Lots Road Nostalgia

I was thinking about how life sometimes becomes a series of routines. At this point in my own life, I can probably tell you where I will be at any given hour of any given week. It’s all pinned down quite tight. 

What’s more, it sometimes seems that this particular routine that I’m currently in may never-ever change again.

But that’s not right, is it? Everything changes.

If you could look back twenty or thirty years, you would quickly see that the routines of that time also seemed permanent and unchangeable yet they were probably completely and utterly different to the routines of today. No matter how embedded some things seem, they inevitably change.

They all change, over time.

This ‘Routine’ train-of-thought of mine got me into glancing back to my Lots Road days. This is the Lots Road just off the New Kings Road in London, you know the place. Antique auction rooms, huge power station, access into Chelsea Wharf. That one. 

I worked down there from around 1985 to 1989, in Number 134. Is that all the length of time I was there, four or five years? It felt like a lifetime.

It was such a great time. I was working with a great bunch of people and we grafted hard and managed to have loads of fun too. It was a routine but it was a good one and, of course, it was a completely different routine to the one I live now. Worlds apart.

One of the best things of the Lots Road Routine was what happened every Friday at 5.30pm. We stopped work and we decamped to the pub on the corner, “The Ferret and Firkin”.

We drifted down there in the current of a colossal ‘Friday Feeling’. Pints of Murphys Stout were ordered (cos the Guinness wasn’t quite up to Irish quality) and, in my case, a huge brown cheese roll was procured as I was never much of a drinker and the roll gave me the small advantage of a little ‘soakage’.

We would just chat then. Laugh and joke and have fun. I would achieve a thirty minute period, about one-and-a-half pints of Murphy’s in, where I was really sharp and fast and funny. I loved that window of opportunity. Then pint number three would arrive from somewhere and the moment was past and it was time for a shuffle down to Fulham Broadway Station and a fuzzy, pleasant ride home on the District Line.

It was the best of times.

I took a virtual stroll down Lots Road via Google Maps a few weeks ago. As with most places, nothing much has changed and yet everything has changed. Cliff Road Studios is still there though it’s a different colour and it looks a bit different from the street. The Ferret and Ferkin is obviously no more either. 

It’s funny, though, isn’t it? Whenever I say ‘the best of times’ that other part of the phrase will soon crop up in my head too. 

‘The worst of times’. 

If I focus on it a little harder than I am inclined to, I can soon see that those Lots Road times were not simply the best of times, they were indeed the worst of times too. In among all the fondly-remembered fun and hard work, there were quite a few awful things. Stress things and pain things and things that can hardly even be written down or spoken out loud.

But that’s what we do with the past, isn’t it? We glance swiftly over our shoulder at it as we rush away from it, mostly choosing to see only what we want to see. We look quickly away again before the detail can coalesce and become too gritty.

Perhaps Lots Road was aptly named. Perhaps, like Lots wife, if I were to stand still now and look back at it for too long, it might turn me to salt. 

A Whole New Way to Underachieve

I’ve been thinking about the box in the corner of the room. The box that I have loved so much. It’s a thing that I’ve previously rhapsodised about at various times, calling it the ‘best invention ever’ and ‘the most useful thing I own’.

The Sky Plus box.

Upon its arrival, it changed my way of viewing television almost immediately. Never again did I have to miss a programme on telly. I could arrange to capture it on the box and watch it at my absolute leisure. Whole series could be grabbed and stored at the push of a button.

What a wondrous thing it was.

And, yes, it has remained great for a long time. No longer did I have to watch inferior uninteresting telly, haunted by the knowledge that I’d missed something wonderful earlier on. 

Before you ask, of course I had a VHS recorder like everybody else but it was just unwieldy enough to mean it was easier to catch the programme live – or miss it entirely – rather than set up the whole shebang to record. And series-recording was pretty much out of the question with VHS. You caught it live, recorded an occasional episode, or you missed it mate. That was it.

But now, alas, my beloved box seemed to have turned on me. It has become, for me at least, a whole new way to underachieve. It’s over there now, taunting me. I can feel its red eye upon me.

You only have to look at the pile of stuff I have recorded to know how this works. Homeland Series 3, The Bridge Series 2, The Newsroom Series 2, Game of Thrones Series 2 (I know, I know), Hinterland, Fargo, 24 – Live Another Day… the list goes on and on. 

I’ve seen the first few episodes of some of them and absolutely none of more of them. And I want to see them all. They sit there and taunt me everytime I flick past them. “You’re failing again, mate,” they seem to say, “you can’t even sit and watch us.”

Back in the old VHS days, I would have seen practically all of these, I reckon. I would have set aside the time and sat down and enjoyed them. I would have recorded the odd episode I couldn’t see live. I would have consumed them and enjoyed them and moved on to the new stuff. Also I wouldn’t have been ducking and diving perceived ‘spoilers’ like an anxious child stepping over the joints in paving slabs.

I’ve got Netflix too. I’ve got a personalised list of movies on there to watch and/or rewatch. The Hunt, A Royal Affair, Cinema Paridiso, Network. Not to mention the series, ‘Orange is the New Black, House of Cards even, heavens-to-Betsy, Breaking Bad (I’m on series 3 and actually watching this one).

It’s a combination of a fairly busy life and a lovely wife and growing-up-kids who have somewhat different viewing priorities to mine. My telly time is a bit limited and there are some things I have to watch in relation to work-matters. 

