I knocked at a second-floor flat in a dreary house, one of two hundred in a dreary Catford street.

After a while I heard steps the other side of the door. ‘McGruder?’

‘Who’s that?’ said a man’s voice. ‘Who wants him?’

‘I do,’ I said. ‘Open up. Police.’

Derek Raymond
The Devils Home On Leave

something appalling

February 20, 2018

Once I was Dora Suarez, but even before I die I am not her any more; I have just become something appalling. Looking at myself naked in the mirror, I see that I have lost the right to call myself a person; what’s left of me is barely human…I accept that at thirty I am going to die.

Derek Raymond
I was Dora Suarez

The hardest part with these memoirs is the effort to be honest – there is too great a divergence between my relatively unstained thinking, ideas and emotions, and my real treason, flight and the squalid, cowardly and ugly things I did to people in moments of panic or rage.

Robin Cook (Derek Raymond)
The Hidden Files

I MUST warn you that everything that follows emanates from the following figure: sacked from the most super public school in the country at the age of sixteen. Puzzled. Sacked from crammer the following year, with clap caught from the Greek maid. Still puzzled.

Joined the army because still too green to knock. Glowing career at Mons, blinded by the toothpaste smile reflected from my boots at adjutant’s parade? Certainly not. Latrines corporal. Still puzzled. Illegitimate child in Weymouth, now about nine – one of the few things that made sense in those days, because the punishment fitted the crime: Daisy was a right old boiler. Demobbed with the following report: Officer potential, nil – N.C.O. potential, nil. C.O.’s comment: a very poor soldier indeed, with a nice smile. What next? Oxford and turn over a new leaf? No, no, morrie, I was beginning to learn . . . to the north, full, of demon energy – to London – a proper ice-cream to look at, only I assure you I’m all about trout, aged twenty-eight with a hard apprenticeship behind me since those army days: two years in Spain flogging hot tape-recorders, a year in France busy vanishing; I lived on the Left Bank subsisting on ten poundses my mother sent me in Illustrated London Newses, taking Civilization at the Sorbonne and penicillin for clap, living all that year like a sort of Lucifer among the scabs and crabs, with a record player roaring out skiffle and trad jazz on the end of the bed. Odd period in London – but come to a rub: nishte. Then off to Rome where I had a right touch teaching at a languages school; nipped off on the plane with Anzac Jack, a dead young grafter, leaving a whole load of angst behind. Anzac played it cool out there: I believe he still is in New York, married to a watches heiress and fooling them all on Madison Avenue. Anyway, having copped on to this job in London and been flown out by the old darling who ran the joint, at first it was dead boring, playing the half-wide mug on ten bob an hour; but we soon got organized and grafted four ton apiece from the old dear and got to the States. Looking back I’ve done some odd things, but all down to learning; I’ve done the lot, in a way, from tutoring a British commercial attaché’s son in Latin and Greek to moody rabbits in Spanish bars with my heart going like an outboard motor and my eyes running about in my head like ball-bearings, with plain-clothes Seguridad watching me and a stack of those dodgy tape-recorders outside in the motor. As to form, though, nothing, though that isn’t to say that ripples don’t pass over the ganglia of the boys down at Chelsea nick every time they clock my boat. And that’s not just down to experience, me not having done any bird – just a weird sort of instinct which tells you when enough’s enough. My old man? Well he’s a sort of dustman, as you’ll see.

