After getting the rights back to "Carp Fishing On Valium" from ST. Martin's Press a year or so ago, I sat on it for awhile, rather distracted as I was by a few other things involving an old band of mine and a Hollywood movie.
But with a bit of work behind it, it's out again, in both paperback, thanks to our own John Howells' Tangible Press, and also on Kindle and other E-reader formats, that marvelous new expression of light (in terms of weight) entertainment for travelers and people with weak arms.
One thing I knew I had to do was punch it up a bit, give it a bit more heft in the form of more stories, something to induce the gullible to buy it twice (!), basically. And so I plugged the old computer in. You know the one: it's the size of the QE2, runs at sloth speed, looks like an old wooden TV set minus the rabbit ears and hums like a bee sting on a gout infected foot. Hauling that old thing out of the attic and out of its box is still compromising the couch-bent spine that resides in my back and the pain killers are to this day in constant use (not really), but it was worth it. Buried in the mounds of moulding bit-rot in the ancient Apple's innards were three unpublished stories in various states of (de)composition.
It transpires that after the editing and re-writes of the ten stories that made it into the original Carp Fishing collection, I still had three other potential stories left over, one of which my editor, Tim Farrington had had a go at but bailed out when he found himself disgusted with the premise of what he called "the whole fucking Peter Pan crap" that the story was deeply invested in. Yes, Tim - who had called me "The Mark Twain of Surrey" - was not at all keen on the bent of this particular story and thought the sudden emergence of the 13-year-old Porker's magic powers was a travesty of the highest order. Well, this sowed the seeds of doubt in me as to the stories' veracity even though as Tim then said: "Paradoxically, this is some of the best writing you've done."
That second assessment I agreed with ( who wouldn't?) but it turned out that my feeling anyway was that the ten stories we had both accepted were actually a fairly well-rounded collective in their own right and did not need any further additions, so I stuck with those and called it a book.
But still I continued composing tales, in thrall of the idea that I was now in fact a "writer" and not just a song writer. Being a writer, I decided, was a man's job, and being a song writer was a boy's job, because it was so much harder to write stories, apart from the fact that you didn't have to use rhyme, something I conveniently overlooked at the time and which of course makes song writing pretty damn manly and tricky in its own right.
The three tales that missed the original boat are presented in the new format(s) as a trilogy entitled "KERNLEY DAYS," Kernley being the fictional village that Porker grows up in, which is touched upon in some of the previously published stories. One of the "new" stories is nice, one of them is naughty, and the other one is naughty, too. In fact the third one is actually filthy. Disgusting, really. Gross, perhaps. It's so hyper-sexual it should be banned. I think when I wrote it I had the mercenary idea that the book needed to be sexed up a bit, so I forced the issue and stepped into the abyss. That's supposed to sell, right? Of course, it wouldn't have worked for me anyway and the book would not have sold any more even if this particular piece had been at the level of Sade or Welsh. As it happens, the book sold over the amount of the advance anyway or it wouldn't have made a second edition in paperback, so it's worked out fine that "A Dearth Of Women," the grossly explicit story in question, has been hiding in that almost pre-Internet computer for all this time since about 1999 at least.
The first story of the trilogy, "The Flat of My Hand," - the one that upset my editor so much - involves the acquisition of supernatural powers that the narrator wields to solve a womans' heinous violation by a Scottish Sergeant Major, with much abuse of the power along the way. Young Brian Porker can't resist a good old trouncing foray, most of it directed at a certain Mrs. Hooght, the mother of one of Porker's pals who our (anti) hero has recently left stuck up a tree which the poor fellow consequently falls from and breaks an arm (Hooght The Younger's older brother turns up in tale number two of the trilogy), an injury which the fishwife Mrs. Hooght squarely - and quite rightly! - blames Brian, ringleader and troublemaker that he is.
The second story, "Did Otis Play The Big C," is the one of which I'm perhaps the most proud. Porker is now 17 and is clubbing it up in the "desolate southern suburbs" where he hears a rumor (sic) that Otis Redding played in a tiny club called "The Big C," a fairly new establishment he frequents quite regularly to dance to soul, Motown and ska and occasionally try his hand at picking up birds. A ham-fisted sexual encounter occurs in this story, too, but thankfully nowhere near as graphic as the examples in "Dearth." How could he have missed Otis, playing in the dank and minute quarters of a night club a mere ten minute bus ride from his home? Blue, blue, midnight blue are the colors (sic) he sees (like the background color of the "Otis Blue" album cover) on tattered shreds of posters - along with letters that echo the title of the parenthetical Otis volume - below newly ripped bills adorning the telephone poles on the way to the club as he goes to see the (to him) awful pop/psychedelic band Tomorrow and to meet the green-eyed blonde girl who will later help him with a surfeit of virginal spermatozoa. Oh, what fun I had writing this one! Fiction is fiction, which means that like song writing, it takes a grain of reality and blows it up out of all proportion, and somewhere nagging at my memory for years has been this idea that I did indeed (in real life) hear somewhere, from someone - back in those days when word of mouth was often all you had to go on to find out who was playing where - that Otis had in fact played the Big C! I'll never know (I've looked it up but can't find any evidence) but imagine if, somewhere around 1966/67, this had actually happened, that my (and Porker's) idol had graced the stage of a joint that held maybe a hundred people in a town called Farnworth (in reality Farnborough), a short bus ride from Porker's (my) youthful abode. And poor Brian (who?) missed it! After all, I (Brian Porker) did actually (really!) stand in line at this very club to see Martha and the Vandellas there in this approximate time period only to hear - as me and some mates stood in line - the announcement of one of the clubs' hirelings who had reluctantly, risking life and limb, appeared at the head of the line to shout: "Sorry, but Martha and the Vandellas can't make it tonight!" before ducking back down the venue's stairs leaving a lot of grumbling moddie boys considering charging down after him for a good old fashioned bout of severe agro (only halfheartedly it turned out: we simply went home).
Now if Martha and the Vandellas were at least scheduled to play there - and they had had a much bigger hit than Otis ever had - why not The Man himself?
This terrible memory haunts me to this day. What do you do with trauma like that? You write about it, that's what. And you turn it into fiction, because nothing else captures it so well.
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Well what do you know? Someone has unearthed the info I dreaded: Otis really did play the Big C. My meager and as always impatient research got me as far as the 1967 Stax tour of Europe featuring Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd and Otis Redding, among others. My thinking was that in the unlikely event that Otis did indeed play the Big C (aka the Carousel) club in the humble town of Farnborough, a very short bus ride from where I grew up, it may have been a stray gig he did tacked on to the beginning or end of that tour. But it appears that he played there in September 1966, a couple of months before my 16th birthday.
I don't know exactly when I started going to the soul clubs in the south of England but it most probably wasn't until '67 that it became something of a regular event, when I got a Lambretta and some of my older friends had graduated to cars. And so, even though I was immersed in Otis's music by then it would have been easy to have been totally unaware that my idol was doing a show right under my nose.
You may be able to tell from the main body of this essay (see above) that if I did ever did find out that he played a gnats' whisker away from me, I would be, if not devastated, at least a tad bummed out. Very simply put: I am. Somewhere between devastated and bummed out, that is.
Yes, I'm bum-tated. Deva-bummed. Very fucking pissed off, describes it just as well.
Hey, but the story would not have existed if I'd known for sure about the Otis gig in a club the size of a shoe box and gotten to that show, which must surely have been mind blowing, like having Otis play your living room.
Here's the proof: