Tower Transmissions V promised to be a major 2015 highlight for fans of power electronics, death industrial, and dark ambient. Below, Richard Stevenson – contributor to forthcoming Headpress title Power Electronics and Noise Culture and editor of Noise Receptor journal – recounts some memorable moments.
I swore off going to screenings of video nasties a few years ago. Living in London, it increasingly seemed like you couldn’t go to the cinema to watch any horror film made before 1990 without sitting through the accompanying guffaws and knowing snorts of much of the audience.
Blackpool's many experimental musicians rarely play locally and when they do it is often in front of severely limited audiences. This was something else entirely... Review of Other Worlds Festival, Blackpool, 2015, by d foist
Elvis Died For Somebody's Sins But Not Mine: A Lifetime's Collected Writing by Mick Farren. Table of contents. A rocking life railing against the machine, in the company of Johnny Cash, Frank Zappa, Chuck Berry, Gore Vidal, Pete Townshend and others.
In 1969 German psychologist Dr. Günther Hunold, no stranger to an afternoon spent flinging footnotes at this or the other fruity fistful of mucky old chat, conducted a series of interviews in Munich with a group of girls aged between fourteen and twenty in pursuit of definitive answers to the kinds of questions concerning girls aged between fourteen and twenty that had been keeping him and half of the people on his street awake for months.
Foreword by Eddie Shaw. DURING THE EARLY 1960s, rock music in America was considered entertainment. Elvis was the image of innocence while shaking his hips and breaking loose from the constrictions of the uptight generation before him. He was the pet of his loving mother. He was the sensitive boy who could make girls cry.
Born in Burlington, Ontario, Jill C. Nelson is the co-author (with Jennifer Sugar) of the exhaustive biography John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches and the forthcoming Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women on Classic Erotic Cinema 1968 - 1985 (both published by Bear Manor Media).
There's been a lot of talk of death film in the Kerekes-Wallis household lately, with the breaking case of alleged pretty-boy psycho Luka Magnotta coming just in time for putting the finishing touches to the new edition of Killing for Culture.
This is a Holiday Special bumper edition of Headpress. Part one is devoted to the contemporary Grand Guignol, and the second part the landscape of the counterculture by way of some of its books and publishers.
One of the less conventional records of 2012 – but perhaps one of the more suitable (for that very reason) – has to be 33 Trapped Chilean Miners by the Ceramic Hobs. Anthemic, avant-garde, funny and disquieting, it was a creation that promised some rewarding discussion. I wasn’t disappointed, and discovered founding Hobs(ian) Simon Morris to be a very engaging chap indeed.
With the Crucifixion serendipitously falling on Passover and all, and thus carrying sinister echoes of both the ‘blood libel’ and the ‘angel of death’, I could think of no better way to spend the recent Easter weekend than watching Shoah, the nine hour long Holocaust documentary available on Youtube in fifty-nine ten-minute segments...
Dan Kinem is co-founder of VHShitfest, a website dedicated to all things VHS, and co-director – with fellow tape-hound, Levi ‘Dabeedo’ Peretic – of a new documentary about the format. JENNIFER WALLIS speaks to Dan about collecting and the documentary, Adjust Your Tracking: The Untold Story of the VHS Collector.
In Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow’s narrator Charles Citrine has an enthusiasm for reading an encyclopaedia of religion, claiming that his contemporary America was rife with recurrent types found therein. The indications are that Citrine is thinking especially of the counterculture.
A short film celebrating Al Goldstein's Screw tabloid (and of course Jack Stevenson's unofficial biography Beneath Contempt and happy to be there). A bunch of covers from Screw, and one from its short lived sister publication, Death.
I have maybe, at this late stage in the game, stood on too many grassy knolls and listened too long to the seductively mendacious counterclaims and crossfire of disinformation. I may now need a map to tell me where I’ve been.
Not to seem too facile, but there is definitely an analogy to be made between the punk and new wave/industrial groups that appeared at the end of the 1970s and the magical and occult currents which emerged at the same time, such as chaos magic.
In case you didn't notice, it was very recently the tenth anniversary of 9/11, meaning that wives across the world have had to endure the resuscitated rants of their conspiratorially inclined husbands.
Following the closure of the doors on the very famous Chelsea Hotel, Manhattan, (apparently the last night for paying guests was Saturday, July 30, 2011), Headpress asked some of its authors for their comments on the matter.
I've always been fascinated by the Russian Revolution. Trotsky, however, despite his significant cameos in the various histories and biographies I'd read on the topic, was still a vague character in my mind up until about ten days ago...
By the earlier 1970s, the golden age of the vintage adult paperback had well and truly come to a close. As legal standards loosened, trashy scribes like Jacqueline Susann were free to publish material which was more graphic and descriptive than most adult material published up until the mid 1960s, without fear of being raided and hauled off to jail.
When the Comics Magazine Association of America established the Comics Code in 1954, not only was salacious, suggestive, violent and horrific content banished from comic books but an entire industry was decimated.
These stairs sure as hell never get any easier, Blue thought as he hauled his guitar, amplifier and suitcase up to the apartment. Don’t get any cleaner, neither, he added, narrowly avoiding a pool of piss on the landing...
In a recent article concerning his terminally ill Best Friend Forever Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis paraphrased King Lear, saying that every author knows how much "sharper than a serpent's tooth it is" to have "thankless readers."
THEY CAME FOR THEM while it was still dark. Shortly after four in the morning, a convoy of vehicles turned off the main highway. US Marshal Clarence J. Sugar sat in the passenger seat of the lead vehicle.
True Crime. From the dead centre of the enormous American penitentiary system, the Aryan Brotherhood was the lion that somehow seized control of the city as well as the zoo, steadily coming to dominate the billion dollar Methamphetamine industry that permeates America’s urban sprawl.
Instead of permanently marring the images with my Crayolas, I spent many hours honing my burgeoning drawing skills by recreating the likenesses of my favorite late night beasties documented within its pages.
In April 2011, the Business Design Centre in London was host to the first Kapow! comic con, a two-day event organised by sisters Lucy and Sarah Unwin. The intention was to bring the US comic convention experience to the UK.
In his investigative memoir for Headpress, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, New York journalist Robert Rosen recalls his experiences in the adult magazine, film and video industry, analyzing the quick changes in the field in the last thirty years.
Kate Copstick and Jamie Maclean from Erotic Review interview Rosen about the impact of cruder tastes, cheap technology and freely available online videos on the porn business.
A loving look at “disposable” horror culture from the 1960s and 1970s.
Over two glorious decades the horror film waged war on good taste, exploiting every taboo and bursting every envelope along the way. TRASHFIEND is the definitive guide to the chaotic, creative and endlessly entertaining golden age of horror cinema. Scott Stine (author of The Gorehound’s Guide to Splatter Films series) shines a fond but satiric light on everything from low budget horror films to grisly comic art, lurid movie magazines to late-night creature features, campy monster toys to exploitive poster art.
Says Andy Murray, author of Into The Unknown: The Fantastic Life of Nigel Kneale: "My own first encounter with the work of Nigel Kneale came very late on in his career, and strictly speaking it's a non-encounter..."
Man, no one in rap whinges quite so much as the Wu Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah. Even that nasal delivery of his sounds like a complaint, or lament, and can easily be imagined delivering the letters on Points of View.
Author and Headpress cofounder David Kerekes was asked to contribute to Detour, an international series of exhibitions organised by Moleskine, the Italian manufacturer of the splendid and expensive range of notebooks.
Call for fanzines for the Zine Suppository. The small press is dying. Few people are bothered now to go to the time, trouble and expense of printing hardcopy zines when a blog on the internet can do practically the same job with fewer overheads.
Johannes Schönherr, author of the Headpress book Trashfilm Roadshows, is one of the very few western authorities on North Korean cinema. Here in this two part film he talks about the events surrounding his time at the North Korea Film Festival (where he was one of only two guests), and the people and culture of North Korea.
Headpress opens its vaults to offer readers the chance to get one classic title a month at a special price of £7.99. We carefully select the best, most provocative and popular releases from our twenty-odd years of active publishing service. It's a great opportunity for people to plug any significant gaps in their Headpress library, and to get some absolutely vintage releases for the price of a reasonably expensive portion of fish and chips.
BALLS, THE WOMB AND MEXICO CITY. Homosexuals on the bus. The fearful no-man's land that is Tepito. A strange encounter with Puma, the cigar salesman. Calle de Peru and lucha libre. A narrow escape from a gentleman's club. Professor Soledad is caught with his trousers down. Teotihuacán and its big black onyx cock. Caleb Selah becomes Místico.
THE DEAD & THE MOON by David Kerekes.
Together with business associates CALEB SELAH and BEN LAWMAN, in October DAVID KEREKES travelled with notebook from London to Cancún, the southern gateway to Mexico on the tip of Quintana Roo State. Primed with nothing more than the lonely gringo guide to Mexico and an agenda to keep moving, things started well enough in Cancún and Veracruz, but by the time Mexico City arrived the cracks had started to appear...
Cult People: Tales from Hollywood's Exploitation A-List, interviews conducted by Nicanor Loreti with many of the world's most fascinating and renowned stars of cult cinema, including the late David Carradine, the legendary Ken Russell and the lamentable Albert Pyun.
Composer, bandleader, pianist, poet and philosopher, Sun Ra is one of the most colourful and enduring of musical legacies, transcending time, place and cultural genres. nduring of musical legacies, transcending time, place and cultural genres. These extracts are from the Headpress book, Sun Ra: Interviews & Essays edited by John Sinclair.
Fallen Stars: Tragic Lives and Lost Careers. Julian Upton probes the underside of fame to reveal a host of glittering careers stunted by ill-health, alcoholism, drug addiction and egomania. Twenty-one tales of stardom turned sour, these are the tragic final years of some of the world's best-loved actors and comedians, a latter-day Hollywood Babylon that includes Benny Hill, Diana Dors, Peter Sellers, Carry On legends and many others.
Horror and fantasy cinema from around the world with a distinctive retro sensibility, CREEPING FLESH focuses on obscure and vilified horror movies, the discovery of “lost” films, and an appreciation of British exploitation.
Discombobulated: Dispatches from the Wrong Side. Revered clubbing correspondent Simon A. Morrison (DJmag, Ministry of Sound) takes readers on a pocket-sized, decade-spanning tour of the nightlife of five continents, bringing together the snappiest, wittiest and hippest dispatches of the last eight years, to make one of the classic books of the clubbing generation.
A musical exploration of the revolutionary music of the 1960s. It begins with an hilarious denunciation of John Sinclair (a true revolutionary and the hardest working beat poet in the business)... Enjoy and remember people died for our right to party. Featuring words from the Mighty Beefy. For promo only
IT’S ALL GOOD: A John Sinclair Reader by John Sinclair is a sampling of Sinclair’s journalism and verse spanning over forty years. It illuminates his legendary period as a cultural revolutionary and political prisoner, manager of the MC5, Chairman of the White Panther Party, producer of the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival and director of the Detroit Jazz Center. More about this item»
A thrilling rush through whiter shades of ale in the sixties and seventies and beyond. The moving, heart rending musing of the sublime Sarah Daykin. She was a revolutionary in Germany, executed alongside Rosa Luxembourg in 1919. The recordings were taken from various speeches recorded onto rare smuggled 78s at great risk and seem to echo many of the sentiments of the sixties. For promo only.
There is no description for this. It was presented to me, in a dream, by a man from the rings of saturn. His name is Haf-fa Rool. It seems to tell in an hour what Sun Ra could think in a minute. He loves you all. I offer this with no desire to make money from it. It is a gift from Ra and Headpress to all. Dedicated to Marshall Allen and John Sinclair... Peace
Sun Ra: Interviews & Essays edited by John Sinclair. Composer, bandleader, pianist, poet and philosopher, Sun Ra is one of the most colourful and enduring of musical legacies, transcending time, place and cultural genres. More about this item»
Of little importance to me in 1990 (but strangely captivating for the rest of the world in a really boring adult way) was some bloke called ‘Nelson Mandela’ being freed from a South African prison after 27 long and tedious years. I wished the man well, of course, but owing to the fact that I lived in a fairly middle-class English cul-de-sac where ethnic groups were yet to become more than a distant sci-fi novelty, it was hard to know what to make of it all, and what any of it really meant. That and the fact I was nine, so it should be obvious that I had much better things to do with my time than pay attention to the world and all its minor comings and goings, of which there were far too many to count. Frankly, even though one year had elapsed since getting my bike officially airborne (achieving a respectable height of 0.000012 inches), I had bigger fish to fry; for example, the newly discovered mysterious bicycle-jumping feat known as ‘bunnyhopping’ required my concentration 99% of the time. Likewise, getting on and off my green and vomit orange Matterhorn mountain-bike without ripping my super-tight purple cycling shorts at the crotch required not only great patience, but a serious amount of luck.
As a nine-year-old boy I also had no idea, like most people around me, that a certain hardcore group were quietly revolutionizing and redefining both UK and US BMX. The words ‘The Backyard Jam’ were alien to me and would remain that way for some time to come, eventually becoming locked in a fierce battle between Samantha Fox, my unlockable door and the concept of ‘masturbation’. (Not to mention being English, nine-years-old, and ignorant of American words like ‘Backyard’, I probably wouldn’t have known one had I walked into one.)
Chris Pink through a doorway
I would much later find out that these Englishmen were doing something pretty amazing (and that the whole Nelson Mandela thing was actually a fairly big deal and I should be thoroughly ashamed of myself for thinking a 0.000012 inch bunnyhop was more important, of course). What made their achievement even more impressive was that in these early days, as will come as no great surprise, the word BMX (or as the stunt-riding faction called it ‘Freestyle’) was generally not considered worthy enough to be spoken out loud without spitting immediately after; if you were a BMXer back then then you were both lucky and unlucky: in the first case responsible for bringing the best thing ever to the world’s attention, and in the second facing a long hard road of piss-taking and frequent hospital visits. (Looking back at some of the ‘fashion’ from the time I have to admit that it’s easy to understand why the former was the case.)
Back to why The UK Backyard Jams were so down-right bloody impressive:
Unlike some members of society with little between their ears and an inability to bother doing anything unless sure success and monetary rewards are a certainty, The Backyard Jam guys weren’t relying on sponsors or money from huge corporations to get things moving (plus they didn’t own a filo-fax between them); the thing which made BMX special and unique was that the events would have happened had only five people turned up and four of them were riders. The fact is that BMX crowds back then were (and this is no exaggeration) rarer than shagging Pandas are now. The guys responsible were putting on events in fields for the hard-core for next to no return, making dirt-jumps—back then, laughably by today’s standards, a couple of metres between a take-off and a landing was considered massive and scary—and launching themselves off them with ‘raditude’ just because it was fun. As for rules, there weren’t any, and nobody gave a shit. No wrist-bands to prove you’d paid or not either. You were met with smiles and handshakes from total strangers, whatever bike you rode, regardless of how you rode it. There was also no security in place to stop gatecrashers, and this was combined with the kind of breathtakingly crude health-and-safety rule breaking that’s actually quite scary as you move through the world and discover that it’s sometimes a good thing (for example: like when a bottle is hurtling towards your face). In fact, gatecrashers, chaos and bedlam, as long as it didn’t involve ‘normal’ adults and had something vaguely to do with BMX, was encouraged. If you wanted something to eat you were sorted too: you could walk down the road without being mobbed by a gang of carnivorous Red Bull groupies, spend a fiver, and come back an hour later, happy and ready for more.
A couple of BMXers from the Hastings area—to the riders who knew them, they weren’t just riders, they were heroes—called Stu Dawkins and Ian Morris (plus a close group of friends) were the Main-Men behind The Backyard Jams from the beginning, which started in 1989, the same year as the terrible human crush at Hillsborough in Sheffield. The Jams’ existence and location was a lazy secret which was officially confined to Hastings, but that spread throughout the country on trust and good will, through word-of-mouth and riders meeting at skateparks and at the trails, on BMX tracks and in the streets. The public didn’t care about BMX, so no-one was too worried about the jams getting out of hand (which was fine for BMX, because getting out of hand was something BMXers excelled at).
It was an awesome time, and, to those who witnessed it first hand, something that will never be forgotten. The Backyard Jams, which would unfold throughout the 90s and well into the 00s, were the BMX equivalent of Woodstock—the numbers weren’t as great, of course, but for UK BMX it was nothing less than monumental: ramps everywhere, people going-off: warriors in full-face helmets attempting tricks they never had before, then limping to work the next day with a massive smile on their face.
Above everything it was about the freedom: the don’t-give-a-shit attitude combined with the rawness of unbridled, unrestricted youth.
Simon A. Morrison, author of Discombobulated, talks to Judith Chalmers, and reminisces with Jimmy the Hat about a pink gasmask in Berlin.
Discombobulated: Dispatches from the Wrong Side by Simon A. Morrisontakes readers on a pocket-sized, decade-spanning gonzo tour of the nightlife of five continents, bringing together the snappiest, wittiest and hippest dispatches of the last eight years, to make one of the classic books of the clubbing generation. More about this item»
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The mountaintop church of Montevergine, Avellino, Italy.
A group of ladies singing first outside the church and then inside. An amazing sound! (The mix comprises both recordings bounced down together.) Field recording by David Kerekes, 29 August 2009.
Mezzogiorno: Life. Death. Southern Italy by David Kerekes is a work of biography, autobiography, fable and fact, spanning three generations of southern Italian family life. Set amidst a landscape of peasant riots, vicious landlords, religious festival, feuds, the collapse of the Fascist party, and the tarantella — a world lost to the changing face of the twenty-first century. More about this item»
What a lovely sunny Sunday we are having. here is my Sunday story. It has kept me out of the sun so I hope you all appreciate it. And, more importantly, I hope you all have a wonderful bank holiday!
Love and peanuts
El Rey x
ANOTHER TWELVE INCHES AND WE'RE OUT
The shop opened at 9am on the dot and Samson Keen walked straight in the unlocked door to become the first customer of the day and the twenty seven thousand and forty third customer of all time. He knew what he wanted to buy and he had the money to buy it. All he was after was a twelve-inch ruler. Preferably wooden as wood was more rigid. I his past experience Samson had tried plastic rulers and although they were lighter and tended to stay accurate for longer they simply didn’t have the rigidity of their wooded counterparts. Today, and everyday, for that matter, Samson needed rigidity.
