Sunday, March 21, 2021

The Wilderness Years - Coldharbour Lane

 And so the sun rose on our last full day while the elation of the match and fun at the kebab shop supplied a beautiful sheen to the day there was also a sublime melancholy that was beginning to creep in. I could see it in Veronica's eyes, there would be questions and dilemmas when we returned to our lives and stopped living in this fantasy we had created. The best course of action i felt at the present was not to worry about it until faced with it, why worry about what can be put off? And so i went about being the easygoing and cheerful chap i had been for the whole trip. Though subconsciously it was there and Veronica and i spent a good deal of the day in close proximity to each other, holding hands or wrapped in frequent embraces, we walked up the street together talking in the morning sunshine as Gulfboot did some work around the flat. He would be leaving for the States a few days after us and instead of getting things in order he'd been entertaining and partying, in other words, being the most gracious host one could imagine. It's a rare day when you can find a friend who you trust completely and in Gulfboot i had found just that. 

Being pre 9/11 we weren't required to be at the airport five hours early so i made the arrangements for a cab as Veronica and i got our things together for the return trip home. The thought of missing the flight crossed my mind and i even laughed and mentioned it to her but she smiled and said though she'd love to just stay, to never go back, we couldn't. She was learning the art of the duck and dodge quite well and while she mentioned her dog and wanting to see him she also left the right things unspoken. 

She was a wise girl for her age, she was mature and self confident with just a hint of vulnerability tucked like a few loose strands of hair behind her ear. She had come from a big family from the wasteland of northwestern Pennsyltucky. She grew up in a town not very far from Podunk U. A county seat in counties that were mainly deer and forest with a few remnants of the western Pa. coal and oil boom. The boom had long gone but the towns carried on, old and weary, like movie sets from the 50s you could almost smell the mustiness when you entered them. There was still old money in these towns but she was not from it. She grew up on a small farm and counting her there were half a dozen children. She left for the big city shortly after graduating high school at the tender age of almost 19. She knew a couple of people and ended up in the East End, my stomping grounds, working as a waitress until she fell in with Lil Blonde one night at a club and tried her hand at stripping. She was young and a natural beauty in a place full of plastic surgery, drug problems and women on their last stilettos, hanging on in one of the last places that would employ them. For some of the dancers the next stop was tricking, rehab or Wal-Mart. The meat grinder never ceases. 

Veronica, to her credit, didn't get sucked in though early on i wondered if she would turn into another tale bandied about by the lonely and sad men who sat at the bar waiting for lightening to strike. I watched quietly from my seat at the stage still quite unaware of my status among the dancers. She danced long enough to bank a little money and get out of debt but still lived hand to mouth. Her hoodrat boyfriend was more hindrance than help and was hitting above his weight when he attracted this girl but once she found her footing it was a matter of time before he was giving his walking papers. He had a tendency to get drunk and act like a fool and while she may have thought he was a cool kid when she met him the luster quickly dulled and he became just another hoodrat destined never to wander much further than the neighborhood or city limits. In fact by the time Veronica had dumped the hoodrat and transitioned to bartender she was trying to get Lil Blonde to get out of the stripping game. Problem was Lil Blonde was a lifer, her two kids spending most of their time with granddad as she plowed through mountains of coke and pondered how big her breast implants should be. Word is she never made it out of the game but just went further down the rabbit hole with tricking and porn being mentioned by those same sad and lonely men. 

On this day the sun shone down on South London, there was a smile on Veronica's face but her eyes showed an inherent sadness of what was waiting on the next sunrise. This was a dream to a small town girl from northwest Pennsyltucky, whisked away all expenses paid to England, and intense and romantic trip with a man who was known back in the East End as a ranking criminal, for lack of a better description. While to the outside world of North Oakland i was a hot shit weed dealer, professional and reliable, a guy who was equally at home with ranking hoods and accountants and engineers, what she learned on these South London streets was that underneath the guise i was a bit more sensitive to the world than i let on. We were on the street outside the local pub near a phone booth when she said it, "I'm in love with you... you know that." I nodded. "I was in love the first time i saw you" i replied. 

It was our last night in England as we hopped on the bus and headed to Brixton. It was a gorgeous late September night, the air unseasonably warm as we rode along in silence and looked out at the passing neighborhoods. All those people, all those lives, to steal from a certain Mancunian. When he jumped off in Brixton i felt like i was home, in both the metaphorical and literal sense. It reminded me of my stomping grounds back in the Burgh and it just felt right to be walking these streets. Needless to say it was a early doors and a slow night in my favorite hood in London. I had been here on my previous trip and loved it and we wandered from place to place, most of them empty or damn near, places playing dub and jungle, quieter pubs where the jukebox would play anything from Northern Soul to the Stones to the Stone Roses. We walked along with no place really to be just taking it all in, Gulf talking about the places and history of the neighborhood while Veronica held my hand and listened intently with wide and earnest eyes. It was a mellow and relaxing way to spend our last night in town. 

Having ambled about for hours it was a bit north of midnight and time to head back to the flat. I had run out of weed and asked Gulfboot about the possibility of scoring some since this was Brixton after all. He said he could go down to Coldharbour Lane where certain spots were damn near an open air drug market. We grabbed a cab and headed to the spot, Gulfboot insisted on scoring the gear but as i pointed out to him that was not going to happen. He would be leaving to join his wife in a few days time and the US being what it was, if he got popped for some reason he'd be banned from entering the country over a dime bag. Me on the other hand? well if i got popped they'd just ship me back in the morning most likely on the flight i was going to be taking anyway. Besides, i told him, this if my fucking specialty. We pulled to the curb and i hopped out. 

Coldharbour Lane is exactly as i had imagined it in my dreams. It was dark and seedy and one could get fucked up quick-like if they weren't careful, blue light bulbs casting an eerie and menacing glow, basically i was right at home. We were at an intersection and i could see the figures of men, one on each corner, in the shadows, waiting for business, i gave Veronica a quick kiss and said "wish me luck" and jumped out of the cab. As i walked into the street the figures from the corner immediately started to step out of their shadows, i pointed to a tall Rasta and said "you mate", he nodded and we adjourned to his corner and began the deal. I told him i needed some weed and he told me thirty pounds, i laughed and said you must like my accent, he chuckled and i told him i wasn't paying thirty pound for a gram of fucking weed, he countered that it was good shit and i mentioned that i was thinking of seeing what the price was across the street. My Rasta friend shook his head and "no no mon, we good, twenty pound and i toss in a bit of hash." Deal. He handed me the gear and i gave him the money. I tipped him a fiver and when he noticed he looked at me and smiled. I told him i was in the same game as he was back across the pond. We shook hands and i hopped back in the cab and off we went. 

In the cab Gulfboot was laughing and giving me the business a bit, "only you would fucking haggle with Rasta on Coldharbour Lane for a fucking dime bag." I grinned, "he wanted fucking three dimes brother, i knew he liked me accent so i talked him down and got some bonus gear, we'll see how i did soon enough." Arriving back in Streatham we filed up the steps and sat down in the living room. I broke out the gear. It was fucking top quality. A pungent odor of skunk filled the air and i then tossed the small chunk of chocolate hash on the table. "You're fucking joking," grinned Gulfboot. "Not bad for 20 quid" i said. We proceeded to roll a giant spliff of grass and hash, no tobacco, made a cup of tea, as we sat back and enjoyed our last night in beautiful South London. It was mellow and we talked about how lovely it had been, how much fun it was and Gulf told Veronica that while he had his reservations about this whole escapade before meeting her that he thought she was a "right fine girl". He was spot on. 

Now some may have heard this little ditty in the intro to some famous cable television show i never watched but Gulfboot had played it for me a few years before the premiere of said show. Gulfboot always had taste and style and i remember us sitting around the old 759 when he played this record for me one debauched afternoon. This song hit home because though at the time we were thousands of miles away from Coldharbour Lane it was also right outside our apartment door. We were living this song through our epic hangovers and days long drug binges, we knew the people who inhabited this song and we knew the feeling that it conveyed, we were living the feeling it conveyed and now as if i'd come full circle i had stood on that most holy of streets and did what to me was the most holy of acts, scored, made a transaction, hopped back in the cab with my lady and my best friend and headed back to his place to listen to this record and partake of our gear. (To this day The Old Purple Tin may be one of the best gospel songs i'ver ever heard, cuz to me that's what it is, gospel music for the maniacs of the world.)  So so long Streatham, so long Brixton, so long Holmesdale Road and Selhurt Park, so long kebab shop and so long En-guh-lan...


looby said...

Oh kono, a friend rang me as I was midway throuh the last two chapters and I thought "oh nooo! not now!"

This has been a great roller-coaster ride (and I'm very jealous of you and Veronica, ha ha). I'm a bit anxious now about you both going back. But what a girl! I'm sure it'll come out later but I'd love to know what happened post-London.

This is far better than most of the stuff you get on Radio 4 -- it's make an enthralling story for radio.

Kono said...

looby - when i started this whole thing my goal was to set out and tell the whole story and maybe this is just a trial run before i sit down and do a proper writing to try to publish somewhere though i don't know if there's much of a market for this shite, lol! So yes, you will find out what happens in due time my friend, gracias my friend and thanks for reading the memoirs of a derelict haha!

daisyfae said...

Checking back in - my new life doesn't include much late night drinking/smoking and blog reading! i'm in bed by 10! so i've got to set aside time during the day to catch up with these tales.

i want to know where Veronica is. i need to hear her description of this trip. and yes, you need to write it. write it all down....