Down Among the Dead Men

Found this whilst sorting out my diary for the new year. A short story from 2014. Not fantastic. Not rubbish either.

Out of the blue, the Mrs. mentioned she was psychic and had received a message telling me to go to the Sequoia in Whetstone where I would find something to my advantage.


It seemed I was too late. Its namesake can live for 5,000 years in the Sierra Nevada. This one hadn’t reached double figures before giving up the ghost. My grandfather, Dennis, stayed there in the 1920’s when he was courting my grandmother. Back then it was called the Bull.

I took one or two photos anyway. I like dereliction better than life more often than not – especially the homogeneous, unquestioning, sentimental, clod-hopping mirror most people rattle round in, like toads in a brightly lit bag.

There was a man filming outside the pub and we got into conversation. He told me he was making a film about a renaissance scholar who once lived in an ammunition shed on the High Road.


My gran grew up in Whetstone. As a child she used to walk down the Church Path to my aunt’s school at the edge of the fields in Finchley. There were kids doing the same to day – minus the fields, and my aunt – and my gran: the church as well for all I knew. A group of noisy boys were whipping each other with ties. I was irritated – but also felt that wishing them dead was somehow missing the point. Outside the pub the man told me there were two “Bulls” in Whetstone back in the day. Now there were none. “A dead pub,” his pupils contracted, “is the sign and symbol of our inconstant lodging on this earth.”

I caught a faint whiff of cat shit and burnt feathers. I wondered if it was an insurance job – but there was no sign of burning.

“We’re filming in here, if you’d like to have a look around”

Two young women – twins – were sat at a table. They were oblivious to the broken glass, discarded needles, fast food detritus. There was a cage under the table with an accordion in it. Behind them was a big wooden cabinet. On the bar a record player.

They smiled and said in unison: “We are the Misses Bombazine.”

“Pleased to meet you, I’m sure,” I said, entering into the spirit.

I’ve always had a fascination with twins. I had an operation when I was a baby to remove some bone from my head. It belonged to an undeveloped twin that began to grow alongside me in the womb. Now I often think that somehow it was my better twin that didn’t make it – the nice one. The one with no “side” at all, no arsiness or resentments of any sort … not the fuckwit who would soon be plodding home across the North Circ, across a red pool of homebound commuters, a one-man-dark of lumpy tarmac and worn boots.

“There are only two types, when you come down to it.” Said the man, perhaps noticing the maudlin turn my thoughts had taken. “Larks and clerks.” Larks soar but never roam, clerks travel but never feel.

In the darkness I hadn’t noticed one of the Misses Bombazine go over to the record player. Out from the crackling grooves an ancient recording of The Farmer’s Boy echoed round the dead pub, making the dead fields close in around the bricken desert; blackberries recolonized the smoking area, sweet william and tea roses mingled with the stale smell of dead men. Strangely I had been thinking about The Farmer’s Boy a lot. It was a favourite of Edward Thomas’s. He sang it on his honeymoon in Wiltshire in the keeper’s cottage with the thrice-scalloped thatch. The hussy.


“I’m getting a signal,” said Miss Bombazine. I suddenly felt quite cold. A knocking from inside the cupboard.

“Are you from the other side?” (seated)
“Yes, I come with a message for those who would hear it.” (cupboard)
“Who are you?” (s)
“I am Geraldius” (c)
“Who is the message for?” (s)
“It is for Dicky Davies” (c)
“Who is it from?” (s)
“Dennis” (c)
“What does he say?” (s)
“He says “It’s the wrong pub, you div.” (c)


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