Friday, January 18, 2013

Who Dares Win

“Who Dares Wins” – everybody knows that motto right?  It’s kinda been emblazoned on everyone’s conciousness since the Iranian Embassy.  Our blokes and the Head Shed forgot that the BBC can be right sneaky fuckers.  They’d managed to sneak in cameras and were filming everything as the lads blew the windows in and stormed the place from top to bottom.
However the real motto of Special Forces should be either “Hurry Up and Bloody Wait”, or “Check and Test, Check and Test Again”.  I’ve lost count of the numbers of times I’ve been sat up in the arse end of nowhere just waiting for the nod to do whatever skulduggery I’ve been sent to do.
Today’s mission however should be nice and straightforward.  For a while now I’ve been seconded to the Sneaky Beaky bunch.  MI5 not CI5 and certainly not Nine till frigging Five.  I’m sure they are called spooks because of the colour of their skins the no sunlight fuckers as opposed to being “shadowy ghosts” of the intelligence arena.  Having said that I always had a soft spot for Bodie and Doyle.  Either that or I really liked Ford Capri’s or possibly perms and tight jeans.
So the job is simple piece of undercover work. For the last few days I’ve had this post office under my watchful eye.  Lovely little thing in the centre of the village – runs up a slight hill which is a one way street.  Fucking nightmare for parking so the job will be a mixture of vehicle and good old fashioned mark 2 boots.  Not army of course as they would stand out a mile.  Something more Gucci that’ll hopefully fit in with the neighbourhood.  No good perfecting a local fucking accent then dressing like mannequin from Next when every chavvy little bastard is head to toe in Primark's latest.
Anyway, easy-peasy it’s simply a matter of into the Post Office, then pick up some “paperwork” that’s been sent there just for me and off into the sunshine.  I’ve already done a Close Target Recce or CTR for you acronym freaks.
The layout is turn right at the pub which sits at the bottom of the one way system.  Looking straight ahead on the right is a chemist, chip shop, sandwich place, dog grooming parlour with fucking tattoo shop over.  No idea if the last two are owned by the same person.  Could be a growth market that, shave your dog downstairs and tattoo the bloody thing up stairs.
Just past the dog place is an alleyway leading from the road back behind the shops to some local parking and old people’s flats.
On the left of the road there is a small cake shop, entry for off road parking, a pet shop of sorts, a bus stop and then the post office itself.
 I like to use a dog for cover.  Not to hide behind but who the fuck takes any notice of a dog walker? That is unless you let the dog shit on the ground and don’t pick it up, then some do-gooder will chase you up the road.  Given the shops on this road a little dog has been perfect.  I’ve also affected some breathlessness to excuse the short dog walk and lingering at intervals.
Infiltration time.  Nice and easy does it.  Check the dog is settled and I get on the net to let control know that I’m active.  “That’s Delta going Foxtrot” which means I’m on foot heading out.  I make it to the transport unmolested but keep an eye out as I get myself settled in.  Back on the net “That’s Delta complete” so everyone knows I’m good to go.  “Delta going mobile” and it’s easy away down through the main road into the village.
It’s only a mile to the turn off before the pub.  I keep a running commentary going as I drive.  It’s finely tuned skill being able to give a commentary so everyone on the net is aware of what’s going on and what you can see whilst keeping your wits about you.  You don’t want to get that engrossed delivering war and fucking peace and then some player catches you with your pants down and introduces your head to Mr 9mm.
Turning right at the pub I head up the hill and reverse into a parking space just up from the alley which leads to the post office.  In the event of any drama I want to be able to hightail it the fuck out of here using the vehicle as a ram if need be.  It's a pain in the arse doing all of that whilst going backwards.  Sitrep on the net and a quick “Delta is going Foxtrot” lets them know I’m out and on my way.
Alleyway seems clear but this is an antsy area on any day of the week.  I’m proceeding at a nice even pace walking through with that aura of Colgate freshness.  Looking at me you’d think I’d been born and brought up here.  Every signal I’m giving off says that I’m here and I belong.
Quick left and right at the end of the alley and it’s are over the road and into the Post Office.  I’ve timed it so there should be no queue.  All the coffin dodgers were in the day before and the Primarni's are all out shopping for something nice maybe with fucking checks on it.
This is the easy part.  The guy behind the counter doesn’t know me from Adam.  All I have to do is speak the correct words and I’ll get what I came in here for.
Up to the counter, smooth as you like.  Not a hair out of place not a bead of perspiration to give me away.  “Morning” he says.
A simple “Morning” back and we are off and running. 
“How Can I help you today?” 
“I’d like to draw my pension please”
I reach into my pocket, easy like so he knows there’s no threat and draw my bankcard out.  Into the machine it goes – no alarms yet so it looks like I’m home free.  Punch in the PIN, cash out, a quick “Thank You” and I’m out of there.
Another right and left check takes me safely across the road and down the alley where I’ve parked my mobility scooter.  “That’s Delta complete” I say into my hairnet and ease out along the pavement, hang the left at the pub and make my way out of the target area to return to base.
Back in the post office the postmaster is joking to his assistant.  “You must have seen that old biddy before” he said.
“Not that I can remember” she replied looking quizzically. 
“Ah, she’s lived here for years.  Went a bit doolally when her son got killed over in Afghanistan.  Turned out he’d been in some secret unit or other doing interesting things behind enemy lines.  Official line was that he died of a heart attack whilst training in extreme temperatures but it took them six months to send his body home, which kind of suggests they were either waiting to get the body back or at least some of it.....”
“So, she went to the library and started reading every Special Forces memoir she could get her hands on to try and find out what his life was like as he never ever talked about it.”
“Ok, so she’s a history buff then”
“No, it’s gone further than that – she believes that she’s one of them now – fighting the good fight against the Provos or Al Queda or the guy on the corner who puts non-recyclable rubbish in his recycle bin”
“What’s her name?” she asked.
“Funny thing is, I can’t remember her real name it’s been that long since she used it.  After a year or two of submerging herself in the books she changed her name by deed pool.  We simply know her as Mandy McNab.”

