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Dave McGowan
Dave McGowan

Dave McGowan was born and bred in London. He is co-founder of Poltroon - The Literary Saloon, a photographer, DJ and occasional lyricist.


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Putting it Away: The English Riviera


I’m twenty-two years old and have been a father to a daughter for two and a bit years now. Her mother is back at home in SE13, twelve years older than me, with a car and no phone; I’m on a train headed to Torquay to sell speed and hash to some Scouse bouncers that work at a goth club called ‘The Cavern’. I’ve been working at the petrol station on Denmark Hill and haven’t slept for forty-eight hours. I’m wearing skinny black jeans, a council jacket that I’ve tie-dyed pink and my Barnet is four inches off my head. I’m probably wearing cheap shades but I can’t see right now. I reek of Ralph Lauren ‘Polo’ that I overdosed with from a sample bottle. I don’t know why I did it. This shit stinks and it’s making my right eye weep. I’m going to have to go to the bog and sort myself out.

 

It doesn’t take long for London to fade out of view. There’s a few minutes of housing estates and the backs of posh houses, followed by the dreaded suburbs, then you’re into storage and light-industrial; then it’s all fucking fields. I find myself looking out of the window at a horse, like a city child on its first trip to the country. I’m starting to get tracers, getting a bit blissful, speeding out of my mind, as I hurtle backwards across the English countryside at 125 m.p.h. I realise that I’m drawing attention to myself from the three other people crammed in on my table and decide to introduce myself. “Hello,” I say, “I’m Captain Lewisham.”

 

In front of me, travelling forwards, I’m faced with a flabby suit that sports a floppy fringe, a baggy face and intelligent eyes. Next to him sits a woman topped with a well maintained slightly askew, dark, helmet head, wearing an Arran-knit pink cardigan; below the table I imagine she is wearing a puce tutu and sea-black flippers. To my left a man beneath description unscrews the lid of his thermos and then tucks into the latest copy of Word Search. My flamboyant introduction elicits no response so I continue to burble at my travelling companions.

“Where are you going, then?” I say to the helmet-head cardigan lady.

“Newton Abbot.”

“Brilliant! Then we’re in for the long run.”

“Teignmouth,” says the suit.

 

We continue on and I skin up with no one batting an eyelid. I tell the floppy fringe about my idea that the Bible is a fantasy novel left lying about by a member of the management committee of the celestial elders and has fallen into the hands of earthbound chumps and it’s all a bit embarrassing for them. He can’t see a flaw in my argument and decides to write an unsuccessful novel on that basis; I saw it on sale in the back of Private Eye. By now, I’m feeling quite comfortable in their company and am pinching huge chunks of speed out of my wrap and hoofing them up my nostrils with no little aplomb. I engage the helmet-headed lady in matters tonsorial and she asks me what I colour my hair with. I tell her, “It’s a Crazy Colour called ‘Heavy Flow’.”

I can hear the chap next to me chewing on his white bread sandwich. It sounds like incompetent lovers snogging. I want to bite him in the face but in the name of civil obedience, I decide to help him with his Word Search instead.

“Look there’s LEAVE ME ALONE”, I say.

“It’s only words, not phrases.”

“How about, LONELY.”

The helmet headed lady smiles behind her knitting.

I kick her flipper under the table.

Outside the window, the marvels of nature pass me by.

 

I take a cab from the station to Tony’s. He’s not there. He’s never there. I trail around town going from boozer to boozer. On the high street a grizzled geezer grabs me by the crook of the arm and says, “You’ve got to be Tony’s brother.”

“Fuck me,” I say, “I am.”

“You had to be, look at ya.”

I try but I can’t, so he looks at me.

“Do you know where I might find him?”

“Hold on…yeah they’ve got some out-of-date bottles at the Dribbler’s Tits. It’s just up there on the left. Fuck me, you ‘n’ ‘alf look like him.”

 

I find Tony in the pub with his girlfriend, Lois. She’s a bit of a meal ticket, pisshead hippychick with two grown-up sons and a big house on the cliffs. There’s a plaster collar round her neck because she fell down the steps from her loft conversion and snapped it on the bookcase below.

“I must have been lying there for hours. Lucky Tony came home.”

I look at him.

