I will die in Paris, on a rainy day,
on some day I can already remember.
I will die in Paris – and I don’t step aside –
perhaps on a Thursday, as today is Thursday, in autumn.

It will be a Thursday, because today, Thursday, setting down
these lines, I have put my upper arm bones on
wrong, and never so much as today have I found myself
with all the road ahead of me, alone.

César Vallejo is dead. Everyone beat him
although he never does anything to them;
they beat him hard with a stick and hard also

with a rope. These are the witnesses:
the Thursdays, and the bones of my arms,
the solitude, and the rain, and the roads. . .

César Vallejo

Memories

October 17, 2019

As a young man I was little more than a piece of flotsam on the sea of life. There were girls, women, some passionate, some not. I remember waking beside one naked young woman after a Friday night party in London. I had the vaguest recollection of leaving the party with her inside a cab. But now I didn’t know where the hell I was. I slipped quickly from her bed, gathered up my clothes and escaped to the bathroom without disturbing her.

Memories are built like this: a simple atlas containing maps of the past. The world that touches you is fact and fiction; a strange mix of truth and lies. Because I had lied to the woman, and she had lied to me: it was the way of the world.

That morning, still half-dark, I walked freezing cold streets completely lost. Eventually I came on a milkman and asked him, Where am I? I’m lost.

And he, smiling, said, Finchely Road. Following his directions, I located the Underground station and passage home. God bless the Tube. But milkmen are no more.

I often became lost in Venice. At night I left the wooden shutters open, and night noises would enter my bedroom uninvited: music, passing voices, the wholeness of the city that shimmered on water like a dream.

Then, an earlier time, in Paris. A girl running, her breasts swinging as she ran, her hips swaying. Like the wine in my glass when a tremor runs through it. Memories are nothing more than recordings of laughter, of tears, of momentary passion: they’re like holiday photographs, or footprints in damp sand. They are like bite marks on my body in a rumpled bed.

play, laugh, argue

March 28, 2019

France embodies all that religious fanatics in the world hate: the joy of life through a myriad of little things: the scent of a cup of coffee and croissants in the morning,  beautiful women in summer dresses smiling freely in the street, the smell of warm bread, a bottle of wine shared with friends,  a few drops of expensive perfume,  children playing around the Luxembourg Gardens, the right not to believe in any god, to make fun of calories, to flirt, smoke and enjoy sex out of wedlock, take a vacation, read any book, go to school for free, play, laugh, argue, mock priests like politicians, not to worry about life after death. Probably no country on earth has a better definition of life than the French –

little, obscure places

May 10, 2018

a resaurant

I have been thinking of places we ought to go together – little, obscure places, here and there in Paris. Just to say – here I went with Anais – here we ate, or danced, or got drunk together. Ah, to see you really drunk sometime – that would be a treat! I am almost afraid to suggest it – but, Anais, when I think of how you press against me, how eagerly you open your legs and how wet you are, God, it drives me mad to think what you would be like when everything falls away.

Henry Miller
Letter to Anais Nin, March 11, 1932

sinking

In my teens in London, I inhabited a world of toyboys, tarts, porn merchants, and neo-fascist entrepreneurs – people who taught me that everyone has a ‘price’. Ultimately, individuals were no more than commodities to be purchased, used and sold on at will.

It was a twilight world of shabby boozers, stripclubs, and massage parlours which were staffed by young Afro-Caribbean girls (over time these would be replaced by petite Asian girls, and trafficked, big-boned women from Eastern Europe).

Here people were darlings, luvs, wooden tops or berks. And drinking was a major part of social interaction: starting on Saturday morning at half-ten or so and continuing through the course of the day, often into the next; Bacardi and coke, Vodka and lime, whiskey (usually Bells but occasionally Glenfiddich)and draught bitter.

It was a world of Nigels and Tonys and Antheas, all bright young things on the make, social posers. There were other layabouts like myself, too, some of them talented: artists, sculptors, poets, writers who lived in tatty one room rents and chain-smoked Senior Service and drank Hirondelle by the gallon.

There was, I recall, an air of unreality to everything then.

#

I lived two separate lives: I had done so since my fifteenth birthday. I had created two very different personas for myself. Two masks which I wore to deceive others. At school I was introspective, hesitant, sullen – but rebellious too, at times, and frequently punished because of that. I hated school; I hated the teachers. I played truant whenever I could, and instead of school I’d go to the cinema.

Then there was the other ‘me’, my street persona: the one who was a little flash, who dressed well, spoke well, but was cynical as hell. The one who was in the game to win!

Memory of those times is vague – as if glimpsed through age-misted glass. After leaving school at sixteen, I found a job and place to live which I could just afford. It seemed the world was all crisp November evenings then. I’d turn on the light in my shitty bedsit, read a book, beer amber in a glass near at hand. Or sit at my typewriter and strip my soul bare. I’d first started writing at seven or eight years of age. Building new worlds for me to inhabit. Day dreams on paper. Writing was my escape from this terrible world grinding on its axis.

My main typewriter was an Adler, a sort of ‘don’t come back again’ gift from my father. The first story I typed on it was an alternative history of world war two: the Nazis had found a way to regenerate the old Norse Gods and heroes, who in turn unleashed Götterdämmerung on the unsuspecting allies. Dark flights of imagination. Here there be demons – I typed the manuscript for ‘Summer births, Winter deaths’ on that same Adler, much later, and Tom Leary took a chance on me, saw something in the poetry –

#

Then I encountered Sphene for the first time. She worked in an antique shop, and it was mesmerizing to watch her there. The way she moved. Like there was silent music in her head flowing its rhythm into her limbs. The flick of a slender wrist. Then turning towards the light from the big windows to gather up a vase. Natural grace in her legs and hips. Moving as if she were weaving visions of past and future, this beautiful young witch – And I sensed she was playing a game; a game whose rules were unknown to me.

#

Later, although I’d only seen her that one time in the shop, my thoughts kept returning to Sphene. I think I was a little in love with her, or my idea of her. But then I was a creature of faddish passions: at around the age of thirteen I had seen a film that included a pair of twin sisters, fourteen or fifteen years old. I fell immediately, irretrievably in love with those two girls. I really did. I saw a second and third performance of the film that same day; couldn’t stand the thought of leaving the cinema to go home. Went back to the cinema every afternoon for a week to watch the film again; to watch my two girls.

#

Sphene had one of those young-old faces you see from time to time: a narrow face, you know? Delicate in a way – with those big brown eyes that never seemed to quite focus on anything she looked at. She was lean as a rake, too.

By chance I encountered her at the Arcade one Sunday afternoon. Keough was with me and he knew her well. They’d gone to school together, apparently.

She was playing the pinball machines. When it came to those machines, according to Keough, she was tops. The original pinball wizard. Or, Witch –

Keough said to me, ‘She’s part machine, man, all Meccano nuts and bolts, that’s why she’s so good at pinball; why she gets so many free goes!’

It seemed she spent her life in constant motion like one of those silver balls from the pinball machine, ringing bells and flashing lights, a smouldering cigarette in the corner of her mouth. She wore this huge green velvet hat and favoured old fashioned ankle length dresses. And she’d pay for one go on that damned machine but play all afternoon for free.

#

Sphene would turn up at parties like a late arriving shadow. She could move so quickly, make everyone else appear slow, lumbering. It was her way, but other women resented her for it. As if she were the perpetrator of all their individual misfortunes: their guilt, neurosis, what have you. As if it were all her responsibility. And Sphene’s outbursts of wild laughter at inappropriate times only made this situation worse. But she didn’t care.

#

She could talk, too, could Sphene. Words poured out of her like spilt liquid, and you’d have to wonder what was going on inside her head. You know? Keough told me that in her last year at school and without any prior warning she shaved her head.

Created quite a stir.