He headed straight for the stationary department. It was up a flight of stairs towards the back of the first floor. It was the beginning of school term so Samson reckoned it would be well stocked, unless there had been a parental rush, in which case it might be cleared out. Either way he was pretty certain that wooden rulers would be in stock. Most people went for the transparent plastic variety nowadays. Most people bought metric. Samson was old school.
He liked the look of wooden rulers. Especially when they were brand new. The golden brown colour with the black ink notches and numbers, the nicely angled shape sides with the flat strip along the centre. He liked the way the varnish was usually uneven. He liked the rigidity. You could bend a plastic ruler too easily and when they snapped they shattered. If you tried to bend a wooden ruler they would splinter. The edges of wooden rulers wore out and after only a few weeks it was hard to actually use one to draw a straight line. The varnish and ink invariably rubbed off too. They became random instruments. They had character. Wooden rulers… well used wooden rulers encouraged guesswork! Old wooden rulers could add a level of uncertainty to things that plastic rulers were incapable of.
Samson liked to think of himself as a rebel. Samson was a non-conformist. He had learned the hard way that towing the line and getting things totally correct did not automatically bring reward. He knew that there was no such thing as a straight line and because of that he strove to avoid trying to draw one. So what if the ruler was brand new. There were things you could do to degenerate them. You could trail them against walls. Hit things with them. Use them as a straight edge when cutting things with a sharp blade. Leave them outside in the rain. You didn’t get the same effect with plastic.
Samson had drawn countless lines with ruined wooden rulers and he much preferred them to those he had drawn with plastic rulers. They were far more interesting. They were marginally harder to draw. They actually had personality.
Wooden rulers smelled good too. Plastic smelled of nothing. Wooden rulers actually absorbed aromas and flavours. They were porous beneath the varnish. The edge of an old wooden ruler could be a veritable cornucopia of various smells flavours and textures. Samson liked to think that this was transferred to the paper when he drew lines. That the lines themselves had a individuality given to them by the ruler.
He reached the stationary department and headed to the isle where pens, pencils and rulers were normally displayed. There were only plastic rulers. Loads of them. Multi-coloured and in varying lengths. All of them were metric. Fucking plastic and metric. Samson’s heart sank. Only that morning he had snapped his favourite wooden ruler in two. He had chewed on the splintered ends and savoured the taste of wood, chocolate, ink and carbon. He had walked to the beach and ceremoniously buried the halves in the sand just below the high tide mark. He had moved on. He was expecting a new start. A regeneration. A brand new wooden ruler. He was devastated.
Samson asked a member of staff if they had any wooden rulers in the back of the shop. The member of staff was obliging and went to find out for him. He returned with bad news. The store no longer stocked wooden rulers as they now supported re-forestation and wooden rulers were, in part, responsible for the depletion of the Amazonian Rain forest.
Fuck the rain forest thought Samson. Fuck everything. He left the shop bitter and disappointed. He realised he had reached a crucial turning point and life would never be the same.
Good gracious morning to all and each every one of you individualistists. The Sunday story is back at last for I have now moved to new abode with sunshine, park, garden, children, and dongle. Unfortunately I no longer live with the most beautiful woman in the world but at least I did.
Hope this short flight of fantasy whets your appetite for fun a games in the glorious sunshine provided courtesy of all the worlds non existent gods that have put in an alleged appearance throughout history. May you bush burn brightly and may the rusty rum drenched sailors bowed and bruised legs rest in peace.
My new address is: [deleted]
You are all welcome to drop by and if it coincides with meal time I might even feed you.
Love and speckled eggs.
Ricardo El Rey xxx
It just fell into my lap. From nowhere Honest. It just landed slap, bang in my lap. Clear blue sky. Nothing overhead. It crash landed from heaven to my lap.
It was about two inches long and a good inch wide. It was like a fat beetle with claws. It was pink and shiny. It looked wet. Smooth. It turned over and its back was all hunched up, covered in thick black Elvis hair. It began to scuttle about on my legs, which freaked me out so I batted it off my lap and onto the path where the kindly old man with asthma and a wooden leg who lives on the corner squashed it into the rag tag tarmac as he said ‘good morning.’ Within seconds a young potential road-kill golden Labrador bounced to a stop, sniffed it and ate it up then pelted off after a squirrel.
I feel sure in my bones that a many of you will relate to this little essay on life.
Here’s wishing you a more than pleasant day and a whole week of adventures far beyond imagination and expectation.
Your friend and valiant scribe
Ricardo El Rey x
A FLAT OR HOUSE SOMEWHERE
I was sat on the floor in a room at the back of someone's house. There were a lot of people in there. A lot of people for the size of the place. Most of them were drinking. Those that weren't drinking were smoking. Some of the people who were drinking were smoking too. Some smoked cigarettes, some smoked joints and there were two pipes, a chillum and a hubbly bubbly being passed round. A lot of hash. I was drinking. Not sure what it was. So much hash being passed around I got it into my head that the bottles were being passed around too. And they were. There was some vodka and some brandy. Some really shitty sweet whiskey. A big plastic bottle of tequila that came with little green plastic shot glasses. They got passes too. Beer and wine was generally motionless except from lap to lips. There was something they said was absinthe in another plastic bottle. It glowed bright green when you had a go on the hubbly bubbly. There were a few hats too. People swapped hats with bottles and pipes. Sunglasses and eventually spectacles were even being swapped. It was hard to tell what you were drinking or smoking or if it was dark or if you were going blind. You couldn't be sure who anyone was. It didn't matter. Everyone just ignored the ritual chaos and talked, told stories, joked, laughed, and filled the room to the gills. Once in a while you get a night to remember.
“Esto es un lugar muy peligroso,” says our driver,self appointed minister for tourism, as he pulls his cab away from the Terminal del Norte bus station, making a left toward Mexico City, or irrevocable change as I like to call it, the flat city, the largest land mass of people of any one city in the world city. “This is a very dangerous place,” he adds redundantly.
It is nighttime. Black and white time, with hues of grey. The three hour bus journey from Veracruz had been plagued by homosexuals contemplating the ring tones of their mobile phones, and a strange, disjointed conversation between the three of us concerning female anatomy and whether one should focus on the camel toe in public.
CALEB: “It’s a wonderful invention.”
ME: “What’s that? The television?”
CALEB: “No, the laughing Danny.”
BEN: “He had a machine in the back of his house that would rattle loudly in the middle of the night.”
ME: “Is it camel toe or camel foot?”
BEN: “It’s a dehumidifier.”
And so on, to the accompaniment of polyphonic bursts of the Village People performing YMCA.
Our introduction to Mexico City is a commentary from the taxi driver on life having no value, as well as good advice on all the “places to go for a murder and a mugging.” Life has no value, life has no value, he repeats in the mannered way a lunatic will attempt to qualify his sanity. Life has no value life has no value but our purpose is to reach the Hotel del Angel in the busy social area of the city known as Zona Rosa, the “pink zone,” pink representing gayness of the safe kind and the colour of many of its buildings. This is our destination, but our driver instead takes us ten blocks north of the Zocalo to a dead land known as Tepito.
If La Santa Muerte had a holy land, Tepito would be its bruised and bloody shame. Ben, who has visited seventy two countries, has never seen anything like it. Not even in Rio de Janeiro, he says.
This puts Ben in mind of Rio de Janeiro and the curiously agitated cop who stopped him there two years earlier for a routine search, a strange affair that comprised nothing more than Ben having to take off his shoes and socks and place his feet in the lap of the noble officer for a ten minute shakedown of the toes.
“He was clearly getting his jollies,” Ben recalls of the cop with a big 10-4.
But Tepito is not jolly, it is a wasteland exhibiting the kipple of a burned out planet with bleak streets that converge for an 8PM curfew on the vecinclades, the temporary shelters that spilled over and became permanent homes with rent fixed at one cent a month. The economy of Tepito has grown and collapsed with black market trade, a seismic shift that has had a more devastating impact on the cultural landscape than the earthquake that tore through it two decades ago.
Economy now of course is drugs and some of the vecinclades are replaced with apartment blocks whose rotten cramped dwellings with paper thin walls breed psychotic neighbours with howling dogs. The authority in Mexico City conveniently ignores Tepito, as it ignores the trash that is piled knee high beneath the extinguished street lamps. The only illumination is the timorous beam of our dipped headlamps as they bore a lonesome path.
Ten murders a day in Tepito and a police force not willing to respond to a single one of them, not since the riots in November 2000 when the police where forced out of the neighbourhood by a mob refusing to let them haul away the stolen electrical goods and handguns that had been confiscated that morning.
And then — el conductor del taxi está loco — the driver stops the car.
He cab driver sweeps his hands as if to signal that we have arrived and have to get out. This isn’t what we expected of Zona Rosa, the safe, predominantly gay inner sanctum of Mexico City where our hotel is located. We don’t believe that this is Zona Rosa at all. In fact we know it isn’t but get out anyway when the driver produces a gun, surveying the scene with its black barrel.
My only desire is to see lucha libre, a Mexican wrestling match, you cunt. How do you say “you cunt?”
There is no protest song, no choice but to give it up, to leave the horses and continue the climb on foot. Making no sudden moves the three of us are out of the old Chrysler Le Baron and out on the streets of dread, where not a true soul can be seen but maleficent threat hangs in the air, a fetid fog. In 1945 this barrio was marked as one of the worst places to live in Mexico, and if there has been any improvement since we are going to have to get on our knees and claw beneath the shit with our fingers to find it.
“Have a good life, my friend,” says Cal as the cab pulls away with our 700 pesos tip. Quick-draw McGraw is travelling so slowly through the rubbish it would be easy to wade through it and reach the vehicle and question him about Tepito and whether it has seen change for the better over the years. Perhaps even indulge in a little chaos and violence, if we were foolish and so inclined.
The first rule of travel is to travel with purpose in one’s stride. Striding with purpose is how we had travelled through the Terminal del Norte bus station, a bleak place but not as bleak as Tepito, arriving purposefully at the glass front of the desk that dealt with the sitios taxis, the legitimate taxis.
The desk was empty and remained empty, causing a queue of people requiring transportation to form that signalled to the wolves on the periphery that fresh tourist meat was about. We wanted not to be around when any strays from the pack got gobbled up and so sought an alternative route.
Andres at the Bartola in Veracruz had warned us to be careful in Mexico City and the Internet said always take the right kind of cab. The tail lights disappearing into the night ahead of us this minute belong to one of the wrong cabs, a Chrysler Le Baron with beat up paint work that we skipped the queue at Terminal del Norte to find outside on the street.
I am wishing I had a leather-coated mind when considering safety in numbers is merely an illusion. This isn’t happening. Where the night breathes the precise sound one would expect of a Third World sprawl that spans one hundred and twenty blocks, up and down the streets only debris. Above us a terrible sky this isn’t happening.
“Well, I’m safe,” I suddenly decide of our predicament. “I have the heart of Santa Muerte on my chest.”
Sure enough that heart is now also bleeding, having been cut into my flesh only this morning. Itching and bitching, too, Luis and Andersson. Itching like a bitch.
We begin to walk with purpose towards the first exit we can find, luggage on our shoulders, the Tepito death rattle vibrating in our souls. Only true delinquents accept a life here, everyone has a gun and anyone who doesn’t have a gun performs their hold ups with a rabid pit bull on a short leash. Cal is a betting man: he wagers that we don’t make it out alive, but he is proven wrong and we do make it and Cal loses the wager, what comes next in Tepito is the strangest sight we will ever see.
Through streets that police and even whores will not tread, in and out of shadow a young woman sweeps lightly towards us holding a baby to her chest. She has been transposed through this time from another, of this we are certain. She moves in a flowered blouse unaware that she has faded from her beautiful place and arrived in this one.
Our paths touch fleetingly.
“¿Está bien usted, el fallo?” asks Ben. “Are you okay, Miss?”
“Un pequeño animal que encoge sus hombros muy muy lejos un más grande uno uno uno,” she says without stopping, not smiling and not sad and not making sense, simply moving toward the dangerous epicentre of the dangerous city from whence we came.
“A small animal shrinking its shoulders very far away a larger one one one.”
From nowhere to nothing, alone with the infant she clutches tightly she is gone in a moment, into the maze of tragic housing, her words trailing behind her. In search of meaning, in search of space, in search of place, who knows? If we could stop her and tell her to go back we would. Not unlike Elvis down at the end of Lonely Street however, it is too late for that. Not that way, Miss. That way is only heartbreak and misery, keep away from it. Come with us.
And when we make it to the other side of Tepito we are alive, find the exit and beyond that is Zona Rosa and the Hotel del Angel.
Nothing can hurt us now. Nothing can hurt us anymore.
And so begins our ascension.
At 4:54AM Cal paints a picture of the events surrounding his balls, but first the staff in the hotels of hate and lucha libre.
A passport is not a requirement when checking into a hotel in Mexico, so if one ever commits a murder, Mexico is the logical place to run to and hide. We contemplate friends that may benefit from brutality back home and then dismiss the idea on the realisation that nobody running the hotels in Mexico likes us very much, and would gladly give us up to the police. In Mexico City the people running the hotels detest us with a passion. Here in the flat city, we aren’t able to leave our room without the electronic key code being changed to prevent our re-entry, which more often than not results in harsh words and gestures. It happens so often during our two days at Hotel del Angel that we are forced to arraign the receptionist at every available opportunity. It really isn’t worth our time to take the elevator to the second floor to check the state of the door to our room because the door to our room will be locked. The night watch receptionist, so stoned he literally doesn’t know what day it is and cannot remember how to find out, suffers the worse of our indignation when we return from the VIP gentleman’s club early one Saturday morning.
“By Cal’s crushed balls, you’ve changed the lock again!” we yell at him the instant he buzzes us through the entrance.
We flip the plastic credit card size key onto the desk with a flourish that suggests we come from Tepito but we do not belong there. A bounce takes the key into the air and as it descends so collapses the rapport we have been systematically destroying with the Hotel del Angel. The receptionist goes insane and curses blind that we should have died in that taxi and furthermore our mothers enjoy sexual pleasures from rabbi dogs, a hostility symptomatic of the hostility we encounter from Mexican hoteliers in general, hating us not because of who we are but who we are not. We are not you, we appear to be saying to them, we gringos are the opposite of your hard working selves with the money to prove it and you would like to be us.
We are gringos, if a little less gringo than the American gringos, who belong to a genus as removed from us as it is from Mexicans, but we are gringos all the same.
We decide to celebrate this new understanding with cigars from Cuba.
Down a road that takes us in the vague direction of Arena Coliseo where lucha libre — the wrestling — can be found on any given Sunday we come across a man with Cuban cigars. In a bright yellow “athletica” t-shirt but looking like the one least likely to succeed he pulls back his lips for a grin of big gums when Cal shows an interest in his wares. Ben wades in immediately, able to smell blood, and starts to haggle over the established price of five cigars for US$30. Ben will haggle over the wind and the rain and anything because he hates to feel as though he is being ripped off, which he claims is what everyone is about when it comes to money, his or ours. He can’t help himself, something to do with three years in law school and a voracious appetite for fat sex. Snatching pennies from the smashed souls of paupers is a disposition of the inhuman, we tell him. But still it gives us pleasure to watch Ben at work, so effortlessly does he do the snatching.
The haggling has been going on for fifteen minutes.
CIGAR SALESMAN: “Hangover. Hangover. My head hurt.”
BEN: “Really? That’s why it’d be better if we gave you twelve dollars; that way you could go home and buy a cure for your hangover.”
CIGAR SALESMAN: “I tol’ you. I no want to rip you.”
BEN: “You do! That’s your main aim!”
MR CALEB: “We’re Puma fans as well. We’re Puma fans.”
CIGAR SALESMAN: “I tol’ you, I tol’ you—“
BEN: “If you sell us this for twelve dollars the Pumas will win on Saturday.”
CIGAR SALESMAN: “Let’s make a deal: twenty three.”
BEN: “Twenty three? Twenty three! Is that how you treat all your friends?”
And so it goes until the cigar man with gums wants no more a part of it and gives to
Cal a box of five Cuban cigars in exchange for a quart of tequila and a ten dollar bill.
Six girls we later meet in a club called Cortesia tell us they cannot understand why we should want to go to see lucha libre. To them lucha libre is something of an embarrassment and they cannot understand. Big men in face masks throwing one another around is a thing of a generation past, it is old Mexico from which they are distanced, being modern people with internet access. Lucha libre has yet to reach a state where it stops being what it is and becomes what it is to understand irony.
Inside the Arena Coliseo it is a capacity crowd and the excitement is mounting. We have good seats, we have good seats four rows from the front in the stalls, next to a young mother with a three month old infant on the one side of us and on the other side a girl of eighteen, but probably twelve, about whom I should say no more advises Ben.
Given the cheers, rattles and air horns all around, it is a relief that the delicate ears of the infant are protected by delicate infant ear plugs, which we would have noticed sooner had we not been held up by police.
The police found us easily in the market square, three gringos bothering fish selling tradesmen for directions to the Arena Coliseo, and they made a great pantomime of checking our papers, as if to show to the world that everything in Mexico City was under control now that they were checking our papers.
“Nobody laugh. Or run,” Ben whispered as the police signalled stop with a leisurely left hand and beckoned us over.
He meant it. These cops were young and moved effortlessly through people that feared and hated them, their mirror shades representative of the worse kind of hate filled eyes.
They carried enough weaponry to immobilise a tank in a military coup and it did not bring us joy to have our passports looked upon as if guilt was waiting to be found therein.
Your papers are in order, the cops said with a simple nod of the head. Now go.
The centre of town in Mexico City doesn’t serve the visitor much beyond a litany of woes around the next corner. There is no Louvre, no Pantheon, no changing of the guard, the landmarks of famous cities around the world, only fish stalls with a police force marching through them primed ready to split a skull or two.
And around the next corner is the Calle de Peru, where stands the Arena Coliseo. It is not a proud street, it was probably once a functional street but nowadays it isn’t even that, and the only traffic through it is the traffic of a wrestling day.
We find a place to eat on Calle de Peru, a cantina built around a big iron simmering pot containing mole (pronounced moh-lay; a type of sauce not the cuddly myopic), with an entrance that is a crude hole knocked into the wall that faces the street. Overhead the hole is a crucifix that has undergone many repairs, with Polyfilla enough to kill a man should the crucifix fall.
Inside the cantina are eight tables, and at the far end a kitchen where three generations of woman prepare rice and beans. The women look up when we enter but the diners do not. The diners are wary of us and even stop talking amongst themselves so that they may concentrate better on their food and ignore us altogether. The only acknowledgement of our presence comes from a young man with a vicious swollen eye, who draws his woman closer to him, as if to say “she’s mine” and thus prevent her flight in the company of strangers. He wears dirty white clothes to the woman’s black, which serve to accentuate his manhood once his legs part for our benefit and the slouch into machismo gets underway. A dirty manhood is not what we want when we eat but because there are no other places to eat on the Calle de Peru, we have little choice but suffer the indignity and fear of prolonged periods in Mexican toilets.
There is no menu to speak of. The man tending the “tables” brings to us three helpings of mole, followed by rice and beans. We don’t have any choice. The water in a colourful plastic pitcher we avoid.
“No somos gringos Americanos,” we feel obligated to tell the man waiting “tables.” “We are not American gringos.”
Through the hole in the wall beyond the crucifix a community is building on the street in anticipation of the wrestling. Families make their way to the Coliseo box office, bypassing the scalpers that claim to have bought up all the tickets, to a window covered by a steel grille. Here, cash and tickets are exchanged through a slot not big enough for anything larger to pass.
The seats in the Arena Coliseo are hard pressed plastic, but not as hard as the Mexico City cops that won’t go to Tepito. Unlike us. And our hard asses.
CONSEJO MUNDIAL CMLL DE LUCHA LIBRE, reads the sign over the arena.
Stored in buckets of ice and brought to one’s seat by fellows wearing white lab coats, cerveza poured from a bottle into a paper cup costs 2 pesos. Water costs 1.50 a cup, which would explain why nobody at the wrestling is drinking the water except for Caleb, who is beginning to feel a little weird after three solid days of alcohol without sleep and a jet lag that he says is “catching up.” He denies the Valium is anything to do with it. Vehemently.
“Don’t fall asleep here,” I tell Cal, whose jetlag he hopes is hidden behind his sunglasses. “You’ll get us lynched.”
The canvas ring holds court even when empty and a packed house bay, yell and stamp their feet in its direction. The house is here to witness Ultimo Guerrero, Black Warrior, Hombre Sin Nombre, Alex Koslov, Sangre Azteca and all the other mighty warriors pound a head or two in the afternoon. But most of all they are here to witness Místico. Up in the cheaper seats a wire mesh protects heads below from the detritus hurled at it, mainly body parts and spicy potato wedges from the street vendors, who smell heavily of sweat and carbolic soap, as corrupting on the nostrils as sulphur.
The Sunday match starts early at the Coliseo, a more intimate and informal arena than the Mexico arena, which is across town near to the Balderas metro. We buy mascara — masks — and other wrestling paraphernalia in anticipation of the afternoon’s entertainment.
The woman’s name is Karen Gonzalez Cruz and the man hanging onto her with a vicious swollen eye is American Mike.
American Mike cannot speak much Spanish and so the two of them communicate through impassioned glances that are as sickening a display as Mike’s manhood. Thus we exit the cantina for a street suddenly much more inviting than when we left it, leaving with Mike an offer that the lovers should come and party in our hotel room.
American Mike says by way of a reply: “You’ve got to deal with all the problems.”
“I’ll think about what that means in the next life,” Cal fires back.
It’s a bad sound going down but we have got American Mike all wrong, and what we perceive as balls is actually a cry for help, as we shall find out soon enough.
This is a particularly good day for the fans and families who suspend all disbelief and worship each Sunday at temple lucha libre. The formidable Místico is headlining, the people’s champion.
Místico was born and raised in Tepito, like Luis “Kid Azteca” Villanueva, José “Huitlacoche” Medel and a generation of tough fighters before him. He started his career at age fifteen, wrestling under the name of Astro Boy and winning. From underdog to the largest drawing wrestler in the world and the biggest star of all of Mexico, Astro Boy turned to religion and changed his name to Místico and wrestles this very day in Arena Coliseo with a new jewel to his crown: Best Flying Wrestler of 2006.
When they say “flying” they do mean flying and not jumping. Místico’s aerial based offence is something to behold, a lesson in what happens to a man weighing 167lbs when he leaves the force of gravity under a silver face mask.
A Top-Rope Rocker Dropper.
Bout after bout, down the aisle come the tag teams to the sing-song announcer whose shoulders are arched beneath a garish tweed jacket, and who says formidable at every opportunity. Everything is “formidable” in lucha libre.
The fighters bounce down the aisle in order to throw themselves majestically into the ring. These leaps into the ring are almost as spectacular as the flips out again when Místico or Heavy Metal or La Mascara take the upper hand with a plancha move, a flying cross body press, and send one of their opponents clear out across the ropes. These fuckers are fucking big and spectators scatter ring side when projectiles the size of a small village hurtle their way and smash apart seats upon impact.
Occasionally the grappling continues outside the ring, which is technically illegal and gets the audience even more fired up than they already are. Little wonder that sometimes the fighters sustain genuine injury, and some of them, covered in blood and shame, are left no option but to quit and hobble unceremoniously out of the stadium. When a wrestler leaves this way there is no cheer or applause, no show of appreciation from the crowd. It is as if the wrestler was never really there in the first place, because injuries are for mortals. These fuckers are balletic pugilistic pantomime artists, far greater and more colourful than life beyond the Coliseo, and they are duty bound to carry on their big hulking shoulders the ideation of a thousand people or more. When they fail we mortals must die a little.
The female tag team don’t have anywhere near the same hulk to their shoulders, and as a consequence command less respect than the male wrestlers. When the female wrestlers arrive it is to a chorus of “putan!” from the women in the audience. “Prostitute!”
Dark Angel is the favourite putan. She fights alongside Lady Apache and Princesa Blanca, locking necks between powerful legs and making Princesa Sujei or Hiroka or Rosa Negra slam a hand into the canvas in defeat.
For the “formidable” final bout, which stars Místico — everyone’s favourite — a dwarf wrestler dressed in a monkey suit and a blue afro wig beneath gladiatorial armour joins in purely to be gently hurled around the ring and generate lots of laughs. It’s an unbelievable sight, not dissimilar a sight to that of Maximo, who generated uproarious laughter in an earlier bout when he minced about the ring in a very short tunic in a farcical caricature of camp. When I nudge Cal awake and he sees the monkey he knows he’s dreaming.
Whenever Místico raises a fist or lands a pile driving blow, some of the women in the audience cannot contain themselves. The woman in the front row blocks the view of men suddenly timorous in the company of other people’s glances when she jumps out of her seat with great excitement and hollers, “MÍSTICO!” Which goes on up until the moment Místico loses and everybody in the arena turns to one of the several exits and leaves: The grown ups with their children, the children with their friends and their photographs signed by Dark Angel and the other wrestlers for a few cents. Místico loses. There is no discussion of events, no match analysis, no sound at all but the mental echo of what is, I suppose, a cold hard slap to the face of this week’s dreams.
The beer vendor that owes me 10 pesos from an hour ago dutifully returns my change and then it’s out through the turnstile, where a battered bus takes away everyone not leaving the Calle de Peru on foot.
We decide to crush the anguish of Místico’s defeat with Cal’s new cigars and alcohol. Because of a fruitless stroll through Zona Rosa, however, a predominantly gay area of Mexico City that offers no bars we want to visit, packed only with people we do not want to meet, despondency falls like a rain to make us feel even worse. To accompany our despondency is a tout on every corner peddling the promise of “the best club in Mexico.” “El major club en Mejico.” I tell one tout to dejame en paz! and push him to a wall when he grabs my arm and attempts to draw me to a red door. He slides quickly away, troubled by my reaction. As indeed I am myself.
Nothing can hurt us now. Rise.
We haven’t gone far down the road when a man who I shall call Knuckles starts to cough and follows us around like a lost puppy dog until there is nothing left for it but the VIP gentleman’s club he tirelessly recommends. The nature of the club involves the presence of beautiful ladies, but that’s about the only constant in a description he shapes like putty to better take our fancy. If we don’t like it, he says, we can leave. Which, of course, is rubbish.
Naturally, the VIP gentleman’s club isn’t at all as he described but exactly what we expected. That is, a place of men of good standing beaming like juveniles in the company of young ladies. It has all the sex appeal of an executive luncheon, where the thrill of flesh for top price drinks is the trade, and people wearing nail polish and neckties have replaced the grease stained plebs of the factory floor.
Our eyes are still adjusting to the gloom of blue strip lighting in the stairway by the time Knuckles has whisked us upstairs into the club. Here the guides of the inner circle take over and lead us to the tables. To the tables. What we see as we approach the tables, when our eyes catch up and the room unfolds, are a pole dancer whose enthusiasm has yet to arrive and white feathers and bare midriffs. We are almost ensconced at the tables, the tables that breed idiot men with gold charge cards in female company, when we come to our senses and snap free of the silk cogs of well oiled motion to take our leave. This isn’t for us. What we want are Místico and Dark Angel victorious.
The ranks of the inner circle are alerted to our premature departure in an instant and tighten around us like a noose to thwart our passage down the blue strip stairway. Men in suits and ladies without many clothes are an obstacle to our exit, and fire at us telekinetic mind bolts warning that money in the VIP can but travel one way, and that way is not out. Not out, not now. Get yourselves back to the tables, they are saying, or the beautiful woman shall become the bad woman, mala mujer, and you shall feel her wrath.
But the circle doesn’t anticipate such resistance, such brute determination and sheer velocity, and the ranks crumble beneath our unwavering flight out.
“Get out of our way, man,” our battle cry. “We really mean it!”
Our exit from the club is unceremonious: We tumble from it onto the pink streets of the Zona Rosa in a heap. But some kind of dignity remains intact and with that we are happy.
“Beautiful,” says one guy in English. “Hermoso,” he translates for the Spanish fluff on his arm. I don’t know what exactly might be beautiful, whether it’s me or the streets or the state in which we arrive on the streets but I thank him all the same, and he smiles jubilantly before pointing us in the direction of Cortesia, a place we can go for a drink and where the missing things start for Caleb.
From the deep void beyond our galaxy down the road we travel, past La Cantina de los Remedios, where no waiter cracks a smile and a sign on the wall advises parents not to let their children play with their guns. Wherever music is played people will dance in Mexico, and music plays and people dance at La Cantina de los Remedios, next to their table as they wait between courses. Further on we encounter for the first time Professor Soledad, an elderly black dude in a flat cap dressed for a Dalston winter trying to get himself arrested by a dozen armed police officers. The cops are perplexed by his English demand, “Arrest me now! Arrest me now!” But when they move in I am compelled to try and help him out. So I take hold of Professor Soledad’s arm and tell him our bus is coming, which is an anagram for stop digging for yourself a hole because you got moved on for pissing in the street. The cops brush me away with the flip of a back hand, the way one might throw a fly from a sugar bowl. That’s all the warning I need from mean cops and I walk away, knowing instinctively that our path will cross again the Professor.
From the deep void beyond our galaxy down the road is a house that has been converted into a club called Cortesia, where upstairs a DJ plays drum and bass, and downstairs another DJ plays the most unrelenting techno imaginable, as far removed from drum and bass as can be. Drum and bass is music that appeals to mathematicians and computer programmers, who admire the engineering of low frequency bass response that doesn’t distort the sound around it, whilst analysing it in binary. I have a broken conversation about this with hairdressers, who go on to regard my name with interest and recount to me the story of a musical group also named Kerekes that had a hit with a song they sang in Polish.
“Any funny stories about Selah?” Caleb Selah asks the hairdressers before hitting the dance floor with a slurred stagger.
Because I don’t much like the music they play in the Cortesia I spend the evening up and down the stairs with a succession of large whiskeys, until I find my spot in a corner. It’s a short lived reverie, shattered when Caleb crashes into the room clutching his balls and searching for space.
He ploughs through a group of people seated on the floor and howls: “Jesus Christ! I need to lie down! I need to lie down!”
Cal’s howling is ineffective against the pounding music, and so — a curious sight — he flails his arms in a tight circle that drives everyone back several paces and falls to the floor in the space this provides.
“Some bird just crushed my nuts!”
“Why’d she do that?” I ask.
“I’ve got no fucking idea!”
As Cal paints a picture of the events surrounding the cruel and harsh treatment of his balls, I recall the curiously tall hairdresser he speaks of, the one with the long fingers and a predilection for gay guys on the dance floor. Maybe therein lies the explanation, I say to Cal, who will have none of it. Maybe it was a gay thing, or a straight thing, or maybe twisting a stranger’s balls till his eyes bleed is a form of courtship in these parts. The very thought of those long fingers makes me uncomfortable. They may find us yet, even here in the corner.
Later Cal discovers that his phone is missing, so maybe his balls were nothing but a distraction for hairdressing pickpockets. Two sore balls and no phone.
The following day, American Mike turns up at the Hotel del Angel in clean clothes and black eye. But he is alone, and not much of a party comes out of it.
American Mike is one of a group of young architects from around the world visiting Mexico City, and not American at all but Polish. Now he is jittery because he is in love and hoping to arrange a romantic candlelit evening with Karen Gonzalez Cruz, the girl who is beautiful, perfect, and sends him crazy with desire, whom he fears may fly away. He needs our help because American Mike is in love and knows only one inappropriate Spanish phrase and so cannot produce a sentence to arrange much of anything at all.
“Did this woman crush your balls by any chance?” I ask. But Mike looks more deflated than amused by my very humorous comment.
We agree to help him out. Mike dictates the conversation he would like to have with Karen and Ben translates it for him, writing down the Spanish words phonetically on Hotel del Angel headed notepaper. As long as Karen on the end of the phone line doesn’t stray from the projected script and answers simply “yes” to each of his questions and nothing more, then paradise for Mike should arrive tomorrow evening in a meal and a thong.
The script reads as follows:
O-LA / hello
SOI MIKE / its mike
K TAL? / how r u
KOMO TU SEE-ENTES OI? / how ru today?
MAY GUS-TA-REE-A MUCHO ENCONTRAR TAY I-AIR? / i really enjoyed meeting you yesterday
E-REZ MOI SIMPA-TI-KO? / u are very nice
KERO VER TE! / i want to see u
KONYOCES EL RESTAURANTAY ‘LA CASA DE LA-SI-REN-SES’? / do you know the xx restaurant?
ES EN EL CENTRO HISTORICO / its in the historical centre
KERES VENIR AL RESTAURANTE CONMIGO ESTA NOCHE? / do u want to come to the restaurant with me tonight?
YO VOY YEVAR MI DICIONARIO! / i’ll bring my dictionary!
VAI SER MUY DIVERTIDO / it’ll be a lot of fun
YO KERO MUCHO VERTE OTRA VEZ / i really want to see you again
It takes most of the afternoon to sort it all out and when it’s sorted, with script in hand a shy and reserved Mike locks himself behind the door of the bathroom in our second floor room to make the call. He makes the call and she doesn’t pick up. But he keeps trying and finally he gets through and when he does Karen Gonzalez Cruz doesn’t understand one single syllable of any one word he utters. It’s a mess of a conversation and in no time Mike is hopelessly lost in a language he cannot understand. Set adrift on the terrible sea of lustful loins with not a port in sight, he says the word “goodbye” softly and hangs up.
A disillusioned architect is a terrible thing to behold, much worse than a sad plumber, and with the script torn to shreds at our feet I see new buildings all over Mexico falling down in years to come as a consequence of the visiting international architects and their one Latino loss.
The raging flame of personal tragedy, they say, sometimes forges men into something more than human. American Mike becomes simply a vegetable. The name of the girl is Karen Gonzalez Cruz, he blubbers like a baby. Her name is —
something is wrong and I don’t know what it is
A dog is protesting on the street. I believe the dog is rabid. Not guilty, barks the dog.
A man with yellow hair.
A man with a ball of yellow hair.
A man whose head is a ball of yellow hair hails the taxi. Kicks the dog.
It comes and he goes.
Ben likes to barter first thing in the morning, it helps invigorate him and sets up the day well for him, and taxi drivers are his favourite. So it is the very next day when we check out of the Hotel des Angel — hotel incommunicado — and into a full blown war over one peso between Ben on the one side and on the other José Manuel Guzman, cab driver, in possession of the most luxurious cab in the whole of Mexico. We like José Manuel Guzman and confound Ben, whose battle isn’t over, when we hire him to take us to the central bus station in Mexico City and the bus that will take us to Zona Arqueológica de Teotihuacan. José doesn’t much like to be referred to as a cab driver. “Servicios de Transportación Turistica y Ejecutiva” is what he provides, he tells us gravely.
He is very careful about his doors.
Had we met José sooner, our perception of Mexico City might have been very different. The levels of poverty and crime, according to José, are a gross exaggeration. Mexico City is a beautiful and safe city, he says, except for an area so small as to be almost insignificant. We wonder where this small insignificant area might be, given the poverty we see all around us, on streets that even the local people avoid like a putrid hole in the ground.
“The bad districts I can count on one hand,” he says when pressed on the point, a little embarrassed by his own admission. “Four years ago it was very different. Now you are safe to walk anywhere.”
We ride over an overpass and I wonder of the buildings below, the shacks made of wood beneath the squalid houses made of weak concrete, how many of them will contain people having a fist pushed into their face. José adds quickly that in Mexico City “there are nice ladies from all over the world.” In this I arrive at the answer to the flat city: A building with a nice lady is better than a building with a broken face or no building at all.
Time on this trip ebbs and flows in the heat. Above the space that occupies the sky is starting its transmission. It is God. And smog.
Exhaust fumes and the terrific heat have cooked up smog, something else for which Mexico City is famous, and it settles on the traffic like a thick broth. When the car stops at a set of lights, a miscreant whose eyes hold the ground wanders over and taps on José’s window. He wants to know whether José would like to make some money taking his fare a different route. That’s all we hear but I don’t suspect the different route would do us many favours.
José is rightly proud of his city, but prouder still of his fine car, whose doors and windows he keeps locked tighter than a virgin’s ass until it is absolutely necessary for them to be open.
A good man, José Manuel Guzman does us no ill and dismisses the guy whose eyes are on the ground. At the very least he has saved us the embarrassment of being robbed a second time in as many days.
We tip José well, giving him twice the money Ben had saved us with his haggling over the fare, as is now Caleb custom, and check our bags into left luggage. In the few minutes before boarding the bus that goes to Zona Arqueológica in Teotihuacán, I buy a pin that has the flag of Mexico made out of enamel and fasten it to a belt loop on my trousers, upon which I determine that my trousers are obscenely loose and liable to fall down. This eventuality I am pondering when Caleb and Ben call for me to get a move on, because we have a bus to catch for the City of the Gods.
Teotihuacán is in a valley some fifty kilometres northeast of Mexico City. Its archaeological zone holds what remains of Mexico’s biggest ancient city, dating back to the time of Christ, and perhaps the first great civilisation in central Mexico. Here can be found the Pyramid of the Sun, the third largest pyramid in the world, and the residuum of Aztec gods, including Quetzalcóatl, which was the inspiration for Larry Cohen’s movie Q: The Winged Serpent.
Despite Larry Cohen and ancient greatness, the bus we take to Teotihuacán is stopped and searched by the police. Not that this is clear to us when the two cops climb on board and walk down the aisle to us at the seats at the back. The Federal Preventive Police in their blue uniform wait for something from us, saying not a word. We respond in kind, looking into the face of bewilderment and unease for two long minutes.
Outside my window a sign painted on a wall reads SUPER TORTAS HAMBURGUESAS, the relevance of which I ask myself. Maybe we dozed off a mile back because we seem to be missing a piece integral to the puzzle, the one with a clue about cops on the bus.
Ben says eventually, “Hola. ¿Cóma está?” which may be a greeting or Ben inviting them to suck my motherfucking dick. “Hello. How are you?”
The cops look at one another, summarising their relief with a shrug of the shoulders on discovering that our obstinacy is actually only ignorance and we are not from these parts. With this they turn to the rest of the bus and systematically begin to search the other male passengers. They don’t search any of the women on board and they don’t search us, just the other male passengers, who stand in turn without question with their arms outstretched.
The officers pat down all the men and finding nothing get off the bus.
We pay the Zona Arqueológica entrance money of 45 pesos each and I tie my shirt around my waist to conceal the fact my trousers are falling down. I contemplate a belt from one of the callejones, but the belts all have big buckles with the word “Teotihuacán” engraved upon them and I don’t want that. I join the others in buying a sombrero, however. We hand over a bundle of notes and some loose change. When Ben thwarts an attempt to short change us, the assistant says under her breath “el carbon no sabe contar,” which translates as “The fucker can count.”
Zona Arqueológica has hundreds of hawkers, badgering visitors with trinkets and souvenirs, but only one hawker has a big black onyx cock for sale.
“A souvenir for your mother-in-law,” he says as we pass him by. We physically restrain Ben from haggling.
In the heart of the ancient city, at the starting point on the roads that define the godly places, stands the magnificent Pyramid of the Sun, the third largest pyramid in the world. It is located on the Avenue of the Dead, between the Pyramid of the Moon and the Ciudadela, the house of the supreme ruler, and is built on top of a cave located six metres beneath the earth that was considered by the Aztecans to be the birthplace of man. Some people argue that the cave is actually a tomb. It is not possible for visitors to go inside the cave or go inside the pyramid itself, but somewhere inside are the bones and remains of innumerable children, appropriate behaviour to the ancient ones when buried strategically.
Climbing the steep 248 steps of the Pyramid of the Sun, clutching my falling trousers and with a shirt around my waist, we stop regularly to take in the view, and for me to adjust myself and for Caleb to perform deep breathing exercises. He swears he will get fit again back in Britain. I swear that I should have bought that belt.
There is a better class of hawker at the pyramid, and the sound of panpipes rising from the base of the ruins is less atonal than the pipes at the entrance to the site, where the pipes are blown by hawkers not as comfortable with wind instruments as they are their pendants and black fake cocks.
A biting wind greets us when we reach the top, and against the wind are the sightseers who circle the summit and survey Teotihuacán for clues to a meaning. Here at the top are gringos and New Age hippies from the continent talking about Iraq and better tasting latte at Starbucks.
“They are on it, you bet,” says one American with great authority.
The city that once spanned 20km, with its great and noble founders forgotten to time, is observed now by a tribe of lost idiots. There is nothing else for it and so Caleb draws the mask that he bought at the wrestling from his red shoulder bag of drugs and places it over his head. An eerie calm falls over everyone when he throws his hands up into the air and yells at the top of his voice, “MÍSTICO!” For evidence, I snap a picture of him framed against the Pyramid of the Moon at the north end of the Avenue of the Dead.
On the top of the Pyramid of the Sun once stood a temple with an altar where human sacrifice took place. The temple was painted red for blood, red for the setting sun. Destroyed long ago by man and by nature, now in place of the altar is a silver key embedded in the stone, a physical point of reference over which I place my fingertip, and also a spatial point, because here is the vertex for the celestial sphere.
I place the finger of one hand upon the silver key and hold my other hand high, in the manner shown to me by a man from Colombia, who is on holiday. “You can feel energy,” he tells us. Here is my hand in the sky, my body a conductor down to ancient times, and a labyrinth of power and dead children. Here is space and here is place. The Pyramid of the Sun has existed since 100AD, which brings to it almost two thousand years of joy and bloodshed, wisdom and ignorance; men have lived and died by and beneath this stone, beneath its three million tons, packed into shape before the invention of the wheel. And beneath it all, some six metres below ground, is a tunnel that leads to the cave that birthed all the inhabitants of the earth.
Archaeologists found the cave in 1971. The ancient ones believed it to be the womb of the world, the origins of life. It had writing on its walls.
“What can you feel?” Ben asks from a distance, refusing to partake because he doesn’t believe in it.
“Nothing,” I say, my finger on the key, my hand in the air, disappointed that no stars explode, no sky turns black, no Jack Kirby crackle bursts out from the frame.
No Quetzalcóatl, the winged serpent. No Super Tortas Hamburguesas.
The focus of all energy brings to me nothing but the woeful song played by a woman on the slow bus back to Mexico City. One might assume that a woman in a white blouse would have the voice of an angel, especially in Mexico, where the mariachi was invented. Let me tell you this is not necessarily the case. It was horrible to endure.
Cal says to the man from Colombia as we start the mission back down the 248 steps: “Have a good life, my friend.”
“May he order His angels to protect you wherever you go,” the man says by way of a reply, the biting wind silencing the words so they sound like nothing at all on earth.
25 Years On: Julien Temple and The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle by David McGillivray Read by Barry Aird
In 1980 the American trade paper, Variety, famously hailed The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, directed by the unknown Julien Temple, as "the Citizen Kane of rock 'n' roll pictures." The conceit of comparing a new masterpiece to the film that is regularly voted the best ever made has been much imitated. Thus Café Flesh was the Citizen Kane of porn, Moulin Rouge was the Citizen Kane of musicals. Last year, Jack Black told a Guardian reporter that his next film, The Pick of Destiny, will be another "Citizen Kane of rock movies." But predicting a legend is a risky business. What if the next generation doesn't see it your way? 25 years down the line, is The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle still a masterpiece?
No Focus: Punk on Film edited by Chris Barber & Jack Sargeant takes a journey through punk on celluloid, from The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle to Jubilee from The Blank Generation to Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains. More about this item»
This week Simon A. Morrison, author of Discombobulated, goes to a state run discotheque in Singapore only to lose the hotel elevator. He is in conversation with Tony Pike about the guests of Pike's Hotel.
Discombobulated: Dispatches from the Wrong Side by Simon A. Morrisontakes readers on a pocket-sized, decade-spanning gonzo tour of the nightlife of five continents, bringing together the snappiest, wittiest and hippest dispatches of the last eight years, to make one of the classic books of the clubbing generation. More about this item»
"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"
An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.
I'VE CRIBBED the above quotation from Henry Miller, though I believe he in turn lifted it from the lips of some long dead Russian, a Russian that no doubt lived in the midst of that nation's 'Religious Renaissance' of the nineteenth century. Dostoevsky described this period in his diaries and novels, how everybody continuously participated in an ongoing debate about the Big Questions, in markets, street corners and bars, trying to guess at the existence of God and the mystery of suffering. But hasn't the debate been settled, here in the secular Western Europe of the 21st Century? Apparently not - even my bus has joined the debate. The other week it was swaggering around like a teenager boasting that there "probably isn't a God", yet only a few days ago it had experienced an abrupt change of heart and declared conversely that there "definitely is a God". What insecurities must have bristled in that 'probably' - I didn't even know that the number 67 ran all the way to Damascus…
And what about the common reading matter observed on public transport over the last few years? What books have the passengers been scrutinising? One of only two titles, according to my count (excluding that Pope bothering kid's book): The God Delusion and The Da Vinci Code. Bless it, the British public isn't the best read bunch, but these two titles arguably indicate a burgeoning preconception with metaphysical matters.
Were it not for the Romance novels, Bond pastiches, and the ubiquitous Jeremy Clarkson triptych (our national philosophe), in many cases The Da Vinci Code would stand alone on the book shelf of its millions of owners. Numerous friends and acquaintances, not usually disposed to discuss fiction or theology (yet knowing my predilection for both), have approached me with pregnant intent to comment on the thriller's esoteric subtext.
My girlfriend's mother, knowing that my family are Catholic (and assuming that my very haemoglobin sported little papist caps), interrupted my reading one afternoon during a visit to her Tenerife holiday home.
"I've read The Da Vinci Code," she declared, with a Lutheran twinkle visible beneath her blue-tinted contacts.
"Good show Linda. Well done," I responded over the brim of Anna Karenina, wondering why one of her eyebrows seemed to be violently twitching…
"… I believe it!" she finally declared.
"How do you mean mother-in-law - you don't think it's a work of fiction?"
Linda seemed momentarily inconvenienced by my unexpected though innocent enough retort.
"No. I mean what it says about the Church," she continued, shaking off my Jesuitical casuistry, "I believe it."
This is indicative of the general gist of its readers' responses. The book offers them new ways to believe, and reasons for the conspicuous absence of religion in their inner lives. A pity it's gash!
Then there is that other bona fide publishing phenomena of recent times (again excluding children's books): The God Delusion. In a nation that has for many decades treated churches as little more than picturesque and whimsical venues for weddings, the success of Dawkins' polemic (the best-selling work of non-fiction since the Bible, or something), is arguably a bit of a mystery. Atheists wouldn't flock to Waterstones in order to scoop a hardback copy of The Toothfairy Delusion, and as far as I can see the only explanation for the enormous success of Dawkins' tract is that it serves as a palliative to its reader's latent fear and trembling, the atavistic nervousness over the fate of the immortal soul, a trepidation that possibly announced itself only upon a confrontation with the book's bold title. Yet it would seem that the book has done more to irritate those buried nerves than soothe them - according to Amazon, The God Delusion is the cause of a 50% growth in sales on religious and spiritual books, and a 120% increase in sales on the Bible! Atheism never had a more vocal and fervent following than in Holy Russia itself, and so long as it is not silently assumptive, atheism constitutes a vital ingredient in any spiritually introspective culture. For these very reasons I adore Richard Dawkins. He is Nietzsche's fool in the marketplace imploring the peasants that God is Dead. This is a man that believes that humanity can be reinvigorated morally, politically and even artistically if we can return to the apparently abandoned Enlightenment agenda - Halleluiah!
Between our suicide bombers, conspiracy theorists, Rastafarians, Scientologists, militant atheists et al, it can be argued that the contemporary UK is a much richer religious ferment that Dostoevsky's Russia, and far more riven with spiritual conflict than in its own hectic period of Reformation. And I, comfortably savage, terrified by the sky, believing in everything, wish here to comment upon, document, and encourage our English Religious Renaissance.
"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"
An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.
FURTHER NECESSARY features in any religious revival are a steady succession of self-appointed messiahs, suspected Anti-Christs and apparent charlatans. Happily enough, I have recently discovered that within my own London town there resides a person or being that furiously divides increasing numbers of people as to which of the three categories he should properly be consigned. For those of you that don’t know (and how out of the loop can you possibly be) I am speaking of the Maitreya.
Maitreya and Brick Lane today
The full, public emergence of this Maitreya has been anticipated by his followers for a few decades now. Anyone that has already heard of him has probably done so through his spokesperson Benjamin Creme, a wealthy Scottish painter that travels the world imparting messages psychically communicated by the Maitreya himself. These tend on the side of Michael Jackson morality, an ethical key that runs through Creme’s Maitreya-fervid organisation Share International. One apparently mad but wealthy Scottish modernist may not impress anyone, but the funny thing is that this supposed Christ-cum-Buddha-cum-Mohammed etc (Creme claims that his boy is the second coming anticipated by all the major religions) apparently actually exists, which is to say that there is an actual person (or whatnot) making actual appearances as the Maitreya. You can go on the Share International website to observe photos from one broadly publicised performance at a large Kenyan evangelical congregation, the accounts of which wondrously depict crutch-twirling cripples miraculously healed on sight, mass recognition of this white-clad, Arabic looking fellow as Jesus incarnate, and other messianic hallmarks.
Once one investigates this bizarre and I think quite unique phenomenon, even the most rational conclusions look distinctly original. We could suppose, for instance, that this Creme figure is participating in some unprecedented global hoax. Of course religious demagogues are hardly unusual, but Creme doesn’t appear to be wielding his for the usual reason of immediate wealth and power. According to his numerous talks and appearances this has been and is still all in anticipation of the Maitreya’s ‘Day of Declaration’: on this day, explains Creme, “The Christ will come on the world's television channels, linked together by satellite. All those with access to television will see... [His face]. He will establish a telepathic rapport with all humanity simultaneously." This would definitely top the end of year television highlights! Creme talks of the new era of harmony and spiritual wisdom that this Maitreya will inaugurate, by the way, so on the surface this promised spectacular heralds good news for one and all. However, a growing number of evangelical Christians are increasingly convinced that this Maitreya is none other than the anti-Christ himself, and cite alleged connections between Share International and the UN (with whom Creme does indeed appear to have a ready audience) as evidence of a global Luciferean plot. We may assume that Richard Dawkins thinks absolutely everyone involved is off their rocker.
Now I had been aware of this information for some time, but I was unaware that the Maitreya was currently apparently residing in a suburb of Brick Lane. This shows an appalling disregard for fashionable mores, and if there are any pilgrimages going on in North London it is the warm river of fashionistas travelling away from the Shoreditch Axis towards Dalston, which has officially inherited the crown of cool so long held by its Eastern neighbour. Hipsters will no doubt be concerned that no number of miracles could lead them to worship at an alter presided over by a messiah so intransigently passé.
An odd recollection. A few months ago an English friend of Pakistani descent spotted former Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf at a Brick Lane curry house. Please drop me a line if any other odd figures have been spotted sampling the delights of that area’s free bottles of house white wine and poppadoms…
Well, I can hardly hope to write about the English Religious Renaissance and not visit its arguable Galilee can I? Perhaps I’ll bump into the Pope having a coffee with Tony Blair, waiting for an audience with the anti-Christ.
But Christ or Anti-Christ, I assume the Maitreya is tucked away somewhere pretty inconspicuous. My initial idea was of offering waiters generous tips for information (I don’t know, 25%). But one Indian meal usually leaves me horribly stuffed, and a succession would also leave me damn short of pocket. There is another rather prosaic reason for my reluctance to embark on this journalistic pilgrimage: good old fashioned English timidity, the ready blush that makes us such poor zealots.
“Excuse me mate,” I can see myself asking a local, with the usual cringe-worthy roughening of my middle-England vowels, “don’t suppose you know where I could find the, eh…” and here my voice will drop to a conspiratorial whisper, “….Maitreya do ya?”
“What’s that mate, a restaurant?” a second generation cockney voice will respond.
“No, eh, the Messiah…”
Or perhaps, in the style of a spy film…
“I’m looking for the Maitreya… Hey come back! Please.”
Or maybe another response still…
“No mate, and you’re the fifth person that’s asked me that today. Just ’cos I’m wearing a turban…”
"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"
An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.
SO WHAT type of rough beast might we expect to have been born in Brick Lane? Under the impression that the Emperor's New Postcode (momentarily disregarding Dalston's recent usurpation) was in fact only a fatuous cloak for some apocalyptic prelude, I travelled down there last Wednesday evening. I was looking for a fissure in its diabolical disguise - some pentagram, caduceus or purposeful goat - but beside the bursting pink and white blossom that decorated the surrounding suburbs, the area (at least beneath its modern patina of 'fashionability') was in fact uniquely bereft of spiritual or magical vitality. I could only dimly speculate that evil festers and thrives in the dead zones where the modern heart beats weakest. Bewildered, I staggered about for the best part of an hour without any indication that it was anything but the most consummate of disguises - or perhaps an elaborate, meaningful joke. As I neared the area I did begin to come across a graffiti motif, a thoughtful looking fellow with long hair, stencilled in spotted silver paint and accompanied with pseudo-spiritual slogans such as GODLOVE. These thickened around Brick Lane itself - could they be the handiwork of a subterranean hipster Maitreya cult? I feared that I was clutching at straws. My expedition was looking hopeless.
Russell Brand & Pascal (could have been such great friends)
Eventually I stopped for a coffee. As I sipped it outside a café on a grim patch of E1 pavement, a bus serendipitously passed by; although there was no Maitreya visible on the top deck, bent in thoughtful perusal of that day's London Lite, the bus itself boasted the latest theist retort to the Atheist Society's humanist propaganda campaign (discussed in my first post). This one came courtesy of the Russian Orthodox Church: "There is God", it declared, "Don't worry. Enjoy life". The unfortunate resemblance of this message to the preceding Christian response (the peppy little "There definitely is a God - so enjoy your life and join the Christian party") certainly ranks as one of the smaller historical consequences of the Great Schism, but the potential benefits of greater communication were easy to discern. Unless the quintessentially Russian omission of the definite article was intentional - perhaps as an obscure allusion to the Ontological Argument - it would appear that the Eastern Church has fallen into the common trap of putting excessive faith in the appropriately named Babelfish (last year I came upon a Tenerife menu offering English-speaking patrons the delicious delicacy: 'Turkey gizzard and fun spaghetti' - at least I presume this was lost in translation, though perhaps they were just trying to lighten up the turkey gizzard).
