Sven Goes to War. Part 14. Happy House
It was August 23rd in the year #### when Sven set off into the desert alone and underwent what he would later refer to as his Damascene Conversion. Although, under interrogation on his propitious, and unexpected, return, he would state there was nothing of that religious mumbo jumbo about it, instead citing two earlier childhood stories for which he was chastised by his mother for making flippin’ stuff up, the first concerning Alexi Macarov having two dicks (a story which I am able to confirm, from firsthand experience, as true myself), the second that there was a mermaid working every flippin’ day at Ginny’s Palace, as examples of, “I know what I know, there’s more in this world that can be proved or disproved by what’s written in the Bible or science books alone.”
More about it, he would not say.
I had been in Saltburn-by-the-Sea for a number of weeks, as part of the rest-cure previously described by my doctor, when an incident for which I was entirely innocent forced me to leave the inauspicious B&B where I had been residing. (By an extremely extraordinary coincidence this had involved the very same double-endowed Alexi Macarov. His career in Poulton-le-Fylde’s heady, and unforgiving, adult entertainment industry long since over, once you have seem them once, his last agent, a bottle-blonde former pole dancer and French horn player with the Le Fylde Provincial Sympathy Orchestra, had told him, you don’t need to see them again, unlike Marmite or olives they are not an acquired taste, he had returned with his tails between his legs to Saltburn-by-the-Sea and become something of a self-styled raconteur propping up the bar nightly at The Fishermen’s Friend and willing to go to any lengths to secure his whiskey sour, a fact I had taken advantage of.)
Despite the usual hand-wringing, crises of confidence, crossings out, days spent down abysmal dark alleys, my book, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, A Personal Family History, was coming along nicely. The records from The Asylum
Up On The Hill having finally being made available thanks to a fallen nun introduced to me by Macarov, that was largely what our innocent meeting had been about, if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours, I was reluctant to leave the town whatever my former landlady might think of me. To put it bluntly, if I wanted two dicks up to me that was my business and I didn’t need Macarov uniquely for that. Nobody did. If there is one thing I have learnt, humans are resourceful beings.
If I remember rightly it was late-September back then and, although the season was long since over, the English Summer season with its candy floss and county fairs, Punch & Judy shows, colourful trampolines spread out along the beach, wooden damp-smelling beach huts, a previous occupant’s dirty underpants left abandoned in a dark corner, available for hire by the hour, being notoriously brief, a festival over in Poulton-le-Fylde, some modern cacophonous band, I had heard a brief clip on the local radio station Saltburn Rocks and that had been enough, playing for three consecutive nights at Evans Domebowl over in Poulton had meant there was a dearth of rooms going even here in lowly half-abandoned mouldering Saltburn.
Having spent a number of hours down on the mudflats, there was a certain serenity to be surrounded by slick barking seals and their friends the gaily bouncing mudhoppers, the children of the beach, my suitcase standing sentry by the side of my crossed legs, my mind wandering somehow to Deauville where I had spent a glorious Summer as a wide-eyed but not innocent young man, my father’s disappearance and subsequent troubles having long since put pay to that.
Ah, but Deauville!
Back in those days all the dilettantes had gone there and during the glorious afternoon teas I had taken at the Hotel Majestic, way above my means but I was in a what the hell and go hang the consequences state of mind, I might have found myself seated with an artisan basket weaver from Nancy, a skilled ferrurier with notches burnt in his hands from each of his most tremendous works or, most memorably, the young captain of the Deauville ferry whose good looks, he was sure, would serve him well in Hollywood, a place he was planning to go just as soon as he had saved enough money from his exhausting 12 hour days, his face like that of Odysseus as he stood proud at the prow of his Homeric galley.
Where might that sad captain be now?, (in my mind’s eye he had become sad for the lack of me) and having made my way unconsciously up the beach to the promenade, I uttered this question out loud at exactly the same time as I glanced to the left into the shop window I happened to be going past and there, staring out from the cover of a dusty VHS cassette, was the very face of my sad captain.
It was this story, an extraordinary coincidence, that formed the basis for my first conversation with the proprietor of that shop, Delicious Gifts.
It must have been the heat that was the cause of my loquaciousness, a touch of sunstroke. I had never been much of a sun-worshipper, not like my Uncle Cosmo, who had been caught in East Berlin just prior to the wall going up and who would send my mother the most shocking nude postcards of himself and other men, having become embroiled, my father’s words, in the revival of the German Freikörperkultur, nude culture, prevalent at the time and a reaction, so it was believed, to the authoritarian rule of the Stasi.
I found myself, not even with a show of looking around the shop, going on and on: my own illness, the recommendation by my doctor that I get away, my decision to come to Saltburn-by-the-Sea where I believed my own troubles to have started in a certain childhood trauma, the breakthrough I had made with the nun, and then my own indiscretion, if you can call it that, with the two-dicked man, and my expulsion from the B&B.
“So you are looking for a room?”
The proprietor’s words cut through my story and before I could say they yes, clearly, I was, had he been listening?, he had taken me quite firmly by the arm and escorted me to noticeboard squeezed into a dingy corner of the shop where, amidst the kittens for sale, seances, book clubs and whist drives, there was an advert which said, Rooms For Rent Above Shop, enquire at front.
Then he had laughed, his whole face coming to life.
“So you have met Macarov then? I saw his two dicks myself when we were at school together. He would let you look for 5p behind the bike sheds. Touching was two 10ps, one for each dick, but I could never afford that. My family weren’t so rich back in the day.”
A wistful look came over his face and here, I believe, we ascended to the crux of the matter.
“I told my mum about Macarov’s two dicks and she didn’t believe me. She never believed me. And I sometimes wonder if that’s where it all started. Because I was always looking to escape. To find some truth.”
As we were going up the stairs the proprietor explained how, after his parents had died, an incident involving a hot air balloon and a faulty Bic lighter, he had cleared out all the upstairs rooms which had been full of unsold stock, crap most of it, and come up with the idea of letting the rooms to provide me and my partner, with some extra income, we did think once that we wanted to get away from all this, Saltburn I mean, but then we realised, he laughed, home is where your heart is. And also your daemons.
The words almost seemed to come from inside my head, swirling around, and I had put a hand out to steady myself as a door was pushed open in front of me.
What must have been once a window had been expanded downwards, hinges applied, so that it opened out onto a fire-escape equipped with a little table and a single chair.
The Summer being an Indian one I got into habit, each evening, of going out there to sit and to take a small glass of sherry, for my nerves, and a single cigarette, with each puff my mother’s warnings of cancer, lung disease, shortness of breath, ringing in my ears.
And, it was as I sat there each evening, that I saw a woman in a yellow dress leave from the door of the shop down below accompanied by a tall man with blonde slightly receding hair. I was intrigued because, as far as I was aware, I was the only guest, there was no other person ever at the breakfast I attended, so where had they come from?
Naturally inquisitive and at a loose end myself, my nun having suddenly made herself absent, to Lourdes, to punch Our Lady in the face in person, went the somewhat garbled phone message I had been left, a joke I was sure, and confirmed when I received a postcard from Jamaica, she was on a James Bond Sightseeing Cruise, reminding me of how she had previously told me that on a Tuesday night she and the other willing nuns would indulge in a Bond Night, dressing themselves up as the particular love interest of the current VHS, Pussy Galore, Honey Ryder, Fatima Blush, I found myself making enquires about the mysterious yellow dressed woman and her handsome partner.
Unlike my father’s history, the facts of which I had had to sweat blood to discover, his initial disappearance and its covering up by my mother, the bitch, his breakdown, his enforced sequestration at the Asylum Up On The Hill, the innovative electroshock treatment he had undergone and then the years he had spent in a bathchair, pushed out each morning onto the lawn to stare at his beloved North Sea, left even when he had soiled his nappy, the inarticulate tears running down his cheeks, the true nature of my landlord’s past were revealed to me as easily as peeling a banana.
Everyone had their own version.
The person in the yellow dress was my landlord, that was a constant, but he, or she, was pre-op, post-op, enamoured with his own willy, worshipping it like Catholics do their God, lighting votive candles to it on a nightly basis.
It was Ivan Gorenski, a former policeman apparently, although it was hard to believe that a former law enforcement officer would now be employed as a Gentleman’s Relish door to door salesman, Gentleman’s Relish being not the famous anchovy paste of the same name but an Adult Sex Improvement company, ribbed condoms, double-ended vibrators, butt plugs, and many other sundry items being displayed on the inside of Gorenski’s voluminous overcoat, which he would open out like a flasher on a park, to any prospective clients, who told me that if I wanted to get the lowdown from the horse’s mouth himself I should make enquires at the local library, asking for Caged Bones, he’ll point you in the right direction alright.
“Caged Bones,” I blurted out, the name sounding most unlikely.
“He used to be a wrestler,” said Gorenski, sucking on one of his foul smelling cigarettes, “then he lost his kids and went off the rails. Done all sorts of things. Been inside even. Now he’s the librarian.”
And so he was. A most magnificent beast, sat behind the enquires desk in a lime green leotard, the image of a cage on its front, a skeleton within it, trying to break out.
Gorenski had told me the book was called Soldering: ALIA (A Life in Acronyms) but the title gave little indication of the strange palimpsest it was. While a third of the book had been given over to acronyms, a lot of them schoolboy crude and obviously made up for scatological comic effect the rest was given over to pasted in postcards, both fronts and backs, absurd micro-stories, splashes of history, curt obtuse narratives, interjections, bullet points and, most irksome of all, pointless list after pointless list.
I was left with an impression.
An almost complete history. Of a love I knew only too well.
And I was moved beyond comprehension and wanted to know the end beyond this obscure Damascene Conversion.
So, closing the book, tears still in my eyes, I decided I would go and have it out with my landlord man to man.
If I told him everything, and I mean everything, about my father would he do me the honour of finishing his own story?
In return I would promise not to tell a soul of his history.
But I had to know.
Soiuxsie and the Banshees - Happy House.
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