Brian Tuck

Why Me?

Why me?  I haven’t seen her for two years at least, and that was only a quick hello in Sainsbury’s cheese aisle. She looked good though. Don’t get me wrong, it was long over – fairly bitter too at the time. Usual chit chat between ex partners – job, kids (respective that is, we never had any of our own.) Still, we had eight good years, September 1966 to September 1974 precisely – no music hall joke about the fact we were together for twenty from me. My fault we split. Stupid, selfish and self-centered. I strayed, once and drunk. Things could have been different. They need someone to identify the body. My number was on the back of my photo in her purse.

Dave Blackhurst

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Four In The Morning

That song by Prefab Sprout? You give me Faron Young Four in the Morning. An ear worm they call it, has been for 30 year now.
4 am, chameleon time, it can be anything but always magnetic with its lamplight hue. An all too momentary passing as the ordinary takes on an ethereal sheen and life's reticent smile reveals itself from out of the dark. Four in the morning soaks the river with a princely malt. Feathery trills and the tranquil air gather and transcend the subtle into grandiose. It's the virgin dew of a new day or the gratifying twinkle of a lucky night. Not that lucky you aren't walking home alone  through its caressing touch though, acquainting yourself again with this elusive yet  omnipresent hour.
It was around this time I used to see Taddy on Wakefield Road on the corner of the bend near the Moldgreen Junction leaning on the barrier casting his eye to the opposite side of the road calling me.  I  never asked why or what. Instead we talked, laughed and earnestly discussed the now and the days to come whilst picking the morsels from our immense past. Strange days indeed he always said but he wrapped his sadness with thoughtful  comedic wit and capable measured acceptance of it all. Maybe a good hour used to pass as the 4 am twilight hour augmented the sheer fun of such a  happy collision.
This beautiful  whispish  and fleeting hour  comes and then it goes . This time it isn't coming back. Rest easy at least my friend if peace is still impossible for you. You were my Four in the Morning.


A long time ago

A long time ago, well actually probably wasn't that long when you look at the grand scheme of things, but for me it seemed like a long time ago.

"Grand scheme of things." What does that even mean? For me,  it was a long time ago but in the grand scheme of things. See there I go again, "Grand scheme of things". I gotta stop thinking in the grand scheme of things. It was a long time ago though. Or at least it seemed like a long time ago. 

Yes, it was, it was definitely a long time ago.

In fact it was that long ago, I can barely remember.

Now that I'm thinking about it, it was that long ago, I'm not even sure it was me. 

No, it wasn't even me. 

I do know it was a long time ago though. 

Nick P


Our early years in the States saw my dad try a number of brands, Marlboro Red and Camel largely dominating his smoking habits. But I don’t think he was particularly loyal.

