Notes From a Fragile Island. 19

March 28 2015 (Croydon)

I cut Ewa’s hair and then the three of us, Ewa, Tony B and me, eat Polish white sausage with garnishes of all kinds. We eat them with crusty white bread and fried onions. We drink Polish lager. And after, I accept one Polish cigarette with such ease that no one would guess I’d ever quit! Ewa has just returned from her mum’s near Gdansk and the extra bags she takes with her mean that the cupboards are full of foods that remind her of home.

There are, of course, several Polish food shops within 500 feet of their flat in west Croydon, but I can see the magic in bringing back spoils and delights from afar. I can feel her travel high and joy. The joy of Ewa. Ewa won’t hear anything of my quitting smoking and foists 40 Polish cigarettes on me. Thank you. I slide the two packs of cigarettes onto the busy coffee table when I know she is not looking and then we all go into the bedroom and sit on the bed and listen to how Tony’s new album is coming on. Very well.

Tony and I head to The Standard to meet up with Nick B and Tracey E. We sit in the strangely peaceful pub garden beneath the twisted beech tree, beneath the London Road fly-over, and drink glasses of beer and chat for shit and giggles. Tracey E smokes her last cigarette and asks if she can ponce one. But blah blah blah, I’ve quit. But, when I am next at the tiny bar of The Standard (reached by crossing Derby Road), I discover the 40 Polish cigarettes in my pockets again! And now, having had a beer in good company after a meal in good company and out on the town with my down south old friends (and what with Tracey E having smoked off her last one), I pay the tab, place a fresh pack of Polish cigarettes on the tray alongside the glasses of beer and carry the whole lot back over the road.

A string of white lights come on in the garden and our voices brighten and we laugh and then we settle back down, hunched over the busy table and conduct several conversations all at once. The lights are weaved in the beech tree and I suppose they’ve always been there – I can’t see Martin having forked out for new lights – but, it’s an insight into when I was last at The Standard. Probably with this same, wonderful crowd. Possibly two years ago. Too long anyway.

Suddenly, Martin calls time from the door across the road. It is close to midnight and I am surprised. I remember that I’m staying at mum’s in Whyteleafe. I slide the opened cigarette pack across the table as we all say goodbye, making sure Tracey E sees this, and I leave.*

*[looking back at this now, and being a non smoker again, I can report that the next time I saw Tracey E, back in Croydon in December that year, she asked if she could ponce a cigarette and I said that I’d quit. She was completely puzzled when I mentioned Polish cigarettes (?). So, with Nick B and Tony B being lifelong non smokers, I guess that Martin got them when he cleared the tables later that night.]

March 28 2018 (Cullercoats)

The Surf Café has acquired an accent acute over its e. When did this happen? What does it mean? Who does it think it is?

After the support I stand outside on the pavement and smoke with John E’s dad, John E. There are several familiar faces around and looking back into the venue I see several more – John E and Ellie, Colin from the open mic, Malcolm and his brother, Stu, and their stooges, Mike W, Phil M, Julie M, Mykil, Hannah B, Cool J, Rob Cold Poison and his brother John, Spanish Ian, Vicky G and others who look familiar in the way that people do after a pint and live music.

Alan and Mike play a corker. They have worked the sound up into five piece and are accompanied by Malcolm on drums and Stu on bass – “They’re the north east’s Asheton brothers!” I shout into Spanish Ian’s ear, but he just nods and frowns.

The quietly brilliant Stewart M joins them on backing vocals for an encore. He is a short and barrel shaped bald man in his sixties and he has an intriguing thing he does when he is waiting in the wings for his part to come round again. He gathers the slack of the mic lead into a loop between his elbow and the jaws of his hand, keeping the microphone there, too. As the chorus comes back round again he sort of lets loose the microphone for a split second, snatches it back in his palm, draws breath and sings in a wonderful and unexpected falsetto. It is not a fancy trick and maybe he forgets that he does it now after so many years, but it is a good, solid, practiced trick and it says a lot in a little way about the man and rock and roll theatre.

March 28 2021 (Penn Beacon)

Still rough from Thursday’s vaccination. It has surprised me. It has aged me, I swear. [‘the man didn’t age gracefully. he aged overnight’]. Exhausted from too long in bed, I decide all at once that I should go out on the bike. I can see a beam of sunlight stretching from a crack in the curtain down and across the wall.

“Hey! Slow down on that thing!” It is D. Mojo and his significant other, J. Mojo. I scoot back to the bench they are sitting on. We speak about the sun and about reopenings and I tell them about a guy I saw last week on this very beach who was throwing rocks into the sea for a black labrador. The dog was so eager to dive into the tiny surf again and again for a rock that he never brought back. I was watching this from the promenade on Mothers’ Day. The beach and the seafront were busy. The man, attempting to wrap the game up, selected a rock and said to the dog, “last one.” He seemed to put more effort into this throw because the rock arced for some seconds over the water. The black labrador must have thought so, too, because she started back onto her haunches just ever so slightly and her head went up, following the rock until it fell some way out. Then, in a rush, she leapt into the wash and swam out to sea.

Something, a log perhaps, caught my eye a few feet from the swimming dog’s head (and to the left, about 11 o clock). But it wasn’t a log, it was a seal heading up the coast on Mothers’ Day, no doubt to the rocks on Saint Mary’s where all the seals hang out. The whole scene lasted 3 seconds and neither one seemed to notice the other. The dog dived under the water and the seal paddled on; its sleek, grey (I want to say, velvety) face pushing forward. I looked around but everyone was still doing what they were doing and even the man calling the dog and letting the loops of a leash tumble from his palm, hadn’t seen it. My vantage from up on the promenade gave me a different perspective I suppose. It was brilliant to be witness to and sort of sad, too.

Further on. Hannah J and friend appear from out of the crowd on the stretch of wide pavement between Whitley and Cullercoats. Hannah J has rosy cheeks. Hannah J says I look like I’m at death’s door. She says if there’s anything I need then to give her a call. And, rather than some post-vax sickness, I feel suddenly vital and sharp and, clearing my throat and rubbing the tops of my shoes on the backs of my legs, I rap thrice at the door of death… but no one’s in or they’re just hiding behind the curtain.

29 thoughts on “Notes From a Fragile Island. 19

  1. Engaging writing, Nick, as is your style. You are a keen observer of people and situations, even those that last only a few seconds, noticing things that others may not. The accent comment about Surf Café made me chuckle and the ending is excellent.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “But no one’s in or they’re just hiding behind the curtain.”

    Lovely line.

    Glad you got a shot up the arm. Hang in and treat yourself to a comfort (southern states style) feast.

    I get mine in tomorrow’s early morn. xo

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I was ushered behind the screen and the after some preliminary chit chat, the nurse produced this tiny bottle and showed me it as if it were a nice bit of Sav Blanc and I dining alone at some very clean restaurant, saying, “Today we’re having the Oxford.” I said, “I don’t need to taste it. Crack on.”

      Thanks writtencasey. Bon appetit. xo

      Liked by 3 people

      1. “…there was no such thing as society..and if there was I had nothing to do with it.” Irving Welsh heats Bennent hands down. He would also probably beat him in an actual fight…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, an actual bout of fisticuffs? Possibly! But should it be a battle of wits, then, dear Irvine would be sadly laid out on the canvas by the end of round one!
        ps. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You and Irving in a battle of the wits! Is it pay per view? I’m free for referee purposes. Can I persuade you into a little baseball perhaps? I have to admit I never got along with Alan Bennett’s work. I know I’m meant to admire his domesticity made unique, his mundane keen eye for a detail, but I find him nerdy and boring and overly self knowing. You are none of those things!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I like how you wrote about March 28 from 3 different years. Clear writing and it makes me wistful for sitting in the pub and listening to live music with friends and acquaintances again.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. You managed to make me feel a kind of nostalgia for somewhere I have never been, but reminded me of times when I had people I knew, places I could tease for getting above themselves, and quiet situations that repeat themselves. I’m glad you gave up the cigs!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I love your stories, Nick. They somehow make me love life more – the little adventure in the details of things.

    I’m sorry you felt so crappy after the vaccination. I was off for days after the first. I felt like i aged as well. The second vax I was sick (like vomit sick) – but felt back to normal within a day.

    I love this – “Exhausted from too long in bed, I decide all at once that I should go out on the bike. I can see a beam of sunlight stretching from a crack in the curtain down and across the wall.”

    Liked by 1 person

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