I was looking through some old photos and there was one of my dad and myself standing in front of a Mark 10 Jaguar, a gargantuan fuel-guzzling beast doing about 12 to the gallon around town and lucky for twenty on a run. My girlfriend Vivienne took the photograph on her Kodak Pocket Instamatic 100. It was 1980 near Stokeinteignhead in Devon; we’d parked up for beer and cigarettes on our way to visit a pal of dad’s who was on remand in Exeter prison for contempt of court relating to a bankruptcy.
I realised my dad was the personification of his car for a considerable period of time. I always suspected in the early 80s, after he came off worse in a pub fight, he reined in this identity of ex-boxer nightclub doorman and happily thereafter drove a white Cortina his sister had bought him. He grandiosely gave the Jag to me and by this time it was in need of work. It had been parked on an allocated space outside his flat which he had sold while I was living in Madrid. Eventually it was scrapped – the engine a 4.2 as opposed to the earlier 3.8 – was transplanted into the E-Type of a carpet shop owning jazz drummer called Arthur. Coincidently the motor had been first registered in 1967 to a carpet business in Brighton before finding itself in the hands of those tooting and looting south coast knocking funsters: The Brighton Boys.
In every man there exists the fear of turning into their dad and for myself, being the self-obsessed person I am, I started questioning my own car relationship – what it possibly signifies, practicalities versus justification.
He wasn’t anywhere near as old as the numbers added together on the front door of where he lived, but he was very quick in thought and action, especially fruit action.
I would occasionally hand him an orange that he would graciously accept. I knew it was going to a good home.
Odysseus; the Orange Boy of Carter House, could peel an orange in record time and was celebrated for his origami rind skills; usually fashioning iconic London buildings such as the Gherkin and the Cheese Grater from the careful removed peelings.
He was regularly taken out in his luxurious parent-propelled carriage when he would be emperor of all he surveyed. Regally reclining in his multi coloured comfortable conveyance, swaddled in lambswool and dreams we have forgotten, often locking his feet with happiness in an almost horizontal dancing action.
What wasn’t widely known for some time was his penchant for drawing tulips – it is said that collectors traded considerable quantities of Chinese grown Mandarins for original works.
Sometimes it is all too much and that is why I’m the
Sometimes too much was my only pastime.
Sometimes embraces are not enough, neither is hard
fast or slow kiss sex.
Sometimes: is a word between here and the horizon.
Sometimes I feel so lonely and wish I was part of
something more than my own company.
I smile at everyone who comes through the door,
Just in case you’ve affected a cunning disguise.
When the doubt becomes unbearable,
I talk to myself for reassurance.
If observed I pretend I’m singing…badly.
In my pocket I discreetly adjust my testicles and slide a
finger between the folds of a crisp linen handkerchief.
For my own self fulfilling intimacy.
A girl with a vicious streak once told me she loved me.
I wondered how it was for her and what she considered
in those quiet moments between dead certainties.
The possibilities were enormous.
Like a chemist wearing unassuming grey shoes as he
passes you a potentially fatal prescription.
I had a choice.
Sometimes I think I understand complex situations –
but then realise it is only a thought.
Sometimes I have no wish to feel the sand between my
toes yet want the beach scene in Here to Eternity to
wash over me.
Sometimes I feel more than a passing empathy with the
main characters in Potter’s Karaoke.
Sometimes it is all too much and that is why I’m the
I missed the Kings Cross carnage by two hours.
Am I guilty of theft?
A girl sucked a silver tube chasing fear away.
I stole kisses – I like the taste.
I have stolen sensations from steel boxes
Penetrating their skins and the contents…mine.
I like to steal fragrant lace lingerie and watch stolen
copies of Blue Velvet.
I am an artist, I am commissioned, I steal glances.
I like to steal scenes from films and aftershave from
Even though I get a nasty rash.
It is the act I like.
Have you ever been threatened with physical violence
in a Volvo?
How well do you lie in bed with your partner?
Do you lie on the telephone – does it show in your
These are thoughts for you to address at your leisure
and if my thoughts were hand cream I would ring more
I have been considering the logistics involved in
manoeuvring Sonny Listons Cadillac through twisting
And I know I will not stop for a swift half.
The Transit is dawn-chilled, the engine coughs into life and reverberates through the van as the Stealerant pulls away with a gearbox whine. The scraping steel ashtray squeaks when dragged out, sending a cold shiver down his spine. His cigarette lighter resembles a lipstick holder; a resin heart on the top and bright bands of greens and gold. If life had the qualities of a fragrance, the Stealerant would have aspired to a top note of bitter orange peel. The reality is Tabac aftershave with the fusty legacy of provincial auction rooms.
In the back of the van a Paul Masson wine bottle provides a urine receptacle for long distances. A Victorian inlaid writing box, its compartments removed, rests on a heavy gold velvet curtain obtained from the clearance of a gentleman’s residence. Wedged against the wheel arch is a fruit box with a collection of curios wrapped in newspaper.
All the choice gear went yesterday.
Booster Paul had given the Stealerant two pieces of advice, the first: never tell people anything as they usually tell other people to make themselves more interesting. The second: never drive off your head on the A303, it is far better to stick to the M4 slow lane, so if you nod out at least you have a chance of rolling into the hard shoulder.
Eventually the chassis on the Transit starts to rot, as does the lip of the bonnet and around the headlight pods. On the wing, the cursive chrome word Custom cracks on the second syllable and drops. Slow, struggling windscreen wipers flick over the drivers side section of glass pitted with spat steel, the legacy of a bad welding job. The rain kicks up through rusting wheel arches, floor panels flake and the lock on the quarter light breaks. The front is compromised incrementally by the elements, while the passengers are driven to the end of the road on worn steel belt radials. At night, every time the brakes are applied the interior lights up red. Bail sheets for court appearances correspond with looming MOT tests, road tax and receding affection, in a troubled relationship built on codependency, chemicals and theft.
Isn’t it fabulous how music fixes time and place – it’s not a question. I remember this record as a young boy living in an English, south coast Devon holiday resort called Torquay. The faded Victorian grandeur of a turn of the last century health spa certainly the type of location Wes Anderson could have done something with.
Listening to and diving into the sophistication of ‘Peter Sarstedt’ song: Where do you go to my lovely’. Thinking of Sophia Loren and taking a girl called Susan for a curry and bottle of Mateus Rose to the Taj Mahal on Abbey Road. Benson & Hedges cigarettes and a diesel train shaped Ronson lighter, swopped at school, in the pocket of a bad lapelled jacket.
The record always reminds me of the apartment of a school friend whose mother worked in a nightclub called the Hideaway. The house was built on the top of a cliff and a huge picture window looked out across the town, the harbour and the crescent shaped Bay.
Bruce Reynolds the Great Train Robber had lived a little further down the road, he’d actually hired a cot from the remnant shop on Market Street during his stay.
That record – that front room, view and the experimental snogging of prepubescent’s in tight Levis’ now forever enmeshed with Marlene Dietrich, the haut couture of Balmain and exotic locations such as Boulevard St Michel.
…And you wonder – are the children still begging in rags on the back streets of Naples?