27 Nov 2013 2:01 AM
So I was livin in this apartment, up above the shops on Pitshanger Lane in Ealing. It' a pretty old place with wooden steps & floors & everything with a brick exterior. There's a shop on the ground floor a 2 floors of apartments above. Flat. I gotta say flat. Im talkin in Brittalk now. It's a flat. So anyway it's an old flat. It's got rugs & carpeting like 90% of the flats in Britland. The Parlor (living room) carpet is humid & smelly & not properly cleaned. It's full of fag burns (cigarette). It's also my bed for the next four weeks.
The flat is long & narrow. There are only windows in the parlor on the street side and at the back in the kitchen & bedroom. The kitchen overlooks a small garden (back yard) and it looks like a dump for the butcher shop just under me. In fact, all of these "gardens" are held by merchants who use them to dump stuff. There's not a hint of grass or anything else growing except mould. Great view.
The bathroom's got one of those old bathtubs that stand up on lil feet. There's a long rubber tube with a shower head. & all ya gotta do is slip it's lil rubber end over the water spout & you've got a shower! No curtain though. Gotta do it sittin down. Hot water is very limited and sometimes needs to be supplemented by water heated in the kitchen. They hid the toilet in a closet in the hallway.
In the parlor (living room) there's the usual array of studentesque, run down furniture like a broken down couch and a couple of crumbling old arm chairs; all comfortable stuff for laid back partyin. Then of course there's the fire. Everybody has a fire over there. Most are electric. A fancy one might be gas, Some of them look like lil miniature fireplaces with lil red bricks painted on them & made from cheap tin. I saw one with a lil asbestos Santa Claus hangin down the front of it. I thought that was cute. Others are just a 3ft high saucer shaped thing. It looks like a UFO but it's standin sideways on little feet. It's full of high tension wiring and throws off some heat. And they all sit around and look at it, like it was a real fire.
High up on the wall of the parlour there is a small block box with a tiny padlock on it. If you put 50P coins in it, you get gas, just in case you wanna heat the flat a little bit or cook some grub (food). Once every so often, the gas man comes around, reads the meter and empties the coin box. I remember coming home from the pub drunk one night. And I was kinda curious about that thing. So I got to lookin at it & playin round with it a bit and the lock came off in my hand. It just came right off. I din pull it or nuttin & it came off. So I don't know why but I sort of went into a panic. Maybe because I was drunk. But I wasn't sure what to do. So I called the telephone operator & got the emergency gas number. Then when I got the guy I told him about the lock and how I was just fiddling with it because I never seen one before and how we don't have these in America and how the thing just come off in my hands and I din want to steal any money from the gas company cuz Im an American tourist and I din want to get in no trouble and I din mean no harm and.....What? Uhhhhhhh 242 Pittshanger Lane in Ealing. Yes sir. Thank you sir. clk. Whew. He said I wan gonna get'n no truble. But wha was he laughin boout?
So I take a walk around my new neighborhood and look at the shops. Oh the Brits love their shops. There's Trustcos Groceries & Off License (liquor store), and McCreadie's Butcher and the Brady Fishmonger (monger?) Harrison's wine cheese beers spirits tobacco. Why the cheese but no crackers? There's Madam Tawdry's Best Lady's Fashions and a launderette. There's the Rathchester DIY followed by a dry cleaners, and William Hill Bookmakers (bookies). There is the standard Pakirun Daily Mail News Shop with cigarettes & lottery tickets. John Martin Estates (real estate), Charlie's Fruit bowl, The Director's Cut Gentlemen's Hair Cutters ( so where does the word barber come from?) Ealing Pharmacy, Pitshanger Book Shop, Pitshanger Village Bakery, Pitshanger Shoe Repair, Mirage Opticians, Hook & Clever High Class Butchers (there's that class thing again), Busby's Beauty Hair Wig shop, Coopertive Grocery store, Stems Flower Gallery and 50 other shops of various persuasion. A shopper's paradise.
Dining on Pitshanger Lane is equally exciting with the choice of Blue Ocean Fish & Chips where they used to wrap your fish in old news papers and Pizza Piccolo in standard Italian red, green & white. West Kebab is right next to Samarat Indian Cuisine and Sushi World. Just down the block is Golden Dragon Chinese & Peking cuisine, Pizza House Mediterranean Restaurant and the Pitshanger Lane Cafe' with the lil accent thingy over the e, Cool?
And then there's the Kent. That's the local pub or Public house. There is a wine bar, Marra's Wine & Oyster Bar for intellectuals, benders and Arsenal supporters. But the pub is the true heart and soul of the neighborhood. Many pubs are owned and run by larger brewing companies as an outlet for their products. A Free House is an independently owned pub that can sell any beer they choose. My particular London favorite is Fullers with their popular ESB or Extra Special Bitter. ESB I am told is a "real" beer meaning that it is full of yeast and still alive. I found it interesting that after 3 pints of EBS, the blankets would begin to hover over me at night.
A pub needs a grand name to be a real pub. The Brits like to name their pubs after their royalty with stuff like The Duke of Kent and the Duchess of Raspberry. Or they make up names for the archetypal British pub that in their own minds somehow reflects on their heritage or national character. For example, there are over 600 pubs with the name Red Lion in England. There's also multiple pubs named Rose and Crown, The Trafalger, The Helmsman, The Talbot Arms and the Purple Pansy. There are of course, always a few oddballs like the Bucket of Blood, the Goat & Compass, the Bull and Spectacles or the Hung, Drawn & Quartered. There's a rather exclusive pub in Mayfair that caters to female professionals called the Nicely Hung, with all male waiters.
So the Kent's a nice place. I've been there with my buddies a few times and met the Gov or Governor (the boss) and other patrons. I am predictably known as the Yank (ass hole). It's a big & comfy place with lots of booths to sit at & tables out there in the middle and a few places at the bar. The graffiti in the loo (bathroom) is really great fun to read. The Brits can be very prolific when they're pissin. But there's one bartender in the Kent I don't get. Every time he serves me, he starts talkin about my Uncle Bob. Well how's he know I got an uncle? There's even an Off License attached to it so you can buy one for the road after the last bell when they tell you to bugger off.
But apparently I broke a minor rule of etiquette in there one night. I remember London had just been hit by a terrible snow storm, a blizzard by their standards and the whole city was paralyzed. There must have been a quarter inch of snow on the streets and nothing was moving. It was a cold night and the winds were howling. I asked me mates (my friends) if they wanted to go to the pub and they answered me with something like " 're ya 6's and 7's? It's fokin monkeys outside mate. Piss off!" But when they saw I was fixin to go anyway, they asked "Could ya brin' us a couple of bottles of Hammer and Tack from the bloody Frank Bough license? And maybe a bottle of plonk while yer at it." I got the bottles part. So I pulled on those big ole boots of mine & put on my Muff Diver sweatshirt with another vest over that and pulled my ski mask down and headed to the pub.
I stopped at the off license first to pick up those bottles. When I walked in, the guy just stared at me with great big eyes & didn't say hello or anything. I picked up 2 bottles of London Pride and a bottle of the cheapest red wine I could find. I handed them to him. Then I handed him 5 quid (pounds) (where I grew up a quid was a load of spit you'd coughed up to shoot at somebody) So he took the bottles from me, rang up the price on the cash register, put my money in the box, handed me correct change and my bottles in a bag without ever breaking eye contact with me or speaking a word. He just kept starin at me. Weird.
So I left the license & went into the pub. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh What quiet. Hmm? I mean it was total silence in there. You could have heard a pin drop on a carpet. & Im thinkin, that's odd. This is usually a pretty lively place. Did I step in some pavement pizza? I turn around and see the guy from the off license has run into the pub from the back door and is holdin the Gov's arm & pointing at me & sayin something. So I pull off my jacket & hat and then hear this collective SIGHHHHHH and the whole place goes back to talking. Then the Gov runs over, grabs me by the arm and screams "YANK!!!!" I understood there was something about my attire he didn't like. I guess he doesn't care for skiing. & He ranted at me for 5 minutes about it & all the people at the bar had a real good laugh too. He sure was mad at me about something. So I had a quick beer & went home. When I got home, my friends were happy to see those bottles appear without them havin to get off their butts. I even opened them. So they said Cheers Jim & how was the pub & all. I told them fine although there was something I hadn't understood. What's the IRA anyway? "Wot 're ya on abaht mate?" They heard all about it from the Gov the next day & never let me live it down.
Girls can be a bit of a problem there. Those London ladies all think they're the queen. I don't mean to say they got chit under their noses but there is a drop or two of rabbit urine under there I think. They keep their noses up pretty well. It's hard to joke with them. They don't seem to understand redneck humor. They all talk in coded subtleties and understated dry Brit wit, but the simple things seem to just fly by them. I found them hard to understand. I never did "Get my leg over" a girl. You can imagine what that means. But I did seem to amuse them. I was like this rustic colonial, who had come to see England for the first time. They thought I was quaint. Make that 3 drops.
There was this one time my friends had to go somewhere and I'd come along for the ride. So we stopped at this chick's flat for a while. Her name was Sally. Sally was pretty cool. She told me about how she'd been to Philadelphia & how she knows how to make a cheese steak sandwich. And she even said how she'd like to make one for me. And she seemed to like all things American and we just got on real well. She was smilin a lot & Im sure she winked at me once. So when it came time to go, I decided to risk it & I told my friends I was gonna just call a mini cab and head back to Pitshanger Lane. I was tired & didn't really want to stay out late. Well they said they'd wait for my cab to arrive. I told them I'd be fine & they could go. And then Sally told them that it's gonna take long time for that cab to get here & they really didn't need to wait. But they insisted. They were good friends & since they'd brought me here, waitin to make sure I get a cab home was the least they could do. Dam They just don't get it, do they? So she goes to call the minicab which gets there in record time. As I'm leaving, she stops me at the door, slips me her phone number, pulls me close and whispers cheeeeeeese steak & I'm gone. Dam again.
I checked the name on her door bell so I'd know which flat was hers, the next time I came back. Salisbury. Got it. Then I got into the cab and we're on our way. So I told the cab driver "You sure got here quickly. I thought it would take you longer." And the cabbie says, " Oh I know where the place it & I was close by. I've picked up lots of blokes here." Yeah? Then after a pause he says, "Well I didn't mean to make it sound like that, mate. Uhh, Im sure she's a proper lass." Hmm Maybe they did get it.
So back at the flat one day, someone came to the door and I answered it. It was this woman who lived upstairs. She was late 30ish, couldn't be far north of 40 in any case. Short cropped hair & sensible dress, spoke proper Britspeak, she could have been a librarian, or worked in a museum maybe.
She introduced herself as Cora. Cora Pearl. "Jim Cregan, pleased to meet you." So he told me that she'd heard there was an American living in the building and had come to meet him, being me of course. So we talked for a minute, where ya from?, how do you like it here?, etc. Then she invited me to come to dinner the next night. I thought that was nice of her. I thanked her and told her I would be there and she left. When my buddy came home, I told him about her coming by and inviting me to dinner & all. Ain't that cool? "Tah Mate" is all he said.
The next night as I am getting ready, there's about 5 guys there, all sittin in a semi circle around the electric flying saucer and keepin warm. I come in, they're passin joints back & forth & swiggin plonk and I hear: "Well In'cha the dog's dinner tonoight Jim?." And someone asks: " 'ey jim, wheaya goin?" and my buddy says: "He's off to see a man bout a dog." And then another says "Jim's on da bloody pull' and then they all jump in: " 'e's 'eadin' up the chuffin' apples and pears to av a giraffe wit a slappa." "A bit of Rumpy-Pumpy ehhhh mate?"
So then they got to talkin about poor Cora liked they all knew her. "Daft cheeky cow she is." " Aye. that she is. She's off her fokin trolley" "Keep a mince pie on ya twigs and berries Mate. She's lost the plot, that one." "She's the dog's bollocks Jim. Ave a good time" So I try to explain to these guys that I'm just going to dinner and really don't expect anything else to happen. "Tossa!!!" So I left.
The evening went well. Cora was a very good cook and very enjoyable company. She was well informed on Marine Biology, Ornithology and tales of the old Canadian frontier. She could converse on many topics actually, but she never tried to show off. She was in total control of her faculties and she treated me well. She never made fun of my accent or asked stupid questions about America or called me Yank. At the end of the evening, I thanked her again, we shook hands and I left. I swear.
So when I got back, the committee was still in session albeit, a little more slumped into those chairs and they got on me again. "ow's yer fatha Jim?" "Ya stonka get to see Fanny mate?" And someone asks "Why'd she drag the bloody septic tank up dere?" "I 'eard she's up the duff. She prolly lookin' fer a fatha." " So did ya get ya leg ova Jim? Don be tellin porkies." "Fok off! 'e got Sweet Fanny Adams. The yank's gormless." So I explained to them about what a quiet, pleasant night it had been and that nothing unusual has happened. "sod off yank!" "bog rite off ya bum" "Wy's ya fly open mate?" And I was stupid enough to look down.
Enough for now.