Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Stonebridge Park: NW10

                                         Stonebridge Park; NW10
                                           Chris Sullivan ©2017
Can you see me? That's me, lying on the concrete.
Funny! I thought people would rush out of their front doors to see me.
But nobody seems bothered apart from those kids.
At least I stopped them playing ball.I am laying here now and I don’t know why I did it; I don't even know how I am talking to you.
Is it my voice you hear?
Or is this going straight onto the page or into a magazine?
I know I’m communicating with someone - somewhere; it might even be going
straight onto somebody's computer screen.
Computers and mobile phones; tablets and apps - the wonder of the age; all those exciting people sitting on the trains or in Starbucks with their tablets.
The only tablets I ever have are pills: green ones and red ones; uppers and downers; tranquilizers and Mandrax.
At least I never took acid.
I saw a bloke the other day; he was sitting in Starbucks with the thing on his lap. Then he stopped typing and looked up, with his mouth open; I thought he was dead; his eyes were staring at my newspaper so I moved it slightly to see if he really was looking at it, but as I moved it, his eyes just starred straight ahead to where the paper had been; his mouth was still gaping and I thought something had happened to him; then something must have ignited inside him and he started typing again.
As I walked out I looked over his shoulder to see what he was doing and all I
could see was the word complaints; I thought about it later and realised that he probably never stops work; starts again when he gets home.
Why does he bother with the journey?
I saw a film once when a dead body talked to the audience; just like I'm doing
now. It was Sunset Boulevard with William Holden who played a screenwriter who was shot by Gloria Swanson. He lay in a Beverly Hills swimming pool, face down, talking to the audience in voice over whilst the fire department and the police tried to fish him out.
I often wondered how they did that shot: he was being photographed from the bottom of the pool and, in the background, you could see the cops standing at the side of the pool clear as a bell.
You can't usually do that as you can't see people clearly when you are submerged. Then someone told me: it was shot from outside the pool in to a mirror so you could see all. Don't ask me to explain it that's all I know.
I thought I would be lying face down; it's my fault: when I jumped I should
have dived head first; I wasn't even sure if I would hit the concrete or the grass - or
what's left of the grass.
I didn't actually aim for anything; as soon as I reached the top floor I more or less
leapfrogged over the side.
If I'd have thought about it I wouldn't have done it at all.
I wish I hadn't done it now.
Oh no! Here comes a dog. I hope he doesn't . . . it's okay somebody has sent him
away; it is a 'he' - I can see that very well from down here.
I wonder what I look like.
It didn't hurt; the funny thing, on the way up I went past a few teenagers sitting on the stairs; a few frightening looking roughnecks. Why they wanted to sit there is beyond me; maybe they were dealing in drugs? I don't know, but they actually frightened me; I thought they would try and mug me or something. It's strange that I should be scared of them when I was contemplating the ultimate act.
The first thing I noticed about the apartment building was the stink; I don't know
what it was: shit, piss - who knows? but it wasn't very pleasant. Why would those kids would want to hang around on those stairs in that smell?
I had passed this building many times; often wondered what kind of people lived
here; still do. Nobody has come out yet: why don't these kids tell the grown ups what has happened?
At least someone might cover me up.
When I landed my feet, or legs, must have been pushed up through my body
making me three feet tall - ha ha!
But there was no pain.
I was really out of breath by the time I got to the top, as the lift wasn't working and I thought there would be a lock on the door to the roof; it might have even put me off.
But there wasn't; twenty four floors and I was almost depleted.
I was talking to a man earlier: I was trying to walk along the street and he stopped
me; wanted to talk, well not talk, he wanted to complain. Complain about everything; he told me he was eighty three and had a false leg; he said he knew somebody else who had two false legs and I wanted to ask him if his friend had the height on his passport with or without legs; it would be funny to go into another country and your passport reads that you are three feet and there you are standing at a normal height; they might even . . .
I think there's a bit of movement from one of the flats; yes one of the kids has
knocked a door and pointed me out to them; the woman went back in again maybe to use the phone.
It's very quiet; I'm surprised at that. It may be because I'm not used to it yet; it might be like buying a stereo and learning how to control the sound. I didn't even think I'd be able to communicate but I am communicating with you! I know I am communicating because I feel it; I just don't know who you are.
What will my family say? If I'd planned it I would have left them a note; but I was
driving past this building, had the thought and here I am. If I'd have really planned it I would have gone somewhere famous; maybe The Shard; not this dump; maybe even the Empire State Building: 'Man jumps off Empire State Building;' mmn.
I don't think anybody's ever jumped off The Shard.
That woman has dragged somebody out and they're coming across; good job
you’re wearing underwear, missus; here they come!
