rip.
The boy rubbed his hands then without hesitation attacked the keys. He brought from them melodious peals and strings of songs, of tunes, weird reminiscent rhapsodies, but never anything you could pin a name onto. The boy was good. I noted several long-headed folk, greyhairs and some greybeards, obviously devotees of this maestro with the flying fingers who looked like nothing so much as a grammar school rugby player. He did not appear the sensitive type at all, this Tortt.
'What do you think?' I said to Rick as the first rhapsody finished and the applause was unconstrained and genuine.
'Good, very good, but I will be interested to see how he follows that up.'
In fact he followed it up excellently; he surpassed himself if anything.
I am no follower of Brahms, Liszt or Beethoven though I love a good film theme, and to me these melodies conjured up scenes with trains, lakes, busy streets, meadows, all mixed and resolved into each other. The music would speed up, then ease off. Nor was Tortt afraid to leave spaces. The gaps between the notes were as eloquent as the ringing treble notes and the sombre pull of the others.
When Tortt stood up and bowed in a curious old-fashioned way, as if he had come to the end of a concert put on for furniture makers in Mother Russia, we applauded till the Artex cellar roof rang. And into the night the lad went, well muffled, and it was rumoured that he got well paid for these virtuoso shifts.
'It was interesting. Very,' said Rick, 'though none of it made any sense as music.'
'It seemed to me as if it did,' I said, 'but of course I haven't studied the greats the way you have.'
As a man went to the table and primed the mic for the poetry segment I reflected that here I would be able to give an educated opinion at least. The first offering was forgettable: an ode about a boat with a 'bellying' sail.
'That bugger will knock our ears out though,' I said to Rick, pointing out a bearded chap like a side of beef, puffing a thoughtful pipe.
Spade Beard glared around. It was as if we were all beneath him there that night.
Then he got up and cackled and read out the most idiotic doggerel about soap heroes off the tv.
At a convenient spot in the rendition, when several people had moved over to replenish their glasses, Rick and I grabbed our coats from the hooks and left.
I got well muffled into my coat at the top of the stairs.
'Bugger,' said Rick, 'I forgot my scarf.'
The silly doggerel was floating up the steps after us, thanks to the microphone.
'I'm not going back,' said Rick, 'if I can get away this easy it's worth a scarf.'