Notes From a Fragile Island.

25 October 2004

Crystal Palace.

Up all night with Alaster and Ann-Marie, both of whom are visiting from Bath. Late to work. Kevin, bless him, has waited an hour for my arrival! He has been entertained by Graham with chat and cigarettes and coffee. Graham is working these days as the front of house – and very suited to it he is, too: he is affable and easy, and when I arrive, bleary-eyed and hyper, the two of them are ensconced on the sofa talking about Brazil (the country). What an odd (and kind) character Kevin is. He returns every third week for a regular Number 3 guard haircut and has done so for some years. He always insists on me cutting his hair, even though this sort of thing could be achieved by anyone here – or, indeed, any common or garden barber (which would certainly be an awful lot cheaper than the £33 standard tariff we charge at The End). Bearing this in mind, I always cut his hair with scissors and comb as opposed to clippers – thus taking my time and giving the service at least the appearance of being something a little more bespoke than a two minute buzz. We always have good talks about music and his annual and mysterious jaunts to Brazil. He always tips a fiver.

3pm: Head down to The Ship to catch A & A-M before they set off back to Bath. Large vodka cokes. Funnily enough, Jezza is there and the three of them are sat at one of the barrels in the front window. I met J at Bath Spa some years back where we were both on an English Literature degree course. By coincidence he is actually now living in Croydon although this is the first time that I’ve seen him here. By the time I arrive they are all best friends, what with the two lovers being from that side of the country, too. Jezza is wide-eyed and explains in his jocular way that he has also been up all night (and most of yesterday) as he had spilt liquid LSD25 on his hand by mistake. It suddenly occurs to me that the mysterious phone messages left on my voicemail early this morning (“Ha ha ha! Hazelnuts!”) are more than likely from him. He seems a little confused by this and has no memory of such an event! (?)

25 October 2017

South Shields/Whitley Bay.

To stem her boredom (and to hurry the end of the work day, no doubt), Jen begins, at 5pm, to mop the cutting floor of the salon. She appears on the stairs, like some long-lost Hollywood starlet, but with mop and bucket in hand. I am sat at reception and as she descends we catch each other’s eye and I pull a face – nothing funnier or stranger than usual: merely a screwed-up expression to suggest comedic distaste. It produces a fit of laughter from her, nothing is said (or needs to be said). She steps across the cheap laminate, puts the mop and bucket down, leans across the reception desk and rubs the top of my head affectionately. I feel like a good dog. And, then, I realise that this is the only real female affection I have received in… too long.

The ferry back from South Shields is empty but for the crew and me. I go up onto the open deck. The Tyne sparkles and I am grateful for that.

The man in the shop on Whitley Rd greets me as I enter (to buy wine). He has grown, or is growing a beard. He wears a beanie. I comment on his beard. “I’m getting old,” he says. “This weather, it ages me. I feel it in my bones. I feel my body collapsing. Once, I would have not thought twice about going out in a tee shirt in the middle of winter.”

“I hear you,” I say.

We moan a little about aches and pains and the weather, me on one side of the counter, him on the other. I tell him that I couldn’t face the cycle this morning because of the rain and the cold. “I took the metro instead. I hate the metro.”

“It’s the drudgery of it all,” he says. “It’s so Orwellian. Utter drudgery!”

It is as if this Asian man (surely younger than me?) has spoken in code. A code that I understand, that we both do. I am this close to rubbing the top of his head, but don’t want to mess up his beanie.

25 October 2020.

Whitley Bay.

Arriving at work early and fresh from a good night’s sleep, I decide to clean up the shop – not that there’s much to do – as I have a new client in at 10. I sweep the corners, buff up the chrome whatnots, prune the magazines and water the plants. I am just removing the outdated flyers from the reception when he arrives. “I’ll just be a minute,” I say. He sits and surveys the artwork. “Ah, Mark E Smith,” he says, nodding at a framed photo of the man on the wall. “What a legend!” I realise at once that we are going to get along just fine and begin to regale him with my ‘I supported The Fall once’ anecdote. It may stand retelling, in part, here.

(2007) It was still not frowned upon to go for a beer and cigarette at lunchtime – though this would all be brought into the new marxist line by the following spring – so I headed down to Beanos (‘the largest secondhand used vinyl and CD emporium…anywhere’) on Bell Hill to meet Magic. “Guess who we had in this morning,” he says. “The manager of The Fall.” He was arranging a three night residency for the group at The Cartoon Club in west Croydon and asked about any local bands who might support them. “So I put your name forward.”

Blah blah blah-ah!

10 thoughts on “Notes From a Fragile Island.

  1. Ah, the South Shields Ferry! A very evocative piece, Nick. You capture the simple details of life and turn them into poetry. ‘The still, sad music of humanity’ I think it’s called!

    Liked by 1 person

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