Oh no! They've put something over me; I can't see too much now.
Hey! I can hear and they've called an ambulance.
There's a carriage clock in my car; my stinking old car. Forty years work for a carriage clock ; it said so on the inscription? Who would want to steal someone’s retirement present? The lowest of the low I should think.
The man with the one leg must have worked somewhere for forty years; he got a
little emotional when I told him that if he fitted a sponge like material to the top of the false leg and lay back on it that it would be like sitting down all day when he was actually standing up.
He said he'd been trying to tell them that at the hospital for a long time but they
wouldn't listen to him.
I was really trying to go to the post office and all he wanted to do was talk and
He complained about the people that parked outside his house and said it was about time they were towed away. He told me that if a car vacated a space outside
his building he would get his car from his garage and park it in the street.
I wanted to know why he did this and he said he did it to stop others.
As I looked at him I wanted to give him a smack on the side of his jaw and go;
every time I started to go he put his hand on my shoulder like a cop would, and then he would complain about something else: the government, the European Union, modern pop music, immigrants.
He said he had been to the post office that morning but there was a huge queue - I
only wanted stamps, he said, and I told them they should hire more people as I didn’t have all day.
He told them he was going to write to their supervisor as soon as he got home and
said they were very nice to him after that.
That's the way I'd end up, I suppose; just like him; complaining and moaning. I'm
better off lying here - or laying here I think it should be, but what does it matter?
What's the good of an ambulance to me now? I know they have paramedics on
board these days but they'd need Jesus Christ Himself to do me any good . . .
- will they have to scrape me up?
They've covered my face and legs but they've left my left hand exposed: if that
dog licks me will I be able to feel it? But they've sent the dog away; if the dog licked me on my face would it wake me? I am awake; awake and dead!
Somebody has just noticed the ring on my finger; I hope they don't steal it.
Stealing from the dead is nearly as bad as stealing a presentation box, with a carriage clock inside, from an old timer.
Here come the cops.
- Hello mister policeman.
He is using the tip of his finger and thumb to lift the blanket from my face.
- Hello.
Only a young pup not more than a kid; bit too much for him. He didn't look at me
properly; just a quick glance and away.
- Who saw him jump?
Oh look! All the kids saw me jump and the old lady who was inside watching TV
saw me jump too. How come I was lying here for five minutes before the old lady came out? That's what I want to know; and the kids carried on playing ball for a while; what were they waiting for?
I wish I could see if the carriage clock in the car is okay; it's inscribed. I locked the
car so it should be okay.
Here come the paramedics; they're flashing the light and everything. Why should
they do that? I'm not going anywhere; well I am when they pick me up - scrape me up or whatever.
The man with one leg said he'd been a dancer for forty years. I suppose it's ironic
that a man who needs his legs for work should lose one; rather like an actor losing his voice. He told me he didn't like Strictly Come Dancing; they're not proper dancers, he said, they overdo everything. They should do it this way, he said, and he started doing some kind of fox trot and, as he had a stiff leg, he looked like somebody who was having a fit.
People started to look.
- They should be doing it that way, he said.
Swish swish - with the head this time.
- They should be doing it like this; a smaller swish with the head.
That's when I found out he was a professional dancer. I couldn't see him getting a
carriage clock for being a professional dancer; not unless it was a prize . . . .
- Hello paramedic; halloooo!
This fella’s having a good look; he knows his job. He likes his job I can see that;
he likes looking at dead bodies.
- Look at me, folks, he's saying to them, I'm not scared of dead bodies: I've
scraped them off the motorway before now.
His partner is getting the stretcher out - and the shovel I should think.
There is no address on the presentation box - just the man's name; oh it has the
name of the company that presented it and the date so they might be able to trace it.
The man with the one leg said he had automatic transmission in his car as it was
easy to drive that way.
He told me that he met somebody in a hospital who went swimming and would leave their false leg on the side of the pool; nobody would take any notice of it; not the kind of thing anybody would steal. I don’t know; he hadn’t met me.
I am now being lifted onto the stretcher and I can't feel any sensation whatsoever.
Wheel me away, folks!
Now they have covered me up completely with some sort of blanket and I can't
see; nothing to see.
When I was talking to the one legged man a young girl came walking past us; I
couldn't see her, at first, as she was approaching from behind.
- Look at this, he said, she needs some treatment!
He said it loud enough so she could hear him.
She was wearing a pair of very tight shorts and a flimsy top. When he said 'look at
this' I automatically turned around and she must have noticed. He followed her with his lascivious leer until she was gone.
- Shouldn't be allowed, he said, walking out like that.
