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Freud in the Fridge
A few weeks after the party the Sloops called up and made a big fuss of presenting me with a large arty print rolled tightly inside a long cardboard tube that they said was a belated house warming present. They were both convinced that it would look just fabulous on the wall above my bed. The print was ‘A Tiny Tale of a Tiny Dwarf’, by Paul Klee.
Jean joked that the original was probably worth thousands of pounds but as they were now hard up students living on a tight budget, I’d have to make do with a copy from the newly opened trendy home furnishing store on the Kings Road.
Urma slid the print out of the cardboard tube and I asked her to hold it up on each wall in the flat until I decided where it looked best. The ends of the print wanted to curl down from being rolled up in the tube for too long and Urma had to hold the print hard against a wall with the palm of one hand and then try slide up the top edge that kept drooping downwards so we could catch a glimpse of the Tiny Dwarf. I thought that the print was a waste of their limited student cash; the colours and the lines that I had managed to see seemed to have been painted by a child and wasn’t what I’d call art at all. The Sloops tried unsuccessfully to find somewhere in the flat where I could pin up the print.
The truth was, not so much that I couldn’t make my mind up, but rather that I didn’t much care whether it found a home anywhere in the flat at all. In the end I decided that it may just about deserve a place in the hallway, tucked behind the front door where the light coming through a narrow skylight would at least bring out the subtle shading and colours.
When I went to the kitchen to make some coffee, Urma rolled the print back up tightly again and re-slotted it inside the tube and left it propped against a wardrobe in the bedroom.
The Sloops stayed on for a few hours and I heard all about their new found lives as radical and politically aware undergraduates at the London School of Economics. They used the shortened version, LSE, pronouncing it as one word, ellessee, it seemed to me that they had acquired some pretty strong views on what was going on in the world and were expressing their dissatisfaction by being against just about everything there was to be against; from the newly elected Labour government, to the mean and heartless parking wardens now patrolling London’s streets and the escalating US military involvement in South East Asia.
During the evening we also chatted about life back home. Jean said that their Mother had met my Aunt in town and that they’d both hoped we were all behaving ourselves and that we were looking after each other up in London. To our parents generation we may have as well have been living in the depths of darkest Africa than in London, as in reality they knew as little or as much about both places. Before the Sloops went home they arranged for us to meet up the following Friday night in the White Hart and then maybe afterwards, they’d said, go on to a music club in the West End. On her way out of the door Jean turned and said that I should really take time to look closely at and think deeply about The Tiny Tale of a Tiny Dwarf, as she had found that it told a different story every time she’d looked it, a bit like you she added enigmatically.
I was glad of the opportunity to get out of the confines of the flat and socialise a bit as since the party things in my life had actually gone really quiet and in the area I was living in there was little evidence of the swinging London that the media was talking about. The good thing was that the spring was finally here and I could stop feeding the gas meter with endless handfuls of shilling bits in an effort to keep my place warm. I don’t know what it is about the lengthening and brighter days of the spring time, but I just love the gradual end of the dark, short and cold days of winter. I always feel good and full of hopeful expectation when the daffodils come into bloom; you know that overwhelming joyful uplift you get where you just can’t help smiling at complete strangers as you pass them in the street or you have to suppress an urge to reach over and stroke cats sunning themselves on garden walls.
Back then, the White Hart still had a fine layer of saw dust on the floor of the public bar and men in thick donkey jackets and heavy soled boots would go there straight from work to smoke, gamble, and consume endless pints of beer. The décor probably hadn’t changed much since before the last war. There was lots of dark wooden panelling on the walls and the high ceiling had been yellowed from the thick haze of tobacco smoke that hung most days like a dense London Smog throughout the bars. There was a battered dart board in one corner and a Russian billiards table in another. A faded sign had been pinned up above the bar that said, ‘Please don’t ask for credit as refusal often offends’; I could never imagine asking for credit in there but I’m sure the sign was there for a good purpose. It was a relaxed sort of place though and the landlord had the foresight to install an up to date juke box in the saloon bar that tended to attract younger customers on Friday nights and at weekends.
I entered through the saloon bar door and ordered a light and bitter at the bar. It was early and the saloon bar was still quiet. I took my pint glass half full of frothy bitter and a bottle of light ale over to a table that looked directly out onto the High Street. It wasn’t long before the Sloops came in with a large group of young people and I saw that Diane, the girl from the party, was with them. She glanced briefly over at me and I raised a hand as if to say hello but self consciously quickly dropped it again when it seemed she hadn’t noticed me. Diane must have seen me as she came straight over and sat down close beside me.
‘Sorry I missed you when you called up I was at my parents.’ She said without taking her eyes off the crowd she’d came in with and who now formed a noisy mob at one corner of the bar.
‘I must admit I was taken back a bit when that Solidago answered the phone.’ I said.
‘Wasn’t too awkward for you was it?’ As she said this Diane raised her shoulders slightly and crinkled her eyes as if she was wincing at the discomfort I may have felt when Soli had answered the phone.
‘No, not awkward, I just wasn’t expecting it that’s all.’ I lied.
‘You see, we share a flat together. It’s cheaper that way, you know, halving the bills, sharing the cleaning and cooking and…things.’ I wondered what ‘things’ really meant, perhaps they were more than just flatmates?
‘Do you go there, back home, to your parents, much?’ I asked, feeling a little guilty that I’d not been back to see my own since I’d moved to London.
‘No, as little as possible these days, you know they’re pretty old and very very square, my folks.’ Diane was slowly shaking her head from side to side as she said the last bit about her parents being old.
‘Square?’ I hadn’t heard the word used in this way before.
‘Yes, square,’ Diane said, emphasising the word so it seemed actually to take on a square shape as the word left her mouth. ‘You know, not with it, out of touch with things. Oh, I suppose they’re just a different generation and will disagree with everything I do or say, who I go out with, what I do with my days off, where I live, what time I get up, what time I get in, in fact just about everything I do. They’re such drags.’ As she said each of the things her parents did not like about her life style she counted them off by curling down in turn the fingers on her left hand. I noticed that her hands were small and elegant and that her finger nails were well manicured and had been painted with a light pink nail polish.
‘Funny, that sounds a bit like my Mum and Dad too,’ I said.
Diane looked up at me and smiled then shouted, ‘No ice,’ across to the others at the bar. ‘Can’t stand the rotten stuff,’ she said, ‘hurts my teeth ever so.’
She was wearing a short skirt and a tight fit orange coloured jacket that showed her full figure off. Her dark hair was soft on her shoulders and her eyes were bright and green and beautiful. She was the most attractive girl in the pub but she really didn’t seem to be aware of it. When the others came over from the bar to our table I saw that Soli was being chaperoned on either side by the Sloops. He motioned me with his hands to shove along the seat a bit to make some room and then they all squeezed in around the tables by the window. Soli looked to be completely at ease with a girl either side of him. He nodded to me in recognition and grinned broadly showing his unusual and expensive dental work.
‘You the busted party guy, right?’ He asked.
‘Yes, I am, sorry about that, seems one of my neighbours was a retired policemen who objected to his beauty sleep being disturbed. He’s a real…, a real square and such a drag.’ I said, using my newly learned metaphors for people of the previous generation who disapproved of the way you were living your life. This information had an immediate effect on Soli and the smile was replaced by a tight lipped sneer.
‘Pig, typical bloated bourgeois pig, had his fun and now doesn’t want you to have yours.’ Soli spat the words out with real hatred. ‘I hate the bourgeois pigs, all of them.’ He snarled.
‘Not all of them surely,’ said Diane. ‘You liked that young policeman with the nice blue eyes who found your train pass that time didn’t you?’
‘Not as much as you did though.’ He quickly came back at her.
He leant across behind Diane’s back and asked me with a wink, ‘Has she asked for the book back yet?’
‘Book? Oh yes, the Freud book; I found it in the fridge. Strange thing to find in a fridge after a party don’t you think? To be honest I thought it belonged to you.’ I said.
‘No, not mine comrade. It’s Di’s alright. I’m more a Grass man. You read ‘Tin Drum’ yet? If you haven’t you should try it. Anyway, I think Freud was a frustrated sad old man crippled with a latent bourgeois neurosis that.’ Soli was struggling to find the right level of insult for Freud. I did not have a clue what he meant by all this but it sounded profoundly intelligent. I’d never been called comrade before and I actually liked the idea of having comrade status rather than just boring old provincial me.
‘You mean to say she actually left it in my fridge deliberately?’ I asked Soli.
