This is a second draft of an extract from chapter 7 of The Wind called ‘Psycho-Geography’. After a boozy night out, the narrator makes a journey to King’s Norton by train. Anxiety-ridden, paranoic visions thanks in part to the prodigious amount of alcohol consumed and terrifying news reports in the Metro newspaper of crossbow cannibals in Bradford and crazed cabbies in Cumbria (dig the alliteration) give the narrator an altered perception of the world around him, seeing images of depravity in the towering Victorian terraces, mystery and supernatural elements in the woozy, blurred parks, and displacement and fear in the suburban districts – which get stronger when he completes his journey in Moseley.
However, before he gets on the 50, he stops at an old haunt of his – the Navigation in King’s Norton. He reckons a cheeseburger will cheer him up, however, once getting inside and getting his food, the narrator experiences severe hallucinations that could have devasting consequences for his already fragile mind…
Ultimate Cow Trip
The wind draws me into the Navigation. Toby Carvery smiles at you, with his judges’ wig and knife and fork poised. His smell mingles with the cold air, the smell of vinegar and yeast. Before I know it, I’m through the doors and into his clutches. Toby’s smell, of dirty hotel lobbies, brown oak and burgundy carpets. Shoes sticking to the carpet, and squelching as I walk.
My eyes are now drawn eagerly to the menu, that’s sticky with vinegar. There’s only one thing I’m after today. I noticed it last time I was here. The Ultimate Triple Burger. Ultimate Cow Trip. ‘For those with big appetites.’ Big appetite cow eaters. Ultimate Cow Trip and Chips. That’s three 8 ounce burgers, Aberdeen Angus burgers topped with cheddar cheese. In a moment, I have a vision of Aberdeen Angus, with his kilt and pugnacious red face and Toby Carvery enjoying the benefits of meat and whiskey. Looking down, Mr Carvery winks. I’ll be alright. I popped in here a week ago, and decided it was today that I needed to return, to put some demons to rest.
You see, I remember this pub with trepidation. I used to work here in my callow youth. An interesting experience. In at the deep end. There were some rum folk here. The bar staff were strange, full of in-jokes and odd behaviour. The gaffer was a slovenly ape of a man, belly hanging his belt, nose, a glowing beacon of abuse. Sending me to the shops for a tin of elbow grease, glass hammers, and long waits. The regulars, lined up in a row, spectating the new staff with derision and belligerence. I’d got on the wrong side of the bar staff by my crude banter and slow-wittedness. This had been noticed by one of the regulars, an old man from the Merchant Navy, observing my mistakes and greenness, muttering with an air of disgust, ‘You’ve got a lot to learn.’ Very observant. I was 18 then. Obviously I had a lot to learn. I was an idiot, but so was he. That’s whom I was working for. I didn’t even last a month. After being told to leave in a very violent way, I swore blind never to go back in.
And these demons flutter and impose as I sit down at the table. The quietness of the room only accentuates the dread I feel. ‘What ifs’ and ‘Maybe’s flutter around my brain. But I’m ready for the challenge. The Ultimate Triple Burger. The Ultimate Cow Trip. And today, the atmosphere is very different. It’s actually courteous. There seems to be retired professors in there, talking literature and assessments. A smattering of the young mother, in tight jeans and baggy tops, with bodies like strapping young lads. Old ladies eating flakes of plaice, balancing the food on their sparrow-like tongues before accepting it into their moist, cavernous holes.
Nobody from my callow youth seems to be here, in consciousness, or spirit, let alone physical form. All fragments of their existence have been erased, as if they never existed, and merely occured in my brain. They’ve all gone. Moved on to pastures new, or perhaps dead.
The Ultimate Cow Trip arrives. This is a quality burger and chips. Three slabs of beef stacked unforgivingly on the bun. Char-grilled around the edges. Onion rings on the side. Coleslaw left. No room for coleslaw today. Ketchup picked up and shook liberally. To get the best out of the Ultimate Cow Trip I munch around the edges, taking in the char-grilled circumference, before a really big bite into the middle. Tomato sauce spurts and congeals on fingers and face. All I can smell is cow. And the weight of it all descends, and I exhale through the burger. Mutters of fat ecstasy. The top of my stomach extends. Gristle sticks in the gullet. Sweat patches appear on my forehead. I lurch over, clutching my meal to squash it down. And all sounds in the room become muffled, and lights merge into one dim whole.
And then I see the gaffer, years gone, turning around at the bar, his impressive gut flopping down over his crotch. His nose glowing a fire red, a beacon of light, a warning. He looks at me with disdain as I shovel my dinner down.. Now the regulars are slowly turning around on their seats, observing my performance, catcalling, cheering and clinking glasses. All the regulars are there. And they’re all called John.
John with his last days of Richard Burton face. John with the aggressive manner and his Tosh Lines moustache. John from the Merchant Navy. John with the southern demand of no-head on his ale. Even the women are called John. The only one not called John is clutching the bar, glasses hanging off his left ear with homebrew dribbling in a stream from his nose, coughing and spluttering. He is in fact called Ken. The jukebox lurches on into the strident sound of late 1990s era pop, and the room becomes hotter still as I lean back for breath, breathing through meat. I’ve gone at least two thirds of the way through my dinner. And then I hear the cows come home. Turning round, I see them through the patio doors. Solemn faces. Mooing in unison. I can see four, five, possibly six. They’ve come looking for me…
I see them through the patio doors. Solemn faces. Mooing in unison. I can see four, five, possibly six. Coming back into my mind and into my reality. Slowly pacing on the pulsating carpet. Pall bearers. I look for sanctuary, none to be found. The cows stalk towards my table, their grave faces swimming towards me. Pat falls to the floor with a slump. His heart has given away for the sixth time. His body meets the floor with a hollow thump. He blubbers on the floor. He’s dead. One of cows stalks over to him, and starts butting his corpse. The gathered Johns whimper and curse, and the leader, a ratty little bloke known as Dave ‘The Rave is screaming obscenities even louder, a peculiar stench starts to emenate from his trousers. Madonna’s ‘Frozen’ clatters through the speaker system. I know what I have to do. I have to eat the cows. Not literally of course. I’m nearly fit to burst. With renewed vigour, I get up on the chair, and stride manfully on the table. I hold the rest of the burger aloft, ketchup and grease dribbling down my arm. The cows move back in terror. Another munch on the burger makes two of the pack disappear into the fat air to raucous cheers. One munch on the burger for power. Just one mouthful left, and I’ll defeat the enemy. My eyes water, my migrane sears through my frontal lobes. I stand on the table, aloof, and erect. Stretching my stomach as much as I can, I shovel the last piece of burger in, and a deafening moo of agony, fills the air and penetrates the whole of King’s Norton to its core. A triumph! As I digest, the last of the cows are finished off. My plate is clean. The visions dissapate.
And again, nobody from my callow youth seems to be here, in consciousness, or spirit, let alone physical form. All fragments of their existence have been erased, as if they never existed, and merely occured in my brain. They’ve all gone. Moved on, or perhaps dead. I am sitting there, nearly 10 years on. And my plate is clean. As I stand on the table in the middle of the pub, I don’t care as the room is quiet and people are staring in disgust. No. My plate is clean. I wipe my greasy hands and face with my serviette. And I’m ready for the next of my day. And as I walk out the pub, I notice Toby Carvery’s face staring up at me. It might be a beef induced hallucination but I’m sure he winks at me. My belly is full. My plate is clean.
I performed this piece at the Om Sera event in the Prince of Wales in Moseley a year or so ago. I had been booked to play as the spoken word attraction in the middle of a programme of entirely musical acts – which is always a problem as some humans, despite years of education, have never been able to hack spoken word programmed alongside music. They can’t hack it. I went on when it was my turn, and, with my fanbase kneeling eagerly at the front, I started reading.
Near the end, where the cows come through the door and the piece starts to build to its crescendo, a member of the audience shouted at me to fuck off. I told him to fuck off himself and carried on reading. My aggressor shouted at me to fuck off again, and again, I told him likewise, and carried on undaunted, getting louder and louder admist the commotion, the effing and jeffing going on like a frantic tennis match over the top of the prose as I relayed wolfing down my burger in defiance against the bovine onslaught. And me and my aggressor were now locked, now not in competition, but in cahoots. We both knew it. This, my brothers and sisters was live literature. As the penultimate paragraph ended, I stood with arms aloft like a hip Jesus, head tilted back, all silent, and I finished the piece in silence. The crowd thought it was YEAH and I went off to rapturous applause and my aggressor, now conspirator, said ‘fair play to you mate’ and bought me a pint. Job done.