And what do ice-creams like us add up to? Ah, well, that’s a question I’ve often asked myself and the rest of the morries. But nishte. If I knew the answer I daresay I’d be laughing. We all would. ‘I can give you the facts,’ I’d say, like a super Lord Morrie dictating from his seat in a 707, ‘but you’ll have to draw the conclusion yourselves.’ All I know is I’m a modern, mixed-up, metamorphosed phenomenon, like the other morries, and maybe something’ll come out from what’s to follow, though I don’t know, because I don’t know what’s to follow myself. As for the other two morries, I was at school with one of them – another point in this strange new world of 1962: there are still only two good schools to come from – and you can guess which they are. All the best Anglo-Saxon grafters come from mine, and the Bubbles and the Indians from the other – what you might call the creme of the ice-creme. All the rest of the so-called kosher establishments are really down to the snob angle, trying to Moody through to the royal enclosure on the knock, like the slag in the King’s Road. The point to grasp is that if you’re a morrie you really sit up there. You plan. If you live near the King’s Road it’s just a nasty coincidence. Nothing to boast about. You know how you hear the slag in the Cavalryman rabbiting about the morries pub, the Tealeaf up in Park Lane Lord This and Morrie That – well, that’s how the slag gives itself away. The real morries never do that. Don’t have to, do they? They’re all about trout, flying dodgy kites with each other at bent spielers till the punter, for very shame, outs his kiting-book too and scribbles a straight one, sort of not to be outdone. And even when the old firm’s going a bit unsteady morries never hock their gold kettles and never walk or bus it like the slag do. Always the XK or the three-point-four, never the Sprite or the knocker’s aged small-boot Bentley or the A30 van.

Now for a quick lamp over the slag. Ever had someone put some snout ash in your rosie? Makes you put on that wry face, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what the slag does. Everything they’ve ever read in a linen or a clever-clever book held upside down they’ve got – all wrong. Go into the Cavalryman – it’s the slag’s Boodle’s. Ever seen the super card-grafter got up from head to toe in Woolworths? Well, he’s there, ordering half a bitter in the corner, trying not to look at himself in that scrubby old mirror with ‘Draught Guinness’ written on it. Mothy old waistcoat (with a sort of fob thing, dear God!) a string tie, chef’s spongebags with three creases in the front (probably slept on them in Waterloo Station and had a nightmare). But hear him talk – and Jesus! he’s got four long ones in the bank and a baccarat game all set up for tonight (come to a rub, though, you’ll find it’s somewhere along the Baize), the lot. Then there’re all those terrible old birds in black slickers got up like the wild ones or the bad seed or something, crackling and popping like damp firelighters, dim, boozy old bosoms all jumbling and flooping about like elephants at feeding time – or else the trim sort, gone all prim and coy because they’ve made it (do you mind!) living with the superthinker leaning against the pillar over there, some grubby Rachmaninoff scrubbing his ginger beard with a claw like a Victorian paperweight. The terrible thing about the slag, though, is that they actually survive, down to the Yanks and French being such pushovers and thinking this must be London’s left bank, when it’s nothing but a grafter’s paradise. . . . Oo, I get so livid listening to the slag trying to pass itself off as grafters: they couldn’t graft their way out of a wet paper bag – they’ve never done an honest day’s graft in their lives. They’d turn up at the Ritz to see a punter with last week’s socks on, they’re that daft. I tell you, it’s the slag that’s made Chelsea a dirty word. Left to the morries, it really would be something. Mind, I’d have nothing against the slag if it’d just stick to its silly old daubing or drooling out Rimbaud at a snap party. But oh dear no. Graft’s the new gravy train so the silly things have climbed aboard – last – and then when they’ve broken all the springs and brought it all to a grinding halt they stare around like moody old brontosauruses and want to know where the graft is! Anyone’d think it was the Klondike gold rush all over again; you can’t just kindly tell them to keep off the grass, that this thing needs brains . . . oo, I get so effing cross I could go moodying on for hours about them!

But for the morries, as I was saying, it’s gold kettles, the jam-jar and a kosher pad: keep going till the next touch, no matter what, and a good solid heavy like Chas to deal with the writ-servers. . . . The point about the morries is, they’ve got brains and initiative . . . none of this moodying about in bed all day like the layabouts, dreaming about the withering away of the state or something. Morries are sharp to bed at 6 a.m. and up at noon, no larking about. The thing is, we’ve had this expensive education; Marchmare even made Oxford for a couple of terms, and the Archbubble got a kosher law degree. So you see what we can do.

