Decamot of the month

31 Oct 2019-The Age of Innocence

Inspired by the following Decamot items: monument, waitress, luthier, cash machine, main street, Greece, bottle of nitro-glycerine, canal boat, high visibility jacket, fishnet

There has to be a cash machine around here somewhere she thought. Why ever did I leave home without a Plan B? Living on a canal boat seemed so romantic, bohemian even; as did the prospect of picking up casual employment as a waitress to supplement busking self-penned folk songs on the main street of a major suburban city like Guildford.

She could have gone to Greece with her parents for the summer. Her mother lived on a diet of pills since being diagnosed with a weak heart. She never ventured more than 100 yards without her bottle of nitro-glycerine tablets but had been persuaded by Jodie’s Dad, to undertake the flight to Athens.

It was also her Dad who told their only daughter

“Look Jodie, life isn’t a rehearsal. Go where your heart sends you. Take a break from medicine if that’s what you want to do. Be true to yourself. Don’t abandon your principles but do have a Plan B in mind just in case. Stradivari didn’t become a world-renowned luthier by following convention”

Encouraged by her father’s comments, Jodie set about spending her gap year exploring her true passion for composing popular folk songs - not that she ever called them folk songs – that would be too conventional. She was a fan of Ed Sheeran but was equally determined to create her own distinctive musical motif.

A monument to George Abbot (1562-1633), a Guildfordian and Archbishop of Canterbury, sits at the top end of the High Street. He founded Abbot's Hospital, an alms-house on the street in 1619, which is still in use today, which might also explain the addictive attraction of this town to outsiders, otherwise only familiar with Damien, the Antichrist from the Omen, or the brutality of the 1974 IRA pub bombings; still unresolved after 45 years.

Unsurprising for a Saturday, the rather unkempt scruffy looking thirties-something figure in faded khaki coat and trousers barely raised an inquisitive eyebrow from onlookers, as he edged his way round the outer line of shoppers making up the regular Saturday morning crowd. He had a specific mission in mind which was absorbing his every thought. It was fast becoming an obsession.

The regular noisy Saturday bustle greeting visitors approaching the High Street from the north is always suffused with an eclectic mix of alfresco music; the cobbled stones adding a medieval neo-ecclesiastical air to the genial cacophonic welcome. It helps that the north end has shops aimed at a broadly upmarket female clientele.

At no 149, Anthropologie offers “boho-chic apparel and house décor” with, near the entrance, two female students from the Royal College of Music, performing "Sull'aria...che soave zeffiretto" from the Marriage of Figaro to an appreciative crowd, accompanied by the entire Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, such are the wonders that modern digital AV equipment can offer performers.

20 yards further down at 137, Hobbs has a sale of ladies’ fashion items accompanied by a handsome dark-haired tenor belting out "Nessun dorma" from the final act of Giacomo Puccini's opera Turandot. Opposite both emporiums is Brora, bravely tempting customers in with spectacular offers on cashmere sweaters whilst encouraging them to turn round and look at their windows whilst enjoying the entertainment across the street.

By the time shoppers reach Ted Baker, Boots and Waterstones much further down, the musical accompaniment mutates from classical to mainstream pop to purely instrumental, including kettle drums, and every musical genre in between.

It is not to everybody’s taste but there was a general acceptance by passers-by, ranging from muted indifference to genuine appreciation of the musical talent playing its heart out for their delectation. It helped that the quality of performances seemed to be above average, at least to the undiscerning ear.

A small minority who have little choice but to use Saturdays for buying essentials like socks and knickers, object most strongly to having their personal airwaves invaded by uninvited unlicensed street performers encroaching on their civil liberties. Very occasionally, the animosity can get personal. Even more rarely, an obsession can turn into something altogether more sinister, darker even.

The River Wey runs through Guildford and has been a commercial waterway for as long as people have traded with each other. The Victorians enhanced its commercial value with a supplementary canal then abandoned it to the leisure industry when the railways took over. There is a footpath from which tourists can access the river near the station, with an immediate option to go south towards Godalming via St Katherine’s Lock at Shalford or north towards Weybridge through National Trust maintained land at Woodbridge.

