Some little while ago, pre-Covid, I posted a piece outlining what was, for me then, a normal morning, one which began reading the newspaper over coffee at the small café attached to the Parliament Hill Lido, on the edge of Hampstead Heath, before walking some three to five miles around the Heath itself then returning home.
Events have changed that, primarily the pandemic, during the worst of which I scarcely went out at all, and, more recently the quite dramatic fall that resulted in fractures to various parts of the body, mostly now healed save for one that still necessitates me wearing a cumbersome neck brace and which seems, somehow, to have taken the wind out of me in a possibly permanent way.
So, instead of walking fifteen minutes to the Lido Café, I simply pick up the paper from where it was delivered and walk, a tad warily, around the corner to Cinnamon Village, a friendly neighbourhood café, where the Turkish staff greet me as “Uncle” and are fulfilling my unspoken order as I walk through the door.
After that, I might progress to the Heath, depending on the weather – rain, other than torrential is fine, but no temperatures over 21 or 22 – with this collar tight to my neck it quickly becomes less than comfortable, and my walk can be deferred until the relative coolness of late afternoon – as it will be today.
Indoors, then, and wishing to do something useful, I figured it was time to do a little reorganising of the library shelves, particularly those given over to art books and catalogues in the main, but holding also roughly half of mine and Sarah’s vinyl albums and the stereo on which they get played. An exercise which inevitably turns up one or two items you’d forgotten you owned. In this instance a volume of McSweeney’s Quarterly, no. 39, and two lps by Doc Watson and his son, Merle.
I’m immediately engaged by the reference to Elmore Leonard and Karen Cisco, a character who appeared in his novel, Out of Sight, and who was later played – to great effect – by Jennifer Lopez in the Steven Soderbergh movie of the same name. I must, I think, have read this story – “Chick Killer” – before, whenever I first took it home, but when I turn to the appropriate page my eye is taken by the insert of eight postcard size colour photographs set within the pages (and repeated further along). They’re the work of Tabitha Soren, someone I’ve not come across before, but quickly use the internet to track down. She’s been a professional photographer for over 25 years, her work displayed widely in the United States, but only once, as far as I can see, in the UK – at The Photographers’ Gallery in Central London, a show I must somehow have missed.
The Leonard story is slight – a mere six pages long – and consists of a conversation between Karen and her dad, in which she recounts a face-to-face encounter with a dangerous criminal. Six pages but worth however many pennies they cost. Leonard is often at his best, I think when he is at his most relaxed, as he is here. Without forcing it, he makes the relationship between father and daughter real and does this without losing the danger of the confrontation. This is how it begins …
Karen Sisco was telling her dad, “This guy wearing cowboy boots walks into the bar … “
Her dad said, “I’ve heard it.”
‘I’m serious,” Karen said. “Yesterday afternoon, my last day as a federal marshal after six and a half years. In less than an hour I’ll hand in my star.” She paused, watching her dad. “And Bob Ray Harris, high, on the Five Most Wanted list, walks into the bar. O’Shea’s on Clematis, on the street from the courthouse …. “
While I’m reading this I’m half-listening to the first of the Doc & Merle Watson albums, Then & Now, which I note I bought in February, 1974 – the other, Lonesome Road, in December, ’77. When I put the story down, I listen more attentively. It’s bluegrass, basically – Doc Watson on guitar and harmonica, son, Merle, on guitar and banjo. There are other, supporting, musicians playing, variously, dobro, fiddle, steel guitar, bass and “drums & leg”. The standard of playing is high – a bunch of guys enjoying themselves but in a highly professional way – and the vocals – mostly Doc’s, I think – are relaxed and easy. I was lucky enough to see Doc Watson live on a visit to the States, driving out with my good friends, Patrick and Sarah, from Washington D.C. to the Birchmere, in Alexandria. That may have been the occasion it was snowing quite heavily when setting out and still snowing as we returned, I’m not sure. His son wasn’t there: he had died in a tractor accident in 1985.