Notes From a Fragile Island…30

Tuesday 23 November 2014

Crystal Palace

I have marked out the bare boards in the front room with black masking tape. It is a rectangle (5m x 3m: van size). Everything that is coming north from here is stacked precariously within the space: cardboard boxes marked with felt tip – art, bedding, books, cds, cutlery, shoes – the bed frame my brother made for me four years ago, dismantled, bundles of clothes shrink wrapped in plastic, the awkward and ugly IKEA chairs, some framed pictures in sheeted newspaper, towers of books tied up in string, or else belted, several lamps, paper shades, a fridge, a camping gas hob, a Victorian day bed, spider plants, a yukka, my acoustic, bagged, the Fender amp that was given to me by Stewart Someone when I was at school (the valves removed and taped to the inside for safe keeping). It bears the legend RockBottom, Croydon 1979 on the back. I sold my cherry Telecaster last week for £300 to James D. I hadn’t had it so long, but it funded the van and paid the last month’s rent on Belvedere Road. It’s gone to a good home.

Saturday 23 November 2018


All morning reading and rewriting a thing called The Bat. It has wings, but will require a better title. Bought a card and some incense for Sean G as a gift to say sorry to hear about his mum.

2-6:30pm: Van Gogh. No haircuts.

I. drops in at 6 and chats for half hour.

He says, “You’re an ex punk, aren’t you?”

“How so?”

“You roll your jeans up.”

If turn-ups are the sartorial signifier of allegiance to rocknroll, then I have been punk since about 1971!

“Definitely not ex.”

Wednesday 23 November 2022


It is bleak on the causeway across to Holy Island today. The sea is unseen as yet (10:10). Though everything is wet. We are the only vehicle heading out. Malcolm, Raymond, Spanish Ian and me. Malcolm is driving. Raymond is pissing in a plastic jug. Spanish Ian is telling about an advertising card found in a Wigan phone box. It is a joke. I am looking at the landscape. It is an alien planet, or perhaps it is this one in the past. Or the future. Or now.

Now, there is something on the causeway up ahead. We pass over it and I look out the back window. It is a fish. A great fish. Stranded, I suppose, by the receding tide. The fish recedes, too. It was the size of my arm, from elbow to tips outstretched. Now it is finger size. Now it is gone. A white van appears in the windscreen. It is parked, sideways to us, on a mound of wet seagrass at the edge of the causeway. The castle can be seen in the distance on the island. Somewhere someone sounds a horn in a frantic morse code.

“Norse code,” I say. But Spanish Ian doesn’t hear me. He continues the tale of the card found in a Wigan phone box. He tells it part Black country, part Spanish. The card reads “Free sex, free beer, cerveza, free pie. Well, says one Pie-eater to the other – that’s what people from Wigan are called,” says Spanish Ian. “Pie-eaters. Let’s have some of that. Ring the number. Wait a minute, says the other. We don’t know if it’s a Peterson’s pie or a Paulson’s pie yet, do we.”

We are about to pass the white van but it suddenly leaps forward and blocks our way. But Malcolm used to drive dust wagons and we slide to a halt just shy of the van driver’s wing. Both drivers are furious. “Fuck,” they say.

“Mierda!” says Spanish Ian.

“Oh, piddle,” says Raymond.

The van man has wound down his window and his face is red. Raymond winds down his window and they engage.

“Can’t you read?”

“I’m sorry. What seems to be the problem?”

“Didn’t you read the sign? They’re filming Vera. You can’t come through.”

“Oh, we didn’t see any sign,” says Raymond. The man points to a sign in the distance.

“They’re filming Vera,” he says again.

Spanish Ian leans across me and repeats her name several times, excitedly. “Vera? Vera? Vera!”

In the distance a number of police cars, blue lights flashing, are to be seen rushing along the causeway from the island toward us. Malcolm reverses and tucks in. The white van man retreats to the seagrass again and a Land Rover driven by Brenda Blethyn, all done up like Hilda Ogden, passes at speed, followed by three police cars. A drone follows them.

We only have until 12:00 to safely leave the island and we spend that time in Saint Mary’s with a small group of Japanese tourists, taking photos of the stain glass, the altar, the organ, the pews, the beams in the roof, the flagstones, and a phalanx of roughly hewn, larger than life size, black oak figures carrying an oak representation of Cuthbert’s coffin.

The white van and Vera, the police cars and the drone are long gone. But the fish is still on the causeway. I wonder if it was an intentional part of the filming. The water is rushing over the landscape all around us. It is only a trickle, but it rushes.

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