Reading: Jack Kerouac, Mexico City Blues
Reading: Jack Kerouac, Mexico City Blues
I mentioned in the last blog about finding peace (on earth). Well, the mountains in central Portugal provide a good place to start. Little or no traffic makes its way up here. There is pure silence for large parts of the day. The sun beats down and the cicadas only begin to thrum late in the afternoon. Otherwise, it is just occasional birdsong – and the honk of Jose’s van at mid-morning to let us know he is delivering the bread and pastel de natas, ready for coffeetime.
But then there are the humans. An old Czech woman at the far end of the village who has developed a hatred of life encourages her poor rescue dog, an Alsation, to bark from the end of its chain out on the patio of her house, simply to annoy people; which in turn sets off the Pit-bull, another rescue animal, next door. Right now we are in touch with a charity to make sure these animals are properly cared for, and the mountain silence becomes further established.
We had only been here a fortnight when an Irishman rocked up saying he had bought the property beneath ours and there was an issue with the adjoining boundary. As he waved his mobile phone and its screen capture of a Google map image showing the immediate locality with a yellow line seemingly indiscriminately drawn in, it became clear the issue existed in his mind only. We had him over the same evening to share a bottle of wine and thought no more of it.
Except a day or two later something told me the issue had not gone away and he would be making a fuss sooner or later. To help him out, I cut back the brambles and neglected undergrowth to reveal fully the concrete posts and wire fence and low brick wall that clearly marked the existing boundary. Unfortunately, this failed to register with him, since I saw that he cut his way through some laurel bushes to gain access to the land while we were in town, and so I deposited some cuttings from our garden to make the parcel of land’s ownership all the more evident. Riled, he pushed the cuttings nearer to our house and laid out some branches as markers of his own. In response, a little embarrassed at the escalation of proceedings, I brought round branches of my own from the side of the house, and left them out in preparedness for burning in the autumn. Later in the day came a banging at the door and shouting from the lane which could only belong to the crazed neighbour. Knowing a fight would ensue if I went out, my intention was to phone the local police, until my wife announced she would go and try to calm matters. Some hope, as he effed and blinded, all the while waving his cutters and throwing tree branches around, oblivious to the fact he was manhandling private property at the same time as trespassing on our land. “Ask Ricardo!” he kept shouting jubilantly. “He’ll tell you!”
“Who’s Ricardo?” we asked each other, watching out the open window at the increasingly sweaty cavorting Irishman.
Since our solicitor was on holiday, and because there was no chance of reasoning with the unhinged new arrival – incidentally, a teacher of engineering at an East London school located round the corner from where my wife was brought up (what are the chances..?) – we simply let the matter rest. His Russian wife was due in a couple of days’ time and maybe she could help him see sense. In the meantime, he had enlisted the comradeship of a Cockney ex-publican with cancer also living locally, in the hope of creating numbers ranged against us.
What a set up!
And then a day later ‘Ricardo’ called round, with an assistant from the real estate agency he owns.
“Ah, that Ricardo!”
Apologetically the two of them assured us that we were correct concerning the boundary, that our over-wrought neighbour had been fully informed of the fact, and that now he was angry with them instead.
The following morning a previous Portuguese occupier of the Irishman’s property was despatched into the mountains to help clarify matters further. With her departure, I then set about restating the ownership of the contended land with the re-application of the branches and cuttings.
As this was taking place, the Irishman and his Russian wife appeared from below, like troglodytes, and he assumed an air of cheery banter.
“Don’t talk to me,” I warned.
“Ah, come on now. What’s the matter?”
Refusing to be drawn, I continued huffing and puffing with the re-arranged branches – he had caused me a lot of extra hard work, after all, not to mention emotional aggro – and had very little to say.
He approached the boundary.
“Put a toe over the line,” I told him. “And I’ll call the police.”
“Ah, come on now. Don’t be so childish.”
If this was his attempt at further negotiations or some kind of rapprochement, he was surely making a terrible hash of it.
