Oh, to live in the world of The Waltons! I see now that this has always been a dream of mine. Not so much the poverty (though our levels of economic living are most probably comparable), but the simplicity of the hours, the years; the honest home cooking; the passing down of the clothes between the siblings; the creaking boards of the rooms, the stairs, the porch; the evenings on that porch with the moths, the glass of home-brew, the stars above, the whisper of Virginia, the tales of the old war, the anecdotes, the myths and, somewhere deep down inside John-Boy (for I would be him, naturally) the vague and impossible-to-know truth that another war is coming and that, somewhere, if he could just put a little more shoulder to the wheel, a book, a fiction of some kind could evolve.
Oh, I could easily live on the Blue Ridge … or Penn Beacon or Cullercoats or Charmouth, the outskirts of Hexham or, if such a place existed – The Belgian Islands!
I find myself on one of those very islands. They are a dice throw of tiny landscapes set in a vast bay – rather, I imagine, a cross between those of Vancouver or Hebrides. Everyone drives big old classic pick-up trucks (often seen in The Waltons and similar period pieces). Old denim work clothes, boots of worn leather, dungarees and plaid shirts are de rigour. The community and the hand woven sweaters are close knit. The air is apple pie and the light is filmic. Through the moted window glass I see the dusty street. It is sunny, perhaps autumnal. The pick-up trucks cruise by. People saunter. Saunter and pass. Pass the time of day.
Night, John-Boy. Night Jim-Bob. Night Mary-Ellen. Night ‘lizbeth.
In an abandoned train carriage, a sort of boho hobo home, Jennifer P – skinny as ever, glamour hair tumbling over her small breasts; wonderful to see (despite it being fake, her hair that is, not her breasts; they are as slight and peachy as ever, bolstered by that cyrillic or pagan nonsense tattoo she has that forms a blue shadow between them) – stumbles out of the dogweed sidings, adjusting her silver dress and laughing. Her laugh proceeds her everywhere and is like some angelic horn.
She has, for reasons unfathomable, had another tattoo etched into her skin. She leans forward, pulls her dress slightly away from herself and bends her forehead to mine. I look down, down between the cotton and the skin, between her breasts, valleyed in blue, down to her belly and lower to the mound bordered by her bony hipbones. Sadly, and still inexplicably (although she offers some rambled reason that involves a joke or a bet or a promise or a dare) she appears to have had a pair of mens’ underwear inked onto her lower body. It is sad to see.
She says she sells suppressants. And she laughs again when I ask, jokingly, “on the seashore?” But, as her laughter peals and echoes through the carriage, the thought arises that I am dreaming some new and modern and horrific holocaust scenario [speedwagon].
Everyone of a certain age and of a certain circle knows him as Black J, or Posh J. This sobriquet is frowned upon nowadays, but it is meant endearingly, and when he is not around it is a simple enough nickname to enable his latest exploits to be told late at night in Bishop’s Wine Bar. He is rarely around as he is forever being given a ban from the premises for being outrageously intoxicated and also for never paying back what he owes. Black J (Posh J) has been reinstated into his former profession (criminal lawyer). Angela F is relaying this latest tittle-tattle, this good news (for he has been unemployed for an age – certainly as long as I can remember) to those who are gathered at the bar. Geoff L asks, quite innocently, if this means that he is a lawyer for criminals or a criminal who is a lawyer. This brings only silence from the gathered, but within the glasses raised to their mouths I clock many smiles.