Too late mister, I said to myself as I walked away.
- See you, he shouted after me.
I put my hand up without turning around; Montgomery Clift did that in one of his
movies; everybody tells me about it but I have yet to see it; don't suppose I will now.
As I walked away from him I saw the presentation box in the front seat of a
parked car. I was never sure what I was going to do with it or even how much it was worth, but I put it into my bag and carried on walking as if nothing had happened. The car should have been locked; the window should have been closed. What can you expect leaving cars unlocked?
I took the clock to an antique market to sell to one of the traders and when I took
it out of my bag I noticed the inscription.
Forty years work for a carriage clock; it had been presented on the day I stole it; who would steal such a thing? The lowest of the low.
It seems they're going to take me to the morgue; I don't even know where that is.
Won't really need to know from now on. I'll just have to see what happens; no one will miss me so who cares; no one ever misses the lowest of the low.
I am being lifted into the ambulance but now things are different; now I can see
myself and I am a cadaver; can you see me? Can you still hear me?
As they lift me into the ambulance I am going higher and higher.
Where am I going, I wonder?
It seems to be up but that could mean anything; I'm glad they covered me up.
I don't think I would like to see what I did to myself.
I'm not sorry any more. I don't regret anything; apart from stealing the carriage clock.
I hope you get it back.

                                                          THE END

I wrote this about twenty years or so ago. It has appeared in many on line mags and things and in 2010, when I was in Edinburgh at the festival, after the performance each night, we would go to the Captain's Bar just off Nicholson Street where poetry and short stories were being read. I read this, amongst other things, and there wasn't a sound in a full pub –               hey man! That's some weird story, I would hear.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Portobello Road W10 by Chris Sullivan.

     Portobello Road; W10
Chris Sullivan ©2017

It was nineteen-ninety – a new millennium, we called it, although the millennium proper with all its problems and terror was ten years away.
I was standing on the corner of Portobello Road and Cambridge Gardens, looking for my pal, my old buddie Barry. It was seven-thirty in the morning and I should have met him at six. I knew he'd still be around, somewhere, as we had come to search for bargains. We were going to be high end antique dealers and millionaires. Barry had been watching The Antiques Road Show on television, he had a Miller's Collectibles book and I was a subscriber to The Antiques Trade Gazette and Exchange & Mart; so we were ready to go.
Portobello Road was and is quite an atmospheric location to hang out on Friday mornings, so I didn't mind too much as there was plenty to see: up the street I could see the junk dealers and gypsies loading their stalls; someone had brought their merchandise and rubbish on a horse and cart and as the cart was being unloaded the horse stood there depositing garden fertilizer on to the road surface, which used to be called the horse road in years gone by.
One solitary horse in a street; a street which was part of a city which, a hundred years before, would have housed, or stabled, two hundred and fifty thousand of them. Each week, hundreds or so dead horses would be taken from London to be disposed of, together with many millions of tons of horse manure for agriculture.
In some parts of the world, and not too long ago in London, people would run out from their dwellings and collect the dung with a spade and fill buckets as the manure was great for their gardens. This time it just lay there, steaming.
It is supposed to be good for agriculture because horses don't fully digest their food if it isn't grass; bits of undigested oats in their excrement feed the sparrows too but these days there are very few horses about and consequently very few sparrows.
Somewhere in the melee of dealers and boxes was Barry and as I looked for him at the junk end of the street I knew that behind me, under the canopies and stalls with covers, was the posh end.
Jim had told me that on the posh side many many thousands of pounds would change hands before dawn every Friday; Friday was the trade day and Saturday was for the tourists and public.
Jim was a gypsy from Ireland; he cleaned out jumble sales and car boot sales and brought everything to Portobello Market, and whatever was left at the end of the day he would donate to the local tip where other dealers would buy the stuff from the people in charge.
He seemed to do okay spending most of his holidays touring the continent in his tiny caravan with his wife and large family. As I looked around for Barry I could see Jim standing on the other side of the street, behind his stall, smoking a cigarette and sitting on a pile of cardboard boxes.
'Hi Jim' I said as I walked to his stall.
'Did you do any good?'
'I've just arrived' I said 'have you seen Barry?'
'I told you to get here for six if you want to stand a chance' he said sarcastically, puffing on his fag.
'I overslept' I said.
It seemed a bit of a strange thing to say, at that time of the morning, - I had been up since dawn! How can that be oversleeping?
I had dashed out of the house, driven like a maniac down the A40, luckily found a parking spot in Ladbroke Grove and walked along Cambridge Gardens to the spot I said where I would meet Barry all before seven thirty; very unusual for me!
'Have you seen him?' I asked again.