Grateful as I am to the Orthodox Church for pitching in - especially as it gives my blog the dizzying flavour of mediocre prophecy - what is it with all this "don't worry" business? What kinds of tipples are served at the seemingly oxymoronic "Christian party"? One need not be Pascal to find the blithe tone somewhat incongruous. In the Twelfth Century an infinitely sterner theological tradition begat a frightening little volume called entitled Hortus Deliciarum, a book that ranks the supposedly benign joys of gardening as a danger to soul only marginally milder than classics like fornication (incidentally, I am currently trying to rehabilitate this underused word, as it could potentially give things a novel ring, 'Fornication and the City', for instance, sounds wonderful). The Atheist Society might like to consider an amusing and unanswerable retaliation to its two opponents by plastering some more buses with the ironical slogan: "There is a hell - now stop worrying and enjoy your life."
The English Religious Renaissance requires a tautening of the soul's bow; not further reckless relaxation. I think that in this age of enduring (if precarious) wealth, only a dose of mediaeval severity is capable of curing the English of their endemic fatuousness, and the concomitant self-disgust that suffocates its possibility of noble or poetic existence. Will my generation really offer history no more than its current dismal little platter of indie bands and graphic designers? If so, then - irregardless of its slight though tantalising possibility of veracity - the purported residence of a demonic avatar in an area currently renowned for its 'creative' hairdressers is a powerful and apt symbol. "It is a monstrous thing to see," writes Pascal, "in the same heart and at the same time, this concern for the most trivial of matters and this lack of concern for the greatest. It is an incomprehensible form of bewitchment and a supernatural torpor which is a proof of an all-powerful force that causes it."
I walked home with my empty hands disconsolately wedged in my pockets, and again passed one of those stencils. I scrutinised it again. Could it be the Maitreya? I tilted my head. It certainly resembled somebody, though perhaps not the man whose photograph accompanied my last post. I looked hard into the thoughtful expression, the piercing eyes, the guru-long hair… Russell Brand. It looked a lot like Russell Brand. Could he in fact be the "rough beast", an anti-Christ propagating peace, vegetarianism and free love? Or the alleged reincarnation of Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna - residing in fashionable East London? It all makes ominous sense…
The highs and lows of Charles Hawtrey's life and career are, on the surface, comparable to that of his Carry On colleague, Kenneth Williams. Both performers were, more so than Sid James, the true, long-serving comic staples of the entire Carry On series, from its gentle beginnings in the fifties to the smutty vulgarity of the seventies. (Hawtrey appeared in a whopping twenty-three Carry Ons; Williams stayed around to make twenty-seven.) And offscreen, significantly, Hawtrey and Williams were unfulfilled, lonely men. They were both homosexual - albeit to very different degrees of practice - when it was much less acceptable to be so; both were rather fond of the sauce; both were given to wildly inappropriate behaviour in situations that demanded some social restraint; and, tragically, both were apparently imbued with a terminally self-destructive streak. And, in 1988, they died within six months of each other.
But it is where Hawtrey differs from Williams that is most revealing.
Fallen Stars: Tragic Lives & Lost Careers by Julian Upton probes the underside of fame to reveal a host of glittering careers stunted by ill-health, alcoholism, drug addiction and egomania. More about this item»
It is a corny tale written only with your similes in mind.
El Rey x
The head gaoler sat at the large, shabby, oak desk in the middle of his large shabby plank built office. He sat and he waited for his one and only appointment of the week. A visit from some local military or law type. He wasn't sure which. There were that many scumbags trying to eke a living through mercenary endeavours that he was no longer able to tell the legitimate from the vigilante. Not that he cared anymore. All he wanted was passage home. Away from this infernal never ending desert-island hell where the air was like fire to his skin. This colony of the insane and evil, where madness perched like vultures waiting to infect the walking carrion they called member of the community.
Behind him, the window over looked a thousand miles of nothing, and through its open frame blistering heat seeped into the rancid smelling office to boil the sweat off his withered and sore ridden flesh. His desk lay virtually bare. There was little if anything for him to do in this place. Those who lived there were a law unto themselves. They were a danger only to themselves. The natives rarely visited the area for fear of being brutalised and slaughtered. His job was virtually none existent; his position a farce. He was an object of ridicule. He wanted out and that was it.
In another seven months a ship would arrive with more wretched prisoners for him to free into the killing landscape and he was determined to board that ship and escape the place for ever. He didn't care what lay at the end of his return passage. All he was sure of was that if he stayed in this building much longer would be his grave.
There was a harsh knock at the door. Before he answered it swung open and a blistered scarecrow strode up to the desk and threw something hard onto it.
"Found this," snapped the bloke and thrust out his hand expecting some kind of reward.
The head gaoler inspected the object. A bent piece of timber flattened and smoothed; the inside edge filed and hardened by fire until it had become sharp as a steel blade.
"Where?" he asked.
"One of them funny looking local fellers was carrying it," snapped the bloke.
"He gave it you?" asked the head gaoler.
"No I took it off him," snapped the bloke.
"Where is he?" asked the gaoler.
"He's dead," snapped the bloke.
"What is it?" asked the head gaoler.
"It's a weapon," snapped the bloke. "Some kind of wooded machete. He was swinging around so I shot him."
"Oh dear," said the head gaoler beginning to tire of the man and rapidly becoming sick of his putrid smell. "It looks like a very poor weapon."
"They haven't a clue. They're stupid. Savages the lot of them! We don't like them here," snapped the bloke.
"Quite so," said the head gaoler. "Would you mind opening that window?" He indicated the side window of the office and the man walked over and opened it whilst the head gaoler reached into his drawer and took out a silver coin. He wanted the man out of there fast. Then he would get drunk and maybe walk to the whore hut to bathe. "Here you are sir. Thank you for your citizenship." He held out the coin.
The bloke snatched it and turned to leave. "What about this?" said the head gaoler holding out the piece of bent timber.
"What you want me to do with it?" snapped the bloke
"Dispose of it. It's of no use here," said the head gaoler.
The bloke took the stick and threw out of the window he had opened. He turned to bid farewell and the stick flew in the other window slicing the head gaoler's head clean off at the neck. The head fell onto the table and bounced onto the floor where it rolled through dust until it came to rest at the bloke's feet looking up at him.
"I think we may have we underestimated these savages," said the head gaoler.
OK before you read the story let me run this by parents.
How do you reckon the weather will be? It’s a tricky time you see. All of a sudden we’re all going to get swine flu? That’s because it’s spreading in schools.
It takes ten days to incubate [sic]
Why the hell didn’t they shut schools down two weeks early? They had good reason and I’m sure that the kids wouldn’t have complained.
Welcome to the summer holidays.
“Because you all spent an unnecessary two weeks together whilst various of you pals got sick now some of them are going to die! And their families. Possibly you.”
Fuck Me!... sorry for swearing but Fuck Me! Because of Mr Smug in a bug rug tug Brown and his funny looking fat friends…we can’t even afford to take it abroad. We have to spread it inland!
There are over ten thousand people a day at least killed in the UK alone through cars, work, drink, smoking, home accidents, ill health and random incidents etc. [sic]
One in four of us will get swine flu. 65000 will die! [sic]
It’s life! You have to roll with the punches.
Have a brilliant end of term and sun drenched fun filled holiday.
Bollocks to them!
Whoever they are!
Ricardo El Rey x
VIRGIN SPRINGS AND SLIPPERS
At first I tried to tiptoe. But tiptoeing in bare feet on sharp stone gravel hurts. I made more noise muffling cries than when I walked normally. When I walked normally the gravel made a loud crunching sound. I presume intended. For security.
I tiptoed back to my room close to tears, put on my slippers and recommenced tiptoeing painlessly. It proved far more comfortable but I felt foolish. I was hardly the true romantic…Traversing a sharp stoned quadrangle to the girls' dorm in slippers. And what would I do when I arrived at the other end?
Would I abandon my slippers and retrace my steps the next day to retrieve them? That spoilt things entirely before they even began. It wrecked the concept any sort of spontaneity. Trashed the anticipation of the recklessly, unleashed lust that would lead to lifelong love.
I was, after all, a hot blooded, quixotic, dreamer. I was the adolescent Casanova, hell bent on unbridled passion wearing slippers to guard my feet from sharp stone gravel. I decided I should abandon the slippers entirely and walk flat footed and steadfastly towards her room.
Then I would work out how to climb up the ivy. That was far more dangerous. Besides who in this hellhole would be awake at this time to here my crunching footfalls? My biggest challenge would face me on arrival at the leaf matted wall.
It took me quite a long time to get there. I tried to put aside the pain I felt in the balls and heels of my feet by imagining what lay beyond that open window and lace curtains. But I realized about fifty yards in that it was probably the worst thing I could do. I visualized myself thinking about the horrible aching in my feet during our first kiss. I imagined her asking me what was the matter. I imagined myself explaining about trying to tiptoe across sharp stone gravel and how much it hurt. I imagined myself explaining how I was going to wear my slippers. It all began to fall apart.
I gave up and tiptoed back. Once more I was close to tears… Until I found my slippers.
As I lay in my bunk feeling I had let myself down I began to think about what I would have done had I gone the full distance. Would the ivy have held my weight? Would I have been strong enough to climb it? How far up was her window? And which one was it? Did she even like me? Did she even know who I am? What was she called? What the bloody hell is cider made out of any way?
Sorry for the late delivery. I sent this little gem of sicko sensationalism to the tabloids as an experiment a week or two ago. I have heard nothing and as I don't actually read the tabloids I have no idea if they took it seriously or printed their own version regardless.
Blimey... the things you do when you're bored. Hope you enjoy it and take it in the spirit it is intended. Which isn't actually mean.
Thanks for everyone who gets back to me. Enjoy (or maybe not in this case).
El Rey x
LANCASHIRE ZOMBIE HORROR
At three am on Sunday 5th July 2009 self proclaimed witch doctor, Mr Jon Lee Hoodoo called an ambulance to save a dying teenaged girl outside his terraced house in Kirkham Lancashire hoping to turn the paramedics into zombie sex slaves when they arrived at the scene.
The girl appeared to have been stabbed in the chest. The paramedics used an electric fribrillator in their struggle to resuscitate the girl and at the third shout of 'clear!' the wanna-be-Baron-Samedi swung at the Blackpool Victoria Hospital senior employee, Brad Such with a serrated bread knife. Fortunately the knife snagged on the collar of the paramedics overalls and the voodoo obsessed assailant was brought to his knees by Mr Such's assistant, Donna Blood.
It later transpired that all attempts to revive the still unidentified girl had been futile as police investigating the incident found her heart pickling in a jar of balsamic vinegar on the top shelf of Mr Hoodoo's well stocked pantry. In an ironic twist the Wesham born witchdoctor told police officers he had purchased his top hat at an OXFAM shop in nearby Lytham St.Annes.
Mr Hoodoo had been obsessed with voodoo since he watched the cult movie The Serpent and the Rainbow on video as a child. He had over forty zombie movies, including Night of the Living Dead, Shatter Dead, 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead in his collection of horror and crime DVDs. He also had a large collection of pickled reptiles in jars and over two hundred blues and rock and roll CDs. His house was adorned with self painted portraits of Papa Doc, Lux Interior, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Boris Karloff, Aleister Crowley and other icons of the dark side.
Hoodoo claims he found the dead teenaged girl whilst walking his dogs along the railway lines between Kirkham and Poulton Le Fylde and has no idea who she is. He also claims he took her heart out to make sure that his spell didn't misfire and revive her instead of the paramedic. He says he did not make love to the corpse as suggested by investigating pathologists. There was no dog present at the scene. The case continues.
Sorry I missed last week. My head was a muddle. As it is today.
So here are two short ones. I dragged them from my archive as I am working on stuff that gets in the way. They are particular favourites of mine. Some of you will have already read them.
Off to the tatty town to watch punks and fighter planes today.
Love and ferrets
El Rey x
The doctors were flabbergasted to discover that Mr Reon's left lung had been removed and replaced with a neatly designed pouch made entirely of surgically stitched top of the range Axminster carpet, the type often found in up-market restaurants, posh department stores and public houses. It was a medical breakthrough. With no sign of clinical rejection apparent the woollen lung soaked up cigarette tar like a sponge and could be touched safely by human fingers without tarnishing it's elaborately woven tartanesque pattern.
George loved old fashioned technology. He trusted nothing new; nothing small and neatly packaged. If it was small he deduced that it was easily tarnished, infected, damaged or duplicated. His collection of vinyl, laser discs and video-tapes was so vast that he had to buy a bigger house. Storage space was an optimum. His home was a veritable audio-video shrine to music, cinema, history, art and anecdotal documentation. His living space was tiny and smelly. He maintained a sense of self -esteem by reminding himself each day that he was considered a genius within his chosen field of expertise. He certainly knew his stuff.
Weird Scenes Inside The Canyon: Laurel Canyon, Covert Ops & The Dark Heart Of The Hippie Dream by David McGowan. The very strange but nevertheless true story of the dark underbelly of a 1960s hippie utopia. Exclusive special edition. Buy this item»
7 minutes and 22 seconds of Shade Rupe's interview with Divine. March 3, 1986, Seattle, WA. Full interview transcribed in the new book Dark Stars Rising.
Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms by Shade Rupe is a collection of 27 candid interviews spanning 24 years with unique and free-thinking artists. Working in different media, countries, constraints, and freedoms, the vortex here is created by New York film writer Shade Rupe, known for his avant interests and the cultural realm he inhabits with his Funeral Party books. Everyone in this collection has produced artifacts that affect the heart, mind, soul, and future. Buy the book»
From Cosmic Giant Radio: "Almost 8 months ago I asked Shade Rupe to compile a mix for Cosmic Giant to help promote his forthcoming book Dark Stars Rising. He did. Soon after, I found myself needing to give up the weekly radio show thing. I never broadcast the mix. Also, I never gave up the possibility of someday finding time to rededicate myself to the production of the show. But at this point I am quite certain it will not be happening. At least not any time soon. In any case I present the mix here via 8tracks. Click on the image of the book cover. Keep in mind 8tracks will only allow the songs to be played in the order in which they were compiled once. After that they will play randomly. Enjoy!"
This is a two-hour podcast. Shade says listen to it while flipping through the book. This is the track listing:
Brother Theodore - House by the Cemetery (radio spot)
Divine - Native Love
Alejandro Jodorowsky - La Primera Flor Despues Del Diluvio
Crispin Hellion Glover - These Boots Are Made For Walking
Throbbing Gristle - Medicine
Udo Kier - Mr. Klein
Marilyn Manson - The Beautiful People
Thomas Bangalter - Outrun
Whitehouse - Wriggle Like a Fucking Eel
Death By Doll - The Black Freighter
Tura Satana - Faster Pussycat Kill Kill theme
Hermann Nitsch - Courtyard Action
Simon Boswell - Howl
Sunn O))) & Boris - Prelude (SatanOscillateMyMetallicSonatas): Her Lips Were Wet With Venom
Arnold Drake - Pete's Beat
Dark Stars Rising: Conversations from the Outer Realms by Shade Rupe is a collection of 27 candid interviews spanning 24 years with unique and free-thinking artists. Working in different media, countries, constraints, and freedoms, the vortex here is created by New York film writer Shade Rupe, known for his avant interests and the cultural realm he inhabits with his Funeral Party books. Everyone in this collection has produced artifacts that affect the heart, mind, soul, and future. Buy the book»
And here is a creepy little bogus report to get you twitching this bright and lovely morning. If you're already twitching (and I am sure many of you will be) maybe it'll help you stop.
CYRPRESS POINT BECOMES CYPRESS HILL
It would appear that the Fylde Coast in the North West of England is fast becoming a hotbed for allegedly 'undead' activity as claims flood in from the newly established housing estate known locally as Cyprus Point has become a target of zombies.
Resident of the ironically named new homes project Mr Kenny Biggs said. "We were sat on out decking overlooking the pond and the ducks when we heard a noise beyond the bushes. At first we thought it was a workmen working late who had got stuck in the marshland that forms the foundations of our lovely home. But my wife came out with my tea and said it didn't sound human at all. By the time I'd eaten all my pie and chips the hedge had been breached and this weird thing was crawling through the water on the lawn towards us."
"We went straight inside the locked the patio doors," continued Mrs Biggs. "After an hour we just had to draw the blinds the sight of whatever it and the noise it made was completely spoiling our enjoyment of X factor completely."
The next morning things had become so bad that the couple were forced to phone the local council and complain. They were called back the following Thursday by an unnamed woman saying that everything was in hand and their councillor for the area was dealing with it. However they were warned that since Cyprus Point is a private estate it may take some time and advised them to seek alternative solutions to the problem.
Meanwhile Mr and Mrs Biggs have told local reporters that their life has become a misery.
"We could cope with the ever present fear of sinking into the marsh and the never ending construction work. But this is the limit. Our settled family life has been shattered by the arrival of this undead man. We can no longer garden comfortably even in wellington boots. He has eaten the ducks and the smell is atrocious. Two of our neighbours have got similar problems and it seems that there is just no one available who can actually deal with it."
Got a busy mroning tomorrow and I didn't want any wrath for not sending my story. To be honest 'Devil' is not a story at all. It is a piece of information. Do with it what you will.
It was written during a period of intense happiness and inspiration. I was looking for stuff to write about all the time and was encouraged to do so. Since then I have written almost every day. I am grateful.
The other, 'Dental', is a very short story written around the same period in the early hours. I read it and I know how much fun life was at the time. Again thank you for inspiring me. Although decorum prevents me naming you here I am sure know who will you are.
This stuff may be weird to some of you but for me it's just a bit of fun.
Ricardo El Rey
DEVIL (AD45 -present day)
The best-known geezer in the world. And probably the best loved. He has so many fucking forms it is virtually impossible not to come across him on a several-times- a day-every-day basis. Messiah's come and go, but the Devil is always ready and waiting. He is, after all, Legion. How cool is that? No one is exactly sure when he popped up but he wasn't documented until he became an important supporting literary character in the western world's longest running best seller of all time.
