Tag Archives: Camden Town

The King of Royal College Street

storm1

-Chapter Three-

The Great Storm

Soon it was my birthday. I was one year old. The two kittens next door continued to grow. And the Yuppies hair grew even larger. I was snoozing when the storm hit. First the windows shook so hard I thought the glass would break. Then the garden furniture began to fly in the air. There was a terrible crash when it collided with the garden wall.

In our garden, the old shed fell down. Mum was so lucky; she’d had the snip. So there were no newborn kittens or her, inside when whole thing came crashing. The chickens were lucky though; they escaped with a few ruffled feathers, but their cage intact.

Felix seemed to become slower, after the hurricane. He never bothered rebuilding his shed. It just stood there: a pile of wood, paint and tools. And he was getting forgetful. Sometimes he forgot to put food down for Mum and I. When we cried he would shout :
Oh shut up cats !
Which was not like him at all.

So Mum taught me how to hunt. We got by. But the poor old chickens, they didn’t see Christmas. Old Felix spent more and more time in his room. He stopped cooking food; so there were no more tasty scraps to scrounge.


The King of Royal College Street

royal_college_street_drawing

A short Shaggy Cat novel

-Chapter Two-

New Neighbours

Something had changed but I couldn’t figure out what. I shook my head, and went on my way. The next day, I looked again. That was the thing with these people, they were always out; so there was no danger of being shooed away (a hazard of the job).Later I learned that some people worked during the week and rested at weekends. But I was ten months old then, so I knew nothing. Anyway I look into the dining room first:

 

Table.
Chess Board.
Fancy Blue Curtains, all flowery and gathered-up at the ends. Very fancy.
A Computer that was never turned on.
Music System, that only came on a parties.
And a picture of something or other on the wall.

A big fat zero I hit there. So I look in the bedroom. It’s a small room, with only a bed and a chest of drawers. But the bed is mighty fancy: it’s all gleaming and gold, with fancy white covers. Then something emerges from beneath the covers, and I jump out of my skin. For some strange reason I think this thing is a dog; not that I’ve met one or seen once face to face. It’s instinct, don’t ask me why or how, it just happens.

But the moving thing makes no woof or barking sounds. Then I catch a whiff of it’s smell: cat, or rather kitten to be exact. I jump onto the side window ledge to get a better look. And while I’m becoming accustomed to my new neighbour, another little head, peeks from underneath. This new one is blue, and the first a browny cream.

I can see they are quite new to their Yuppie place,  quite frightened .  Although the bed looks lovely and soft, and I feel a little jealous. Old Felix keeps his bedroom locked, and I’m certain his bed is not as comfy or fancy.

 


At Camden Road

Black back chain
and cycles of possession.
The tattoo on your foot
and those dainty little toes.
Waiting at the crossing,
at Camden Road.

Hearding menfolk
on nights that always end.
The crinkle on your lips,
as you wait for them to go.
To catch their train.
at Camden Road.

To all points south.
To detours way up-north.
To Lambeth and to Poplar.
To Wilmslow and  to Whalley Range.
To way around the corner.
At Camden Road, at Camden Road.


In Camden Town

Puneal skin and the distant cry of birds.
The rumbling thunder of the road.
And builders beginning:
shaking tools, steel against steel.

Saturday Morning in Camden Town.
Life rising from the ruins.
No quite now from the Road.
People passing from their far off places.

Wood Green, Turnpike Lane,
Manor House, Finsbury Park, Arsenal.
Holloway Road and Cally Road,
then change at Kings Cross.

Bens shoes lined-up
on a white wooden floor.
Auntie sleeping,
god knows where.

The motor scooter whine.
Loud unseasonal bangs.
When I woke I was somewhere else,
but now I’m in Camden Town.


The Best of Luck

Cinnamon toast at Tea for Two:
full of cigarette smoke
and shoppers parked with bags.

Greek bakeries begetting boot stores
and a high street of oversized shoes.
The record and tape exchanges.

Crossing Delancey Street
for potato rosti and a coffee.
Crossing back to The Crown and Goose.

Then past the day-time theatre
of vagrants and despoilers,
right outside the tube.