'I just arrived myself' he said, as he took out another fag and lit it on his old one: 'I'll unpack as soon as I've had my smoke.'
'Think it'll be a good day, today?' I said.
'These days people don't want to spend any money.' he said.
I left him complaining and moaning and going on about back in the day and how things used to be when you could buy a twopenny cigarette and a cup of tea for less than a quid.
We came here at Jim's suggestion – we? - where was Barry? But it doesn't matter where you go nothing is the same – and why would it be?
In my day people had rickets!!
The pair of us, me and Barry, and even Barry and me, were novice antique dealers. He knew a lot more than I did and I was learning as we went along. I had a few bob in my pocket, from being made redundant, and I wanted to make money with it as opposed to pissing it up the wall or losing it at the bookies; if we saw something cheap, that we could sell at a profit, we'd buy it.
We went to antique fairs, car boot sales and auctions: learning all the time, buying a bit here and a bit there. Antique Fairs were funny; little old ladies hiding behind a great pile of porcelain doing their knitting; they didn't seem to be in business at all. It was as if they'd taken the contents from their front room to display at the local church hall or hotel. If anybody asked how much something was, the stall holder would come out from her knitting, stand in front of the table, and give a full history of whatever was for sale.
All the customer wanted to know was the price!
I think the only good thing about those kind of fairs with the ridiculously high prices was that some of the prices are sometimes ridiculously low!
Barry bought a piece of Clarice Cliff one day from a 'know all' dealer for ten pounds and sold it to another for a hundred.
There was a little bit of an alley way near Jim's stall which led to another road where there is sometimes a parking space where Barry would park if it was available. All I had to do was to look for the blue Volvo with a load of smoke coming from it and I would inevitably find Barry. It didn't take long; there was no smoke, as he wasn't smoking, but I saw the silly roof rack first.
Barry had gone in to debt for the car and it looked quite smart – apart from the roof rack which was about twenty years older than the car and made it look quite scruffy – a nice blue Volvo and a scruffy roof rack!
He was sitting in the front seat, reading a newspaper and scoffing a bag of chips. That was the nice thing about the neighbourhood on market days; you could buy chips from dawn.
I knocked on the window and he pressed the button and it opened 'where you been?' he asked.
'Silly bugger.'
I thought he was going to continue reading his newspaper when I saw him turn away but he was reaching for something under the seat.
'What's that?' he said, holding up a candlestick.
'A candlestick?'
'I reckon that's Sheffield Plate' he said, stuffing it back under the seat.
I knew that Sheffield Plate was a fusion of copper and silver plate – something like that – as I'd looked it up in Barry's book but I'd never seen it before.
He told me that he'd spent all his money and hoped for about three hundred profit – if he could sell it all.
He got out and we walked off 'I'm going for a cuppa – do you want one?' he said.
I nodded and told him I was going to give it a try no matter how late I was and left him.
As I walked back to Portobello I saw an attractive young red headed girl talking to Jim as he was putting his goods out on the stall.
As I approached, Jim said 'watch this fella - he'll bite your hand off for a bargain.'
'Take no notice of Jumble Jim, love' I said 'when he's not here he's at his villa in Spain.'
'I wouldn't mine being in a villa anywhere today' she said as she rubbed her hands together.
Jim took some kind of scroll out from one of his boxes; I picked it up and opened it slightly and I could see Hebrew writing – The Dead Sea Scrolls? I thought.
'How much?' I asked.
'Fifty' said Jim.
I put it down.
'How much did you say?' said the girl.
'Fifty' said Jim 'fifty pence.'
'You're on' said the girl giving him a fifty pence coin and walking off with the scroll.
I stood there with my mouth open. Fifty bloody pence and I thought he meant fifty pounds.
'See you Jim' I said and walked after her.
She went behind one of the stalls at the posh end then Barry stopped me and bunged a cup of tea in to my hand.
'Who's that girl?' I said
'What girl?'
'That red head there. Going behind the stall' I said between gritted teeth.
'Don't know – must be casual' he said, adding 'why do you fancy her?'
'She's just bought a Jewish scroll from Jim. Go and find out how much it is' I said as I took Barry's tea from him before walking over the street and ducking behind a car.
I watched Barry talking to her; I didn't really want her to know I was still interested. They chatted and he came back.
'How much?'
'Hundred and fifty pounds' he said.
'How much?' I repeated.
'One hundred and fifty pounds.'
'You're joking.'
'I'm not' he said 'it's cheap; must be worth about six hundred.'
'Are you sure?'
'Maybe more' he said 'and I'm skint.'
'If you're sure we'll buy it between us – fifty fifty.'