‘She had this thing tattooed on her skull,’ Keough said. ‘Honest to God, it looked terrible. She called it a sigil. And we all thought she’d finally lost the plot –

‘I asked her “What’s happening, Sphe? Why you got that ink on your head?”’

‘It’s for protection,’ she said. ‘It’s magic.’

‘You looked better with hair,’ he said.

According to Keough she seemed to consider this awhile, then said:

‘Last winter I saw these icicles dripping off the back gate frame. It was after that snow we had. Remember that? Well I watched them drip on the path which was all covered in snow. I broke one off. I don’t know why I did it, I just did. A long spiky spear of ice. Then I found myself writing with it in the snow. It was like something was driving me, I couldn’t control what I was writing. And what that icicle wrote was a warning – ’

‘What?’

‘I knew I had to act – to heed the warning.’

Her hair grew back over time, hiding the evidence of her magic.

#

Sometimes talking to her was like walking into a wall of white noise. Your brain’d reel under the weight of her words; like taking a wrong turn down a dead-end street.

In school one of her teacher’s said she had ‘cognitive disabilities’. But that man was a prat-and-a-half. She had powers, did Sphene. She could whisper to pinball machines and make them her friends. She could wish real hard for things and make them happen – just like real witches do!

#

I remember Keough’s birthday party over at Carpenter’s Park. Sphene arrived looking like a cheap tart: bright painted lips, so red they looked inflated, and dark blue mascara round her eyes like a feckin’ panda.

‘How’s it going?’ I asked her.

‘Okay,’ she replied. ‘But I have difficulty keeping the dead away. Their shadows steal into my bones when I’m alone at night – ’

I had this unexpected vision of black shapes on the wing, dark shadow birds with razor beaks, filled with crackling bone-heat. I felt strangely uneasy. She hadn’t even had a drink yet.

‘Would you like to fuck me?’ she asked. Just like that; straight out with it.

‘Yeah, I would Sphe. I’d like that very much…’

#

She could scar rooms with her presence, move like a ghost and see things no one else could see. She could also fuck like the Whore of Babylon.

#

Hobson Monk, raffish, one time bankrupt, divorcé, lived in this mansion of a house in Moorpark, not too far from the golf course. The place was full of antiques – like a feckin’ museum! Plush wall-to-wall carpeting. Hob owned the antiques shop where Sphene worked.

He said to me, ‘I know what it’s like when you’re young and just starting out. Tough, eh? Hard to make ends meet. When I left art school I was penniless. Ended up selling my backside at Piccadilly Circus, you know? The Chicken Rack, where all the young rent boys used to tout for business. That was my world, believe it or not.’

‘I had no idea…’

‘Why would you have? Selling my body to randy old queers, helped pay for my business. It was how I started out. Sex work. I gobbled off some very rich and famous people in my time. But don’t get me wrong, I’m heterosexual, you know? I had girlfriends back then, too. But they were for fun, the other was for money.’

‘I see.’

I had been invited unexpectedly to Hobson’s home that Saturday, the invitation delivered to me by Sphene. Of course, I’d met the man a number of times before in his shop. He was okay; down to earth. One of the good guys – except where money was concerned! Then he was an absolute tosser.

He invited me to one of his Saturday night parties. ‘But do come alone, yes,’ he said. ‘Alone people will see you as available.’

He said, ‘People tend to shag indiscriminately nowadays. However, discretion is everything. Take my little parties. Sexual deviants here, there and everywhere. What’s important is things that happen here, stay here. You know what I’m saying? I know lots of odd people, but they trust me. We maintain an illusion of probity. And that’s very important – you catch my drift? Silence is golden.’

‘Sure.’

‘If some old shirtlifter wants to have a quick fumble in your pants – well, what the hell. Either tell him “No thanks” or give him a price. You know what I mean? It’s no big deal.’

#

It was at Hobby’s parties I learned there are times when no matter what the position of your body your soul is on its knees.

#

I was young and slim and smooth. Desirable and androgynous, with a winning smile. A very old head on a very young body. And London was full of people with cash to burn.

