without question, the best thing about 2013 was the arrival of the sold on the street literary magazine “PUSH.” issue #9 will be out on 18th January & i’m proud to have a piece in it; until then, here’s a story i was honoured to have accepted in “PUSH” #8
Three hours earlier Danny had woken up, blanketed by a mound of takeaway pizza boxes, down some piss-streaked back lane. He vaguely recollected the night before; singing for pennies from office sweethearts on their way to chain noodle outlets in a glazed leisure complex that had the atmosphere of an airport departure lounge, built on the site of the city’s best venue. These days, people called it the city’s Diamond Strip, but it would always be the Mecca to Danny. He’d seen The Clash there; Motorhead too. The Buzzcocks as well; all before Thatcher was elected. A long time ago, but he remembered those gigs like yesterday. Trouble was; the finer details of his actual yesterday were elusive.
He knew he’d jacked in the panhandling about half 9 and headed across town to this semi-student and post-student bar that was wall to wall fanny. Of course he didn’t score; that wasn’t the point these days. He went to minesweep drinks and scrounge smokes. Even better he’d tagged along with a gang of them to some end of term house party where he’d launched himself at a slab of cans like prohibition was imminent, raided the fridge, stole loose change and a wrap of toot out of a jacket slung over the banister, failed to impress the host’s girlfriend and found himself escorted from the premises by what looked like the Barbarians’ scrum, clad in Hollister woollens. Danny contented himself by throwing an empty wine bottle at the front door from 30 yards down the street. It missed, but described a perfect arc before shattering on the front garden railings. Cunts.
Danny could have been Olympic champion at sofa surfing, but he wasn’t homeless. There was a damp box room at his giro drop way out east, where he stashed his frayed, pre-owned clothes, books and records, as well as his adored Fender Precision bass (missing the A string), but it was a fucking long way from the centre of town when you’re pissed and skint. Hence, he’d collapsed into a self-build cardboard Stonehenge with added mozzarella and olives, musing how shite the coke he’d nicked was.
Eight o’clock he was awake; it wasn’t the cold, the daylight or the birds singing that brought him round, but a distant peal of bells. Christians always showed off about getting up early. The bastards. Furry mouth, bad wind and the sweats; traditional Sunday breakfast weather. Coppering up, Danny found he’d just under twelve quid in slingy, not counting the emergency tenner he always carried, as well as four Strongbow and almost full packet of smokes (Marlboro Reds; he’d never smoked anything else after seeing a picture of Lou Reed with 20 in his top pocket). There was also half a packet of salami in his inside pocket, which he posted through the first letter box he went past.
Danny was a beggar because of greed. He signed on; sublet his room, sold draw and pills to simple students in the pubs and clubs he wasn’t barred from, while still dreaming of getting a band together for one last shot. Anyone asked him his job and he said musician, despite the fact it had been the thick end of 30 years since his one and only single release and nigh on a decade since his last “project” fell apart. Egos, you know. Helping out on his mate’s second hand vinyl stall at markets on Saturdays was the nearest he got to the business these days; instead, he concentrated on being a leech.
The scam was simple and nearly perfect. Each Sunday he took the train from the centre of town to a different bit of sweet suburbia and got in to full poncing mode. He’d hang around church porches, golf club car parks, flash pub dining rooms and work on his any spare change for the homeless thanks mate have a nice day see you later routine. Recession or no recession, it worked like a charm, because there was no competition out in the sticks. While your average street trash were fighting over who got the dregs of a Costa methadone cocktail in the station portico, Danny was touching the hearts and pricking the consciences of absurdly coiffed, M&S dressed middle aged UKIP sympathisers, who took time out from pre-prandials with the Rotarians to cross Danny’s palm with bank notes.
The week before he’d crashed a barbecue in a large semi by the sea and fancied a tour of the premises, but lost his nerve, despite 4 bottles of Black Sheep and rump steak that had barely been killed never mind cooked. Today, he was going in the other direction; heading inland for the countryside. Trouble was when he got to the station, he discovered everything going west was by replacement bus, as engineering works meant the Metro Centre was the terminus; a shit location for begging. All security guards and CCTV.
