Sven Goes to War. Part 2. Private Life.
Back in those days, and once again much later as a contented old man with his collection of petrified camel toes, Azeri hats made of tightly curled astrakhan wool, Kilim rugs, Sven lived in a narrow room on the third floor of a tall thin building whose windows peered over the seafront with what a certain infamous romantic novelist, visiting the town during the research period for his latest foray, Saltburn Shrugged, had described as having the mightily sombre and forlorn disposition, of a bride who has been jilted for her dying uncle’s manservant on the midsummer’s eve of her most unwished for wedding.
Battered all the year round by fierce North Sea winds the double-glazing on those windows had long since blown and so Sven, who loved to gaze clearly and without interruption upon both the stars, Antares, Pleiades, Betelgeuse, and his beloved North Sea, had got into the habit, on clement and not so clement evenings, of climbing out onto the fire-escape. There, with his duvet wrapped snugly around him, he would sleep the whole night through.
During the dog days of the previous Summer, a record canicule of oppressive heat which had swept in with it a swarm of ladybugs and bad tempers, this habit had so caught on amongst the other tenants strewn along the Victorian seafront, the tradesmen, the barfolk, and the employees of Evans Canning Factory and Fishery, that for some many nights the fire-escapes and slender metal balconies common to this type of building had resembled those of New York’s Bowery district. Here, during the Roaring Twenties, the newly immigrant Jews would build up their sukkahs outside their too hot rooms and lament the whole night for their old country before going off early the next morning, having hardly slept a wink, to their jobs as porters, railwaymen, bell-hops, to their burning benches at one of the many factories butting up to Brooklyn Bridge.
Sven and his parents did not have so far to travel.
For on the ground floor of this tall thin building sat squatly the family establishment.
was in theory, as the name implied, a kind of gift shop but over the years, in the spirit of diversification and commercialisation, his parents had so branched out, branched back in again, made stunning miscalculations and misinterpretations of customer wants and needs, that the name hardly implied to the impatient bell-tingling customer what they might be in for.
It was Sven’s father fault in the main.
For Eddie Tosier-Gumshoe was forever attending trade fairs, scouring the back pages of industry magazines, searching for that one killer item that would bring in the big bucks and take all their family’s cares away.
These big bucks, however, had never arrived, Eddie somehow always swimming just behind the wave of fashion, or being completely capsized by it, and on many occasions when Mary, alone and sitting at the kitchen table, had finished the stocktaking and accounts, responsibilities that were hers alone, she would put her head in her hands and cry out forlornly, we are the kind of shop that sells everything (poorly) and almost nothing of worth (at all).
Then she would leap up like the devil was in her (Sven had witnessed this in person, peering down at her through the bannisters when he was supposed to be asleep) and, with the look of a Lady Macbeth in her eyes, she would take out her bunch of keys and, one by one, undo the padlocks on the many rooms in this multi-storied house that had long since been turned over for storage. And then she would stand there glowering; at the racks of incandescent Koosh balls, at the stacked mounds of luminous jelly shoes, at the boxes upon boxes of Rubix Cubes, at the bin bags of leg warmers, at the many dozen sets of sew-in shoulder pads suitable for any occasion, at the Sony Walkmans with a Rolf Harris pictorial tie-in, at the stacks of Sea Monkey Aquariums, the picture of the boy in wonder on the front, who reminded her so much of her poor dear son.
And she would dream of what might have been.
One consequence of so many rooms being turned over to storage was that at fourteen years old, the time when he was beginning to sprout hairs in unusual places and develop an interest in previously boring Olympic activities, beach volleyball, gymnastics, Greco-Roman wrestling, Sven still had to share a room with his Dead Sister.
Sometimes she would come to him in the early hours of the morning, sit on the end of his bed and insist, for old time’s sake, they should go down to the shop proper and do some shopping.
Two ladies of leisure.
Millicent and Maureen.
He had always been Maureen.
So he would pull on a pair of his sister’s panties, a pair of her Sunday best stockings, and the dress that would indicate he was Maureen.
She liked flowers, his sister would say, something tight around her arse, my best feature, much better than the face which had a tendency to be pursed and cranky and could cause a dog to turn nasty, and then they would go down to the shop and do some shopping, each with a basket hooked in the crook of their arms, taking what they wanted.
- snow globes (48p each)
- tiny rubber animals (12p or 5 for 50p)
- cherry lipstick (68p)
- a grainy b&w post card of the nuclear plant (2p)
- a Mexican-style hat (£1.50p)
- a magnetic spider (with magnet) (18p)
- a pair of pink flip flops (74p)
- a tin of potted meat Best Pig! (52p)
- a magnifying glass with a knife built into the handle to scrape crustaceans off of rocks (99p)
- a bouncy high ball (pink) (6p)
- a selection of cassettes, (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Essential Patti Labelle, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds) (£1.05p each)
Millicent’s a bugger for those snow globes, his Dead Sister might say to him, gathering twenty in her own basket, has them all lined up on her chimney breast, if you’ll excuse my French.
Lives in the hope Arthur Scargill will pop round one day.
She likes a passionate man with a comb over.
Hopes he’ll shake her globes vigorously, if you catch my drift.
Oh Maureen, you are awful.
With tears, of joy, of sadness, he would then pretend to ring all their selections through the till, bag them up, wish his sister a good day.
Although she was dead.
Although she was there.
Honest to God and wrap my balls in barbed wire.
Not that he could tell his parents about this, her regular apparition, because they would Go Absolutely Flippin’ Bananas about him making up stories again.
But there was a mermaid who worked in Ginny’s Palace.
And Alexi Macarov did have two dicks.
He’d seen them both.
The mermaid and the dicks.
But what was worst of all and drove him Absolutely Flippin’ Bananas was that he couldn’t even tell his Dead Sister that he loved being Maureen, that he wanted to be Maureen even when he was a
MAN, because he was ashamed of it.
Ashamed of wanting to be Maureen.
All the flippin’ time.
And then things got worse because the night time shopping excursions with his Dead Sister had to stop.
It all started, or rather all stopped, when his mother and father sat him down at the kitchen table and explained that because of Tough Economic Conditions, the shop was going to go to
His dad would do the day shift from 6am to 6pm and his mother would do the night shift, 6pm to 6am.
“You see,” said his dad, “we’ve made a sign.”
Then they all had to troop outside to look at it.
Come On Over We’re Always Here!
Need A Spade, or Hair Gel!, at 3am
We’re Where You’re At
We also sell Potted Meat, Seasonal Fish Fingers, Handmade Willy Warmers
Give Delicious Gifts a Try
It was also around this time that his dad, thanks to the same Tough Economic Conditions started working as a Gumshoe For Hire.
Sven only found this out by chance when he saw the card up on the noticeboard of Claire’s Roadside Café.
Cat gone missing? Lost a slipper?
Errant wife / husband?
Eddie Gumshoe is your man.
Night rates only.
Everything was changing and Sven needed to take stock of his life.
Now he could no longer dress up in his Dead Sister’s clothes and go shopping with her his favourite things were chips with lots of salt on them, watching his dad’s Magnum PI collection recorded on VHS cassette, the seal colony out across the mudflats, sneaking into The Foetus Museum before it had opened for the day, stripping off his clothes and then frightening the TOURISTS with his impression of a living exhibit, doing this over and over until he got thrown out by the Angry Attendant Lady, sitting in the bus shelter when it was raining and listening to the sound of the raindrops on the corrugated metal roof, going out to the abandoned train station and putting graffiti on the toilet doors although he had got scared one time when a tall skinny man with a colourful hat and a large rucksack had put his willy through a hole cut into cubicle wall adjacent to where Sven was graffiting.
He hadn’t been sure what to do for a while, and after he and the willy had stared at each other for some considerable time, he had bit the bullet and, grabbing the willy firmly in one hand, he had stretched it tight and written Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-wanker on it, which was the longest word he knew, and then it all the way home.
Also, one final thing, I’ve started so I’ll finish, after his dad became a Gumshoe, one of Sven’s favourite things became to follow his dad when he was out on one of his gumshoe assignments.
As his dad looked for the missing cats (usually eaten by the seals), stray husbands (usually one of the fishermen who were an errant lot), stray wives (usually sleeping with one of the fishermen (see previous brackets)), solving the occasional murder (mostly done by out of towners, folk from Alnmouth, Boosbeck or Poulton-le-Fylde would turn up with stories of drugs, guns and midnight deals gone wrong) Sven would hug the wall, shadowing him. He was Ismael from Moby Dick, Philip Marlowe from The Big Sleep, Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon.
He was a happy child, mostly.
But then he lost his teeth.
And, after that, everything changed.
“You’re not going anywhere young man until you’ve told us who did that to your mouth. That’ll be 58p Sister.”
They were all in the shop.
His mother was serving one of the Devout Nuns from the Lunatic Asylum Up On The Hill. The Devout Nun was buying a tiny Jesus fixed to a cross (99p).
Pull a cord on the back of the Jesus and it would recount one of the Parables from the Sermon on the Mount.
(The Sister was buying the clean version.
A Bun and a Fish for your Son vs. A Bum and a Fisting for your Son.
Hungry and Thirsty vs. Hungry and Thirsty for your Love Juice Baby).
Sven’s father, turfed from his bed where he had been trying to catch up on some sleep, was sitting on an upside-down plastic bucket.
“We want to know who has done this to your teeth,” said his mother.
Like in the good old days when he was just tortured for fun Sven wanted to say ‘I’m Private Tosier. 15th Seal Regiment. Identification Number 35654. I won’t tell you anything.’
Then when his mother came at him with a crab claw, or a tin of potted meat, he would tell her their army was massed behind the seal fort, plans were to advance at midnight, the password was Valkensteeg 17.
But then his father had stood decisively from the bucket and, going over to the door, had done something that hadn’t been done for many years.
He turned the sign over from ‘OPEN’ to ‘CLOSED’.
Then he told Sven to go to his room, me and your mother are going to have a family conference.
Sven had seen a family conference once on his favourite TV show, Mrs Brady and her Many Peers.
Little Tommy Brady had been hit by a runaway horse. He had fallen under a tram and the tram had run over his leg and the leg had come off. Then while he had been lying there, helpless, he had been bitten by a rabid rat and become delirious. Over the following weeks he had called Mrs Brady ‘an old coot’, ‘a varmint’ and told her she was as ‘ugly as a burnt boot’.
The Brady Family had had a family conference to decide what to do with him and Little Tommy Brady had never appeared in another episode.
Instead another boy appeared.
Little Billy Brady.
Little Billy Brady never called his mom a coot, a burnt boot. Etc. Etc.
Sven went up the stairs with heavy feet.
He secretly put on his Dead Sister’s clothes.
He imagined himself shopping.
A cream donut (12p), a Kong key chain (36p), a packet of Wild West fuzzy felt (82p), a pair of sheer tights (£1.12).
It wasn’t the same not being in the actual shop.
It wasn’t the same without his actual Dead Sister being with him.
He looked disconsolately out of the window.
He had serious flippin’ worries about his future.
Grace Jones - Private Life https://youtu.be/4Mj1wtDsjxE
Photo from Pixabay - https://pixabay.com/photos/rubix-cube-game-toy-play-colorful-1011127/