A part of me starts to think that the destruction of the tellybox might be the best thing for me. That I should revert to watching whatever I can catch and working harder to catch it.

I won’t do that though. When I do finally get to sit down and watch something, I quite like having something good to watch. I just kind of wish there wasn’t so bloody much of it.

So there it is. The lists of unwatched series and the documentaries and the movies continue to build and build…

…and build…

At least there’s still reading in bed.

(Note to self, continue to avoid Kindles.)

Slaughter House Memories

If you’re a Vegetarian or, indeed, if you’re an Animal Lover (and who isn’t?), this piece may disturb you. 

Please don’t feel obliged to read it.

My beloved Linenhall Arts Centre, here in Castlebar, opened a new exhibition the other evening. The exhibition is by Siobhan McGibbon and it is called ‘The Cultivation of a Fallacy’. You can read a little about it by clicking here.

I was in the exhibition space on Friday morning, as the opening was being prepared, and I stopped for a moment in front of one of the pieces. It was a distinctive cellular quilt of bunched-up material interspersed with thick sinew and veins. 

Even though I had not seen one this close in over thirty-five years, I still knew straight away what it was. The artist was in the vicinity so I got to ask her. “That’s a cow’s belly, isn’t it?” She confirmed that indeed it was, or rather a cast of one.

The flood of memories that the sight of this thing brought back to me was almost overwhelming. The things I did on a twice-weekly basic in my earliest years as a teenager and, even before that, as a pre-teen.

My memories of the Slaughter House.

When I was young, we had dogs and, among other things, we fed them some ‘green tripe’ and it was my job to visit the butcher’s yard to get this fabled green tripe for them.

See, that last sentence is a classic example of reinvention of memory. It’s all true, as far as it goes, but the language is all wrong. I didn’t know what ‘green tripe’ was until yesterday when I did a little Google research on what I used to do. Until yesterday, I didn’t even know for sure that what I did was not some crazy-ass thing that nobody should ever do. It turns out that it was okay, though. It has a name, ‘green tripe’ and a nutritional logic and even a devout following

If I hadn’t found that out I don’t think I could be telling you about this, my pilgrimage for the green tripe.

I’m dancing around the subject. Let’s get to it…

Every Tuesday and Thursday, after school was over, I would take a bag and troop down to the slaughter house. The doors into the place were huge wooden double doors with a smaller door cut into one of them. I would bang on the smaller door as hard as I could and, eventually, one of the two men inside would could down and let me in.

The slaughter house was a very small enterprise, serving only one local butcher. It was a small shed at the end of a cobbled laneway which started behind the double doors. The shed was open at the front and contained two block-and-tackle rigs, a table, knives, saws, a hose pipe and a gully to drain away the blood. 

The two men always greeted me warmly and continued to work away while I did my thing. They slaughtered sheep and cattle, only a few every day, this was no production line, and I became very familiar and completely undisturbed by the process.

My goal was the cow's belly and I received it as unprocessed as is humanly imaginable. When the belly was removed from the carcass, it was a large smooth fleshy bag filled with grassy shit. In my memory, it was about the size of a backpack. This bag was thrown out of the slaughter house door and slid down the cobblestoned lane, intact, to where I waited for it by a mound of shit held by a low retaining wall.

I had my own knife with me. A black-handled razor-sharp dirk of a thing. When the stomach bag arrived at my feet, I slit it open with my knife and the greenish grassy shit plopped out it everywhere to add to the existing mound. I cut the stomach all along and then I turned it inside out to get the last of the contents out. Then I hung it on a hook on the back of a corrugated iron sheet that was positioned to the right of the mound. The cut-stomach was now as bulky and unwieldy as a large soaking-wet-overcoat. It took some work to haul it up onto the hook and I quickly learned not to wear my good clothes.

Once it was on the hook, I borrowed the men’s hose pipe and I meticulously washed out the inside of the stomach. While the outside was smooth and fleshy, the inside was cellular and tube-ridden and almost velvety in texture. Every hexagonal cell had to be washed free of grassy shit. 

When that was done, and the stomach was dripping wet and clean, I took my knife again and filleted off as many pieces as I needed for that day. I plopped them in my bag, said goodbye to Clive and Henny and went off home.

I have no memory of learning to do this or of ever being brought to the slaughter house and introduced there by anybody else. In my memory, it was just one of the things I did. There was no trauma or discomfort or pain. It was a chore and I could have done without it sometimes but it was something I was given to do and I just did it.

And the dogs enjoyed the green tripe that was part of their diet and they sure looked good on it although their breath was sometimes a bit off.

What do you learn from something like this? Something that is, literally, a rather visceral experience. This would be a better piece if I could conclude with some lesson I had picked up up from my chore.

Well, I think about this now and the thing which sits at the forefront of my mind is not the killing room or the bulging warm stomachs and their yellow-green contents. Instead, it’s the room that was situated beside the killing room. A small stone stable-like shed with a door and a single window. From out of that window, a cow would peep from the gloom, with a plaintive low and a rolling eye, awaiting its fate. That cow had unwittingly stood in green fields with the cool rain drizzling on its back. It had eaten and grown and felt the warm sun. It had lived. Now that life was due to end, there would be no reprieve, no rescue, no return to the green field. The humane-killer was waiting.

Do I need to draw a parallel? Probably not but I will anyway. What I think I learned, first hand, in that place. was that life is short and that it may not end well. Feel the sun and your head and the drizzle on your back. 

Live it while you have it.