He made several mistakes, the plummy voiced shit. His major one was crossing my path. And regrets? Yeah, he’s had a few.
Recap, refresh. I have this bolthole, inherited. A tiny cheese wedge shaped top floor of a house in Clerkenwell. Handy for that one time the ‘Museum of London’ wanted to talk about Tube roundels and seat moquettes.
Anyway I’m barely there these days so I make it known to a select few that there’s a bed and a sofa, a fridge and a 1/16 scale model of the Tokyo Underground System to look at if anyone’s at a looser end than me in the Smoke and haven’t got £££ to waste on a Travelodge. Fun fact: from the NYC style fire staircase you can see into the back of an Ibis. Arse end Greys Inn. A late night glass of red on the stoop, stereo down low, you can spot lonely men looking out at the cityscape, wondering where it all went wrong. Shit shirts and poky single rooms. An occasional party person, glass in hand, seeking similar. An unfinished crossword and an Oyster card half full.
This Tuesday I’m mooching Faringdon. Old haunts from my twenties. Too long, been too long. In the Betsey staring wistfully at the stairs. Remembering Comet Gain, The Chills, Herman Dune and Mr Godard. Girls called Jess and nights that held promise. Supposed to be somewhere three hours ago, the afternoon lost in a fug of alcohol. Fuck it, I’ll sack the last train off, stay over, reschedule for tomorrow. One more drink, a Bloody Mary for old times sake , and off to the bolthole.
Down Faringdon Rd in the gloom, approaching my front door. Buses idling at the lights, taxis chugging past.
First thought was ” doors not locked”. Then I hear voices. Not thinking straight at all I tear arse up the stairs two at a time, adrenalin pumping. And this couple are sprawled across my bed/sofa, half undressed. CDs scattered across the floor, a joint burnt out on a dirty plate, pizza crusts and empty bottles of red strewn. My red wine. Bought at a discount from the Italian downstairs but still my red wine after all.
It’s H. She’s G’s daughter. Stuck up madam. At Reading University I think. Must’ve got my key from G. Yes that’s what she’s mumbling right now. And the smirking streak of privileged piss by her side who barely looks up? Her other half presumably. I decide this isn’t worth the bother. I tell them to be out of there first thing and leave them to it.
Hey there’s me in that Travelodge I mentioned. An unironic £120 please sir. Breakfast not included. Plan was to eat early doors at Andrew’s Caff and keep an eye on my front door. Best laid plans shot to fuck , awake at 10 and rescheduled my meeting for 1pm. Nice morning so I set off walking, Kensington thereabouts. Walking sideways, westward. Loving the pavement slices of life. The pert, the flabby. The rich, the shabby. Around Gloucester Rd I hop on a bus.
The meeting? Total waste of time. Some chancing leech – takes one to know one right?!- trying to pick my brains in a clumsy way. Setting up his own system and after my ideas. Saw straight through him. Didn’t know his Frank Pick from his Charles Holden. Needed a drink after that.
Anglesea Arms always a winner. Delicious barmaids. Decent food and a beer and change from a £20. Then just as I was thinking about my uninvited guests my phone buzzed. Uncanny that. Was just wondering what tack to take with G about his errant daughter. He wasn’t a close friend but I didn’t want to fall out with him.
Anyway…,the phone. Martin over in Belsize. Leafy bastard. Indie veteran. Bought and sold now. He’d done well. Wrapped up his club night and record label after a fun three years. The ten releases on his label often changed hands for outlandish amounts. You want to hear Manic Street Preachers kicking fuck out of the front row of a backstreet pub audience? That’ll be at least £1,500. Picture sleeve.
Martin was an art guy. Bits and Bobs. Collectibles, curios, antiques. Knew his art, his onions. French usually, cliche laden with beret and bicycle. He was excellent company, full of fantastic tales. We’d bonded years back, a love of Northern Soul, French pop and old Tube stock memories the glue that bound us. ” Oh don’t get us started” we’d guffaw and launch into Croxley Green Loop memories. He’s on the other end of the phone.
” Alright chief, where are ya”
” Lunching at the Anglesea”. I pause for effect. No one bats an eyelid nearby.
” Get yourself over here sharpish, I’ve got something of interest here for you”
” I’ll be there as soon as I can”
” As quickly as you can my friend, this is gold.”
I abandoned my afternoon plan of hitting every decent pub between here and Euston and headed for the Tube. For a London Transport buff I didn’t actually like the tube that much. Sure I admired the architecture, the signage, tiles etc but the truth was I found it claustrophobic. Not too bad in the early afternoon though and after a couple of changes I was at Belsize Park. Past the bookshop part owned by a floppy enemy who’d once crossed a Post Office picket line to work for an agency when I’d been on strike there. Not that I bear too many grudges I chuckled flicking a V-sign at his window display. Plastic fake socialists, the absolute worst. Revenge based reverie carried me onto Englands Lane. Pass several dozen dream properties and arrive at Martin’s Yard. Next door to a surprisingly unspoilt pub, his door was open.
There he is, never looks any older, the bastard. The jacket Paul Smith or Hamnett. A bean pole punk lurked at his counter, dark glasses and brothel creepers. Four canvas frames taped up propped by the wall. Then he’s gone with a cheery ” Bye Neal”
” That’s Neal, immensely talented. Can’t shift his stuff quickly enough. Got buyers for all these. He knocks them out in hours. I’m shipping these to the Dam tonight”. I fucking hated people who said ” The Dam” but made an exception for Martin.
” Good to see you my friend, been too long. I got here this morning, well it was still just about morning and there were these two characters on the step. She was hungover and horsey, looked nervous but he was fucking full of himself, introduced himself as Rich. As in Filthy Rich. I wanted to fucking slap him. Nice overcoat but covered in crap, looked like he’d slept in it. Anyway after a brief dance he produces this…”Martin’s behind the counter acting like he’s got a Velvet Underground acetate there.
Instead he pulls out a Tube roundel. District Line. Mark Lane. I’m speechless, my heart sank, ” Theres only one of those you said”
” Relax mate there is only one” . He flips it over, stamped in the corner, 002. There was no 001 as far as we knew. The Holy Grail. 002 was mine. So how come Martin had it? And just then the cherries on the fruit machine all lined up. G’s daughter, H. Harriet. Let’s give the thieving bitch her full title. And Rich presumably the drink of piss hanging off her. This morning presumably after availing theirselves of my hospitality they got light fingered.
” Theres more mate. Some framed pictures. Old tiles. He was running his fingers across my stock like Arthur fucking Negus. Took all my willpower not to drag the rag outside. I recognised your ” Mark Lane ” straight off. Told em to leave it with me but they were looking at a couple of grand. Their greedy beadies lit up. They left a mobile number said they’d be back later after I’d had a shout out to see who was nibbling”
” And you called me”
” Well it was either that or the law, I figured you’d like to know”
” Give em a ring will you mate? Find out where they’re holed , subtle and discreet”
There ensues a one-sided call, he’s evidently got them on strings.
” The Edinburgh Castle, top end of Parkway, they’re drinking their way through the profits already by the sound. You want some help?”
I wanted to go it alone so set off walking across the top of Chalk Farm. A wistful glance at Marina Ices , mind racing, forcing myself to calm down. Past the Odeon and the Camden Tup, stood outside Rock On Records, Link Wray repros in the window, an eye on the Edinburgh in the reflection.
Remember when I said the guy made a mistake or two? Here’s where they stacked up. I go in the side door and enter the snug, quietly ordering a Guinness. A snob screen separated us. They are a few drinks in, laidback, cocky.. . Shes quizzing him about the recent call. Asking about money. He says they need to be away before I realise the stuff has gone.
” From what I gather he’s barely at the flat , the weirdo, probably just goes there every month to listen to some ” library music” or whatever”.
Laughter from both, I could hear her quotation hand marks around ” library music” and I reddened. Mainly because it was near enough the truth.
I risked a glance round the screen as I heard a chair being scraped back. He’s away to the Gents. Mistake Number Two was not realising I was right behind him, light on my toes for a big man. He’s not even let the door close behind him before I’m slamming his face into the wall tiles.
There goes posh chops bleeding all over the porcelain. He turns and there’s a delicious look ;part comprehension, part recognition as I slam a fist into his stomach, doubling him up.
Hands inside his coat pockets. Very smart yes, Martin hadn’t been wrong. There’s a wallet with £80 in it and an IPhone which i stamp on . Suede boots not great for smashing phones but I got there. He’s on his feet aiming for the door. Hat trick of mistakes coming up.
Instead of the relative sanctuary of the Public Bar he staggers out onto the terrace. Come spring or summer this spot is heaving, alfresco drinks and food consumed galore. Not so much on a drizzly November Wednesday. No one else for company. He’s wiping his bloody face with his sleeve, wild eyed he realises he’s cornered.
Eight grand a year at the best Buckinghamshire boarder didn’t buy Rich any common as he ran to the far fence and climbed over. His fourth and final error. I didn’t even have time to warn him there was no ledge the other side, that there was an enormous drop, that the wall was slippy. I hear the thud, possibly two , he may have bounced off the wall as he went. I risk a glance over and he’s there in the distant gloom, trackside, looking nothing more than a bundle of rags. Days following I will run through the possibility of a spectator from the H.A flats that circled the Supermarket maybe witnessing events. If anyone did then they kept quiet. A freightliner screeched around the corner just then leaving the main line and it was time I left too.
A look into the bar at Harriet, her pretty unconcerned face about to receive a shock. For the moment though she’s absent mindedly chewing the inside of her cheeks, waiting for his return so she can powder her nose too. The driver of a slow stopping train from Harrow to Euston flagged his body up an hour later.
His demise merited a few lines in the Standard. His other pocket had a fair sized block of coke, the police lazily nailed him as a dealer wandering onto someone else’s turf. I got my things back from Martin and we made arrangements to meet up next year. Apparently the Jasmine Minks were reforming. We approved of that.
A month later in the run up to Christmas I’m back home, dining solo, pizza and a pint when I spot G walking in. Trophy wife by his side, all tits, tats and tinsel and lo and behold a step behind is Harriet. She double takes and looks sheepish. G is full of pre-festive bloke bonhomie, handshakes and backslaps. I’d mentioned nothing about the key incident. We talk football and much as I’m relishing Harriets obvious discomfort I decide to leave.
As I get to the door I turn to look back at them. She’s eyeballing me. Dressed in black , dark glasses on, very Jackie Kennedy restrained grief. No tube memorabilia though and no two grand.
No Rich either. R.I.P Rich. Gone too soon. Just another trackside victim.
Bio: 57 years old from Lancashire. Struggled to find my voice but having another try. Interests include most things that are in this story: The London Underground system, London itself and music. Dislikes ” plummy voiced shits”