Sometime in the summer of 1973 we were down in New Orleans, either heading north from Texas to Chicago or heading south from Ohio to Texas, I forget now. But I remember New Orleans. The huge expanse of Lake Pontchartrain and the amazing bridge that seemed to skim across the lake’s surface. We’d have been in a rental car, as the only time we actually owned a car in our American years was for a few months in early 1973. Dad bought a big green station wagon. We’d only had it a few weeks, and were headed out from Bowling Green to visit friends in Northampton, Massachusetts. Just over the New York State line we picked up a hitchhiker. Even though the wagon was tightly packed with the seven of us, and our baggage, we found room for Terry, a student heading for New York City.

Near Herkimer there was a loud noise, sounded a lot like the low flying jets that occasionally shot over the top of your car in England when you were in certain parts of the country. Everybody peered around to see what the noise was and the car went into a roll. In the short seconds of the crash my mind was focused on one thing: don’t let go of the nail clippers I had bought for 50-cents at the last rest stop. I’d never had a pair of nail clippers before, and I didn’t want to lose them in a dumb crash.

The car came to a rest on the outside lane of the four-lane Interstate 90. A truck behind had stopped to block traffic and people were obviously trying to see what the story was. The car had stopped on its side, and was totaled. Later on the police said that they were amazed anybody came out of the wreck alive, as we had flipped and rolled three times, and the truck driver couldn’t believe it when, one by one, all eight of us emerged with no injuries save a deep laceration to dad’s head. I say eight – seven actually emerged from the car, as Lloyd, my older brother, had been thrown clear and come to a rest a few yards from the car, unscathed apart from some scratches and the mysterious loss of his cowboy boots. The police ferried the family to the local Howard Johnson’s. Dad was taken off for stitches and that night we ordered whatever we liked from the menu, a real treat. I still had my nail clippers clutched in my hand.

The car was mangled beyond recognition and towed away to be scrapped. Later we found out the entire back axle had snapped, and the jet-like roar was the metal dragging along the tarmac. Our friend David had to drive over from Northampton to pick us up, a journey not without humour as he was suffering from a slipped disc and had to drive (propped up with pillows) in an almost upright position. Still, he drove with good will, a Marlboro clamped in his mouth and ash tumbling down his shirt front.

So we would have been driving a rental in New Orleans. We watched paddle steamers on the Mississippi and had lunch on Bourbon Street. Wandering around the restaurant after eating I found, in the tray of the cigarette machine, two packs of Kool menthol cigarettes. I took them back to our table and negotiated a small cash sum from dad, who smoked Kool for the next couple off days. Later on it became so hot that a pen left on the dashboard of the car melted when we stopped at a small petting zoo where a donkey ate the buttons from my sister’s shirt.

Ben R

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I Used To

I used to work in a hospital. I used to work in the boiler room. I used to love that job. I used to be on the overnights. I used to think it was the best job ever. I used to fill out all my reports as soon as I got there. I used to be done in 30 minutes. I used to watch TV until the small hours. I used to phone my girl. I used to whack off while she talked dirty to me. I used to get mad when a safety valve blew and the alarm would sound. I used to have to check it out. I used to have to reset everything  I used to fix up an old Harley in the shop. I used to love that bike. I used to watch porn on the computer. I used to sleep on the job. I used to get woken  by the alarm. I used to fix the safety valve with a G- clamp. I used to clamp the fucker shut good and tight.

I don't do that no more

One night I was awoken by a really loud bang the office  filled with steam, high pressure steam, you see they use high pressure steam in hospitals to sterilize everything 'cause you just can't do that with low pressure steam but you can with high pressure steam. See what no one ever told me when I took that fucking job was the boilers I was tending were, that they could explode and make a fucking mess. That's why the have safety valves; that's why they have alarms, but no one ever really told me that, I just got promoted from janitor one day. Anyway that one day, it was around 5 a.m., when I was awoken by a really loud bang, I made my way out of the office into the boiler room proper and the boiler wasn't there no more. It was in the car park.

I used to love Saturday nights. I used to be off every Saturday and I used to go bar hopping with my girl. I used to ride that old Harley of mine from bar to bar, my girl on the back. We used to get drunk and go back to my place and maybe get high or fuck or both.