“I know it’s not my land. What say I buy it from you?”
I knew this would be coming and so was properly prepared.
“I wouldn’t let you have an inch of it for all the tea in China.”
“Ah, don’t be like that. Don’t make it personal. It’s money we’re talking about.”
Now I stopped for a breather and stood facing him. His hands were rested on a couple of posts I’d hammered into the ground and I raised the implement with another warning he step back. He then went on from a safe enough distance to completely revise the events of the last week in order to ingratiate himself with his wife. He even gave a sob story how he had been sold a ‘pup’ by the agency. Failing to draw any feelings of sympathy from me however, I told him who he should be talking to, and made clear I would not be drawn into any meaningful dialogue with him at all. I did say that I had one question.
“What did you call my wife after she informed you we had been to the council to try and sort the matter out?”
“I can’t remember,” he lied.
At which point, I turned away, put my heavy-duty working gloves back on, and told them both there was nothing more to say.
They left yesterday for London.
As the nasty little country I grew up in reverts to its xenophobic default setting, instead of becoming the progressive contemporary state it promised it to be for a very short while back in the 1970s, I am in the happy position of starting out my existence in a realife version of Led Zeppelin III, just as I have always wanted to do since listening to the album and imagining it as a thirteen year old.
High up in the sunny central mountains of the Iberian Peninsula I am now preparing to live out my very own Bron-Y-Aur stomp, listening to folk songs, growing vegetables in the garden and producing wine from my own grapes, replete with an old stone cottage just like the one where Page and Plant composed their hopeful, melancholy ditties. All alongside the woman who has lived close by me for nearly half my life, and has filled my being with the greatest joy and happiness.
At sixty, I am about to find perfect peace on earth.
And amongst all this beautiful mountain setting I shall be writing my tenth novel – a re-telling of the history of humankind up till now in order to describe and explain how we have come to be in the position we are in, whereby we are all about to face complete annihilation as a living species.
Adieu England and Bom Dia Europe and the World
There were comics!
You had the Beano and the Dandy and the Topper and the rest them. But the one for me was the Beezer, delivered every Thursday morning. The other ones had strips which seemed somehow dated, even then, what with Desperate Dan, Korky the Cat, Lord Snooty and the like. Maybe it was also their size, since many were tabloid compared to my favourite comic’s A3 expansiveness.
I don’t recall Ginger so much, but inside Smiffy was the prototype for a later Joey Ramone, while The Numskulls had a certain whiff of French Existentialism about them as they ranged about their owner’s interior cranium causing him all sorts of uncertain sensations and psychological meanderings. Beryl the Peril and Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and Roger the Dodger, apart from possessing great-sounding rock n roll names, were the perfect role models for all British ten year old children. Admittedly, these were from the Beano. As was The Bash Street Kids, forerunners of all those sixties’ American garage bands like ? and the Mysterions, 13th Floor Elevators, Strawberry Alarm Clock and so on. Maybe even MC5 and The Stooges!
As a matter of fact, you can probably point to the Dundee-based publishers for all my later reprobate behaviour. They were the ones to blame. For sure.
Later, when I was more grownup, on Saturday mornings there was SPIDERMAN (replete with Dr Strange and Iron Man – oh, perfect comic-strip heaven!) which I would pick up from the newsagents when I went in to do my paper round, along with the half-crown weekly pay. Did I love Saturday mornings! No school, money – and, best of all, Spidey! I had to include him in my fiction…
I first met Gee at the village recreation ground one cold spring day. I was behind some bushes with the other two members of my newly formed band, swigging back Carafino wine, getting drunk and forgetting. Gee was sitting on the American swing – the same one where my brother had died twelve years earlier – reading a Spiderman comic and looking like an adolescent cherub, with big Da Vinci eyes and smooth skin turned rubicund by the chill wind.