And we’ve got contacts, though we take a rather odd attitude to them, maybe. Marchmare summed it up best when he said to me one day:

‘You know, morrie, there’s never any point in remembering who anyone is unless it’s down to biz and they’re rich enough to be really worth hating . . . it’s extraordinary how they come drifting downstream and fall straight on to that hook.’

I never knew anyone who could hate quite like Marchmare. I remember we were doing some biz near Munich last summer and we were on our way to the Czech frontier for something we hadn’t got and had to have. One morning we got a flat tyre (we were using my lag) so we took it to the garage and told the krauts to get at it; then we nipped smartly off for a bevvy. Once we’d got well bevvied up Marchmare let go. Leaning forward he told me: ‘How I hate everyone, morrie.’ Very thin, is Marchmare, and very elegant and young and kosher-looking – a gemini same as me, with a boat-race that can slip straight from looking like an angel’s to a snake’s. I believe he really could palm a dodgy kite on the Assistant Commissioner or stick a fork (but he did this once) into the hand of a moody punter at a chemmy game while the latter was scooping up the chips saying well, well, fancy, eight beats nine.

Marchmare’s had more publicity in the linens down to general larking and going ahead than you could shake a stick at, and his real speciality is the old international moody. When he’s in London he leaps in and out of the bath at Rome Street, S.W.3, our gaff (but he’s never dirty, Marchmare isn’t, not even when he’s been all night with a bird – very sinister, somehow), and then he likes to put on a bit of flash, so he goes swimming up and down the King’s Road in his Chevvy convertible with the electric hood, throwing fireballs at the slag, parking this dreadful great orange-and-cream jam-jar (‘thoroughly nasty and vulgar, dear’, as my grandmother would have said) slap under a no-parking sign … more front than Buckingham Palace. He hates the law, and, believe me, it’s mutual. Never done bird, our Marchmare, but sus clings to him like an aura. There was one time the law thought it’d got him down to kiting, and it went all the way up to the High Court, but the judge was his mother’s cousin and a lot of strings were pulled nearly out of their sockets, so it was no go for Old Bill.

Besides, he was only nineteen. But, see what I mean, the difference between the slag and the morries? Anyway, back to this day in krautland: I’m a bit older than Marchmare so I lecture him a bit, because I think he sometimes pushes the boat out a bit far when he’s off on this hating kick and saying things like the above.

‘Oh, shup,’ he says to my lecturing, ‘moody old you.’

‘Shup shelf.’

‘Oo, how I do hate everyone!’

‘But why, morrie?’

He doesn’t know, though, except obscurely it’s all down to Mum, who certainly does, from what I can hear, seem to have dragged him up a bit strange.

‘Listen,’ he says, ‘how much is your father worth!’

‘I don’t know,’ I say, moodying; ‘about eighty grand.’

‘Habits?’

‘What do you mean, habits?’

‘You know what I mean,’ he says, all impatient; ‘where’s his office, what time does he reach it, what time does he leave. See what I mean! Slip it into him in the street.’

‘No, morrie.’

‘Yellow streak down your back, morrie.’

‘Maybe.’

‘I would.’

‘Why don’t you, then!’

‘Not enough reddy in it in my case.’ He sighs. He isn’t joking. A real morrie conversation in the heart of the Tirol.

