Between The Times (5) … Let’s Further Introduce Jessica

jane-fonda-1960s-hairstyle1It’s now way past time to get back to those times. This is a series on our young Marty. Some of the stories that laid the foundation for who he is … or perhaps more accurately, who he thinks he is.

Should you have missed the five introductory pieces, you can visit them here and here and here. And the two most recent episodes (all true by the way) here and here.

You just know Jessica is going to come up again, don’t you … ?

I left off introducing Jessica. Let’s do a quick review. Jessica was Peter’s wife. I had met Peter shortly after my arrival in London. Peter was a work mate of a fellow (Mick) who had befriended me. The crazy part of all this is that I had met Peter in the “City”, the square mile of old London (roughly between Tower Bridge and London Bridge on the north side of the Thames) that at the time housed the major British banks and financial houses. Yet unbelievably, Peter was a habitue of a pub where I tended bar in a far away section of London. The odds of that were catastrophic. No actually, I guess they were providential when you add Jessica to the situation. Are you up with me now?

Jessica would typically come into the pub with Peter on a Friday night. Or perhaps on a Sunday afternoon with their 4 year old daughter while Peter played football (soccer) with his mates on a nearby pitch.

Jessica caught my attention from the very beginning. She was a natural blonde beauty, usually wearing a mini skirt and her hair down and slightly bouffante-style. Think Jane Fonda in Barbarella.  It was the very late 60s after all. Think very Jane Fonda at this time. Small of stature, she nonetheless had a big presence. All heads in the pub turned whenever she came in. I know I wasn’t the only one who thought this … how the hell did Peter … not the best looking man on the planet shall we say … land such a looker like Jessica? Part of the story was their daughter of course. Peter had got Jessica pregnant not long after they had begun dating.

A couple of quick facts here. I was 19. Jessica 25. A much older woman in my eyes. Older, more experienced, more worldly in every way. But I was mesmerized by her.

And she was starting to pay attention to me.







Between The Times (4) … Jessica

This is a series on our young Marty. Some of the stories that laid the foundation for who he is … or perhaps more accurately, who he thinks he is.

Should you have missed the four introductory pieces, you can visit them here and here and here. And the most recent here

It took me the whole day to hitchhike from Glasgow to London, and in typical Marty-style, I ended up in the central city late at night just as the pubs were closing. With no cash. Alas I can not tell you the tales of that night as they are well known among my acquaintances. And should they ever stumble upon the blog …  However, I will say that I was befriended by an over-the-top character, Mick, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Michael Caine in Alfie, and whose personal life was more than a match for Alfie’s story. It was the first time I had ever chummed around with a man and his wife and two young children while he expertly handled that situation and his three mistresses. At various evenings in the pubs in the center of London, I met them all, as well as many of his workmates, including one of his best, Peter.

Let’s fast forward several weeks, shall we?

I had found myself a room … what the Brits lovingly call a bedsitter. A small, tawdry room with a single bed on the second floor of a large house on the main thoroughfare in what could be charitably termed the very worst part of town. The bathroom was shared with 5 other rooms on the floor. A toilet, with a pull chain to flush (it took me fully 2 weeks to master the proper pull-technique), sink with cold water only, and a bath tub (no shower) that needed to be “booked” in advance.The bathroom’s final humiliation, however, was the toilet paper. No soft, tender to the touch Charmin here dear readers. No, you got to wipe your sorry ass from a roll of heavily waxed toilet paper with all the gentleness and absorbancy of street concrete. Colored a yellowish-brown. And that was before use.

These were the days when central heating was an unaffordable luxury for most British homes occupied by the workingclass, and my bedsitter heating consisted of a small gas heater that was activated with 2-shilling coins, the meager heat lasting at most 90 minutes before requiring more cash. The gas fire (as the Brits call them) had a 3 foot long wire cable, so moving its position was rather limited. Certainly nowhere near the bed for long, cold nights. And who wants to get out of bed in the shivering night to feed more money into the heater?

Low paying, menial jobs were also plentiful. The daily newspapers were filled with vacancy ads and adverts for temporary placement services for every kind of job. Basically, if you could walk, you were hired. I started work immediately.

There were 6 different pubs within a hundred yards of where I lived. Which to make my local? Honestly, I don’t recall the criteria, but The Bull Terrier became it. Not atypical for the times or the locale (very similar to the pic above), it had grimy yellowed brick outside, and inside hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint since between the wars. But it was very much the working man’s home away from home, and it rocked Friday nights when Paul came in and played the piano in the lounge and all the old war songs were sung and played.

It took me about a week to understand that I was spending much of my available food money on pints of bitter while learning the specialized skills of dart throwing. The popular pub manager was only too happy to hire me part time, 2 nights a week, one through the week, and one weekend night. It was an excellent arrangement. I saved my food money, got paid to hang out in the pub, and managed to get fully intoxicated each evening I worked. You see in the pub you don’t tip the barman, you buy him a drink every other round or so.  All evening long Marty would have 3 or 4 pints of bitter along the bar in front of customers, as I moved among them between serving, chatting with them over the pint they had treated me to. Thus I also learned the key facilities of listening attentively, commenting sagely, and being everyone’s excellent friend. Plus acquiring the knowledge how to appropriately mix various draught brews and bitters, and mastering the fine art of pouring Guinness for the Irish. All important life skills for a young vagabond as you can well imagine.

It was probably during my second or third week of working at The Bull Terrier that I saw him. Peter, Mick’s friend, whom I had had drinks with several times not more than a month before. And low and behold, he lived in this neighborhood!

I have calculated the chance of that happening. The population of London at that time divided by the odds of a workingman living in my area, multiplied by the inverse proportion of the likelihood of the pub I was working in on that night being Peter’s local on the nights he was home. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/8,000,000 I figure.

The odds were so catastrophic against, that clearly it could not, and did not, happen by chance.

Fate was definitely in control. And in this instance Fate had a name. It was Jessica. Who would teach me additional life skills.

You just know Jessica is going to come up again, don’t you … ?


It Was The Between Times (1)

“London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.”

                  traditional English Nursery Rhyme

There is a short prologue post which you may wish to read should you have missed it setting up what is to follow.

London in the late 1960s found itself squarely in the midst of a drastic era switch. It was the dowdy, gritty capital of a former Empire refusing to acknowledge its demise. You could still see men wearing bowlers in the City. It would take nearly thirty more years before the Union Jack was lowered for the final time in Hong Kong, the last colonial crown jewel. Until Hong Kong was gone, there was always something of the past to be held on to.

Britain was caught up in a swirling vortex of change led by its avant-guard young generation. These were the days of Carnaby Street, the micro-mini skirt and Twiggy and swinging London. The musical British Invasion still had some legs. The Beatles’ White Album was released in October 1968, a foreshadow of the end to that era.

London, Manchester, and Birmingham were packed with new immigrants from all corners of the Commonwealth, not all of them equally welcomed by many of the existing population.

The pound sterling was at record lows and gasping.

Though the damage was mostly repaired, the mindset from WW II was still prevalent. British meant best for the old guard, though British factories were now renowned for their poor quality, and most workers needed a second source of income or graft ( a fiddle) to adequately take care of their families.

On the other hand the beer was still good.

This was the time when the overnight mail train from London to Glasgow didn’t run because of a tea pot. The union contract specified an earthenware pot; this train’s teapot was metal. No London mail in Scotland the next day because workers’ rights needed to prevail.

It would be another decade before the Iron Lady arrived to pound change and modernity into the collective and with none too kind or subtle a hand. It would cost her.

This, too, was the time the troubles in Northern Ireland were set to begin. An unwelcome, disastrous echo from history.

The economy was a wreck. The currency was between £sd (pounds-shillings-pence) and decimalization. The farthing (1/4 of a penny) had been eliminated less than a decade before but the halfpenny was still in use.

Should it join Europe or no? The between times.

And yes, London Bridge was coming down. It had just been sold to Arizona.

America had an influence of course. But it was limited. It was that place away. America seemed rather quaint in a cutsie type of way. All big and gung-ho. If you wanted to get a decent hamburger in London (Wimpey burgers were not “decent”) you had to find a restaurant near Buckingham Palace. The Brits still ate their burgers with knife and fork.

The between times. Drifting through a shadowy gloom. A glorious past remembered, and uncertain, decidedly different prospects for the future ahead.

The between times. Leaving carefree, innocent youth and seeing the world as it really was. Up close. With no safety net. An adult world. Seeking adventure and knowledge and finding more of each than could ever be imagined.

The between times. Beginning to understand that when a one in 8 million chance occurs, there’s probably a reason. Learning that while heads might be coincidence, tails is likely fate. Absorbing that your moral compass might not be true and wise in different environments and changing times. You only learn when your mind is open to different views and perspectives.

The between times. For a country. And a city. And our Marty.

… to be continued

The Legacy of Thermopylae

dsc_1051__sized[1]2586901971_84e687e138[1]Spartan_helmet_2_British_Museum[1]History fascinates me. The people, the calculations, the chances taken. Those not taken. The courage, the fear. How fate intervenes. And most of all the impact on the future.

One of the best known battles in Western civilization is the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC between the Greeks and the invading Persians. It’s also a great example of how public relations works. We all know of the heroic Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. But how often do we acknowledge the 700 Thespians, and 400 Thebans who fought to the death with them?

Thermopylae has always grabbed me by the throat and shaken me and yelled in my ear “Look! This is important!”

Or was it?

Historians have revisited and reevaluated the meaning of this battle countless times. The current thinking is very different from what I was taught about it in early high school. And that’s good. Constantly reevaluating is a sign of progress and an admission we don’t have all the answers.  Every time I am in Greece and near the area, I visit the site of the battle and look at the monuments. The first time was over 40 years ago, the last a few years back. It always makes me think. And reevaluate consequences.

But my role here is not education, dear reader, it is entertainment. Don’t worry, I do know my place.

All this preface to say that I feel I had my own mini Marty-Thermopylae. It began in London in the late 1960s. I believe it had a profound affect on the Marty of today.

Or did it?

Perhaps if I write these things down, which I never have before, I too, mini-Marty historian that I am, may not only remember, but reevaluate those consequences and the legacy. I know I don’t have all those answers.

It may prove to be interesting. Please stay tuned.



I See The Ghosts

I do, at this time of year.

They used to come screaming at me, full force, like a redlining 911 headed right for me, whining down the autobahn.

Until I had the revelation.

Now the phantoms are better behaved. But they visit yet.

I remember you running back to the car through the woods, an apparition of beauty waving your panties above your head in glee and anticipation.

I can still hear the roar of snowmobiles while waking one morning, then the next being roused by motorcycles thundering past an open window.

The dark shadow of my unthinking, uncaring self that Christmas Eve continues to haunt me. My heart still half believes that was the beginning of the end.

The magical mirage that was Malaga will always stay with me. We were so happy.

The apartment high overlooking the water that would be our last.

Yes the demons are better behaved. They’re silent now. But so devious. This year they ambushed when I least expected, two weeks after the email.

It seems they will never tire of reminding me where I have been.


The Tortoise Time Catches A Chameleon

They were so young, of course. Barely into their 20s.

The buried pain. The deeply felt inability to ever trust completely again. The resentment. This is where it all began.

Naturally, he blamed himself. The inattention. His single minded focus. Never there. When he was, hiding behind the daily news. Sure, he told himself, it takes contributions from both to end a relationship. No one party can shoulder all the blame. Nice sentiment, but he never bought into it.

And he had thought he had fixed all that.

It’s pretty near impossible to literally live 24 hours a day for a year with someone, never more than 10 feet away, and then one day discover you never knew them at all, is it not? How can that happen?

From the Sahara’s sands, nearly dying together, the frights in Algeria, to that crumbling hotel in Istanbul. The freedom of the beaches in Crete, the lights in Paris, the museums of Florence. The canals in Stockholm. They had fully experienced together so many highs and anxious bottoms. Surely no two people had ever been closer. Knew one another better. An impossibility. He knew that in his young heart.

Until it all ended so suddenly.  He had had fears something was coming, but nothing like this.

Now so many years later, there were no more questions. He could see there were no commonalities. It had all been nothing but a spectacular mirage. That was bad. To realize the heart can be so masterly deceived.

But the enormous guilt and shame he had carried since that time vanished like melting mist in the warm morning sun. This was monumentally good. He finally could get some understanding. His soul … at last …  felt released.

He hung up the phone; no need for further words. He couldn’t think of anything more to say in any case.

I’ve Been On The Road To Damascus

No, not actually.

Damascus is a very dangerous location these days. But figuratively, yes. So much has been revealed. My mind is ablaze. What follows may seem at first like a religious rant. I assure you, it is anything but.

Damascus has been a major Middle East city for over 8,000 years, and archaeological evidence of settlement in the area dates back 11,000 years. Imagine the learning buried beneath its walls and in its ruins. The history to which it has borne witness.

It is not only a Saul of Tarsus-type voyage, revelation and conversion I have been on. Lawrence arrived in Damascus, too, on October 1st, 1918, the Great War only 49 days from its merciful end. A very different man than when he was first posted to the Arab revolt.

I have always loved the story of Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a story of clashing civilizations and cultures … Arab, British, Turkish, waning empires, the call of family and tribe, the role of duty, rugged individualism, unthinkable victory, and devastating false hopes.

And how what happens today has a long delayed and unknown aftermath. We are all an imperfect, badly flawed replica of our history.

Just before he left Damascus 4 days after its surrender, Lawrence wrote:

‘I was sitting alone in my room working and thinking out as firm a way as the turbulent memories of the day allowed, when the muezzins began to send their call of last prayer through the moist night over the illuminations of the feasting city. One, with a ringing voice of special sweetness, cried into my window from a nearby mosque. I found myself involuntarily distinguishing his words: “God alone is great: I testify that there are no gods but God: and Mohammed is his Prophet. Come to prayer: come to security. God alone is great: there is no god but God.” At the close he dropped his voice two tones, almost to speaking level and softly added: “And He is very good to us this day, O people of Damascus.” The clamour hushed, as everyone seemed to obey the call to prayer on this their first night of perfect freedom.’  T.E. Lawrence Seven Pillars of Wisdom

I wish I had perfect freedom. I do not. But I have always felt that knowledge, while not full, perfect freedom, is certainly liberating. I feel more liberated.

The Guardian published this at the time, about the capture of Damascus by the Arab armies:

Arab horsemen from distant Hejaz today galloped in triumph through the streets of Damascus. As the sun was rising over the mosques and spires, Major TE Lawrence, the young British officer whose tactical guidance has ensured the success of the Arab revolt, drove through the lines in an armoured car. One Arab rider waved his head-dress and shouted, “Damascus salutes you”.

Led by Emir Feisal, son of Sherif Hussein, now to be King of Syria, and his British friend Lawrence, who had fought the Turks all the way from Arabia, the Arabs were first into the capital.

At about the same time that they arrived, the first patrols of the Australian Mounted Division of General Allenby’s army also converged on the great city, having fought their way from Egypt to Gaza, captured Jerusalem, and freed Palestine from Ottoman rule before finally entering Damascus.

The capture of the most famous city in the Arab world was an event filled with high emotion for Major Lawrence and for Feisal, the Arab prince who had led tribesmen on their long fighting, camel march from the barren wastes of Arabia. Multitudes of Syrians thronged the streets to celebrate liberation from the Ottoman Empire. The only Turkish soldiers remaining in Damascus today are the wounded, crammed in hospitals and abandoned by their doctors.

There is a serious danger that law and order may break down in a place packed an excitable mixture of desert and city Arabs. Notables who until the last minute worked with the Turks now proclaim their loyalty to the Allies. Already there are reports that some have been shot. General Allenby’s first task will be to install a military government to keep order and restore the city’s public services.

Conforming to arrangements agreed with Britain, the French will take control of Syria. General Allenby’s army is preparing to move east to link up with French forces whose task is now to take the port of Beirut in Lebanon.

In that dispatch can be seen the seeds already sown but yet to surface of treachery, promises unfulfilled, and dreams and hopes dashed. Another legacy from Damascus.

Will I fill you in on what I learn if and when I get to Damascus? It is possible. Then again, maybe not. Like most things in life, it all depends.