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
1967 CONTENTS PAGE
©Marcus J Brierley, 1999
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4 - Living it down
Around two p.m. the following day, Damian stirred.
He reached out for the comforting warmth of Patsy's skin, but she was already long gone to college for the other world. Someone at least in the house was making some attempt to fulfil the normal obligations of student-hood.
He did his usual thing of raising himself on one arm to peer at the time and take in the entirety of the room.
It sure as hell was cold.
Gathering unspecified bed clothes around him, he padded off in the direction of the bathroom, beginning his morning coughing routine as he went. Cleaning his teeth always seemed to accelerate the process of lung evacuation. He coughed for the best part of fifteen minutes, bringing up copious quantities of phlegm whilst leaning over the washbasin.
He returned via the kitchen and put on the kettle. The flat appeared to be deserted apart from himself. "Unusual," he thought, "Dave doesn't often bother with college."
Hearing the front door close, he peered down the hall corridor in the hope that it might be Patsy returning. A tall, booted figure appeared in front of him, clutching carrier bags marked with the names of famous high street stores.
"Hi, my man, glad to see you're up and about."
Lem beamed his toothy beam from ear to ear and Damian felt a thrill of pleasure race through his chilly chest.
"Got some provisions from store-land," he exclaimed, and placing the bags on the kitchen counter began to display the items and announce their presence as he did so.
"Fresh ground coffee, expensive! Bacon! Eggs! Brown bread! Couldn't get rye."
Damian didn't know what rye meant.
"English butter! Orange juice! Milk! Cereal! Know what we call this in America, Damian?"
"No?" Damian nodded negatively, mystified, convinced that he was soon to learn something radical, new, transatlantic.
"Breakfast!" shouted Lem with shiny teeth.
"Bloody marvellous!" said Damian and began coughing all over again.
"You're going to have to do something about that cough," said Lem, "if you want to live to forty."
"Too right," said Damian, rolling a ciggie.
Lem was a first rate exponent of campfire cooking, having weathered a lifetime of summer camps. His choice of produce was tailored expertly to his culinary skills and in next to no time, very large platefuls of 'late brunch' were at their disposal.
"How long are you staying?" asked Damian as if seeking new assurances, hoping the answer would be 'forever'.
"Well, I'm heading for Europe next and then I've got to be back in School by January two."
"So you don't reckon we could get something together then?"
"We did!" said Lem.
"Yeah but I mean something like a band, man," said Damian.
"Mmm, I know what you're thinkin' man, but I ain't good enough right now."
"What do you mean, man? You're insanely brilliant!"
"No, man. I got a lot of work to do. You, you're brilliant. You've got style and you've got class. You've got original music in your fingers. I'm still watchin' everyone else's."
Damian was touched by these observations. He had not thought like this at all. He didn't even know he was good. He played because he had to and if people liked it, that was a bonus. Playing with another musician, as spontaneous and as supportive as Lem could be, was like floating on a breeze.
Damian looked out of the windows at the garden beyond, he looked down at his feet. He looked back at Lem.
"Do you think there might be a time when we might work together? When you've finished your studies, maybe?"
Damian had resumed the very English shyness which was not normally a feature of his everyday speech. The tendency was always to bask on a raft of pop speak, a jargon of 'man' and 'farout' and words that seemed to bristle with transatlanticism. 'But the presence of the genuine article made one so conscious of the sound one's own voice,' he noticed.
"I'm doing a radio show tonight," said Damian abruptly, "Do you want to come along?"
"Farout!" said Lem, "You? Live radio tonight? Which station?"
"We don't have station's over here," said Damian, "We have the BBC. It's a show called the Don Quillie show. It goes out at midnight. Must be my week for gigs. I've gone all year without hardly anything, and suddenly, the moment you're here, I've got a folk club and a radio gig all in the same week. It's not quite live actually. I've got to go into the studio about eight and record three or four tracks and then turn up at midnight and chat to Don Quillie live. So, do you want to come?"
"And play?" asked Lem.
"It's up to you, man. You could if you liked. We did a good job last night. We could do that one number you like, 'Like honey. Like summer in your hair'. Or we could do a bit of practice now and see if there's anything else stands out?"
"Are you gonna get dressed Damian, or are you gonna stay like a Roman all night long?"
Lem used a minor verbal side-step to enable him to consider his response. It was hard to understand that someone so outwardly confident could be inwardly so uncertain, but isn't that like anyone?
The subtlety escaped Damian at this precise moment and he headed in the direction of the bathroom to rebuild his personality with soap and water.
When he re-emerged some twenty minutes later, Lem had succeeded demonstrably in lighting a fire in the room and was already working on some of Damian's other repertoire. He'd listened to the EP and found one of the songs he liked especially and begun to play along with it. This had the immediate effect of lifting the track into an entirely new dimension. Damian watched and listened with fascination. Hearing himself on the little loudspeaker, accompanied by a musician of Lem's sparkle did seem to him a great compliment.
"Shall we do this?" Lem asked.
"OK let's try."
Damian took off the record and they started to figure it out in real life. It was easy doing things with Lem. You didn't have to tell him what to do. You didn't have to lead him forward or stop him in his tracks. He was right there, in time and tune.
An hour passed. They had four numbers they could play competently. More than competently, excellently.
"Are you happy with that?" said Lem.
"I think so. No, I know so. It's good. I like it. I like them all," Damian replied. He was always less than sure until after the gig was over. Feedback from winning a crowd provided Damian his quality assurance. "OK, so that's it then. Let's relax till it's time to go."
They played records till the girls came home with Dave and Bertie. Both Patsy and Sheila were supposed to live in the halls of residence on campus. That was the theory. It seemed that if they stayed there two or three nights of the week, they could get away with not being there the rest of the time. So long as it was not linen changing day they were safe from the eyes of discovery. Damian of course was also supposed to be in college for lectures every day, but he had not been back since the incident with Mrs Brownsmith. Now he was convinced that they had forgotten his existence.
Patsy kissed Damian. Sheila kissed Dave, then Bertie, then Lem.
"I've got a gig on the radio tonight," said Damian.
"Seriously?" said Dave, "Far out. What time is it on, or should we all come and watch?"
Damian explained the evening's timetable and suggested that they would be better to hear it on the radio, However, the girls were allowed to come if they wanted. There was a certain amount of sulking at this suggestion, but at last Dave and Bertie accepted the inevitable. In fact, in the end, they got so stoned that they fell asleep and forgot all about it. They even forgot to listen to the show.
The other four set out at about seven and drove up to Town to Broadcasting House where the recording session was held.
They parked easily at that time of night in Langham Place and galloped like four young and excited ponies into the entrance to Broadcasting House clutching guitar cases and hand-bags.
Lem was instantly impressed by the colonial/governmental countenance of this imposing building. Radio stations in the USA were more usually in tin shacks at the wrong end of town. Broadcasting House represented the establishment, the mother of broadcasting for the world.
"Wow, man, this is something else! Is this real? Are we in the right place?"
The uniformed (uninformed) doorman greeted them with characteristic suspicion.
"We're doing Don Quillie," said Damian.
"Right sir, please go over there to reception and get yourselves signed in. Someone will be down for you to show you where to go."
They followed the instructions. Some fifteen minutes later, a dolly in a Chanel suit arrived to escort them to the studio. Damian was disappointed that no Don Quillie was in evidence. He had imagined that they would discuss things first, get to know each other, choose material. But instead there was an elderly balancing engineer name of Harry, someone who obviously had arrived in the BBC with its birth. On the other hand, what Harry didn't know about micing up two acoustic guitars wasn't worth knowing. With precise and knowledgeable movements, he positioned the microphones on their elaborate counterbalanced stands in the optimum position for extracting the sweetest sound.
"Just get yourselves comfortable, lads," he said. "When you're happy, we'll lay down a bit of sound to get the balance right, then you're away." His reassuring chat removed butterflies like scotch and soda.
Damian played a few chords. "Is it OK?" he asked.
"Just keep playing. One of the numbers you're planning to do will be fine. Just play away together and don't mind me. I'll take a few minutes and then we'll be ready to go." He bustled in and out of the control room and the studio, which was massive, big enough for a whole orchestra. He pulled round some acoustic screens to reduce the ambience. "There, that'll make you feel less vulnerable," he said. He did this so many times a day, that he could sense a musician's fears and feelings from the first few notes that he heard on his monitors. "Right-o, then, I think we're ready for a take. Is that OK, lads?" They nodded. "Can't hear you lads. Give me the name of the piece then just begin when you're ready."
They did as instructed.
Damian had played no more than four bars when he fumbled.
"Don't worry lads, we'll just do as many takes as you need. Got hours before the show starts," said Harry.
This time Damian conquered his nerves and got it right. When they had done the first number. He had to pause to roll a ciggie and light up. Harry came out of the control room and joined them.
"Years (yes). Lovely sound you boys've got. Must say I like this stuff better than all that electric mumbo jumbo. But we get plenty of that. I remember the first time those Beatle boys came in to broadcast. Had exactly the same anxieties as you two. Took them a while to settle in, then you couldn't stop them. Look at'em now. Showing us all a thing or two about tape recording." It seemed somehow unlikely to imagine Harry in with a Beatles recording session.
"When was that Harry," said Lem.
"Ooh I suppose about three or four years ago," was the reply, "Before their first number one I should think, it was a good session though, lively!"
Patsy and Sheila, who had been watching and listening from the control room had come through to hear these anecdotes from the archives.
About an hour later, the session was done. "Not bad chaps," said Harry, "You've done a good job there, boys. I don't know many other young lads that could knock it off so quick. That's it then till the broadcast. You can go off and have a meal. I'll just edit up the tape, take out the messy bits, drop in some coloured leader so we can cue it up and it'll all be ready for Mr Quillie to introduce it."
Lem and Damian packed up their instruments, more than a little sorry that the session was over. They picked them up ready to leave. The Chanel dolly bustled in, clip board clipped on and showed them back through the labyrinth corridors of Broadcasting House to the outside world. "If you want to leave your guitars at reception until after the show, they'll be perfectly safe," she volunteered. The boys looked at each other doubtfully.
"We'll take them with us," they said almost as one man.
When they got back to Broadcasting House, it was quarter to twelve, the show went out at midnight. Negotiating reception was faster this time, almost automatic. Now, a different Chanel dolly escorted them up to the studio for the broadcast itself, which was in a different part of the building from where they had done the recording. All four were shown into an anti-room and invited to be seated until Don was ready for them. There was coffee in a jug and cups on a tray. They were told to help themselves. Behind the glass of a small studio they could see the profile of Don Quillie beyond. There was a light above the glass but it did not yet show red for 'live, on air'. A moment later, the Man came out from his hiding place and shook hands with them one by one.
"Which one of you's Damian," he said, "Well I can see it's not you," he said to Patsy who giggled nervously.
"Damian James," said Damian, holding out his hand. The Lem Blimblatz style had already begun to implant. "This is my mate Lem Blimblatz who flew in from California a couple of days ago and we recorded the songs together this evening."
"Great, that's great, well, I'm looking forward to hearing these when they go out, that is if I don't get interrupted by producers making comments," he added.
BBC radio show presenters, DJs, call them what you will, were not encumbered with tape machines or record decks or anything like that in 1966. Although this new breed of DJ had graduated from the floating school of pirate radio where they had to do everything themselves, now they were in the warmth of the BBC cradle, they enjoyed (or otherwise) the traditionally developed specialist cosseting of producers, engineers, PAs and other supernumeries who provided every support service imaginable. Sometimes it irked.
Damian, meanwhile was troubled that Don Quillie, who was worth having on one's side after all, had not even heard the tapes he was shortly to broadcast over the air to kindred spirits far and wide. Fear was soon to be camouflaged with confidence.
Don Quillie spoke to his audience as if they were in his own living room. His soft, refined, yet streetwise Geordie inflections were in harmony with the time. But instead of the chart proud pulse of the Beatles, he introduced his midnight listeners to the sound of the underground. Don Quillie did an important job. However, just as Don Quillie had, until this moment, scarcely heard more than a few beats of Damian James's waxing creative impulse, Damian had not actually listened to a Don Quillie show until today.