Buses are alright; they have their place in the body politic of city transport, somewhere round the colon perhaps, but they were cheap and shoddy, only meant for hopping on and off, to avoid late night kickings on the riverside route. Compared to the last train through Byker, a bus was an intimate and cosy as the stock cupboard at an office Christmas Party, but Danny still didn’t want to be on one today.
Fuck it; he wasn’t Jaco Pastorius, but he could improvise; in his current brittle state, a short train journey and a solemn walk seemed the snuggest fitting hair shirt in the wardrobe.
He was desperate for a drink; not beer as yet, the viscosity of his intestinal gas told him that, but pop; sugary water to take the skin off his teeth and scum off his tongue. Surprisingly, the platform had been cleaned; no discarded alluvial kebabs or tar pits of vomit. No carelessly forgotten screw top half litres of Pepsi Max either. An old mate of his from Finsbury Park who’d put Danny up the various times he’d tried to make a go of it in the smoke had told him that the Weedgie alkies round Euston used to mix meths with Irn Bru as it reminded them of home. Or why they’d left in the first place.
The train was packed; he’d stood in the corridor, facing the luggage rack and concentrated on not throwing up. When doors opened at the other end, he was the last one off the platform; the ticket inspector had given up and gone back to his office, so that was a result. Ten minutes later, he’d skirted the fringe of what was once Europe’s largest retail park and found himself at the bottom of a perfectly straight road that went almost vertically upwards to the richest suburb this side of the river. It would be a challenge.
For an hour, Danny struggled past block after symmetrical block of identikit two story brick boxes with fake lead windows and white, plastic front doors. In the stifling impersonality of it all, Danny found it hard to explain whether he’d travelled, south, east, north or west, let alone interpret the meaning of the lives of those he’d passed behind windows and doors. He felt dazzlingly insignificant in this place. Eventually he reached a knot of small supermarkets, estate agents, up-market takeaways and anonymous, anodyne pubs. At the last of these, The Bay Horse, Danny took stock; he decided on a couple of pints of Guinness for brunch and a pair of smokes with each one.
After spilling six or seven pounds of vaguely formed faecal matter, using half the bog roll to dab at his smarting hole, then blocking the pan with the rest, Danny took a pint of flat, black liquid to an outside table near the door, avoiding eye contact. There were only 5 others in the place; a husband and wife read The Sunday Telegraph; she the magazine, he the news. Two clowns in football shirts drank cider with ice and lost money on the quiz machine. An old guy sat running both hands through his thinning, nicotine-yellow hair, while starting at the floor and muttering; his pint untouched. Danny gulped at his, took a second in the same manner, pissed on the floor of the Gents then fucked off.
Having discounted continuing to his left as the signs for both a hospital and police station unnerved him, he realised his only option was the road that went off ahead of him; an enticing parabola of eccentric pre-war mock Tudor mansions with pretensions of being rural piles. Solid upper middle class dwellings with 4 or 5 bedrooms, detached garages and outhouses, large ponds and lush back gardens you could transplant to Saint Andrews.
Danny lit up another smoke to take him on his way. You needed a jagged pain in the lungs when out working. He knew he could beg from door to door, but that was time consuming and hit or miss on a Sunday as so few would be at home; in this area, the empty houses would be alarmed to fuck, so creepy crawling was off the agenda. Instead, he went looking for the first signs of humanity.
The street was wide; an avenue? Deserted apart from the occasional car, it curved gently; a crescent? Pavements, verges, hedges; all devoid of litter and dog shit. Ten miles from home, but it could have been 50 years; a monochrome landscape lovingly hand tinted to nostalgic Technicolor. Surprisingly, no-one stole a peek at him from behind a net curtain or paused, shears in hand, mid topiary to stare him out.
Half way along, Danny sat down; propping his back against a tree, he drifted not to sleep, but inertia. All he saw, other than deserted houses, was three generations of a family in an adjacent front garden, pissing around with a Labrador, laughing, playing swing ball; the usual scene. Vaguely he could hear children shrieking and calm, self-satisfied adult voices.
After fuck knows how long, during which time he’d idly necked a pair of Strongbow, seen two full people carriers sweep past him on their banal journey home after shopping or visiting grandparents or whatever the fuck people round here did for entertainment and fantasised about a sexual encounter with a woman he’d seen on the train, Danny became aware someone was talking to him.
