Cobblers for the Revolution!

I read a bit out loud each morning to inspire me. Ivan Illich is my new guru: ‘Vehicles have created more distances than they helped to bridge.’ He wrote that in Tools for Conviviality. If I’m still down I roll myself a one-skinner, always does the trick.

cobblersTraffic pounds above my head. And the Big-Brother helicopter is always in the sky, charting the street life of Hackney. ‘Down the stairs and down the years,’ that’s how I feel as I step into my basement shoemaker’s workshop. The world is going mad but I feel safe down here – this house was built at the time of the Napoleonic Wars.

The green revolution could be here now if people made their own shoes and if we travelled only as far as our shoe leather would allow – it would bring us back to our roots. The quality of life would return, we should have time for things. Illich put it well: ‘Development must be in terms of low and not high energy use’.

I like sitting at my bench, working at this gentle art of last and awl, threading and stitching. I make handmade shoes for the wealthy – these Oxford brogues are for an old customer. Those rich buggers don’t deserve such perfection, but some of them really appreciate it, I have to say.

Mind you, it’s just as bad that most of Hackney is walking around in mass-produced trainers, all that sweatiness and petrochemicals. Then they chuck them away, never nurtured, never loved. Of course, everyone recycles tins and bottles with evangelical fervour, we all eat our organic carrots and stuff our faces with muesli. That’s fine, but it’s only scratching the surface.

Don’t they realise! If they made their own shoes, and saw the limits of their walking potential as the limits of their world, then a real sense of community would begin. There’s a lot of bollocks in Green politics these days, it’s run by politically-correct boy scouts and girl guides.
I made a poster for my wall, yes you guessed it, a slogan from my guru:

TRANSPORTATION BEYOND BICYCLE SPEEDS DEMANDS
POWER INPUTS FROM THE ENVIRONMENT

You’ve got it, Ivan! Those speeds are destroying our planet and the pleasure of our life. Okay, I’m going on, my sister is always telling me that, but when you live in a world that’s crazy but pretends it’s sane, the way to be truly sane is not to be afraid to be crazy. I was trying to get that across to an attractive woman at a party last week. Well, I can see it wasn’t the best chat-up line. Didn’t get anywhere. Pity, she was very fit, as they say.

A good shoe should last for fifteen years. Making a shoe is like a history lesson, but all the kids seem to live in a vacuum of designer logos and fast food. They connect to nothing.

Jesus, I sound sad. But here’s another example. At the party last week, they held it at the top of the Samuel Pepys, the pub attached to the Hackney Empire. Well, there was really crappy music coming out of the crap Big Screens. Then they showed a baseball match, then some twenty-twenty cricket where none of the players look like cricketers. There was no English draught beer on tap, it was mostly lagers from America and Poland and Holland, all with silly names and prices. There should have been a local band playing in the corner.

Buses, cars, motorbikes, all those planes scarring the sky. The planet is dying from our hysteria of movement. Tapping away at the shoes on my bench, turning, kneading, reading the stresses and strains of the leather makes me still. Shoes are like my prayer books, my litany of living. If I believed in God I should be a shoe-making monk. We should all give up our obsessions with goods and with speed. As always, Ivan has a phrase for it: ‘Joyful Renunciation’. What is the worst thing the modern world has done?: taken away people’s power to dream, to use their own imaginations…
Getting carried away again. I love the history of footwear: ‘Wellington’, now that was a good boot, though there were some awful ones around in those days – the poor old soldiers suffered from their job-lot boots.

I was born in this house, Dad was a factory inspector, Mum was a district nurse. I went to an old-fashioned grammar school, then did the hippy thing, and after that a degree in philosophy at Swansea, then Cordwainer’s for shoemaking. If you were born in Hackney everyone thinks you must be a yob. Actually, I taught in a secondary school before getting into shoes.

Both my parents are dead now, buried near Worthing, where they had a bungalow. My sister and me, Lucy, we split up the house, she’s in the top, I’ve got the bottom two floors.

Life’s all right. Used to be in a local rock group, used to be married too, but I think I was more in love with my shoes. Anyway, my wife went off with her acupuncturist. We got married too young. They’re living in Bristol now.

The smell of good leather matures, becomes alive under the touch of a finger. Connecting the shoe together – the welt and throat and top edge, the waist and the sole – until you have made something almost as complete as a person, and far less quarrelsome. The trainer-footed world has turned its back on this inheritance that could save it.

Must put on a jumper. Hackney begins to feels cleaner in November, and the basement colder. The ghosts in this house prefer the softness of autumn, as if summer bleaches them out of existence…

I love the beauty of boots most. I collect them. Those Nazi Jackboots are always at the top of the stairs, they’re authentic. When I imagine them pounding down on their heavy soles I am reminded of the fascist state just under the surface of things. Today, the shoes may be softer, and the surveillance more subtle, but it means the same thing: the state can get you when it wants to.

Anyway, consider marching boots, well, it’s a whole way of telling history: all the places those boots have trod, the routes they took, the importance of the army cobblers who kept the footwear together.

In the First World War it was the ordinary soldier who suffered from trench foot, the water and mud squelching through the lace holes. Of course the British army boot came out of the Blucher boot. The officers had their top boots, much better.

Cavalry boots are the most beautiful, with their bucket tops, I made a pair in college, still got them, half way up the stairs. Cromwell’s people knew a thing or two about boots, so do the Americans, credit where credit is due – those cowboy boots at the bottom of the stairs, amazing tooling, superb leather, got those from a bootmaker in Texas ten years ago.

If people wore proper leather shoes and boots, the level of consciousness, I mean that in the Marxist sense, would rise dramatically. Ban superstores, ban trainers, stop fast movement, and people will reconnect. You think that’s mad? Not as mad as what goes on up there, is it? Anyway, I’m off to Budapest on a cheap flight for a long weekend with an old mate. Don’t look at me like that, you can’t help a few contradictions.

Listen to stories from ‘Fragmented’ and ‘Swimming with Diana Dors’

bookscombo

Jeremy Worman’s latest collection, Swimming with Diana Dors and other stories, was published by Cinnamon Press in June 2014. Barbara Hardy wrote: ‘Worman’s new collection reminds us what Henry James meant when he said the writer must be someone on whom nothing is lost, and it shows what the short story can do – memorialise place and time, concentrate feeling, relationship, sensation and history, in glimpses and vivid moments.’

Fragmented, my collection of short stories about London was published in 2011 by Cinnamon Press (partly funded by an Arts Council grant). Fragmented charts a personal journey from 1970s squatter to life in Hackney now. Fragmented is widely available. It is also on Kindle and may be downloaded from Amazon.

Swimming with Diana Dors:
www.amazon.co.uk/Swimming-Diana-D…es/dp/1909077224
Fragmented:
www.amazon.co.uk/Fragmented-Jerem…an/dp/1907090347

Listen to Jeremy reading radio versions of some of the stories:

Terry

(Published in Multi-Storey 2, January 2001. Broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester, February 2001. Winner of competition)

When it rains in Salford I can taste salt in the raindrops, you know when you put your head up. I love sitting by the window in the front room in the dark. It’s started to drizzle and the days are drawing in. I think it’s the chemical factory, that’s where I worked since school, two A levels. Once I moved out of home for a month but something pulled me back, Mother I suppose.

I was always her little Terry, but sitting here I feel myself. Twenty-five-years a technician at the chemical factory isn’t everyone’s idea of an exciting life, but it suited me, all in all. I’m set in my ways, I know that. And since Mother died, two years this September, I’ve slowed up. I’ve done some tidying on the house, a Victorian terrace, otherwise I’ve been rather quiet.

‘Just do that for me will you, Terry love?’ Ooh, there was no end to it.

I don’t go out much, but I’m free inside now, that’s the difference. I get on very well with the neighbours. That’s Bola, she’s Nigerian. They moved in last year. I had a dinner round there recently, very interesting. And she wears the most lovely clothes, multicoloured material that wraps round and round. They brought some colour to the street.

Time I thought of something for tea. On a Friday I often have a takeaway, there’s a lovely Indian on the corner of Maygrove Street, but I’m feeling rather withered, you know. I might just take a mozzarella and ham pizza from the freezer and watch a video. Why not? I’m my own master now.

I love Marilyn Monroe. I’ll watch Some Like it Hot tonight, one of her very best, 1959. And all those cheeky chaps dressing up as women. Marlon and Clint, the budgies, are making such a racket behind me, but I’m very fond of them and they keep fit. We make each other laugh.

I’m going to Knutsford on Sunday, lunch with Veronica, my big sister. It’s good to get out. She was a dental nurse, married the dentist, Derek Palmer. His family are from Lytham, near the golf course. She must have given him laughing gas before he agreed. No children.
It’s a bloody ugly street, there’s no denying that.
‘Come fair bombs and fall on Salford.’

There were never much beauty in our family. Father worked in the power station, stoked boilers or summat like. He looked like a boiler too. Had this very loud voice and shouted ‘Hey up’ down the street to his mates. I don’t think he’d ever heard of art or films or film stars. He followed rugby league.

Every time he came back from a match, it was ‘Do you good, bit of rugby. You’re too soft, lad.’

I was always a thin boy, willowy, and I liked to wear my dark hair a bit long. I thought I looked nice when I smiled into the mirror after a bath, and held the little towel tight around my waist. I’ve hazel eyes and I’d pucker my lips like a film star.

If you sprinkle a little parsley on a pizza, it’s very nice. I’ll have a few glasses of Soave. Why not? I’m not short of a few bob.

I do water colours in my spare time. I might take it further one day. Dad smoked forty a day, drank stout. Over twenty-years-ago the old boiler just blew up, heat attack, Saturday afternoon, after his team Wigan had lost to St. Helens. It was a blessing, all in all.

Greta Garbo is my favourite, that feeling for the camera, those wonderful dresses, that face. Camille, Anna Karenina. I know every scene by heart. ‘You shouldn’t watch them so much,’ Mother used to say, ‘Get out more.’ But if I did she was the first to moan.

Just before Mother died I had trouble at work. Some of the lads started to taunt me. It seemed to be raining all the time and Mother had just been diagnosed. I’d got too friendly with Jimmy, a young boy in accounts. Made a fool of meself. I’d never encouraged that side of me before.
‘Quiet down, Marlon!’

I had this recurring idea that when God made the earth he gave Salford to the devil to play with, it was that ugly. I used to cry myself to sleep at night in the back room and imagine the clogs of the dead shuffling to work. And Mother used to stare at me.

Oh goodness! I thought I saw Mother coming down the street then. Sometimes I’m convinced it’s her, or me Dad – and then I’m so delighted it can’t be. Wicked, I know but she wouldn’t understand.

The doctor gave me uppers, I didn’t want to talk. On the way out, he said: ‘There’s nothing wrong, you know, your erotic feelings, nothing wrong at all.’
‘How dare you!’ I said.

But the doctor’s words kept repeating in my mind. What a nerve! When I got home I put on Anna Karenina to calm me down, and Garbo was wearing a long silky dress. I could almost feel its softness on my skin. Dad’s voice kept coming into my mind and I saw his image in the mirror: ‘You’re too quiet, lad.’ He was such a bully and everything about him was ugly, ugly, ugly.

It’s almost dark now, but I feel so bright inside me these days.

Anyway, after coming back from the doctor’s, I couldn’t settle. I went into the wardrobe where Veronica, my sister, had left a lot of her things. My heart was racing. I tried a dress, then a skirt and a slip. I felt so nice, so right, and I burst into a flood of tears.

I just sat there in front of the mirror, making up with a bit of old eyeliner and lipstick I’d found in the bottom of the wardrobe. Then I went downstairs and watched Anna Karenina all over again.

I’ll pour myself a glass of that Soave and sit here for another ten minutes before I draw the curtains. I’m going to paint the windows before the winter. I do it all myself.

After my first experience of dressing up, I bought a wig and other bits and pieces.

At the end of our street there’s a big billboard with Marilyn Monroe advertising cigarettes, and drinking a glass of champagne in the moonlight.
Oh, that’s lovely wine. I’m wearing my black cocktail dress tonight, blond wig, nicely made-up. I could almost be there, in that advertisement, drinking champagne. I’d call myself Jasmine.

When I’m like this, I’m me, only me. I’ve got no family, no Mother looking over me like I’m a bad smell. I’m just Jasmine and I don’t have any past at all.

It’s not a bad life, all in all, looking up at Marilyn. It’s started to drizzle. Marilyn’s lower lip is tilted upwards. I wonder if she can taste the salt in the raindrops too?

Watch “Terry”

Terry ponders his life in Salford, now that his parents have passed away. A certain silver screen bombshell provides distant inspiration in the gloom.

Story by Jeremy Worman, and appears in “Swimming with Diana Dors”.
With William Wyld as Terry.
Filmed, edited and produced by Alexander Mayor for Papercasting.

Swimming with Diana Dors and other stories

swimming-with-diana-dors-webIn his first collection of short fiction, Fragmented, Jeremy Worman traced a narrative from hippy squatter in the seventies to established husband, father and lecturer reflecting on life in inner city London in the present. In Swimming with Diana Dors he digs deeper, bringing to life memorable characters who remain with the reader. Variously personal, elegiac, political, and humorous, the stories range over themes of outsiders, loss, death, ghosts, change and the importance of place, with many stories set in London.

Several stories have been previously published in anthologies and literary magazines, including Signals-2 and Signals-3 (London Magazine Editions),The London Magazine, Ambit, The Frogmore Papers, Pen Pusher and The Penniless Press.  ‘Terry’ was broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester.

 

Buy on Amazon

 

Madame Sossi

(Published in Pen Pusher, Summer 2008)

I was doing a little shopping in Berwick Street market. Bobby, who sells exotic fruits, called out, ‘Madame Sossi, where’s that blonde bombshell you promised me last week?’ ‘Be patient,’ I said, ‘wait for Jupiter to enter Capricorn next week, that’ll do the trick.’

Scallops for my supper tonight. Of course, I’m long retired, though I still do a few séances for favoured clients, but it’s only pocket money. I’m well provided for. But Soho isn’t what it was.

Last week, who should I see in the mirror but Dylan, Dylan Thomas. He’s always sober these days, radiant: ‘Hello, my petalled rosebud’ (what a voice); ‘How is my angel of the eternal valleys?’

Poor Dylan, he was up here in January 1953. I was at my peak then, ‘Mademoiselle Sossi Predicts’ had just begun in the Daily Sketch, lovely figure, auburn hair, long Diana Dors dresses, a bust that hypnotized. I said to Dylan, we’d all been out to dinner at the Eiffel Tower, ‘Don’t go to America, Dylan, don’t go!’ He roared, ‘Will it be my ruin, you mermaid of the deeps?’ His hands lurched round me, ‘Give me the strength, you lissom temptress. You are my ruin, you, you – come to me!’

I never…with Dylan. You wouldn’t have known where he’d been. He had a place in Redcliffe Street then, Earls Court, but he stayed with anyone who would accommodate him, and many did. Poor Dylan. I couldn’t sleep while he was in America. My calling is not an easy one.

I was born in Ladbroke Grove in 1925, if you can believe it, and “ruined” in 1941 on a summer’s day in a boat on the Thames at Cookham. It was the making of me. My mother, Betty Turpin, was red with rage. She knew the moment I walked in: ‘You bloody trollop, who you been with?’ I licked my lips.

On the boat with Luigi I saw an aura round his head like flowing silk scarves. I had been touched by the gift. Luigi encouraged my calling. He had a revue bar in Brewer Street and gave me a job as a receptionist, as well as finding me a flat at the top of a house near Golden Square.

The mirror is going misty, always a sign I’ll be visited later.

I moved in to Golden Square on 17 April 1942. There was an old medium and astrologer living in Lexington Street, Miss Veronica Hanson, she’d been a friend of Annie Besant (I’ll put those scallops in the frying-pan, with a little oil, lemon, parsley). I studied with ‘Miss Veronica’ for two years. One day she said, ‘You need a name, darling – “Rosie Turpin” lacks refinement perhaps? – and El-o-Cu-Tion lessons. Does bloody wonders for business.’

Luigi arranged for Sybil Merchant to give me voice lessons. I love the smell of scallops cooking, and the colour, like eating jewels of the sea. Luigi was so kind and I called myself ‘Mademoiselle Sossi’ (It was the Daily Sketch that introduced the ‘Madame’). He was Luigi Rossi but his wife would have been unhappy if I’d called myself ‘Rossi’. One of my early clients, a Polish cavalry officer, used to say to me, ‘My special angel, my darling, you’re so saucy, saucy,’ which sounded like ‘sossi’. So Sossi it was.

As my voice became more refined it was marvellous not sounding like mother. But she found out where I was living. One evening she waited until Luigi arrived, then jumped on him, kicking and screaming wildly. It was very bad for business.

Darling Luigi had troubles with the taxman and a gang of Maltese thugs – he fled home to Sicily with his wife and children. That was in January 1944. I never heard from him again. There have been no sightings from the other side.

These scallops are gorgeous, and with a little green salad, rye bread. Soho is not what it was though – lots of young men with firm bottoms and girls with badly applied make-up. As my old friend Don Lawson used to say, ‘They’re just designer bohos, sweetie.’ I won’t bother with the curlers tonight.

One night, towards the end of the war, December 1944, mother stood drunk outside my flat for three hours. I pretended I wasn’t in. All associations between us were over. She was shouting some quite horrible things about poor Luigi, and what a slut I was. I’d had enough. The next morning an old acquaintance gave me an introduction to a disciple of Aleister Crowley.

So, in January 1945, I travelled into deepest Surrey to meet one of Mr Crowley’s protégés. I handed him a large fee and a brooch of mother’s that she’d given me years ago. We went into the woods and in a most potent ceremony a curse was placed on mother. A tension began to leave me at once.

On 21 February 1945 a handsome policeman came to my flat and told me that mother had dropped dead waiting for the 43 bus (they found my address in her handbag). I could have kissed him.

It’s lovely lying in bed, watching telly. I’m never lonely. Jeffrey Bernard still visits me, ‘Hello, lover, time for a vodka?’ – and could he drink vodka! I hope you’re happy on the astral plane, Jeffrey. He gave me a tip last week, ‘Running Wild’, in the 2.30 at Catterick – came in last. Some things never change.

I think I’ll go to sleep in a minute. General de Gaulle loved Soho, virtually set up his headquarters at the French Pub – a most attractive man considering he was so ugly. I did his astrological chart – but I mustn’t go into this, I’m probably still bound by the Official Secrets Act. I love these soft pillows. Never economize on pillows.

And duck feather duvets, what an invention! I never married, not that I was short of offers. It’s funny being so popular at my age…