The PA came to where Damian and his little group were seated,
"Come through to the studio," she whispered cathedrally, "Don's going to introduce the next Mothers number then he's going to talk you in." This instantly gave Damian the feeling that he was still in outer space as an artist and soon to splashdown. He wasn't sure if this feeling was good or bad. It was definitely a buzz. He rolled a ciggie and lit up in readiness.
"Don doesn't like cigarette smoke," the PA cautioned. Damian stubbed it out.
The slow motion began to begin as he sat opposite Don Quillie who, Zappa softly in the background on the monitors, (could Zappa be soft?) turned to him and said, "First I'll talk about the EP and then I'll ask you about what influenced you with this first number, 'Beyond the beyond', and what gave you the idea for the title, OK?"
Damian's brain froze. What had given him the idea for such a stupid title? He'd been stoned at the time, what's new?. Could he say that? Could he explain that the song was a meaningless string of words which had somehow strung themselves together to fit the loosely meandering chord set which he had haphazardly stumbled upon while trying to figure out 'Like a Rolling Stone'?
"Well, I've got a young British folk singer in the studio with me tonight," Don Quillie was saying, "- Damian James - who's here with a chum from the USA. Together they're going to play us a set of Damian's new compositions and very sophisticated they are too."
How could he know that if he hadn't heard them yet? But it was a nice intro. Damian warmed to him instinctively.
"Damian, in your first recording on Pacific, you gave us a look at love breaking up, and I hear that was what was going on in your life. What inspired you to write this first number, 'Beyond the beyond'?
'Hell I've no idea. It's just drivel.' "I was considering outer space and living there. Then I thought of the darkness of death. Then I came up with the title, 'Beyond the beyond'," that sounded more feasible, "The verses just came tumbling out once I'd established the chord structure and the tune," that at least was true and seemed to satisfy Don, who said,
"Great Damian, well here's their first number tonight, Damian James and Lem Blimblatz, 'Beyond the beyond'."
God that was simple. Anyone could handle interviewing thought Damian. He could not hear the number as it was transmitted because it appeared that there was no live monitoring in the little anti-room area where they all sat. So the ambience which might be being created in the home of the listener, if there were any, was lost to them.
And so the interview went on. Lem was not called to the microphone. Damian babbled. Don Quillie soothed. His audience may or may not have cared. At the end of the show, Don Quillie came out of his box and shook everyone's hand. "Nice work guys, good luck with the next record, Damian. Hope to have you on again soon." Damian's heart leapt. The next night, DQ said something awfully similar to his next guest.
* * *
Over the next few days, Damian got to know Lem Blimblatz better. They swapped licks. Lem had lots of licks. Lem found a London store stocking Jefferson Airplane and bought it. Damian responded by plugging him into the Pink Floyd. Lem taught Damian how to hold his electric guitar properly and massage it respectfully with a pick. Damian taught Lem the British art of the baroque blues. Lem was impressed with Damian because he was a real recording artist. He was doing real gigs and was on real radio. Damian liked Lem because he had California cool and understood the rudiments of musical fellowship better than anyone else he had known so far.
It was a shock therefore when, before the week was out, Lem announced that he would be leaving for Europe the next day.
Damian went around in a daze. Patsy could not console him. Nothing she could say or do would lift his deep depression. He sat all evening gazing at the embers in consideration of impending loss while Lem made farewell love with Sheila.
The next day dawned and Lem was on the doorstep setting out for further unknown. Damian just made it to the porch wrapped in a sheet. He waved a limp goodbye. Sheila had tears streaming down her cheeks. She looked and sobbed silently. Bertie drove him away.
"See y'all soon!" shouted Lem apparently oblivious to lasting.
Patsy went with Dave to college on the bus, there were only two days left before the Christmas holidays. Sheila went to the spare room with the mattress on the floor where she had spent the past nights with Lem and wound herself up in a sheet. Damian went to his room and shivered. Whatever could they hope for now this flash of vigour had departed?