I don't do that no more. I'm in jail.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Journey

We'd never been abroad before. Never been out of the valley much. School trips to Lowther Wildlife Park and one trip with College to London. Fucking mental London, came back wondering how anyone could live there. We were not backward, just hadn't seen much life. I was 18 and my mate was 17, he was waiting for his exam results and I'd got a job as an apprentice welder in a bus depot. Don't fucking laugh, there were even fewer jobs then than there are now. I was on £35 a week, but lived at home - his mam and dad had a bit more money than mine but it was still quite a lot to ask - can we go on holiday?  We were open minded and a bit mental - try anything. We wanted to go abroad.
His mam came down the Travel Agents with us. It was funny looking back - she actually picked the destination because she thought it looked a bit more upmarket. She paid for us both on her credit card and I went to the Bradford & Bingley, withdrew my share and handed over grubby fivers and tenners.
Going abroad then was totally different. No mobiles, emails, phones didn't really work, you were basically off grid for a fortnight and good luck. I remember smoking on the plane - fucking crazy when you think about it, the fucking plane having ashtrays. It all seemed really glamorous. When we landed I got out and the fucking heat hit me, I thought it was the plane's engines or something.  We were in a great hotel and she's done full-board (not all inclusive, that was a concept that had yet to arrive). The travel agent had suggested full board because "at least they will not starve if they run out of money". 
We were good looking back then. You are when you are 18. The first night we were in a pub and this bird just said "come with us down the beach". So I did. Fucking hell, eye-opener. But to be honest, that just paled into insignificance when we made the discovery that changed our lives.
We were doing the usual touristy stuff - you know, straw hats, football on the beach, getting a tan. The third night in I saw a woman crying in the corner of a bar in a nice part of town. She looked like Goldie Hawn, she must have been in her forties. She looked fit. I asked her if she was OK and we got talking - she was English, she'd been robbed of her purse by some kids on a motorbike - it happened a lot. I bought her a drink, she ordered the speciality of the area and I had one as well. She liked us. We were sweet. She told us about the place, it's history. It was nice.  Her boyfriend turned up, he didn't look like good news, big fucker, mean looking. He seemed angry like we'd been trying to hit on her, she told him what had happened and that we'd looked after her - he calmed down and was really nice. He asked us what we were doing later. "Nowt" we said and he laughed, said it again "Nowt" - he was a cockney.  He said he knew a club and it was brilliant - good mix of locals and tourists, great music, very very different vibe.
They picked us up from the hotel, "bit late to be going out" was what we were thinking. He was with a bloke with a giant afro and Goldie Hawn. We went out on the main road and ended up in this huge open-air nightclub.  It was amazing. Everyone seemed so happy. The music was lovely - all pianos and strings. Nobody was pissed, they all seemed just...happy.
"Listen boys" says the cockney. "I'll get you a drink but if you really want to experience this, then you need to join us with one of these". He brought two little pills out of his pocket. He put one in his mouth and chucked it back. He snapped the other in half and nodded. I looked at Goldie Hawn, she smiled and nodded. We shrugged and necked them.  The Club was Amnesia. The Island was Ibiza. The year was 1987. The real journey had begun.


AKA... The Railway Hotel Pub

Clive the landlord uncapped another Strongbow for me. Bugs swirled through the steamy Railway Hotel Pub. They tapped off lights and people in a dizzying dance throughout the humid air. Hundreds of them - little ones swirling together, big ones crawling up backs and shoulders. The closeness of the bar area left a hazy trail above our heads, creeping just below hanging lights from the ceiling. I got off the train here 2 days ago - alone in the midday sun. Most passengers had gotten off at earlier stops like Toowoomba and Roma. The kid I shared a sleeper with got off at Roma after a drunken week in Brisbane. I got off at Charleville because it was the last stop. There wouldn't be another train for a week and then some. Tonight, I was doing my best to fill the time until the next train. They all knew I wasn't local. They stared and glared and made time filling chit chat until I went outside for a fag. They would then convene like a committee, "Do you know?" "No, do you?" "I think he's South African." "No way, a Brit." I stood outside and watched the stillness of the Outback night. Not a breeze, not a feeling of oxygen seemed to pass my face as I exhaled a drag. "Hot one tonight," a voice out of the stillness surprises and my subtle daydream ends with a "yea, it sure is." "Where you from, mate?" I sneer a bit, but not in a smug sort of way, more at the commonality of the current situation. I knew the question was burning in all their pockets and I imagined them drawing straws to see who got to ask it. "New York City!? Crikey, you're a long way from home mate! What brought you all the way out here, to our little Chaz-Vegas?" Truth be told I just wanted to see what was out here. The answers I usually got of serial killers, poisonous snakes, and a few kangaroo of course wasn't good enough. Although seeing a kangaroo for the first time, live and in person, is when I truly realized I was a long way from home - and I fucking loved it. News spread quick and Landlord Clive came up to me as soon as I got back into the pub, "New York, eh? I was there nearly 30 years ago." "Oh yeah, our Clive is quite the world traveller," said another listening in. "Yeah he's been everywhere, mate - New York City, Brisbane." The pub erupted in laughter. Clive himself laughed aloud, turning to continue the joke, "Yeah, well the plane left from Brizzy, mate. Charleville Airport doesn't fly to New York on Tuesdays." Again the pub erupts into shoulder chuckling laughter. The uneasiness surrounding my prescience passes with every story. They bought rounds and talked toward me as they told stories. You know the sort, ones told a million times before. "... and then the hog jumped on his back!" The climax of the story shouted into the advancing roar of laughter, so that even the outside stillness feels the presence of life.


