Home » Apologies for everything » Each man kills the thing he loves

Each man kills the thing he loves

(First piece: Jazz alert)

I weep with joy.

Well, actually I don’t. I’m weeping because my optician tells me I have ‘dry eye’ and should drink more water. Yes, wine and coffee contain water, but both are diuretics and I am robbing my eyes of much-needed lubrication while pissing frequently in the garden.

The rest of the time I can’t see where I’m going.

I was proposing to go along with this diagnosis until, while I was signing up to another £300 pair of specs I probably won’t ever wear, I overheard him say exactly the same thing to the next customer as she was leaving. There’s a lot of it about.

No, why I am particularly emotional ce soir is because I have fortuitously stumbled across a video recording of one of the great jazz concerts, Chet Baker Live in Tokyo, 1987.

A year later, he would be dead.

I hadn’t found it before. You might pay $300 for an audio CD, outrageous as you can also pay £45, which I did, throwing caution to the winds and buying a version without sexy graphics, only to discover it on YouTube, not just as an audio download but as a living, breathing video recording.

Internet, or what? And where the hell do these people get this stuff? Thank God they do.

A trip to the Amazon produces that it is only available as an NTSC DVD  (Never Twice the Same Color). We poor boobies in Europe with our higher technical PAL standard can only be allowed to watch in lousy American technical quality. Never mind, YouTube is our friend!

Joy, especially as within minutes of acquiring it two years ago, the outrageously expensive Live in Tokyo audio CD I bought was already buggered, the great track – Elvis Costello and Marianne McPartland’s ‘Almost Blue’ – had become unplayable and wouldn’t even upload to my laptop media player.

Arborway. Surely one of the great West Coast anthems of the jazz era. That’s if any musclebound, blond-rinsed skateboarder on the West Coast appreciated jazz, fuckin’ Beach Boys, Jan ‘n’ Dean fanatics. It’s just a bit of water, get real.

Probably because he was white, and recorded a lot of slushy commercial stuff, on which he often sang in a high-pitched  girlie voice attractive to the ladies, former choirboy (!) Baker remains arguably one of the most under-regarded jazz musicians of the 1950s and ’60s; although he has many fans. To my ear, he was a better technical trumpet player than Miles Davis; although far less influential.

He dropped in and out of the scene over the years,  sometimes in gaol, and then after losing his all-important front teeth in what he said was an intimidatory attack by a drug pusher and friends, to whom he owed money. (One of his many wives is on record that he only fell downstairs while leaving a club.) And here, live in Tokyo, is the visual as well as the aural evidence of how months of retraining enabled him to play through uncertain dentures; although his singing voice is wavery and his recollection of lyrics suspect.

What made Chet such a great jazz musician?

  • Two spells of duty in an army band gave him impeccable rhythm (he could read music but didn’t know chord theory)
  • Time spent jamming with Charlie Parker, and Gerry Mulligan’s quartet
  • Huge chick-pulling ability
  • Industrial quantities of heroin
  • Immense ‘cool’
  • A mysterious death.

Baker died, falling from a second-storey window at 3 a.m. in a hotel in Amsterdam. Impressed by the quantity of heroin and cocaine in his blood, also found in the room, despite dark rumours the coroner wisely recorded a verdict of accidental death.


Each man kills the thing he loves

The famous refrain from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol echoes in my failing mind. I am a murderer.

I don’t think I’ve been this desolate, almost suicidal, for a long while. Poor Cadi, my beautiful little avocado tree, is dead.

I killed her with neglect.

I am so self-obsessed and thoughtless and crapulous, it hurts.

There was a need, you see, to remove her from the living-room windowsill to a place of safety while I was redecorating. So I carefully chose a quiet upstairs window, in my bedroom. Behind a curtain I seldom, if ever, bother to draw, as I use the room to sleep in mostly.

Every two or three days I would give her a glass of water. Eighteen months it had taken to germinate the avocado stone, before it split open and a little root began growing down into the slimy green, nutritious depths of the crab-paste jar. A few more weeks went by, and then a questing shoot emerged from the top into the light, putting out tiny leaves.

My little tree was born!

For a year she grew, putting out leaf after beautiful, big leaf, until she was over a foot tall, taller, filtering the sunlight exquisitely through her pale-green lanceolate foliage. I loved very much to watch her. And then at Easter I had to go away for a few days. I made sure to give her an extra watering beforehand.

And after I got back, as I busied myself with creating small pockets of beauty around my little house, wrestling with all the complex organisational problems of flooring and tiling, electrics and carpentry, the financial and quantity calculations, the frequent trips to B&Q for more of this and that, the idiotic emails I drunkenly sent to suppliers when I stupidly couldn’t work out how to switch the damn thing on – I completely forgot she was there.

Death by drought must be deeply painful, leaves crinkling up, your cells gasping for water, the intensifying Spring sunlight now your enemy, struggling to transpire, your systems closing down to try to conserve what moisture remains, until there is none left. Help never comes. Hope gradually dies.

Three weeks went by, until one morning I remembered I had forgotten lately to water another plant, my late friend Lou’s Money tree that I never had the chance to return to her. Semi-succulent, Money trees (Crassula ovata) can survive for months without water. But avocados can’t. Watering Lou’s little tree, that I almost killed two years ago leaving it out on the terrace to be bitten by an unexpected early frost, I suddenly remembered – Cadi!

I raced upstairs, frantically filling and refilling my toothbrush-glass and pouring draught after draught of water into her dried-out compost, too late. For several days I hoped for a revival, as her little crown still showed signs of vitality though her lower leaves drooped and rustled like paper and slowly turned brown. And then even the crown shrivelled up, and she was gone.

You cannot conceive, dear Spammers, Followers, Likers and others, the depth of my self-repugnance when things like this are let happen. I have hated myself since childhood, useless, baboon-shaped, organisationally-challenged incompetent that I am. Friendships, relationships, family, jobs, houses, cars, money – the endless jetsam of stuff and people I have lost or broken or carelessly thrown away extends bobbing like empty bottles to the horizon as I continue even into my late 60s to crash through this one-and-only life like a blind rhinoceros on a bender.

And each man kills the thing he loves… Especially himself.

I am so, so sorry.


Sofa, so good

So, I’ve finally ordered a sofa. A red one.

I’m not sure it’s such a good idea, a red sofa. Bright red; poppy red. And two red cushions with ’60s deco-ish, big white buttons.

I’ve been redecorating: neutral greys and beiges, a natural timber floor – punctuated by sudden violent outbursts of red. One more, a red sofa, could be a statement too far, I don’t know.

Red isn’t even a colour I particularly like. It’s just the vibrant immediacy of it, reflecting my bursts of anger at all sorts of things that annoy me these days; plus the fact that I’m not very good with colourways. I’ve noticed, too, that opportunistic panels of red seem to be in vogue with the BBC News set designers.

So that’s what I’ve done. It’s always best to do something, whatever it is.

Anyway, it was about three years ago that the couple came to look at my little house, that is still on the market and nobody comes to look anymore. And clustered in the sitting-room, the woman asked me suspiciously, where is my sofa?

Having a sofa is apparently de rigueur nowadays. I blame the sofa shops, with their intensive promotional TV advertising campaigns over Xmas and Bank Holidays, everything priced at ‘ninety-nine, ninety-nine’ and pay nothing for four years (until you throw it away still owing them £999.99 and recklessly order another one. It’s how they get you, people!)

I’ve paid for mine.

The implied criticism of my sad, sociopathic lifestyle has lived with me ever since.

Not wanting to admit that I didn’t have a sofa only because you couldn’t force it through my extra-narrow front door and turn it in the extra-narrow hallway to prise it into the sitting-room – it took me half an hour just to get my armchair in, and ripped the wallpaper (I had to run round the back of the house, climb over a wall and through the garden to get to the other end of the chair after it got stuck) – I made up some humoresque rejoinder about having only one bottom to sit on.

And if you think about it, what is the gain from having two seats side-by-side – cheek by jowl, as it were – next to each other like that? Unless you have a lot of visitors all at once or you are very good friends, only one person is ever going to sit on it at any one time. So an armchair plus my swivelling old leather Eames chair just in case is a perfectly adequate solution as far as I’m concerned. Anything more is a waste.

Anyway, the woman’s wounding remark finally got to me and on Friday night while mildly drunk, I ordered a cheap red sofa from Argos, that with its removable Ercol-style legs removed, just might fit through the door with a couple of experienced delivery blokes to hand – a “push-me-pull-you” crew.

And now I’m looking around the tiny room, its gorgeous new red-tiled fireplace that I created last week, its crimson rug (“Handmade in India, 100% Acrylic”), imagining it with a poppy-red sofa along one wall (not due for delivery until the 26th), and into my mind unbidden pops another judgmental (and extra-expensive) thought (‘sofa woman’ is now firmly embedded in my nexus of self-inflicted guilt-trips):

Where’s the coffee table, then?


Sterile instruments

The in-or-out EU debate that will profoundly affect British history and fortunes for the next seventy years has become stultifyingly boring, bogged down in specious economic arguments and tit-for-tat mudslinging.

It’s as if Prime Minister’s Questions has spilled over into the streets in a tide of beige puke.

I can’t listen to it.

This morning the Chancellor Mr Osborne released a report compiled at vast length and in painstaking detail by Treasury researchers, suggesting we’ll all be 6% worse off – £4.5k a year – after we leave.

The report was immediately ‘balanced’ by Mr Gove, the Justice Secretary (notice, no Economics portfolio) countering that it was all rubbish – just typical scare tactics from the Remain campaign.

Good to see he’s taken the time, done his own research and knows what he’s talking about.

Little wanker.





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