‘Yes, it’s a trick of hers,’ said Soli, ‘at college parties she’s notorious for leaving one of her books in the fridge of someone she takes a liking to. Usually the unsuspecting victim finds it when he next goes to the fridge, opens the cover, sees her name and address and phone number etc. on a card, calls her up and she comes round to collect the book and they, well, they get it on. Works a treat every time I can assure you.’ He seemed to speaking with direct experience of the ploy.
I turned to look at Diane, who grinned sheepishly and nodded her head,
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‘Fraid so,’ she said, ‘didn’t want to take any chances with you though, so I gave you my phone number after I’d put the book in your fridge. Anyway, can I have it back now as I’m going to need it soon?’
‘I did look inside to see if there was a name or something written on the cover. All I found was a Paris Metro ticket being used as a book mark.’
‘Bet it was on the page about sexual repression,’ Soli joked.
‘You can come round and get it anytime, I‘m in most evenings or I’ll bring it over to you, whatever is easier.’ I said, feeling a little bit annoyed that I may have been taken in so easily.
‘Probably easier for you to come to me,’ Diane said, ‘you’ll have to be quick though as I’m off soon, going to Paris.’ Diane gave out this information as though it was as normal to go a Paris as it was to take a walk in the local park.
Meanwhile the Sloops were finding the gold teeth of Soli amazingly interesting again and I could see that he was used to getting a lot of attention from most girls he met. These were a good crowd to out with and I hoped I’d see more of them. Every time I caught the eye of Jean or Urma they pulled a strange knowing face that reminded of my Nan when she used to ask if I was courting yet. The look said something like we’re watching you and we can see that you and Diane are getting on very well.
The juke box started to play a new song by Donovan called 'Blue Eyes’. The Sloops were now stroking Soli’s hair and pulling at his gold ear ring and some of the others were singing along to Donovan’s great new record. Our corner was getting quite loud and I could see the barmaid anxiously looking over as though she was expecting some kind of trouble.
‘Can we drink up and go out for a while?’ Diane said quietly to me, ‘I need to talk to you, alone and somewhere private.’
We got up from behind the table, the others didn’t seem to notice that we were leaving and we stepped out into the cool evening air of the empty High Street.
‘Ethan’s right about the book thing, I do like you,’ Diane said and passed her arm through mine so that we could walk along together. It felt good and really grown up to be a comrade walking out with a beautiful girl on my arm through the streets of swinging London.
‘I’m glad that you came along tonight, I’ve been thinking a lot about you since we met at the party.’ I said.
‘Well, I’m really glad that you came along too, so, let’s be best friends then.’ Diane said this and increased the pressure of her grip on my arm that brought us closer. We carried on walking up the High Street, passed the old cinema that had been burned out in the blitz and was still boarded up.
Suddenly she stopped and gently pulled me by my hands into the doorway of Freddie’s Boutique and then she kissed me. After we’d kissed a few more times we carried on walking up the High Street. I’d opened my eyes as we kissed and saw the orange top Diane was wearing on display in the window. She was obviously right up with the latest fashions.
‘I’m off to Paris soon,’ Diane said, ‘and I want you to promise that you’ll visit me. You can stay with me if you like. You’ll just need a free weekend or two, the fare to Paris, a change of clothes, an open mind and ,’ she seemed to be reluctant to finish the sentence, finally she added, ‘a desire to be part of making real history.’
‘Of course,’ I said ‘I’ll come and visit.’ I was too embarrassed to tell Diane that I’d have to get a passport first and also save up hard for the train fare, but things were happening so quick I just did not want to say no to her.
‘Why are you going to Paris?’ I asked.
‘I’m going to study. On an exchange program, you know, I go to the Sorbonne for half a term and some unlucky student from the Sorbonne comes over to London. My French is actually quite passable now and I just can’t wait to experience the Parisian nightlife and the museums, the Louvre and Notre Dame and the Left Bank. Promise you’ll come, promise.’ She pouted her lips and fluttered her long eye lashes theatrically.
‘Can we go in here for a drink?’ Diane said, she was leading my arm so it wasn’t a question rather more of an instruction.
It was another pub, the Moon and Bear, on the corner of Adler Street, which was smaller and more snug than the White Hart. We went in through a side door and found a booth where we could be alone. We ordered double vodkas with tonic and I began to feel a little light headed. Diane told me all about her plans for when she got to Paris. She said that she wanted to go to Paris early to take her place on the barricades alongside the students at the Sorbonne who were protesting on the streets. She was full of admiration and praise for a student leader called Cohen who was galvanising all of France against President De Gaulle’s government. It seemed that this Cohen had recently been arrested on a trumped up charge simply to keep him quiet and out of the way while order was restored on the streets.
Diane said that she was all for student activism in politics. She told me that last year she had shared a long bus ride with a well known student leader who was also at the LSE. They’d chatted, she said, and he’d told her of how things would have to change if there was to be any future for the younger generation and the whole of society. The old orders had produced nothing but wars and suffering he’d claimed. He suggested that all the cataclysmic events unfolding around the world were in reality a convergence of causally linked happenings that indicated we were moving into a period of uncertainty, revolution and change. It seems that after that chance meeting, Diane had become increasingly politically active and was now a fully committed Marxist.
She explained that the students in Paris had tried to combine with the communists to take on the De Gaulle but the communists were too stuck in their traditional class war ideology ways to see any advantage from supporting them. There was, therefore, only one course left open for the students now and that was to take to the streets and protest as loud and as hard as they could. All this talk of revolution and Marxist ideology and communism made my head swirl. I had never read Marx and the only politics I had been exposed to was the boring party political broadcasts on the television. I must admit that it all sounded quiet exciting, this talk of a new world order and revolution and students taking control of the streets.
Diane asked me if I would like to join her and Ethan Solidago in a student protest being planned for the coming Sunday outside the French Embassy in Knightsbridge. Diane said that it was the least we could do, that is, to vent our anger and displeasure with the way French government was being totally dismissive of the students’ demands. I said that I’d love to join the protest but wondered that as I wasn’t a student would my protest still count. Diane laughed and said that it most certainly would and in any case I could be an honorary student for the day.
When the last orders bell rang we left the pub and walked back down along the High Street towards the White Hart. We saw some of the others standing outside. Urma was sitting astride Soli’s shoulders who was pretending to be a wild stallion, galloping along and whirling his hands around as though they were the front legs of a rearing horse. Urma was enjoying her ride even though she’d nearly fallen off a couple of times. Jean meanwhile could see that it could end in someone getting hurt and was pleading for them to pack it in.
As we neared Soli and Urma Diane called out, ‘Giddy up Neddy,’ and that set him off running mad again along the High Street.
‘He’s a real loon that Ethan, isn’t he?’ Diane said.
‘I think he’s a big show off actually.’ In truth I was finding his presence uncomfortable and I suppose I was beginning to be jealous of Diane’s attachment to him.
‘You don’t like him much do you?’ Diane asked.
‘I think he drinks too much and,’ I checked myself not wanting to say something that might upset her.
‘Go on,’ Diane urged.
‘I don’t like the way he always hangs around you.’ I felt really silly after I’d said this, but how could I tell her what I really felt about their relationship.
‘You must understand something about me. If I wanted to be with Ethan I would be with him. Whatever happens when we are out together it’s you I’ve chosen to be with tonight.’ As she said this she gently squeezed my arm. Although I was reassured that Diane really did like me the reassurance felt hollow and temporary and I wanted to tell her not to go to Paris.
Jean said they were going on to a club and that they were waiting for a mini cab. The cab eventually dropped us off outside the Marquee Club just as it was starting to rain. That night there was a couple of bands on and we just caught the end of some amazing drumming by the Aynsley Dunbar Retaliation. We had a great time and Diane even got me up dancing, which at first felt stilted and awkward, but after a while I was only aware of Diane and the music and how great it was to be dancing. When we came out of the club early the following morning it had stopped raining and Diane, Soli and a guy called Peters, who lived near them, flagged a passing taxi down. As their taxi pulled away Diane opened a window and called out to me, ‘See you Sunday and don’t forget Sigmund.’
I waited for nearly twenty minutes with the Sloops for another taxi to come along. Jean was tired and was leaning her head on my shoulder. She was cold so I put my arms around her and I’m sure that I heard Urma say we looked like an old married couple. When I got home I found it hard to get off to sleep and all I could think about was Diane and Soli going home together in that taxi.
Looking back, I can see that I probably agreed to go on the protest march not because I wanted to feel a part of real history but because I selfishly wanted to spend more time with Diane. In the end it turned out that it was a big mistake to get involved with student activism in a fashionable part of London, as I managed to get myself arrested for assaulting a policeman and was locked up for two nights in a cold miserable cell. To the everlasting shame of my parents the whole dreadful episode was widely reported in the national newspapers.
©Guy Edwards July 2013
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