Moments like these, though, when we’re relaxing in the sun, life feels good. We’re a team. Down to biz there’d never be any grassing. We’d never grass on each other even at the end of time, nor even long after time had run out, as it threatens to sometimes: we’re not like the slag, who start grassing even before they’ve been whacked, soon as they get their collar felt – not even after a right punch-up from the law in a little granite room, not for a ten-stretch. Would you believe it, I think it’s something to do with being gentlemen – the last relics of romance, which always looks a bit grubby close up like the Spanish Civil War or something – out with the flashing rapiers and all that Errol Flynn stuff. Anyway, it’s kicks: Drake with his genes turned upside down, inside out; a new sort of Drake with pressure on him from all over the manor – pressure from the law, the income-tax boys, from the middle classes who hate us and the working classes, not to mention the oafos, the things who hate us . . . they all want to squeeze out the upper classes, strip us, put us out of our agony. We’re supposed to be in an impossible situation nowadays, too useless to exist: products of our parents who live on the shreds of their inheritances like Marchmare’s and mine do, and keep up a pointless front. But just because we’ve absorbed all that doesn’t mean to say us morries are the same. Maybe we’re a bit rotten (maybe: do you mind!) but we’ve still got our energy, brains, education – we’re all dressed up and nowhere to go, and they’ve taxed us out of our loot, but we’ve got expensive tastes and we need the loot so out we go and get it. Mind, that’s not to say I’ve got much sympathy for most of the ice-creams I was at school with, who keep on pretending that something that doesn’t exist any more still does. Would you believe it? I’ve known squares I was at school with (prefects, monitors, scholarship-winners, all that crap) take jobs in INDUSTRY, as management trainees! Oh, morrie, do me a favour, will you? You know what that is? It’s a formal death sentence. I don’t say one or two of them don’t make it, but oo the convulsions! No, no, Marchmare, the Archbubble and I – we know we can’t win, but we’re going to make sure we don’t lose. The game we play, it’s got its risks, but it’s a heady, intoxicating game; better than nine-to-fiving it and sex, cocktails and rows in a pseudo-tudo cottage near Sevenoaks. At least we’re living. So life’s a jungle. So it’s a terrible thing.

Derek Raymond
The Crust on its Uppers

reflected face

‘Bad writers,’ Auden remarked, ‘borrow. Good ones steal’ I like to think I’m a good enough writer to thieve – and do so blatantly. I ripped off Robin Cook’s (aka Derek Raymond) title How the Dead Live quite shamelessly, and gave it to one of my own novels. He was dead, so he couldn’t do anything about it. Some Raymond acolyte thought this was a bit much and wrote me an irate letter. Big deal. Besides, I don’t think Cook would’ve given a toss – he was enough of a Wildean to know flattery when it was staring him in the face.

Will Self
Introduction to How the Dead Live

out of the labyrinth

January 18, 2018

mask2

The writing of Suarez (I was Dora Suarez), through plunging me into evil, became the cause of my seeking to purge what was evil in myself..If I had no guilt to purge I would not have known where the road to hell was, nor how to look for Dora. It was an 18 month journey during which the world of light was no stronger than my belief in it, but it was enough for myself and Dora to find our way back and out of the labyrinth. On my journey I left the world for the page, and the page of hell, and the hope for the return journey. I have returned. I crept terrified into a dark place and struck a light in another’s darkness and I have returned here with the knowledge that Dora’s agony among the lost is over. The squalid atrocity of her death has dropped away from her and she is freed, unlocked, no longer lost and dead to herself, which is what damnation is. That I have never known Dora in life, that she was just the face in a police photograph of a dead, anonymous girl whom I named Dora doesn’t matter; that she should have found her identity is what matters. What matters is that we met in the middle world where the living and the dead meet, and brought each other away from that lightless place.

Suarez was my atonement for 50 years’ indifference to the miserable state of this world; it was a terrible journey through my own guilt, and through the guilt of others.

Derek Raymond
The Hidden Files

sad, narrow streets

January 16, 2018

A London street

Sickening errors, democratically arrived at of course, lay either side of the road as I drove west out of London. Blocks of semi-abandoned streets made dead ends of effort where people who had tried to start something – anything – had been crushed by the dull triumphant logic of the state…In further sad, narrow streets…lay ruined three-storey houses that the council neither had the money to restore, nor corruption interest in pulling down. These were all dark – the power, the water cut off in them, life itself cut off there at this wrong end of winter. Yet life still did cling on in them, I knew. Uncivilized, mad life; these rank buildings that had housed self-respecting families once were now occupied by squatters of any kind – the desperate last fugitives of a beaten, abandoned army, their dignity, rights and occupations gone (or never known), their hope gone, tomorrow gone.

