Friday, August 01, 2008

Clockhouse Mount

Published 'Dark Eyes' 1998

I MUST TELL you of how I came to Clockhouse Mount, the first being a year last Spring, I think. Do you know the area? Yes, it's in the outer South London suburbs, in Surrey really, but you have to climb a very long hill out of Cullesdon - and when you get there, you see the Green, fronting a run-down parade of shops and, further out the 'Pail Of Water'. Mrs Dobb, landlady of the Pail, she knows all the gossip of the Mount. About the Sawdusts of Number 4 Rich Land: Jackie Sawdust once blew his nose, you know, in public view - he blew it so damn hard he just stared into his hankie not knowing it was his brain wriggling there. He stared a mere few moments, yep, before he dropped down dead. About the Clerkes of Long Land; their younger son was levanted by the Surrey press-gangs for labour in far off spice fields. About the losers and the winners of the terrible family feuds. About this and that...

There is a snooty golf-course on one side, some other cul-dc-sacs leading to small holdings and desolated fields, staring-eyed horses, tangled woods Ruffet and Big, deadfalls, overgrown bomb-holes, rusty discards of squabbles, and other rich residues of life's harvest, if I can be so bookish in my attempts at describing everything for you. You know, they say that the clouds swag and belly heavier over the council house roofs of Clockhouse Mount - and, as I plodded up, that day, in the hope of my first homely tankard at the Pail, large drops spattered from a previously clear sky. Even at noon, dusk gathered itself and some laggard golfers stood alongside the road holding their clubs like spears, making funny faces beneath tartan berets and wriggling their chequered trousers as if in some crazy fashion show. They would soon be off, no doubt, before the light finally seeped away.

I looked across at the downbeat parade and spotted that the shops were shut, not for lunch as I had thought, but because I, a complete stranger, had loomed up from Cullesdon and they feared what they considered to be my unwholesome custom. I shivered, for had the Pail, too, locked its lounge and saloon doors? The locals were inside, apparently persuading Mrs Dobb to let them have further illicit flagons of home-made brew, as I forced my entry through an unoiled latch-door. The bobbled heads lifted, scowls muttering across their faces, and one signalled me to sheer off.

"Dear Sackalive!" cried Mrs Dobb, from behind the bar, a friendlier aspect indeed appearing to fleet across her countenance. "I didn't think you'd make it."

"By cock!" I replied, banging my feet on the floor, "That was a long walk up from town."

Meantime the locals gathered closer to me and one even fingered my turn-ups in some strange rite of inspection. I surveyed the posters and the customary wall-scrawl, to see if this was indeed the day of the darts match that I had been promised before I had promptly forgotten about it. But, no - imagine my despondency, when I saw incomprehensible messages pertaining to a Wicca meeting, destined for that very night - and further bills bearing such things I cannot now spell; Cuthloo, Shib-Shubbing in the snug, Yogger-Noggin’ in the saloon. Azza-Toth in the lounge and. what was it, an outing at the weekend to a pub called the Goat of a Thousand Young for a turdle-eating contest.

I skipped pretty niftily from the Pail, for, as they say, you shouldn't outwear a welcome you've never had nor turn a heavy stone if something's moving it from underneath.

I ran - but it was difficult, for what I had thought originally to be rain was in fact now great bulbs of bursting liquid cascading from, not clouds, but shifting, floating monsters in the sky, They extended and retract«d, in turn, long arms of blackness, from several interlocked central bodies and, if I were religious, the nearest I could get to describing them would be a Hell's brood, an overnourished confluxion of sky and fox flesh betokening the fall of the old disgraced gods - and several smaller versions were creeping over the brim of council-house roofs ...

I ran - but golfers and pub locals surrounded me. One, of the name Tokkmaster Clerke, as he later told me, wielded a massive rutted file, its frightful crenellations glinting in the flash of sky¬shutter wings. I was held fast by one whose nose dripped as Tokkmaster moved the file across my skull. At first, my hair fell away in clumps and dropped to the pavement, followed by the skin. He grated it up and down, scratched, sawed and ground. I could feel the hideous vibrations, reverberations stunning and splitting my head. The skull scrunched. Teeth were on edge, as the grating wore on, as he honed my bone. The file stropped and serrated my pure white skull. It ground and rasped. Against the grain. Gnashed and scored. Etched and furrowed. Rutted and chafed. Scrubbed and gnawed. Eroded and kneaded. Chiselled and chewed.

I ill recall most of that but live now with the Sawdusts and they call me Jackie. They make me worship the great old gods. The top of my head is like the skin of cold stew, so now I have to wear a hat; Mrs Dobb made it, kindly, out of vinegar and brown paper - and the filing Clerke, he says he's my pal now.

Yet before I tell of any further eventual outcomes, my second visit needs expounding. And, in case you have forgotten things beyond the bookmark, I need to lug up that long, long hill out of Cullesdon. The rundown parade of shops, the golf-course on one side, the tracks leading to woodfalls and derelict smallholdings, and the strange mixture of council-house and semi-detached owner-occupiers - all these made it an indefinable, outlandish place, at one overfed and prevalent, but at two disturbingly barren and bare-gnawn. Through the Southern Mysteries beyond Balham, it was soon that one met the Surrey Badlands at the edge of South London, and that area was to me by cap and root the core of such Badlands. Yet none of this, nor the ever-rising memories, oould stop me returning, specially with a real job waiting for me there. The run on the pound had not dared reach Clockhouse Mount...

The golfers and pub locals stared imbecilically at any newcomers; the girls begawed and bedecked themselves with flirting ribbons and enticing cockadilloes; the contraband lorries unloaded the cock-ale - delighted in by the local taste-buds; and the churn-owls swooped and whooped with the early dying of the afternoon light, betoken the preparation of other entities and elementals to squeeze themselves from between the sticky thighs of night.

That second occasion I arrived, after further initiation from the shapes in the sky, they doctored me to their ways. The clan leader, Tokkmaster Clerke, who also acted as doctor, served me the medicine and the mending and kept vigil by my several nights of bed-evil that ensued. He continued to move the bed on its ill-suited legs, muttering that the devil did rock my cradle, did cully my fever and did keep the bloody-flux at bay; but his hush-a-byes sure did beflum and bamboozle my thoughts for a while.

After, I stayed with the Sawdust family; they knew my history and why I had been called there. I was to be chief taster for those Societies that met at the Community Hall, standing across the road from the shops, a bit like an army barracks, with the letters of its name above the entrance mostly fallen completely or dislodged into a word I could not fathom. The cabals and brotherships that there stretched their limbs from bodies politic within the big and small halls and lesser meeting-rooms feared sabotage from outsiders.

I gained reputation in the Square Hills further north as sniffer-out of poisons at the credence tables of nobility and middle-class alike. I had cocked a tongue to many a dire tidbit and toxic tiffin, and winked across to those sitting above the salt; telling a tale of treachery with my mere glance.

The Sawdusts tried me out with every particle of local fare; the sometime bad toddies served at nearby Woodman-Sterne, the even more ill-reputed carrier worms dug from beneath nearly deadfall trees in Big Wood (considered a delicacy in parts of the Badlands) and, finally, the scuds and curds that intermittently plummeted from the sky in crazy fibrous shapes which monstrous Irreducibles said to be above the clouds sculptured from their own droppings.

And I passed muster with every test.

Tokkmaster explained how the word above the Hall's entrance, C-t-h-u-l-h-u, was pronounced and what it implied; inside he showed me several huge black-skinned volumes with gold clasps and arcane titles, hidden with the drama props under the stage; whispered in my ear about the coming of even narrower fellowships and masonries to the area; and I was to be Chief Taster and Factotum to any such.

One day a huge banquet was held. Of course, Tokkmaster Clerke was at the head of the huge oak trestle, being host and breaker of bread. The wine, deeply red, flowed down swift gullets. The food ¬great gristles of flesh, yellow fat and hairy skin lining the rare sides of boeuf and lion; even greater cow udders, baked and prepared with the greasy tubes intact, the undersides green-fleshed and pocked with broken bubbles of melded fat; windfall fruit, knotted and almost branched with unwholesome sprouts of stale seasons; plates of flopping fish, still alive but unbelievably putrid, their fins pickled in vats of udder-grease as scaly extras; further dishes of octopus with inflamed, ridgy pores, squid with mutant tentacles, horny lapfish, swordfish bent and skewed, splattered blowfish, gasfish, rancid roe - the food was enjoyed at every hand.

All had passed across my credence-table for pre-tasting and, suddenly, a great boar's head, over baked and brainless, spoke the last word from the trestle: "Burp!" And spew poured from its sickly mouth.

They all looked up at me - and stared icily, realisation dawning. Doctor Tokkmaster pressed his stethoscope to his own chest - to hear the devil in there. He grimaced and raised his file angrily at me ...

I left that night, my job done, down the long, long hill. I knew in my heart that I had only visited the Clockhouse Mount once only, unless my heart mistook me. That did not account for that poor fellow who I'd thought was me who made the first trip and suffered under the surgeon’s saw-blade. If that had been me, I was a Dutch Uncle, or, at least, his miscegenate nephew called Klarkashton.

Clean flakes of snow settled over me as I approached Cullesdon. I sought some far-off pub to quaff a pint of their very best bitter and to partake of a packet of pork-scratchings. I pulled down the flaps of Mrs Dobb's hat. Unlike most people, the brains in my old clockhouse would never escape. I tapped my bonce and noddled a smile.

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