Wednesday, March 14, 2012


The clock struck eleven yet again as Jethro Gill shouldered his way into the British Film Institute. It's now called Old Peculiar's Pelicular Panopticon, he had to remind himself. And it was only nine-thirty on a damp March morning. "A trifle inclement," as the wireless had chuckled in Banter - the new English standard.

It was always eleven o'clock - opening time - since the Great Shiving. Getting used to the lingo was only the half of it. Jethro reached for a cigarette, only to realise he'd left his stash at home. Since the Shiving only pipes and roll-ups were allowed, and a cigar on the wife's birthday. The me'm-sah'b, Her Indoors.

"Briars and rollies - the whole country looks like a Cornish town council," Jethro muttered as he rifled through the in-tray.

He remembered the revolution well. It had all happened so suddenly. The last pub in Henley had put up its shutters in the face of a thirsty party of Thames walkers, just as a Community Patrol officer was telling a joiner outside a Bermondsey bookies to put out his Benson.

The resulting riots spread nationwide. The shires, suburbs and inner cities marched on Westminster, the politicians fled, and the people stood bewildered and triumphant. The triumvirate - Clarkson, Lumley and Vegas - had time only to design a coat of arms for the New Commonwealth (a Jag hub cap, with pitbull rampant and can and ashtray gules, motto "Circum Tuum") before they fell to squabbling.

Then came the "Sallying Forth", as the chap with the plan, the CAMRA Man, launched the Great Shiving. Soup-stained Savonarolas of the Campaign for Real Ale exploited the national binge and endless smoke-ins to seize the gutted shell of the Mansion House and total power.

Tribune Joanna Lumley alone survived as the figurehead of state, wheeled out on Jerome K Jerome Day to smash a cask on the hull of a new naval skiff.

The rest was a nightmare, a nightmare of horror. Jeans were banned unless elastic-waisted, all lager was drained into the Thames, filter tips, trainers and shaving kits were thrown on the bonfire of the vanities in Trafalgar Square.

Within days all the good-looking women had fled to Wales before the punishment battalions of dieticians and flatscreen TV salesmen were forced to raised Offa's Anti-Taff Defence Barrier high into the Marcher sky.

England was no longer England. Now it was Camrastan, a chillingly jocular epithet intended to "win over our Mohammedan charges to the ways of the wort". You couldn't laugh anymore, you had to "chortle", "titter" or "guffaw". Doors didn't open, they were "portals" to be "negotiated". The profiles of Pratchett, Tolkien and Felicity Kendall graced the new Guinea currency.

Even buying a pint of "cooking" was like sitting an extended oral exam for your Masters in Halitosis. "Special" and the maltier brews were reserved for the Old Campaigners - the CAMRAts as the malcontents called them - and the dreaded Porter Police.

Jethro shuddered, and turned to the flickering Amstrad with its fashionable tweed trim. His job was to bring films into line with Campaign teachings. No lager, no grooming and no girlfriends, unless they were chaste and mumsy barmaids.

There were technical teams tasked with etching beards onto Bogart, cutting Grace Kelly's highballs down to halves of shandy, and curling Private Walker's Woodbines into Bent Rhodesians.

Jethro was a writer, and had to recast dialogue to accommodate tepid ale, flannels and cricket in every imaginable plotline, while excising references to non-comic sex. This proved surprisingly easy with most British films, and hardly needed doing to anything before 1954, but Jethro took grudging pride in his adaptations of the French New Wave and Italian Neorealists.

"Les Quatre Cents Coups" became a teenage seaside musical, and "La Dolce Vita" followed a Brummie motorcycle rep as he persuaded Romans to dress warmly and appreciate the superior horsepower of the Triumph Bonneville.

But Jethro knew his time was up. There, at the top of the pile, was his treatment of "Ice Cold in Alex". He had agonised over it for days, but could find no way of persuading even the most anoraked frothblower that the Desert Rats would have yomped through Libya, eschewing all that Afrika Korps beaded Pilsener, for the promise of a cloudy tankard of Champion's Speckled Johnson.

With a reflective "Fuck this", Jethro rolled up his radical reworking of the John Mills classic as "Warm and Soapy in Suez", a 70s sex romp, jammed it in the pneumatique and stomped off down The Tethered Goat.

The Goat looked like any Camrastan ale house. Walls as jaundiced and uneven as the landlord's teeth, faintly amusing notices to the toilets, a bar pocked with men in broken spectacles peering through the murk of their pintpots at some point below the barmaid's chin, and an aroma of dog and slipper tainting the Burley fug.

Jethro nodded to the barmaid. "Pint of Johnson?" she asked. "The Abdication Special," he wheezed. "I'll need to check the cellar." She left the bar and unlocked a door tucked away behind a screen. Returning a moment later, she said "It's off". Jethro nodded and, while no one was watching, slipped through the unlocked door.

He rapped out the "Satisfaction" riff on a mildly disturbing amateur portrait of June Whitfield. The eyes came alive, and a bloodshot glance took him in. "Grolsch!" Jethro hissed. The portrait slid aside, and he stepped into The Fist and Fury - Soho's most notorious lagerama.

Glass, smoked chrome, prawn-homage crisps and every variety of lager, from premium to pig, came at him from all corners. He lit a proffered Lambert & Butler, necked a Budvar and drank in the scene.

In the corner was an illegal feed of Scottish MTV full of Shakiras for the youngsters. The only drawback was poor soundproofing, which meant the jukebox was silent. But at least he could watch the vids - Clash, Stones, Jam, Oasis and Idol. And all the birds were still slags.

Then a Boadicean prow crested the waves of crop tops and cock jokes. Beach bleached hair framed 70s blue eyeliner, Caligula lips and an embonpoint you could eat your breakfast off.

"I call them my Full English," she breathed, "And you just drank my beer". She opened another bottle on her navel. "Want to try that again?"


Jethro and Marianne awoke on a bed of crisps. "Oh Jethro, I thought I was a lesbian until I met you!"

"No doubt,"
he grunted, dragging himself across to her record collection. Disappointment. It was all CAMRA approved bumptious hilarity - skiffle, Flanders and Swann, Your 100 Best Tunes, Macc Lads. Then he tugged out the vinyl itself - Cockney Rebel, the Kinks. He nearly wept.

"What did you do before They took over," Jethro asked, balancing his head on her breasts.

"I ran my own boutique," she sighed, drawing deep on her Silk Cut. "South American fabrics, Mayan calendars, panpipes, bowler hats, that sort of thing. Then the Board of Trade came round and restocked us with pre-frayed cardigans, Goblin Teasmades, meerschaum pipes and pomade. I kept the bowler hats, but sold up once they ran out."

Jethro mused that CAMRA wasn't wrong all the time.

"I've been sort of drifting since then," she continued unbidden. "I do some black market highlighting, the Belfast lingerie run. How about you?"

"I've just burned my bridges,
" he began. "Proposed turning a grim Brit war film into a saucy romp. Well, it did have Liz Fraser in it."

"That was 'Desert Mice',"
Marianne added. "You mean Sylvia Syms."

Jethro felt clammy. He tried to sit up, but the breasts held him fast. "How did you know I was working on 'Ice Cold in Alex'?"

Marianne paused, then released him. "Don't worry, they just want a word, that's all."

The bathroom door creaked open, and in ambled a Porter Police patrol in crumpled corduroy. "A beard in your earhole, old chap," grinned the commander.

Jethro stared at Marianne. "I'm sorry," she sobbed. "But they had Baileys."

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Hendrix Hundreds

"You're on now, Mr Bendix!"

Jimi muttered for the hundredth time, which meant they'd been getting it wrong on average five times a year since he arrived.

Jimi shouldered his axe and edged past the pint pots to the tiny corner stage.

"The Bontddu Hall Hotel is proud to present Jimmy Bendrix's Experiences," coughed the manager into the squawk of dust and feedback.

"Hi, croeso cynnes, I'm Jimi Hendrix, out of Washington. That's Washington State, in the US Northwest, not Washington on your Tyne. Whay aye, maaaan."


"Yeah, uh, here's something from way back. Perhaps some of you remember it. I've got some tapes, if you, uh. It's called 'All Along the Watchtower'."

"Bloody Jehovah's Witnesses!"
came a voice from the bar. Some laughter.

"Yeah, uh, cheers, diolch. So, uh, here it goes...."


"You want to warm them up with some 'Streets of London' or something before your own stuff, bobol bach! Give them a fucking chance, innit?" The manager crammed some twenties into Jimi's NCB donkey jacket pocket. "You driving home?"

"Uh, no. Gwenllian's picking me up in the Cortina."

"Have a nightcap on the house then. Shame not to. You must be parched."

"Half of lager, if that's ok. Not the Wrexham, though."

"No problemo."


"Go ok, love?"

"Sure. Some of them dug 'Foxy Lady'. Rest were pretty polite."

They clattered over the Penmaenpool Toll Bridge and headed for the coast. Jimi liked the long way back to Borth, so he could hear the waves and catch a gust of salt air with the windows down, even through the rain.

"Meic's got a new record out. I taped it. Fancy a listen?"

"Meic Stevens? Sure, why not."

Gwenllian fumbled with the stereo. A guitar struck up, and the tight, familiar voice cut through the dark in Welsh:

"See the fire in the still of the night, and smoke on the chilly breeze?... Must we pray with the Living Dead?... Too many vampires, everywhere... don't turn against your own blood..."

Jimi's head rolled down on his chin, his eyes fluttered.


"Good idea to go up country, chance to get my head straight."

"I thought the Cardiff gig went well."

"Engelbert fucking Humperdinck, man. What was that? Backstage he told me I should go for an opera name too - no one will ever get 'Hendrix' right. I told him to announce me as 'Madame Butterfly'. Fat prick."

"Chill, man. Look, we're coming up to Aberystwyth now. There's some great blokes I'd like you to meet, they've got their own scene going."

"OK, let's drive."



"No, Meic. Ah, there's not much in it. Have a drink first?"

"Sure. What's that you've got there?"

"Red wine. Pretty rank, mind. The bitter here's ok."

"I'll stick to the lager beer, thanks. Cheers."

Gwenllian brought over the drinks as Meic and his friends struck up.

"So you guys do your stuff in Gaelic?" Jimi asked afterwards, rolling a fat one.

"Welsh - fewer vowels, but more people," grinned Mike. "Like a smoke, do you? We grow something special out here in the woods, blow your mind it will."

"I'm listening,"
grinned Jimi.

"'shrooms, man. Don't have to plant them, just keep your eyes open and your nose to the ground. Not hard for us, like. Once you've gone 'cap' you don't go black, if you don't mind me saying!"

"Just show me where it's at."


The sharp bend at Aberdovey jolted Jimi awake. Across the estuary a corpse candle beckoned the unwary to Borth.

"Jesus, that brought it all back!"

"What d'you mean?"
Gwenllian changed down a gear and the sea scent receded.

"I was back in the summer of '67, when I first came up here, after the Cardiff gig. Bottom of the bill at The Capitol, behind Cat Stevens. Heh, never thought that would be me saying goodbye to the big time!"

"You miss it, don't you?"

"Dunno, I guess. I see those guys, you know, Clapton, those guys, and I think, shit, that's just the basic blues they're doing, year in year out. In the mountains, there you feel free, you dig? I'm laying stuff down for the grandkids. Maybe they'll get it, you know? Fragments, shored against my ruins."

"You what? The stuff you record down in Talybont with those stoners, on their eight-track?"

"Five-track, if it's working."

They smiled as the car crossed the Dyfi and tacked back along the shore.

"You ever hear the bells out there?"

"The Bells of Aberdovey? Don't be daft. it's just a petrified forest, like on the planet of the Daleks."

"Yeah, I do not think they will ring to me. I reckon they ring to Meic, though, don't you? You hear it in his music?"


"You miss him, don't you?"

"No! it's just, just that he's doing stuff, got records coming out, got his own company, you know? You could be doing that, instead of this - busking."

"What we're laying down, Gwen, it's -"

Silence. They drove on. Borth came up in the near distance, the sea close on their right. The Moon lit up the fringes of his hair.

"You tired, babe?"

"I like our life, Jim, I do. I like our caravan, the t-shirt printing, the market stall in Aber, the pot in the oil drum, the hunting of the 'shrooms up the Rheidol. I do. It's just that sometimes -"

"I meant, you tired of driving?"

"It's not far."

"Let me take the wheel, you rest a while".

Jimi walked around the car, and Gwenllian slid across to the passenger side. He breathed in the night air. By the time he'd settled at the wheel, she was asleep.

Jimi slipped the tape out of the stereo and back into its case. He fished in a pocket for one of his own, and set it to play. He carried Gwenllian out and lay her down in the dunes, then steered the car onto the beach.

The wheels sank down gently, but soon gained purchase as he struck out seaward towards the Atlantic waves.