Wednesday, October 15, 2008

the trouble with being born (2)

He rented a bungalow near Watford for next to nothing because it was run down and the landlady liked him. There was a collapsible brown sofa in the living room. It was frayed at the edges and bald on the seats. When I stayed the night he put an old army rug on the sofa and I lay wrapped in the blue caul of a thin sleeping bag looking out of a big expanse of window into trees that were lit either by moonlight or the single Narnian lamp that stood sentry in the garden, where the landlady’s chickens were. At new year we watched Old Grey Whistle Test with whispering Bob Harris, drank Hirondelle and smoked whatever there was to smoke. He cooked steak and kidney stew by boiling it up in water with a bayleaf and adding Bisto gravy powder when the meat had softened. We had it with mash and tinned marrowfat peas. The bright green liquid from the peas bled into the potato and merged with the brown Bisto sauce. A bit of white pepper, he said. I like a bit of pepper with stew. It was delicious. Afterwards we had tea with milk that was made up from dried milk powder. Saves faffing about and it’s cheaper, he said.

He had two cats – one called Monty and the other called Nancy Boy. Monty only had three legs and Nancy Boy had no tail. He couldn’t remember where they had come from, they were just there when he rented the house. He was kind to them in a rough sort of way, made sure they were fed and called to them when they came in from outside: hey Monty, Nancy Boy – how you doing, lads – alright?

There was a girl he was seeing on and off. I never met her but one day I saw her stockings hanging up to dry on the bathroom rail. Sex, he said, was very good for you, but having a screw was no big deal and people made too much of a song and a dance about it. When he turned cool on her she rang him up crying and threatening to kill herself. So I went round with a bottle of aspirin, he said. She went berserk. I asked what he would have done if she’d killed herself. Nah, he said. The ones that wanna do it just go ahead and get on with it.

9 comments:

Kahless said...

What is Hirondelle???

I could google it, but I prefer your description...

Reading the Signs said...

Kahless, it was a cheap wine students drank a lot of in the seventies.

cusp said...

Kahless dear, if you don't knolw what Hirondelle is you don't wanna know ;0)....anymore than you'd wanna know what Blue Nun is.

I can't work out of this is autobiographical or a stooorreee. Either way it's very evoctaive of a certain studenty 'impoverished' 70s existence. The bit about the stew reminds me of Anthony Burgess' 'Enderby' books.

Reading the Signs said...

Cusp, you can't get Hirondelle any more (ach, it wasn't too bad if you didn't mind the hangovers) but I've seen Blue Nun around - horrid stuff, sweet and gluey.

Well you see it's kind of autobiographical stoooreee - in the sense that all this is real, one way or another. But it's not just reportage. And I'm taking liberties - as one does in the re-telling. Also, the second cat's name was not Nancy Boy but if I said the real name (which was more, how can I put it, visceral) then anyone from then who happened to stumble across this would know exactly who "he" was.

nmj said...

i love this writing. maybe i am too young to remember hirondelle(?), but blue nun was the staple diet at uni in eighties. i won't hear a word against it! and i think black tower was a bit posher, or maybe they were equally bad?

Reading the Signs said...

Appreciate the compliment, NMJ. But hang on - you like Blue Nun? Well actually, my ex-sister-in-law did too, and she was Scottish so wonder if there's a connection there. I get a hangover just thinking about it. (Just had a glass of Sauvignon Blanc).

Kahless said...

I was a wee one in the 70s and my parents brewed their own alcohol.

But Blue nun I certainly remember!

Kahless said...

Signs,
on another topic, following our converstaion on my blog,
its the morning pages that is killing me; cant seem to keep them up... any advice?

Reading the Signs said...

Morning pages can be wonderful, Kahless, and they can also be really bloody hard, just like physical exercise I think, depending on how toned the "muscles" are. I'll look in at yours.