Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Les Noises d'Antan of Steve Allendripp

All hospitals are haunted; they are locations of long wakefulness, hidden sleep, comas, drugged states and all other stations on the Circle Line, (from the cradle to the grave, (with careful record keeping)).

Sometimes the machinery on some hospital Wards can sound like it was designed by a man who spent many happy years next to some slough, listening, thrilled, to the trilled mating calls of its amphibian inhabitants. He was probably zonked out of his head on laudanum so he didn’t get the Dengue and didn’t feel it as the mossies drilled their probosci into his swamp-hardened hide.

But it could have been a woman who found the repeated chirruping vocalisations of frog testosterone comforting. In any event, whoever it was seemingly wished to impart the solace that they derived from such amphibian racket to others; perhaps more than anywhere else on Intensive Care Wards, where one can hear the peeping and beeping of the various electronic monitors that track hearts, pulses and intra and extra bodily fluid flows of many sorts.

Possibly the imaginary swamp margin dwelling computer noise designer , (or designers), had a Swiss colleague whose childhood joys and comforts came, not from proximity to fetid marshlife, but from the cool clean air of high summer alpine pastures, replete with leather-clad yodelling cattle herders herding leather-clad cattle, that had bells round their necks.

Swissperson gave bell-like sounds to the ECG machines attached to some patients in some wards. Each one like, the bells of the mountain kine, might ring with a different note from others or ring at a different pace to the others, depending on what which patient’s body did.

Above all the bells and frogs, in most adult wards, most patients seemed mostly silent save for the occasional cough or groan, but there often seemed to be those who had something to shout like:





Some, old schoolers, merely shouted:


The more innovative also caused their Helvetic cowbells to sound whilst keeping this up and sometimes adding loud requests for such things as dry cornflakes, the name of the hospital that they were in, the location of their money or another blanket to replace the one that they had just thrown off the bed.

One polite old man shouted out


Another slowly but loudly enunciated:


Steve Allendripp had once taught in the schools and colleges of the ILEA, (Inner London Education Authority), in the long lost days of municipal socialist internationalism. Then there were reckoned to be two hundred languages spoken in London.

Municipal socialist internationalism may slumber now, in the deep cellars of County Hall, next to the sweet Thames, but it will be more insomniac than King Arthur and his nighty knights. It will spasm into life like a fresh Frankenstein cobbled together from barely feasible alliances amongst the chronically fissiparous British left. It will be spawned by nuclear waste traces in the river drifting downstream from some weapons research station unmarked on any map of Berkshire.

Municipal socialist internationalism will rise like Godzilla tearing upwards through the tanks of the aquarium above, smashing water tank walls and sending thrashing, gleaming, hydrodynamic sharks to shatter the windows of Coffee Shops and Noodle Bars and decapitate themselves a last meal of Tourist’s Head Soup before diving into the river.

Municipal socialist internationalism will quadrifurcate tourist hotels from within, a kilometre tall larva of future exploding out of a rotting marrow. Municipal socialist internationalism will march across the Thames to more wetly realise the fiery ambitions of Fawkes the papist Taliban. It will smash the four giants, (Poverty, Squalor, Ignorance and Disease), who are pandered to by suited parasites in the medieval shack on the north bank. It will do for Gog and MaGog too.

“FROM CRADLE TO GRAVE!” It will roar and pigeons will spiral up in dense grey flocks like clouds of smoke. Urban seagulls will squawk and fly off for awaydays by the sea; jets will fall out of the sky.

In the meantime as Steve Allendripp gets older and his dreams get madder, globalisation don’t stop and the jets still fly “Theyboris” want to build a new airport even on the mudflats of the Thames estuary which will eventually eat it. London sucks in cheap labour like a belching plughole together with babies, bathwater and anything else it can get. So by the early 21st there must be more than two hundred languages spoken in London, and fewer than ever understood.

Some Psychiatrists reckon that there is a window of opportunity in child hood, when, given some sort of multi-lingual environment, it is possible to speak and understand more than one language truly fluently. People can learn languages later but will still probably retain their older accents and maybe continue to think and dream in their mother tongues.

Steve Allendripp’s parents, particularly the Da, were Francophiles. Not surprising, when SA thought about it; Father had been born in 1902 and almost lived into the Nineties. Thankfully, he had not been into gung-ho heroism, lying about his age and volunteering for the Mincer; and Hitler had been stopped at Dunkirk; so he had been too young for the First and too old for the Second. However, he’d known enough of rationing and culture, and he’d been to Paris as an art student in his twenties, (when, legendarily, he didn’t have the twenty quid to buy a Gauguin print), to want what the French had i.e.; better weather, better cooking, and a more direct appreciation of sensual beauty perhaps (?).

Although Steve Allendripp’s parents were Francophiles, they were not Francophones, but they tried to remedy this by sending five year old Steve to the Français Lycée de Londres in South Kensington.

It seems that the sash cord on Steve Allendripp’s window of opportunity was well frayed by then, if not completely cut. He remembered a bleak brick walled playground hemmed in by tall buildings; being given dead white worms to eat and strange golden globules of oil on the soup. As soften in later life, people shouted at him in a language that he did not understand and then shouted more when he did not understand them.

Later on real Francophones told him that he had a decent accent; but either the slang of his contemporaries or anything more complex than a present tense, lost him. He did become a Francophile, (for much the same reasons that his parents had), but otherwise he was a monoglot clot.

Had he been born a decade earlier he might just have ended up in one of the messy wars that marked the end of the British Empire.; but instead of being sent off to shout at foreigners, they came to him London Schools and colleges to be shouted at, because the British Empire and succeeding neo-imperialist British foreign policies had made the nation behave like a hungry star fish, in that it had vomited up its stomach in the general direction of the rest of the world and then re-ingested this organ together with whatever it had managed catch in it.

F. Ransome- Kuti, the Nigerian politico-pop star had once reputedly harangued an audience in the Brixton Academy with words to the effect that: “No wonder they abolished slavery, you packed your suitcases and came over here on your own accord.” As any sensible study of migration will state, there are “push” and “pull” factors.

So, often there are old people on 21st century British hospital wards, scared of pain, in a strange place surrounded by strange people, bells, frog noises lights and machines. They get upset, very upset and some of them shout and shout, because they don’t know what the nurses and doctors mean and their children have brought them here and then gone off and left them.

It’s surely a coincidence of course, but there are people who get ghosted. Sometimes Steve Allendripp would sit and sleep in the sticky oilskin armchair that had been placed next to his hospital bed, because, when he laid down his head on the pillow he had only the thickness of a plastic curtain between himself and one of the noisy elderly.

As well as, but associated with Steve Allendripp’s parents’ Francophilia, had been settling as middle-class pioneers in a borough called Fulham in West London. Fulham is on the river and is bordered by some beautiful sweeps of the Thames; Father dreamt of painting some Impressionist views of these and indeed did so.

If you really want to know what “middle-class pioneers” means in the context of twentieth century London, you could read Mayhew or Rowntree, compare with the Chicago school of ethology, and see that London and Chicago, (and maybe New York too?), have urban differing “ecologies”, seemingly formed under the same pressures of globalisation driven migration

To a London based reader or film viewer, Chicago and/or New York can seem rigidly ethnically segregated in contrast to the fluid pussiness of the Great Wen. Maybe the market drove? When Steve Allendripp was a boy in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s, one end of his street had been dead posh with cabinet ministers, and other dross, living in luxury riverside apartment blocks situated next to an exclusively priced tennis club and private park of what had once been a Victorian grandee’s mansion. The other end of the street had had a dairy with stables for its horses and a large commercial laundry, both with their attendant steamy stinks. There was a nearby noisy railway line; and a hundred yards further on, on the New Kings Road, there were fish and chip shops and a scrap metal merchants, with blackboard painted walls so that the latest prices of various types old iron could be chalked up. So homes at the north end of the road were cheaper, but each had three bedrooms and large private gardens, they attracted middle middle class families, who came displacing owner occupiers and the lonely old who had hung on in there. In price terms, the area became marked as ‘upcoming’ by Estate Agents and the whole borough got nicknamed ‘South Chelsea’ and the Invisible Hand pointed a shining path out to suburbs beyond the North and South Circulars and even the orbital motorway for whelks, cloth caps, dropped aitches, eel, pies mash and green liquor.

So Steve Allendripp spent a largely happy childhood in a home that shook from trains, stank from factories, (especially if the wind ever blew the whiff of Price’s candle factory in Battersea up the river), came to be underneath a jet flight path into Heathrow airport and on winter evenings sometimes echoed to the foghorns of the tugs towing trains of barges on the river; then it might be like being inside a gigantic bittern booming in a fen.

Given such early aural socialisation, it was perhaps unsurprising that as a hospital patient teetering on the brink of an earlyish old age, having an older person shout and scream repeatedly and incoherently inches away from his ear was something that Steve Allendripp, soon became able to sleep through; whereas the low concerned mutterings of night nurses and duty doctors might disturb him.

He might wake because the shouting had stopped. Ambulance persons and/or porters might be wheeling a bed out of the ward or wheeling another one in. A shouter would be transferred to another ward and the electronic amphibians would resume their futile mating songs. Cowbells would ring again in the high pastures of heaven.

But Steve got ghosted to another ward when he hadn’t made one peep out of line, but this was because he did not understand the nature of medical crevasses or the pressures and organisational soreness brought on by beds.

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