At first Damian just sat and stared at a void just in front of him. Then he rolled a ciggie and sat and stared at the same void. Finally he stood and thumbed through his record collection. He couldn't make a decisive choice and having put something on the turntable and picked up the arm, he left the record spinning madly. He picked up the guitar instead and strummed a few chords, beginning to add the words of a song he knew before his own songs had begun to arrive,
" laughing, spinning, swinging madly 'cross the sun, it's not aimed at any one, it's just escaping on the run, and before the sky there are no fences facing, and if you hear vague traces of skipping reels of rime, I wouldn't pay it any mind, it's just a ragged clown behind, it's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing "
He sang the same words again and again, sometimes one way and then another, and then again but only halfway through, he couldn't seem to get as far as the chorus line.
Putting down the guitar, he wandered into the hallway and listened. There was no particular sound to hear. Just to make a noise of some kind, he turned on the cold water tap in the kitchen and filled the kettle. Sheila appeared at the doorway and stood leaning on the door frame, one leg across the other, toes bare and scraping at the wood. Her eyes were red and raw. She picked distractedly at her nose and wiped her finger on the sheet which was still wrapped loosely around her.
"Drink?" said Damian.
Although Sheila was always there, always with some body, seemed a permanent part of the fixtures and fabric of the apartment, often lounged in the same room around Damian and whoever else was around, rode in the same car, had been with him with Lem, in on all the gigs and giggles of the past week and a bit, Damian had never really spoken to her, had a conversation with her, got beyond knowing her first name. In fact, he actually didn't know her surname! How long had she been here?
"Mmm," she managed in faint reply.
Damian looked hard at her and struck a match. He lit the gas and put the kettle on the stove.
"Won't be long," he nodded his head as extra confirmation of his words. "Do you miss him?" he asked. Obviously he knew the answer, it was just killing the time for the kettle to boil.
"Mmm," she said again. She looked at her ankles and twisted them this way and that. She crouched down and picked at a toenail. A red toenail.
Damian noticed the pleasant curve of her bum in the tight tug of the cotton sheet and liked it.
The kettle boiled and whistled shrilly to tear him away.
"Tea, coffee?" said Damian.
"Don't mind, no alright, coffee, no, tea. Don't mind."
Damian made a pot of tea because that was all there was. He handed her a mug, a chipped mug, and picked up his own. They stood, looking past each other in the kitchen, sipping, scratching, clearing throats and sipping once more.
"Did he, did he say when he'd be back? If he'd be back?" Sheila looked appealingly at Damian, her eyes grey with fatigue and loneliness.
"Sorry," said Damian.
There was another long pause. They sipped some more and Damian indicated that they should go into his room. Sheila looked uncertain. She was always coming into the room, but always as part of another party. They sat on the bed in the middle of the room and looked towards the windows.
"Well it was fun while it lasted," said Sheila. "I loved him. I love him." She looked deeply into Damian's eyes and engaged him.
"I know what you mean," said Damian. He held out his arms just enough. She slipped into them. Slowly, they slid sideways until they lay side by side on top of the rumpled bed clothes and remained entwined, like sister, like brother.
Like this, Bertie found them still, some hours later. He came into the room, cheerful as usual, bright, breezy, bustling, Bertie.
"Phew! What are you guys up too?" he enquired, jokey as always, "At it already? Can't wait a moment till the bird has flown?"
Damian and Sheila stirred themselves. To be honest, they had been largely asleep and hadn't noticed the passage of time one jot.
"What are you fuckin' babbling about Bertie?" demanded Damian, obviously mad.
"Sorry, sorry," said Bertie, holding up his hands by way of apology, vaguely aware that he had somehow said the wrong thing, "Didn't mean anything I didn't mean. Well, I put him on the boat. Don't suppose we'll see him for another year at least."
Bertie, whose friend Lem originally was, had totally missed out on the bonding. And now Damian and Sheila were joined at the hip, Bertie hadn't really witnessed the actual gluing together because he didn't maybe understand the nature of glue. Sure he had slept with Sheila, hadn't everyone. Why would she be so overshadowed by this relationship? He couldn't imagine. Sure he had played guitar with Damian, hadn't everyone. Why would he be so overshadowed by this departure?
He looked at them both, bemused. They sat still huddled together in sheets and underwear, not saying anything, until Bertie finally gave up and stomped out with an over emphatic sigh.
