Julie Driscoll

I first met Julie Driscoll while working in a vegetarian café-bar in St Leonards-on-Sea run by an old jazz player who wanted to spend his twilight years close to the English Channel.  He wasn’t around.  He didn’t get up before dark and I was covering the midday shift as a favour for his daughter, Neneh.  Not that I owed her any favours, but I wanted her to owe me a couple.

The only customer was a woman with a dog on piece of string lying on one of the tables shouting into a mobile phone.  I don’t care if that’s where you were yesterday, she shouted.  Today, you should be here.  No.  I do not.  Who?  That’s that then. She hung up the phone, sloughed off the table and asked me for another Guinness, which I dutifully poured.

You like China?  she asked as I passed over her change.

Never been, I said. 

You don’t want to, she said.  All smart arses.  And, they will go off and do their own thing and not care about you, leaving you to try and work out all this differential calculus by yourself.

I’m not sure you are talking about China, I said.  Most of those things relate to something different.

No, she said.  Differential.  Still, same deal. She took her phone out again, squinted at it, attempted to do something with it by mashing it with her palm and then threw it at the drum kit that was sat at the back of the small stage at the end of the room.  It hit a cymbal with a satisfying sound.

Fuck, she said, and pulled her dog along with her as she wandered outside in a zig-zag.  I didn’t ask for the pint glass back.  I figured it was as lost as she was.

I went back to doing the Guardian crossword and trying to think of eight across, five letters, limits in which something can be effective.  A man wearing a grey suit and glasses too big for his head limped in and asked for a triple gin and tonic.  I obliged.

Watch out for the nano-tubes, said the man.

What?  I asked.

You heard, he said.

I did, I said.  Which doesn’t mean I understood.

You will, he said.  This whole place has them.  Infinitely directed nano-tubes that make up the neural network of the intelligent city.  This whole thing is one giant brain.  You have to see it.  We are thoughts in the mind of a god.  We are fleeting ideas.  It’s pretty cool.  I figured it out a few years back when I was working in a tin mine in Papa New Guinea.

Never been, I said.  Tell me about this brain.

Who said I was interesting?  asked the man.  I just want a quiet drink.  He turned his back to me and mumbled something to himself that I couldn’t hear. 

As I was being shunned by the man, a woman with short hair and the eyes of an overexcited child who has just discovered eye-liner walked in and asked for a pint of Carling and a sausage sandwich.

No on both counts, I said.  We only have organic lagers and vegetarian food.

About time, said the man in the grey suit turning to the woman.  We do three songs.  We need a crowd for the energy.  We’re used to taking just the two of us.  Four is a stretch.

Fascinating, said the woman, before turning back to me.  I could really do with a sausage sandwich.  She left me with the man in the grey suit.  I was not looking forward to what he was going to say.

I know what she means, he said.  I could murder a Greggs' pasty myself.

What was that you said to her?  I asked him. 

Haven’t a clue, he said.  I read it off that poster behind you.

I turned around.  There was no poster, only a small postcard from Caen Hill Locks.  When I turned back to say so, the man had gone.  The woman with the eye makeup was back, her mouth wrapped round a sausage bap.

You’re dripping brown sauce on the floor, I said.

Sorry, she said with her mouth full.  I’ll have one of those organic lagers, and a packet of cashews.

The woman with the dog on a string shouted back in, the din directed at her phone. The man in the grey suit emerged from the toilets and calmed her down.  They seemed to know each other. She hugged him and started sobbing, her body shaking with each gulp of air.  I hate China, she said. I hate him for making us go there.  The man patted her back.  The dog rubbed itself against a chair leg.

Do you often get bands in here? asked the woman with the eyeliner, indicating the small stage.

Mainly weekends, I said.  We do have an open mic on a Wednesday, and first Monday of every month we have a jazz group play while the bingo is on.

No, she said.  I meant those two.  The Lovely Eggs. 

That’s a weird phrase, I said, for a couple of crazies.

You’re funny, she said, for a hipster.

I took offence and left her to her drink. I pulled the onion drawer from below the sink and attempted to clean it.  I heard a clattering at the drums.  Be careful of the drums, I shouted from where I crouched. The clattering didn’t stop, instead it became a beat.  I popped my head above the counter and saw that the man in the grey suit was on the drums and the woman with the dog had found a guitar.  The woman with too much eye makeup was sat at a table by the stage waving her hands in the air.

The Lovely Eggs played The Investment from their album This Is Our Nowhere(2015), Have You Ever Heard a Digital Accordian? From their album If You Were Fruit(2011), and their single Drug Braggin(2016).   By the time they had finished their third song a good sized crowd had filled the café-bar and I was busy serving customers when the woman on guitar asked the woman with the eye makeup to get on stage.  This is our friend, Julie Driscoll, she said, and we have a special treat for you.  We are going to do a version of Season of the Witch for all you Donovan haters out there, and especially for the lovely barman over there.

Wait, I said, but it was too late. They had begun.

The man began to bang the drums, the woman began to play guitar, and Julie began to sing, but it wasn’t music that flowed from them, it was a force, one that stripped the plaster from the walls, the varnish from the tables and the light from the sky.  A void opened around us.  The crowd had gone, the café-bar was gone.  We floated together, flowing down a darkening spiral.  Julies voice moved through us all, compressing our thoughts together, I felt connected to the three of them, in a way that felt umbilical, we fed and were fed, the music twisting us through time until we popped from nothing, from darkness, from the abyss, into a field swaying with poppies.  Then, silence.

I lay on the floor unable to move.  The Lovely Eggs no longer held any instruments.  They shook hands with Julie and drifted off, beyond the hedgerow that surrounded the field.  The dog that had been on a string cocked its head at me, flicked it’s ears, gave a small bark and chased after the couple. 

Julie stood over me.  What did Jon tell you?  she asked.

Is this about that John Lee Hooker thing?  I asked. 

About four hundred miles that way, Julie pointed towards the rising sun, you’ll find Beijing. One of our contacts will meet you and you will travel with them.  That’s all I can tell you for now.  If I’m honest, you should have set off weeks ago, but things have been happening in Tycho Under that have held me up.  The Lovely Eggs too.  We will meet you in North Korea.

I have no idea what is going on, I said, standing up.

You don’t need to, said Julie, just enjoy the ride.  This will all work out, it has done in the past so it should do this time.  If I’m honest, it’s just something we have to get through.

There must have been an easier way to get me to China, I said.  Jon told me that The Andrews Sisters had John and he needed me.  Why did he send you?

Questions mostly get answered by time, said Julie, and things don’t always work out the easiest way.  Sometimes, you have to go the long way round.  It’s no accident that we had to play Season of the Witch to get you here.  Otherwise, Donovan’s men would have found us.  Let’ s just look at it as a back door.  Now, keep your head down and get to Beijing.  Your contact will be wearing an eye patch.  I can walk with you to Datong, from there you are on your own.

I’m always on my own, I said.

You have Neal, said Julie.

Don’t remind me, I said.  Julie laughed, and we’ve been friends ever since.