Full moon influence, my strange Moon sister Selene infiltrating weirdness into my mind…
‘make the stories go away doctor, please….make them go…’
The first part of this definitely happened.
I was at Uni in South London for the first two years of my degree, and the South Bank Arts Centre was one of our regular haunts, along with a folk blues club at the Elephant & Castle whose name I forget, but I don’t forget John Lee Hooker & Champion Jack Dupree creating their raw magic delta blues there.
But to a very different kind of music. In the South Bank Purcell Room, a small venue designed for chamber music and such. I was kind of enamoured of Bach harpsichord recitals. About as far away as you could get from the delta blues! This story finds me settling in for one such recital, about 6 or 8 rows back as I remember, fairly central.
I give you this detail so you’re in there with me. Don’t bring the John Lee that I’ve just planted in your head!! that stuff get’s into your guts, you don’t want to be sitting next to me, ghostly reader, in this delicate fiigreed atmosphere, sweetly scented scenario, with down home boogie making your feet tap and your shoulders shuffle in a deep down fundament rhythm more at place in some New Orleans barrelhouse.
The first part definitely happened. Where it may start to stray off the beaten track of good honest veracity, into the uncharted terrain, the marshes of madness, bogs of the bizarre, the stuff that would always make my mother (god bless her) say ‘oh no, he’s off…’; where that deviation begins, well who knows. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. You’ll see.
The concert starts.
My heart lifts at the nuanced notes of a hypnotic prelude followed by a finely balanced fugue. (Pretentious moi? nah…just get entranced by Great music. Remember I’m a student, raggy hair round my shoulders, torn jeans, an old cotton jacket, whilst those around me are in evening attire, smart, respectable…. or so I thought…).
A quiet passage. You can hear a pin drop…. listen….plink… (sorry, just proving a point). A slight but definite tickle in the throat. Moving down the trachea, waking up the lungs. The lungs decide it’s been a while since any housekeeping was done. No-one’s hoovered for ages. What better time for having a clear out of the respiratory system than in a quiet harpsichord recital.
An aside here. When you go to a concert or opera, any of those type of gigs, if people want to cough they save it up wherever possible until the break between pieces. Then everyone lets rip. Cough cough cough..… surround sound respiratory rattling and barking…… sounds like a mafiosi vendetta killing spree. Anyway, then the machine guns go back into the violin cases, a few last minute barks from small calibre weapons, maybe a beretta pistol or two, then silence as the violinists raise their bows and the next piece starts. It’s bad form to be the concert dog, barking incessantly as if a clumsy attempt to sing along to the symphony, or opera or whatever. Canine concerto. Just stay at home if you’ve got a respiratory disorder. Watch the telly. Don’t come here. But I digress….
Just a small apology of a tickly cough. Ahem ahem. But you know, you just know, it’s going to get worse. It’s a precursor. The first shifting, rustling of grass, after a completely still evening that has the wise old codger looking up, sniffing the air, ‘aye…she’s on her way’…. ‘who is, what do you mean?’… ’aye…there’s a storm a’brewin’… a big one I doubt not’….
Oh great. Thanks a lot wise codger. I don’t remember booking a seat for you! Me, my ghostly reader friend here, but no ticket saying, ‘wise codger seat’. But he’s gone. And the damage is done.
Now I can feel the cilia, the little hairs that clean the windpipe, brushing all the accumulated dust upwards, obeying the demands for an impromptu spring clean. A cough is brewing. Will it be the merest ahem, or an outburst of staccato gunfire shattering the fragile truce between throat and lungs? In company you can shyly whisper, ‘oh no, tickly throat’, to which your companion inevitablty says, ‘don’t worry, it’s not bothering anyone’. But a harpsichord recital, uh uh I’m on my own. My peculiar thing amongst my musical friends.
The next cough…… can’t suppress it any longer. A bit louder. Had hoped for a one-off, but looks like the codger was right. They always are of course. Otherwise there would be no point in their existence. They are the very backbone of a thousand and one dreadful American disaster movies. I have howled with laughter in the movies at codger-speak, much to the dismay of my woman, trying to keep a low ‘I’m not with him’ profile.
Well, to cut to the chase, a very quiet passage, and of course a bout of a few barely suppressed coughs. This time a slight movement behind me as someone shifts position perhaps, a slight knock in the back of my seat. Cough….. now a definite kick in the back. Oh gods, things are turning nasty. Cough…. kick, ow! I turn round to see an immaculately dressed woman with dark hair, dark eyes, crimson lipstick, deep eye shadow. She looks through me. Doesn’t even acknowledge I’m looking at her, yet she undoubtedly is the kicker. The hoofer.
I turn back round, now the dry throat of apprehension followed by the inevitable coughing fit. Bang… the kick rattles my teeth. I can’t stand it. I have to go. I get up, ‘excuse me. ‘scuse me’, ‘sorry’, each person I try to pass, grudgingly half-rises to let me past, openly sneering, the odd menacing snarl, every one kicking my ankles as I pass, whispering,
‘spoiler’, …….. venomous sibilances,
……………….’whaaat … breather! …. what kind of weird insult is that!’
I must have spoken it out loud, every head in the place turns to look at me, a whisper through the trees as it were…’sssssss ….. warm blood …. breather …ssssss ‘
As I break free at the end of the row the last person trips me, I hit my head on the seat opposite, fall to the ground. Lying on my back, temporarily disoriented. I shake my head and suddenly notice a circle of feet surrounding me… I didn’t hear them coming from their seats but as I look up there’s a ring of dark-shadowed faces looking down at me, deep expressionless eyes, not hatred, not anger, just … nothing. The harpsichord player has stopped, now as they stand around looking down at me with expressionless eyes, he starts playing again but it’s not Bach, he’s barking like a dog in time to a rhythmic cacophony, striking the instrument’s delicate keys with abandon, and in some travesty of accompaniment the circle of expressionless faces around me start making guttural growls filled with deep menace, in time with the poundingly discordant harpsichord. A macabre display magnified by the fish-eye view afforded by my position on the ground. The noise rises to a crescendo of disharmonic horror.
Then stops. With barely a whisper of shuffling feet, everyone returns to their seats and the player resumes the piece of Bach, for all the world as if the weather had not just taken a distinct turn for the weirder.
I sit up, angry now, ready for a fight. I’ll take ‘em all on, I’m mad, helplessness has turned to a deep wish for damage. Carnage with me as the probable loser but I’ll go down fighting, enraged like a berserker whose only wish is for an honourable death surrounded by the torn off limbs of my enemies.
But no-one’s looking at me. As if what happened was either a bizarre dream, me waking like one of those sleep walkers found naked in Oxford Street at 2 a.m. except I’m in the Purcell Room, or as if it was something that happened every day in the world of these strange people. How come I’ve never met any of their kind before? How come I’ve never been in a bar somewhere and two weird people come in and stand next to me, yapping like sinister terriers, just looking at me, one each side of me, so I don’t know which one to look at, embracing the weirdness, taking it into my being as a new experience to be savoured, but then rejected as nicely bizarre, but ultimately pointless except as an entry in the Surbiton and District Women’s Institute’s ‘now for something quite different’ competition (held every February 29th when the month has a ‘J’ in it).
I get to my feet, shaking my head to exorcise the weird, but it’s still there, gather remnants of dignity, walk up the aisle, heading for the door. Try not to get in a fight.
In the lobby, the attendant looks at me, blood trickling down my forehead where I’d fallen, ’Had a bit of an accident have we sir, probably tripped over the hair did we? Should be more careful on those stairs’.
I’m remonstrating with him, ‘God’s sake man, didn’t you see! I thought they were going to kill me! You ever see anything like this before? They were barking at me!’
The attendant looks at me, eyes curiously blank, ’Had a bit of an accident have we sir, probably tripped over the hair did we? Should be more careful on those stairs’.
I leave. This was supposed to be a nice evening recital, not a Dadaist surreal ‘happening’, teetering outside the fringes of legality…. blimey, had I got the right venue…the right night..? I check the billboard outside.
Bach harpsichord recital
blah blah blah …
Thursday night is ZLD night
Half price entry to Zombie Living Dead
(proof of undead status required)
Of course! How on earth could I have missed that one?
I hardly notice the dark figure by the wall until he speaks.
‘Yep, didn’ I tell ya… a real doozy of a storm, reminds me of….’ … the rest of his sentence is choked off as I have the wise codger by the throat. Even if it means no more disaster movies to heckle it’ll be worth it.
But he’s codgered off to wisely bother someone else, and I’m clutching thin air.