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Chapter 489
The Judgement Day

All the post offices are disappearing round our way. The main post offices. The sub post offices. Not making enough profit. Not paying for their selves. Whatever that means. So the post offices have gone. Very controversial. Although the one that was on the corner came in place of something else, and I thought that controversial at the time, so I suppose what goes around comes around. Before it was a sub post office and newsagent and a place that sold loads of overpriced things nobody should really want, it was a second hand record shop. A really tatty, scruffy shop run by a Richard Brautigan lookalike and his girlfriend of the moment. Really you wonder how they survived as long as they did. You sense it was for them just something to do and somewhere to go. They would seem amazed if someone wanted to buy a record. They weren’t a specialist place or anything. A bit of this and that. I didn’t buy much in there really. But there was a time it had a supply of old ska and bluebeat singles. Battered unloved things, but for our barely-into-our-teens selves sweetly singing The Israelites this was manna from heaven.

In those distant days we were more magpie than maven. Not that there’s anything wrong in that. And we pretty much bought up that old hippy’s stock of old bluebeat and ska singles. We learnt a valuable lesson that way. Take any genre of music and you can pretty much guarantee there’s a sharp split between the indispensible and the downright throwawayable. Some of the stuff we bought in good faith was pretty awful. Others I value to this day. Like Laurel Aitken’s Judgement Day. Okay maybe it is more straight rhythm and blues than bluebeat but what the heck. It’s got what it takes. Whatcha gonna do on the judgement day, asks Laurel? Sit around and play your rock ’n’ roll records in the same old way, he responds. Amen to that sir, we would say, prancing round the room to its rumbustiously rollicking rhythms. What a song! I feel closer to the primitive sound it had than I do now to the hi-tech digitised compressed stuff on the radio. Oh well. It’s funny though, the chain of coincidences that culminated in chancing on that old single.

Bluebeat and ska. The Clash and the Specials. They first pointed us in that direction. Just like much later Bob Dylan’s radio shows would get us more deeply into the blues and hillbilly and other source sounds. Safe European Home though. That’s where we first heard of bluebeat and ska. Where we first heard the words. Barely-into-our-teens. Then read about it in Generation X. Not the Douglas Copeland one, no. The ‘60s oral history insight into youth culture. And new opened eyes and ears lapping up old Jamaican music. Connections. Clues. Education. Osmosis. That’s what it’s all about. Ah we were so shaped by the music and musicians of that time. To the extent that when we had been sitting around too long listening to our rock ‘n’ roll records in the same old way we were in danger of suffering from the loafer’s lurgy which is a certain state of laxness and lethargy. We thought we needed to do something about it, and got to talking about Dexys Midnight Runners and one of our favourite incarnations of this great outfit. Namely the one where they were more like monks and boxers than anything else. A complete inspiration. The emphasis on discipline. Mentally and spiritually. We came to the conclusion we needed some of that to shape ourselves up. To sharpen ourselves up. One thing wandering round the streets of a city looking for new pleasures. Another to have a sense of purpose.

So we started running. Doing exercises out of doors. Returning to the tai chi exercises we had once done. But running. We were wary though. We didn’t want to seen as joggers. That would have been horrible. We were Tom Courtenays running for our lives. Not yuppies running round Central Park. We did pretty well. Out there in our old retro track suits. Vintage trainers. Puma States. That sort of thing. Before they became a big thing. Again. Well before that.

Early afternoon was our time. We’d walk round the park. Then do our running. Like in that old Purple Hearts song you’ve probably never heard where Bob Manton sings about the park being deserted in the week. That was the good thing about it. We could do our own thing. Bit of sprinting. A canter round the lake. A run round the mulberry tree. We got into shape little by little. And the good thing about it was that we were really disciplined about it, which was our aim. But it is easier said than done. This was the spring. So it was the right time for such exertions. The winter behind us. The summer heat away in the distance, probably sometime never.

I guess if there were downsides it was the dog situation. People and their dogs were the other parties that used the park during the week. I suppose they had a right. Now I don’t know about you but I’m not a dog person. Give me a cat any old day. There’s something about a cat. Feline grace. Independence. An aloofness. But dogs? Nah, not me. And I really wasn’t that keen on them when they were off their leashes and roaring round the park like they owned the place. Worse still was when they decided to join in on our runs. Now that I really did not like. No sir. But you got used to some of them. Saw the same ones every day. Like us the dog walkers and their mutts were creatures of habit. Disciplined in their way. That was one thing I did approve of. Envied the dog walkers in a way. The companionship of the dog I guess. And so on. I’m trying not to come across all James Thurber like on you.

As I said we got used to seeing certain dogs out with their owners. There was one very scruffy little herbert I was always amused by. He was either the most horribly mixed up mongrel or an exceptionally rare pedigree terrier. He was a real character and a right little yapper and scamperer. Out of the group it was our Redhead who was the dog fan, with a couple of red setters in the family. And the scruffy little herbert seemed to know instinctively that our Redhead would be a good chum to chase. So it wasn’t unusual to see this funny bundle of fur flying along in the wake of our Redhead’s progress round the park, much to its owner’s amusement.

So it was on one particular day we were running down towards the lake. A beautiful spring day. And suddenly there was that pesky little terrier yapping away and scurrying after our Redhead. All very touching. Instinctively taking a breather we looked round for the owner, but strangely she seemed nowhere to be seen. Funny, we thought, but carried on our way. The terrier was sticking with our Redhead like Steve Ovett on Seb Coe’s trail. Ah that dates me doesn’t it? Always an Ovett man myself, but hey ho. Around the lake and back to the mulberry tree. But still no sign of the scamp’s owner. Uh oh trouble in store, we thought. Our Redhead suggested we had a runaway on our hands. We were less than impressed, and were inclined to leave the lad and his lassie to it. But the situation did have its funny side.

Seeing our Redhead stood there with this ridiculous mop type thing in his arms made us giggle. And the puns were flowing. Ah, a dog day afternoon. Dig the new breed! Played any Bow Wow Wow records recently? Rufus Thomas wolf whistles. A touch of the Marvin Gayes singing how he wouldn’t be doggone he’d be long gone. Which is what we proposed. Okay then maestro, we asked our Redhead, what’s the plan? Well it seemed he had an inkling where the mini mutt called home, so we set off that a way. Or rather we left the redhead to it, suddenly remembering we had urgent appointments. Ah the spirit of the three musketeers eh? Well, it didn’t need four of us to return a pooch did it?

Anyway, when we next caught up with our Redhead we wondered whether we had done the right thing in leaving the lad to it. Ah conscience. Anyway. Seems he did indeed track down the scamp’s owner, and found that the little mutt had done a runner, knowing the route to the park only too well. The owner had been heartbroken when the fiend had vamooshed, and suspected foul play for the terrier was very valuable and came from a family of TV and film celebrities, a long line of canine character actors with more bit parts in TV than you could care to mention. Just been signed up for a series of commercials to do with a new brand of dog food too, and it would have been decidedly awkward if he’d gone AWOL. Suffice to say there was a substantial reward in it for our Redhead, which he was most reluctant to share anywhere other than at the record shack. Hmm. Oh and the dog’s name? Laurel. Would you believe it?

Funnily enough as the summer approached the passion for running waned. And it’s never really been something I’ve wanted to return to. Oh it’s good to keep yourself in shape and all that, but as for discipline? Well I think I’m much more suited to the monastic or scholastic life. A deckchair in the garden and good book, with Rosa Luxemburg’s writings or Alain-Fournier or something. Did I mention one of our Redhead’s own Red Setters was called Rosa?

© 2008 John Carney
Illustration © 2008 Alistair Fitchett