Saturday, January 9, 2010

cooking up the medicine

A couple of decades ago, I took up residence in a basement flat in the west end of Glasgow. At some juncture long before my tenancy the factor had seen fit to remove the iron railings which would have ordinarily protected my bedsit from prying eyes and housebreakers.

Sawed off a quarter of an inch above street level, rusty and pockmarked like bleeding stumps left to fester in a yokel's mouth.

The excision was probably as a result of the war effort sometime in the early '40s. All remedial surgery abandoned.

This once grand tenement was overrun with rats and death watch beetles. At least the Jehovah's Witnesses kept away. I slept on a decrepit double mattress dumped in one corner on the floor. The roaches marched past at night on a food patrol just inches from my face. 

I located the tv cable slung from the roof and drilled an entry point in the timber sill. I hooked it up to a portable black and white set which gave me a pretty decent reception. Late at night the cable would whip and slap off the front of the building in the wind. Even in the depths of summer. One evening I was working my way through a couple of bottles of red when the little screen burst with snow. I stumbled to my window. Some f@cker had severed the cable a couple of floors above and dragged it into their hovel.

I never watched any television after that. Instead I banged away on an electric typewriter I purloined on a visit to my mother's house. 

With junkie logic I reasoned it might better serve me than her.

The Spaniard next door had overstayed on his visa. He was on the run from doing National Service. I didn't blame him much. His sister lived on the ground floor. Between them, their cooking smelled worse than shit. I have no idea what they served up, but the kitchen sink was perpetually choked with their leftovers. They never seemed once to clean up their plates.

One night I got more drunk than usual and when the Spaniard passed me in the hallway I pounced on him. No doubt he was as inebriated as me. I grabbed him by the neck and banged his head off the wall until his eyes rolled in their sockets. He started laughing and kept on until I finally let him slide to the floor.

F@cking draft dodger. 

Of course. National Service in the UK was by then a thing of antiquity.

Living in that basement I found my perspective wholly skewed and altered. Anybody who has endured similar accommodation will know instantly what I mean. The world outside is framed from the ankles down. 

Even passersby clear across the street lose their heads entirely.

Occasionally, a gaggle of youths would rumble into war without provocation. Disembodied screams and machetes dangling inches from my window in the aftermath. The glass was so thin it might have cracked under a wad of phlegm. As it was, not even the most antisocial element bothered to put it in.

There really wasn't much to steal in any case. I left my bedsit unattended once for the better part of a fortnight and when I returned it was if I'd never been gone. I didn't bother to fit curtains. It was dark enough down there as it was.

The entire time I lived there I did not take even one photograph. I worked a regular day-shift and visitors were usually too appalled to come back a second time. Of course, the fault may have lain with my social skills. It was my habit to hit the bars until closing time and attack the typewriter as soon as I got home.

I became quite skilled at banging out one fairly lucid page after another while otherwise hopelessly intoxicated.

BUTTHOLE SURFERS: CREEP IN THE CELLAR from "Rembrandt Pussyhorse" LP (Touch and Go) 1986 (US)


Anto said...

this is a great story. you speak of endless typing, did you publish any of it?

Its times like this when i return to favourite reads of the past. and yr tune choice has put the classic @get on the BUs' in mind. Its a brilliant set of takes of all those Blast First/SST bands. The chapter on Gibby nad the gang is astonishingly funny and makes your take of decrepitude (is that a word?) sound like putting on the Ritz. Never saw them live. Would have loved to.
I fyou haven't read it, please do.

Ib were you ever in Italy, if the answer is yes I'll explain why I ask.

[word verification: whonga !!]

ib said...

I have a shoebox in the kitchen cupboard which contains most of the material from this period. Kind of like Zorg in that '80s French movie, I am ashamed to admit.

I never quite got so far as trying to get it published.

Virtually everybody back then would wriggle in their panties at the mere mention of Umberto Eco or Milan Kundera, but very few people I knew appeared to be interested in the kind of writing which appealed to me.

There never seemed to be an opportune time.

I haven't read that book. 'Get on the Bus' ?

No. Never got so far as Italy. Spain and Portugal on short stops; and I lived in Holland for a spell. I believe I took what may have passed as a manuscript with me, but I never got any writing down there. The THC was impervious to any resistance.

Cheers, Anto. I'm happy you like this.

Your driver said...

Basement apartment are risky. My friend, the late Jim Hurd, used to live in a basement apartment in Indiana. He would sit down there and take LSD and think about stuff. He was nominally a university student. Mostly he took classes in whatever he happened to be thinking about. One day he left the basement to go register for classes. He was told that he could not register because there was some sort of error message and he would have to go to the bursar's office. Turns out that he had completed all of the requirements and been granted a degree in comparative religion. He ended up working as a bar tender for a long time. He could tell lots of weird stories about religion though. One time he told me about Manichean bandits on the silk route. That was when I was nominally a university student but really taking a lot of LSD. I, however, was living in a second floor room that used to be a feminist bookstore. I used to listen to dub music and watch people walking by on the sidewalk.

ib said...

It is certainly a weird kind of place to get your head together. Funny. When you juxtapose your own reminiscences of looking down on the pavement from a more rarified perspective it sheds a little light on mine.

I recall dropping acid down there and listening to Joy Division. 'Unknown Pleasures'. I think there was a bit of macho posturing going on there, but it wasn't as remotely grim as it might sound.

Manichean bandits, eh ? Slithering on the silk route. Dub!

anto said...

my own basement experience that lives on was in 1991 when i held out in a room deisgned for one which held 4 for a week in my college years. as i remember i was also i charge of the music so that meant loads od jimi hendrix. we got fucked offa our rocker on some red leb about 25 to 12 on the tuesday in the am(this was in Ireland in Feb, windy wet pissy joy division weather) and all but 2 collapsed in a haze when we got to the bit which you all know and love in '1983 a merman i will be'. jaysus, to throw acid on top of that(which would have seemed correct 1 yr later) would have sent the room a spining. often, i think of those times and wish i could be there forever. simple fun, great music, lads who were willing to chance their arm, and the future seemed all there. now, as i'm bollixed drunk with an irate wife, i feel dilated by the flash back and want it to happen again. in these moments, yates's sialing to byzanthium comes to mind. makes a fella realsie where its all at.
joy dvision's unknown pleasures has been a mainstay for so long (firstly in 1985 - 25 fuckin yrs!!) that i can only say i wish i was with yeah man and god bless anyone who's felt the same.

good man id. i mean ib. or do i?

ib said...

Ah. You are not alone in suffering spousal ire. Although. My partner was out fairly late last night, while I - for once - remained teetotal and glued to the keyboard. She returned just before the off license closed and insisted on taking our card for a walk. Two bottles of red and a deck of JPS.

Well. She was incapable by then of doing much damage to either bottle. The onus was on me to sink or swim. I got dug in, but only to a superficial level. Not much of a dent in it by the time I woke up this morning.

Of course. It is there in front of me now, and given the choice between that and coffee how can I resist ?

"windy wet pissy joy division wather" strikes a chord. And Jimi. The original Lynott. Red Leb, Yellow Leb; this shit seems to be having an effect.

"1983 A Merman I Shall Be". Yes. 1991 was a good year. I was glad to see the '80s finally bludgeoned to death and pissed all over.

Thank fuck for Madchester and the changing of the guard. I could take or leave Stone Roses, but I always had a soft spot for the Mondays. Uncouth and spontaneous.

Anto said...

yes 1990 was a great yr to be 20 (suppose any year is?). i was a total madchester head. one of the great things about it was that it brought a lot of other music to the fore - the hendrx thing, funkadelic and james brown. halcyon times. and good laugh too. couple of friends took the trip the whole way though. i recall loads of extreme weight loss going on amongst the finglas gang. in many ways, guys of 20-25 seemed to reverse their aging processes not just in behaviour but also in hairstyle and, naturally, acne. i, on the other hand, observed the sage words of george clinton who advised that if you like getting mashed, keep some stuff in reserve for the later years when seemingly its great fun.

@eloh said...

Basement apartment...Wahoo, Nebraska.... top that crappy shit!

Best thing that ever happened:

a male streaker crouched and hide in my window one night.

@eloh said...

I was young, population of Wahoo was just a few hundred. Two bars...both played non stop POLKA music and closed at 6pm.

My first husband and I had gone there to live to try to get away from his mother... it didn't work.

ib said...

Wahoo. The name says it all.

Jesus. Non stop polka! Or tango till you're sore. Or till 6 PM, whichever comes first.

Sounds like a riot, alright.

Neil Cake said...

"I left my bedsit unattended once for the better part of a fortnight and when I returned it was if I'd never been gone."

what do you expect when you leave home for two weeks? A party to break out?

Wow! It's exactly like I left it!!

ib said...

Let me rephrase that.

Haste is very often my undoing.

WOW!! Neil Cake? As in Neil Cake, Wahoo ?

Let me give you a piece of advice, Neil. If you should ever receive an unsolicited e-mail seeking your help in transferring a large sum of Ugandan dollars, go for it.

Scratch Cards ? Another safe bet.

ib said...

You're not wrong. Or too far off the mark, at least.

Funny. I have had it with Lidl; the price increase in recent months is shameless. From now on, I'm taking my custom to Aldi. Fuck it. I'm going upmarket.