At last, Damian released himself and traipsed to the bathroom. He ran a steaming bath and got in to soak. Sheila wandered in at one point and went to the toilet. She sat on the side of the bath looking at Damian, but they didn't speak. She splashed her hand backwards and forwards in the hot water inviting invitation to join with, but none was offered.
She got in anyway and lazed back into the comforting heat. She submerged herself completely and seemed to stay there forever. Damian watched languidly and then panicked for a moment, reaching forward to grab her by the shoulders and pull her up for air. She was alright. She was fine. She was strong. She got out and dried herself and left the bathroom. Damian lingered till the water was almost cold, then he got out and shivered uncontrollably, while desperately rubbing at his body with a damp and rancid towel to dry off and get warm again.
Would there be life without Lem, he wondered, or would he and Sheila become Lemmings and wander, ever hopeless, out to sea?
Sauntering past Bertie's room, Damian saw Sheila in there, dressed in jeans and sweater, sitting by a roaring fire and talking animatedly. OK so it would be alright.
Damian went in to join them. He perched on the edge of the hearth and tuned in to the conversation expecting it to be about Lem Blimblatz, but it wasn't. It was about term ending and what people were doing over the holidays. It was about jumpers and sweaters and shopping for Christmas presents. It was about everyday things that everyone talked about most of the time. Damian listened and watched and wondered.
Life continued like this until Dave came home.
"I've decided to piss off up north this evening," he announced. "Me mum and dad want me for Christmas and it's boring as fuck at college, so I'm going tonight. Anyone got any money for the train fare, by the way?" Dave enquired hopefully.
"Jesus, you want us to pay for your train fare home?" said Damian, disgusted.
"Well I'll get some bread from the folks and pay you back, when I come back," whined Dave.
"Don't forget that the next quarter's rent is due in February, Dave," warned Damian.
"Oh shit that's years away," said Dave, "anyway, can you lend me some bread, man, for the train?"
Damian went off to his room and rummaged around. His little stash of cash from gigs was big enough to raid and leave some change. He returned with a fiver and the words,
"And I want it returned the day you walk back into this flat, is that clear, Dave?"
Dave looked grateful and made numerous assurances which no doubt would be soon forgotten. He disappeared shortly afterwards to travel homewards to Hull.
In the meantime, Patsy phoned from college to say she wouldn't be returning to the flat before leaving for Christmas and could Damian bring her stuff over to her room please so she could pack.
Thoroughly pissed off, Damian reluctantly agreed and set about gathering together the handful of belongings - knickers, sweaters, jeans, wash things, which were scattered among his own. He piled them into the Fiat and drove off at speed.
Patsy met Damian in the college bar and they had a few drinks and made small talk.
"You could stay a bit longer and just go back on Christmas eve or something," suggested Damian.
"I'm sorry Damian, my mum is desperate to see me. She's been writing letters to me every day saying that she misses me and will I please spend as much time as possible at home over the holiday."
"What about after Christmas then? Could you come back to the flat?"
"I don't know, Damian. I want to, but I don't know if it'll be possible to get away. I'd have to make some excuse about going to stay with a girlfriend or something. She can't find out I'm spending most of my time at your place. She'd go berserk. Dad would blow a fuse."
"Well will you phone me then and let me know. I don't know what I'm going to do. Maybe go home for Christmas day or something. I don't know. I'd rather be in the flat, but it's going to be bloody miserable if I'm there all on my own."
"What about Bertie?" said Patsy, "What's he planning?"
"Going to his dad's, I think, Dave's already left for Hull. I had to lend him the bread to buy the ticket. Poor sod, He's spent everything he can lay his hands on."
"I lent him three quid!" said Patsy, surprised.
"You lent him money? You're mad, Patsy. You couldn't even lend me money when I needed it."
"Yes, but you were asking for hundreds. I could manage a bit. Anyway three quid isn't millions."
Gradually they returned to Patsy's room and made love in an unashamed but perfunctory fashion. Patsy was surprised at Damian's lack of lustre.
"What is it Damian? Wasn't I any good?"
"Not your fault, man," he mumbled, "Just kinda down that's all."
They sat up and smoked a joint. He cradled her in the crook of his leg. She clung to his thigh.
