Sunday, 24 July 2011

Gang of Miserable Capybara’s

I know exactly what it is I am going to get because the item in question has already been agreed with Carnaby. So I should not take long and after then, I will venture home to rest and prepare for my evening with Florence. But as I approach the Virgin Megastore my eyes fall upon the wonder of the bookstore opposite and hypnotically it is there that I enter first. I assertively recognise the crucial role in how I must go to work and passively distance myself from every violent image that is still fresh and loitering in my current memory; and how instead I should remember exactly who I ultimately really am, that I am a writer, that I am of peace, that I am at home here. Yes, at home here in this wonderful shop of books. I begin to feel better already. I head over to the left, towards the giant bank of bookshelves that house a fully comprehensive selection of quality modern and classic fiction and immediately set about patrolling the corridor of books, browsing, contemplating, pensive, deeply, browsing over such important pondering as to my next intellectual advance, the future road to my next essential read, the continuation of my in-house schooling. And it was there in that same shallow corridor that I was crudely interrupted as I comfortably flicked through a book of short stories by the famous emotionally tortured European author Franz Kafka. My sound waves and nearby space invaded by an immediately perceived worthless family. Rich, pompous, loud and wholesomely ugly. An unsightly unit if ever I have seen one. A small close knit threesome that shuffled together in their own close proximity, like they are all stuck at the wrists by glue. Ma + Pa + Boy Junior. They were so close by to my sacred space that I just had to inspect in greater detail. I carefully rose my holy gaze from the page, oh my word. Take a look at that my good friends. All of them, the worthless family with their stinking wealth. The worthless family with tiny matching bodies and huge heads. Huge heads with faces that provide them with the disconcerting appearance of a walking upright family of Capybara’s. Tiny bodies with huge heads like a mutant strain of the alien image we have all grown to love so much. But not this. Oh no. No love can be thinly spread to encompass these terrible creatures of the damned.
The Ma, well she moaned. Loudly. She moaned so all in the aisle could hear how the copy of ‘A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man’ by James Joyce that she held aloft was dog-eared. Oh my word. No one leaves the store until the culprit is hung drawn and quartered. This was not good. This was not good for anyone there in the bookstore during this painful punctuation of daily life. No, not good. I looked to see their expressions. I just couldn’t help myself. So I looked to see their expressions and saw the anger, the disbelief, the impatient searching for help. Help that would address this dismay, the dismay of the dog-eared book held aloft in Ma’s hands. So an assistant was called out for once again, this time the volume on the invisible megaphone, the loud hailer from hell, was increased and proved to be a highly effective action. Help advanced from a far corner of shelter. 
The victim, the shop assistant – a neat ageing typical librarian type with short curly grey to brown to grey hair, a white powered face that badly hid the years, gold reamed glasses which housed and protected two wide Owl like eyes forever blinking, a neat red and blue flowery Marks and Spencer type of old lady blouse, a grey skirt that fell bellow the knees, and beneath that, brown sexless stockings. She approaches the scene far too confidently. She was totally unaware that she, the owl, was to be bullied so cruelly by a brutal gang of miserable Capybara’s that just loved their books to be free from dust, fingerprints and abandoned folds. And boy did they cut her down. In public. She was humiliated when they implied that the book was placed on the shelf from the outset in such an impoverished condition and demanded a proper new copy plus compensation for the inconvenience. This mighty book was for her son. He is presently at a nearby sixth form college. We also get to hear on how he was been reading daily for months and it is excitingly perceived to be the right time for him to get ready and all set to approach, to read, seriously read, a certain James Joyce no doubt. They appear to have such well thought out and thoroughly approved plans for their son. Yes indeed. For he apparently has such potential.
