The Wrong Address index
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,
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.
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.
© copyright Thorold May 1995 All Rights Reserved
published by The Plain & Fancy Language Company ACN 1116240S Sydney, Australia
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