The father of Josie’s best friend Anna from school, ran the Guildford Sea Cadets’ whose headquarters are situated here; at its junction with the main London Road. Moored opposite the Sea Cadets HQ was Jodie’s pride and joy which she had hired from her friend’s Dad for twelve months only. He knew the owner was in the process of selling up and was pleased to make it available on a strictly time limited basis for up to a year.

It was a 55ft Trad Stern Narrowboat with everything an aspiring young student could want on board including an 8 x 6-foot galley incorporating a four-hob built in gas cooker and a washing machine; a bathroom with shower and a 9 x 2-foot bedroom with two bunk beds which could be converted to one double if required.

The saloon area, which is the first room on entry from the bow end, had enough cupboards to house a library. When she first went aboard, Jodie could hardly believe the size of everything; the potential for writing and composing was truly inspiring. The saloon even had a 12v, Logik 18? flat screen TV, should she feel inclined to keep in touch with the world at large.

As a waiter at Pizza Express, which was located a further 500 yards further north of the High Street proper, Jodie was able to adjust her shifts to optimise her opportunities. Her main priority being composing followed by performing, Saturdays was a particularly hectic time. The tips available from Pizza Express on a Saturday evening often exceeded the take from her daytime sessions outside Waterstones but she slowly evolved a routine which began and ended with a 30-minute walk along the River Wey, to and from her floating sanctuary.

After only three months, she found she did not need to vary the weekly mix, apart from accommodating the occasional party invitation from friends. It was a routine which began producing pleasing results. There was a regular group of ‘fans’ turning up for her open-air gigs which meant the takings from performing were on the increase, albeit slowly. But one major milestone on the road to independence arrived when she acquired an electric scooter.

Taking advice from Anna’s older brother William, she bought a Xiaomi 365 because the speed and acceleration controls were simple; and its light aluminium frame construction made it easy to fold down for carrying and storage. She found she could easily manoeuvre it into the saloon when she returned home of an evening, which could be as late as 11.00 pm on a Saturday. The scooter also meant she had two different ways of getting to and from her canal boat.

She could use the footpaths from the bottom of the High Street along the western edge of the River Wey or take a more circuitous route using the A322 and turning left at the Woodbridge Café, a quirky little establishment featuring numerous pictures of previous customers eating all day breakfasts. Having enjoyed an early morning breakfast there herself on one occasion, Jodie soon found herself featured on their Facebook page.

It was difficult to categorize Jodie’s musical style. In an earlier era, Edith Piaf might have been a comparison of sorts for her vulnerability, Lady Gaga for her ability to shock or Dolly Parton for her overt raunchiness. There was something about the music which appealed in the modern age of innocence.

Students at the nearby Academy of Contemporary Music were insanely jealous although none of them would admit it in public. They had a grudging admiration for the way she could create suitable backing tracks by using the loop pedal. Modern technology was able to create the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at one end of the High Street and an Ed Sheeran aficionado at the other.

Jodie dressed in an incongruous combination of high heels, fishnet stockings, sixties hot pants and a high visibility yellow jacket favoured by the populist movement opposing President Macron in France. It looked at first sight as if she wanted to write protest songs that would appeal to a mass audience which included unreconstructed macho men; throw in a young politically motivated audience fed on a diet of ‘ virtue calling’ and you could argue that Jodie had all bases covered but it was a potentially dangerous cocktail capable of spontaneous combustion.

Two heavily built customers finished their cappuccinos and gave the international scribble in the air gesture for Jodie to fetch the bill. Adding a small cash tip, which Jodie acknowledged with thanks, they disappeared in the direction of the High Street, where their Ford Transit van was parked and where they waited for Pizza Express to close.

On the stroke of 11.00 pm, Jodie gathered her personal belongings together, placed them in her shoulder bag and prepared her electric scooter for departure. A few minutes later she was speeding down towards the High Street passing the stationary Ford Transit on her left.

She made a right turn into North Street and another right turn further down into Leapdale Road which fed into the A246 roundabout opposite the Police Station. Soon she was speeding along Woodbridge Road humming a possible new composition as she turned left at the Woodbridge Café and headed towards the footbridge by the canal.

As she carried her bike over the bridge she thought she saw a light flicker on the boat. She stopped and waited, her heart beating a little faster. Although there were other boats moored, most were unoccupied. The only direct light bathing the area came from a single streetlamp some distance away, part of the Sea Cadets HQ complex directly opposite.

She waited another few minutes then unlocked the door to the saloon when she heard a sobbing noise coming from the other end of the boat.

“Anna – is that you?” she whispered

“Yes” came the muted reply “I’m so sorry Jodie” she sobbed “I should have sent you a text, but I didn’t know what to do for the best”

Jodie caught sight of her friend as she emerged from the bathroom area. She was holding a wet sponge to her eye which was badly swollen. She looked as though she had been in the ring with Nicola Adams, but Jodie resisted the temptation to say anything.

Jodie took her friend in her arms and they both sat on the settee together for mutual comfort, Anna continuing to sob quietly.

“Its alright Anna, just relax. Take it easy. Take your time. You can stay here tonight but do let your parents know so they don’t worry. Then tell me all about it and tell me who did this to you”

Just across the river, in an upper room in the Sea Cadets HQ, Detective Sergeant James Weatherspoon put down his binoculars and added a note to his duty roster. About a mile away as the crow flies, a Ford Transit van edged its way on to the London bound A3, en route for Southwark.

It took quite a while for Anna to calm down but, when she did, Jodie was full of mixed emotions; unsure of what she should do next.

She first met Anna when they attended Guildford High School, an independent girls’ school, from where Jodie had obtained a place at Cambridge to study medicine. Anna had chosen to stay closer to home and was reading Biochemistry at the University of Surrey which had a splendid modern campus within walking distance of Guildford Station.

“Who did this to you Anna? We should really report him to the police.”

“We can’t” she said “It was Tomas, but it was not his fault” she whispered, hardly daring to look her friend in the face. Tomas was her boyfriend. He was also doing the same course as Anna at Uni.

“What do you mean it wasn’t his fault!” replied Jodie, barely able to control her anger.

“It was an accident – he pushed me out of frustration. I collided with something and this was the result”

“I don’t believe you Anna! Tomas has always seemed the perfect gentlemen to me. If anything, I would have put him down as someone who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, let alone punch his girlfriend. He thinks the world of you Anna!”

A long silence followed in between renewed bouts of sobbing until Anna took a deep breath and finally found the courage to tell Jodie the truth.

“Its to do with drugs” she admitted.

“Drugs!” exploded Jodie “Please tell me you are clean Anna! For heavens sake tell me you are clean! Most of my songs are a clarion call against substance abuse. I can’t believe you are mixed up in something like that!”

“Of course I’m not” replied Anna recovering her composure “but Tomas’ parents appear to be. His mother is an ex addict who is being targeted by these County Lines gangs. His father is in hock to them thanks to his wife’s addiction. This is why he is selling up and wants to return to Poland to get away from them”

“Selling up?” said Jodie

“Yes” replied Anna “This boat is one of the remaining assets which he will put on the market once he has disposed of the apartment he lives in and sold the plumbing business which gives him his income.”

“So that was how your Dad was able to offer me this boat with minimal paperwork?” she said

“That’s right Jodie …. I should have explained all this to you … before … before … Tomas’s mother hit me. ”

“It was his mother who hit you?” said Jodie incredulously.

“Yes” said Anna beginning to sob again. “William and I arrived to pick up Tomas around 9.00 pm and found ourselves thrown into the mother of all family rows, no ironic pun intended. You have to understand, Jodie, the campus is riddled with pushers. The County Lines gangs regard any opening to export their trade from central London as fair game”

Jodie pushed open the door to the police station and asked to speak to someone in charge. She was shown into a small waiting room where she was eventually introduced to a female officer who vaguely recognised her from her performances on the High Street.