#

One Friday afternoon in Ruislip, after a walk beside the Lido, a middle-aged vicar took me to his home and sodomised me on the marital bed. I lay, face buried in the pillows, watched over by a photograph of his wife who was visiting her sick sister in Croydon that weekend. When the vicar finally ejaculated up me, he recited the Lord’s Prayer in a whisper near my right ear. He had been ‘introduced’ to me at one of Hobson’s parties. He said his name was Colin, and that he’d fallen half-in-love with me. ‘Boys are for pleasure,’ he said to me. ‘My wife is a duty – ’

#

These men I met were generous. They had money enough to finance their lusts; their aching desire for young cock over-ruled common-sense. Pot-bellied most of them, middle-aged, greedy: their mouths would enclose flesh, sweetmeats, tasting like Faberge made edible. I was gorged upon in any number of cheap but discrete hotels. My life began to consist of nothing but these casual, random acts in dead bedrooms, where the silence dripped and crackled with orgasmic moans from old, half-parted lips.

#

A Surrey solicitor, in his luxury home, watched me in his hot tub, totally and unashamedly naked. I allowed him to ‘molest me’, to grope and pinch and squeeze. He believed me to be fifteen years old, hence underage. He persuaded me to suck his short fat cock. He paid me the equivalent of five months rent on my tatty bedsit.

#

Welcome to hell.

#

Then one day Hobson said to me, ‘We’re going to be married, Sphene and me. I asked her and she said yes – ’

‘Really?’ I felt like I’d just done a belly flop from the high diving board at the local swimming baths. ‘Congratulations.’ I drank vodka tonic and managed not to pull a face. ‘She’s quite a girl.’

‘She is, isn’t she?’

#

How old was Hob? Fifty? Sixty? Sphene was twenty years old. This was crazy.

‘He’s old enough to be your dad – older!’ I said to her a day or so later.

‘Age isn’t important,’ she said. ‘Not really.’

‘You love him then?’

‘Love?’ She looked puzzled. ‘Romantic love? Isn’t that something invented by men to keep women in their place? A form of bondage we’re expected to submit to? I like Hob. He’s done a lot for me. Helped educate me in the ways of the world. And he’s wealthy, too, of course. A rich man. So, yes, I’ll marry him. I can think of worse husbands to have – ’

#

Sitting upstairs on the bus after leaving Sphe, I gave an involuntary sigh. It was like I’d gone out looking for my pet parrot and found it dead and full of maggots. The stench of it reminded me of what once had lived. What I’d once held in my arms. A world so full of possibilities, now turned feckin’ sour.

An old man sitting a few seats away started talking to himself. After awhile he began to shout through the window at pedestrians on the pavement. It was peeing down outside.

I felt lost, totally lost, and wished I’d never met Sphe. I sat looking out the window at a blotch of colours, bright lights and a mess of blue-black sky, while the old man yelled ‘wankers’ over and over again at no one in particular.

#

Six weeks later, just before ‘the big wedding’, I travelled with my old portable typewriter back to Paris. My aim was to remain there for a couple of months, sort my head out, write some masterwork: an instant, international bestseller. We all have our dreams, don’t we? Eventually, I took a job in a small bistro – washing up, cleaning, that sort of thing. And I lived in this shabby shite-hole nearby, with views of a cobbled courtyard and the open air toilet at its centre.

After six grotty months, I quit the job and did some travelling: all over France to begin, then Belgium and Holland. Seeing the sights, doing the full tourist bit. It was okay.

My mother collected dolls and musical boxes, so in Holland I purchased a pair of dolls in national costume and a ‘musical’ windmill for her. I’d been away by then for over a year. I was running out of money. It was time to return and ‘face the music’.

#

Perhaps, deep down, I had some hope of seeing Sphene again? Perhaps, too, like Young Lochinvar, I had a dream, a fantasy of whisking her away ‘this young love of mine’.

But no. This was never to be.

