Exit | Entrance | Living it up | Living it down | Waking up is hard to do | Stress and distress | Spring green and mushrooms | Depressing stuff | Deliverance | Departure
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©Marcus J Brierley, 1999
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3 - Living it up
By the time Lem Blimblatz arrived on the doorstep, the run-ins with the neighbours had largely run out and both sets of beings - them and us - had settled down to a form of co-existence.
The problems began on the second morning of occupation, Sunday.
Damian and Patsy were enjoying a conjugal lie-in, following a return around four in the morning from the Les Cousins Saturday all-nighter. Suddenly they were aware of a dark force at one of their windows. Indeed, it moved from window to window and back again to the first, determined to become fully acquainted with the contents and activities of the room.
Damian propped himself up on one elbow to see what the bloody hell was going on.
Yes, there was no doubt about it, someone he didn't know from Adam was peering into his habitat. His new habitat. His beautiful habitat. A nose pressed against the glass and with its hand above its eyes to reduce reflective glare so that its eyes could pick out details. Damnable cheek.
Damian leapt out of bed, naked of course, and began shouting "clear-off" in its vernacular form,
"Fuckin' piss off you pervie bastard!"
He waved dynamic "clear-off" signs too, with both fingers.
Patsy, aroused from slumbers by the hubbub, sat up, breasts falling uncovered to the undoubted horror or otherwise of the peeping person, and said sweetly, "What is it, Damian?"
By this time, Damian was struggling with the French window to beat off the actual intruder, who unfortunately ran away leaving Damian standing nude in the cold December air.
The next morning, John E Johns arrived and banged on the front door with his ivory handled cane.
He burst in, even though Damian had not invited him and immediately went into the attack on how, if they were going to offend the existing tenants so much, they were going to have to vacate, lease or no lease.
"What, what, what?" Damian uttered and demanded prompt demystification, whereupon it was revealed that the upstairs tenants, Mr & Mrs Mikley, were absolutely affronted at the sight of Patsy and Damian, especially Patsy, walking about naked in their own room, with no curtains up, when they, the Mikleys, were trying to enjoy a perfectly normal stroll in their part of the garden. Also it turned out that the logs which Damian had been freely burning to warm his cockles, his very own cockles, belonged to none other than Mr Mikley, who had collected them, paid for them and stacked them neatly for winter use around the entire outside of the ground floor of the house.
"Right, so let's go through this again," said Damian, determined not to be bamboozled. "Patsy and me were fast asleep in bed, alright? We were not wandering round the room naked, and if we were, it's our business, right? And this Mikley geezer was pressing his face up to the glass. Not just a bit. Every window he looked through. He woke me up. I chased him off. There's a law about peeping and I shall invoke if I hear any more of this rubbish."
Damian was very definite when he was very definite.
Mr Johns backed off.
"I see," he mused, "but then there's still the item at issue regarding the logs. The theft, the theft," he warmed, "of the logs! What do you have to say about that, Mr James?"
"OK. So a few bloody little logs. Shit. Logs. Jesus this is pitiful.
I'm sorry about his logs alright?" said Damian. "I didn't mean to steal anything from anyone. The logs were there. They were right outside my window. Right outside my wall. We were cold and lit a fire to keep warm. They went with the flat for all I knew. I'll buy some logs. I'll give him some back. I'm sorry, they're just a few logs." Damian shrugged. That was all there was to it.
"Right, I see," said Mr Johns, now very much calmer than on his arrival. "Well it does seem that Mr Mikley has been over reacting. He's been here a long time, Mr James. He thinks it's all his, I fear." Mr Johns waved generally about the air around him. "He's had no-one downstairs for over a year and he's forgotten that you have to put up with things when you share a building. Alright, Mr James. I'm sorry I went into the attack so forcefully at the outset. You understand, I think." He nodded at Damian in a semi-confidential manner. "I just have to try to respect our tenants privacy and points of view. I'd do the same for you." Damian smiled inwardly. "By the way, get some curtains up as soon as you can old chap."
Damian was impressed by this display of professional stoicism. He smiled warmly at Mr Johns.
"I'll write him a letter of apology about the logs," he said.