“I’m Det Inspector Margaret Saunders” she said “But most people call me Maggie. How can I help?”

Jodie immediately thought this was a bad idea and rapidly tried to think of a plausible excuse for not wanting to prolong the visit. She muttered something about finding the nearest cash machine, but she was interrupted by a kindly sounding Maggie who preferred to cut to the chase.

“Before you embarrass yourself by getting into a convoluted story which you wont be able to sustain, let me tell you what I already know about you and we can take it from there – what do you say? Is it a deal?”

Jodie looked up and smiled, as much out of relief than anything else, although she remained wary as she didn’t want to compromise Anna who had no idea she was there.

“Yes it’s a deal” replied Jodie “although I have a feeling that I don’t have much choice”

Maggie pulled up a chair and sat opposite Jodie, conscious that she needed to approach the situation with extreme care. The Surrey Constabulary had much riding on Operation Campus. If it went wrong it would be difficult to justify the expense. The local electorate might prefer their policeman to be investigating more mundane crimes like house burglaries or fly tipping or unlicensed street performers.

“You live temporarily on a canal boat opposite the Sea Cadets HQ, which you are renting from one Karol Fabia?ski who has a plumbing & heating business in Bramley. You work part time at Pizza Express in Guildford in between performing on the High Street as a street musician. You attended Guildford High School for girls, but you plan to go up to Cambridge to study medicine. How am I doing so far?”

Jodie was astonished. Images of big brother flashed through her subconscious thoughts, but she remained outwardly calm. Maggie had made no reference to Anna or her family.

“I can’t say I’m impressed” she said “As that might imply that I approve of your activities, but I do write songs on the subject”

“Look Jodie” continued Maggie “I want you to understand that we know that neither you nor your friend Anna nor any of her family are involved in criminal activities, so relax. What we are doing is trying to clean up the appalling drug scene on our doorstep. The Government has put extra money into tackling the County Lines drug gangs. We have received a tip off about how they plan to infiltrate the University campus using social media. For reasons that I cannot disclose to you, we are confident that it will involve your canal boat which we have had under surveillance for some time”

Jodie shuddered. Eventually she said. “What do you want me to do?”

Maggie leant back in her chair and put hands behind her head, deep in thought.

“Frankly, I don’t know what to say for the best. I should be telling you to cancel your rental agreement, find somewhere else to live, then get off to Cambridge at the earliest opportunity.”

A pause occurred, broken by Jodie.

“But that might alert the County Lines gang to a change in the situation and blow your carefully laid plans?” she guessed.

“Something like that” admitted Maggie looking very doleful but clearly holding something else back.

“How long do you need?” said Jodie

“Two weeks at the most” came the reply

“We would assign two plain clothes officers to protect you over the next fourteen days if you stayed on. You would not know they were there, but they would make sure that your journey to and from the boat was safe. A third officer is already stationed in the Sea Cadets HQ overlooking the boat”

The next seven days were the scariest of Jodie’s short life. She jumped at any creak on the boat, couldn’t concentrate when riding the scooter but did find some relief from everyday occurrences by throwing herself into her musical compositions which were gaining bigger crowds as she mastered the loop pedal as a device similar to a continuo in classical music.

On the fifth day, as she prepared to set out for her Pizza Express afternoon shift, she received the text message which she had been waiting for

“O.C. now complete. Multiple arrests. IOU big time. Maggie”

The relief she felt made her go weak at the knees. A huge weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She felt like vomiting but steadied herself by leaning over the lavatory bowl, head down, until the involuntary bile in her throat had dissipated.

Taking a deep breath, she took a glass of water and sat down on her bunk bed, unaware that a slightly dishevelled figure clad in a faded Khaki coat and trousers was approaching warily along the footpath from the direction of the station. He was dodging in and out of tree cover, avoiding eye contact with anybody who happened to be dashing for a train. He glanced at his watch hoping his timing would play into his hands. It should be her afternoon shift soon he thought.