Monday, January 14, 2013


More than one seed was planted that day.
He came home from a business trip. She had missed him and he had missed her. They left the Chinese and the empty wine glasses on the kitchen table and fed instead on each other.
But as he thrust and groaned on top of her, she had a sense of something. Was that the floral, slightly sickly smell of someone else? And when she drew her hand through his hair, it came away with a long, light-coloured gossamer that was neither her auburn waves nor his salt-and-pepper fuzz.
The part of her that should have been the warmest went cold.
He sensed something. She didn't seem to be enjoying it any more.
Not knowing what to do, he heaved and breathed and finished.

"Is something the matter?" he asked afterwards.
She still wasn't sure.
"Of course not," she said, and smiled, but it wasn't a 100W smile, more of a 40W energy-saving smile.

He had to go away again, and that was when she found out. She considered sorting it out right away. There and then. Before he knew anything about it. She hadn't believed him when he said he had to go back to Miami. Where was he really? She scanned the backdrop in the Skype window for clues.

He missed her dreadfully, but whenever they spoke she seemed distracted, and their Skype sessions started to include awkward silences.
"I'll be back on Monday, around nine o'clock."
"Hmm," she replied, squinting weirdly through the screen.

She didn't sort it out in the end. What if she were wrong? She kept second-guessing and putting it off and avoiding the issue and then it was too late. One time he returned from the States and he knew.
"Why didn't you tell me?" He was overjoyed.
"Well, you know," she replied. "I wasn't sure."
He thought this was an odd thing to say but he was too happy to think twice, until the next time he had to go away.
It didn't add up. That time, he was in the States for six weeks, visiting buyers and manufacturers, giving speeches. Six weeks. It couldn't work. It didn't add up. It wasn't his. He was stunned. He didn't know what to do. He did nothing. Gradually the Skype sessions got shorter and less frequent. He stopped trying to make the trips to the States as short as possible, and when he was home he worked later.

She noticed. While she could still do so inconspicuously she followed him to see where he went when he said he had to work. He went to the office. Once to the airport. Once to the M1. That evening he said the Kent meeting had suddenly been relocated to Birmingham. She couldn't believe any of it.

He noticed that little things around the house weren't getting done. He put it down to her condition. He resented his space, his castle, his paradise, being tainted by some faceless dick-swinging moron. He started visiting his local before going home. He started shouting after going home.

One of those days, he came home and she was on the sofa and the house was a mess. He shouted. She shouted back. He was a drunk, a liar, a cheat, a good-for-nothing. She was a slut, a whore, a useless wife. In the midst of the shouting she stopped shouting and looked very pale and then very red. He kept on shouting until she doubled over and then he stopped.
"Get me to the hospital," she said.
He called a taxi.

It was a long labour. He left. He went to work. He got drunk. Then he went back to the hospital. He fell asleep in a chair, and just as a set of orderlies came to throw him out a nurse also came to find him.
"Please come this way."

It looked like a little red shrivelled piece of sweaty meat. He searched for himself in it. It had a turned-over ear like his. Its eyes were grey like his. But that didn't mean anything. Maybe the other one had a turned-over ear and grey eyes. He couldn't think what to say. He couldn't drive home so he took a taxi. She stayed in overnight.

On his own, he had another whisky, slept for an hour, shaved, changed his shirt, and went to work. When he came home he found them both asleep on the sofa. Then it woke up and started wailing.

Neither of them slept for more than an hour at a time for some months. Not even on his trips to the USA, separated by thousands of miles and several hours from them.

Then one time, he came back, and found they had gone.




