Steamboats - Chapter 1
This first story is set in the black and beautiful suburb of Hackney in East London . Somewhere south of the Wild West End and North of the Thames is where you’ll find Joe locked up inside his bed sit flat . Imagine if you can a pressure cooker inside your head. The flame of burning of alcohol ignites a fire that consumes all life . This recipe for disaster is a living reality for the Steamboat .
While all that is cooking more and more things are often thrown into the pot . These other ingredients of life are the beefs of broken relationships, That slowly stews away . The big chunks that stick in the throat sometimes are too hard too swallow and regularity require a good wash with something hard and fast. No one is able to understand what made it all happen after the decks are cleared but the results are often the same .
One of the biggest Steamboats I ever met was cockney Joe the half Jew cockney . Names are not that important in this book and so we will call him Joe .
You can call Joe Henry if you like he won’t mind in fact it doesn’t even
Mater if he is Jewish or not anymore . What really matters is that he is an alcoholic . From time to time Joe the half Jewish cockney lived in a small upper class flat in a low part of Hackney in East London.
He was haunted by the ghosts of his past and suffered from paranoia and guilt . Joe is a scoundrel of the ghetto and makes no apology for his condition . Research at Guys Hospital proved that Joe had been affected with alcoholism from birth .
The truth of it is Joe was diagnosed to be an alcoholic from birth . He inherited this condition in his genes . It goes three generations back to the first born son on his fathers side . Then it returns every three generations . Tracing back through his family history there are a long list of alcoholics in his ancestors .
When I met Joe he was dying . It was 1988 when I moved in with him and captured his story .
The small flat where we lived was surrounded by nineteen hundred and fifty thousand other high rise council flats . Give or take a few hundred people the area was made up of West Indian and Pakistan emigrants who were now the local breed of people . More and more of the London cockney class had been pushed away from their territory . Joe was always angry about that .
Joe was always angry about a lot of things actually . He was angry about the remorse he felt every day . He was angry about God and angry because he didn’t believe in God. He was angry that you even mentioned God in any conversation . He was angry with life .
Joe lived behind the stone walls of a prison cell but never once did he desire to break free from the chains that kept him prisoner .
His flat resembled a cave in the inner depths of a mountain . I pulled my hand in to grab him and he resisted . Loneliness and bitterness eat away at the strands of his existence .
Memories and daily flashbacks had him terrified at night .
The first thing I had to do was make Joe understand where he was at . Next I had to evict all of his previous flat mates like and Fire and Brimstone, who convinced him was as guilty as hell .
There were many dark strangers in the corners of his flat that waited to trip him up . The there was that Shaky Handed soldier with the cut throat razor . Yes even though was unable to accept where he was at I was able to show him and offer a solution .
For six months we shared a lot of things and together we found a both friendship and fear .
Let me tell you about Joe the giver .
Seldom a taker was he .Joe had learnt a lesson about taking long before . When you’re a Steamboat life shows little respect but Joe deserves some .
At sixty seven Joe was finished . He had chronic liver disease and not much left to live for . The pressure cooker had done its job and Joes steam had run dry . Joe was now having his last rounds .
I sat in front of him as he lay down on the sofa bed and asked ,
“Joe when did you start drinking heavy ?“
“ Since about twenty one .“ He said with a real wanting to talk some more about those days , so I got up and put the kettle on . When the mood was right he loved a cup of strong tea . I brought the tea to him and put it on the dining chair that was always in the same spot right opposite the sofa bed .
He left usually left the tea a while before sipping from it and so he sat up straight and started talking freely .
“I loved drinking . You see Paul there was I a C.I.B. man with the royal signal corps in the British Army .World war 2 was in progress. I was also a Captain in the infantry in my youth and so at twenty one I had enough spunk to take on the world . I had special privileges in the officers mess in every station where I was sent to in Europe . So it was easy for me to get tanked up at any time or in any place . I was multilingual and used this to my advantage .
I often took over pubs and commanded my authority in the quiet corners of Europe . I had my own car and my driver who was called Jock brought me any where I asked . Jock liked a drink as well which reminds me of the day
When Jock and I where at the Dutch frontier and we passed this little alehouse . I gave Jock the nod and told him to leave the rest to me .
Jock followed me into the pub . I spoke in German and ordered two beers .
The little alehouse was empty of customers and there was a thick covering of dust on the tables and chairs . This dumb looking publican came out and tried to come the heavy with me . He answered sharply and told me that they it was forbidden to sell drink because of the war . He tried to tell me that the Germans had confiscated all his kegs . He muttered and muttered away trying to make a point . I took one step back and winked at Jock and lifted my
Sten gun and began spraying bullets all through the place . I spat on the floor after smashing every mirror and window in the place . Jock then joined in and began to fire in rapid bursts . We stood there and continued shooting until
Our magazines were empty . It was a hell of a demonstration we had made .
When it was all over I asked the landlord again for two beers .
Within sixty seconds he opened up the cellar and up came keg after keg .
Jock and I stayed and drunk the lot . Then we asked for the rest of what he had . Out came the bottles of Gin, Vodka and Whisky . You name it and we had it .Jock and I sat and drank there for quite a long time . Before we left we packed full cases of liquor into the jeep . Most of this we sold on the black market . Speaking fluent German made it easy for me to make a few quid on the side around Europe . The Germans only knew me as a hawker and I often sold them cigarettes coffee sugar and soap . During the war I made a good living for myself out of this . I never knew the depression and I never cared for anything except a drink . I remember one day when I was half full of drink and I delivered a consignment of cigarettes to this doctor who often treated me for VD . During the transaction a Russian MP spotted what was going on . He approached me and told me to Sticken-me-handze up . I raised both my hands in the air and as he came over and looked at my face . I caught him off guard and seized his gun from him . Then I finished him off with my Browning 32 . The Doctor looked worried and asked me what was I going to do with his body and I answered him with the same question he threw at me . We both buried him and then I left the doctor in his surgery . Jock was still waiting in
The jeep unaware of what had happened . I had lots of scams happening .
I used to collect empty tank shells for this German scrap merchant .
I made thousands of pounds on that little number . Another little money spinner I had came from my Father who sent me regular payments while I was serving with the army during the war .
Finally when the war was over we had this massive celebration . The party went on all over Europe . In Brussels pints were going for ten francs with Dolly Birds on your knee for free . I told them to go and sit with the Yanks . I had been taken once too many by these gold digging dolly birds . As far as I was concerned they were just the scum of Europe .
Where ever you went there was a party . People were out and about .
I remember one night after a few I was on my way to the toilet .
Well there was I well blocked with a full head of steam trying to get up these stairs . It was a slow journey to the gents . As I made my way back down the stairs again I bumped into these two American officers who were on their way up . They refused to move out of my way . In fact they never intended to budge so I pushed them back down the stairs again and made a quick exit .
The next thing the pub was in an all in brawl .
I got well off side when three Flemish police officers arrived with their sub machine guns drawn .
I returned to my wife and three children in England .
Sheffield was a cold place to come back to .
I kept thinking about my wild frolics during the war .
Now that I was a civilian again things were falling back into place .
I returned to my profession as a draftsman where I managed to acquire
A new position with an American firm based in Amsterdam .
I was able to come home to England every weekend which was good because the boss hounded me in the office and I needed to get away .
The office in Amsterdam was closing in on me day by day and the boss
Continued to give me a real hard time . I began to have some liquid lunch breaks at The Grand Briz . The Dutch courage I got there pulled me through the day .More and more I got myself a belly full and eventually the boss began to lock himself away in his office at lunch time .This was the trend for about six months until the day I let him have it . I swung back and hit him with my two clenched fists . I lost my job but felt good for decking him .
I took on another position in Germany . Speaking fluent German made life a breeze for me there . I got along well with my employer who also liked to have a drink . From time to time we went out together to the festivals there .
There was always a festival in Germany . They were as regular as the rain .
It constantly poured down from the sky . Apart from the rain I all year through I was well watered . I was often seen pissing from the fourth floor down on the heads of the marching bands that paraded past below the office .
I loved to tap dance on the tables of the cafes in the main street .
The open air cafes were always busy places at lunch time and that’s when I went tap dancing . I was always steamed . Life for me was just one huge unending party . I was enjoying myself but my employer wasn’t able to keep up. Things started to get a little uneasy and so I ended up leaving the job in Germany . There wasn’t any love lost between the employer and myself .
Another job was offered to me in Belgium by an American oil surveyor who had an operation in Bruges . I began working in the engineering side with this American company . The first night I was out having a few drinks in the pub . Minding my own business when a kombi van pulled up outside .
The van was full of Flemish police . Five army style looking cops fell into the pub with their weapons extended .All the patrons had to line up at the bar with sub machine guns pointed at our heads we were told to get down on the floor
I stood there with a few friends and spoke French offering to buy the pigs a round of drinks . I tried to keep calm and remain on the right side of the law .
It seemed to pay off . The pigs dropped their guns and let us all sit back down at our tables .
After a while in Bruges I arranged to bring my eldest son Maurice over for a while . He came over to stay with me . Maurice brought over his Irish friend Ian who wanted a change of scenery . They both moved in with me and we had a great time . Ian was about six feet seven and build like a mountain .
He was barrel shaped and as solid as a lead sandbag if you get the picture . After he had a few drinks you would be well advised to keep out of his way .
One night we went out for a few but things turned ugly when some drunk punched Maurice . So I got stuck in and so did Ian . It was boots and all .
The pigs arrived with their sub machine guns pointing at us .Maurice Ian and myself were arrested and taken away . I let them have a mouthful of abuse which extended our stay in jail .
The Belgium cell contained us for three weeks . We slept on a concrete mattress and endured constant harassment . It quite clear to us with the rough treatment and lack of compassion that were not well liked . I made it clear to them that I was a British Citizen and I demanded to be set free . If they refused to comply I threatened that I would contact the British Embassy . Finally they let us go . We all left Belgium and I returned to my wife in England and tried to settle down . It was becoming very hard to hide the fact that I was a hard drinker . The wife kept stumbling across my hidden bottles that I had planked around different cupboards in the house .
It was nearly impossible to live with the wife with her constant nagging .
One night after a few drinks I hit her . It was just a tap on the nose but she went and had a hemorrhage and died shortly afterwards in hospital .
After this I couldn’t live with myself . Nobody or nothing could get anywhere near me except for the drink . Most of the time drink kept me pretty sane . I got to the point were I couldn’t live with the drink anymore because of what it made me do . So I gave up the drink and remained an alcoholic .
I had put the kids in different homes and ended up in poverty . The kids grew up tormented with memories of their dad . My life had fallen apart . One of the kids my daughter got married and went to live in Canada . One of the boys got married and went to Romford and the other as far as I know married a black geezer . Maurice married an Irish girl after I hit him with the butt of my Walther PPK one night in a drunken fury . I never saw him as a helpless as that before .
There he was that night just lying there unconscious at my feet with the blood pouring from his head . Off and on the wagon I went. I had a long fight with the demon drink . More frequent was my time now in various institutions . I was committed to drink and admitted more now to mental hospital where I fought on a constant basis with all of the staff . I was sick to death of their white coats, their attitude and their medications . I was very angry now and one day I poured acid on the floor and walked out of the hospital . I spent two years as a bum and slept out on Hampstead Heath getting madder at life everyday.
I tried to get my hands on a 32 revolver to get my revenge on this Black Indian nurse who had humiliated me in that hospital . Then I tried to do myself in by drinking two bottles of Martini . This attempt failed . I had no liver left at this stage . I played on the fact that the police wouldn’t pick on an old man and I gave them hell . Some of the things I said to them would turn your butter into sour cream . I was very clever even though I was mad . I found myself blacking out more often now . One day I fell out from a fifth floor window but I survived the fall . When I came to I found that my legs could no longer walk .
My liver was burned up completely and the welfare gave me a nice flat and supplied me with some home help once a week .
One day a young man was brought into my flat by one of the locals who knew me . The young man told me he was writing a book and wondered if it was possible to stay for a while with me in the flat .
I was glad of the company and we soon became good friends .
That young man was able to help me much more than he’ll ever know . I hope he finishes his book and someone reads my story “.
Well that is the first Steamboat out and away . I found Joe to be a truthful man who shared some very personal events of his life and his battle with the bottle .For most of the time that I stayed with him he never once slept at night .Many times I’d be wakened up in the middle of the night by him screaming .
He said it was flashbacks of all the terrible things he had done during his life .The drink had left Joe nothing in life . The drink had left Joe nothing in life .
End Chapter 1
Link to Chapter 2