Cast out of heaven and allowed the omnipresence usually reserved for supreme beings, he could be absolutely anyone you're likely to come across, your boss, your teacher, your best friend, your dad, you sister, your dog walker, your mayor, your priest, your vicar, your nurse, your cousin, your child, your taxi driver, your favourite movie star, your gardener, your window cleaner, next door's window cleaner, your dentist, the lollypop man, the guy in the post office who makes you laugh, a lawyer (OK sometime it's easy to see him), the bus driver, the Avon lady, the bloke who used to live next door that works on the check-out at the supermarket. It goes on. You can be absolutely anyone and anything and still be the devil.
And so many names. Lucifer, Satan, Old Nick, Beelzebub, Diabolos, Belial, Iblis, Abbadon, Diavolus, Mephistophelese, Iblis, Angra Mainyu, Baphomet, 666. Antichrist, Der Leibhaftige, Old Scratch, Voland, Sammael, Mastema, Prince of Darkness, Kölski, Shaitan, Daba.
So many kin, otherwise referred to as demons - estimates range from between 44,435,622 to 133,316,666 or around one third of the angelic population simply cast out to do mischief. Regardless of the numbers they include, to name but a few Jinn, Dantalion, Azazel, Lilith, Kabal, Medusa, Mammon, Shedu, Phenex, Haggadah Samael, Gremory, Dagon, Imps, the Nephilim, Rimmon, various incubi and succubi, Thren, Wendigo, Nix, Leviathan, Oni, Ah Pooh, Aamon, Ziz, Castor, Davy Jones, Valfar, Tengu, Thammuz, and good old Oriax, many of whom have been around a lot longer than Old Nick as it happens.
When I grow up I want to drive the dental ambulance. Perform roadside extractions, paramedical temporary bridges and emergency cavity plugs. A cordless drill in my hand, surgical steel pliers hanging on my tool belt, vials of Novocain and packs of softened silver in my work pouch. I don't want to save the world. I don't even want to save lives. I just want to drive fast, run red lights, smell of clove oil and put people at my mercy in pain.
Hola... welcome to the most anticipated nonesense of the week. Once more it's a double bubble as I endeavor to both educate and entertain. The Bitter End is a small sample of my research into the origins of nautical phrases and trivia. Much more of which can be found on the web site www.harbourguides.com.
Toad is just another quickie horror story. It is again culled from my archive. But worry not I am working on new material. Just had a lot on my mind recently.
adios amigos muchos mojos
NOT NECESSARILY A MATTER OF TASTE
Times like they are it makes one think that our economy is reaching the bitter end and as such we will all be left with a nasty taste in our mouths. Well that may or may not be true. We really don't know. Neither would it seem do the experts, either financial or etymological.
Let me explain. As true as it may be that the word 'bitter', meaning acrid or sour has been in use since around 8th Century it may well have little baring of the phrase 'the bitter end'. According to Captain Smith's 17th century publication 'Seaman's Grammar' - "A Bitter is but the turne of a Cable about the Bits, and veare it out by little and little. And the Bitters end is that part of the Cable doth stay within boord."
If that is the case it would seem that the bitter end actually refers to a length of ship's rope or cable that has been run out to its end, at which point it would be tied to one of the many bitts (meaning posts) on a ship's deck. In which case the phrase would mean that there was nothing left to use. Which it basically does… as well.
It caught his eye a few minutes after they got in. It was moving at the bottom of the garden. The dining room light didn't shine that far. He rummaged in the draw full of plasters, superglue, alca selters, batteries, and cellotape and found a windup torch. He cranked it up and said a prayer. He walked out of the back door and stood ready on Indian sandstone patio he had made himself. He accustomed his eyes to the dark and was suddenly absolutely sure something was out there moving around. He pressed the button on the wind up torch and the LEDlight beam exploded into the back garden and made it all silvery. And there it was. Staring back. The Toad. Huge. Stinking and moist. And with one hop it was on him and had sucked him up and swallowed him.
Welcome to another Sunday. It's the last official day of the weather. Once more there are two for you to plough through. One is an official Sunday Story the other is one of my mischievously bogus news stories, which has been sent to the British press. I also sent it to the New York Times, LA Times and Chicago Tribune. Please forward it to press offices the world over with impish relish.
May your bank holiday weekend continue in full swing. And remember boys and girls happiness is the only sensible drug of choice.
So long suckers,
El Rey x
Shaun didn't have any idea how old he was. He didn't know if he was really old and he didn't know if he was young. Nor did he care. He was alive and that was bad or good enough. It really didn't matter. He was here… or there. Life meant nothing at all to him.
It wasn't that Shaun wished he was dead. He really had no concept of what that might mean and never thought about it. He was just Shaun.
Shaun lived alone. He had no parents to speak of and no family who knew of him. His friends were all made up or were part of a past that he had lost somewhere along the line. Shaun had no idea how long that line was or even where it was drawn or, indeed, if he had ever had parents or friends or family.
Shaun never felt unhealthy. He was never hungry or thirsty either. He wanted for nothing and had never, ever known what he wanted. In spite of living alone he never felt lonely or unhappy. But then again he'd never ever been happy either. This was his life and he just didn't get it.
But in the summer when the sun rose early and the air was still cool and he was woken by golden rays of light hitting his fur he ran like crazy round and round his cage and rolled on his back in the warm fresh straw and it felt good.
NEWS ITEM… MAN SEEN ON ROOF
There have been numerous reports of a bearded man (or bearded men) seen sitting astride the ridge tiles of various detached houses throughout the Fylde Coast area of the United Kingdom. The man (or men) is (or are) usually described as being barefooted, dressed in a long green or grey cloak, around six feet tall, wearing a hood and sporting a long grey or black beard. Some reports state that the beard has plaits and what appear to be ribbons or holly leaves tied into it.
The man (or men) has also been reported as being quite friendly and, in some cases, has actually shouted to passers by with cordial greetings. There are also reports of the man (or men) holding what appears to be a sack of some kind.
Fylde Coast police have been unable to confirm the validity of any of the sightings so far, although they have confirmed an investigation is underway and all the reports are being taken seriously.
In unrelated news a spokesman for Coca Cola UK has said that the company’s brand promotion for the winter holiday season 2009 will not begin until late October due to the massive backlash from parents the world over complaining that Christmas has been coming increasingly too early.
Late to bed. Up early. It doesn't make sense. But oh my does it make you lot lucky; for I have just knocked off a proper quickie which I am sending as a bonus treat... It's bank holiday after all.
I'm off to pray to the god of sleep. Hopefully he will reply by mid evening.
El Rey x
I took my daughter to the zoo last week. Her favourite bit was the monkey island. We must have spent nearly an hour waving at the monkeys and laughing at them when they waved back. She lives there now.
Here's a cheery little cautionary tale to perk you up this Sunday.
El Rey x
MORNING HAS BROKEN
Jack woke up. Well it was more like a coming to! His head was spinning and it hurt. He was aching all over. He thought he must have a virus. But the rotten taste in his mouth told him another story. Hung over again. He put his sore head back and tried to drift off and sleep. Hopefully he would wake up feeling a little more human and with a little more memory.
Putting his head back did not relieve any of the discomfort. If anything it made Jack feel worse. His neck hurt and he couldn't breathe properly. He decided he really was ill. He lifted his arm and felt every muscle burn. Jack decided he must have contracted one of the many new age flu viruses after all. This was more than a hangover. It was dangerous. He could die.
He strained to open his eyes but they were stuck together with some kind of adhesive bodily discharge. This was serious. He licked his fingers and rubbed his eyes hard trying to rub in the spit to loosen things up so he could see. He had a nasty metallic taste in his mouth now. But the pain in his arms was going and his head was clearing. His eyes open like there were zips on the lids and all he could see were the branches of an oak tree filled with green leaves. He then saw the steering wheel of his car. He was in the park. He had driven drunk. Again!
He turned to his left and saw Billy asleep in the passenger seat. He knew he would be mad with him for this. Jack reached across his pal and opened the glove compartment. He grabbed a fist full of tissues and blew his nose hard. There was a rush to his head as his nasal passages cleared and he could breathe again. The tissues were full of sticky gunk so he tossed them straight out of the window.
Then he smelt it. It stunk. He could smell puke and shit and other stuff. He began to gip. He turned to Billy and saw he had puked vodka and coke all down his chin and the front of his shirt. Jack tried to curse him but the feeling of nausea was overwhelming. He had to get out of the car. He opened the door and stepped out into the fresh clean morning air and plummeted forty feet through branches and leaves and knocking the wind out of what life was left in his smashed and ragged body in an instant.
His last thought was about the Beano comics he read as a kid and how The Bash Street Kids could make question marks appear above their heads.
Good afternoon. So sorry it's late. I'm very hung over indeed. That's all I can say.
El Rey x
ONE MORNING IN MEMPHIS
Elvis sat in the ragged arm chair in the middle of the room. It was by far the comfiest chair in the room. The years of wear and tear had done nothing to spoil its quality. The upholstery might have seen better days but as a sitting in and relaxing in thing it couldn't be beaten. In front of him was the coffee table. It was the one that Carl had been given on his twenty first birthday by the Killer. It already had whisky burns on it then. Jerry has suggested he could sand it and varnish it and it would be good as new. Carl liked it as it was.
Elvis put his glass on the coffee table and checked his wrist watch. It was 4am. He was still wide awake and still drunk. So was Carl. Carl was playing records one after the other. Blues records, ballads, country and do wop. Occasionally he and Elvis sang along.
"This stuff wears me out," said Elvis. "Someone should come up with somethin' new. Breaks my heart hearin' kids singin' God damn ballads."
"I'm with you on that one El," said Carl and put Frank Sinatra on the turn table.
At 4.30am there was a knock at the door. Elvis tried to stand up but too much whiskey had rubberised his legs and he collapsed laughing in the arm chair. The door flew open regardless and Jerry Lee marched in with a case of beer, a bottle of whiskey and three very young girls in tow.
"Hey Killer," slurred Elvis, "Why so late? Who's the dames?"
"Mornin' Jerry Lee. Shouldn't your cousin be in bed?" said Carl.
"Shut your filthy mouths you cock suckers and listen up!" shouted Jerry Lee, "Charlie's done it! Fuck me, if that skin and bone nigger hasn't fuckin' gone and done it!!" he screamed.
"He's done what?" asked Elvis.
"He's only gone and got a God damn record in the top ten," Screamed Jerry Lee, "Singing that God damn voodoo music too. Some old tune he pilfered from one of them so called blues men that hide out in the woods yonder."
"Fuck me!" said Carl.
"Yeah, fuck me too!" said Elvis.
"Yeah. Fuck us all. Maybe there is hope for you and me." Said Jerry Lee.
"If Charlie can do it there surely must," Said Elvis.
Jerry cracked open the bottle of 'sipping' and passed it around as they toasted their friend.
"To Mr Berry," said Jerry Lee.
"To Charlie," said Carl.
"To Chuck," said Elvis.
Elvis somehow managed to drag himself to his feet. "Gotta get home I'm way too out of it. If I'm to continue drinking I should do it in my bed. No offence Carl, this chair is mighty comfy but if I fall asleep here it won't do my back too good none. 'Scuce me ladies," he said and stumbled out of the kitchen door into the yard. They heard the gate slam as he made his way back to his tar paper cabin at the end of the alley.
"Shit." Said Jerry Lee, "I only just got here and he's already done himself in. That guy is fast becomin' a wasted talent."
"That's Elvis for you." Said Carl
Out front there was a rumbling sound as a huge car rolled up and stopped. A few seconds later the door flew open and there was Chuck, holding a bottle of Champagne, all smiles and big collars. "I done it boys. I fuckin' done it!" he screamed.
"You did it Charlie man." Said Jerry Lee.
"Who'd have believed it?" said Carl.
"Hey where's the King?" asked Chuck. "Thought he was comin' round."
Sorry it's late but I sometimes have to trawl. It's a goody.
Love to ya'll
El Rey x
MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU APPARENTLY
When it came to eating, Jason Touch had always been a voracious enthusiast. He loved everything and anything. From the delicate age of none he had gobbled down all that was set before him. As a baby he was far from a messy eater, always being careful to wolf down every last bit of whatever his mother cooked and pureed. As he grew so did his lust for culinary adventure and by the time he reached his teens he had pretty much eaten his self around the world albeit at the same table in his mum's kitchen.
Despite his appetite and love of food Jason Touch never gained weight. His mum put this down to good food served regularly in large portions. And maybe she had a point. Jason never was one for fatty food or those sugary sweets made from rendered bones. He had his fair share of chubby pals all of whom had various physical or psychological problems. His mother put that down to diet too. And she probably had a point.
Strange thing is that when Jason turned fifteen it all changed. He was probably the handsomest healthiest boy in his year... maybe the whole school. He had some pretty cool friends and always had a girl by his side. He was centre forward for the school soccer team despite being a year below the rest of the players. He was over achieving in every subject. He had a weekend job and was saving for his future already.
Then one Sunday morning his mum made him a full English breakfast and a pot of tea. Jason came down looking tired and began to shove his food around on the plate. He ate a mouthful or two and pushed the plate away.
His mum asked him if he felt ill and he told her he felt great. He just wasn't hungry and hadn't slept very well. She suggested he went back to bed and she would cook him a nice lunch. He went upstairs without saying a word. He didn't come down for his lunch and by teatime his mum was thinking of calling for the doctor. It was six o'clock, the nights were drawing in and it was already dusk. She heard him moving around upstairs.
She listened and was sure she heard him crying. She called to him and he said he was OK and that he was very hungry and would be down in a minute. Sixty seconds later Jason Touch tore down the stairs covered from head to toe in thick brown and grey hair, his mouth a veritable butcher's tool-rack of sharpened white fangs. He ripped his mother to shreds with savage abandon, before eating virtually every piece of flesh from her bones and leaving the blood soaked house for good.
A year later he was working in Hollywood California, head of genre movies for Universal Studios. Amongst his close friends were Boris Karloff whom he's met on the airplane travelling over to the US, Bela Lugosi with whom he had shared a hooker pipe with at an opium den in the back of a house on Mullholland Drive and Lon Chaney Junior who had let him flop at the back of a drug store come liquor store that he owned near Venice Beach.
Jason took the fall for Chaney during the final scene of The Wolfman in 1945. No-one knew it was him under the make-up and no one knew it was a real silver bullet. He had eaten Chaney's stand-in the night before and decided enough was enough. Chaney had got messy the same night and didn't turn up for make-up. Jason told the make-up team he wanted to be in a movie but didn't want anyone to know. He was a big enough wheel for them to believe him.
It has since been alleged that Claude Rains had begun to ask Jason difficult to answer questions. Ralph Bellamy organised the funeral and did it quietly. John Carradine oversaw the probate. Not even Babylonian author Kenneth Anger got to hear about it. Jason Touch was brushed under Tinseltown's golden carpet with barely a Chinese whisper and his memory erased forever. Those god damned vampire's certainly know how to cover their tracks.
We have just received reports concerning a frenzy of mass murders in the popular holiday resort of Boglin. According to the reports two well known musician Elliot De Wilderbeast and Stormy Werthers have struck at several public houses and clubs targeting and shooting lead singers of popular local bands including 'Travesty', 'U3', 'Comfortably Numbered', 'Run Dobbie Run', 'Archibald's Rivals', 'The Totally Dull', 'Pointless Prick', 'Fun Substitute', 'The Sensational Allan Hardy Band', 'The Poohsticks', 'Dog Day Evening', 'Pusrsewasive', 'Soft to Touch', 'Wrist Action', 'We Are the Champignons' , 'The Undertow', 'Adam and the Antlers', 'Rather It Be You', 'Stranger By Name', 'Is Anyone In?', 'Sock Pistols', 'Dimlight', 'Trudged', 'No Biscuit' 'Daftness' and the Tesco backed folk band 'Every Fiddle Helps'.
The report states that the killings were perpetrated by a middle aged man who looked like Elvis and a girl who looked like Eddie Cochran. Both are believed to be members of local punk band 'Antidisestablishmentarianism'. We'll keep you posted.
Hope this drizzly day finds you well. Here is a little story fresh off the press.
Bless you all.
Jenny's birthday fell on a Thursday that year. She said she wasn't bothered as it wasn't an important number but would, as always, celebrate on the day itself. That year she opted for a small group of friends and colleagues to meet in the bar at the corner of the street. They would have a late lunch and a few drinks. Afterwards they would go back to her house and those who had booked the following day off would drink until the early hours.
This was, of course, all part of her plan to ensnare David, the new boy at the office. She had been systematically flirting with him since he started a month earlier. She had noticed how nervous he got around her and had caught him talking about her to other members of staff. Although the conversation came to an abrupt end when he saw her.
He had been very excited about his invitation to her birthday gathering and had assured her several times that he would be there. She just wanted him for the night. That was all. She would change his perspective on life and use him. She was excited. She felt bold and womanly. Totally in control. She knew that he would never forget that night. It would become a benchmark for adventure and wisdom. She would be with him forever; even if it was only in his mind.
At least she would have been if he had turned up. Unfortunately David's mate called and asked him to fill in for someone who had dropped out of a game of five-a-side. It was an important league match so he couldn't really say no. They won and he had had to go for a pint which dragged on and he got a bit drunk. He felt bad turning up drunk at Jenny's and decided he would be better to apologise at work next time their paths crossed. Which He did.
Jenny got drunk too. By ten she had forgotten all about David and was in bed with the office manager just like she had been the year before. And the year before that.
This week's addition is quite a bit longer than usual. Hope it whets you appetite.
CHEESE AND CRACKERS
It smelt like cheese. Not an unpleasant cheesy smell but cheesy nonetheless. At first it was quite faint. Only just noticeable when he entered the lounge. Once Bob had settled down in his favourite chair with a book or to watch the news it gradually disappeared and blended into the rest of the room's aromas. Not that Bob was equipped to be an olfactory expert. Indeed he was awaiting an operation to open up the gradually decreasing tubes that were his nasal passages. It was probably due to his diminishing sense of smell that the cheese smell stood out. Rather like the bite pepper gives to a good stew or alcohol gives to gin.
On Wednesday a letter arrived addressed to Mr Bob Squirrel, 23 Kingsway, Ansdell. It was marked 'URGENT' so Bob opened it with urgency, almost tearing the in half letter inside. I was from Blackpool Victoria hospital. There had been a cancellation. If he called today they could operate Friday and would have a bed for him until the following Thursday. He called immediately booked himself in and packed a small bag of essentials in readiness.