One hundred and eighty pounds. For one and a half hours. Two pounds a minute. Middle aged, not ugly, bit worn. Where did this start he wondered. Got the money side of things out if the way and remembered the first "blue" movie. In a pub, afternoon lock in, young guns and older harder cases holding their breath. Ten minutes ago, before the projector rolled they'd been noisy and boisterous. Now they watched a black girl ironing before a big white dude came through a window and fucked her. 
Blue movies, porn mags and then the Internet. Downloading pics on dial-up and then 3gig HD movies. Hard drive full of them. Then the websites, Adultwork, Escort Agencies. 
Been doing it now for a couple of years. Every four or five weeks when his wife was away for the weekend. 
She kissed him, bit raspy from her shaved top lip, led him to the bedroom and really got down to it. She was good, no doubt about it, experienced, up for anything, maybe the best he'd had. Better than the young, pretty agency girls. They were good but not experienced like this one. 
He asked if she'd ever done two guys together. I did nine once, she said. 
Pretty isn't everything he thought. 


Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Mails.

George 'English' Robertson and Tommy Dunne had been holed up in The Eastern Fork Roadhouse for ten days and ten nights. English was on his way back to Fairbanks and Tommy was headed for Nenana. Both men were in the employ of the U.S. Mail Service, their dogs and their sleds kept the far flung reaches of the Northern territories in contact with the outside world.

Karl 'The Big Swede' Haglen had just burned the last deck of cards and was contemplating pouring the last six bottles of whiskey down the drain. Each of the two mushers had won and lost his sled, his dogs and, more importantly, his mail contract to the other several times. Presently, The Big Swede was in possession of both contracts, sleds and dog teams, by virtue of him been a better card player than either man and a sober one at that. Been a good businessman, The Big Swede would return these to both men when the thaw came and they could be on their way. They would, after all, need them if they were to continue carrying the mails. And without the mails there would be no need for a roadhouse.

The snow had stopped but the drifts reached the eves of the lower roof. The two dog teams remained outside, one on either side of the roadhouse lest they fight, curled up in the holes they dug in the snow. Huskies and Malamutes, hardy dogs, well suited to the extremes of cold. The Big Swede, as was custom in these parts, had extended credit to both English and Tommy Dunne enabling them to feed their teams the 2lb of dried salmon and 1/2 lb of tallow each dog required daily.  

The two mushers were awoken on the eleventh day by the sounds of their dogs  barking frantically. Quickly dressing both men ran out to tend to their respective charges. A droning sound filled the sky, the dogs circled and howled and circled some more. The noise grew louder and louder. English brought his bearskin mitten covered hand to his face to shield his eyes and scanned the skies and there, in the distance but getting closer and closer, he saw Ben Clarkson's Wasp Hamilton. The plane was following the dog trail.
'Tommy! Tommy, have you seen this?'
The plane flew low and Clarkson tipped his wings as he past over the roadhouse.
'Seen it English? Have I see it? There'll be no more Gee and Haw for me, Haglen, you can have my fucking dogs, I'm getting me into the Aviation business just as soon as I get back to Fairbanks!'


Annual Appraisal

Here we go again, it's that time of year. Is there anything that disconnects me more from the whole employment deal than the annual appraisal?. A minuet, a mime set in farce. In we go donning our masks, circling the stage. He's young, full of aspiration not yet immersed in the drudgery of it all hard heeled against the starting blocks of ambition. I drift in along my plateau of contentment feigning readiness.  Both of us skewered in the flames of entrapment. He needs me, for now at least. I have taught him all he knows but not yet all i know. He knows that, i know he knows, he knows i know and i too, yet still we dance.
So we begin and i divide, casting the fury of resent behind. Down the pages we crawl filling the void with platitude and strained participation. Pallid contemplation, a token critique then a nod of approval as another hurdle is negotiated. Finally the denouement and this ceremonial cavort ends where it began........average.
 Milly C

In bed with Ben E King.

In bed with Ben E King.
We are stoked up and wide eyed. We have spent the last week crash rehearsing the new songs but non of us are sure we really have much idea what we are doing. What mattered was that our mad cap and fast talking manager, Tracie, has organized a showcase for us in front of David Ambrose, head of London Records, and at this precise moment we are trundling down the motorway in a battered orange transit van, full of what might be. Our destination is the pretentiously named Barrington Sound Clinic in Brixton South London.

The last year has been quite an experience. Paul and I had known each other since we were fourteen. We had grown up together from then on. We had smoked our first joints together, jammed our first songs, and popped our cherries along the way. 18 months ago we had put together our first proper band and, like something out of a film, immediately got signed up by a pretty happening independent label. We had so far released three singles and all of them had scraped into the independent music chart. God knows how?