Drunk and suddenly not forgetting, but raging at the thought of my brother’s useless death and my useless life, I ran through the bushes, intending to practise some bitter Zen on the holy-looking fool reading those Stan Lee stories in nothing but a thin black Harrington jacket and rolled-up Levis. I was angry with him for profaning my brother’s memory. I took hold of the wooden bench and gave it a massive push. He just managed to sort of leap off with a push off his buttocks, but when he landed on the ground his Doc Marten’s skidded and he went arse-over-tit. It looked dead funny, actually. But he wasn’t laughing. Neither was I.
‘What you do that for!’
‘Sorry. I couldn’t help it. Here.’
I went across to him with a punctured can of Watneys held forward as a token of friendship. As he went to take it I jumped forward, snatched his comic away from him, and ran back to Vin and Tazz, who were waiting for me. Tazz set fire to the comic with a match and flung the flaming pages into the cold spring air and, whooping and laughing, generally had a good drunken time at the stranger’s expense.
All the time I was watching Gee, at the crooked smile on his pale angelic face; and I grew calmer, felt almost guilty.
‘You had read it?’
‘Well not to worry,’ I said. ‘Got to keep warm on a day like this. And you can always get another. Here.’
This time there was no more Zen on my part and the big four-pint can of Watneys swapped hands.
‘Are you a skinhead?’
‘You look like a hairy.’
‘I am a hairy. This is Vin and Tazz. You got the wine, Vin?’
The only black person in the village came up to us holding the litre bottle of red Carafino wine.
‘Sorry about your comic.’
‘That’s all right. I know how it ends. Iron Man – ’
‘Walks off into the sunset.’
‘You read Stan Lee, too?’
‘I thought everyone did.’
‘Who’s your favourite?’
‘Bollocks,’ said Tazz, wiping snot from his nose with a long multi-coloured scarf. ‘Silver Surfer, by far.’
‘Yeah, I like him. Where d’you live?’ Gee asked me.
‘Next village. Widmer End.’
‘Ah yeah. On the new estate.’
‘No. In the old part.’
‘They’ve really mucked up the Park.’
‘Yeah, I know. It’s just one big housing estate now.’
‘There’s a bit left. Vin here lives down Northern Dene.’
‘I’ve seen you walking into town.’
‘Saving my beer money.’
Gee took a big glug from the wine bottle’s neck and nearly choked.
‘What d’you all get up to then?’ he asked, spluttering.
‘We’re in a band,’ I told him.
‘What sort of band?’
‘A bit like Stray or Deep Purple.’
‘Never heard of them. What’re you called?’
‘Sounds all right. Does it mean anything?’
‘Of its time. What d’you listen to then?’
‘Pop. Reggae. Ska.’ He started humming a Skatalites tune I’d never previously heard, before breaking into a rendition of the Dave and Ansell Collins song that was evidently still popular in places that I would never dare visit. ‘I am the magnificent W Oh Oh Oh…’
‘That rubbish,’ I said, though mindful of his lovely, tuneful voice. ‘What d’you do at the weekends?’
‘Oh I dunno, nothing really. I used to ride my bike but I’m fed up with that. I usually go to Newlands disco in the afternoon.’
‘I wouldn’t go there.’
‘You’d get your head kicked in.’
‘Exactly.’ I looked at him sceptically, and tried one more time; something about this boy’s nonchalant style and obvious enthusiasm for music and the world of Marvel comics, his evident frustration with the everyday world of his village, his evident good looks, had captivated me. ‘You ever heard of King Crimson?’
‘My sister’s got one of their records, as it happens. The one with a big ugly pink face on it. And other stuff that’s a bit weird, too. But I like some of it.’
‘You look like a skin, but you don’t sound like one.’
‘I’m not. Not really. I just wear the clothes.’
‘You want to come to our practice?’
(Death and the Dead, 2018)
My dad’s youngest brother got married three years after my sister’s drowning and burial in the church graveyard.
