Monday, 1 June 2009

"Col" - Flat 1

to start with him?

Physically, he's nothing extraordinary. A short, chubby guy about 5'7", rotund in every feature right down to his stubby, nicotine-stained fingers. I'm usually useless with ages, I guess has was around the 30 mark. A completely bald head, as smooth as a well-worn traffic bollard, a battered old Nike baseball cap pulled over it. Myopic eyes, glittering blue which dance nervously about, giving the slightest hint of the energy behind them.

Circular thin-framed NHS prescription glasses, which only add to and enhance the jovial facial expression he always seems to wear. He's one of those people who seems to have crawled out of his mother sporting such eye wear.Without those glasses he would seem incomplete, false. Kind of like Professor Bunsen off the Muppet Show.

Almost perpetually clad in a tracksuit, probably from the TJ Hughes store on London Road. It's seen better days, that's for sure - scarred with cigarette burns, food strains and general wear and tear. A pair of Reebok Classic training shoes that were once probably cream in colour, now scuffed and worn virtually to destruction.

As a visual package, he could be trademarked, colourfully packaged and equipped with a pull chord on his back that would activate five exciting stock Scouse phrases. He perfectly fit the mould of the Liverpool stereotype perpetuated by comedians, politicians and the media in general over the decades. He certainly struck me as a genuine "old-school" Scouser - one that had never really got out of the mid-1980's and remained stranded out of time, here in the new century.

The day I visited the flat to inspect it with a view to moving in is the day I first encountered Col. Talk about setting an agenda.

I caught sight of him hunched down virtually on hands and knees, right outside the main front door of the building. It was on a short raised rectangular stretch of bin-bag and glass-encrusted concrete, that at one time in the distant past could have been considered a decent front patio.

I hesitated at first at the sight of this strange little man blocking my path, keys jangling loosely in my clenched fist. He seemed oblivious to me, obsessively scrutinising the small weeds and moss in between the gaps of the ugly grey paving stones. He plucked at the protrusions with his grimy fingertips in a slow measured manner. In a former life he could have been a Swiss watchmaker, such was his precision and attention to detail. With each offending scrap he removed from the gaps, he gave out a low pitched grunt of approval to himself. A man in love with his work is indeed a man who loves life, I thought.

'Erm....Excuse me, mate?' I half-whispered, more at him than to him directly.

'Alrite lad?' he chirped, turning his head upwards to face me , flashing a smile that lit up his face.

Quicker than a rattlesnake, with astonishing dexterity and agility for someone so seemingly unfit and overweight, he sprang to his feet in one swift motion, rubbing his hands free of grit and grime frantically, like an over-excited child at the prospect of opening his Christmas presents early. He stood almost nose-to-nose with me, so close in fact that I could feel the spittle spray onto my face as he babbled rapidly.

'Wassappenin' lad? Are yer movin' into these flats are yer?'

My first instinct was to be non-committal.

'Erm...well, just...viewing one, you know...'

'Sound lad, Sound. They're all sound people in here lad, good bunch of lads, like....Got them keys off Kieran did yer?' He shot a glance at the clenched fist at my side.

'Oh...Yeah, just wanna check this flat upstairs out, like...Not moving in for definite, as I say...Just looking, you know..'

He suddenly reached out and placed a grubby hand on my right shoulder. I consciously flinched, but if he noticed me jump, he didn't seem too bothered by it.

'Decent flats these lad. All spot-on lads in there, yer know...Spot-on lad..'

He swiftly brought his hand down from my shoulder and gripped my right hand, making me almost drop the keys as he vigorously shook it like he was presenting me with a bravery award.

'I'm Col, by the way lad. Pleased to meet yer'

I smiled uneasily at his over-friendly approach.

'Yeah...Fred's my name...'

'Wassat, ERIC, lad?'

I had to stifle an embarrassed laugh as I replied sheepishly: 'Nah, Col...FRED'.

He shook his head and squinted hard at the floor, releasing my hand and sending the keys clattering to the deck. He instantly retrieved them like an obedient dog, passing them to me with a servile and apologetic expression on his down turned face.

'Shit, lad...Sorry, lad, sorry....'

My head was spinning, yet I felt a strange sense of pity for him. I could see he was no real physical threat. He just seemed too eager to please. Perhaps I was being too judgemental. I mean I hardly knew the guy.

'Listen, Col...It's alright, mate, really..'

I wanted another angle on him though. He seemed to have so much going on in his head, judging by his exaggerated body language and excitable demeanour.

'So you work here then, do you Col? Look after the building? For the landlord I mean?'

He threw back his head at a seemingly inhuman angle, and let out a shrill, gurgling laugh that just didn't match his physique, almost doubling over backwards. I found myself virtually imitating him.

'HeeHeeHeeHeeHeeHee..........Nah lad.....HeeHeeHeeHeeHeeHeeHee...'

After a few moments to collect himself he switched expression back to that of a matey grin, his eyes once again dancing. What an incredible little man, I remember thinking. He was like a kaleidoscope of human emotion, constantly shifting, always in transit. He took a deep breath and shook his head frantically side-to-side like a dog that has just crawled out of the ocean.

'Nah, I just live here lad, Flat 1. If yer deffo movin' in, just gizza knock and I'll give yer a hand movin' yer gear up them stairs problem...'

'Er, yeah, right....No problem... Thanks, Col...'

'Say, listen! You into your artwork and that, lad? It's just that the lad who lives in flat 2, Dave's his name, he does pencil portraits of yer family, famous actors, musicians, footy players and that....Juast like the ones you get in town for top-dollar, but his are better..They're SPOT-ON lad...' Col gave me a double thumbs-up gesture, beaming incessantly.

'Yeah, that's...great' I replied weakly.

'No messin' lad, You should give him a knock sometime, he's sound...His drawings are quality, lad...'

'I er, might just do that, Col. ...Anyway, I've gotta crack on....I'll see you later, right?'

Col switched posture and expression immediately upon hearing these words, slowly stepping away from me , walking backwards as he started to wave his arms and crane his neck, as if there was a large crowd of people between us and he needed to shout to be heard.


I retreated up the steps and through the front door, Col's voice still ringing in my ears as I trudged up the corridor, seemingly halfway down the street by now but still yelling out to me, calling me ERIC. My head was still banging from this first encounter with my possible new neighbour as I climbed the grubbily-carpeted staircase to the first floor of the building.

Another flight of stairs, a short walk down a damp, poorly lit and depressing corridor that reminded me of the end massacre scene of Taxi Driver in the brothel, and I was at the door of flat 10, 47 Irvine Street.......