No 100 - 1985
An illustrated history of the Volkswagen
What are those?’ Jackie asked.
Her husband Walter had just placed two nerf bars on the kitchen table.
‘They’re nerf bars,’ Walter replied.
‘T-shaped pieces of chromed metal that you use as flashy replacements for the bumpers on a Volkswagen Beetle.’
‘Are you trying to tell me something?’ Jackie asked. ‘Oh,’ said Walter, ‘I’ve bought a car.’
When Jackie first saw Walter’s new car she started to sob quietly. It was the ugliest thing she’d ever seen. It had once been a Volkswagen Beetle but that was such a long time ago.
The nerf bars were among its more restrained features. It had wide, remodelled wings arched around obese low-profile tyres. The windows were mirrored bronze. There was a blue perspex sunvisor and an array of spotlamps. The front seemed a couple of feet lower than the back and there were spoilers at both ends. The windscreen had somehow been reduced to a narrow slit, like an exaggerated version of cinemascope. The car was painted a muddy, metallic blue except for the doors where orange flame murals licked up from the walnut running-boards. Inside there was a sea of red buttoned dralon.
‘Customising is a form of aesthetic quest,’ said Walter.
Jackie rapped her silver nails on the onyx formica worktop.
‘I don’t know, Sal,’ she said over coffee and bran muffins that morning, the sun filling the fitted kitchen with an unusual, stagey brilliance, ‘I don’t think I can go on anymore.
When Walter had been taken to be dried out that last time she’d had to put the fruit shop up for sale. Walter came home. He was dry. The fruit shop had been sold. They never once talked about it.
Walter got a job collecting tolls on the Dartford tunnel. The money wasn’t great but it was steady work. There was overtime. There were no responsibilities.
‘I just don’t know, Sal,’ Jackie said again. ‘First it was the drink, then it was the car. Now, I think he’s about to leave me for another woman.
‘Another woman?’ Sally said, ‘You mean he’s left you for a woman before?’
‘No, no, Sally,’ Jackie pleaded, ‘Let’s not get bogged down in the whimsical byways of English usage.
‘It’s a deal,’ said Sally.
Sally had, in several senses of the word, lived. Even today she took a more casual view of drug abuse than even her most liberal friends. She went to mixed nights at the solarium. She visited a local Nail Sculpture Studio for the kind of manicures that starlets envied. She wore a red leather motorcycle jacket. In Amsterdam she had thought of having a small swallow tattooed on her ankle. She blasphemed freely. She was herself at all times. She had a good heart. Jackie could open her heart to her. Anyone could, and be assured of a sympathetic ear and the certainty that it would go no further. She’d do anything for anybody. She swam two mornings a week. With her husband Ray she ran the local folk club.
The fat boy stood in the doorway to the back room where the folk club was held. He wore wrap-around sunglasses and a washed-out Hawaiian shirt. In one hand he held a guitar case and in the other a white stick.
It was early. The audience hadn’t started to arrive yet. Only Ray and Sally were there.
‘What can I do for you?’ Ray asked the boy.
‘Do you welcome floor-singers, sir?’ the boy said.
‘Then I’d very much like the chance to play, sir.’
‘All right. I’ll put you on first after the interval.’ Then, perhaps regretting his folksy generosity he asked, ‘What sort of thing do you do?’
‘Oh, my own thing.’
Ray kept back a snort of derision. ‘And what do you call yourself?’
‘Blind Fats O’Halloran.’
‘That’s an unusual name,’ Sally said.
The room was crowded by interval time. People pushed back and forth to the bar. The interval went on too long. The boy was getting conspicuously itchy.
Eventually he was helped to the stage. His fingers were already easing quick, clean, vamped chords from his guitar. The guitar was a scarred, anonymous thing with long, uncut strings escaping from the machineheads like insect legs. It was not a love object, more a machine with which he wrestled and which was quite capable of fighting back.
Once on stage, before being introduced, before half the audience was back from the bar, he started playing. Nobody had been expecting an academic rendition of ‘The Death of Queen Jane’ but even so they were unprepared for this. He hit an urgent sub-Bo Diddley rhythm and thrashed out chord after chord. No one could remember ever having heard an acoustic guitar played so loud.
The ‘introduction’ went on for some minutes before he started to sing. It needed a voice like a siren to be heard above the guitar. He had such a voice. It was so loud the words were inaudible, but the audience got the message.
The assault went on. After about ten minutes there was not a hand or foot in the room that was not moving in time with the music. The crowd beat out a rhythm with anything they could lay hands on. After twenty minutes it felt as though they had never heard any other sound.
Then the boy started to dance. He kept pounding out the music, never missing a beat, and performed every dance-step known to the popular guitar player. A duck walk went into the splits, back on his feet and into a grinding of the hips, a suave Hank Marvin strut, a fall onto his knees, the guitar played behind his head. He knew all the moves. Finally he leapt onto a table, some sixth sense planting his feet safely between beer mugs and ashtrays. The music went on.
It would not have mattered when he stopped. By then the sounds were infinite and in all directions. It was a hard act to follow, and nobody tried.
People bought him drinks, stuffed money into his pockets, gave him a cigar, offered introductions to producers at the local radio station. Two waitresses from the Happy Eater, seduced by the music, took him home in their Volkswagen and made love to him all night.
There was hell to pay when they discovered he was only pretending to be blind.
Walter drove to the Happy Eater car park. He killed the engine and sat listening to a phone-in on asthma. Finally, Rhoda - the other woman - got off work. Still in her uniform she leaned against the car, hand on hip, provocatively, nor that Walter needed any provocation.