I gave my cup of tea to Barry and walked towards . . . towards the scroll.
'Hello again' I said to her 'guess what I'm after?'
She lit up a cigarette and shrugged.
'I'll give you a profit on the scroll.'
'Sounds fair' she said and she kind of batted her eye lids at me as she took a huge pull from her fag.
'How does a fiver sound?' I said.
'Sounds terrible' was her reply - 'I told your pal the price when you were hiding behind that car.'
'You saw me?'
'I saw you.'
I took three fifty pound notes from my back pocket.
'Is that your best?' I said as I picked up the scroll and handed over the money.
'You want me to knock something off?'
I nodded.
'How does a fiver sound?' she said.
'Terrible.' I said and I took the fiver.
Just along Cambridge Gardens is a tiny park; Portobello Green. It seemed to attract drunks and the down and outs from the neighbourhood; I thought the best thing to do was to go in there, sit on a bench and look at it.
'Where you going?' said Barry as I swept past him.
'To look at it.'
'What about your tea?' he said as he trotted up to me.
'Come on' I said and we went into the park.
The place was full of drunks, as usual, with the signs of drug taking and condoms by the only vacant bench. Barry came running up behind me intent on making me drink the dreaded tea.
'Don't run, Nick' he said 'they'll think we pinched it.'
I wasn't running just walking fast; I couldn't wait to have a look. I approached a man who had either fallen or taken a severe beating. The right hand side of his face was covered in cuts and his forehead had a large newly formed abrasion; he muttered something as he staggered past.
'You okay, mate?' I said.
'Do you have fifty pee?'
I gave him a pound coin and sat on the bench. Barry sat beside me and put the tea into my hand as I handed the scroll to him.
He looked at the outside, turned it around to see if it was straight or not then, very carefully, unrolled it and looked at the Hebrew writing. His face was filled with wonder and appreciation.
'It's worth a lot more than I thought' he said, looking at me; I could see a tear in the corner of his eyes, 'it's worth millions and millions; as much as you can imagine.'
'That much?' I said.
'That's what it's worth' he said 'but you want the price.'
I nodded.
'Bring this to me at Covent Garden on Monday and I reckon Invernezzi will give me a couple of grand for it; maybe more.'
'Take it with you.' I said.
'No no – it's yours – I haven't parted with any money yet.'
'I said fifty-fifty; I wouldn't have known how much it was worth; I never saw one before.'
He looked at me with that look he always gave when I've said something silly 'I've told you before' he said 'anything Jewish is always worth buying.'
He handed the scroll back to me very carefully, as if it was thousands of years old; it might have been, for all I knew.
A man came into the park; he was walking very slowly and it was obvious that he was coming towards us. He wore a white trench coat and a black trilby hat and as he walked he was rubbing his jaw as if it helped him ruminate. His body movement together with his appearance reminded me of a Jewish Humphrey Bogart. I looked at him and a half smile lit up his face.
'Who's this?' I whispered to Barry.
'Good morning' the man said in a crisp and clear New York Brooklyn accent 'I'm interested in what you got there.'
We looked at him.
'Do you mind if I take a look?'
'Take a look?' said Barry.
I looked at the man; was the scroll hot? Was he the police?
'I saw you purchase it at the market there – I missed it by a whisker.'
'Sit down' I said.
He did; between us. I gave him the scroll. He took it and, looked at it very closely. 'No cover?' he said, looking at me.
I looked at Barry 'cover?' I shrugged.
Barry looked at the man 'no' he said.
'Naked as a baby' said the man, almost to himself.
He seemed to know a lot about it and understood the Hebrew, smiling slightly as he read it.
'Is this for sale?' he said.
'It will be' I said.
Barry didn't look too pleased.
The man continued to look at it then looked at Barry and said 'how much?'
Barry looked at me 'Nick?'
'A thousand' I said.
Without missing a beat the man said 'dollars or pounds?'
I gulped 'pounds!'
He smiled to himself 'I guessed as much.'
He looked back at the scroll; Barry looked at me and I winked; I knew this fella was interested.
'How does a thousand dollars sound?' he said.
'How much is that in pounds?' said Barry.
'About six hundred' said the man.
Sounded fair enough to me; I put my hand out to shake on the deal but he put the scroll into it 'what about a thousand dollars and fifty pounds cash?'
He really wants it, I thought, as I nursed the scroll in my lap. In the distance I could see the man, to whom I had given the pound coin, settling down for a rest behind one of the benches.
I'll hold out for more money, I thought; I turned to look at Barry whose face was a picture; I remembered he said he would get a couple of grand from Invernezzi at Covent Garden.
