STRANGE REFLECTIONS I
I. TETAHATIA THE SIGIL
On the cluttered table was a bunch of flowers. Why hang on?
The book looked like The Grimoire of Armadel. It fell open at a page emblazoned by the finest designers: a unique confirmation…
In the sigil may be noted the ways whereby a blinding darkness may be produced, or a thing terrible unto one’s enemies, also how a blessing may fall hereon.
Disenchanted with modern forms of authenticity, allowing for the current fashion for ‘second skin’ dressing, I wiped the table clear of dust and examined the charge sheet. Waifs had no impact.
Tetahatia was a Spirit of Science and Virtue who preserved our forefathers from their enemies. This is bondage gear for gossamer girls – sweet kicks, roll-up tricks, share your secret – we promise to spell a five-letter word and decide which statement is true or false, it’s dead simple and copper-coloured.
I head with a friend for a small shop tucked down the side of Harrods while, outside, clouds gathered and rain fell on the Surrey countryside. Why is it this world inspires some of the worst euphemisms of all time? Meanwhile, back in my study, a crystal ball glowed unobtrusively in the gathering gloom.
“You live in Kings Cross?”
I take her home wrapped in layers in tissue and skulk around the place like a secret policeman disguised in a multi-coloured sarong.
“Tell me about it, Karen…”
I dream to myself, clicking into a sort of regressive hypnosis and lay back on my sun lounger, as functional as a wardrobe of lace hankies.
Later, after a candlelit meal we strolled arm-in-arm and examined ourselves in the rear view mirror. The blood was coming from a tiny hole in the side of her nose but the doctor didn’t have an answer.
The police cleared the road for a hundred miles, just for us – and the years rolled by…
II. EVIDENCE OF DRIFT (THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT)
At first we shared memories of Ron. I could feel them being drawn off, but it wasn’t painful. Square, circle, backbone, round blob. One-way ticket.
But out of the window I noticed another flashing blue light.
Befuddled minds. Evidence of drift. Liberties already lost. They were afraid. We liked the same music and films. I saw rows of stationary cars. Then there was the Black Hand. What?
“All this, just for you,” I teased.
You live in Kings Cross? Doors get kicked in. You don’t have to look far. We try to help people to move on, but…these were happier days: here’s Brad with his first wife Beryl, and their sons Dean, Toby and Fabian. It’s a grainy, high-contrast photo, crumpled round the edges.
Trying to break free can lead to angry confrontations with even the most perfect friends. Carl showed Lorna his animal instincts.
The recluse was ordered into hospital. Moved from under a mound of filthy blankets, she does not leave the room to go to the toilet, instead she uses a saucepan. Dr. Walsh believes she has not washed for about four years. He tells us she has lead a shiftless, unfulfilled life, ‘cared for’ by a tyrannical French lawyer with a litigious passion for weird relationships. She adores weepy films that make her cry. Fully alert mentally one paparazzo managed to get a snap, a notorious ‘trick’ learned in a Chinese brothel.
Dr. Ward slumped behind his desk littered with files, case histories and bags of rubbish. “Fancy a cuppa?” he asked, blythe, urbane and quite the ladies man.
Attention to duty breaks down. The two sisters, played with great panache by Nancy Bosch (who looks like a cut-price Louise Germaine) fuse into a smoky intensity and hang like pall over Paris.
“I bought this film for you,” she lied and kissed him. He slipped it on.
“Karen,” he said in his delicious accent, “you are soooo kind.”
This was, of course, the particular nuance of meaning she had intended even though I had my own trajectories and associations; bizarre links to this world and the next.
Cut in two by the window, quartered by the leading players, the recluse reminded her of the case of Anneliese Michel who died of acute emaciation in July 1976.
According to the charge sheet Father Alt was trying to exorcise demons. He claimed that The Devil had spoken to him from Fraulein Michel. Sometimes these exchanges had been “quite entertaining” he said. She had deliberately served penance for such present-day wrongs as abortion, the errors of politicians, the defection of priests from the Catholic Church and the unrecognised agonies of baby-snatchers.
Beryl went white. “Was my bum job just a rip off?” she asked distraught and dissociated by the splendour of 18 carat gold, the timeless appeal of diamonds and the elegance and originality of Dr Ward’s technique.
Mr. Justice Thesiger, just back from a holiday in China, explained that Karen claimed she was a witch and a thousand years old. Her mother is No 1 suspect, having spent two periods in a mental hospital and then discharged herself. The door banged shut behind me, drowning out his words. He was the sort of bloke who would order a pint of Boddingtons rather than a glass of Bordeaux.
“I’m sorry your honor,” the prisoner replies, “I didn’t know she was dead – I thought she was English.”
“This,” I said to myself, “will have to be a report of the everyday.”
It must move against, or at least interrogate, ambient and clairvoyant aspects of ‘the everyday’
A report of the everyday: who puts the Bucks Fizz into bedtime, who rings the doorbell, who kicks in the gramophone.
Yesterday, on a train, I picked up a newspaper and saw the headline:
Dog-Boy Tragedy. A boy of four, abandoned by his unwed mum, growls and licks his food off the floor after he was brought up by two dogs in Hungary.
On another page Polish Astronomer Sofia (Sister Marie) printed a cosmic forecast. John Thomas haunts her loo, scaring the willies out of the family, swinging from the light bulbs, fusing three TVs and turning on cooker hot-plates. You don’t have to look far. Is beauty only as deep as your make-up? Unfortunately heavy rain meant the parcel (and my make-up) had disintegrated.
“So do you,” she breathed.
His lips were on hers. The cue dropped to the baize, forgotten.
In such matters we may all have to be subjective and try to help people move on, just as the Fascine can drop a vast bundle of rods into ditches and craters.
I put a small radio in with her and tuned it to a classical station – soothing, nonstop music, evidence of drift, high-rise shoes, red latex and whiplash kohl marking the beginning of the end.
III. THE POLISH ASTRONOMER
Well, what the heck?
Turning down a chase with a sinister cop on a motorbike (another set-piece, another prescient career resume, another blend of courtroom drama and The Mystic) clad in spotless white lingerie, Sister Marie, The Polish Astronomer, conjured up spooky spectre John Thomas from his closet hideaway.
The angry spook wears a Quaker hat and has a canary on his shoulder.
A disabled girl who said neo-Nazi skinheads carved a swastika on her cheek inflicted the wound on herself, officials said yesterday.
“I knew where I was, but I was dazed and I don’t know what happened. It wasn’t scary, it was just annoying really…”
Unusually lucid the canary said “Da…Da…Da…” which we all knew meant “Yes…Yes… Yes…” in Rumanian or was it Polish?
In 1990 a man died in his flat. His body was found last week. He experiences strange dreams of a crushing tidal wave sweeping everything and everyone away in a festoon of brilliant ghostly special effects.
Secret weapons. Was that the gearstick? Do you have a photo of your hunk?
Someone shouted “Reduce crime, destroy porn, stop all wars or face global extinction by a giant asteroid (Isaiah 24)”.
The canary said “Da…Da…Da…” .
The house of the Lord has many rooms but surely I can wipe him out of my life? Solve the clues and write to us. Make good by infiltrating a Slab City ‘mob family’. Get soaked by the pouring rain. Balance on a window ledge outside Lorna’s apartment, have a peek when she takes her clothes off.
“Yes,” she nodded, “I had a wonderful time. In fact, I sometimes think I could do with a transplant just to keep up with him.”
Dr. Ward consulted a workshop manual, looking out for an ironic cameo.
Seeing Sharon so pleased I suddenly knew I couldn’t oppose her. Road signs swept past in a blur. My heart flipped. Some habits die hard. Nothing unusual there, you might think. Her pavlovas had a tempting home-made look.
“Murder, blackmail, obsession: slowly I found we had other things in common. Now Laszlo and I plan to wed this year, then we’ll be a proper family.”
What does that make her?
“I never make the first move. He eats nothing but mash.”
I always feel incredibly nervous in front of a crowd; you might ladder a few stockings – but it’s definitely worth it.
Enter a woman who had tried to poison her family with metal polish. She was described by the clerk of the court as ‘a bit of a goer’, a blunder while travelling to a convention of escapologists.
Mr. Oliver Martin QC, prosecuting, said
“People must pray, beg God for mercy on their knees to stop the fireball asteroid. This trial is not a super day out at Alton Towers, this trial is no isolated phenomenon, this fiction has a strange reality, this burlesque epyllion is the cat’s whiskers, the performances of the four actresses are simply outstanding not to mention the jazzily noirish score.”
In a newspaper interview, in 1983, Brad claimed that Beryl was a Jehova’s Witness. Blood is not always thicker than water. The longest most people stay is two years and its not uncommon to drift. There are a million transactions in the naked city.
In the viewing room John Thomas removed his hat and shrugged. People may snigger, but let them. He leered at a couple of girls wandering about at night in crop tops their miniskirts halfway up their bums. The canary said “Da…Da…Da…” It was then that I realised that Brad was not the –shameless schmoozer I had thought he was – road signs swept past with minds of their own.
Feeling relatively relaxed Marie removed her underwear and stood naked in front of the mirror. She glanced round the room: blowy white drapes, heavy eclectic furniture, dunked cigarette buts, a snake pit of wires. It was the incarnation of monastery chic and badly-lit social realism. She pouted for the camera and apologised for the quality of the sound.
Then things changed, or I changed. What was she thinking as she looked into the mirror? She thought: “I don’t want to live under a state of siege any more than I want to live in Slab City, sheesh!” Her eyes shone with happiness. The pool was surrounded by a high metal frame. In the centre of the room was a computer-generated plastic model of a skull: the gently surreal cross-dresser proved nothing.
IV. THE MALIBU DIALECT
“Well blow me over with a hanky,” thought Karen, “I can’t believe how hard it was to get a straight line…”
As she tried to concentrate beads of perspiration formed on her forehead. The beautiful, enigmatic maybe-victim had hardly touched his ploughmans.
“Coax me out of my misery.”
Sofia was suspicious of Vincent’s fascination with Crypto-Genealogy and Urban Alchemy, for her it was all pseudo-scientific pastiche and sci-fi whizzbangery. But the call was all in a days work.
Father Alt cited as proof of the girl’s subjection to The Devil her ability to respond correctly to languages she did not know, and her accurate forecast of the theft of consecrated wafers from the local church. In this line of business demons crop up every day, falling in love with the very thought of her.
Few tourists make it to Slab City. There are no hotels, no bars and no shops. The people are poor and eccentric. Newcomers register and receive an ad hoc address. Brandy and coke slopped onto the table as I slammed down my glass. These dispossessed are called ‘Trailer Trash’. They are all afraid, surrounded by pushy beggars, aggressive drunks and people throwing up. It’s not at all nice. My weight dropped by a stone. There were dark circles under my eyes.
In the distance I saw Laszlo the Hungarian Dog-Boy, now a resident of Slab City, known by several local CB ‘handles’ such as Beach Bum, Fireball, Smokey Joe, Cosmic Duck, Wizadora Nosseck and Otis Snapp. He will soon learn to turn tricks in front of the camera like the rest of us.
Meanwhile, still completely naked, Sister Marie was locked in a dark booth in Charlotte Street with pixilated spook John Thomas. She put down her binoculars. The cheese-grater was enough to make anyone jump. It combines a whole range of modes to suit every shot. She hoped for the perfect storybook ending. My boyfriend, who’s here with me, was appalled by the idea. He was wearing Ralph Lauren ‘Safari’.
The door burst open, the room flooded with light.
“Hard luck,” she said swiftly, looking at the gang of superannuated hoodlums wearing Doc Marten boots, lounging about the bar eroding her civil liberties. Camp body-builders displaying neo-Punk body-piercing, grotesque pantomime dames wrapped in voile jackets, corseted, laced and fishnetted in stretch-suits, cloves of garlic and seven-league boots. Laughter filtered through the open window.
She thought: “There are a million transactions in the naked city. You have to haul your own water, dig your own hole for sewage.” Some kids, retrieving a football, stumbled on five guys shooting up behind a wall. The trailer trash closed in. She succumbed to a Liquid Cosh and went out like the proverbial light, Chinese Lanterns exploding against the dark backdrop of her mind. The process was not a benign one.
Suddenly John vanished, leaving the grinning canary saying “Da…Da…Da…”, which she knew meant “Yes…Yes…Yes…” in Russian or was it Belgian?
The dream was the old disciplinarian one: in fact twenty-two are due to close by the end of the century. Gone are the days of rusty chastity belts, ‘swishy’ canes and daunting views of the Surrey countryside. No more creeping around gardens, getting drunk on your own in pubs, being a phone pest. No time to lurk in bushes. Now its hobble skirts, Tyrolean girls in spiky bondage garb, waiflike sixties dollies and an out-of-work speech therapist zipping the hips of a vampiric concierge. Marie fiddles with her cardigan, her legs scratched and aching. Happiness is fleeting. Now it’s gone.
John Thomas, wearing his black Quaker hat and child-size Ninja Turtle slippers communicated in a sort of telepathic psycho-speak, in the Malibu dialect.
“I dunno why I stayed – free television, meals an’ a nice cuppa tea, I suppose…“
The doctor will get the wrong impression. Remember, if you die in your flat your body wont be found for years, even with £60 in your pocket and a scream dying in your throat. Think electric that was the answer.
“Ooh, keep talking,” whispered the spaced-out spook, extruding a snake pit of wires from his abdominal region. After a few weeks she trusted him enough to give him her home number. The minutes flew by. She went out and came back in, cold and wet.
A voice in her mind said:
“I’m from The Lake District originally…I don’t intend to kill you now or later …you’ve developed an obsession…you have to learn to let go…”
The gasman clicked the new meter into place as the officer, Inspector Flapper of the Yard, explained the Mental Health Act of 1959. They arranged for an engineer to come out the following Friday: it was as though Nature – something he loved – doesn’t want us to forget him.
“Is it fixed?” she asked nervously.
My heart lurched; I fired off an angry letter and broke the news. It looked like…sort of fetishistic archaeology of artifice and apparel.
Paris is the capital of my fixations. I think of The Sphinx Hotel. A strange letter appeared on the bedside table. There was a vision of a salmon pink banana. A year on she still needs an oxygen cylinder.
Sofia reached for a beige suedette jacket and matching skirt.
Perhaps she died in his arms. Perhaps he died in hers.
Few will mourn their passing.
V. THE CURSE OF MOMMO
What popular mythology paints as ‘the good old days’ counts for nothing in Tooting Bec.Vince took them all to the local flea-pit for an evening out.
“It’s just another bloody awful old B-Movie, isn’t it?” snarled Brad. But they went all the same. It was The Curse of Mommo, made on a shoe-string by ex-Hungarian Dog-Boy Laszlo ‘Fireball’ Zednick.
Dr Thomas Bewlay was in attendance throughout. Fearsome charge nurses ran the place like a barracks. After the first feature there was a jovial concoction of comic turns, ballads, singers and acrobats. The streets echoed with the cries of traders and the clatter of hooves. However six out of ten are the wrong size. Sister Sofia-Marie, clad in her astrologer’s nightdress of blue silk, velvet, lace and mesh (this is a new, tough-edged femininity) thought it had something going for it but she didn’t know quite what.
“Well, that’s modern art for you, luvvie” sneered Brad. Everyone else was bored rigid. Vince, however, was strangely quiet the whole night and into the next day.
In the film, evil Baron Rudolf (cursed by the mysterious Mommo in a previous depraved incarnation of bizarre and brilliant visual theatre) gets assassinated by a troupe of strolling mummers. It was a dark, lavish and disturbing vision of mayhem and romance, and, like some campy villain in a Roger Corman movie, ‘dreadful’ Baron Rudolf dies in horrible circumstances.
Her heart flipped. It was all like a fantastic dream. Time and space twisted into weird origami shapes.
Next morning a policeman rang. He knew who started the fire in the wainscoting.
Inspector Flapper showed his chipped teeth and laughed in her face. “It’s the curse of Mommo! Har! Har! Har!”
Where do they come from? Have they simply been cast out to make money?
Back at the office the phones were going berserk. Very sleek and sporty in regal corsetry, his little piggy eyes narrowed as Sister Marie polished her crystal ball. This could be a feeling that lasts all day. God I hope not.
Laszlo’s underground movie-type mise-en-scene called for high camp and all sorts of tricksy far-out anachronisms. So… ‘frightful’ Baron Rudolf, played by New York City gay porn diva Johnny Detroit, wafts about the set with a silver cigarette holder, now a ‘pretty boy’, now a post-phallocratic ‘homme fatal’ with an attitude problem, now a low-backed ‘couture man’, trailing pink scarves and quoting from The Magnetic Fields. The scheming court chamberlain (played with great panache by Nancy Bosch in a floppy white fright-wig) looks just like Andy Warhol filming everyone on Super-8, creating dramatic self-contained episodes from footage shot over three years of disreputable urban adventuring. He believed it summed up the contemporary world, he said at the press conference.
Learning to speak correctly was an uphill battle for Karen, although, through her new interest in music, she finally made some friends. My Aunt Ada gave her a recorder served hot with chips, salad and lashings of mango chutney. Other kids laughed at the noise she made. Was that the gearstick?
“They are scapegoats, everyone is against them,” Otis looked depressed.
Sister Marie gazed into her crystal ball and saw an unusual welcome sign: a naked body crucified to the gates of Knobheresberg Castle. And, sure enough, there’s evil Baron Rudolf preening himself to ‘La Paloma’ on the soundtrack..
“So, well, you know, whatever it is, you know, I feel like…well, you know…er…ummm…this film gives a voice to people who wouldn’t have one…so, well…okay…I’m an ex-stripper, but I’ve made ten films…so, anyway…”
Some bizarre press conference in LA.
“The triangle represents advanced technology, winners and losers, and this and…er…that…”
It was Johnny Detroit in a black and white pin-striped pyjama suit. The press pack fired a barrage of questions.
Pushing wet hair out of his eyes, Johnny said, “There are neither nights nor days…”
Eventually I got up off the bathroom floor and wiped my tears away. They walked out together chatting nineteen to the dozen like they were bosom buddies. The world was simply an immense ship. I shut the door behind them chuckling. Given half a chance these neurotic moral crusaders will rant on about anything from the evils of white rice to the ordination of women. Vince told us about his psycho mum.
Despite all the soft-soap and free booze bystanders predict the result is foregone conclusion.
Things hotted up in Lorna’s kitchen.
“No sign of John Thomas,” thought Sister Marie, scanning the horizon with her opera glasses.
She was a lost soul without him, she knew that now. Her peachy, spacious apartment was waiting for the return of the spicy spook, his Ninja Turtle slippers warming in front of an overheated whirlpool bath.
The rolling hills of her perfumed hair stretched in a crescent from Hessle on the Humber to the cliffs of Flamborough Head. She was a tribute to the skills of early photographers, affording him glimpses of familiar places and snatches of London low-life, including cab drivers’ shelters, Annie’s Bar, the Deptford Blades and Crash Course Counseling in Catford.
The self-destructive sickness of national cynicism, a “poison” spread by the chattering classes was all grist to his mill, a peculiar malaise stretching from Guildford and Winchester to Titchfield and Godalming. In a series of well-choreographed broadcasts and speeches the schedule was changed. The canary panicked. Her jaw almost hit the floor.
This is where twentieth century history begins.
But The Curse of Mommo was a stunning antic and a dark, noisome shadow outside every bedroom.
© A C Evans