“Hello. We noticed you’ve been sitting there for quite a while now and seem a bit at a loose end.” Danny studied the speaker, a well-dressed bloke in his forties, with utter incomprehension. “Sorry for intruding if you’re here looking for some peace and quiet, but we’re just about to serve lunch and would like to invite you. We’ve plenty of everything.”
Climbing to his feet in four difficult stages, grunting assent, Danny wiped the sweat from his palms on his shirt front, achingly aware of his frayed crotch strides and grimy jacket; compared to the bland, expressionless man in immaculate Blue Harbour cords, he must have looked like the dosser he’d turned himself into. He was sure a vague odour of mushrooms leaked from his shoes as he followed the bloke and his inane chatter through the gate, up the path and into the house where the former participants of the swing ball tournament were sat at a large, round table, poised to demolish a huge pile of meat and vegetables.
“I hope you’re not vegetarian. Sorry for not introducing myself earlier; I’m Phil, this is my wife Amanda, my parents Ray and Jane, who’ve come to stay as it’s my birthday today and our daughters Sophie and Karla. You are?” Danny nodded a curt, wordless greeting to each in turn and spat out his name.
He had become acutely aware he’d not eaten properly in a long time. Matters of nourishment had generally been of negligible importance to him; when he cooked it was ready meals only. Eating out meant curries; the hotter the better, or a large doner and fuck the vegetables. A borrowed begging bowl round at mates involved sampling the usual round of huge tasteless vats of pasta slop with too much black pepper. The only problem with the situation he now found himself in was the profound suspicion Danny had about the host of this birthday tea, but he parked that thought, by grabbing a large roast spud in each hand and gnawing at them furiously.
There was a cough; big mistake Danny realised, as folks in these parts don’t tend to eat Sunday lunch with their paws. Phil was the one who’d brought Danny awake outside and indoors he was the one who was about to let him know the score about table manners and the bourgeoisie.
“Actually Danny, we don’t start eating in this house until we have all given thanks to He who has provided us not just with our meal, but the gift of eternal life. As our guest, would you care to give thanks to us and to The Lord by saying a few words?”
Danny had found religion inexplicable throughout his entire life; religious assemblies at school were times for him to catch up on his sleep and his lack of faith had sort of followed on from there. He was in treacherous waters; no-one was taking the piss, as he’d initially hoped, with every eye in the room intently focussed on him.
“You must be fucking joking; get stuck in before it gets cold!”
The silence still hung over the room, as Danny ploughed into the food, using his knife and fork with dexterity of a native. Eating sloppily, his throat thick with meat juice, he felt unburdened. Another Strongbow cleaned his palate, like a wino’s sorbet, allowing him to savour the taste of potatoes, carrots and the kind of green vegetables he’d not eaten in years.
Perhaps his newly discovered love of broccoli reflected how his life had come to a crossroads. As essential change in his life would happen from now. Abandoning a few desultory peas drowning in gravy, ignoring the sobbing women and furious men in the room, Danny threw a napkin on his plate, then took himself off through the door, liberating the chilled Prosecco that Phil wouldn’t need for a birthday toast. As he left, Danny caught birthday boy wailing a plaintive “get out, you bastard,” presumably aimed at him. Too late; Danny was already long gone. There would be no second sitting for this last supper.
As he walked away, Danny drank deeply; both the fizzy wine from the bottle and the knowledge things would be different from now on. Tomorrow, Monday morning 9am, Danny’s band would reform; Joe still had his drums and Maria was singing in a crap covers band that she’d jack in for a chance of high octane rock action. Guitarists stood on every corner wanting to be in bands.
It was mid-afternoon; the sun shone more brightly than before, necessitating Danny’s use of his wrapround shades, similar to the ones Lou wore on the cover of Street Hassle. Was it really 1979 when Danny had bought that album? There were more people outside The Bay Horse now, but Danny didn’t stop for another pint; ok, he had the wine, but he also had plans to work out. This was his rebirth; his second coming.
No more begging, dealing (except when absolutely necessary) or days on the piss. He might be pushing 50, but life wasn’t going to pass him by any longer. There was definitely a song to be written about today. He’d start thinking of the words in bed. Inspiration always came late at night; the important thing was being able to write things down and remember them the next morning.