Piper at the Gates of Dawn Considered

 

Back when Syd Barrett led Pink Floyd , the band recorded its first album at Abbey Road Studios at the same time as The Beatles recorded Sergeant Pepper’s there and The Pretty Things were recording S F Sorrow. They called it, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Flash forward to this century and a habit I picked up in Amsterdam and can’t seem to shake. The habit is listening to the World Service on the radio all night. It’s the CBC All Night Radio here, the BBC World Service there (I think). A lot of countries contribute reports to the World Service. I don’t really understand how it works but there’s nothing quite like laying snug in your bed, free to fall asleep or listen to Holland, Sweden, Korea or Poland talk about their news. For instance, the other night there was a report from somewhere near Alice Springs, Australia about a race they held between honey bees and homing pigeons. The bees won.

 

Of course, it you’re tired and working and need to get up early in the morning, it’s unwise to indulge this habit. You lose too much sleep. At the moment, though, I am indulging this habit and the other night I must have dozed off and awoke to a female voice with an English accent declaring that the seventh chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows proved his hidden but genuine pantheism.

Kenneth Grahame was born in Scotland and spent all of his working life in a bank in London. According to Wikipedia he died in 1932 and The Wind in the Willows was published in 1908.

As I rolled around in the dark, it occurred to me that Van Morrison had included a song on The Healing Game cd called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The chorus is “The wind in the willows and the piper at the gates of dawn”.

And Fred Armstrong out in Newfoundland actually talked on CBC radio about The Wind in the Willows. It was his opinion that the book was not a children’s book at all, that it was really written for adults. There was no script for the show but he said he went over the top a little when he called it, “Shakespeare with fur”.

It’s probably the combination of poetry and music in Van Morrison’s song that appeals to me so much. When I actually read chapter seven which is called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn in Grahame’s book, I discovered poetic language there too. In fact, Van used several phrases verbatim from the book or almost verbatim. When Grahame uses “the daybreak not so very far off”, Morrison uses “the daybreak not so very far away” and when Grahame writes “the light grew steadily stronger”, Morrison sings “grew steadily strong”.

And Fred, an old friend and veteran reporter (30 years) just published his first fictional novel, Happiness of Fish (Jesperson Publishing., 2007) in St John’s. He’s a creative soul, one who never gives up on his dreams. If he was interested in the book, there must be something to it.

So I asked him and here’s what he said, “Wind in the Willows is a deep little book about a rather Taoist bunch of beasties sitting around writing poems and banqueting between adventures….”

 

“Opinion seems to be split on the Pan chapter of WIW. People love it or hate it…. I think WIW is a comfortably sentimental look at nature as deity.

I think anyone who has been scared at sea or lost in the woods and come home can handle the balance between a nature that creates us and takes us away or maybe doesn’t. There’s also something appealing about a deity that performs a Men in Black mind wipe after you trip over him. Ratty and Mole don’t remember him when it’s all over. They take the little otter off to breakfast rather than sitting down and writing the Book of Revelation.”

The words in Van’s writing which are taken straight out of chapter seven are:” heavenly music” and “song-dream” though one doesn’t have a dash connecting them and the other does.

Graham writes “when the vision had vanished” and Morrison writes “vision vanished” a difference in tense only.

Here is the description of Pan in Wikipedia:

‘Pan: in Greek religion and mythology, is the god of shepherds and flocks, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music. His name originates from the word paein, meaning to pasture. He has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat, in the same manner as a faun or satyr. He is recognized as the god of fields, groves, and wooded glens; because of this, Pan is connected to fertility and the season of Spring.’

The wikipedia article goes on to say that “accounts of Pan’s geneology are so varied that it must lie buried deep in mythic time.” and that “panic” is derived from his name.

The story recounted in Chapter seven of Wind in the Willows is a simple one: Mole and Ratty search for the lost Portly, son of Otter, and find him safe and saved by Pan after they are led there in their rowboat by his magical piping.

 

Van Morrison uses words like “awe”, “wonder”, enchanted” and “spellbound” to describe the characters’ state as they follow Pan’s music to find little Portly.

Grahame emphasizes Pan’s insistence that the wild creatures’ experience with him will be forgotten when it’s over. Like hypnotism, “You will awake and remember nothing”

Wikipedia includes all kinds of interesting facts like, “Pan is famous for his sexual powers and is often depicted with an erect phallus.” and “Pan’s greatest conquest was that of the moon goddess, Selene.” along with references to the symbolism of Satan, Romanticism and Neopaganism and “A modern account of several purported meetings with Pan is given by R. Ogilvie Crombie in the books, The Findhorn Garden (Harper and Rowe, 1975) and The Magic of Findhorn (Harper and Rowe, 1975).”

Pan is not named in the book, just described, but in the song Morrison calls him “the great god, Pan” when he echoes Grahame’s insistence that the animals were not afraid of him despite his reputation.

It is the only song on The Healing Game (1997) which has no percussion in it. Just Van’s vocals as he plays acoustic guitar with a dobro (which I can’t hear probably because of the quality of my sound system), and a piano with Brian Kennedy’s vocal backings and Paddy Maloney on Uilleann pipes and whistle.

The Uilleann Pipes, a type of Irish bagpipe, aren’t apparently related to the Pan Pipes but their effect in the song is an ethereal, delicate one.

 

When you see the innocent willow leaves on the cover and the cartoon characters with which it’s illustrated, the same impression is left by the book as when you see Van Morrison’s black and white picture on the cover of the cd with a black fedora and shades, a black over coat and white shirt buttoned up to the neck. Neither give any hint of Pan’s magic. They bring to mind an old Willie Dixon song, You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.

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Scorsese Then and Now

It’s a deceptive title, really, because I’m not a film critic nor a fan of any director.

But Martin Scorsese was the one who had the smarts, the interest and the resources to make two concert films 30 years apart, THE LAST WALTZ (1978) and SHINE A LIGHT (2008).

In 1976, the post Vietnam era in the States, Martin Scorsese and Robbie Robertson managed to record on film (the first concert movie shot in 35mm) the farewell concert of the Band in the venue where they first appeared as The Band, the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel were leaving the road after sixteen years. In an interview Robbie says he couldn’t imagine doing it for twenty years. The Last Waltz was called “the end of an era”.

At the time Scorsese was directing New York, New York, a big expensive production, but he had cut his edting teeth in the Woodstock film and learned what not to do there. He took some time off from the New York, New York project and filmed The Last Waltz in a weekend, put it almost all together in a week and a few months later, filmed three songs on a Hollywood sound stage. It grew from Robbie Robertson’s idea, a not for profit enterprise with no budget to an important cultural event, done by the seat of its pants, almost an afterthought, and ultimately, the concert movie by which all others are judged.

Thirty years later, after Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and Goodfellas and all the awards for No DIRECTION HOME (2005), a documentary on Dylan’s early career, Scorsese filmed a Rolling Stones concert.

Shine A Light presents the best of the Stones’ Beacon Theatre concerts on their A Bigger Bang Tour on Oct 29 and Nov 1, 2006 in New York city mixed with interviews of the band from long ago (mostly in black and white) and in present time The backstage segments were the first time Scorsese used digital cinematography.

Ronnie Wood appears in both films; in out takes of a jam in The Last Waltz, more prominently in Shine a Light.

THIS MOVIE SHOULD BE PLAYED LOUD!  appears on the screen before  The Last Waltz starts. A sign of the times in 1978.

The movie begins with Rick Danko telling Scorsese that the game is “Cutthroat” and a loud cracking of the pool balls as he breaks. Shine a Light nods to that opening as it starts with Ronnie Wood taking a pool shot in a game with Keith Richards.

The Band returns to the stage for an encore. They play “Don’t Do It” and Robbie Robertson’s lead guitar places the viewer in a beat up neighborhood of San Francisco on the way to the Winterland Ballroom where crowds are lining up and the huge vertical sign above the entrance has half of its lights burnt out.

‘The Rolling Stones’ appears on a marquee between two rows of lights above the entrance of The Beacon Theatre. Scorsese appreciates the balconies and huge space he has to work with and organizes the tracked moving cameras. Shine a Light will be filmed in a beautifully appointed theatre.

A young couple waltzes gracefully across the screen against the backdrop of the The Last Waltz logo to the music of The Last Waltz theme song, written by Robbie Robertson, as the names of the guest performers appear: Dr John, Ronnie Hawkins, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Emmy Lou Harris, Muddy Waters, The Staples, Van Morrison, Neil Diamond, Paul Butterfield, Ringo Starr, Ronnie Wood.

The huge variety of styles to which The Band adapted and the energy they injected into the songs made for a memorable performance. They were a perfect backup band as well as the stars of the show.

The concert itself is a mixture of Band originals beginning with Cripple Creek interwoven with guests who play one song each and interviews of all the members of the Band and some friends. Ronnie Hawkins tells the story of each band member as he was brought into The Hawks, Ronnie’s backup band which became Dylan’s backup band and then The Band.

The commentaries of the director, musicians and others who were involved in the project which is played over the concert performances in the Special Features section is fascinating. As each person appears, someone talks about them. There is a hilarious description of Van Morrison’s sequined outfit as he steals the show with a striking performance of Caravan and an equally funny description of Dylan’s preparations for the show.

 

The actual filming was done for free by world renowned cinematographers who did it as a favour to Scorsese using seven cameras. Ideas like Boris Leven’s of filling the Winterland Ballroom with chandeliers had to be cut back because they could only afford three.

Boris Leven, a personal friend of Scorsese and his set designer on New York, New York as well as  The Sound of Music and West Side Story, thought of renting the set of La Traviata from the San Francisco opera company to spruce up the old Winterland. He designed the sets upon which Scorsese shot The Weight, Evangeline and The Last Waltz theme song on a Hollywood sound stage. The songs featured the Band, the Staples and Emmy Lou Harris.

One of the great contrasts of the films is the reference to lighting. An assistant tells Scorsese in Shine a Light that one of the lighting effects will literally cause Mick to burst into flames if he stands near it for more than 18 seconds. Scorsese says firmly “We can’t burn Mick Jagger. Very simply. We want the effect but we can’t burn Mick”

When Paul Butterfield does his solo in The Last Waltz, there is a general panic among the crew when they lose all power to the lights except the one spot on Butterfield and Levon. The problem is fixed in time for the next song and Robbie comments that it turned out to be a perfect shot for the harp player and the drummer.

Camera shots preoccupy directors obviously but Scorsese didn’t seem any more relaxed while discussing them with Mick thirty years after his assistant in The Last Waltz had to negotiate every camera movement with Bill Graham who held the rights to the Winterland stage and insisted that nothing impair the sightlines of the live audience. When Mick mentions the audience inconvenience to Scorsese, the director opts for the swooping in motion cameras anyway. He knows the value of a historical document. He did it thirty years ago.

The Special Features section of The Last Waltz dvd contains a Last Waltz Revisited segment in which Scorsese and others talk about the experience 25 years later,

Perhaps the biggest contrast between the two films is that a connection to the Beats plays prominently in the Last Waltz when Michael McClure, the poet, appears on stage in a spotlight, recites a short piece of The Canterbury Tales in Olde English, smiles and walks off. Lawrence Ferlinghetti appears at the end of the show, just before Dylan, recites a quick, cool poem and exits.

Thirty years later the subjects of Scorsese’s concert film are meeting the President of the USA and the ex president of Poland backstage. In fact, as Clinton announces in his brief introduction, he’s opening for them.

The Stones concerts benefitted the Clinton Foundation and the band received a visit from The President himself as well as his wife and their entourage. One of the funny parts of Shine a Light is Charlie’s response to an assistant reminding him that the meet’n greet is at 6:00. He says “I thought we just done it.” To which the assistant replies, “No, you just met the president, he’s got thirty guests coming”.

The Stones play Jumpin Jack Flash, Shattered, She Was Hot, All Down the Line, Loving Cup with Jack White111, As Tears Go By, Some Girls, Just My Imagination, Far Away Eyes, Champagne and Reefer with Buddy Guy, Tumbling Dice, You Got the Silver, Connection, Sympathy for the Devil, Live With Me with Christina Aguilera, Start Me Up, Brown Sugar. I Can’t Get No Satisfaction and Shine a Light. Undercover of the Night, Paint It Black, Little T&A and I’m Free are included as a bonus special.

At first I liked The Last Waltz more because of the in depth interviews and the commentaries and its good natured, humourous attitude. But with a budget of one million dollars and the high pressure atmosphere of recording a Stones concert, it makes you wonder what else could Scorsese do? There was really no room for long interviews with the musicians so he threw in clips of past press conferences and interviews where the early days of scandal and infamy were covered and the question which seemed to obsess everyone was “How long are you going to do this?” A young Mick Jagger says he thinks the Stones will last at least another year when they are two years old and then without hesitation says “Yeah” when Dick Cavett asks him if he could see himself doing it in his sixties.

An old Keith Richard attributes his longevity to coming from good stock and a younger one tells an interviewer his luck hasn’t run out when he’s questioned about surviving for so long. In The Last Waltz Robbie Robertson contemplates recent deaths of musicians like Janis and Jimi and the high risk lifestyle. He says simply, “You can push your luck”.

As Robertson talks over Muddy Water’s performance in the commentaries expressing how honoured The Band was to have him in the show, he names some of the musicians influenced by Muddy and mentions The Rolling Stones being named after a Muddy Song.

Scorsese looks like the older, respectable director he is in Shine a Light compared to the hungry young man in The Last Waltz.

In Shine a Light when a lighting effect test stops the group he is in from talking, shocked at the flash, Scorsese remarks “Hmm. That cleared my sinuses” and smiles with the same mischievous sense of fun the viewer sees in The Last Waltz as he follows Rick Danko on a tour of Shangrila, the ex bordello which has been turned into a clubhouse and studio.

It’s just the difference in times, part of the 60’s and 70’s vs the first decade of the new century. But there can only be a difference, a comparison, a contrast, because Martin Scorsese had the vision to see rock music in a historical context.

At the risk of sounding too Canadian, I think that both concert movies are well worth watching.

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The Man With Two Hats

Randy Hornsby arrived at the country club in his Rolls Royce. He parked beside his wife, Gwen’s, found his way to the dining room. This was the weekend they traditionally celebrated his birthday. It was tomorrow. This morning was a little brunch to say hello to his sons, Chris and Steven. They’d got into town late last night. Steven had his family, Pat and the kids. Chris had a good looker hanging on his arm as usual.
Randy was accorded respect from the staff as he made his way to the Hornsby table. He gave Gwen a peck on the cheek, hugged Pat and each of their little kids, Ross and Emma. He listened to Pat talk to them to catch their names. He shook hands with Chris’ date, Stephanie, then embraced his sons.
Becky Chisholm stopped by the table, said hello to everyone, made the usual flighty cackles when she heard he was a year older. She and Gwen were trustees at the prep school which the boys had attended. They got into a discussion about the school, Randy focused on his sons.
Steven always had been the more serious of the two. Now here he was, an officer. Thank God he’s finished with Iraq. He was needed here more.
Pat was a perfect military wife for him. Never complained, a God fearing Baptist girl and plenty fertile with it.
Steven had confided, in one of those father and son talks on the golf course, that they’d decided to stop at two. The kids were cute as buttons, but she’d have one a year with no trouble if they kept it up. So, by mutual agreement, Pat had her tubes tied.
Chris was the athletic one. No more than Steven when they were young, but Chris had dedicated himself to it. He was about to graduate from university, get drafted by the NFL for sure and make it in football.
Randy was confident that Chris’ good looks, charm and outgoing personality would provide a good life for him whatever it turned out to be. He always had girls hanging off of him, now he would have an even wider field to choose from.
He seemed determined to remain a bachelor, Gwen complained, but Randy thought they should step back, let Chris live his own life.
Gwen took Stephanie, Pat and the kids to see the garden. It was out in the back, a gift from Randy to Gwen. He gave it to her on their last anniversary.
It was a lavish affair and the staff took great pains to keep the secret hidden until it was announced. The crowd was impressed. A beautiful garden donated to the club in Gwen’s name. In perpetuity. For generations to come.
Randy’s only regret was that they were too old to really celebrate. They had long since taken to separate beds. Not that he did it for a reward. It was given out of love.
The men talked about work, football, the current war. Randy felt comfortable sitting with his sons. They were good conservatives like him.
The remains of the Eggs Benedict were whisked away, more coffee provided.
Randy felt that he had made the right decision each time that the political powers had begged him to run. No, he decided to stay in business. It was better to be out of sight. Better to be the puppeteer than the puppet.
Randy caught himself thinking ahead to the girls. Their names slipped his mind too at times. He brought himself back to the table when Spanky Reynolds stopped by. She oohed and aahed over Steven and Chris, how handsome they were and asked after Pat, Gwen and the kids. She would call Gwen later to chat about the philanthropic work they did together. She had laughed the loudest when Gwen told the joke about Alzheimer’s at that dinner party.
Gwen was at her effervescent best that night. She told them that a person’s memory was the first thing to go. The whole table went silent. Gwen paid attention to her plate. Finally, someone asked,
“Well, what’s the second?”
Gwen kept eating, cutting her meat carefully.
“Can’t remember” Gwen kept on eating.
There was another moment of silence before the table exploded in laughter. Effervescent and a superb actress. Gwen was admired, envied even, by many in the community.
Randy had to get Gwen to explain the joke to him later. He didn’t think it was funny to make a joke out of memory loss. He was forgetful at times himself. They all were.
When brunch was over they went their separate ways. The kids had friends to see, Gwen had a charity auction to attend.
Randy returned to his six thousand square foot home on the manicured forty acres of their gated estate.
He cooled off with some laps in the indoor pool, showered, changed into comfortable driving clothes and set out in the Rolls for the hour long drive north. His birthday would be celebrated at the club tomorrow. Gwen never questioned his schedule anymore, he would be there tomorrow. He knew that she had arrangements to make for the party.
Tonight there was another celebration.

Tommy Ryder pulled his Rolls into the four car garage, noting Sharon’s sports car in the lane. He looked over the two tarp covered cars in the middle of the garage to Kim’s Rolls Royce. It needed a good cleaning.
As he walked from the garage to the house, Tommy admired the lines of the sprawling mansion. It impressed him every time he looked at it. His first construction project was well thought out, well constructed. So well made that it began his construction company. Word of mouth carried news of the house to the wealthy residents of the county. Soon Tommy had more work than he could handle.
Good delegation and Kim’s help had made it a flourishing company. Tommy didn’t have to do much anymore. It was taken care of for him.
Kim was out in the back with the horses, Sharon with her. The horse breeding and show jumping was time consuming, but they liked it.
Sharon always was the daughter who shared Kim’s passion for horses. She had wanted to be a vet when she was a little girl and still, now, in her freshman year in university, she was sticking with it. Big, rosy cheeked, always cheerful, Sharon was their best daughter. Not that the others were loved less, but she was more normal. Kim was glad she wanted to be a vet but Tommy wished she could be a doctor.
Tommy grabbed a beer from the fridge in the glistening kitchen, wandered to the games room. He sat in the recliner and flicked on the huge tv screen. He grazed the stations for the latest word on the NFL odds. His account in Vegas was aching to splash out on a good parlay. Certain teams were always backed by the public and the bookies knew it.
When Tommy woke up later that afternoon, Sharon was sitting on the floor beside his chair, head leaning against his leg. She watched tv with the remote control in her hand.
“Hi Daddy”
Tommy stretched, sat up, was given a kiss on the cheek and the remote. Sharon uncoiled from her sitting position, kissed him and left for the kitchen.
“Sweetheart” Tommy stood and stretched again.
They went to the golf club together. They got Ronnie, the butler, to drive Kim’s Rolls, while they sat in the back and sipped champagne
Kim looked as classy as ever in her black, slinky dress with a lot of glittering jewellery.
Sharon looked sweet in her new pants suit with her hair done up.
Tommy felt as if he was escorted into the club by the most beautiful women in the world. They had a six course meal with a large birthday cake at the end. Everyone applauded as Tommy and Kim took to the dance floor, shook and shimmied with the best of them. The only negative part of the evening was the appearance of Sally and Sonia, their other daughters.
It wasn’t really the girls, it was the boys they were with. Both Jason and Travis, or whoever they were, appeared obviously loaded when they arrived. The hugging and kissing of his daughters felt good to Tommy, but he watched the girls’ dates out of the corner of his eye. The one who hadn’t shaved, his shirt had a wine coloured stain and there were suspicious little burn holes in the other one’s sweater.
Tommy remembered taking Sheriff Wayne aside when Sally was dressing like a Goth in prep school. They told him later that it had been done quietly and firmly. A police woman had pulled Sally over when she was driving alone. She warned the rebellious teen about the people she was associating with. That Craigmore kid got a stiff sentence for drug possession soon after. Sally toned it down.
She was an adult now, beyond their reach. She was on her own, responsible for herself.
Tommy didn’t like her friends, but she was always loving and polite around him.
That’s probably why the girls only stayed for a short time with their dates. They wished him a happy birthday, hung around for a piece of cake and a dance, then left. Probably got their boyfriends out of there before they caused any damage.
Tommy was swept up in the dancing after that and they drank too much champagne.
He woke up in the big bed the next morning with a hangover. Champagne never did agree with his constitution. He was more of a beer man. He should never have had the southern sipping whiskey and the Havana at the end of the night in front of the big screen tv. But it was a tradition on his birthday. A few glasses of bourbon and a good cigar.
He knew that the girls would be gone when he descended the stairs to the kitchen. Kim had arranged her equine duties so that she’d be free to help him in the afternoon. He drank coffee and read the morning paper at the kitchen table.
Tommy could see the barn roof from the kitchen window. In the foreground was the Olympic sized pool, bright blue in the sunny morning. He refused to plunge into doom and gloom about Sally and Sonia. They were young. They would grow out of their questioning. Their finishing schools would cure them of that. If they turned out like their mother, everything would be fine.
He poured himself another cup, wandered out to the pool. A few good laps would help him shake the grogginess. Kim would make good Bloody Marys to go with lunch. He thought with fondness of their younger days together.
It was a classic case of Randy remembering Kim from high school, years before. She was working in the office of his fledgling company. She caught his eye, was available and thrown together with him by chance. The overtime seemed to never end in those days.
He saw more of Kim than he did of Gwen who was already his wife and the mother of his boys. But Randy and Kim and a few others in the little startup company had stayed the course and produced an invaluable microchip for the pork industry. The farmers were able to track each pig from birth to death. Their weight, their diet, who sold them, where they ended up; information contained in the little chip implanted in each pig’s ear.
The company made Randy a millionaire many times over and began his relationship with Kim.
They just seemed to click. It was long before the days of Viagra. Oysters were his only ally in surviving sex with both women.
Kim never mentioned the other family at first, but eventually she got used to the idea.
They decided to build their home on an acreage fifty miles out of town. The girls were born, it seemed, instantly. Before Randy knew it, he had two families. They talked and Kim had her tubes tied.
It was easier for him to change his name to “Tommy Ryder” than to go through the hassle of divorcing Gwen and changing Kim’s name. So he adopted her last name and they set up house in their magnificent new home.
Divorce wasn’t really a question he’d have considered anyway. He owed Gwen some loyalty and it wouldn’t have done the boys any good. Kim was happy with her house and cars and girls. He had provided everything for her that Gwen had. He had donated millions to the hospital for a wing named after her.
She was always the life of the party. The women of the community looked up to her, admired her unlimited cheerfulness. Her only comment on the situation was that if it made him happy, it was ok with her.
Usually, Tommy dressed in the clothes Ron laid out on his bed for him, but Kim had insisted that she would be there when he got ready to go. She fussed over the tie he wore, straightened the knot several times and dragged him in front of the full length mirror in their bedroom. She stood to one side admiring him as he turned in front of his reflection. She even had a special flower for the lapel of his expensive jacket which was placed carefully in the back seat of his Rolls. She wanted things to be just right.
He admired Kim’s devotion.

Tommy drove south. He had been increasingly concerned about memory loss recently. He sang along when the country music station played an old Hank Williams tune.
Dusk was a beautiful time of day. It would be good to see the girls tonight. No, it would be the boys. He couldn’t remember his sons’ names.
There was a shopping mall on the right.
He pulled in, didn’t remember the number. The speed dial was set on his cell phone. The familiar number was displayed.
“Hello?” It was Kim.
“Hello, dear. It’s me. I’m…uh…I’m…”
“You’re on the way to town, dear. It’s your birthday party tonight at the club”
Tommy heard the gentle answer. Kim was always more sympathetic. She understood. After they found the big wad of cash which he had hidden in the dresser drawer and they checked with both companies, they never did find out where those thousands of dollars came from or what they were for. He couldn’t dodge that one. He had to admit it and deal with it. Good old Kim.
Of course, my birthday. Randy Hornsby’s birthday party at the club.
“Thanks dear. See you” Tommy pushed the off button on his cell phone and pulled the Rolls out onto the road leading south.

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Camping in England

 

I was driving around England on sulphate. Everyone was doing it. Housewives, carpenters, people who worked in the London Zoo and the parks. Everyone I knew. Everyone was into it. My other major concern was the horses. Yes, I was hooked on the ponies.

One Scottish woman made a pointed remark about her friend, “the bookie’s boy” when she obliquely criticized my obvious weakness for gambling on the races.

To me there was nothing like going down to Ladbroke’s on Saturday mornings and placing a few small wagers on combinations and parlays then walking home to eat breakfast while watching the races on tv. Leisurely gratification. Not many winners but many hangovers were nursed that way. I know it happened in England and Scotland and I suspect it’s still the same in Ireland and Wales as well.

To be able to afford the life I was living on my two weeks onshore and in preparation for the upcoming two weeks offshore on a drilling rig, I started sleeping in the white Ford van I bought. Not a big van, a small one. An Escort I think.

 

With Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Bruce Cockburn’s Lovers in a Dangerous Time on my tape deck, I drove around to different races.

The sound of horse’s hooves on cobblestones as I parked and the sight of the sleek hind end of a thoroughbred disappearing around a corner as I ducked into a pub in Newbury or Cheltenham stuck in my memory. It didn’t help much with the feelings of disappointment as I tore up the last of my losing bets at the end of another day, but as I followed the stoic bookies into the parking lot while they carried their signs and platforms and bulging briefcases. I realized that I was certainly doing something different. If I was at home I wouldn’t be doing this.

Sulphate was called “the poor man’s coke”. It had a energetic buzz and, like coke, it enabled you to drink all night without getting sleepy.

It was probably crushed up speed of some kind. It came in aluminum paper and everyone was doing it.

Two guys in Aberdeen, a Dutchman and a South African, quit their roustabout jobs on a drilling rig because they could make much more money selling sulphate to the welders who worked long shifts for big money on pipe laying barges. They had a connection in Amsterdam and captive customers.

For  North Americans in England learning how to drive on the opposite side of the road than the side you’re used to is easy once you’ve negotiated the first stop sign and then the first stoplight then the first roundabout. After that it’s easy. Once you begin to drive in England or Scotland, you are convinced that Monty Python is alive and well and exists every day, all around you and it is like a weight lifted off your shoulders. There is less pressure to be perfect.

It was probably a race which drew me to the south of England but it could have been an escape from the urge to spend uncontrollably when I got to London from Aberdeen and the North Sea.

 

Robert, a Swedish derrickman I had worked with, lived somewhere in the south. He wasn’t home when I called so I gave the tip I had for him to the woman I talked to and he later got a job out of it.

I was savvy enough by this time to find a campground near the Newton Abbott track and set up my one man tent before I found the nearest pub.

I had entered Scrumpyland.

That part of the country was known for its Scrumpy Cider and I vaguely remember one pub which had seatbelts on the barstools for the customers’ safety.

Naturally I overindulged in the Scrumpy and when I was too drunk to care, asked a few of the shadier looking characters if they knew where I could score some sulphate even though I still had some. I was lucky: everyone ignored me.

I later heard the saying “Beer on cider makes a good rider but cider on beer will make you feel queer’. It’s true. Queer meaning ill.

Somehow I drove to the campsite when the pub closed and prepared to read Aleister Crowley’s Moonchild by the light of several candles in my pup tent.

I woke up with a headache and burped up the smell of Scrumpy cider. It had defeated the sulphate in my system and knocked me out.

When I opened my eyes I was looking at the sky. Then the bent aluminum tent pole appeared. I looked upward down by my feet. Another tent pole arching over me. The skeleton of my tent.

I sat up when I realized that only charred pieces of fabric hung from the poles. The candles were pools of wax. Somehow the candles had lighted the tent around me, burnt it up and died out as I slept. There was not even a burn on my sleeping bag.

 

I staggered to the Escort and drove away silently in the dawn.

I drove North, glad of a hangover for a change. If I didn’t see it for myself, I wouldn’t believe it. This wasn’t what camping in England was supposed to be like.

Forget the races. I knew a sign when I saw one.

The image of the tent skeleton and the perfect pile of ashes circling the spot where my sleeping bag had lain kept recurring as Dancing in the Dark and If I Had A Rocket Launcher played on my tape deck and I headed for Scotland.

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