Bob didn't sleep very well for the next two nights. The anticipation and fear of being operated on led to active, sweat-soaked nights, punctuated by nightmares. He relived, countless times, the punch in the face that had caused the gradual nasal blockage to begin. The guy turning into a wild animal randomly and in the blink of an eye. The stranger pulling him back. The total lack of any pain whatsoever. Just numbness, confusion and distress. Bob comforted himself with the thought that by next week his nose would work again and hopefully the nightmares would end.
Despite the lack of sleep Bob didn't actually feel tired. He put that down to stress and worry. The operation meant removing a bone splinter that was nearing his brain. Skin had begun to form around the bone soon after the assault. If was as if his body was trying to prevent the splinter piercing his brain. Of course once the flesh had begun to form it didn't know when to stop and had even taken upon itself to produce extra layers along the walls of nasal passages.
The trouble now was that the additional skin was becoming a more serious problem that the bone-splinter. His doctor had described it as being like a tumour. If it wasn't removed soon it would grow into the brain and have the same effects as a tumour albeit a benign tumour. Symptoms included dizziness, disorientation, delusion, blurred vision, imbalance, nausea, sleeplessness, headaches, deafness, fits and possibly death. There were other symptoms that Bob didn't recognise.
Bob had been put on the emergency waiting list two weeks ago with a potential waiting time of two months. He wasn't quite ready for this. But he was glad all the same. He had begun to experience various symptoms from the list. Possibly even the ones he didn't recognise. Bob wasn't sure whether the symptoms he was feeling were real or psychosomatic. Either way the rapid arrival of his appointment was a relief.
Between Wednesday and Friday Bob read four books - Too Kill a Mocking Bird, The Black Dahlia, Freezer Burn and A Confederacy of Dunces. All were read whilst he sat in his favourite chair. During this time Bob thought that the cheesy smell was getting stronger. It seemed to linger for slightly longer, each time he opened the door, before being absorbed into the rich melting pot of lounge odours. Again he wasn't sure of this as lack of sleep and the various potential symptoms on the list could quite easily have accounted for the smell's increased impact.
On Friday, at ten a.m. precisely, a cab turned up at 23 Kingsway. Bob locked the back door, did a quick check of all the windows and interior doors, grabbed his bag containing underwear, socks, two tea shirts and a sweat shirt, toiletries and three books - SAVAGE NIGHT, OTHER PEOPLE and THE MIDWITCH CUCKOO. He had considered taking PERDITA DURANGO and WEAVEWORLD as he had never in the past been able to sleep in hospital but decided on this occasion he might just catch up on the rest he had lost over the previous nights. Besides which there were other patients to talk to and a book trolley.
The operation lasted three hours and was totally successful. Bob came out of the anaesthetic feeling decidedly poorly and more than a little sort around the face and head. He actually looked worse that he did when he'd been punched in the first place. He was given morphine for pain relief on the first day, then paracetamol, which really didn't do much. Fortunately the matron was sympathetic and suggested he requested a sleeping tablet for each evening.
Bob was monitored regularly and his dressings were changed every two hours. He had never seen so much blood come out of a person's nostrils before. By Sunday evening the blood was blackening. The nurse assured him it was just because it was old blood that had been held back by the interior swelling.
On Monday Bob breathed through his nose for the first time in three days. It stung like hell but Bob didn't care. He could tell the operation had worked. He hadn't been able to take a large breath through his nose for eighteen months. All he could smell was the blood.
Bob was also very pleased with the speed at which the swelling went down. Again the nurse explained it had been caused in the main by trapped blood from the operation and that the bruising would last for a few weeks yet.
On Tuesday Bob smelt his lunch for the first time and ate voraciously. Despite the relative blandness of the beef and three veg dinner it seemed to him to be the best thing he'd ever tasted. His previously reduced sense of smell had obviously affected his sense of taste.
By Tuesday evening he had read all three books and asked the man called Douglas in the next bed if he could borrow one of his paperbacks. Douglas was happy to lend it Bob. He had gone in for an eye operation and the upper half of his face was completely swathed in bandages. His wife had brought him three magazines and two paperbacks to read. Bob chose Divorcing Jack and even offered to read it to Douglas. Douglas politely declined, saying that he had read it and seen the movie. It was the same with the other book his wife had brought in - The Beach.
On Wednesday Bob began to get anxious. He wasn't sure whether they were actually going to discharge him the following day. The nurses were none committal about the possibility and the duty doctor ignored the question with a highly professional bedside manner. Bob couldn't eat all his tea that evening nor could he read comfortably. He spent most of the time talking to Douglas about books and movies and saving the world.
Douglas' had wife paid him another visit. She brought her husband a copy of Empire magazine and another book - Perfume. The Story of a Murderer - saying she knew he enjoyed the film so she thought he might like the book. Douglas politely refrained from telling her he had read in ten years ago. Although he did tell this to Bob after she'd left and gave him the book with a hearty recommendation.
At ten thirty Thursday morning the doctor did his usual round of the ward with a flock of haggard looking junior doctors and student nurses in tow. He prodded Bob's face and clicked his tongue. He tilted Bob's head back and shone a torch up his nose and made a routine sounding remark on the reinstatement of the membrane and the reduction of surgical fissures around the nasal cavity. The flock made frantic notes. Then the Dr began a brief Q and A session, firing unfathomable medical questions at will towards the bleary eyed students-of-vocation with relish. Answers were fired back with forced enthusiasm. After several minutes of this the Dr seemed to deflate as if he realised he was wasting his time. As he left Bob's bedside he announced that he thought Mr Squirrel was doing very well indeed and was fit to go home after lunch.
It was the longest morning of Bob's life. But, as fortune would have it, the sympathetic matron had switched her shift to mornings and let him sneak off before lunch was served. He said his goodbyes to Douglas and wrote down his address and telephone number on the inside cover of The Beach. They promised to meet up sometime soon so Douglas could see what his new friend looked like. Bob felt slightly sad as he vacated the ward but the feeling soon faded when he stepped out of the front door of the hospital and climbed into a taxi.
Twenty minutes later Bob walked in his front door and dropped his bag in the hallway. The house smelt a bit musty. He decided he must have some damp and made a mental note to check it out. He went into the kitchen and filled the kettle. The water smelt of cold metal. When the kettle boiled the steam made his nose itch. He went to the buzzing fridge and opened it. The stink made him retch. He unlocked the back door quickly and threw it open. He then rummaged under the sink grabbing a roll of black bags and tore one off sending a thin cloud of dust and dried up soap powder into the air. As he emptied the fridge's rotting contents into the black bag, Bob began to sneeze uncontrollably sending a fine spray of pinkish spit and snot onto the sides of the fridge.
By the time he'd put the bag in the wheelie bin he had a slight nose bleed. He blew his nose into a piece of kitchen towel and wiped his face. He noticed that the blood on the triple-ply tissue was mainly purple clots. He breathed in, realised the bleeding had stopped and once again marvelled at his ability to draw large breaths though his nasal passages.
The kettle boiled and he made himself a mug of instant hot chocolate, as there was no milk for tea or coffee. He went into the hallway and took the book Douglas had given him to read out of his bag and tucked it under his arm. Bob found the idea of reading a story about smells amusing and began to chuckle to himself.
The chuckling came to an abrupt halt when he opened the door to the lounge and stepped into the room. The smell was overpowering. His mug hit the floor showering the carpet in steamy drinking chocolate and losing its handle. The book followed quickly and if it was not for the close vicinity of his favourite chair Bob would have been next to hit the floor. He managed to grab onto the arm of the chair and steady himself. He felt sick. The smell of rancid cheese was one hundredfold the strength of a week ago. Nor did it dissipate and blend into the overall ether that was the room's atmosphere. It burned his eyes and wrenched mercilessly at his stomach.
Bob stumbled across the room to the windows. His hands shook violently and he struggled to open them all. Then there was a blast of cold air. The back door was still open and the through draft made the smell marginally less intense. Bob slumped in his favourite chair exhausted. Tears ran down his cheeks and he tasted bile. He looked on the floor by the door and saw the book his friend had given him soaking up the drinking chocolate.
He counted to ten and dared to breathe through his nose again. The cheesy smell was there again. Still very strong and unwholesome but somehow it seemed more controlled. Bob sniffed a few more times. Then he got up and walked slowly around the room sniffing methodically.
After five minutes of olfactory investigation he concluded that the smell was actually coming from his favourite chair. He lifted the seat cushion and found thirty seven pence in change, a half eaten water biscuit, a sweet wrapper and a totally faded lottery ticket. He stared intently at the base cushion then reached out and slid his hand down the side of the upholstery at the front right side of the chair. It felt damp and rough. Years of clumped and congealed dust, more sweet wrappers and another seven pence. He worked his way round towards the left side of the chair and had just reached the top corner when he touched something hard and rough.
Bob's first instinct was to whip his hand out. Whatever was down there felt weird. It was both hard and soft. Smooth yet rough in parts. It was wedge shaped and about the size of a large matchbox. He took hold of it and pulled it from its grave. The smell was again horrendous but Bob was already braced in anticipation. He held up the offending object. It was indeed a small wedge of cheese. It was mouldy and yellow with corners as hard as bone and sections that seemed to be oozing milky liquid.
Bob knew exactly what it was. It was matured apple-wood smoked Lancashire. He had bought it at Booths. He had eaten cheese and biscuits for supper one evening and had gone to the kitchen to refill his wine glass. He remembered distinctly that when he came back into the lounge he had been certain he had plated up more cheese but shrugged it off as a trick of the wine. It was good cheese too. That was seven months ago. He'd brought several more blocks of the stuff since. Bob decided to start a shopping list.
And to the the bona fide saints amongst you congratulations on rmaking it through another year of immortal notoriety.
I have beed working on a two sunday Stories this week but neither are ready. And will all due respect I would not dream send of sending you lot stuff that I consider to be sub standard. Therefore I have attached a childrens poem I wrote about 18 months ago. In keeping with the spirit of Halloween (thee most important festival of the year) it is a classic horror story. I have been told by parents who have read it that it is too scary for kids. But what the hell do parents know? I've also attahed a poem that I recorded as part of a song with Razor Dog. It's suitably irreverent.
Thanks to everyone who attended my Spooktastic gathering last night. To quote the immortal words of Donald Shoenstien aka 'Boon' it was 'Unbelievable. A new low. I'm so ashamed.'
So Tally Ho me pals and palesses
"Be afraid. Be very afraid" (Veronica 'Ronnie' Quiafe.1986)
Looking back, there is no denying it. Polly was just a bully. Though we were so young we mistook his aggression towards all things smaller and weaker for hardness. Then again we were in a difficult position. We were underage drinkers and Polly turned a blind eye; just as long as we sat in the corner near the back door so we could make a hasty exit when the odd lot arrived. I say 'when' because a visit by Her Majesties' was a regular occurrence at the Top House. They didn't call it 'The Powder Keg' for nothing.
To be honest the unremitting violent aspect of the pub held us in good stead. Hardly ever did the odd lot even bat an eyelid in our direction, and when they did, it was to make sure none of us were on the receiving end of a fist, boot, glass, chair or any of the other available weapons of choice. They knew us all by name. They knew our parents. They knew where we were. They had better things to do.
Polly ruled his empire in the manner one would expect from the fat lazy oaf he was. Derek reckoned he looked like a short sighted, overweight Dr Zaius. Derek had nailed it. Unfortunately Polly had none of the philosophical tolerance of his on-screen, rubber faced, orang-utan doppelganger. He was actually more like Urko the gorilla warrior when it came to social skills. But Polly let us in his pub and served us beer and, more importantly, he left us alone.
I remember waiting to be served one Saturday afternoon when 'Basketcase' pointed out to Polly there was a group of teenagers sitting by the concert organ smoking a joint. Polly replied quite casually that as long as they were buying beer he didn't give a toss. When, an hour later, Basketcase decided to try and eject the offending stoners, Polly came from behind the bar and punched him in the face, breaking his already broken nose. It was Polly's empire and he ruled it exactly how he wanted to rule it. He gave Basketcase some ice wrapped in a beer towel and a free pint and nothing more was said. Needless to say the stoners left in a hurry and never came back.
The beginning of the end at the Top House was the Saturday of the Wigan Casino Christmas Party. Usually we would all congregate at Louie's Bar prior to jumping on the train. Noddy would always turn up with minutes to spare and there would be a frantic exchange of pills and money before we all peg it to catch the eight fifteen to Preston. But, because it was supposed to be a special occasion - meaning they had sold tickets in advance - Noddy had decided to come along and do a little extra business. It was Christmas after all and he had presents to buy for the kids. This meant that we all had to go to Louie's Thursday to buy our gear. That way Noddy could turn it around and restock accordingly by Saturday.
Now I am a nothing if not an advocate for being prepared but we all got paid on Thursday in those days and having a sock full of illicit tablets and a prepaid ticket for a Saturday all-nighter gave each of us a false sense of confidence. Polly being more beast than man, instinctively recognised this. So when we traipsed into the Top House carrying bags, wearing capped sleeve tee-shirts, ridiculously baggy trousers and leather shoes he knew right off that we were up to something. More to the point he knew we weren't staying long. And even more to the point he hated Noddy and Noddy was barred.
Of course this hadn't even been thought about. To us it was simply a matter of practicalities. The Top House was right next to the train station. As we had already bought our gear it made sense to go there and wait for the train. Louie's was at the other end of the Square. It was cold and we didn't want to have to our wear coats and flat caps until we were in the queue outside the Casino. It was easier to stick them in our bags with our towels, deodorant and change of clothes. Innocent as it all was - well apart from the illegal substances - Polly took it upon himself to be offended by our presence.
He served us as always but when he did you could detect an underlying resentment. He used the word 'sonny' instead of 'lad' and didn't swear at us. When Derek arrived an hour later, having just arrived home from a course on 'car alternator repairs' in Watford, it lit Polly's fuse. Don't get me wrong. If Polly had a soft spot for any of us, it was Derek. They swapped profane banter like a mutant father and son team. But when Derek came in and went straight over to Noddy to buy his gear, Polly clocked it and didn't like what he saw. Maybe he felt betrayed. Maybe he was drunk. Maybe he his wife had been out shopping all day so he hadn't had chance to slap her. Regardless of all this Polly was not a happy cramper.
For the first time since he broke Basketcases' nose the landlord of the Top House came from behind the bar. He headed straight over to our corner and grabbed hold of Noddy by the neck. Derek first impulse was to help his dealer and he lashed out sending Polly's bottle bottom spectacles flying across the room. They landed at Basketcases' feet who promptly stamped on them.
There is nothing more frightening than a blind man in a rage. Polly went ballistic and began to swing random punches hoping to catch one of us. The crowd at the bar were egging him on. This was the most entertainment they'd had since the brawl the night before. Noddy, Mick, Tommy, Phil, Adie and Becky grabbed their bags and ran for it, leaving me and Derek cornered. Our nearest means of escape was the Ladies toilet. We backed in there thinking we could climb out of a window. No such luck. The room was hermitically sealed by eighty odd years of repainting.
We could hear Polly raging outside. He was calling us pill heads and drug dealing scumbags. He said he knew we were in there. But Polly wouldn't come in. Something in that idiotic, tyrannical, bald head of his prevented him from going in the ladies. We had the think fast. The train was due in three minutes. I came up with an idea.
We opened the door slowly and peered into the bar. Polly was about four feet in front of us. Blind, sweating and very angry. No one else was speaking. All eyes were on me and Derek. We were the proverbial slaves in the amphitheatre. We walked out wearing our coats and flat caps and speaking in 'old men' voices. It was the only plan I had. It wasn't much of one. But, by George, it worked a treat. Granted, Polly reached out and touched Derek on the cap. But when Derek protested in his best Albert Steptoe voice and told Polly to leave him alone and get on with sorting out 'those pill popping hooligans who had locked themselves in trap one', Polly actually apologised and called him Vince.
As we left the pub things were going back to normal. Everyone had lost interest. Polly must have reasoned that if two of his oldest male customers were using the Ladies it must therefore be alright for him to go in there. He had done so and had apparently spent the next two hours blind and screaming in there, unable to find his way out. In the meantime Basketcase went behind the bar and started a free-for-all which only came to an end when Tony the Vulture hit Gordy with a pool cue and all hell irrupted. The odd lot were called and arrived just as Polly escaped. In his blind rage he managed to punch Constable Hughes on the ear and was arrested for assaulting a police officer.
Two months later the place was boarded up. Polly got five years. The brewery had decided to investigate and discovered he was selling smuggled liquor. They found over ten thousand pounds in cash hidden in a commode upstairs and his wife had him charged with 'persistent violent physical and mental abuse'.
The Wigan Christmas Party was superb. Me and Derek danced all night, even went for it at Mr Ms in the morning. A few months later the Casino was closed down. An era came to an end. It was a sad time. But at least we didn't have to wear those ridiculous cloths anymore.
The smile of Derek Fletcher was a true phenomenon; it beamed and it beamed. There was never a sad or dull moment. Every thing in Derek Fletchers life was A-one hunky dory. He was the happiest man alive.
It all came so easily to him and the easier it all came the happier he became.
Not one day of illness, nor broken bone, sprain, bruise, scratch, burn or even itch had he suffered.
He failed at nothing and everyone loved him. He could have become anything. Mayor, President, King, God. He knew no fear for he had no enemies and good fortune was his closest, dearest friend and ally.
Derek Fletcher was born to the world silent and bewildered. He emitted no first-breath scream just let out a soft hiccup, which, of course, won him the hearts of all those present at his inception. As a baby he never cried. Truly Mother's little treasure. Always fed before hungry, always changed immediately after delivering a little gift. Throughout his childhood he asked for nothing, there was no need, he received everything he wanted, just when he wanted.
Usually an upbringing such as this would be a sure fire method of creating a spoilt, obnoxious, brat- monster. Not so in Derek Fletcher's case. Quite the contrary; for the more love and generosity that was showered upon him the greater the warmth and happiness he radiated towards others, and oh that smile, it just grew and grew.