I was a pageboy and can recall being dressed in a white shirt with a collar and ruffled front, dickie bow, black cotton shorts and shiny black shoes. I remember standing by my sister’s grave as some photographs of the wedding group were taken, but not having any particular memories other than feeling forlorn at the sight of the headstone and inscription:
Taken by God before she could be spoiled on earth
For my efforts, the married couple gave me a little book called “GOD’S CHILD” A PRAYER BOOK FOR THE YOUNG and showed a little girl praying on the front, seated with hands held together, in a white chiffon bridal headdress and two little cherubs listening to her.
Of course, that could have been my sister praying on the cover.
In the Foreword, I read,
Life is much shorter than you think. At any moment we may die; and so we must always be ready to have a happy death.
Unlike that of my sister, methinks, who must have suffered incalculable pain as the salt water filled her lungs and pericardium…
In Chapter One GOD AND YOU I read,
On some nice day in summer you go to the beach. You love the ocean, don’t you? There, after playing in the water for a while and getting cooled off, you begin to play in the sand. You mix some water in the sand, then you make a sand-man. Who owns the sand-man? Why, you, of course! You own it because you made it.
Yes, I own the sand-man. Duh!?
My remaining sister was actually epileptic, having turned blue in Mum’s arms as a two-year old after suffering a seizure which cut off the blood supply to her brain, and being rushed to hospital. Mum didn’t think she’d live. But she did. Unlike my other sister. One day while mum was out and I was only seven she pretended to have an epileptic fit in the house and I didn’t really know what to do. I knew she was pretending but because she was also actually a genuine epileptic I couldn’t really take the chance of ignoring her. She went through the whole procedure of nearly gagging on her tongue and passing out and then she came to on her bed, me waiting patiently for her fluttering eyes to at last remain open and still. At that point she theatrically asked me where we come from. My mind went blank before I told her that we come from God. I meant nothing by it, incidentally; just that, we had to come from somewhere, and she had asked, and so I felt compelled to provide some kind of answer.
Then again, in my little book Chapter One, GOD AND YOU, I had read – or quite possibly had read – the opening passage, which actually went like this,
Dear Child, did you ever ask yourself : “Where do I come from?”
No? Maybe you were too little to ever ask these things.
But now you are getting big enough to think of them and to know about them.
Where did you come from?
(Guess what the answer is:)
Why, you came from God. God made you and you belong to God.
Just like the sand-man I had made on the beach while my sister was drowning belonged to me, as the book also made clear.
So I had the answer all ready and off pat for my other sister when she asked, the one who survived.
By the way, this sister – the epileptic sister – was in the sea with my other sister at the time of the drowning.
A wizened old crone of a woman came into the classroom from time to time and read from the holy book stories that remained incomprehensible but were clearly intended to fill us all with fear. God was an absolute cunt. If that failed, her stares were intended to have the same effect. The vicar – a smug, fat bastard, if ever I saw one – would also turn up at unannounced hours during the school day and certain members of the class would become the centre of unwanted attention as their foul behaviour was pointed out to all concerned. Oh, my, oh, my.
And so the God thing got really hammered into you, accompanied by an uncomprehending fear of all the worthies surrounding you: the form teacher, the headmaster and deputy-headmaster with their adjoining rooms at the end of the corridor on the second-level, the book readings, and the vicar – and the threat of what awaited you in your final year before leaving juniors for secondary school…the Boss-Eyed Bee.
But first of all the hammering-into of the little soul who had lost his beloved sister on the beach…
In the book I had been given as a pageboy at my aunt and uncles’ wedding, in Chapter Two, WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO, I was able to read,
If you belong to God, you must do what he wants.
(And implicitly all those who are representatives of God: see worthies above)
If that little sand-man (there he was again: the little sandman; how could the author of the book possibly have known I was building a sandman at the moment my sister was dying..?) you made on the beach could talk, what would he say? Why, he would tell you he loved you. And why? Because you made him.
And the little sand-man would try to please you. And he would try to make you happy.