Derek Raymond
How the Dead Live

swimmers

Existence is sometimes what a forward artillery observer sees of enemy lines through field glasses. A distant and troubling view brought suddenly into focus with a wealth of obscene detail.

Derek Raymond

The Hidden Files

told-you-id-cut-i-off-balls-and-all

The shorter man put his lips to Gust’s ear. ‘Pain,’ he whispered. ‘You got any idea what pain is?’

‘You bet,’ said Gust. ‘It’s like bad breath or an old pouf, and it hangs around too long the same way you do.’

Derek Raymond
Brand New Dead

On Writing…

February 6, 2016

keyboard

There is a part of me which, according to a lot of people who know me extremely well and who therefore can’t all be wrong, is reserved or cold; a part the other person, no matter how close to me, can never really reach.

I am afraid this not very flattering judgement is correct. A part of me is made up of a set of functions which enable me to write; it serves no other purpose that I can see. This part takes charge when I am at a keyboard, or even outdoors, or in the middle of doing something that ostensibly has nothing to do with writing. Agnes sometimes tells me that I am a good writer, but a little man; and it is true that during long periods I have no human passion except on paper. I have always had this problem, and it cripples a real-life close relationship. I try to lead a normal life, and respond to people, but I am often miles away; all at once, whatever I am doing becomes mechanical, I answer questions absentmindedly, am only half aware of what I am supposed to be doing, stop paying attention to the other person or do not understand what he is saying; this is because, for no reason, some thought has struck me, which I start trying to integrate with characters, situation, surroundings, dialogue. Mentally, I am already writing it down, trying to memorise it before it can get away, and the fact that I am not physically doing so makes me frustrated, irritable and unreasonable, impatient of being approached or interrupted.

There is only one image that I can offer to help explain this syndrome. My behaviour at such times reminds me of this computer I’m writing on now and its array of hidden files, files which hold the functions that make it the subtle and flexible machine it is, memory, comparison, exchange, replace, obliterate, restore. These files are written in symbolic language, and even if the viewer could understand them when they were shown to him, they never are shown, because the machine knows that it is not necessary to show them, except to an expert, who has his own access to the hidden files if for instance the machine breaks down. Like the computer, the writer’s performance is judged on the final, visible quality of his output rather than the obscure, cryptic processes that contributed to it.

In love, though, the other, in order to know the whole person, needs access to all of him, including his hidden files; but the subject often cannot reveal them. This is unfortunately the case with me. Outwardly I’m open, and genuinely as far as it goes, which is all the way up to the hidden files. I appear to be the most accessible person you could meet. I think most of my friends would agree with that. The change that I undergo while I am writing disturbs the other; disappointment or anger replaces love as he discovers that the gap between appearance and reality is very wide indeed I apparently become the complete reverse of what the other thought I was.

I think a genuine human problem is that people are so used to living with themselves that they often fail to realise how bizarre they appear to others; anyway, I know that that is true of me. I am less egocentric than subject to an obsession; while the fit is on me everything and everyone else is allowed to slide. I’m parked in a siding while the express roars through. While I’m writing I write absolutely: on the other hand, when I am not writing, I do absolutely no work at all – which in turn worries the other, and justifiably, as deeply as its opposite mood does. When the other realises that the clue to this mode of behaviour lies in the hidden files, he feels that his need for access to those files is all the greater. The relationship is in peril and he must inspect them. But in my case the hidden files cannot be inspected; I have not the means to reveal them.

Derek Raymond
The Hidden Files