Listening out for the town crier;
wandering the isles of the old ABC.
The Best of Luck, he shouts to us all.

Catch a film, catch a drag.
Catch a book at Compendium.
Catch some art in the Chalk Farm Gallery.

Play some pool and smoke some fags,
in The Falcons back room.
Chat to Baxter, catch a band.

End the night with a couple of beers,
at the Marathon Bar and Grill.
The Best of Luck, The Best of Luck, The Best of Luck.


Maria

Maria came from Cyprus
just after the civil war.
And settled with her sisters
in North London.

With long dark, wild hair
and deep distinctive eyes.
She cut quite a figure
in Camden and its surroundings.

There was a story about
a taxi driver,
that’s best not remembered.
Maria deserves more than that.

In the nineties
she worked as a waitress,
in a back-street Vietnamese.
But she was always trying for more.

And she may have found it,
who knows ?
Because this small perfect jewel,
had only the briefest of lives.

Oh Maria, Maria, Maria.
How does it happen
that people like you go.
And the bad abide forever.

Are there hundreds, thousands, millions
like you, up there.
Neither young nor old, beautiful
and too young for heaven.


Camden Promenading

She walks more slowly
and lacks a certain purpose.
No need to enquire, as an answer exists.

Rendered by age and inactivity;
brittle of bone and leeched-out.
Aging is difficult to bear.

Sipping black coffee.
In a place haunted by
the ghosts of cornered animals.

Watching the promenade of youth.
In the sun; all knowing
and unknowing.

Supple skins,
unmarked by destiny.
New owners of this road.

And these people
who stare at their machines.
Light reflected on their faces.

The world moves on,
and we stay on it.
At the periphery of the parade.

A foot in the present,
another in the past.
Seeing things as they are and as they were.


Sean Connery

When we were in a pub
and I did impersonations
for that American girl.

The Hollywood Girlfriend
of the Hollywood Director
who happened to hail from Dagenham.

Once spent an evening
being baby-sat.
by me and him.

Sean Connery
is who I became
in her presence.

Not simply his name
manipulated about a Scottish lilt.
No, much worse than that.

I don’t do impersonations,
of any sort.
Now d’ya ken ma problem.

My friend said: what were you thinking.
After her boyfriend came
and scooped her-up.

But thinking
is not what I’d been doing
in The Lock Tavern, with her.

Cynthia brought out,
my Mr Bo
without his Jangles.

With her Belinda Carlisle,
Valley Girl smile.
She was all white teeth and Sixties Shift.

She was the type of girl
who had men planning:
great escapes, Graduate style.


10538 Overture

I’m a method writer, sometimes. When that happens the story is not king, it’s the character who counts. And it doesn’t really matter if  you even have a story, the character can just be.

Making notes, helps. Doing something the character would do helps. Maybe listen to a song he or she would like. Don’t actually think you are the character, because that may get you into trouble.

He pauses for breath, then lights a cigarette. Then ten years down the line you end up with Pulmonary Fibrosis. Imagine things like cigarettes and shoplifting, it’s safer.

John O’Hara, was an American Novelist of the mid twentieth century. He also wrote some cracking short stories. He went out of fashion and out of print. He’s still out of fashion as far as I can see. It happens to us all. John O’Hara is also the name of a character in my half-written thriller. He’s from New Zealand ; but prefers to be thought of as American. He’s a musical snob; a Lester Bangs for the Nineties – the time period of the novel.

He edits video for a living, is mostly reviled by the poseurs who inhabit  the world he is forced to inhabit: television production. I have no idea how it is now for people like John O’Hara; he’s supposed to be out of step with 90s culture, so I expect he’d not even get through the door these days. Maybe he’d be working for free as an unpaid Intern.

John’s world accommodates misfits, in a way that the world today does not. He’s an anachronism even in 1995. But only in London. Other parts of the UK and  most of middle America are full of young men like John. But he made a mistake, he headed for London; thinking the place that produced bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream, has been preserved in aspic. Poor old John, not only did he have to contend with Acid jazz and the increasingly mainstream dance culture. He had to rub shoulders with Britpop.

Camden Town, where he works, has a network of independent production companies; the overspill of SoHo. But it also has places like the Good Mixer; a winos boozer that became popular with Britpop types. John would never visit such a place. So I don’t make him go there. He can’t be interested in the big Blur and Oasis feud, because he has no time for either band. But he is steeped in music; its his calling card.

Old fashioned types like John would not just nod along to a song. Nor would he use it for some form of release like dancing or exercise. Although he does dance, but that’s another story.

He wears jeans and un-ironed tee shirts. Converse or Engineer Boots. A denim jacket in summer; a leather jacket, over the denim jacket in winter. He smokes, takes drugs, drinks and is self aware. He gets fashion, but doesn’t go with it.

John O’Hara likes classic rock. He likes the music that was still listened too, outside the confines of Camden Town. He doesn’t really care what you like. He likes what he likes and feels no need to apologise for it.

John likes early ELO. He’s not afraid of the derision such an admission produces. ELO after all were championed by crap Radio One DJs in the Seventies. Men who specialised in prank calls, tearful appeals to run away wives, and novelty songs. John never experienced England or Radio One in the Seventies. He’s aware that bands like ELO have become the preserve of the squares and the decidedly un-rocky; but he’s filtered all that stuff out. He hears the music and nothing else.

The scene I am writing may happen over a few pages; its part of a chapter. Its an aside. John takes charge of someone else’s stereo. He chooses a selection of tracks, from the albums and CDs his friend has on display. He prefers vinyl, but the CD has afforded him access to back-catalogues, long deleted. So while he despises the format, he’s happy that it gives him that access.

He chooses track four from a compilation CD. Cranks the volume up a notch; lies back and takes a huge toke from a Camberwell Carrot.

ELOs 10538 Overture blasts from the speakers; the riff tears the room to shreds. He nods his head in time with the I am a Walrus chug of the song.

I hear John Lennon, he says. I hear Handbags and Gladrags, and Cream, halfway through Badge. The riff that was stolen by Boston.

He knows his friend is listening , so he continues.

I hear Nick Drake, the Chime of a City Clock. And then that classical Elgar stuff.

Its not Elgar John his friend has to say. Its Coronation Scot, an old Radio theme my dad used to like.

The dialogue has not been written, I’m working on it.

So why did John O’Hara choose ELO as opposed to AC/DC or even Nirvana. Chance, just the way I chose it. The method part came in the listening. I listened to the song a lot. I adsorbed it the way my character would. And I used the musical knowledge I’ve accumulated to break it down; just the way John would.

Coronation Scot is a real radio theme. It’s old, yet no one lives in a musical bubble. O’Hara could have heard it in New Zealand; the BBC had a wide reach when radio was king. Although its more plausible for an English person to know; I’m familiar with it after all. But  the scene is not about musical trainspotting. Its about the way certain men communicate with each other using music; a sort of telepathy of song.

10538 Overture may not actually make it to the finish novel. But I’ve had fun in the meantime. And if writing doesn’t include an element of fun, then its sheer drudgery.

Go on, put on a song; speak in secret alphabets.


Ugly

Camden Town is often sold to outsiders as young, hip and enlightened. But the days are long gone when bands rehearsed in Rehearsals, Rehearsals; and Compendium was the only bookstore in London stocking Charles Bukowski. The great mindless sprawl of cheap consumerism has swept-away the Greek bakeries and hardware stores of Camden High Street. Its obliterated a watch repair shop on Parkway; and the Plaza Cinema.

The Plaza became a covered market and now it’s an American chain fashion store; that trades on being edgy and an alternative to Preppy – but its just a sad coals to Newcastle situation. The fashion store is selling an expensive and poorly conceived take on what Camden was like in the 80s.

Except Camden in the 80s consisted of individuals, selling fashion and art, they’d constructed in back-rooms, in squats and small Kentish Town factories. Of course the overheads are too large now; and the appetite for cheap imported tat, too great.

But before you accuse me of being some ageing hipster; morphing into a modern-day version of his parents: I’m not actually complaining about the new; I’m complaining that there is nothing new and exciting. Its boring, its become an Estate Agents Dream – a playground for the type of people who destroyed the artistic communities of Shoreditch and East London.