And so God wants you to please Him. And to make you happy.
According to my remaining sister’s testimony at a slightly later time, the deputy-headmaster and the headmaster both wanted her to please them, too. And to make them happy. As a result of trying to avoid that fate of making them happy she suffered severe burns on her legs (as attested to by my parents) as she sidled away from them and found herself pressed against a full-on heated radiator.
Some boys and girls always growl and grumble (according to my little book) when they are told to do something. This is wrong. And it does not please God, Who made them. Obey right away and gladly. Because when you do, you make God happy. (Try telling that to a ten year old girl who is trapped in the headmaster’s study.)
And we all want to make God happy, don’t we, children? (my words added)
What else can I remember?
(adapted from Rosicrucian, VIP, 2018)
Snow – two feet thick, white, beautiful. I am traipsing through it. I am heading for the Gulf of Finland. I am Pariah the Gnome – truly. Verily, I am an outcast with a fairy-mind traipsing through the snow of Vasilevskii Island amongst the denizens of Bely’s hinterland of pan-Mongolism and I fear no evil.
I am thinking of an ancient pub called The Gate in a sleepy sunday south Bucks hollow once owned by a great-aunt who married a relative of Ramsay MacDonald; and we are descending upon it in Raj’s van as a wild horde of adolescent working-class Utopians disturbing the middle-class tranquillity and serenity of the summer pub garden in August sunshine. To disturb their smugness. Look. There’s Sarah. Sarah is a Pre-Raphaelite beauty with brown tresses falling round her brown oval face and down her pink floral smock. She is a schoolgirl. She is with her parents. She will be embarrassed, for we are tripping upon purple microdot acid. Todd Rungdren plays on the van’s hi-fi – Heaven in my body. Fortunately for Sarah the carpark is a few hundred yards down the road from the pub and the music does not carry. And Venedikt Erofeev was the Soviet Jack Kerouac and Todd Rungdren was our Aleksandr Blok and I am walking in the St Petersburg snow – and Initiation contained our Stixi o prekrasnoi dame. You’ve got to grow up some time. And I have remained pure, alive to the dream that cast its spell over our adolescent summers.
Veriu v Solntse Zaveta Vizhy zoriu vdali. But nobody saw us trippers. And there it is: the cold grey winter Baltic Sea; and around where I walk there is not a single footprint. My children are back home, safe and sound with their mother; once drops of sperm encircled by an egg they are raw pulsating life, intense energy, intellect and hope. Dream.
(Dostoevsky’s Place, Glyn F Ridgley, VIP 2017)
I’m trying to think what I may have been reading round about his time, other than Mark P’s Sniffing Glue, of course.
The New Musical Express was probably most predominant; Charles Shaar Murray, and that lot.
I had been reading the likes of Solzhenitsyn and Kerouac – two great writers from either side of the Divide – but all of that had kind of ground to a halt; there was something of a Year Zero nihilistic chasm forming.
The good fiction writers of the English working class like John Brain and Stan Bartstow(!) had been eclipsed by the truly awful English middle class writers like Julian Barnes and Martin Amis.
I cannot think of any decent British fiction from that era.
So it must have been Philip K Dick, I was reading: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
My favourite was – and still is – The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, his final work.
All the Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Van der Graaf Generator, Planet Gong, Todd Rundgren prog-era psychedelia was evaporating (even though they were to reinvent themselves at some point) and the incipient creativity of the sixties-seventies running dry. And the attendant sci-fi crusting over with it. When Michael Moorcock – author of the ‘Eternal Hero’ series – attempted ‘serious’ fiction the results were truly embarrassing.
Nope. Nobody was getting it.