"Do you care so much about losing Lem?" she asked, suddenly aware of what it was all about. She summoned the vision of the past few days, when all that there was, was musical intensity, fullness of minds creating fusion with speech and with sound.
"I thought, I hoped we might do something together. You know, a band, a duo, make some sounds. I thought we were pretty good. He was pretty good I suppose. I just strummed along, but he was fuckin' marvellous. I thought we were on the verge of something and that it was going to happen. That gig on Don Quillie. It was real you know. It was something else."
"But you know, you are great, Damian. You write the songs. It's your words and tunes. It's your chords that make the tunes. You are really something Damian. You don't have to think that it was all Lem that did it. I mean, I know that when he played with you, you made a better sound. A fuller sound, more band-like than folk singer. But it's all your material. You are the recording artist. I think Lem said that to you. Anyone could do what Lem did, it doesn't have to be him."
Patsy sounded very plausible. She was right. But being right didn't change the fact that the magic existed with the Lem Damian combination and without one of the parts, the spell didn't make the same magic. Well it would have to wait. Or be something else.
"Thanks Patsy," said Damian, "So will you come and stay with me at the flat as soon as you can get away from your mum and dad?"
She nodded dreamily, it was past boys-out time. Shortly afterwards, Damian set out for the Fiat and the quick-run home.
* * *
The flat seemed cold and bare without Patsy, Dave or Bertie. But Sheila had decided to stay on. She said her parents were in Bahrain and she would otherwise have to go to stay with relatives who she couldn't stand. Better to be with friends. She took over the role of hausfrau, which surprised Damian, since she had shown no inclination for this kind of function before.
He on the other hand played the guitar like there was no tomorrow. He just sat on the bed in the middle of the room and made music. Some of the time, Sheila sat in there with him and listened. Most of the time, she stayed in the spare room and watched, what?.
On Christmas Eve, Damian decided that he'd better go home to visit his parents for Christmas Day and he called them to let them know he was coming. They seemed pleased. They'd heard him mention Patsy in the past.
"Is Patsy coming," they said.
"No, I'm bringing Sheila," he replied.
They considered it most peculiar.
Damian went to ask Sheila if she fancied going with him to his parents for Christmas day.
Sheila accepted the smoke passed her way and considered her response amidst deep inhaling.
"Mmm," she said, "I might like that. Are they OK, your folks?"
"OK? Hmm, well, whose folk are?" was all Damian could provide for answer.
They slept in the same bed that night, loosely wrapped in each others limbs. It was for warmth only. There was no attempt or intention for deeper social intercourse.
Early next morning, they began the long icy, misty drive in the Fiat to the Cotswolds, where Mr and Mrs James inhabited a thatched and floral cottage.
Damian's parents were glassy in their politeness to Sheila. She expected no more. They enjoyed a sumptuous lunch. Damian was delighted with his presents, woolly scarves, a hot water bottle, and yet more underwear. They sipped cognac until four in the afternoon and then set out for Bickersley, sated and sozzled.
Damian's parents shook their heads. Mrs James worried about contraception. Mr James worried about Damian.
The Fiat overheated several times on the run home and they had to keep stopping to let it cool down. It was after midnight when they got back to St Joan's and for warmth alone, they decided to curl up together in Damian's big bed without delay, using both lots of blankets and the new hot water bottle.
It was well past two in the afternoon, when they were awakened by copious banging on the French windows several feet from their heads. Damian, convinced that it was the dreaded Mr Mikley from upstairs bent on Boxing Day revenge grabbed the poker before going to the curtains to see what the noise was about. He jumped out of his skin to see two young women dancing and leaping and making faces at him through the glass.
"Hi, Damian," they shrieked, "Com'on, let's in. We've come specially."
Damian, still sleepy, could not recall where he had seen these girls before, but they looked worth letting in and they had come to look him up, so he undid the French window and allowed them into the room.
"Remember us," they chirped, "You played at our college in Stoke-on-Trent. You gave us your address. You said, 'Look me up sometime,' well here we are. Do you remember Kathy?"
Damian looked at the one referred to as Kathy and could not enormously place her. He looked back to the spokesperson of the two and said,
"I'm sorry, we were up late last night, we're still a bit stoned, man, just remind me."