'Sorry I can't do it' I said, I was really playing the big dealer now; Barry looked a bit shocked, 'I'll get two grand at the garden.'
'The garden?' he said suddenly, obviously thinking of Madison Square Garden in New York.
'Covent Garden' said Barry.
'On Monday' I said.
He took his hat off, revealing his bald head, and started fanning himself with it; then he put it back on.
'Gentlemen' he said 'I really didn't come out to spend that kind of money.'
He looked at us; we didn't respond but the three of us looked ahead. The man who had settled down for a sleep was getting up and started walking towards the park gate.
'My name is Green' our man said 'Martin Green; if I can meet you tomorrow I'll give you . . .' he paused for a moment; as he did he looked at us, his bright brown eyes darting from one of us to the other; he took a deep breath 'two thousand dollars and three hundred English pounds.'
'That's about nine hundred pounds' said Barry.
'No it's not' I said 'It's . . .about . .'
'Fifteen hundred' said Martin Green 'Pounds.'
'It'll still give you some profit' I said.
He looked straight into my eyes. 'This is not for profit; this belongs in the place of prayer.'
Barry laughed: 'we thought you were a dealer.'
'Gentlemen' said Martin Green 'I'm flying home tomorrow night and I'd like to take this with me; can we do a deal?'
I said 'If you'll excuse us for a moment I'll let you know.'
'Excuse me' he said.
'We need to discuss it.'
'Oh oh' he said, and jumped up from the bench.
'Sure sure' he said and walked off around the park.
When he was out of ear shot I said to Barry 'what do you think?'
As usual he threw the ball back into my court 'It's not up to me it's yours.'
'Fifty-fifty' I said.
'In that case it sounds okay. I would have been happy with his first offer.'
Martin Green was still walking and the way he was heading would bring him back around to us; so I waited for him to get closer.
'Okay' I said 'it's a deal.'
It seemed to release a big weight from his mind and his face lit up into a big smile.
'Great' he said 'I'll meet you here tomorrow – same time?'
I looked at my watch; eight-o-clock.
'Do you have a card?' he said 'in case I need to reach you?'
A card? I didn't even have a piece of paper. I threw the remnants of my tea away and tore a small piece of polystyrene from the cup and wrote my number on it.
'Here' I said 'that's my home number but I won't be there till later this afternoon.'
'But we'll be in the Latimer Arms between eleven and twelve' chipped in Barry.
Martin Green wrote Latimer Arms on the piece of polystyrene I'd given him. He smiled and put it into his pocket. I gave him my hand to shake 'Nick Murphy' I said 'good doing business with you.'
'Likewise' he said and walked off out through the park and into Cambridge Gardens. We watched him walk away.
If this was Portobello Road we would certainly come again.

It was four-o-clock in the morning in New York City and Frank was fast asleep in his apartment. The phone rang, next to his bed and he woke up with a jolt. He could see his clock illuminating the time at him; four-o-clock in the morning was not a good time for Frank. It was four-o-clock in the morning three years earlier when he got the call to go to the hospital. His beloved wife Rachel had died but the hospital didn't tell him that. They spared him the shock and just told him to come in as she had taken a turn for the worse. When he got there they told him. Frank picked up the phone; it was Martin – Martin Green.
'Hi Frank' he said 'did I wake you?'
'No Marty' said Frank 'I just got out of the shower.'
He swung his legs to the side of the bed; it felt good doing that as he could do little else so sprightly at his time of life; he reached for his spectacles to await the bad news then he realised: Martin was in London.
'Good' said Martin 'I'm badly in need of some rabbinical advice.'
There was a glass of water, Frank always kept, on what he called the nightstand, which he reached for to let Martin give him the news about Portobello Market. He let the water freshen his mouth as he listened, intently.
'You want us to give it a home, right?' he said to Martin.
'Right' said Martin.
'You betcha.'
Frank would give various talks about amusing aspects and histories of Jewish Law, and one time spoke about a huge stockpile of scrolls found in Czechoslovakia after the war. The Nazis final solution to exterminate the Jews also included the establishment of a Jewish museum to celebrate the extinction of the Jews; the scrolls were going to be a part of that. It was said that they were sent to Britain, and were then sent to various synagogues, throughout the British Isles, who were charged the princely sum of £100 each. Martin had remembered that Frank referred to the museum as a weird Nazi Museum.
'I'm glad you have it' said Frank 'I wouldn't like to see a Sefer-Torah going to some screwball collector to hang on his wall.'
'Well' said Martin 'I offered the guy my last two thousand bucks, which I will give him tomorrow when we . .'
Frank interrupted 'You mean you don't have it yet?'
'No I gotta meet him tomorrow – he might even try for more money . .'
