Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bees in the Cellar and Nomads

There is an old three floor red brick building, possibly Victorian, possibly older. At one time it may have been a house, but probably was two houses connected - in England they call that semi-detached houses. Now it has been converted into flats. There are two front entrance doors, each has a faded classical plaster bust over the door. The left door has a male bust, the right door has a female bust. A single key will get you into both sides. There are about eight flats on each side.
I lived in a ground floor studio flat on the right side. My ground floor neighbours came and went. A lot of them were nurses because of the nearby hospital. One of them was a doctor, he looked Indian. He was there for a long time. At one time the other ground floor flat had a group of teenage metal heads. They put a sticker on their door like a road sign - it said "New Metal" and had a red line through it.
Upstairs on the first floor there are two or three flats. In one of them lives Simon the dope-smoking jazz guitarist. He was there when I arrived, and he was there when I left. As far as I know he is still there - he is probably the longest-running resident in the building. We used to talk about music, art, psychology, and atlantis. Once he did some kind of palm print reading for me, which was a bit lame. Luckily he sticks mostly to music. He believes that classical Indian music is the highest, most advanced form of music known to man, and I believe him. Also on the first floor lived Steve. He is a film director, we used to write scripts together.
If you go through the left entrance, you can get down to the cellar. When you come through the entrance door you will find a box on the wall for mail. It is always overflowing with letters, largely because of the high turnover of residents - many bills aimed at former residents pile up in the box. A stairway leads up to the first floor. Sometimes you could hear singing coming from upstairs. I have no idea what the singing was about, but it was group singing, and it sounded religious, like some kind of island chant.
Underneath the stairs is a door to the cellar. You can't get into the cellar from the right side - this is the only way. A rough set of wooden stairs lead down to the cellar. There is a single naked bulb in the cellar, you turn it on from a switch at the top of the stairs. When you're down there, you really get a sense of how old the building is. The walls are bare stone and it smells mouldy. The cellar extends under the whole of the building. There are many rooms down there, but none of them except the first room have light, so you have to have a torch.
The cellar is a dumping ground containing mattresses, washing machines, furniture, boxes of junk. Over the years I think residents put their surplus goods down there for storage, and when they moved out they left the stuff they didn't care about.
In a corner of the first room there is a large black metal trunk full of books. They are the books I left behind because I couldn't carry them to America. Maybe the trunk is still there, maybe it isn't. Inside the trunk is a book about bees.
About four years ago I made my first (and so far only) purchase from ebay. I can't remember the circumstances, it was probably the result of random surfing. I bought two old books. One was a scientific study of bees, the other was "THE ROYAL HORDES Nomad People of the Steppes" by E.D. Phillips.
When I moved to America I had to be very choosy with what books I brought, and what books I left. Luggage weight restrictions on airlines are brutal. For some reason I chose the nomads and left the bees.
"The nomads are of special interest because their way of life was an alternative to civilization, not a mere absence of it."

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