Damian was as good as his word and later that day delivered, personally, a large bunch of flowers and a message of rapprochement to the Mikleys, who sniffled haughtily and closed the door on him.
"Bastards. That's the last time I apologise to them," shouted Damian as he slammed his front door shut in disgust.
You could tell what sort of people Syd Mikley and his wife Sonja were going to be just by looking at his car. It was a shiny white Volvo with the registration 'SYD 1'.
The next altercation was indeed in respect of that very vehicle which Syd normally kept protected from the light in the garage at the side of the driveway to St Joan's. Damian parked the Fiat (which did not have the registration "DAM 1", though he now considered it might be fun) right outside the front door to the flat, which was right next to the front door of the Mikley's flat. Mr Mikley therefore felt that SYD 1 should be parked by the front door when it was on display, and not the Fiat. He put a note through Damian's door to this effect.
"Bloody, shittin' hell, guys," Damian said to his colleagues, bringing the note into the kitchen for all to see. "This guy is such a creep. He spies on us through the window and now he wants to be able to park his bloody flashy car right outside the place, and I'm not allowed to."
He passed the note around and each of them studied it in turn.
Dave said, "Tell him to piss off."
Sheila said, "What does he mean?"
Bertie said, "Poor bugger, he's just got a fixation about everything."
Patsy said, "It doesn't matter, Damian, let him park where he wants. What's it to you?"
Damian backed down. However, later that day he went into Lewisham and bought an electric guitar.
There was no connection between the events. Damian had been thinking about his career. Going electric had worked for Dylan. It looked fun.
He tried several and chose a sunburst Fender Telecaster.
It gleamed, it was beautiful. He got a cheap amp, signed a never-never application and brought them both home.
Damian was particularly keen to replicate the Clapton sound apparent on the Mayall album.
There were a few things he didn't know about electric guitars though, like using fifth strings instead of sixths, fourths instead of fifths, thirds instead of fourths and so on, in order to get the 'cello-like vibrato and the big bends. His amp wasn't up to it either, but it didn't stop him trying. His basic technique was to turn everything up as far as it would go and just plug away.
In his room, the sound was very loud. Damian liked that.
Mr Mikley hated it.
Within half an hour, Mr Mikley was banging on the front door and demanding attention. Of course, Damian could not hear this and continued to play for some time longer.
During a break in his soloing, his ringing ears attuned to the hammering on the front door and he went to investigate, Fender in hand. Mikley was a man possessed. His red face thrust forwards at Damian, who was quite baffled as to what the problem was.
"Look, I'll park my car on the other side if you want, man," he said in the hope that this gesture would appease.
"It's not the bloody car I'm talking about, it's that thing there," shouted Mr Mikley lunging towards the Fender with a free hand.
Damian was having none of that. With the protection of a mother cat, he clasped the Fender to his chest and tried to shut the door on Mr Mikley who in turn attempted to prevent the termination of his ire. His hand went through the glass.
"You bastard," shouted Damian, "you'll have to pay for that, you know," but Mr Mikley was beyond caring about damage to the landlord's property and began to kick at the door timbers clearly intent on breaking it down entirely. Damian opened the door suddenly, with the result that Mr Mikley fell over onto his hands and knees.
"Oh Christ, you're a silly bastard," said Damian, bending to help him to his feet. Mr Mikley practically crawled out of the flat out of sheer embarrassment, rushed through his own front door and upstairs to hide.
Naturally another letter quickly followed. And after that, another visit from John E Johns who 'tutted' ominously at the sight of the damaged door.
"I'm not paying for that," retorted Damian, angrily, "he did it. He's a nutter."
"Mr James," smoothed Mr Johns, "You people are going to have to get along with each other or you'll drive each other mad."
He agreed that he would inform Mr Mikley that door repair would be his responsibility and Damian agreed not to play his guitar so loud if he thought the Mikleys were home. The door repair was a long time coming.
On the other hand, the other tenants of St Joan's were as nice as pie.
Damian met Colonel and Mrs Lung, who lived in the upstairs stable block. Colonel Lung was as asthmatic as you can get and therefore aptly named. Mrs Lung nodded nicely at Damian and Patsy and said, "What nice young people," to her husband afterwards.