With eventual maturity, like the best wines and spirits, he improved with age. Always caring, hard working and understanding, he became both intelligent and entertaining. A more warm hearted, satisfying personality you could not wish to encounter.
His social popularity was matched only by his professional ability. A superb businessman, with public relations second nature, he inevitably became extremely successful financially. Impressively shrewd, he invested wisely and researched new avenues meticulously.
At the age of twenty-five, Derek married Annabella, a partnership rarely experienced beyond the domain of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm. Not only was she breathtakingly beautiful, Annabella Fletcher was intelligent, understanding, kind, a wonderful cook and an excellent housekeeper. She took a keen interest in all her husband's affairs, both professional and social quickly becoming his number one adviser and confidant.
After just less than three years marital bliss the Fletchers became the proud parents of twins Joseph and Belinda. Perfect children for the perfect mother and father. Derek had never felt happier.
And that smile, my oh my, how it grew.
Over two decades of domestic bliss flew by; the children grew up and embarked upon successful careers of their own, both won places at highly respected universities and with the help of their father's guidance and influence obtained positions in the private sector with excellent prospects. And in what seemed the blink of an eye Derek Fletcher's fiftieth birthday loomed.
It was decided that in celebration of his half century something very special would have to be arranged, something different, something Derek had never done before. As you can imagine this posed a serious, all be it pleasant, problem to the Fletchers. For what could a man who has experienced unlimited opportunity throughout his entire life find to do that he had not already done?
It was the ever-resourceful Anabella who came up with the solution. She pointed out that in their twenty-five years of life together, her husband had never once visited a racetrack. In truth, Derek had never visited a racetrack in his entire life.
So it was decided. The following week, on the morning of his birthday, accompanied by his two best friends, Derek Fletcher paid his very first visit to a race meeting and that day he experienced another first. He discovered gambling and forever true to form he won a fortune. He was hooked immediately.
So every morning from that day onwards Derek phoned the bookmakers. Once a week he visited the casino, twice a week the dogs. Then there were card games, billiards, pool, fruit machines, lotteries and even the football pools. In fact he would bet on practically anything with an element of risk, and every time he won.
In six months he had doubled his fortune, in another three, he did the same. As his wealth grew, so did that famous smile. It grew and it grew.
The following year Derek Fletcher was declared the most successful man of all time. Later the same year he was branded the wealthiest person in the world. All this praise and admiration only served to increase his happiness causing his smile to broaden incredibly until one day it became so wide that the corners of his mouth met round the back of his neck and the top of his head slid off.
"We don't yet know if there's a God - and you want to eat!"
An episodic examination of the modern soul by THOMAS McGRATH who spent two months in 2009 looking for it.
[This interview took place in 2009]
ON TUESDAY I interviewed Iain Sinclair, Hackney's resident White Wizard. I was, to say the least, somewhat nervous about it. After all, this is a writer whose London Orbital is adorned with a quotation from the late JG Ballard, in which the seer of Shepperton asserts that Sinclair's book (a fabulous document of his counterclockwise hike around the M25), will "still be read in fifty years time"! That's fifty years of Ballard time - a pretty rough passage, you feel, for the internet, let alone English prose. London Orbital thoroughly deserved the voluminous praise heaped upon it, a work in which Sinclair shook reality so hard that it alchemically transformed itself into fantastical fiction, revealing a territory both proximate and alien, and delivered in exhilarating prose that frequently attains the preternatural shimmer of truly great writing. This Saturday, at London festival Occulture, Sinclair will be introducing the accompanying film with which he documented that inspired expedition, and I seized the opportunity to meet him.
My introductory email would be my first notable obstacle to achieving that end, however. Almost every word (including some of the commonest little monosyllables) found itself cut, pasted and plunged into an online dictionary; distinguishing between there, their and they're unveiled itself as a Derridean riddle: my English had become a panic tongue, a fourth language hastily acquired by the tourist-victim of a Mexican miscarriage of justice. Eventually, the bland little missive was ready, and I dispatched it with a tentative tap (or spasm) of the mouse. Within seconds a response was embedded in my own inbox - Sinclair breezily accepting my agonised invitation to lunch. Beneath his reply was the initial invite, which I fruitlessly checked over one last time. It began: "Dear Ian" (sic). I clamped a knuckle between my teeth and prepared for the worst…
I met Iain at a Turkish café in his adopted Hackney, the London borough in which he has lived for over four decades but only recently colonised in prose with the latest contribution to his weighty oeuvre, the surprisingly voluptuous Hackney, that Rose Red Empire. His imminent appearance at Occulture gave me the wonderful excuse to ask him all about his association with esotericism and the occult; along with authors like Yeats and Burroughs, Sinclair is part of a tradition of celebrated modern writers for whom the supernatural is a fact (albeit a complicated one). It was interesting to learn that, as with both Yeats and Burroughs, Sinclair also identifies childhood experiences as responsible for demarcating a reality broader than the narrow box most inherit.
In person, Sinclair, like his prose, exudes benevolent mischief, little resembling the languid intellectual captured in footage and photograph. He spoke about topics ranging from the occult to the Olympics, and even addressed (with pleasing spontaneity) some of issues touched upon in this very blog.
(ME) JG Ballard appears in the film and book of London Orbital. He was a very vocal exponent of your work, and I was wondering what he made of the esoteric motifs that run through it…
(SINCLAIR): I imagine he ignored them. His take on the world was his take on the world and other people's worlds were interesting in as much as they were kind of refractions of things he was interested in himself. He certainly responded to the whole notion of the landscape of the edge lands of London as revealed in the film because that was exactly his whole territory - although this was coming from a very different angle. And the madness of my walking through it, which is something he would never have contemplated, interested him because one of his great themes was the obsessive and satanic nature of Moby Dick. Moby Dick was one of his great markers. That book, and this sort of Ahab- like tramping around this orbital landscape, was really appealing to him, so it was sort of like a combination of Moby Dick and Ballard.
How do you think he interpreted obsession, from a Freudian perspective?
Yes I think largely he did. His whole work in a sense was about psychosis. It was about early fractures in his own life, the breakdown he saw of the English version of colonialism that he'd grown up in, and then the England he arrived back in, which he always said was like coming from a colour movie and into a black and white newsreel, and feeling estranged from it and having to come up with devices that could energise a world of boredom and greyness. And the subversive strategies he adopted were obviously incredibly effective
Do you think he would have interpreted your esoteric motifs as examples of 'subversive strategies'?
I think he read me with a sense of difference, along with a sense of its parallel, sympathetic nature to what he was doing himself. He didn't want to engage with the inner city at all. He didn't like the inner city, didn't like the old buildings, he didn't want to be part of that. So someone doing that was interesting as a sort of alien species. And the way I wrote was so different to the way he wrote, that stripped forensic style, that again he was interested in it for its difference. But then when we got to know each other best I would sort of move into his territory and discuss things within his sphere of interest.
Did you ever try to discuss things from your own territory?
No. I mean I found him strangely like a version of Sir Les Patterson; very, very genial, very civilised, very friendly and generous in all his dealings. In a sense you felt he was like a being from another time or another world. I was just very happy to listen to him and gather up little fragments from his memory banks.
I was curious, because another writer he was very interested in was William Burroughs, with whom he must also have been confronted by many beliefs he would have had to completely 'ignore'.
I think Michael Moorcock introduced him to Burroughs very early on. He saw Burroughs very much as a kind of version of what he did himself. But they couldn't really get on in personal terms because they were both so strange. His writing was much closer to the way Burroughs writes than to the way I write. When I first knew his work I felt him very much to be a sort of English Burroughs, in that he was dealing with a kind of deep-in-the-bone satire and misogyny and darkness, but then as time went on I think he moved away from that and they became quite separate. But they both had that stoic humour; they both trained as doctors and gave up on it. Ballard by the end was sort of making his own mental prognosis of a culture - and Burroughs had become this Zen outlaw figure, stepped away from the word and into image, dream and ritual practise.
You met Burroughs, did you find him as taciturn as he was purported to be?
Well I had dealings with him from very early on, and corresponded with him when I was a teenager, then published him in Ireland, and was going to do a film with him, so I knew him a bit in that period. But then he went into Scientology and I lost touch with him. I didn't meet him again until he was pretty old and living in Kansas, and by that time he was totally detached, we didn't have a conversation where I felt he was present at all. It was fascinating to see him, to be with him, but he wasn't there. But Ballard was there and was somebody you could have a friendly relationship with in a way you never could with Burroughs. If you fell within his circle of disciples you could have a kind of relationship of power with Burroughs, but otherwise not. Whereas a lot of people had good friendly relations with Ballard as long as it was on his terms.
You mentioned Burroughs going over to Scientology. What did you make of that?
I though it was an interesting process for him, and provoked metaphor for lots of stuff in his writing. For me it was completely deranged and extreme, but I could see why he'd want to do it, and I had a lot of sympathy with him going there, even though it was completely inconvenient because we were trying to start a film at that point and he just completely lost interest.
Scientology's very interesting. This pseudo-scientific mask covering an esoteric system…
Yes with L Ron Hubbard as this sort of science fiction writer, super-galactic conman character with the boat and the slaves and this notion of the occult. The cult aspect of the occult.
Do you see the connection between demagoguery and magic as intrinsic?
I think it is, from my experience of the nature of the practitioners. Apart from, say, someone like Alan Moore, who is not at all a demagogue, but is a pretty full-blown magical practitioner, and that's one of the most important elements of his work. I just got yesterday morning The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, this comic he's doing, in which a fictional character, an alter-ego of mine called Norton, appears, drawn to look like me - or sort of a mad Nazi dentist or something - spouting this occult loaded madness in a comic strip! Like a parody of aspects of my writing. But Alan's engagement with magic doesn't seem to be in any way about personal power. In a sense it's more to do with some deep engagement with Northampton.
That's the distinction between white and black magic, the former you don't practise for the sake of personal gain…
Well Alan Moore sounds quite dark, to do with summoning particular demons and entities, but it can also seem really quite white in its nature, to do with natural forces and place and the nature of place; it's not to do with making magical entities work for him in other worlds.
Did you become interested in the occult through the Beats?
Well, occult is such a blanket term, it has aspects I was interested in through my family in Wales: my mother's side of the family were very interested in things that sound almost shamanic or magical you know, in terms of superstitions and the sense of the dead being ever-present and all those things, and rituals to do with horses' heads being dug up. All of that stuff was very familiar, all of that theatrical canopy was part of my childhood, so it seemed a natural thing rather than anything else. But this is to do with white magic, earth magic, and the druidic aspect, all of that stuff. And then looking into London and what was the nature and cultural make-up of London and its mythology you inevitably move into those areas, in terms of the nineteenth century of the Golden Dawn, Crowley… (recording indecipherable)
Then in the 60s and 70s, around that era, combined with a lot of the stuff that came out of the counterculture, earth magic and Carlos Castaneda, you know a lot of that was floating about. And then the whole thing cycles round to come back in a very different form in the aspect of politics. I began to see Thatcherite politics as a kind of black magic. But this is a metaphor as much as anything. I don't mean she actually sat around looking at a skull, although metaphorically she did, and then I think it became a battle in that sense, a battle for the city, for the soul of the city.
Do you see politics broadly as an esoteric realm?
No I see it as a profound unreality and one that's falling apart in front of our eyes. A projection that had no basis in reality, it was a mind game that involved a lot of symbols and mind control in terms of advertising and brain washing; all kinds of techniques that were essentially occult were used. But it fell apart - it wasn't real, it wasn't genuine, it wasn't about anything, there was no content. And it's quite interesting how it just dissolved and disintegrated in front of our eyes. The other thing is that a lot of the magical practises we're talking about are covert, esoteric, secret. You don't necessarily have to know these aspects in Yeats or something, but there it is, he's doing it and it only emerges later that it's the source of his poetry. Whereas in the political world it has to be totally visible, in theory, so there's a real schizophrenic bite there. They are calculating ways to hypnotise the masses, and at the same time they have to appear to not be doing any of the things that they are doing.
What do you make of the recent popularity of books regarding atheism and this whole debate?
Yeah, the adverts on the busses about God and all that; I thought, 'why are you fighting this campaign in this particular forum'. It's like a version of reality TV, it seems an argument in the wrong place. And then the other aspect are these enormously successful things like Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, and all of this which are a Xerox of the real material, so far down the line from their sources that they become massively successful. That's the process in the world where you copy something, and copy it again, and copy it again and it loses its bite, but achieves a kind of formulaic, simple-minded version which appeals massively. People are interested in the underlying things, but they're getting them through the pre-chewed, pre-masticated form. And it works gigantically, you look at any of these massively successful things and then you go back always four steps to get to something where it's originally from.
But the success of all these books - The God Delusion, The Da Vinci Code - reflects people's underlying interest in these topics….
Yeah. It's clearly a deep thirst for an advance into new territory. But it comes from study and practise and a lot of other things which are done by yourself. You can't sort of dip into some easy guide and have it all done for you.
Did the composition of your last book entwine you more with Hackney or did you finally extricate yourself from the area?
In the short term it entwined me much more, because I got very much drawn into taking part in all the stuff that's going on here. Four nights a week, solidly, from February to now, I've just been doing stuff locally. Dozens and dozens of people have come with the projects they're doing and wanted me to see them or contribute to them. So in a sense it ultimately involved me more in the area. But in other senses I feel I would now like to disappear into the landscape and keep well clear of it.
But you can't now…
I mean, we're not going to win. Whatever it is I'm writing about will be comprehensively wiped out by what's happening. The whole of Dalston Lane is going to disappear into this kind of Barratt monolith, and around Morning Lane around Ridley Road. So I think people will become much more fragmented, and the lines of energy which I talk a lot about will be broken up. I think the whole psychology of Dalston is going to become much more neurotic, nervous and dangerous.
I live there…
Good! Good! That makes it interesting.
Do you think the Olympic Committee is it a malevolent force?
I think so. Big time. I think they were so mendacious that a level of malignancy has been embedded into the system. In the same way that now the whole kind of nonsense with the MPs and their swine-like behaviour that's supposedly minor- 'it's all within the body of the law' blah blah blah - but unveils a system of double standards, greed, madness …and with the Olympics it's is the same thing but on a vast, vast scale. And at a time of financial meltdown it's economic insanity for a kind of folly of a project that involves huge expulsion of so much which is of value, and the destruction of the whole kind of environment, to present something that is totally unreal and only for a very short space of time. And all that's left behind is what? A sort of monstrous shopping mall, like Westfield in Shepherd's Bush.
Have you taken much interest in the aftermath of the Beijing Olympics?
Yeah I have. I haven't been there but I've talked to a few Chinese people. It's moderately grim and in places like Athens it's very grim, a total disaster. They've got these huge stadiums totally unused and just rotting, rotting away. They can't afford to keep them up and there's no use for them. They're going to be paying them off for the next fifty years, and the break up in Greek society, with young people taking to the streets and feeling really, really disaffected, is all very much to do with what happened with the Olympics, and all the debts that have been incurred to push through with this grand project that only revealed this moral bankruptcy and left this catalogue of ruins. The only way it works is if you incorporate the games into structures that are already there, which can be done and to some extent if they had gone to France that would have happened.
Where does the motivation come from?
That's interesting. It's in part the hubristic sense that you still have it, you're the equal of China, you're still a player in the majors, when in fact you're not - you're a kind of offshore airstrip for the Americans. Politicians love these ceremonies, if you go back to Berlin in 1936 - that's really what it's about, the occult business of carrying the Olympic torch. You want something occult that's it, that's a kind of major public occult ceremony.
I liked your description of Thatcher's immediate deterioration upon leaving office as indicating that she had been sort of unhooked from some black magical power source…
We created her as much as she was psychically tapping on our bad will. All the bad will around was focussed on her, a sort of Metropolis robot creation, the ugliest thoughts and aspirations of the whole country, which gave her that dynamic and insane energy. And as you say, when she's unhooked she kind of crumbles away like an old mummy.
What do you make of Blair's recent bouncing good health, he seems very well?
He looks like a vampire; he was always a freakish, cartoon creation that was always grinning and bouncing, but again with zero content. Then he buys into the Catholic Church, he's like a Dan Brown character.
And what would be his esoteric archetype?
I'm not sure which one, but he definitely is from that territory. Much less powerful than Thatcher, but maybe he was just in the spirit of his own times. He's a chip, a kind of virtual fragment; he doesn't really exist at all, there's so little there. And he also had the sense to get off screen before it all really hit the fan, leaving this sort of lumbering, material creature - Brown - to pick up the flack for him.
It looks now a bit as if Blair was some sort of protective shield around the government, and in his sudden absence they're completely exposed.
Well he does confirm this idea that politics is a totally occult practise. You jumble all the elements together, create this shining, sort of hermaphroditic figure who just carries it all and then you remove him and everything's wiped out and you start again. All these other figures like Cameron and Clegg are just clones of Blair, they're the same thing, but it doesn't quite work yet because they've got almost too much content. But [Blair] began to look quite ill towards the end...
I thought that Iain might be interested in the Maitreya saga I discussed in my second and third posts. After the interview was over I switched off the recorder and (with a flick of the nose and my best off the record voice) began to tell him about Share International, Benjamin Crème and the Brick Lane messiah. By the time I was finished the mild curiosity in his eyes was completely extinguished; it was as if I'd just 'broken the news' that Princess Dianna was dead.
"Yes, I've written about that story," he explained.
"I think it was in White Chappell, Scarlet Tracings."
"Ah. I haven't read that one. And you know that he supposedly lives in Brick Lane?"
"Yes of course - the entire book's about the area."
Naturally! So I recommend readers interested in further information and analysis of the Maitreya phenomenon look to the aforementioned title.
Sinclair disappeared with the same speed with which he arrived, departing with such haste that I forgot to ask him to scribble in some of the titles I had crammed into my rucksack, which then may as well have been full of bricks so far as my walk home was concerned - my stroll back to the 'neurotic, nervous and dangerous' (if impeccably fashionable) Dalston.
Recorded by David Kerekes in Galatina, Puglia, Italy. June 28, 2008. Ad hoc street musicians during the festa for Saints Peter and Paul. Very raw!
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The Headpress Tarantella! youtube playlist. Folk music of the Italian south (and one or two numbers from outside of it). Listen and then buy the book Mezzogiorno. Life. Death. Southern Italy by David Kerekes here»
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