While criminally frozen in the bookstore, I am positively sure my bottom jaw is hanging in a partially drunken detached disgrace. For they are now proclaiming like the lunatics that they must surely be, how they are positively certain in a positive healthy way, that this transparent adolescent hideous idiot before us, will certainly more than likely, definitely one day become a great writer of great books. And, oh yes there is an ‘and’ to all this. And, these books, these books written by the baby Capybara, they will be sacred books that no righteous house of books would ever dare display dog-eared.
          Well the owl blinked and flapped and disappeared only to return moments later empty handed, while proclaiming in a returning firm way (a returning firm way that also happened to be the dear close cousin of a grave undertone) that unfortunately that particular book was the only copy currently in stock. Do you dig motherfuckers? Seemingly not. Look, she nursed, there really are no others. But get a load of this. An order could be placed. It may even be here by next weekend. I beg your pardon? Next weekend? No. No. No. Not good enough. The dear boy, he must have and hold and he must read this book NOW. Today, this afternoon, before nightfall. He must learn every damn word and then appropriately translate into French and then from French into Latin and then from Latin into the punishment of German. And all by the coming Tuesday. And you stand there before us, a stupid goggle-eyed fool of an owl blinking and speaking insulting empty words of ‘next weekend?’ How dare you. How dare.
And so, Ma, the actual angry bitter Ma who is the forefront victim of injustice, well she happens to present a case for some form of fantastic discount, and she is told in no uncertain turns that they do not accommodate compensation or discounts for pre-sales – it is just a fact of life. Ever so slightly damaged books do happen to find loving homes (and may I use this opportunity to say what we all want to say from the darkness of our hearts: God bless all you good loving people who purchase ever so slightly damaged goods without complaint, while paying in full the retailers listed price). For the good loving people are the prevailing foundations of our civilisation that most of us contemptibly prevail to stamp and spit all over. But still, in the cut and trust of paper and hardback transportation this is unfortunately the way some books arrive from the warehouse. The process and risk of failure can really be so delicate and thus you can one time in a million get the odd subtle imperfection. It happens. Deal with it. But no. They continue to bemoan such ill fortune met with such shocking customer service.
So the assistant again tried to pacify the situation, but this time Pa moved in, big bold pipe smoking Pa (only he did not smoke a pipe but take it from me he sounded and looked like he probably does), and Pa, yes big bad Pa, he moved in, his cruel, bullying tone nothing short of unrestrained anger and so we wait for the inevitable arriving words of how: “I was in the RAF and I am so going to smack you in the mouth if you don’t get this sorted and while I hate to hit a woman the fact of the issue still prevails: someone needs to wake up to the seriousness of this situation.”
I, Rome Street, presently now also house an unhealthy unrestrained anger that one would not readily expect to see from such a passionately and publicly non-smoker of pipes. My anger is rising because this Pa, he just does not like NO for an answer. No sir. No he does not. No he cannot stomach such unprofessional negativity. Therefore he bluntly rudely abusively continues to demand what he obviously cannot have. A substantial discount on the list price.
What a fool of the damned.
The brave honesty of the gentle book service provider has already been spelt out five times and counting. What incredible new madness of the day therefore prevails. We have shot a million miles a second in hyper space and we are all so far past a controlled belittlement of this dear poor helpful-in- her-helplessness woman, running spinning zooming fast towards a new form of anarchy and the store is as near as it will ever be to witness the raw free terror of fists and clubs and I really do not like what is occurring. No. Not one disgusting crumb of it. Just then my phone rang. It was Caravan Cooper. But the phone must stay in my pocket because I could not let this go.           Immediately, with raised volume, I intrude: “Dog-eared?” I said. Silence from all four prostrate figures. “Dog-eared I said,” I said again. But this time my voice is met with pain, a long pensive silence that mocked me in vain. “Now look here.” I roared at the four. Breathing in, I approached for more. Many now flocked in through the door. I raised my head and powered my chest and proceeded to thump my angry breast. All in the duty of a humble passing guest. I coughed out loud, standing proud.
Silence. More silence. Perfect.
And then I viciously began:

“Even if dog-eared, harpoon speared,
Soaked in beer or by a million tears,
Shredded from fear, perhaps half eaten by a deer?
If the print, the writers words,
His story, his efforts, blessed be the birds,
If all are fit to view in earnest,
In calculating merriment from the fire in the furnace,
In sentences of finished drafts,
In paragraphs of printed dance,
Of day and night and love, perchance?
If all of the aforementioned are duly met,
I’ll buy the damned book, so you will need not fret.”

          Sometime not very much later at all actually, and I am surveying the scene of the necessity of my battle and I am instantly (and obviously) pleased to be on fire with such a passionate display of natural flowing watery brilliance. But pray, something truly worthy must have surely followed your excellent improvisation you ask? Rome, now come on. A quite masterful and splendid deliverance yes, but please, please do not stall us. Please tell. Please tell us what followed? Okay, okay, calm down. I will reveal all: My friends, what followed, what followed was a fountain of endless joy. The house, this marvellous house, this colourful auditorium of life and its spectators of silent participant, all of whom had been cemented, transfixed in wonderment, the anticipation of this now endless fountain of joy. The house, how it roared its muted approval of the mighty Rome Street. Not merely now just a novelist, but also a quite breathtaking poet. A gifted young poet. Whose poetry is of such stunning high quality. Street level poetry emancipated from sentimentality and nonsense by England’s most refreshing new young writer and a man capable of improvising at will, with or without invitation. What a man this Rome Street
is, the Capybara tribe want to announce, congratulate. What a writer of fiction, what a poet. But are they true of this rampant cutting opinion? Why, they must be. For they are none other than the famous Capybara’s, the readers of James Joyce, the writer of dog-eared books, for they are the holy, the thinkers, the crusaders of contemplation. Of course, how can anyone question that they would not know how to identify true talent. They would tell you how true talent will always succeed in time. And I so wanted the moment to last, to crawl along wounded, slowly, therefore allowing me the treasure of golden time to gain so much more recognition, to be honoured and accepted, to be gloried by educated minorities, talked about positively at select diner parties, the man, this Rome Street, the man who is the only S stocked under S worth buying and reading and discussing in book clubs. Oh yes, these are the days. This is what I have been waiting for. But alas my phone, my phone, my present bane, the enemy of the poet of the bookstore, it would not stop its jingle jangle jingle. It would not stop throughout. And thus I was rendered with no other choice but to surrender to its call.
          “Fucking hell, Streety. What the fuck’s going on?”
          No indeed. It would not have ever stopped.
          “Streety. Where the fuck are you?”
          I would never have ever chased away that jingle jangle jingle.
          “Erm, nothing, nowhere. I’m in a shop.”
          “A shop? What fucking shop?”
          “Just…a shop,” I softly concealed as I misplaced the Kafka book on the shelving, avoiding all eyes and all shapes and all noise. Kafka, a good fellow, and right now because of me he was presently suffering under E, forcefully planted in between Ben Elton and another Ben Elton. I would apologise and explain my reckless but necessary albeit damming action to Kafka at a more appropriate, more convenient interval.
          “Well, I’ve moved on and I’m now over in The Card Trick and it’s your fucking round. So get your arse in gear and get over here quick. You’ve been ages. I’m well cunted off with you.”
          I promptly left the shop assistant and the Capybara’s and a tidy upward march soon became a manic collapsing race as I purposely moved out of the store, pausing momentarily to remind myself to get the CD for mum (which I did) before heading east and towards the overhead jet black thunder cloud that appropriately sat mean looking, high and directly above The Card Trick public house. But all was not fully lost and bad. At least I had not wasted £6.99 on a book by James Joyce that I knew I would never get round to reading. A book that was dog-eared too. Shocking stuff. After my returning words with Kafka, my deep apology, I will make note never to shop in there again.

This is an extract from King of the Zulus by Joe England

Thursday, 14 July 2011

I Was The Dog

The Golden Owl was dead as fuck all lunchtime. It really was dead. No comfort in casual pub talk. Just me and my pints. Cold comfort. Having spent the last hour or so mining from the sunken holes of my luckless past, the pints went down ultra fast, pox ridden fox chasing crippled rabbit; piss water down the drain, ship sinking. Saving grace though – suppose it was only a weekday bleak-day lunchtime. I mean, what was I really expecting to find down here? A welcoming party, a room full of old friends gathered solely to lift my spirits? Wake up Andy, smell the piss weak lager. Yeah. What was I really expecting coming in here for the first time in years. That all the old faces would be still here, waiting?

Me and Mandy had been together for eight years. That’s a very long time. We had lived together for most of that time. Mum let her move in, and after about six months she then let Mandy sleep in my bed, nightly. We then bought a double bed. Mum helped me get it in from the hire van and up the stairs. I had no other help at hand. Mandy was too thin to offer any weight and muscle and I had shed all my friends, all my best mates. All for Mandy. All of them gone. Ian Orr, Dave Gorse, Dan Stork. Haven’t seen those any of those guys in years.

What great guys, great mates they once were. Once. Were. Haven’t seen those any of those guys in years. Memories. Of loss and regret. What could have been if the old gang had stayed together. I had talent back then too. I remember when me and Dave Gorse put on a play in his back garden. ‘The Clever Cat’ it was called. Dave had written it. I was the dog. A dog called Harry Dogsmith. Dave was the cat. The Clever Cat. Max. Can’t remember the story really. It was, for all intents and purposes, a character upgraded Tom & Jerry, but with us stood rooted slagging each other off in a matey way – the cat getting all the best lines; it was Dave who got the laughs, not me. Still, we charged on the gate and made about a pound each as we got a fair turnout. I even signed autographs. Mostly mums, but Debbie Weeks who was the much older sister of Tracie, got me to sign a box of her matches. Back then she was the first female other than mum to plant one on the side of my face. I really thought after that afternoon, that I was born lucky. Stick with Dave I said, I mean my lucky stars said, stick with Dave Gorse and you’ll find fame. He went on to direct me in a school play. I was a late entry for sure. But Dave was the director and if his mate wanted a role he’d find me one. He got me a job in the play he was directing. I played a brick wall. I even had two lines to learn. Which I did. He said I delivered them, and this was his word: immaculately. Naturally, I saw us in films together. Him directing, me delivering lines immaculately. I even suggested that we should try writing together. But after we left school, in a period where my paranoia taunted me in how he was forever avoiding me, Dave Gorse went and moved to the other side of London. Swiss Cottage. Got into RADA. Never heard about him since.

