Tag Archives: bookshop

SHORT STORIES // Now Will You Wear A Helmet? (1995)

As is so often the case for many people at University, I didn’t fully appreciate the academic possibilities I had on my plate until it was almost too late. During my first couple of years at college, I was rather a lazy student, more concerned with the pleasures of partying and determined that ‘dropping out of college’ was the cool thing to do in order to become an authentic artist.

Fortunately, such delusions ran out as my time began dripping away from me, and a little into my third and final year, I became very engaged with what I was studying. A little too late perhaps, but it just about managed to scrape me a degree at the end of it. The final seminar that I was due to present was probably the first one that I actually worked really hard for, in collaboration with another student in my seminar group. I don’t recollect the subject now, but it was probably something or other about post-colonial literature.

Anyway, unusually prepared as I was to give a killer seminar, I still managed to get up late and have to rush off from the house in order to get there in time. I got on my bike in the pissing rain and hurtled off towards college. To my dismay, mere minutes away from the college I was involved in the only traffic accident of my life and was knocked off my bike – left sprawling in the middle of the road, stunned and waiting for the cars to beat down on me.

The old man who had accidentally done this, on his way round to console the wife of his recently deceased best friend, got out of my car, shocked at what he had done, lashed my bike to the rook, offered me brandy (for the shock) and tried to give me money. When I turned both down, he dropped me off at the college anyway, where I wandered in in a daze. I sat down with my friends and told them in my glazed state that I couldn’t make the seminar as I’d just been involved in an accident.

I was given hot, sugary tea and the college paid my cab fare to the nearest hospital. I sat in the waiting room for a couple of hours. The British NHS‘s best cure for shock – sit around waiting for a while and it’ll eventually wear off!

At home that night, I wrote about the incident in my diary. Instead of telling the tale of what actually happened, I decided to use the experience and make a short story out of it. Thus the tale that appears below.

Ironically, a couple of years later, I also ended up working in a bookshop – just like my protagonist Victor.

Art imitates life…life imitates art…

Now Will You Wear a Helmet?

The wind blew the rain even harder into Victor’s face. We’ve only just put the clocks back, he thought to himself. This is supposed to be the beginning of British Summer Time. Winter has just loosened its grip and now it’s tightening it back up again. No wonder there’s so many long faces in this bloody miserable country. Victor found himself almost unable to see as the rain continued it onslaught in cruelly cold horizontal sheets. He shivered as he pedalled.

Mr Wilson would be furious if he was late again. Not for the fourth day running. Victor’s department in the bookstore, local history, was already in a poor state. He had to order some new stock that morning or he’d run out. Mr Wilson did not like to see any of the departments run down to any extent. And since the BBC had set a recent historical drama in one of the big Regency houses in the centre of town, interest in Victor’s department had shot up.

But his lateness hadn’t been his fault. On Monday, the gasman had turned up to disconnect Victor’s supply, so he had had to run down to the bank to try and scrape enough money together to pay the man off. The next day, he had called his aunt in New Zealand to wish her a happy birthday before he left for work and once he had got her started, she wouldn’t let him get a word in edgeways. Victor never relished the prospect of being rude to his aunt and cutting her off so he was late for work again. OK, so yesterday it had been his fault as he’d forgotten to set his alarm clock the night before and he had overslept. We all do that. But he simply couldn’t make it four lates in a row. Catherine was finishing her A levels in a couple of months and was chasing a summer promotion. She had also had her eye on the local history section ever since she joined the store.

Victor tried pedalling faster as the drips gathered on the end of his nose and the water ran down the back of his neck. It wasn’t easy. He did still have fifteen minutes before he was due to start work. He was concentrating so hard on making it on time this time that he hardly saw the white electrician’s van cutting in front of him. Braking as hard as he could, which wasn’t easy with such a wet road surface, he skidded a few feet and lost his concentration. In doing so he failed to notice the battered old grey Triumph Acclaim that was jolting undecidedly from out of a side road. The two collided and Victor found himself lying in the middle of the road, waiting for the lights to turn green and to be faced with a huge onslaught of traffic.

He’d never held much sway with any of those ‘minutes seemed like hours’ arguments in the past but that seemed like a suitable analogy to draw now. I’m sitting in the middle of the road. I’m not hurt. What am I doing here? How come I haven’t been hit by another car yet? Words filled his mind like a family of Catholic sardines in a shrunken tin. The only thing that didn’t occur to him was to get his ass off the road. Shock tends to play havoc with your rationality.

The Triumph pulled over and the door swung open. A wizened old man with a dented hat and a grease stained overcoat fell out and ran over to Victor. Victor stared at him, not sure whether he was God or the Devil. Or neither. Sorry was all he could think of to say.

Ohmigodwhathaveidone. Quick, let’s get you out of the road. The old man sat Victor down in the passenger seat and lashed his bike to the roofrack. Are you OK? I did see you but I just couldn’t stop in time. Terribly sorry. Are you hurt? My friend has just died and I was on my way round to console his wife. Your nerves must be shattered. Where……

Victor stared at the rain coursing down the windscreen.