'I'd be surprised if he doesn't.'
'Why? How much is it worth?'
'Work it out for yourself' said Frank 'hand written on parchment, a year of someone's life: and how old it is.'
Martin gulped audibly down the phone.
'If we were to go out today, Marty, to buy a Sefer-Torah we would have to pay at least ten thousand dollars.'
'Ten. . .' Martin stammered 'you're kidding.'
'Get on to the guy right away, Marty, right away, before someone else comes in with a better offer. Pay him the full price and I'll wire you the difference.'

I looked at the scroll, which I had cradled in my arm, as Barry was at the bar getting my Guinness. What cover did Mister Green mean? I supposed it would be some kind of velvet thing; Barry had said he saw a picture of a scroll when he attended night school for antiques. I hadn't bothered to go but Barry said he enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. He came back with the drinks.
'Not a bad day's work today' he said.
'Here's to plenty more' I said, clinking the glasses.
'I thought you blew it back there for a minute' he said.
'When you said you couldn't do it.
'I knew he wanted it' I said 'cover or no cover.'
The barman shouted over 'Is there a Nick Murphy here?'
'Yes' I said.
'Phone call' the barman said and put the phone on the counter.
There was only one person who knew where I was and that was Martin Green.
'Mister Murphy – Nick' came the unmistakable Brooklyn accent down the line.
'Martin Green; remember me?'
'Of course I do.'
'I really want that . . that item I saw today.'
'I know you do' I said, looking at the scroll in my hand.
'I've just been on to New York and I am authorized to offer you eight thousand dollars.'
Eight thousand dollars! What was the matter with the man? We had already made a deal. What could I say?
'How much is that in pounds?'
'About five grand, I guess' he said.
'Sounds great' I said and it did. I couldn't believe it.
'Do we have a deal?' he said.
'We do.'
We did indeed.
'It's gonna take me a little time to get the cash together with transfers and so forth and I'd like to meet tonight?'
A thought, a profound thought had entered my head, so I told him we should keep to the time in the morning as I was busy that night.
Barry was standing next to me; he couldn't hear any of the conversation but he knew it was good news and I could see by his eyes he was excited.
'Don't tell me' he said 'he doesn't want it?'
Barry is as dry as they come but he looked at me eagerly for the price.
'You'll never guess how much he's offered' I said.
He looked at me in anticipation.
'Five grand' I said 'straight in, no haggling, five thousand pounds.'
Without a smile, a twinkle in the eye or anything else Barry said 'it must be worth more than I thought.'
Damn right it was; that was the thought I had when I was talking to Mister Green on the phone; how much more?
'Call Invernezzi now' I said 'see how much he'll pay.'
'What about Mister Green?' he said.
'If Invernezzi pays more forget Mister Green.'
'Play one off against the other' said Barry. I nodded 'I like it' he said, with the same straight face.
The telephone was still on the bar and I could see Barry asking permission, then taking out his address book and dialling. I sat back and took a sip from my pint as he returned.
'No answer – he must be out buying' he said.
'Okay' I said 'call him when you get home and tell me about it tonight.'
'Tonight? What's happening tonight?'
'We'll take the girls out to celebrate' I said 'I'll pay.'
'I like it even more' he said as we clinked the glasses together again.

Getting up at dawn and ending with a quick pint in the pub always affected me the same way; I wanted a nap. So that was what I planned the minute I walked through our front door.
I opened the door and there was silence; nobody in. I was glad in a way as it meant I could go straight to bed without having a chat with Helen. I dropped the scroll onto a suit-case in the hall and called upstairs in case she was in; no reply. On the table, in the kitchen, was Helen's cassette recorder with a card on top which read Play me! I pressed 'play' and sat back in anticipation:
'Hello my darling' she said 'I've gone to Judy's for the afternoon and I'll be back at about five; byeee.'
Then she made herself laugh and switched off.
I had to have a go as well so I turned the card over, wrote play it again Sam on it, recorded my message and went to bed.
I slept like a log and didn't hear Helen come in; she saw my note and played my message telling her that I had had a great day and to wake me at about seven as we were meeting Barry and Sue for dinner.
Whilst she was listening to my message there was a ring on the door bell; she broke off to see who it was and standing on the doorstep was a little boy 'jumble?' he said.
'This lot here' said Helen and went back to the recorder.
The little boy, a boy scout, picked up the suitcase, with the scroll on the top of it, and went out; 'bye' he shouted and that was that.
When I came down the stairs the first thing I noticed was the vacant space by the last step where the suitcase had been – together with the scroll.
'Helen' I called.
She came out of the sitting room 'where's the case that was here – with a scroll on top of it?'