That very first weekend, Damian had bought a shoulder of lamb to cook in the gas oven and having got it home, had no idea whatsoever what to do with it. He vaguely remembered his mother putting such things in the inside of the oven and leaving them there until they were roasted, but he didn't know for how long or at what temperature. So he went and knocked on the door of Mrs Fisher, the gardener's wife, who lived in the flat below the Lungs. She was wonderful. She provided full instructions and even came by later with an apple pie for pudding and scones for tea.
So in the couple of weeks that followed moving in, they did their best to make the place habitable with the addition of coal deliveries to provide for heating, additional covenanted curtains to appease the Mikleys, and Damian bought some wood and rather than giving it to the Mikleys to burn, made collapsible shelving to support his records, books and clothes.
Then came Lem.
* * *
Lem Blimblatz was American.
He arrived in the kitchen with his guitar via Los Angeles, New York, London Heathrow, Walthamstow and Bertie, rather like many famous folk singers had done before him.
"Hi is Bertie there! Great to see ya. How're things? Thought I'd look y'up, maybe grab a bed for the night or two," he'd said to Bertie's bemused father around six am the day before at his newsagents shop on Walthamstow High Street.
"I'm afraid Bertie is not living at home any more," answered Bertie's Dad. He would have liked to be able to close the door on further conversation, but since he was open for business, that was not an option.
"OK, so I'll look him up tomorrow," said Lem. Bertie's Dad had expected Lem to about turn and stride off never to be seen again, but this was not to be. Instead, he shrugged off his rucksack, downed his guitar case in the centre of the small shop floor and held out his hand, "Lem Blimblatz," he said warmly.
"Oh er, sorry?" said Bertie's Dad believing that he just had been spoken to in a foreign language. Lem repeated his name nodding corroboratively while adding, "Could use some coffee. D'ya have coffee in England?"
In order to move Lem from the central and sole area of trading in his meagre establishment, Bertie's Dad indicated the way through to the back and the living quarters. Since Lem appeared to be fed up with carrying his possessions Bertie's Dad, thoroughly irritated by this alien intrusion, attempted to drag them after.
"Well look, I'm working right now, young man," said Bertie's Dad gruffly. "There's the kettle over there and coffee's in the cupboard under the sink, milk's on the shelf, the phone's in the sitting room and Bertie's number's in the book by it. When you've made a drink, I suggest you phone him and arrange to go over to see him."
Bertie's Dad retired into his shop to sell papers.
Lem peered around at these unfamiliar objects. His face, however, lit up at the sight of the Maxwell House jar and he spooned copious amounts into a nearby mug. He looked for water heating devices and settled on putting the electric kettle on top of the gas hob with a worthwhile flame. He sauntered, yawning, to the living room and then further afield in search of a bath room. The bath tub was considerably larger than he had seen before and invited him to determine that his journey's travail now merited cleanliness. He ran a bath and got in. Shortly afterwards, he dozed off to sleep.
A short while later, an overheated Bertie's Dad drew his attention to the overheated kettle in language which cannot be printed anywhere.
"Gee, I didn't know ya had to plug it into the wall Mr Dooler." Lem lamented.
He was genuinely upset by the mistake, but unfortunately it rendered him unsuitable for further hospitality and Bertie's Dad informed him that he had now rung Bertie who would meet him before tea.
Bertie's Dad allowed him one final call to Bertie to arrange rendezvous details. Westminster Bridge was agreed.
Bertie's old van survived most things. It preferred not to be driven in daylight, due to heavy traffic between those hours which slowing it down to a standstill too often, caused it to overheat. It was also not keen on being driven at night due to its headlamps working only intermittently. In many respects it was similar to Bertie's Dad who had given it to Bertie as a bribe to get him out of the house. Anyway, Bertie attempted the run from Bickersley to Westminster through the many suburban streets and junctions to save his American acquaintance from having to sleep rough or pay for it.
Lem Blimblatz was in fact an acquaintance of a number of American folk singers and Bertie had met him in the company of one of them while on an educational exchange to San Francisco. Bertie had with typical openness given his home address and said, "Any time you're in London, look me up." At the time he hadn't been aware of the full implications of such an offer - the chain of visitations it would unleash. He didn't mind. It was exciting to have American visitors in their new pad.
Surprisingly, contact was made between the two, largely because Lem had mistaken London Bridge for Westminster Bridge and Bertie took a wrong turn at the Elephant and Castle. He stopped to ask his way from a long haired guy with a rucksack and a guitar case, only to discover that the guy was Lem himself.
"Whoa, man. Far out!" they said in almost perfect harmony, while hugging each other in the middle of the pavement. After a beer in a nearby pub, they set off back to the flat.
It took, in fact, considerably longer than it should have due to the increasingly frequent stops to pour fresh water in the van's radiator and so they arrived at St Joan's around four. But none of this mattered to Lem Blimblatz because he was in London. He was seeing London, he was breathing London.
"This is so amazing, man," he enthused, "Your cars are so dinky, man. Gee, how do you drive on this side," etc., etc.
Patsy, who had never come into live contact with an American before, met them excitedly on the doorstep and welcomed them both with hugs and kisses.
Lem was tall, more than six feet, fair, with shoulder length straight hair, and incredibly gaunt of features. His Californian sun-tan in an English mid-winter immediately gave him a filmy countenance. To emphasise the effect further, he wore high heeled Mexican cowboy boots, with silver pointed toes. His buffalo-hide ten-gallon hat made him look yet taller. Like all Americans, the mere fact of being American gave him charisma which may have eluded him back home. The charm began working the moment he opened his mouth and all those American teeth glinted American smiles.
"Hi y'all. Lem Blimblatz."
Patsy just managed not to curtsy.
Little Bertie, this was the first time Patsy had noticed Bertie's size and she was tall, hovered in the background beaming. She held the door open and ushered them in.
"You must be starving," she said to Lem, "What would you like to eat?"
"Gee, I could eat a horse," said Lem.
God those teeth.
"I'm afraid we don't eat horse in England," said Patsy in all seriousness as she led the way down the hall to the kitchen. "We have sausages and mashed potatoes and it'll be ready in half an hour, but you can have some tea and toast or something like that right now if you're really starving," she said.
"Sossayjess!" Lem immediately started his trademark English mimicry, not quite right! "Well sure, tee and tohst, yep, that'd be just great." He glinted.
The rucksack and guitar case stopped in the centre of the kitchen floor. Patsy put bread under the grill to toast and went in Damian's direction.
Damian had a gig that evening and was practising. Despite having written all his own songs, he could never remember all the words without practise. He was always terrified that he would forget words at a critical moment - you could say that all moments in a song are critical - but let's say, a moment of poetic suspense, when the right words were crucial - that was the most likely moment for Damian to forget the correct line.
"He's lovely, Damian," said Patsy, interrupting a particularly melancholy phrase.
"What? Bloody, hell, can't you see I'm practising, man. You do know I've got a gig tonight, don't you?"
Damian always became the most important person to Damian on nights when there was a gig. Of course he denied this and said that the most important people were the audience. In a sense, you could say the two ideas were the same.
Then he pulled himself together, "Sorry Patsy love, just getting tense."
"Sorry Damian, darling, Lem is here and I wanted you to meet him, he's lovely."
"Right, is now the time?" asked Damian, still concerned about his rehearsal programme. "Can't I just go through these things. I know I know them inside out, but it's a real gig tonight, Patsy, not one of those boring floor spots, I'm getting ten quid, and I want to be asked back."
A sound commercial attitude.
She nodded patiently and closed the door quietly behind her.
In any event, it didn't matter at that moment. Lem was by now seated on the carpet in Bertie's room devouring the best part of a loaf and a half of toast, all the bread in fact that they possessed. Patsy found them and sat down on the carpet in the group. Dave had joined their group too.
And so had Sheila.
The interesting thing about Sheila was the way in which she attached herself to people and situations. At the outset, it had seemed that she belonged to Dave's room. She didn't pay rent of course; she didn't share in the costs of the house or housekeeping; she didn't have a key - Damian believed that she didn't have a key - she didn't help with the cooking or buy any food for any of the others; she did help clear up and she always cleaned the bath after using it. So, she did seem to be a feature of Dave. Damian assumed that Dave was screwing her and had no problem with any of it. However, Dave occasionally came home with some other chick from the college. She would rarely be introduced. And on those occasions, Sheila seemed to be happy with Bertie. Damian did not believe that Bertie was screwing her. But there was no doubt that she shared his mattress on the floor. In fact, Bertie was screwing her, and she was screwing Bertie. They had good sex together, better in fact than she and Dave. But if Dave was available, he was first choice.