I was sitting in a coffee/tea shop, that used to be Palmers Pet Store. Its still a nice old shop, but its been hollowed out. And instead of Parakeets and snakes, tortoises and cats; you have rustic tables and comfy sofas. Fake boho , with free wifi and  achingly self conscious types scrawling, typing, jabbering away.

But they do make a mean cup of coffee, so I forgive them for inhabiting my place of memories. Because of course, memories are not tangible, but good coffee is. And memories may be nice and cosy, but they are not real life. Living in the past, is rather like taking antidepressants or painkillers, or what are termed street drugs: reality is masked for the duration of the hit.

Anyway I’m sitting Palmers Pet Store, that is now a coffee shop. There was an antique/jewellery/lace/card shop, I can’t recall if it was next door or a few doors down. Its one of those disappeared places, run by an independent hippyish lady . I bought those small soft leather children’s shoes, greetings cards and bracelets for my girlfriend there.

A few years into the millennium the antique lace lady told me she was closing down; rents were getting too high, and I suppose business wasn’t great. She told me Palmers  were going too. Camden was full of shoe stores by then; some of them had erected huge boots where awnings once hung. Quite a few of the boot stores are gone too; time marches on.

While waiting for my friend to order his tea, I look about. There’s a man with a laptop open; I can see his e-mail client and the mails arranged in neat rows. He’s not really doing anything, just looking at the screen – which is doing nothing. The  wide expanse of glass at the front of the store brings in a lot of light. There’s a couple of sofas and coffee tables, arranged like a suburban front room. A blond haired girl, makes notes; she has a pink cycling helmet and green harem pants. She looks like a gap-year traveller, who somehow got stranded in Camden Town.

An middle aged lady, dressed in a cream camel coat and carrying a hideously bright orange bag (a day for clashes of colour methinks) sits at an adjacent seat. She opens her de facto laptop. Fast forward ten minutes, and my friend and I are deep in conversation. Where’re talking about serious stuff, not loudly, but I suppose in earshot of her.

I guess we are in earshot because when she starts braying into a mobile phone, I can see my friends lips moving – but out of them is coming her voice, suffused with  vitriol.

She’s been observing people across the road from her. I don’t know if this is a home, or office. But they have annoyed her so much, she wants to tell the world about their crimes and misdemeanours. The people across the road are squatters, isn’t that illegal I hear her say, and she bandies about a figure of five thousand pounds.

She can see everything they are up to, apparently. They’ve erected a tent in the back, and are smoking crack. Her expert knowledge of drug taking has been gleaned from the TV series Breaking Bad, which was about the manufacturing of crystal meth by a chemistry teacher. Not crack smoking.

I would hazard a guess that those poor unfortunates, who have been forced to occupy an abandoned building are simply smoking. They may have been smoking spliff, but that is conjecture. The reality is you cannot use a TV drama, based in New Mexico or wherever its supposed to be; and apply it to homeless people in London.

The fact is that Britain, and most extremely London, is experiencing a housing crisis of monumental proportions. The UN has submitted a report about the abuses the current government are responsible for; and terminal lack of affordable housing available in the UK. This report has been dismissed by the government as Marxist; well if to care about humanity is Marxist then myself, Jesus Christ and the late Harold Macmillan are Marxist.

My mood was tempered by that fact that I’d interviewed three people for the Housing CoOp where I live. I also interviewed three people before Christmas. All of these people were effectively homeless:

A woman who had been made redundant from a managerial job, was scraping a living with freelance work. She had reinvented herself, but her income was not enough to get her a flat. A man who was working twelve hour shifts for a minimum wage, needed affordable housing so he could support his ill parents with the remainder of his income.

A third man had been forced to live in bed and breakfast, far away from his job; because there was no affordable housing available for him locally. He was skilled and middle aged. The type of man who in many parts of the country would be able to own his own home.

I wanted to pull the mobile phone out of the camel coated lady’s hand, and tell her how she disgusted me. But her rant against poor people came to an end, and she left.

The problem with Camden  Town is not that it’s changed. The problem is the people who have moved in. I can live with change, but I can’t abide the offensive and abusive tone people adopt when talking about the poor.

There is a mood that’s abroad in most of the UK and it can be described by one word, UGLY.