…………were you going? I’ll take you there. Would you like some money? Look, my name’s Alfred. The Blue Moon Tavern is just around the corner. I insist on you letting me buy you a brandy. It’s great for shock.

Alice started to polish the glasses for the third time that day. Why were Thursday mornings always this quiet? She’d only taken up the bar job to alleviate the tedium of the dole queue. As her thoughts turned to foreign holidays in the sun and sitting on the barstools instead of standing behind the bar, the door swung open. They both looked like zombies; the old man for his deathly dishevelled appearance and the younger one for the vacant stare set in stone on his face. Oh well, first customers of the day, what can I get you sir?

They sat down in the darkest corner of the pub with two large brandies. The old man started jabbering away like there was no tomorrow but Alice couldn’t hear what he was saying except for the occasional are you sure you’re alright? As the level of the brandy dropped, so did the intensity of the young man’s stare.

Look, it’s very kind of you but I can’t sit here drinking with you all day. I’m alright now. I was just a little shocked. Now I’m late for work as it is and I really ought to let them know what has happened. And I should get to the hospital just to check that there’s been no serious damage, said Victor, standing up to leave.

But I just want to talk. Please don’t go, said Alfred, grabbing at Victor’s sleeve and finding nothing but air. By the time he had got to his feet, Victor had already limped out of the door and was heading for the bus that would take him to the casualty department. The bike he’d pick up later.

Shit. Another large one please love.

The rain beat hard on the windows of the top deck. I hope it clears up this weekend. I need to kick back. It’s been a long week, pondered Victor. He had decided against trying his chances on cycling in the rain and opted to take the bus to work this time. At least I can make it to work on time for one day this week. The bus stopped at the lights as Victor’s gaze wandered through the window. Poor bugger. I wouldn’t like to be cycling in this weather. He looked up at the side street that had been the site of the accident the day before. Another Triumph Acclaim. You don’t see that many of them these days.

Alfred spotted the cyclist. He turned the key and started the engine.

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Filed under 1995, Fiction, Short Stories

LYRICS // Tequila Mockingbird Pie (1998)

My first full-time job after university was as a bookseller at Sussex University Bookshop. Retail is always low paid, so I was always out of pocket, but I tend to look back on my time there very fondly. I was surrounded by stacks upon stacks of fascinating books, the shop was mostly patronised by female students and there was a most unusual cast list amongst the staff. It would provide enough material for a book in its own right! I also managed to get a pint in every lunchtime with a good mate that also worked with me and I developed a sideline as a window display artist there too. Good times.

One day, we received a stack of literary-related mugs to serve as merchandising and the title of one of them particularly struck me – ‘Tequila Mockingbird’ (depicting a mockingbird in a sombrero, or something like that). I took that line, baked it a little and the song ‘Tequila Mockingbird Pie’ was born – another example of wordplay and punning in a song lyric.

I was particularly happy with this set of lyrics, which included references to a former squeeze, the town I was in, Noah’s Ark and reggae!

In my student days, I’d often crash out on the couch after a session and wake up the following morning still wearing what I’d had on the night before. This provided the first verse. The second verse referred to Brighton, which was a place that seemed to have a progressive musical culture and a retro fashion one combined. The line about the ‘narcoleptic insomniac’ (a contradiction in terms, of course) was lifted from some TV interview with Ringo Starr in which he claimed to be just that.

When the song became a part of The Zamora‘s repertoire, it turned into some kind of bouncy, Egyptian ska type number. It was great fun to perform, but was generally done with a little tongue in cheek! The song was only recorded as a rough studio demo, and can be downloaded here.

Photo of Dom & Justin of The Zamora by Dan Paton.

Tequila Mockingbird Pie

Woke up in my clothes again,
Must have slept through the whole weekend.
Don’t know if I’m up or down,
Or if I’ve still got to pretend.

Parade in your sounds of tomorrow,
Dress in your clothes of yesterday.
The sun may have gone back in,
But I’ll still be sitting here making hay.

Running away with a tequila mockingbird,
Tryin’ to find my way back home.
Gave it away on a familiar block, I heard.
Couldn’t seem to leave it alone…Alone.

Couldn’t get to sleep last night,
I just lay there staring into space.
Baby, you were out like a light,
But you opened your eyes when I leaned to kiss your face.

I’m a narcoleptic insomniac,
Who can’t seem to find his way back.
‘Cause I’ve spent too much of my time,
Away from the beaten track.

Running away with a tequila mockingbird,
Tryin’ to find my way back home.
Gave it away on a familiar block, I heard.
Couldn’t seem to leave it alone…Alone.

Like a moth to a flame.
A hunter to game.
An aspirin to pain.
A face without a name.

Tell me what you were dreaming of,
Was I the olive branch or the dove?
I know it’ll never be,
‘Cause it’s too much too soon now to love.

Tried to scratch at the clouds in my hair,
Knowing that we can’t get any higher.
I saw your streets run with blood and fire,
Starting your own riot, you know I’ll always admire.

Running away with a tequila mockingbird,
‘Bout time I left it alone.
Took it all back in the usual way, I heard,
Guess I found my way back home.

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Filed under 1998, Lyrics, The Zamora