Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The intruder within..

A friend in Europe who runs a boutique hotel has just had a nasty experience with a criminal who wouldnt leave and wouldnt pay for a month. It brought back memories of my encounter with Terry:

It was Finals year at Hull, Larkin’s town at the estuary’s edge, shining grimly in the North. My Granddad had just died. The juxtaposition of bereavement and looming exams, plus some mysterious internal intellectual transformation, had pushed me deeper into philosophical waters. I’d finally developed a passion for philosophy, a sense of conceptual destiny, and a taste for the journey of enquiry that must begin.

Meanwhile, I was also landlord to the house I lived in and there was a room vacant downstairs and a mortgage that needed paying. No one had answered the ad I left in the Student Union, so I cast the net further and put an ad in the newspaper. The next day, I got a call from someone who was interested. Terry turned up in the afternoon, on an old fashioned sit-up-and-beg bicycle. He looked clean cut, if a bit local (pronounced ‘lerkal’ in Hull brogue). He told me a story of how he’d been in the army, but now was out. It was a ‘looking for a break guv’nor’ patter. As he was speaking, I thought back to Grant, another ex-squaddie who’d done his level best to mess with my head a couple of years before. And the thought that ran alongside was this, ‘don’t be prejudiced or conditioned by experience. Reducing people to types and responding like a Pavlovian dog is not the way to be.’ So I said yes, he could move in.

During the first few days, I started to understand the consequences of my open-mindedness. First, Terry was obsessed with the size of his muscles. Each morning he would eat a huge bowl of bicep-building mush out of a large plastic tub. He nurtured the prospect of what body-builder’s call a ‘triangular torso’. His mien was that of a silver-back gorilla from up North. There was something intimidating about his body language, a sense of vain menace latent within the sinews of his being. I sensed that he had already summed me up as a lanky poof from somewhere not as North as Hull. After his daily slop, he’d go back to his room and drench himself in cheap aftershave, which would linger throughout the house for the rest of the day. The ominous gorilla, claiming his territory by pissing Old Spice everywhere, grunting his way through the house..

My studies took up most of my time, so Terry’s intimidating ways soon receded into the background. I’d see him either in the morning with his bucket of gruel, or late at night after he’d finished tanking up somewhere. We fell into some sort of accommodation with each other. Occasionally, we’d talk a little – I think he liked the fact that I actually listened to him. I listened because his stories were so alarming. His tales came from another city and another world. He mentioned that a gang of his ex-army mates who were into armed robbery and controlled a prostitution racket in Liverpool were interested in doing some “operations” in Hull and Leeds. He asked me what did I think? He wanted to know if I thought he should get involved or not. At which point, I started to wonder whether people that leave the army early either become hard core crims or (the thicker ones) find work as security guards or bouncers. Unless you’re Oxbridge officer corps, it takes a certain type of rough-neck to join the army (escaping a broken home being a key motivator it seems). It takes an even more lethal subset of this type to leave the army early and sacrifice the retirement package. The combination of discipline, proximity to weaponry and a mandate to kill mixed with psychological hang-ups is not to be messed with.

Terry paid his first rent cheque on time, and I quietly sighed with relief. Life carried on, I read Wittgenstein and Aristotle, and mooched around Hull. However, by the time of next month’s payment, Terry did not stump up. A week passed and my overdraft had increased by the size of the monthly mortgage payment minus the other two tenants plus the missing money from Terry. A letter arrived from the bank. Exams were only four weeks away. I felt the stress levels rise to the top of the scale and spill over. One evening, I went downstairs and knocked on Terry’s door. I asked him for his rent. He told me “it was coming” and slammed the door, leaving my nose an inch away from wood and his nasty perfume. A week went by, and the money hadn’t materialised. I took a deep breath and went downstairs again and asked for the money. This time, he grabbed me and rammed me hard against the front door. “If you don’t stop asking for this fucking money, I’m going to shove you straight through this fucking door!” he snarled. His jaw was clenched, like a hyena on the cusp of engagement. Oh dear. Yet another psycho ex-squaddie on my case, I gulped. When will I learn?

Another week went by, and I came home from class one afternoon and Terry had gone. I pushed open the door to his room, gingerly. The smell of cheap scent had impregnated the wallpaper, but he’d gone. I felt like I’d left the toilet after a two minute outpouring. My life could at last become pure philosophy, with no threat or menace day or night, and no morning monster with his horse bag of steroid-coated oats.

After my finals, I was cycling near Pearson Park when I spotted Terry walking the pavement, at exactly the same time he spotted me. A sense of aching dread rocketed within: a conversation had become inevitable. My heart dropped to the tarmac and bounced back up again. I half expected him to jump me and start morphing my face into plasticine. Instead, he said he was sorry for leaving unannounced, but that his brother in Bristol had run into a spot of trouble. His (the brother’s) girlfriend worked in an offy, when one day one of the local crusties had come in and tried to steal alcohol and had ended up head-butting her. Terry and his brother had decided the only decent thing to do in response was to put on balaclavas, get a couple of baseball bats and go and ‘break some bones’. He said he couldn’t tell me about any of this at the time, because he was worried someone might get killed and he didn’t want me to have to know.

Terry was a snarling pit-bull of a guy who scared the life out of me. He’s probably doing bird somewhere nowadays.. snarling at the screws.


culturalmiscellany 2:04 pm  

Hull scared me full stop let alone an encounter with a squaddie. I lived in Hull whilst working for BP along the coast in their R&D department. On day a heroin addict decided to break in my house and steal my CDs (I had little else) but because the door was locked he/she decided to knock around the brick wall door frame so the door fell in and the house became structurally unsound - nice!!!! The police knew the person who did it but wouldn't follow it up. Anyway, needless to say I'm not rushing back to Hull.

Barb,  3:42 pm  

LOL! Very well written Jeremy!

Shango,  6:46 pm  

Heheh... great story.

‘don’t be prejudiced or conditioned by experience. Reducing people to types and responding like a Pavlovian dog is not the way to be.’

So, what does that teach you, Jeremy? The old Reaganism, trust but verify, or something else?

Anonymous,  9:47 pm  

nice expression: "My heart dropped to the tarmac and bounced back up again..."

Bayuze 6:18 am  

Great story, Jeremy. Fortunately, u escaped unscathed. I guess that experience has changed the way you would view people in such a situation, if there's a next time

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