So here we are today in summer 2019…and I am up high in the hills of a foreign country listening on Spotify to the new album by The Allman Betts Band and mostly getting a kick from it, feeling their energy, and harking back to the days sitting outside the Nag’s Head pub in High Wycombe overlooking the Rye with a joint in one hand, a beer in the other, listening to their fathers’ band’s Jessica/Ramblin’ Man flowing out from the jukebox through the doors and windows of the building, prior to punk, and recalling the freedom-inducing sense of those times…
Still trying to remember what I was reading between paperback covers back then.
America was pretty much a twentieth century project, albeit three or four centuries in the making.
American writers of the nineteenth century such as Thoreau, Emerson and Melville produced more general philosophical ideas that were not in fact particular to the notion of America.
Anyone writing America in the twentieth century was destroyed, in the sense they could not hold the anomalies together and so psychically imploded.
The writer who most successfully depicted America, through his novel The Great Gatsby, famously said that “the test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function”.
Scott Fitzgerald was unable to sustain his own dictum and consequently drank himself to death.
Writing America disposed of its other great novelists, Hemingway, Kerouac and S Thompson similarly.
Others – like Sherwood Anderson and William Burroughs – were reacting to their own America-inspired madness in the first place.
Faulkner just about saw it through; even if he failed to see completely through it.
In his novel Amerika, Kafka – himself preternaturally and morbidly sensitive – writing America from a central European perspective, depicts the land as entirely unwelcoming and unforgiving, an alienating place of heavy work and exploitation.
America’s own dictum of “give us your poor” appears to have been aimed precisely at that group, in order to see them abused.
The Mafiosi trilogy of Mario Puzi makes this perfectly clear.
Tom Wolfe – a brilliant writer of ‘New Journalism’ in the nineteen sixties and seventies – attempting in the eighties to write America in his Bonfire of the Vanities could only satirise the greed element fundamental to the failed American project, while other recent attempts to write the Great American Novel by the likes of Norman Mailer, Jonathan Franzen and Don De Lillo have been sprawling WAPO/NYT attempts unable to tackle America complexities.
Now in the twenty-first century we are able to see that the great capitalist-materialist experiment called America has failed humanity in almost every way, leaving planet Earth and its inhabitants with a self-harming paranoid war-machine which threatens to smash the whole globe into purposeless oblivion.
As predicted by arguably the most prescient and accurate chronicler to write America – which it also drove mad: Philip K Dick.
A sixteen-year old kid from a south Bucks village walked into High Wycombe library one rainy October day after school had ended, picked out a book by the spine from the fiction shelf and read
and he understood something – that life existed beyond his valley and beyond the school walls and beyond cleaning the floor at Woolworths and beyond anything that his parents or teachers or betters had ever led him to believe was out there; he understood that he would be heading out into that world just as soon as the opportunity arose, and so after just a few more months of enduring the drudgery of riding buses into town and walking up a mile-long hill to an institution where they beat him if he refused to be coerced into believing all the bullshit that he was being fed, he told them all to F-off, donned his afghan coat and flares, emptied his little wooden locker in the green-painted corridor of its exercise books and a hand-me-down geometry set in a faux-leather case, walked through the gates, looked down the hill one last time, and entered that life.
By far the most indecipherable book I have ever read (except perhaps for the Old Testament, and I have also read that book from start to finish) would be ‘Being and Nothingness’ by Jean-Paul Sartre. Talk about being largely incomprehensible! I defy anyone to make full sense out of it. Some passages work, like those concerning good and bad faith, but mostly the text just snakes and winds until it disappears inside itself and loses the reader entirely. I am not even going to bother reproducing examples since they would only bore the blog-reader to distraction, suffice to say that only if you are absolutely sure concerning your ‘thing-in-itself’ and its attendant ‘facticity’ is there any chance of you taking the thousand hours or so required to follow the author’s mangled brainwork. – And this coming from the guy who has attempted to elucidate his ‘Key of Love’ theory throughout much of his work i.e. me.
Having gone to so much effort in forming his convoluted sentences, JPS reaches the conclusion: “I exist, that is all, and I find it nauseating.”
You may discover the antidote for any residual twentieth century ennui below: