Ruminating on Roy Harper – Chapter 4 extract

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Chapter 4 – quarks in the strings of time

Things were moving fast in 68. The Underground had blossomed and we had our own scene. We lived in a parallel universe with different rules. I was no longer an adolescent. I felt old and worldly beyond my years. The streets were mine. I drifted through the backstreets where the druggies, whores and down and outs lived – and they were just ordinary people like me. I shared the apartment block with a motley crew and they were all great with tales and stories that filled you with empathetic grief.

When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. I felt safe on the streets. I could blag my way out of trouble. I was hip, cool, young and though poor in financial terms I was rich in friendships, ideas and experience. The desperate left me alone. There was no point in robbing me. They could see I had nothing.

I shared a bedsit with Pete, who was on my course, in a house run by two lesbians, one of whom was very feminine and one extremely macho. The macho one dressed like a man in a suit and trilby. One of the lesbians got pregnant which made for an interesting few weeks of intrigue as the tensions built between them. We thought it strange that it was the macho one that got pregnant. Life is strange.

This was a million miles away from the flower beds of suburbia with its twee chintz. These were the dingy streets of Ilford and the reality of urban life.

There were four of us living there, two of whom were called Pete and three of us were called Smith, and the nights were spent knocking the spots off cards and rapping or picking the gigs. There was a lot of laughter. The Welsh Pete had a series of lines that he’d exclaim when he occasionally won a hand – ‘Drop ‘em Blossom – you’re on next’, ‘A red hot tip’ and ‘Suck mine for one and nine’ were some that come to mind. It was all very sexist and alien but rather amusing in a school boyish manner.

There was IT and OZ to peruse, events, happenings, and festivals.

College was a part-time side issue of little importance. Life was too full to fit in studying. I did enough to get by.

All of this was carried out to a backdrop of music – not as a bland background but right up there, upfront, to be listened too and cherished, discussed and argued over, and loved.

Like electrons we could exist in two places at once. We were connected by a cosmic telepathy. That’s all bollocks but it was how we felt. We were Freaks. Our minds were freaked out. Our eyes were open. We saw what was going on. The straight world, with its politics, social inequality, aspirations, careers, wars, greed and selfishness existed in another plane. I felt sorry for them all trapped in their drabness of experience and shackled with such narrow horizons. My own limits were the extent of my own imagination. Life was a smorgasbord. It was richer than the most opulent meal in the most lavish restaurant. I walked through the streets with straight society but felt that I was walking on a different planet.

Besides I was in love. I was floating anyway.

Liz was a dancer at a college the other side of London. When she came to stay I’d clean the place up so that I didn’t come across as a complete slob and pick the bits off the carpet. We didn’t have luxuries like a Hoover but we had something much better than that.

Pete and I moved to a squat and then another bedsit in Ilford. Pete was a genius who had come back from Africa with full blown culture shock. He made no sense of the packed streets and concrete jungle. The distance of strangers was disconcerting. The structure of this huge morass of society was daunting.

I felt the same and I’d never lived in the African outback. We were strangers in our own strange land. But we were happy voyagers who chortled our way through an endless time where years were decades.

Pete, in his spare time, collected and built musical instruments. The tiny bedsit was full of harmoniums, mando-ukes and guitars. Pete plucked and we rapped and thrashed around like demons as we attempted to make sense of the crazy journey our society was heading down. The walls were adorned with posters we’d made on social and political themes. Pete made light-shows out of polarised sheets that flicked and changed when you moved them. Music filled the seconds. Everything imbued with intensity.

My pet rat Lipher sat on top of her cage and listened in to our mad rapping like a serene Buddha. She knew best of all – but was not saying.

New Novel – Chapter 4 – All smoke and no mirrors


Chapter 4 – All smoke and no mirrors

Danny was feeling good. He had a place to stay. All the worries in the world had dropped off his shoulders. He had a few weeks of grace at least. That was how long Suzie had paid up. At least he had an address now. He could sign on. When the cheques came in he could pay Suzie back. He had three weeks to chill out and get his head sorted out.

He didn’t dare start thinking permanent yet. He had three weeks of grace, that was all. Then it was down to Mr Rose.

Venturing out of his world on the fourth floor the first person he bumped into was John. John was making his way back from the bathroom and came to a dead stop when confronted with Danny. At that point in time Danny had no way of knowing what a rarity this was. John never ventured out. He was never seen around the house. No-one knew how he got his shopping or paid his rent even. John was a total recluse. For a moment the two of them eyed each other up like prize fighters. Danny noted the suspicion in John’s eyes. The man looked to be around thirty, rather flabby and paunchy, with skin so white that it was almost transparent. His long hair was dishevelled, straggly and decidedly greasy. He looked like a down and out.

‘Hi,’ Danny said, breaking the deadlock, ‘I’m Danny. I’m new here.’

He held out his hand. John frowned at it suspiciously but took it. His limp grip was clammy and he quickly dropped the contact.

‘Do you fancy coming up for a coffee?’ Danny asked in a friendly manner, nodding up the stairs towards the flat.

John seemed to consider this for an age, studying Danny carefully before coming to a decision. He finally seemed to make up his mind.

‘No,’ he said. ‘But why don’t you drop in for a smoke?’

Now that seemed highly preferable to Danny. He nodded assent. Danny was not averse to a gentle mind alteration.

John’s living room was the strangest Danny had ever seen. The walls were lined with books. There were heaps of tomes all over the place.

‘Wow,’ Dany exclaimed, ‘I’ve never seen so many books.’

‘I studied literature,’ John explained succinctly. It later turned out that John had a first from Cambridge and a PhD. But he did not talk about it. He spent his life sitting in an armchair reading and smoking dope.

The evidence of the dope was there for all to see. The room was dominated by a large, square oak table. On that table was the biggest collection of roaches anybody could ever have imagined. It rose up feet into the air like a peaked volcano. Danny was fascinated. Why would anyone want to do that? Apart from anything else it elicited a musty aroma of full ashtrays that insidiously pervaded the room in an altogether unpleasant way.

Danny sat himself down while John began to expertly construct a three skinner, carefully burning and crumbling the dark black resin on to the tobacco, rolling the papers in one hand, licking the gum and inserting the rolled cardboard roach. He twiddled the end, rolled the joint between his palms and inspected it carefully before applying the flame from his lighter to the end and sucking it into life.

‘Have you read all these?’ Danny asked, watching him perform the ritual, and nodding towards the heaps of literature all around them..

‘Most of them,’ John said, inhaling a lungful of smoke, without looking up and avoiding making eye contact.

‘Who’s your favourite author?’ Danny asked, as he tilted his head to read the names on the spines of the books.

‘I don’t have one,’ John replied exhaling a big blast of smoke and passing the spliff across.

Danny could see that John might be a man of words but not a man of many words, and certainly not a great conversationalist. He accepted the spliff and took a toke, sitting back in the chair and studying the titles of the books in the heap nearest to him. There didn’t seem to be any order to them. There were three volumes of Trotsky, together with a DH Lawrence and a book about Africa. How would anyone find the title they wanted in amongst all these if there was no order to them? It was contrary to the way Danny’s mind worked. All his books and albums were carefully alphabetically catalogued. He enjoyed doing it.

They smoked the joint, in silence, and Danny was consumed with a beautiful buzz. There was nothing corporeal or heavy about it. The dope, despite looked dark and resinous, had a light heady quality that was vibrant and exhilarating. Danny was no big connoisseur of hash but he could tell straight away that this was premium gear.

When they had finished the joint John threw the roach on to the huge pile on the table and set about rolling another.