Jodie collected her thoughts. She had never let her employer down, but Maggie’s text had knocked her sideways leaving her in a state of nervous exhaustion. She reached for her mobile and called her manager

“Stella” she said “Its Jodie here”

“Are you alright Jodie? You sound if you have just seen a ghost or something”

“I’m OK – just feeling a bit queasy that’s all – sorry to let you down but can you cover for me today? I will be back to normal tomorrow”’

“No problem – you go back to bed – especially if he’s good looking!”

Jodie wasn’t in a jokey mood but thanked her colleague just the same as she set about making a cup of tea.

She didn’t hear or see Khaki man leap over the bow of the ship and crouch down by the front door before the silence was shattered by a police siren and an overhead helicopter booming an instruction from above

“Just lie flat on your stomach and don’t move – two marksmen have you in their sites. One false move and you are a dead man!”

Khaki man froze as requested until a heavily armed police officer applied handcuffs and manoeuvred him back on to the tow path.

Jodie had screamed initially but was now encouraged out by the familiar voice of Det Inspector Margaret Saunders …

“It’s all clear Jodie, its Maggie, you can come out now”

The door to the canal boat opened and Jodie emerged looking bewildered but steady on her feet. She could not believe the sight that greeted her. As Maggie moved towards her to offer her a comforting arm she waved her away and stared at the prisoner who was busily trying to explain that there must be some misunderstanding.

“Look I can prove who I am” he said “I have a driving licence in my pocket. I’m due to play a charity gig at the G2 on Sunday with Paul Jones and a few mates. I’m a surprise guest”

It was Ed Sheeran

They say you make your own luck. We know it’s a cliché, but Jodie spent the next two days in a musical wonderland. Ed Sheeran had heard about Jodie via social media; the Woodridge Café Facebook page being one of the sources. When Paul Jones asked him if he fancied joining in his annual Sunday charity gig, he jumped at the chance. The previous year’s surprise guests had been Eric Clapton, Van Morrison and Tom Jones!

He thought it would be fun to look up Jodie at the same time.

He had little choice but to attempt an incognito outfit so he could blend in with the riff raff of Guildford, many of whom were students. Paul Jones is one of rock’s elder statesman having fronted two successful bands including Manfred Mann in the early seventies before moving on to a broadcasting career.

Hunched up in the saloon section of the canal boat, Ed Sheering was able to let his hair down to a fellow musician. For all his worldwide fame, he seemed to Jodie to be incredibly insecure.

“When I started out in this business I was only 14 years of age” he told her. “My Dad gave me free reign to ignore my academic studies as he could see I was passionate about making my own music. I was nerdy about musical gismos like the loop pedal which I see you are taking to a whole new level Jodie. My style struck a chord (forgive the pun) with my audiences but it was luck. I found myself in the right place at the right time with songs that resonated with my fans. But it was pure luck Jodie. Believe me, there are plenty of better musicians than me around.”

“But you have recorded 6 albums, countless singles and you write for others as well as acting as a producer. It can’t all be luck Ed!”

“Well its how I see it Jodie. I am terrified that my creative impulses are slowing up which is why I was so keen to see how you are pushing the musical boundaries”

The audience at the G2 were astonished when Paul Jones announced Ed Sheeran’s appearance. He opened with The A Team and followed that with another Sheeran classic called Kiss Me before introducing his final number with the following words

“Now, to finish, here is a special song I wrote only last night with my very good friend Jodie, who is currently appearing on Guildford High Street but has promised to join me here on stage to perform it.

The roar that greeted Jodie wearing her trademark stage outfit was deafening with people stamping their feet in appreciation and encouragement.

The song had all the qualities of a French torch song but in a modern context with multiple looping provided by two guitars. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Ed and Jodie hit the final harmony.

It was followed by a standing ovation and calls of encore encore.

The song was called ‘Listen To Your Heart”

Ten days later Jodie attended the funeral of Danny Saunders, Maggie’s son. Three weeks earlier, he had become the latest victim of Surrey’s growing knife crime. He was only 17 years old.