A few months previously our status as local legends had been interrupted by the arrival of Tracie LaMorte. She was a stick thin ball of energy with a big mouth and a blue wig, and we immediately bought into her story. She had managed several acts we had heard of, and even one who were now a big noise in the States. For a bunch of wide eyed ninteen year olds, what more was there to know? We needed to think big, she told us. Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or do you have the mettle to break out and take it further? We slavered like Pavlov’s dogs and told her we did. She then informed our record label they could go f*** themselves and that we would not release anymore material on their poxy label. This then led to two years of litigation but that's another story.

Right now we are traversing the roads of South London, drinking home brewed pear wine, and about to turn into the yard of the Barrington Sound Clinic. For the next 3 days we are to rehearse our show and then perform it like we are at Wembley stadium. The audience will consist of one person. David 'Flakey Dave' Ambrose. The man who signed the Sex Pistols and Duran Duran to EMI, Sigue Sigue Sputnik to Phonogram,(for which he was sacked) and Fine Young Cannibals to his current home of London Records. Ambrose was something of legend, not to mention an enigma. Prior to becoming the worlds greatest hit and miss A&R man, he had played bass in The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Rod Stewarts' pre-Faces band, Steampacket, and also a brief stint in Peter Greens early Fleetwood Mac. Paul and I had met him the previous week at his office. During the chat Tracie had called up.
Her foghorn gob could be heard from the handset reminding Ambrose to take us for lunch. Ambrose then bundled us into the boot of his car and took us to his house in Fulham, where upon he handed us a loaf of sliced bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a spoon. Tracie had warned us he made Syd Barrett look like a lightweight.

The Barrington Sound Clinic didn't quite live up to its swanky name.
We found ourselves in a railway goods yard a few blocks from Brixton tube station. It comprised of several railways arches that had been converted into shabby rehearsal rooms, and one much larger arch that housed a recording studio. Everything in it was held together with black gaffa tape.

We are greeted by Jack Barrington, the proprietor. He's mid fifties wearing a Fred Perry and the requisite 'Sarf Landan' gold chains and sovereign rings. He is pleasant enough and accompanied by two policemen. It transpires that Jack's Mrs had recently had her hand bag snatched so, as you do in Sarf Landan, Jack had borrowed a coal truck and reversed it into the front of a local cafe where the bag snatcher was known to frequent. Over the next few days we came to realize that Jack was President of the local Self Preservation Society and, as such, he was afforded this kind of naughty misdemeanor without much more than a cursory word in his 'shell like'

Jack shows us to our rehearsal arch and informs us that Tracie had asked him to book us some local accommodation. However, seeing as how we are 'Total f***** no-marks who I ain't never 'eard of, not neva,' we will have to doss down in the rehearsal room.

It is all fine. It all feels like a great adventure. Within an hour we are set up and making a noise. We decide we need some beer and I go over to the main studio arch to find Jack and get some directions to the nearest off-license. As I enter I am greeted by someone. He is a black American guy, probably in his mid fifties, and clearly a bit the worse for wear.

“Hey Bro, if you going for liquor, man, get this nigger a bottle of Tunder-blunder yeah?”

It is the first time I have ever heard a black man call himself that and I don't quite know what to say. I just nod and assume he is talking about Thunderbird wine. Twenty minutes later I am back with the goodies and hand the guy his wine. He has kind eyes and skin like creased leather. He doesn't pay me back for the wine though, and I'm not really sure if I should ask.
At 11pm Jack comes marching in to our arch and tells us how it is. He will leave the main door open so we can get some fresh air, but lock the prison style security gate at midnight. This means we can we still have access to the toilets and coffee machine situated in the corridor just outside our rehearsal space, but we can't get out of the building. He will be back each morning around 9am. I ask Jack about the black guy who was sitting in the studio foyer.

“You mean Ben?”, he says.
I am non the wiser.

In the course of the next two minutes we discover that the big studio arch across the yard, is currently occupied by a South African vocal group called Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They are here to add their voices to a film sound track. The little American dude with a penchant for 'Tunder-Blunder' is non other than 24 carat soul legend Ben E King. Ben has been flown in by the record label to act as executive producer, albeit this has so far amounted to him getting pissed everyday from about lunch time onwards. However, we are impressed to be in such hallowed company.
The next day we get down to work. By 8pm we have played the songs 30 times, smoked lots of cigarettes and drunk a case of Stella. It's time to get some food and stock up on supplies before warden Jack locks us in for the evening. Around 10 o'clock we are sprawled out in the various moth eaten sofas and skinning up for the umpteenth time today, when a friendly Afro-American face appears around the door.