"This is Kathy," said the mouth, patiently, "and I'm Suky. You did a gig in October at Stoke-on-Trent College of Technology. You came back to our room for coffee. You said, 'Come and see us in London.' We're here!"
"Right, right, great man. Great to see you. You guys live around here then?" asked Damian, trying to arrive at equilibrium.
The girls came forward into the room and huddled round the bed.
Sheila stirred slightly and rolled over a bit so that her naked body could be seen by the visitors. They looked for a moment and giggled nervously.
"Croydon. I live in Croydon and Suky lives near Sevenoaks. We decided to look you up 'cos you said we should."
"Well that's great. Yep. This is Sheila," Damian indicated the still sleepy body under the sheets, "She lives here in the flat. She's one of my mates here."
"Your girlfriend, then?" asked Suky who was not at all sure whether she and her chum were absolutely welcome.
"No, no, no, my girlfriend's away for Christmas. Sheila's a mate. More like brother and sister, you know."
"Is this her room, then?" asked Kathy, trying to get the picture clear.
"No, this is my room. Sheila and me slept together 'cos it was so cold last night."
"Oh, right!" so that all seemed perfectly in order then. The internal sigh of relief was all but audible.
"Look, girls, we've got nothing in the flat, I'm afraid. Not a bite or anything. You got a car or something?" said Damian.
"Mmm, Suky's got her dad's."
"Right, right. OK, well do you reckon you could find somewhere open? Somewhere to get some stuff to eat and drink. We went up to my mum and dad's yesterday and forgot to bring anything back with us. We forgot it'd be Boxing day and everywhere'd be shut."
The girls looked doubtful. Suky offered to go out and hunt.
"Great. OK, then. You guys go off and hunt then, and we'll get up and get ourselves together. Sheila, we've got visitors, sweetheart. Babe, we've got folk here come to visit. Want to wake up, babe?"
Kathy and Suky exited via the French windows and Damian tried further tactics to get Sheila to respond. She sure was a solid sleeper when she wanted to be.
Damian applied a little more coaxing and she eventually regained waking consciousness. Together they aimed for the bathroom to normalise.
An hour later, with a roasting coal fire in the hearth, Damian and Sheila were fully dressed to receive the two chicks from Stoke-on-Trent Tech who had returned with proof of their higher educations.
They must have found the only Indian corner shop open in South London on a Boxing Day and had bought everything they could think of beginning with 'b', burgers, bangers, bacon, beans, bread, butter, and beer.
Damian cheered up. Giving the girls the further responsibility of cooking their goodies, he plugged in the Fender and set about celebrating Christmas more naturally.
They ate and drank and baked in front of the fire. They got slowly stoned.
"You guys want to stay the night," said Damian. The girls looked at each other and nodded. "What about your dad's car?" asked Damian, "Won't he mind, do you want to ring him?"
"They're in Spain till New Year," giggled Suky.
The girls took off almost everything and climbed into bed with Damian. Sheila sighed and went back to her own room to freeze alone. And this was more or less how things went on until the end of the week.
On New Year's eve, Patsy came back to the flat and the girls from Stoke-on-Trent tech departed. Their time was up.
Damian was shattered, but revived on sight of Patsy with whom he could communicate in real words. Bertie came through the door an hour later with a stunning redhead he said he'd met in a pub in Essex and who he introduced as "Miss Karina Thomson".
She was about a foot taller than he was, and from the way they moved their bodies together, it looked like they'd already become an item.
Sheila, from her isolation, came in to welcome the new dawn. The clouds drifted on to the next town.
The evening was an easy game, they blew their noses, their minds and their own trumpets, exaggerating the hypocrisies of Christmas, while Damian brought them up to date on the serious compositions of the past few days.
On the stroke of midnight, Bertie threw open the French windows into the black and icy night, and out into the garden they poured.
They danced beneath the diamond sky with both hands waving free.
The Mikley's opened windows and shouted abuse.
"Forget about today until tomorrow," the revellers replied.
Damian strummed noiselessly on the Fender, only wishing that battery powered amplification could have been invented sooner.
It was 1967.