‘I have an open marriage. My wife doesn’t understand me,’ he gushed.
In 1935 in the garden of a local Reichskanzlei Adolf Hitler attempts to discuss a modified design for his Type 60, Kraft-durch-Freude wagen. It is only an attempt for he has lost his voice and uses the broad back of a passing, uniformed lad of Aryan appearance as a writing desk, and makes a hurried sketch, jots down questions in a thin but fluid hand. Should the nose not be shorter, the weight reduced? Will it be cheap enough to fulfil his egalitarian dreams of mass private car ownership? ‘It’s no good Jackie,’ Walter said, ‘There’s a party in my head, and you’re not invited.’
Jackie was raking the gravel drive when Walter returned from a Saturday unchtime drinking session. She was ready for him.
‘Well!’ she bawled, ‘Tell me, this waitress of yours, what’s she like?’
Walter was lost for words, because he had never thought to describe her, never had occasion, given the clandestine nature of their relationship, never had need, believing himself to be in possession of her. Would he have been any better able to describe other things he possessed - his hand, his wristwatch, his hair style?
He attempted to convey this to Jackie.
‘I suppose we’re talking ontology,’ he said.
Jackie emitted a slow, trenchant scream.
‘She’s got blonde hair,’ Walter started hurriedly. ‘She likes clothes. She’s taller than you. She has talent. She likes my car. She’s making me a customised dashboard in ocelot formica at her woodwork class.’
‘Sometimes,’ Walter continued after a pause, ‘When I’m driving home through the tunnel, with a cassette of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson playing, it’s almost as if, oh you’ll call me a fool, it’s almost as if the car and I have become one.
‘Why can’t you become one with me?’ Jackie snapped and returned to her raking.
Night. Cars go by. Pretty people. Tanks full of petrol, heads full of lager and materialism. In-car stereos pump out middle of the road music. Walter and Rhoda sit side by side in the car’s bucket seats. Walter enjoys a sweet and sour spare-rib. Rhoda yanks a ring-pull. The night is young.
Alone in her lounge Jackie nods greetings to the demon she has so far seen only as a beast on Walter’s drunken back. She feels the chill, the terror, and takes the necessary steps to welcome and yet numb the beast. She pours herself a tumbler of vermouth. Soon it is not such a bad life.
In 1946 a British military deputation invites the then Sir William Rootes to view the remains of the Wolfsburg Volkswagenwerks - a factory that the allies have only recently but quite thoroughly bombed out of production, and Sir William is asked to tell them the wisdom of rebuilding the motor works with the Beetle or Kafer or K-d-F wagen, or whatever it will be called, as the product. Rootes concludes it would be a fruitless and profitless exercise. He would not touch the plant or the product, not even as a free gift.
Twenty million cars later Walter and Rhoda draw up at the Circus Tavern - an aggressively working-class night-spot on the A 13. Coming attractions include Lulu and Jim Davidson.
But tonight the warm-up spot is filled by one ‘Digital’ Dave O’Halloran. ‘Why fight it?’ ‘Dave’ had rationalised, ‘When showbiz is in your blood you just gotta sing, gotta dance.’
He is quite a hit with the Essex crowd. His material is gently blue; his manner cheeky and winning. But few were prepared for the barnstorming torch-song with which he closed his set:- ‘The Song of the Well-balanced Foot-fetishist.’
The house band did its best - a lot of electric piano, an unconvincing back-beat - but it didn’t matter, this one came from the heart.
I like stilettos
I like high-heels
I like patent leather
The way that it feels
I like peep-toes
They give me the chills
I like sling-backs
And I love espadrilles
He paused to telling effect. A quietness fell as the audience waited for the chorus. He gave it to them with all the merciless precision of the born trooper,
But there’s one thing I’ve learned
While I’ve been around
It’s that you can’t love a girl
From the ankles down.
He slayed them.
Walter lies naked on his back on the sun-drenched terracotta tiles of the patio. On either side of him, as it were at waist height, seated on Bauhaus dining chairs sit the two women in his life. Rhoda is bare-footed. Jackie wears improbably high red shoes with double ankle straps. The women begin to move their felt over the tensed surfaces of Walter’s body. He becomes hot as a goat.
Before long the two pairs of feet are kneading his taut manhood. The streamlined red leather shoes move teasingly, silkily along his shaft. Bare slender toes, their nails painted the colour of Triumph Spitfires, grip its head as tightly and as expertly as a clenched fist.
Now his organ becomes engorged and twitches to a copious orgasm. Hot globes of semen shoot forth, carve parabolas through the baked afternoon air to burst like dense raindrops on the patio’s tiles, on his abdomen, on Rhoda’s bare feet. She raises her leg and extends her sperm-laden foot towards Jackie who takes it in both hands and moves it towards her mouth. Her tongue laps over the tanned flesh of the foot, deep into the crevices between the toes, over the lacquered nails, seeking out, licking and devouring every last drop of Walter’s brinish jissom.
‘Rats,’ said Walter waking, ‘It was only a dream.’
An old man’s hands on a steering-wheel. The skin mottled with liver-spots, the wheel bound in textured leather.
Jackie had hung her heart on a barbed-wire fence. The last time she saw Walter was in the garage. He had returned briefly from work, unannounced and unexpected, to collect a pair of overalls and a torque-wrench. His last words to her, ‘A man shall not possess more than he can carry on the back seat of a Volkswagen.’
She had to laugh.
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