Anyway, now that Lem Blimblatz was here, she was in no doubt that she would be screwing him. That very night.
Damian knew nothing of this. He continued to work at his songs and his guitar playing. He came up with a handful of new ideas even as he practised. This was one of the things he adored about gigs. The adrenaline, the pressure of performance, stimulated his writing glands more than anything. More even than a good dollop of Lebanese Red. Damian made notes about the new songs - titles, opening phrases, chord sequences. Then he transferred to the Fender. He still hadn't mastered the concept of playing electric. He basically played with his fingers rather than a pick, having learnt classical guitar at some stage in the past. Somehow, the lack of a sound hole on the Fender meant that his fingers couldn't pluck at quite the right angle and the sounds that he got were nothing like the sounds that Eric or Jimi seemed to be able to produce. They just sounded like amplified versions of the sounds that he got on the acoustic, but without the tonal subtlety. He put it down frustrated. Lem poked his head round the door.
Lem had been instantly drawn by the electricity of the Fender, the volume, the striking difference of the music being played from that which he was hearing in LA.
"Lem Blimblatz," he was too excited to bother even with the 'Hi y'all', "Gee, man, that was somethin' else you were playing then, man, really far out!"
Damian looked up surprised. He was genuinely surprised on two counts. The first because he had been concentrating and was completely into his own world. The second because he was amazed that his electric struggling should be of interest to anyone.
"Sorry, man? What did you say?"
"I really liked what you were doin' there man," said Lem. He did his teeth thing. Girls went weak at the knees. Damian barely noticed.
"I just don't seem to be able to get the hang of it yet," said Damian, still hung on his train of emotion. He was shaking his head. It was really frustrating. " I think I should stick to this one, maybe," Damian was already strapping on his acoustic.
"No man, you were far out," repeated Lem.
"Well, I don't know. You'll have to tell me more about it later, I'm afraid. I've got a gig to go to. I should do a bit more work and then have supper and go."
Damian strummed a bit more and turned away to the French windows which he liked because they threw the sound back at him and he could hear it as he considered the audience would. He launched into one of his songs.
Damian was astonished to suddenly find that he was not alone in his playing. Another guitar was running along side his and a single line harmony was being played. A humming voice picked up a high harmony and he turned to see what had happened. Lem was seated on the bed in the middle of the room. He had taken out his own guitar and was jamming spontaneously along.
Damian continued playing and singing. He didn't become embarrassed or disconcerted. Of course he frequently played with other musicians - jammed twelve-bars with them and so on, but this was his first experience of hearing his own material with a musician who seemed to be prepared to put him first. It pleased him at once. Damian played on without interruption until the end of the song and then, still without talking, began another.
Once more, Lem picked up the chords he was playing in an instant and developed a counter current, either rhythmic or melodic. It was sensational. Damian felt the buzz of creation in his brain. His whole body felt the thrill. He just looked at Lem and sang and nodded approval and appreciation at every little riff he played.
They got to the end of the number, "Jesus, man, this is really something!" he said.
Damian sat down on one side of the bed and looked hard at Lem. He put his guitar slowly to one side and looked at Lem as if he was trying to work things out. He glanced at his watch and looked up. He didn't rush into speech.
Lem was the first to break silence, "Damian, right?" he said, "Bertie played me your record. I like it."
Damian smiled, more, he glowed. "I've got to go out to a gig tonight. Want to come along?"
"You mean to play some stuff with you?" said Lem.
"Hmm," Damian was not sure about that. Things had worked pretty well just sitting there in the room, but in front of an audience? Would that be a good idea? "I'm not keen on jamming at a gig, man, but we could try and do something like we just did - a couple of numbers - the same ones we just played. If we had more time to work things out, I'd say, let's do the whole thing together, but, y'know, just to meet like that and then go out in front of an audience, I don't know if I could handle it myself." This was Damian facing the truth. When it came down to music, he did his best to face the truth. This was how he considered himself a professional.
