Friday, 2 July 2010

Scarred hands of an artist.

It took maybe 3 days to dig out a suitable snap of the parents. A laborious rummage through forgotten, overloaded drawers and dusty neglected card-board boxes that had never been unpacked since moving into the cubes. Used AA batteries, long-past birthday cards and various keyrings, pencils and other assorted shite I tended to hoard like a forgetful magpie. I eventually came across what I was after.

A nice relaxed shot of the two of them on the living room couch, radiating affection and family vibes. Ironically taken by an ex-bird, whose photos of ourselves had long been banished to a bin-bag.

Sometimes, you gotta put sentimentality to the back of your skull and clear the mental slate...

Such is the case here, I know .....yet some things are worth hanging onto.

I headed downstairs to the ground hall, clutching the beat-up photo in my right hand as I tapped lightly on the door of flat 1.

There was no immediate response, yet I could hear muted rock n' roll from behind the door and sounds of slovenly movement. I hesitated for a few awkward seconds, then rapped the door again with my knuckles, slightly louder this time.

There was a harsh, hacking cough, obviously from a heavy smoker. Weary, languid footsteps approached the other side of the door and I subconsciously stepped back slightly as keys were roughly twisted in the lock. The handle swung down aggressively and the door opened inward creakily, just by a few inches.

A stern looking left eye with an arched eyebrow raised above it appeared in the slot, too gloomy and indistinct to see properly in the poor light of the corridor. I could now clearly make out Led Zeppelin as the background music..Over the hills and far away...

"Yeah...? Whatcha after?" asked a gruff, throaty voice from an unseen mouth, more of a command than a question.

A nervous energy overtook me. The kind that you only get when you tell a lie or chat a bird up or go on a job interview. You know, when your mouth become independent of your brain and does it's magic...or conversely, does some serious damage you found you couldn't dig yourself out of...

Go with it, pussy. Thought you were a social creature at heart? Wake up, won't you?

"Erm....Sorry to disturb you...Dave..It IS Dave, right? Just...I live in the flat upstairs...number 10, like....Been here coupla months...I'm kinda mates with Col...You know, Col?"

The eye flickered about, it's pupil sharpening for a split second, then noticeably expanding at the mention of Col's name.

"Col, eh? Go 'ead, lad..." The voice said, softening slightly.

"Oh, yeah...Col...Nice lad...kinda loose and that in the head...but wonderful fella" I stammered.

"HAHAHA HAAA-AAA! Ya got that right, lid....Eee's certainly a character...He give you his DVD's from Cash Convertors yet?" The eye said, warming to the conversation with a squint and a smile around it's lids.

"DVD'S? Oh yeah...right.....Yeah...He gave me like, 20 of 'em...ain't watched any yet...saw most of 'em before...Pretty poor selection...Van Damme, Seagal..Channel 5 shit, all the way, really.... but didn't wanna say so...woulda probably...Hurt his feelings...Knowhadamsayin?"

"Been there....Always tries to off-load 'em on me, too.....But as yer say, cracking lad, is our Col. No bad in him.....Good skin. Proper Scouser...Anyone who picks up on that is alright by me, kidda..."

The door swung fully open.

The Robert Johnson / 60's British invasion blues of Page, Plant and co. grew to full volume, and I finally saw Dave in the full flesh.

"C'mon in, kid. What's yer name?"

He was tall - probably about 6'2". A wiry frame with a thin torso covered by a grubby paint-specked Nike vest, framed with powerful, veiny arms. Sinewy legs in his 3/4 length Adidas shorts. Battered slippers. Yet he looked athletic, agile. Going by his general appearance, he looked maybe 40ish. His forehead was furrowed, it had seen a lot of fights. Tiny white scars around the bridge of his crooked nose, that looked like someone had slammed it out of place on a drunken night decades earlier. Yet his smile was amiable, chilled out. And he was open, friendly.

"Sure...It's Fred...Me name, that is.....Thanks, Dave..." I mumbled as I stepped into his cube.