“You got any Tunder-blunder?

It is Ben E King. Our faces light up. He seems a very warm guy with a huge personality. It is hard not to to slip into fan mode and start questioning him about his life and music.

In no time at all Ben has drunk most of our beer. His laugh is infectious and the time just flies by. Finally he struggles to his feet, the slightly drunken mood having resulted in him offering to produce our album. Before too long Ben E King stretched tall and let forth a tired yawn 'I better make tracks' he says. We thank him for popping by and feel stunned that such a luminary of music should want to come and spend an hour with a bunch of nobodies that Jack ain't 'eard of, not neva. He gives us all an embrace, and wanders off to the door as he offers his last goodbyes. We all settle back and crack open another few cans to savour the moment, when Ben's broad Harlem tones come booming from the corridor beyond the rehearsal room.
'What the hell is this?'

We all look at each other with raised eyebrows before getting to our feet and going to look. Standing in the corridor is Ben. He has opened the large sound proofed door that leads to the yard. However, his exit is blocked by a large iron security gate straight out of Pentonville nick. Time had most definitely flown. So much so that that Jack had locked us in for the night and gone home.

Within about 30 minutes Ben E King has accepted the inevitable. He was stuck here until Jack unlocked the security gate in the morning. “You got any more Tunder-Blunder?”
In an effort to lighten the mood we decide to do what we had done the previous night. Jam lots of songs and play stupid tour games.
Ben seems happy to join in, he makes several humungous joints, and makes further in-roads into the booze stash. The first game we play is a band favourite and seldom fails to raise some hilarity. We don't know it yet but tonight is going to be a classic.

Everyone is given two Rizla papers. On the first you write a style of music. Jazz, punk, soul, flamenco, whatever takes your fancy. On the second you write a subject. It can be absolutely anything at all. The more stupid, the better. The papers are then scrunched up and placed in two plastic cups. Each person takes a Rizla from each cup and has 15 minutes to compose a song in the style of, and on the subject, they have selected.

Ben E King, soul legend, has got 15 minutes to compose a rap tune about drain cleaning. We all don instruments, in between stoned giggles, and pick up a cod Run-DMC groove. Go Ben!

“I'm a Dynorod boy with ma steam clean jet!
“I ain't found a drain that I can't clean yet, C'Mon!

The finale to the evening is a magic moment. On the way to London we had been listening to Prince and, during the previous evening, we had just about nailed a half decent rendition of 'Never Take the Place of Your Man' Ben knows the song and, after writing out the lyric for him, he gives it both barrels. Prince would have wept with envy.
Four young nobodies are locked in a South London railway arch at 3 a.m with Ben E King, and performing a moment that was lost to the ether of history. Can't believe we didn't bother to tape it.

At about 8.45 a.m I am roused by the sound of locks clinking and our resident Frank Butcher look-a-like ordering someone to shift their 'effing' car out of his parking spot before they cop for a thick ear.
I look out across the room from the relative comfort of the moth eaten draylon sofa. Ben E King is dead to the world and snoring like a road drill, spread eagled under a blanket in the middle of the floor. All around him are empty cans...All apart from the one he is still holding.

Jack Barrington thumped open the door and strode in with a greeting of 'Slop Out, B Wing!' He sees Ben E King comatose in the middle of the floor surrounded by empties. 'What the bloody 'ell is he doing in here?”
Ben E King hauled himself to the upright, took a swig on his room temperature Stella, and rubbed his chops as he looked at warden Jack 'Shiiiit, Man, you locked me in here last night.”
Jack Barrington gave an exasperated shake of the head and hauled Ben E King to his feet. C'mon soppy bollocks, fuck off out of here before you make any more mess.”

It's 6pm and Flakey Dave Ambrose has been and gone. We were non the wiser as to his opinion on the band, as he had just sat staring at the floor for the whole hour he was there, muttering the phrase 'Wizards and Queens' (?) Tracie assured us that, as long as he hadn't started howling like a dog and pulling out his hair, he probably liked us. Suddenly, there was the sound of much huffing,clanking,and swearing. A size nine booted open the door, almost flattening the blue wigged gob monster behind it. In stumbled our resident soul legend, carrying a case of beer and several bottles of wine. 'OK, who's for a slug of Tunder-blunder?'

David Ambrose never did sign us and Tracie LaMorte turned out to be every bands worst nightmare. However, we didn't really care that much. They really were just the side show, when all said and done.

Ian Hunter.