The Wrong Address index

Wide Worlds
East Putney, England 1971 



Their ad' was on a board in another part of town :

Flat to share, own room, cheap -

We settled it over a pint of bitter.

One rucksack and a radio

To hump up the mean and perilous stairs.


When you're broke and traveling light

The eye doesn't dwell first on the colour scheme -

"Polka dots wif' everythin' guv',

Count em' off like sheep.. ".

It was true. A pink polka dot bathroom,

Washable yellow polka dot with breakfast,

Lurid violet polka dot to dream with.


A bolt hole to heaven ? Have you ever wondered

At those doorways abruptly on the footpath,

Caught in delictio

Between the plump vulgarity of opulent shop fronts ?

In East Putney the embrace is leaner and dirtier.

Clients come and go at hours unfashionable

For the rich and languorous.


Voyeurs about our street door

May once have claimed to visit

A shoe shop and a florist;

But humanity had been rolled under. Traffic surged,

A low roar filled the nights and days,

The land was wrought with smoking dragon trails

As narrow footworn havens crumbled and broke :

We were aliens cast up in the wash,

Debri on the city rim.



Rodney and Michael survive as a mystery;

Their tracks faded each morning with the frost

From the ken and to the fury,

I would guess, of more anxious enquiry than my own;

Rodney had push in the style of the street,

Quick movements,

A check shirt and moccasin man

With a lock of hair painted above his rogue eye -

The knack for selling you flim-flam,

A wind-up yellow plastic butterfly

On a tube-station escalator.


Michael wore steel-rimmed eyes,

The only sharp line on his body,

Blinking kindly, surprised at daylight,

A dishevilled version of the young Trotsky

With wry humour and a hint of fatal knowledge

About the kinds of good causes

For white hot ideals

That make dead bodies on the unwashed pavements.

Funny, isn't it, how even dangerous men

Clean their teeth after dinner

And sleep under pale green candlewick bedspreads.


It was time to get established.

I bought an ancient bicycle

For five pounds from an Irishman at midnight,

Lashed a rack from our fridge on the foc'sle

And went to joust with the dragons

In their courting rush to the fabled houses of gold.

This wiry mobility left the rubber-footed reptiles

Honking with despair..


But then one day a black carnivore

Of the genus London cab, opened its door

With a sudden shrug of impatience.

Which brought the bike to an awful collision

With a ton of cold steel.

The fridge rack crumpled scientifically,

And saluting Newton's first law of motion

I swam through a window of Armorguard glass,

Won a trip all expenses paid, no tips required,

To Saint Bartholomew's Hospital on The Strand.


How did this racket start anyway ?

This quaint reversion of Australian poverty

Delivered to the scrawny lap of old England ?

.. Here was the end of an overworld trail,

Anchorage for a traveling man, adrift through time

In a style that claimed to despise

The package tour;

Which flaunted exotic encounters

With the daily boredom of ordinary people

Who had funny names and addresses.


Hungry though, now in a hustler's town

Where money was real and the rent voracious,

I schemed to buy off the moment of penury

By flogging an old Leica camera

To some ideologue of the gorious past,

A native bunny.


The only taker caught a train up from Oxford,

An earnest and delicate fellow whose vowels

Would have curdled the spit

On my father's colonial tongue.

I cornered him in a pub saloon

Reeking of leather and varnish

To utter reverent phrases -

The mystique of German engineering,

Feel that precision ..

(the damn thing had wrecked rolls of film),

Chance of a lifetime for twenty-nine pounds.


And those notes from a hand-sewn wallet

Were good for fish 'n chips too.

The next week a plaintive phone call,

He'd really changed his mind, old chap ..

Kept check-shirt Rodney and young Trotsky

In respectful giggles for days.

The Aussie T had arrived

In the city of London.


But bolt holes are a pilgrim's last retreat :

What was this country made of anyhow ? Let's see

I said, if they've sealed it as a parking lot,

Nemesis to larks and daffodils.


The faint-hearted pay good money to tour,

Though a frozen thumb

Can win a ride with every thousandth car.

Have you ever swayed like a shattered signpost

Pointing north, frostbound on the M1 at Christmas ?


There was another kamikaze that festive day:

Taro San, diminutive, wrapped blue

Like an omiyage to Santa Clause.

We joined forces

Which was a tactical mistake :

His finger jabs at the parting ungenerous

Were starkly scrutable

To approaching drivers.


We prayed

Oh Father

Who art basking on Cloud Nine,

Toyota-Nissan-Silver-Ghost, Minimashi Hoichi,

Deliver us from ice and snow.


And some miracle in passing

Dumped us by dark

At Tyneside habitation; we propped limp as rag dolls

Against a nameless corner bar

While the strange pitch of Geordie dialect died.

Then a clutch of crones saw profit in pity

And led us to the widow Ballantyne's dank spare room

For "two pounds apiece, sorry boys, no breakfast".


Taro San and I had journeyed from the rising sun,

Reached the heart of darkness : the Old World

Was a mildewed kapok matress.


Fragments from an Australasian Life
Thorold MAY
copyright Thorold May 1995 All Rights Reserved 
published by The Plain & Fancy Language Company ACN 1116240S Sydney, Australia
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