“Did you go down her pockets looking for money while she was unconscious?” I ask.

He curls his lip.

 

I love my brother but I’ve never felt like it was reciprocated; he’s always treated me with some disdain, even when I was little. Maybe it’s because our mother’s pregnancy with me, courtesy of a disgraced CID sergeant, was the reason his dad left our mum. Tony left home six years after my birth to move to Dagenham to be with his dad, thus leaving me alone with a paranoid loon. So maybe, he felt guilty about that and expressed it by being a bit of a twat. We carry on drinking until the clubs open and I head into town. 

 

The Scousers have been a bit chippy of late. I’ve detected a creeping, bullying vibe. Like they’re going to roll me. So, I smell a rat when I turn up and they tell me they’ve got no money and ‘can we sort it out later?’

“Of course we can,” I say.

“And you can have the gear later.” I wander off.

The next thing I know, I’m being picked up off the pavement from the base of a concrete lamppost.

“Are you okay, son?” says the first copper.

“He’s in quite a mess,” says the second one.

I stagger as I find my feet. My brain is trying to come back to life and take stock of the situation at the same time.

How long was I out?

Did those cunts jump me?

Did I walk into the lamppost, trip over?

Have I still got my gear on me?

This is a Tory town and they throw you in the drunk tank here; they search you. I can feel the heft of the quarter-weight in my pants.

“I’m alright,” I say “I’m staying with my brother.”

The gods are smiling down upon me. With no further ado, the Old Bill grin benignly and the male one says, “Well, make sure you get home safely and get yourself cleaned up.”

“Night son.”

I thank them profusely for their assistance and weave my way in the general direction of Ellacombe, where Tony shares a flat with some fellow alcoholics. (Last time I stayed, my brother ended up vomiting into a bucket because he’d drunk his home-brew before it was ready and my mate Rodney who I’d brought with me, rose to find him pissing into the kitchen sink whilst simultaneously brushing his teeth. I meanwhile, woke to the pleasant sight of a moustachioed Scotsman drying his piss-soaked y-fronts on the plug-in radiator). So I was looking forward to getting there.

 

I find my way to a cab rank and work my way down it, waving money at the drivers, who all take one look at me and wind up their windows, laugh in my face or tell me I must be joking, mate. I treat them to some of my choicer vocabulary, and stagger off randomly into the night. I soon become lost and incredibly weary; shop doorways begin to look very cozy, like a lover’s bosom. A multi-story car park looms into view and for no good reason I can think of, I enter.

 

I’m in a cramped space, my head like cracking thunder; I don’t know where I am. Slowly, I ease myself into a sitting position and look out of the window. I’m in the back of a 2CV, it’s Saturday morning and the car park is full of shoppers. I can’t find a door- handle, the windows are too small for me to climb out, I can’t get the chairs to fold forward. Panic starts to seep in; I attempt to contain it. I sit back and take a deep breath and try to assess my situation. Could the owner of the car have already returned, discovered me here and gone to fetch a copper? Will the car fill with poisonous gas?  I tilt my head back and realize that I’m trapped in a soft-top motor. Squeezing my skinny frame through the front seats I can just about manage to reach the clips that hold the roof in place, I pull on them, release the catch and pull back the roof. I clamber out without attracting too much attention but I seem to be getting plenty of it as I wend my way home through the crowds in Torquay’s town centre. They part as I approach, pulling their children closer. I find out why when I get back to Tony’s place.

“What the fuck happened to you?”

“Slept in a car.”

“No, your face. What happened to your face?”

I look in the chintzy mirror and recoil, barely recognizing my own face. The left side of my brow resembles Lou Ferrigno’s and my face is caked in dried blood. I slump down in the nearest armchair—eschewing the piss sofa—and let my pounding head fall into my hands. I fish the speed out of my pocket and the hash out of my balls, dump them on the coffee table and stare at Tony. I think about the time our mum topped herself and when I’d been paid the insurance money I brought it down in cash and he’d got me to sprinkle it over him whilst he lay on the floor with an alcy mate looking on. I think about what I had to sweep up that he’ll never have to know about or carry around in his head. I think about my beautiful daughter. I remember that I’ve got to hook up with the Scousers again, whether they tried to jump me or not. I hope I see the helmet-hair lady on my way home.


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