Shortly after my return to London, I learned from Keough that Hobby had sold both home and business, and that he and Sphene had relocated to some island paradise in the Caribbean – there to live happily ever after.

I had always seen Sphene as a young woman with the devil on her shoulder, constantly fighting the darker side of her own nature. She had often spoken of her ‘place in the sun’. Well now, finally, she had it. And I was glad for her.

It goes without saying that I never saw Hobson or Sphene again. Although I do often wonder what became of them?

#

Shortly after that I met another, much older witch who lived in a house full of shadows and madness on Hampstead Heath. She, it was, took me to an outdoor Sabbat, my first; she, too, was charismatic and dynamic, and promised to teach me to grow beyond myself –

She was a very strict disciplinarian when it came to her craft, believed in the mystical properties of intense feeling, was a dedicated connoisseur of all pleasurable things. She taught me to see that fulfilling my own physical needs and desires was as important for my self development and growth as meditation or similar spiritual practices. She, as High Priestess, initiated me into her coven, with all its strange outbound rituals –

Sex was something that happened between us. We had sex with each other and with others, sometimes together and sometimes separately. She taught me that sex had spiritual dimensions and overtones, and I still firmly believe and experience that to this day.

I never again had to ‘sell myself’. But I did give myself freely to others, to people I wanted to ‘be with’. I did learn what it was to be ‘loved’ and to give love in return. And yes, my sexual tastes can be quite dark at times, some might say perverse – so feckin’ what? I am what I am. So enough.

tried my hand at a novel

January 25, 2018

an eternity

I can remember bothering my father to drive me down to Coles bookstore at Yonge and Charles in downtown Toronto when I was fourteen to buy a copy of the first paperback printing of From Here of Eternity with its famous black-and-red bugle cover. I knew that they would not have sold me, over the counter, this hesitating, skinny kid with brushcut and glasses, such a sizzling work, and my father had to go in to buy it for me. I can still to this day still inhale the smell of that fresh Signet pulp paper, like the scent of oil on leather. I remember the following summer when I first tried my hand at a novel, a fifteen-year-old’s version of Jones’s epic, sitting in our backyard on Rostrevor Raod, writing in longhand on long yellow sheets an army novel called The Boovermak Episode, which ran to three hundred pathetic pages and managed to recycle every relationship, incident and tragic nuance of the original. I remember that when I first went to Paris in 1962 I would gravitate regularly to the Ile St. Louis where Jones and his family lived in a remarkable apartment at 10 Quai d’Orleans overlooking the Seine; circling the area, I would sometimes linger in the narrow rue Budé in front of the heavy entrance doors wondering if I would ever muster the courage to push the buzzer and pay my respects. I never did, though Jones was known to be a notoriously easy touch and extraordinarily generous to people like myself, aspiring young writers without credentials. I became an habituté of Shakespeare and Company, an untidy little bookstore across the river because I knew that Jones sometimes dropped around to scour the shelves or attend cocktail parties in the upstairs quarters. George Whitman, an American, who still runs it, was equally generous to young people going for broke in the land of Hemingway; there was free coffee on a hot plate upstairs, chairs and sofas for reading, corners for down-and-outers to sleep in overnight; if you re-shelved a book with your bookmark still in place George wouldn’t sell it until you had finished. The sort of place Jones would’ve liked, unpretentious, fundamental, open-ended. I met him there one afternoon, at last, as he browsed along the narrow corridors of shelves. He was square-bodied, lantern-jawed, fierce-looking; not a big man but he gave the impression of compacted power that went all the way to his eyes. I managed to push out something, half-greeting, half-tribute, and he nodded, and that was it, sadly. And I remembered an hour’s conversation with Mary McCarthy in London, Ontario, a few years after his death, when she spoke of his problems as a writer and virtues as a man. I ought to have paid him a call in Paris, she said; he was good at that sort of thing. Strangers who buzzed him up from the rue Budé often stayed for dinner.

Lawrence Garber
Looking Back at James Jones

Diary 7th / 8th March

Such irregular days filled with tempestuous winds. Hear it whistling in the chimney, day and night. Gusting. Carrying the dead, desiccated heads of last year’s geraniums over the lawn. Dustbin lids rattle and crash. And rubbish is scattered. It roars like an express train overhead as it flaps through the hills from the coast…

And the rain – torrential at times! Threatening a veritable Noah’s flood. We should be building an ark, gathering animals two by two. Then, afloat after 150 days, the waters will recede and we’ll find ourselves together on Ararat.

Truly, we are experiencing weather of biblical proportions!

Oh, summer when will you return…?

#

Then: Paris, at age seventeen: a necropolis of a city; a place of the dead, stinking of traffic fumes, freshly baked bread, and smouldering Gauloises cigarettes. A city imbued with odd shadows and strange intrusions of darkness that confused and misled the unwary. It tasted of pernod and water and Bouillabaisse and bitter black coffee.

The women, you’ll recall, tasted of salt and sweat, acrid beneath a casual dab of perfume – that perfume always gardenia on the tarts: perhaps sex workers clubbed together and purchased in bulk for a discount…?

But the whores like the city were all about pretend. Smelling of gardenia around the tits, but of Roquefort between the legs.

It was a city of rising and falling, of bright lights and darkness. The easy voluptuous rhythm of sex, and the staccato barking of car horns. French men drove with their hands on their horns, whispering their our Fathers and their hail Marys until journeys end. Jazz clubs at night, then a trip to one of the many ethnic joints for couscous “à la française”.

And writing, writing, writing until your hands cramped and you were good for nothing – not even a quick wank!

Paris, a place of occult phenomena, of conflicting absurdities. A city filled with monstrous revenants, a catastrophe…but what the hell, the Metro was cheap as chips!

In a world smitten with insanity we still have Paris and its Metro! I felt like Orpheus underground in search of my true Eurydice on the glorious Paris Metro.

Remember? Wandering the museums and galleries, day in day out, like one in a narcotic daze. Parallel worlds could be accessed there. You could easily become lost. I believe you did become lost…?

And, oh, how that place could wound. That awful city, headlong full of the undead. Everything was an exaggeration. Already lonely, it painted your imagination with its horrors, its monstrousness, filling your soul with such darkness that you wished everything to end –

But then, come the morning, your ordeal, your self-imposed exile would begin over. Balance returned, however temporarily. You’d go out into the city armed with fresh hope. Experience again the desire to grow and to touch the moon from this terrible place…

Tattoo you

November 11, 2015

tattooyou

The first woman I ever encountered with a tattoo, it was in a very expensive, very unsavory club in Paris. She was a local piranha looking for a meal. I can’t remember her name now, but her tattoo was of a small bird on her left shoulder. L’oiseau bleu. I’d just turned eighteen going on twenty-five.

Ten years on in London I met another woman with tattoos…Well, slight correction to that: I met these incredibly intricate tattoos, and they happened to have a woman attached to them! She was with her husband, and our meeting had been by prior arrangement.

The club that evening was full of couples, singles, whatever, all looking for something…an exchange of hormones, or bodily fluids, perhaps. Pheromones were ricocheting wildly about, and likely to take your eye out – unless, like so many of the beautiful people there, you had on a decent pair of shatterproof shades. Husbands, wives, boyfriends, lovers…all in this half-lit arcade of pleasures, this hedonistic association of valueless affluence. All drinking reassuringly expensive vodka, whisky and gin…While I went the one better, almost drowning myself in neat bourbon.

And she of the tattoos kissed me so hard on the mouth, she left my lips bruised for a week. I wore that marking proudly, like a penance.

A younger woman approached me at one point, I remember, black hair like an unexpected fall of darkness, and delicious latte-skin. ‘He’s with me,’ said the tattoos. ‘Fuck off and find your own bloke, bitch.’

‘Oh, s’cuse me. Would you please just remove that stiletto blade from my spine?’ She tottered off on her fuck-me shoes. Shame. But I am spoken for, I s’pose…

There were three of us…Well, two of us now. Tattoos hubby had gone off to get a taxi. Good luck with that. It was pissing down outside. No shy smile when she leaned forward to tell me, ‘I’m going to fuck the arse off you tonight. Honest to God. Don’t worry about Den, he just likes to watch. He loves seeing me get it on with other blokes. Which is okay by me, ‘cause he’s no great shakes in the bedroom…Know what I mean?’

Can madness be forgiven? All I could feel was the damage to my lips inflicted by those deadly Tattoos.

‘I like it rough,’ she said in my ear. ‘I like it hard and fast.’ Obviously she prized sex highly; I didn’t say anything in return, of course, just nodded. Life goes on, doesn’t it. I put an arm round her waist. And a thousand and one blue-ink tattoos exhaled softly beside me…

Later that same night in their Battersea flat I lay in bed with her. Good old Den had packed himself off to the box room down the hall. His voyeuristic desires, apparently, satiated for now.

In the sultry darkness I could hear the slow tick of the alarm clock beside the bed. That and the sound of her phlegmy breathing.

But that was by no means all I could hear.

There was the disturbing sound of those thousand and one tattoos writhing in their wickedness on her sweaty-skin beside me. I lay there, eyes closed, a silent prayer on my tongue, listening to their inky-blue movements – they seemed to shift beneath the bedcovers like moonlight through cloud, and I knew they might be dripping like jet onto my own skin…an inky infection skewered with darkness.

It was disconcerting.

Sitting here now in my study, I remember that night as one of the longest of my life. I didn’t think it would ever end. The agonisingly slow approach of dawn, however, gave fresh hope. Those tattoos had finally fallen silent. I slipped out of the bed and dressed in the bathroom.

Was it discretion or disgust that led me to leave there without uttering a word of farewell?

Who now can say? My appetite for subtleties has long been blunted. While the mind hankers after final judgements, a definitive answer evades me. But I shall never, ever forget the soft susurration of those thousand and one tattoos that night.

Young Peedeel 001

The shitty photo is of a very young Peedeel receiving a diploma. Academically I did as little as possible to get by. This photo was one that appeared in a local newspaper back in the day. Hence the crap Reproduction. But finding the original cutting caused me to think back…

In Paris as a teen I took this nothing sort of job in a bistro, washing up, scrubbing, a Mr Mop with attitude. Part of the deal was I got this shitty little room (I’ve seen bigger broom cupboards, truth to tell) and a small amount of cash in lieu of a full wage. It had a view of the cobbled courtyard and the open toilet there.

Oh, that toilet was a nightmare. The French called it a “Turkish” toilet but it was a “squat” toilet, open to the elements, and the user would be on view to anyone crossing the courtyard. Or to me looking out my single grubby window. The layout was circular, tiled, a central hole in the ground with two white ‘foot steps’ to position your feet. The floor was always wet and filthy. Mainly the staff from the bistro used it to take a quick piss, although, horror of horrors, I did once witness Mme Moinard taking a shit in that hole. She was a huge middle-aged woman always attired in black who with Josépha did most of the food preparation in the bistro’s kitchens.

Working there I was allowed a thirty minute meal break with a free meal. Sounded good to begin, but when I saw the way the food was handled and cooked I mostly gave the meal a miss. Hygiene was a foreign country to these people.

I remember that period as one of the loneliest in my life. I was a stranger in a strange land. Or a half-familiar land. My French was a tad hit or miss, and I spent my fee time reading Proust with the aid of a French / English dictionary, or sightseeing round the city, or sitting in some small bar nursing Pernod and water, or a weak (insipid) watery beer.

Originally I’d arrived in France for three weeks vacation. But on the ferry over I’d hatched this master plan of eking out my cash to stay in the country for longer – maybe six months? But I’d need a job to realise that ambition. In Paris I found the bistro job. And living rent free meant I could stay for up to a year, provided I was careful with my cash. And providing I didn’t get kicked out of the job.

I soon learned that many French people, especially Parisians, were committed Anglophobes. Unlike the Dutch and Belgians who I later found to be an open, welcoming and generous people, the French I came in daily contact with were narrow-minded, parochial, racist, and filled to overflowing with a sense of their own self-importance. I know I shouldn’t generalise in this way but I have to tell it as it was. The only French man to show me kindness was Auguste, a homosexual waiter, who wanted my body. But it was through him, strangely, I eventually got the job in the brothel near Place Pigalle.

Pigalle is an area of tourists and tarts, hostess bars and street hustlers, peep shows and impoverished immigrant girls who repeatedly sell their crotch to survive. Sexuality here has become so commercialised as to become totally common place. The rue St-Denis at night is almost wall-to-wall prostitutes. You can’t go five feet without being accosted by one of the girls or their pimps. Even saying “No thanks” doesn’t end the encounter. They offer an ever declining price for ever more outrageous acts.

The brothel, survivor of the Marthe Richard laws that shut down so many “maisons de tolerance” , was in an anonymous-looking six storied building on the rue de Maubeuge. Not too far from rue de Martyrs, away from Pigalle’s red-light core. It was very plush. Very upmarket. And Madame Mirella employed only the “very best girls”, failed actresses or models, tall, stunning, many of them Scandinavian blondes with fair skin and pneumatic tits.

Here I worked as “doorman” (a more respectable term for bouncer). I was to protect the girls, see there was no trouble, and evict any drunks or mischief makers. In return I was given sole occupancy of an attic room that could easily have doubled as an aircraft carrier. It was feckin’ humongous.

I asked did they get much trouble? and was told emphatically, ‘Non.’ At that time I was very fit and had boxed as an amateur in the UK for a few years. So, okay, it was worth a go. And I was sick and tired of stacks of dirty dishes and shitty cutlery. Here I’d wear white shirt and tie. Here, also, on occasion, I’d get time with one of the girls, buckshee, free, gratis. One of the perks. Feckin’ ace.

Madame Mirella’s establishment catered to all fetishes, 28-rooms including a small bar where the waitresses wore nothing but high-heels. Although it was forbidden for us to do, there were a number of rooms where you could spy on the occupants without their being aware. In this way I saw my first erotic torture sessions. One time I witnessed Madame Mirella herself, small, dark, Chanel-clad, birching the backside of a member of the British House of Lords. She was ably assisted by Carlotta, a dusky Moroccan girl, whose sadism was legendary.

I remained some months at Madame Mirella’s. Only very rarely were there problems demanding my intervention. Saturday night drunks on occasion. A mad eyed Moroccan one time looking for his mother who he believed had been kidnapped and imprisoned in a bordello somewhere in France. A woman, forty-something, who came causing trouble because her lesbian lover, Félicie had commenced working there as a whore – this after a big bust-up, and nineteen year old Félicie had walked out on her.

I handled it all, no probs. “Va te faire foutre!” This said in the nicest possible way, while simultaneously executing the ‘Bras d’honneur.’ And one occasion I’d told an awkward English drunk, ‘Chose your window, John, you’re leaving the feckin’ building.’ My accent perfect cockney, because he’d fecked me right off.

There was never any problem with police. The police were paid well and regularly by Madame. So they kept well clear. It was much the same story with the peep shows and street whores. The police hardly ever intervened. Live and let live. Money makes the world go around.

So I finally departed Madame Mirella’s palace of pleasure to hop on a train for Antwerp in Belgium. There I’d arranged to stay with old family friends. I’d been in France eight-and-a-half months. I knew my days on the continent were now numbered, and I was determined to go out with a bang. The next couple of months I was going to be pure tourist, travel round parts of Belgium and Holland before finally heading home, my cash all spent.

And that’s exactly what I did…

Riots in Paris, again

August 11, 2009

So, history repeats itself again (seems to happen every two years), and two nights of riots rock the French city (or rather its suburbs).

Don’t hear much about it, though, do we? Wonder why?