There was a tiny cramped hall dominated by hanging jackets on the back of the front door that you had to brush your way past, two steps through them to the right and you were in the front room. Two battered leather couches placed either side on the dull red carpet, a strangely elegant and fragile-looking glass coffee table between them, covered with tobacco, remote controls, pens and pencils of various colours and scraps of paper. There was a makeshift desk fashioned from an old door seemingly ripped from an ancient Oak wardrobe that ran across the far length of the room beneath the window, a tiny portable TV at the left side of it running a muted episode of The World At War. The bulk of the desk was taken up by a huge array of artist materials - A home-made lightbox, sheets of A4 paper, old coffee jars stuffed with charcoals, brushes and colouring pencils. The only light in the room other than the TV, came from a carefully placed fluorescent tube that sat above the desk, a large white professional draughtsman's sketch board sitting directly beneath it.

"Siddown, lid. Fancy a brew? Just gonna make one..?" Dave chirped, a rolled smoke hanging from his grinning lips.

"Tea would be smart. No sugar please, Dave.."

He nodded and bent down to scoop up two cups at the foot of his desk, and shuffled off into his kitchen to the left.

"Been here a few weeks, now, yeah? Seen yer about the block....Whatcha make of it?" he shouted over the sound of the taps running as he roughly clattered the cups about in the sink.

"Yeah....Moved up from the other end of Wavertree...Much better flat than my last one....Still gettin' organised like, but its decent enough.." I replied, peering around the living room walls in the poor light.

"It's not that bad in 'ere..most of the time...just can get a bit wild of a weekend...I'm sure you'll suss that out for yerself though..." He shouted back, the sound of a kettle starting up gradually growing louder, fighting to be heard over Plant's screams coming from the tiny CD player that I guessed was in the back bedroom.

I had a sudden double take, then looked again. Closer to the ceilings, running the full perimeter of every wall were what looked like large photographs, mainly black and white, some colour ones dotted amongst them. I stood up and stepped towards ,the wall to my right, kneeling up on the couch as I examined them closer.

I reached up and touched one of them, the features clearer now. It was a head shot of Al Pacino, Scent of A Woman era. But then it wasn't a photo...the texture was coarse... it felt like paper, not a glossy print. There was a tiny "DA" scrawled in the bottom left corner.

"Took me about two days, that one....wasn't too happy with the end result, likes.."

I slid back away from the wall, turning to see Dave standing behind me nodding up to the portrait, two cups in his hands.

"Oh...sorry... Didn't mean to mess with it...just that it's great...Thought it was a photo at first...." I replied awkwardly.

"Nah...I've done better..Far better when I've concentrated..Tea?" he offered me a mug.

"Oh cheers..Thanks...That's...somethin' else, that man...wish I could draw like that....You did that in what, just two days? That's far out.....Really, amazing stuff.."

I took the warm mug from him and sat back down, gesturing towards the four walls.

"You do this for a living, Dave? I mean...Looks really professional work..."

He sat at his desk, his side to me, placing his mug down and picking up a HB pencil.

"Nah...more of a past-time really. Always felt I never had the ability to draw, and felt I should try an' conquer something I thought I was always incapable of...Took me 'till I was 35 to realise that....After me marriage broke down, 'an I moved in here 4 years ago I had a lot of spare time on me hands..." He shrugged casually.

I didn't want to press him about it further.

Some old wounds there, for sure.....

"So...You do ones, I mean?" I mumbled as I tentatively offered him the photo of my folks.

He took it from me and examined it closely for a moment, holding it to the tube light and screwing his face up at it.

"Hmmm...It ain't a bad photo...Could do with it bein' a lil' bigger, maybe..."

"Oh, right...I got plenty more, just can't find 'em at the moment..." I said somewhat despondently.

"S'alright, kid. I can grid it out and use my magnifying gear, enlarge it. You want it A4, yeah?"

"Yeah...A4 would be great...Need to pick a frame up from somewhere though..."

"Don't worry about that, I got loads of spare ones in the back room....I'm guessin' you'll be needin' this ready for Christmas, right?"

"Absolutely...thought it'd make a nice gift for them" I then realised that it was already December 20th.

"Four days enough for you, Dave? Sorry if it ain't.... I mean, I shoulda asked earlier, like...?"

"No problem. It's more than enough time, that. Just gizza knock on say.... Tuesday. It'll be well boxed off by then."

"Right....Tuesday....Thanks Dave. I Gotta say, if the results are a tenth as good as your other stuff, it'll make a great gift..."