Danielle was one of the most beautiful girls I have ever laid eyes on. She was perhaps half a foot shorter than me, light olive skin, hair scraped back to lay bare grey eyes that burned a hole in my face, a thick, scornful mouth, slight shoulders, wide hip, startling posture. I met Danielle in a phonebox at Dalston junction a few hours ago. Well, she was in it, and I was outside of it. She called out to me. I was striding with confidence and purpose up the grey and war torn Kingsland Road, in the direction of a busstop. I was singing The Only Living Boy In New Cross, in that careless manner I cannot do when sober anymore. My free shoes were breaking in. I was comfortable inside of my skin.
But I’ll get back to that. Tonight I was in Islington, or more specifically, in the Highbury Corner area. Luke took me to see Arab Strap at The Garage. I waited nigh on an hour for a tiny, crippled bus in Stoke Newington Square, during which time I read all of a damp copy of Metro I found on the pavement and most of Kerrang!, and met my boy in the Weatherspoons by the roundabout a mere half hour late. He was sat in the window reading The Daily Star, chortling at the story about the reality TV show wherein some unsuspecting fools are conned into believing they are training to go to, then are in, space. The idea was stolen from a short lived reality television show that aired ion Channel Four three years or so ago, last time I owned a television.
Anyway. We drank competitively price-fixed whiskey and talked of noises and ailments, and then wandered over the road and watched Arab Strap, who I love, who made me aware that ones own accent, and ones own actions, no matter how foul, and supposedly embarrassing, when placed over great music can made an unphysically tangible thing that can erode ones creeping soul.
What I do now, I perhaps might not have been able to do without Arab Strap. They were my second interview too, a beautifully actual, frank, and funny pair of manboys who braved my teenage ignorance seven years ago, the results of which are still available to read on their website. And they employed a stringed beast of wood and plastic, and played Packs Of Three, and were funky, and made Luke dance, although he claims to hate funk. A strange claim I suspect to bee rooted in an over exposure to Jamiroquai, rather than the works of George Clinton.
But I digress. Arab Strap were magnificent, gloriful, lugubrious disco, and although they engaged in the foul sport of Encores, were naught but brilliance and handsomeness and charm, and after we wandered outside and three doors down and ran into GI John, and old pal from way back, and lo we did wander into a bar and drink whiskey and chat of times past and present and future.
I met Phil, the Peckham Mangler in there. I had turned around in the process of ordering a drink, and he beckoned me to his space, with a gnawed, sausage finger. He said he knew me, from a pub in Bow, situated between a dual carriageway and a dilapidated estate. I remember being there, idling hours away with beer between trains, on my way to Essex, and Lois, from my old band and my old life’s Mannor. But I didn’t remember Phil, The Peckham Mangler. My memory is shit.
Phil was 35, lobster white, bald, built, cockney, Peckham raised, and an ex boxer. He said he never lost a fight. He thought I was a DJ, and offered me a drink, and tales, of fighting, and of class. He didn’t so much spit out words as chew them up, swill them about his face, and gob them out, and he was as liberal with the word “faggot” as he was “pakki”. “I’m one of the last standing from the old school,” he said. He had two boys at home, three and seven. He liked Luke. He said, repeatedly, that were his unborn daughter to come home with Luke – rakish of hair and emboldened and warmed by well tossed-scarf, a self proclaimed “ponce”, fearful in his habitat of egg-lobbing little youts – he’d be happy, or at least not unhappy. “If she came back with some spade,” he said, dolefully, “I’d kill him.”
I enquired why, and he countered that were one of his sons to come back with a “faggot”, he’d do the same. I asked why again, suggestgiing that were his son happy, would that not be great? And he agreed that, actually, it would, that he wasn’t homophobic, but he was from that “old school”, and it was hard. “Here I am, talking to you, you skinny hairy fuck!” he beamed. He told me a tale of a “mincing faggot” he met at an Arsenal charity dinner, who stroked his arm and caused him to warn the lad that were he to touch him again he would “spread his face all over the bar.” He was sad that certain homosexual men feel obliged to live up to a stereotype, and I suggested that he, with his exaggerated heterosexuality was no different, that amidst those two claimed opposites, lies the actuality of mankind. He agreed and bought me a whiskey.
Later Phil left, and Luke left, and I walked outside and bumped straight into Natalie, an ex-brummage acquaintance and common law wife of my friend Lucifer, so we went back in and drank more, and talked of genocide and high street vomitstilleto warfare on Broad Street. We took turns to urinate in an alley by the bus stop, and I bought a cranberry sandwich,a copy of The Independent, and a half-sized tube of Pringles, and missed New York’s magnificent 24/7 delis terribly.
The bus to Dalston Junction stopped for a while, until we noticed the driver was arguing with two young men of Arab decent in khaki suits and turbans. They didn’t have change, but they had notes, in abundance, but the driver didn’t want them on the bus, so I gave them the fare, refused their repeated offerings of crisp tenners, and we moved on. “You, no offense, fucking blonde rock freak, helping me, it’s mad, man. Makes me glad to be human,” noted the taller, with gaping amazement. And I got off the bus, to cries of “come back to ours and do coke,” or somesuch, and stepped into Dalston Kingsland.
And it was there I met Danielle. I was striding, handsomely, happily, up that Kingsland Road, as I said. She was leaning out of a phonebox, calling to me. She wanted a light, then food, then a pound. I gave her the remaining half of my cranberry turkey sandwich and the rest of the box of Pringles. She was half asleep, and her hands were calloused and black. She was messing with tinfoil and fire in the phonebox. She was shaking, an her eyes rolled about her skull. She said she was hungry, and scared, and sleeping in the doorway of Oxfam. She said she could go into Soho and get “any high class sadist” if she wanted, but she was going into Detox in three days and couldn’t bear it, because “that stuff can last all week.” She sang me part of a Pogues song, Dirty Old Town, and told me about a time when a “high class sadist” smashed in her skull with an ashtray after assaulting her with his damp, half dead penis for a night and a morning. She showed me the patch of her head that was bald from the scar tissue. We smoked a cigarette and I got my bus. I bought a packet of nuts and a bottle of water from the corner shop, and sang The Only Living Boy In New Cross all the way home, swinging my blue plastic carrier bag and thinking about Bill Clinton.
Bill Clinton is being lined up to be president of the world. I have mentioned this before, but today, it was obvious. The signs were everywhere – from Metro to Esquire to The Independent. All are agreed – the UN is ineffectual, and Clinton is the people’s champ.
But he is still a neutered puppet on a gnarly string. And he won’t help Danielle.