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Ian's blog: "LETTER FROM LOTUSLAND"
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Now, on to this month's Letter:
Life has been pretty routine. I have trouble getting up and especially tugging on socks and trousers, trying to use the weak left hand. Then it's medicine time: three anti-depressants and a blood thinner, washed down with tonic water—my favorite drink, one of life's sensual pleasures; contains quinine which prevents leg cramps. I don't know why but quinine tablets are forbidden in this country.
At the Cal Tech pool I seem only to be able to manage a few laps before collapsing. Older swimmers pass me by gaily.
To escape the heat – almost 100 degrees – Regina and I sometimes resort to the icily air-conditioned Arclight cinemas. There we saw "Mr. Holmes", with the old 'tec at 90 in 1947 and walking on the Sussex downs near Beachy Head where, in 1950, I used to romp as a boy scout when I was at Newlands prep school.
I finally received from Germany a weighty box set celebrating 40 years of Bear Family record issues. I had contributed an instrumental version of a song of mine called "You're The One" now retitled "Autumn Bears". Slow and moody and full of unexpected harmonies. It contrasts shakingly with the rock and rockabilly songs that make up the rest of the 4 CD set. Ry Cooder has a song.
Recently I've been resting alot on bed and couch reading Raymond Chandler private eye stories. I read them for the snappy dialogue exchanges and neat descriptions of Los Angeles as well as the clever imagery. The plots I never understand, but then nor did Chandler. Here's a nice description from a John Dalmas story. (Pre Philip Marlowe): "The dance floor was an empty splash of amber light and looked slightly larger than a screen star's bath mat."
Chandler's police are almost always a feckless crew but reading of their bumbling got me thinking of my own encounters with cops. The ones my youth seem to tally with the kindly strolling copper who might find your lost dog be ready to tell you the right time and see you home to a hot supper. Maybe step in for a cup of tea or a glass of beer.
I got nothing but polite handling when, around the summer of 1960, I executed a reckless stunt at the annual festival in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Astride my girlfriend's Vespa motor scooter, I wobbled through a massed array of local brass bandsmen in full uniform as they performed an old march. I had tried to keep a straight line and not hit any of the players, but at the very end I winged the bass drummer, sending his stick in the direction of the ancient Moot Hall. Then I roared on into an alley, a refuge. There I met a local constable who asked me to account for my actions. I explained that I had been taking a scooter spin but had suddenly come across a band and thought it best to steer a straight but narrow path through them. The constable took careful notes, licking his pencil slowly, and said that my statement would be sufficient for now.
Months later I was summoned to our local London police station in Putney and given a warning not to interfere with bass drummers in public. Meanwhile a piece appeared in the Aldeburgh paper stating that a squire's grandson had caused chaos at the annual parade and was up on a charge. My grandfather laughed it off and offered me a "Black Velvet": champagne mixed with Guinness.
My next police encounter was a little more sinister.
In the early 1970s there were a lot of IRA terrorist bombings and shootings in Ireland and England. One springy evening I set off from our home on Putney Heath to walk to the flat of my friend Christian Roberts in Barnes. In a canvas bag were elements of my supper. I was wearing one of the old American soldier jackets I'd bought at a junk shop in Edinburgh years ago. On my head was a grey cap at a slouch. As I passed an elegant cottage, where a well-dressed couple were enjoying pre-prandial cocktails in their front garden, a police car sidled up beside me. "What have you got in that bag?" demanded an officer from within. "None of your business", I replied. I didn't like the man's tone. Another demand was made. I asked for help from the cocktail couple. The husband said, "They're quite right – you look like you're up to no good". Should I continue my walk to supper or surrender? "Come on, sir. We need to inspect the contents of your bag". I went on refusing until finally I agreed to accompany them to Putney police station. "It's you again," said the man at the receiving desk. "Still making trouble with Vespas?" I sat in a pale empty room clutching my bag and feeling righteous and wronged. Soon a senior officer arrived, tall and with a kindly manner. He offered me tea. I declined politely. "You're not in any trouble, but could you let me see what's in your bag? Just a matter of interest". I told him I would because he was the first polite person I'd met recently. "Well I'm blowed!" he said as he examined the contents of the canvas bag. "One package of Kraft cheese slices and a tin of Dring's pure Vienna sausages. Nothing terroristic here. Anything I could do to make amends?"
I said I'd like the policemen who apprehended me to come in one by one and apologize. This they did and their superior officer brandished the cheese slices and tinned sausages to prove my innocence. Finally I was given a lift to my friend's flat in Barnes. "Safer than a Vespa, isn't it?" said the nice policeman as he saw me off.
Of course, I've had run ins with American cops – being bashed against the wall and handcuffed in Seattle when, as a rock star, I'd just finished a show with the Rolling Stones. But these incidents have been covered in my book, "Rock Odyssey".
I get names ringing over and over in my head quite often. Not unpleasant. Here's the latest, from a diary kept by a cavalry officer fighting fuzzy-wuzzie Islamists in the Sudan of the 1880s. February 5: just after lunch, there appeared Harry Rutledge and "Spider" Jimmy Hooker, back from leave in a cab, and they joined battle speedily.
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