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)


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