Still, there was always Ian Orr. With his big ears. Flappy. The winged-beast. Dumbo. FA Cup. Ian Orr. Now I think about it, I really don’t have any, no idea whatsoever of his recent history or whereabouts. 

I’ll never forget my mate Dan Stork though. At school, Dan loved motorbikes, he was obsessed with motorbikes even though he had never even sat on one. Jeff Barry was the oldest in our year – he missed out by one day from being the youngest in another year – and to remind us all of the control in age he held over us he rode into school on the first day of September of our last year on a red Suzuki 50cc moped. Dan Stork was seen throughout that year frantically peddling in his exhaust fumes. He lost an arm at seventeen. Not Jeff Barry but Dan Stork. He overturned a Mini. Lucky to be alive but maybe he should have followed his dream and bought a motorbike. One-armed, he went travelling around the world. With his dad, Mike. I would have gone with him. But was never asked. In fact, I’m sad to say that I never even found out about him losing his arm until I heard it mentioned recently by someone who I work with, in the job.

It’s an insult to me, to hear something so tragic like that about a mate from my history, an integral part of my life, to hear that from some dumb mouth while I’m in the job. The job I hate; it truly is the pit of hell busting your gut five nights out of seven.  Yes, I can say hand on heart that I often wonder how Dan is getting on. I do. I think about him and that one arm all the time. When I get the chance.

This is an extract from Barking Frog by Joe England.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

U Certificate Gangster


I cracked an egg open into her face – right between the eyes. Be a man Andy, said the internal scream beforehand, me egg in hand. Think of yourself as a gangster, continued the inner other me, a gangster wouldn’t put up with what you’ve been through. That was the barefaced truth of it. I was on the wrong side of thirty-five and it was finally time for me to be a man. No one on this earth would have put up with what I had been put through. And so there it all was. In the kitchen. Mum’s old kitchen. Now my kitchen. Morning touching noontime. A combination of damned circumstance – a brutal tiredness from working through the night, her stony traitors silence and my head-talk about being a gangster – had brought me to this act of violence. The fuse of my patience now burned to melting, the egg then fired spectacularly from palm to forehead. Splat!
          I suppose I did feel a bit like a gangster in the immediate moment that followed through. A monstrous sense of power, control. Like a gangster leader. But then again when I say I felt like a gangster leader, I don’t mean that I was some sort of feared modern-day offspring of The Krays; I guess I would always be in my mind's eye a romantic gangster, still somehow dangerous, but playful at heart, an old fashioned Al Capone type, feet pointed up on a desk, puffing away on a fat Cuban cigar from afar, enjoying the triumphant news about the St. Valentine’s Massacre. Hmmm. Valentine’s Day.
          But I do now think I really did feel the power and control of a man putting his woman in her place, with that egg. Some moral authority as fractured bits of shell grazed her delicate skin while yellow and transparent phlegm dripped down her thin pointed nose and into the waiting hole of her astonished mouth. I clenched my eyes shut. Everything silent, everything still. When I opened them she really did look such a pathetic wonderful sight. I almost forgot myself and all that she had done to hurt me; I almost grinned. I didn’t grin because I am undoubtedly the kind of person never to glory in domestic violence let alone any kind of violence. I am simply not vicious by nature. I abhor violence. Always have done. But now, now that I have come to think about it all, I’m all twisted about the facts. What I mean is, is that I guess I know exactly how they would have both – and him – reacted if they had got to read any of this now. All of them would have definitely laughed and then spitefully sung to the world about how if I was any sort of a gangster I’d have been a U certificate gangster, bleeding Bugsy Malone. Bugsy sing-along Malone. Splat! Thank God for Eddie. Always remember how he showed the way. I will. Because it could have been so easy for me to have been swallowed up and spat out onto the pavement. The dead spit under your shoe. That’s what drove me forward. In such a short space of time, I fatally had so much to prove. That’s why I got sucked in. Because everything about me, the real me, was clearly at stake.

An extract from the opening of Barking Frog by Joe England.