'The boy scouts have it for their jumble sale; just some old . . .'
I ran to the front door, wearing only my towel robe 'where is he?'
'He was here a couple of hours ago – the sale is tonight.'
'Come on let's go' I said, and I picked up the car keys from the hook and ran to the car.
I didn't know where the sale was supposed to be and neither did Helen. There were a few places we could try, which we did, but by the time we got to the last sale it was around eight-o-clock and that one had finished.
Helen looked at me 'sorry' she said but it wasn't her fault and I told her. She wept a bit when I told I had spent a hundred and forty five pounds and when I told her the full story she was really sorry but instead of bursting into tears she started laughing. I was wearing nothing but a towel robe and we both had a laughing fit for some time; it was my fault for being greedy.
The worst part of the whole affair is that there was a man called Martin Green who really wanted the scroll and now he wasn't going to get it.

The next day I met Barry at Portobello Road as planned; he hadn't 'laid out' any money but he called me a few choice words. We went along Cambridge Gardens to where we could see in to the park and the spot where I was to meet Martin Green. He was there, already, sitting on the same bench, wearing the same black trilby and the Humphrey Bogart trench coat. He sat there; occasionally looking about with a look of half knowing that I wasn't going to show, one minute, and a look of anticipation the next.
It took me a long time to make up my mind that I wouldn't make an appearance. It might sound like cowardice, and maybe it was, but as soon as he would see me coming his expectations would lift and he would expect me to have the goods.
Barry went off to the greasy spoon café just around the corner to order our breakfasts and I said I would meet him in there.
After a few minutes, and maybe twenty minutes after I had arranged to meet him, Martin Green got up from the bench and started to walk towards the gate; he would be mulling over what to say to his pal in New York. Frank would probably meet him at the airport and tell him he had found a place on the wall just outside the portal of the shul to show a sefer-torah which had been stolen by the Nazis and rescued by Martin.
I walked along Cambridge Gardens as I didn't want him to see me and hid amongst the second hand clothes on one of the stalls. He stopped on the corner of Portobello Road, the place where I had waited for Barry twenty four hours earlier; was it really only twenty four hours?
He stood there for a few minutes, not too far from the greasy spoon café where Barry was; I prayed that he wouldn't come out. But Martin was looking for me. Opposite Martin I could see Jim – Jumble Jim, setting out his stall and puffing away at a cigarette. He wasn't greedy – not like me – he would buy stuff for very little and sell it for a bit more and that's how he managed to travel each year.
Martin took off his hat and fanned it in front of his face and I moved along the second hand clothes rack to where I could see both Martin with Jim in the background.
Martin put his hat back on and wandered over the street to Jim. They chatted for a while and as they talked I could see Jim take the scroll out of a cardboard box the way he had done the day before– at least I was sure it was the scroll. Martin looked at it; he didn't move; didn't say a word. Again he took his hat off; he didn't fan himself but stood there motionless with the hat in his right hand.
'How much?' he said.
'Fifty' said Jim.
Martin picked up the scroll and cradled it gently in his arms as I had - like a baby. He had five thousand pounds in his pocket for me and no loose change. Should he give this man five thousand pounds? Would that be the moral thing to do? He looked at Jim: a gypsy, he thought, the Nazis took these scrolls from us, exterminated both my people and his and now God is getting it back to me through a gypsy.
That's what Martin was thinking as he reached into the top pocket of his jacket, underneath the trench coat, where he kept some fifty pound notes. He took one out and handed it to Jim.
'Fifty' he said.
Jim said 'I have no change. . .'
But Martin held his hand up to quieten Jim who put the fifty pound note into his pocket.
'Thank you, sir' he said 'thanks very much.'
I wasn't sure at this stage what Martin had bought; it looked like the scroll but I still wasn't sure, then I realised that Jim cleared Jumble sales; Jumble Jim. Of course. Nobody had bought it, it had remained on the counter for the whole sale and when they were clearing up Jim came, made them a job offer and took everything off their hands.
Martin Green turned around, crossed back over Portobello Road and walked towards me. It was too late for me to hide so I carried on walking. Martin wasn't looking at me, he was in a world of his own; everything had fallen into place after his day of trying to get the money wired over from New York and then finding a bank where he could transfer it into cash, and I was happy for him; I really was. To hell with the money.
As he got closer he caught my eye and as he passed he lifted his hat. I could see the end of the scroll under his trench coat and when we crossed he winked at me; 'I got it' he said and he was gone.

I wrote a screenplay for my film The Scroll around 1989 or so and not long before I went to America in 1994 I adapted this short story from the script. I found it the other day and wrote this draft; let me know what you think.