When I first read it I thought it was a diary of a lunatic. It wasn't though. In reality, it was an autobiography of a lunatic. I guess I should have known. It seems obvious now but hindsight is a valuable gift as, perhaps, is lunacy. I first met Terry Vintage in The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping. He was drinking cider with ice just as though he were in Withnail and I. He looked a wreck even then. He was wearing a duffle coat that had a Royal Marine badge sewn on the front. It didn't seem odd until later when I learnt that Terry had never served. Beneath the coat was a lame T-shirt emblazoned with a high street stores logo. I cannot for the life of me remember which high street shop it was, The T-shirt hung loosely over a pair of pale and creased corduroy trousers. On his feet were brown, browbeaten, careworn brogues.
He was sitting at a table that had little light making him appear to be wrapped in shadows. He had a copy of the NME folded in front of him. He could have been a student if he hadn't been too old. I bought a pint of Guinness before walking over and introducing myself. He looked a little like Neil Gaiman.
“Hi! I’m Jim, Jim Murray. I work for Tower Hamlets. Mind if I join you?”
It was the briefest of introductions, perfunctory and clipped but he nodded to the seat in front of him and so I sat down. We discussed all manner of things but mostly music. He was very much into New Order, The Cure and The Smiths. I guess it was obvious really but as I said, hindsight is a valuable gift. We spoke for hours buying each other drinks and eating peanuts. He sort of bristled with an arcane energy as though something electric ran through him constantly making his body twitch and move. He never really looked you full in the eye either. His eyes would wander from side to side never once meeting mine. It was all very disconcerting.
As the closing bell rang I got up to leave and offered him my hand which he sort of slapped but didn't shake. I said that we should meet up again to which he just grunted then went back to reading the NME. He must have known the bar staff for no one asked him to leave. I walked outside and down to The Highway in search of a cab. I didn’t see Terry for another three months but by then it was too late. In truth, it was too late the day we first met but I didn’t know that then. As I said, hindsight is a valuable gift.
In the time between our first meeting and the second, Terry had started to develop some weird habits. He refused to tie the laces on his shoes. He said that it was seriously risky, that he might cause damage to his spine. He would only eat yoghurt and little else although he did eat a pot of marmite using a spoon to scrape the contents from the jar. His hair had grown too. It hung in a wispy straggle down his neck then over the edge of his collar. He still shaved but irregularly so that he often had a fine growth decorating his chin and upper lip.
We met this second time, as before, in The Prospect of Whitby but at a different table. He wasn’t reading the NME this time but had a copy of George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying. As we sat talking about football and politics he kept picking the book up and leafing through its pages. It might as well have been one of those moving books we used to make as kids. The ones where the images move as you flick the leaves. He didn’t take much notice of me and our conversation was more diatribe than dialogue.
When I mentioned how the area was changing he, as though a switch had been flicked, became animated.
“It’s all them blacks and pakis moving in. The government ought to do something about it; I mean I am not racist but...”
His voice trailed off and I was grateful that it did. I didn’t want to have to suffer as he waxed some patriotic, xenophobic bullshit. Funny thing was he had not seemed at all racist when we first met speaking fondly of Bob Marley and his huge influence on modern pop culture. It was obvious then that something had happened; some seismic shift had taken place in Terry’s psyche.
I asked him if he’d like a drink to which he replied he would. I asked him what his poison was and he asked for cider but with loads of ice. I smiled and excused him his unfortunate foibles. I think I even thought that maybe, just maybe, I had got it all wrong and he was, after all, alright. He wasn't though. He was far from alright.
When I came back from the bar I found him crying. Not sobbing, no outward sign, apart from his tears, of much emotion just a gentle weeping. A steady stream of tears ran down his face. His eyes were glazed and he looked ahead into some distant place, somewhere that I couldn't see into which may have been for the best. I asked him what was wrong but he just ran his hand over his eyes.
“Nothing,” he said, “nothing at all.”
It wasn't for awhile until I discovered that Terry had lost his Mum. She had been murdered, stabbed to death with a kitchen knife. The police had come with rolls of tape to cordon off Terry’s home. They called for forensics. A team arrived like spacemen in white suits. They took pictures and examined the body. When they had finished they called for an ambulance. Then the police, the forensics team and the ambulance crew departed leaving Terry on his own. The house must have been very grim and very empty.
The crime had no obvious motive unless it was a case of an opportunistic thief caught in the act. This was unlikely as it was such a brutal, calculated murder. The woman’s throat had been cut and then her tongue sliced from her mouth.
The police had sat Terry down at the kitchen table where they politely interrogated him. It was obvious he was a suspect as it was he who found the body.
They asked lots of questions: where he had been; did he have witnesses who saw him; what time did he leave the home; what time did he return; what sort of relationship did he have with his mother? It seemed like an endless list of questions of which he answered as truthfully as he could. They thanked him for his help saying that they might return to interview him again. He nodded a silent agreement.
It was this act that turned Terry’s mind. He wanted revenge of course against the man who had killed his Mum but when you seek revenge you had better dig two graves. As for Terry, two was the defining number.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.