"OK, man, I'm hip," said Lem. He had played with other musicians who felt this way. They felt this way when they were feeling their way.
"So what're you doing here, how long are you sticking around? Tell me about your plans," asked Damian.
"Weell, I just got here. I'm sticking around, I'm going to Europe. I want to see Europe. I've got friends in Amsterdam. I've got friends in Italy. You know, I'm just groovin' around and then I gotta go back to California 'cos I'm in school for while longer."
"Right, OK, so you're just here for a week or two or a few days?"
"Yeah, a week or two, a few days, whatever."
Hmm, this was disappointing in a way. Lem was brilliant. Damian longed for him to say he was sticking around for ever. Long enough to make his album with. Long enough to go on the road with. Long enough to make a musical career with. But it was only going to be for a few days.
Patsy arrived with food. She had two plates, one in each hand, she handed them over to the working boys. Sheila followed into the room. She had more plates, Bertie and Dave came in. They all sat around and ate supper, the fire in the grate roared. Damian kept his eye on the time.
"Ok, so, time to go," he said. "Let's go."
He cased the guitar and picked it up in one seamless action. Other people followed his initiative. Patsy, obviously was in the party, Lem was right there - the guitars were being loaded into the Fiat - two guitars would just fit behind the back seat but only if they were dropped in soixant-neuf style - two people fitted into the back seat but only if they were soon to be well acquainted. Damian was interested to notice that the other was Sheila.
The drive to the gig was unremarkable, that is if Damian's driving from south to north across the centre of the great metropolis can ever be considered unremarkable. It was fast anyway. The four in the Fiat shouted about England over the roar of the Fiat's tinny and tiny engine.
They discussed traffic in London and Los Angeles, width of roads, tree population, road manners, speed, drugs, music. Damian maintained an observation on the back seat pairing via the rear view mirror. It was not altogether surprising. Damian wondered how Dave would take it. Probably wouldn't notice until Christmas.
The gig was at a folk club pub in Hampstead. Damian was pleased to see the room packed to capacity. The atmosphere was rowdy.
"Do you want to do some stuff on your own?" he asked Lem.
"Sure!" came the confident reply. Damian introduced him to the girl who ran things. She said, "Sure," and everyone was at their ease.
With the usual mix of Irish sing-alongs and serious meaning, the first half past by, the house band providing its weekly continuity. The same songs, the same jokes, the same stories week after week, the stuff that folk music's made of. There was a short intermission for dumping and reloading and Damian was introduced as the guest for the evening.
A couple of tunes in, and Damian introduced "his good friend from the USA," it was a good ruse. The air crackled with expectant hum. Lem did not disappoint.
He had that slick American finger pickin' guitar sound; that strong, rounded, pleasing voice; those tanned and craggy features - he could have sung the Marsellaise and been a hit - but he didn't - he sang his own melodic Californian songs about long straight highways and lonely lagoons, rock 'n' roll summers, and bright new moons. The audience went ape. Damian felt foolish. Shit, how the fuck do you follow that?
What neither the audience, nor Damian knew was that Lem had only three such songs as these and once he'd done 'em he was done. The audience loved him, they shouted and cheered, they begged for more, but Lem switched off. Was it timing or showmanship? Damian didn't know and he was seriously regretting having brought him along.
But there was no need for alarm.
Lem could've launched into an entire Grateful Dead routine, or a Jefferson Airplane attack but he fortunately refrained. He turned to Damian and held up his hand, "I want to thank my good friend Damian James for inviting me along, the coolest dude in London, England, Damian?"
If American ingratiation ever worked, this was perfect. Without the audience, Damian would have gone into hiding. With it, he was a star. Thirty or forty minutes music later, it seemed an ideal moment to bring back Lem. But Blimblatz knew how to make the most of the moment. "Let's run the stuff we did together earlier," he whispered in Damian's ear. Damian looked doubtful. He had already done one of the numbers solo.
"Don't worry about that, we'll do it second, you'll see!"
If the next few minutes could have gone on forever, it would have been a happy life. Even Simon and Garfunkel's time came to an end. It's a pity that James and Blimblatz couldn't have got started. Change is inevitable.
They celebrated till four am. They drove home high. They were lucky not to crash land. Nobody saw them fall into bed.