Tuesday, October 21, 2008

London Calling

Coffeedude, this one is for you. Originally when I wrote this I filed it away, not knowing whether I was brave enough to put it up, but you made me think.

London calling to the faraway towns
Now that war is declared-and battle come down
London calling to the underworld
Come out of the cupboard, all you boys and girls
London calling, now don't look at us
All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust
London calling, see we ain't got no swing
'Cept for the ring of that truncheon thing

These lyrics seared my consciousness around Christmas of 1979; the compelling thrum, thrum of the guitar, Strummer/Jones didactic delivery, almost monotonous, was a battle cry to a wondering soul, stifled by the boundaries of a middle class family. Up until then, punk rock was something distant, Sid Vicious, the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, groups that you couldn’t listen to, and music that was hard to find. Then the older son of the family next door came home for Christmas, triumphantly bearing the album, London Calling by the Clash and a new day was born.

If you were a teenager, or in my case a tweenager in the late seventies and early 80’s you had an almost slavish devotion to the Billboard Top 40 as played by Casey Kasem on a Saturday afternoon. Household transistor radios would be commandeered for the hours to follow along with whatever other teenagers were listening to around the world. Though American pop music seemed to be the order of the day, it was the English punk rock and then subsequent New Wave revolution that was more attractive.

The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
A nuclear error, but I have no fear
London is drowning-and I live by the river

London calling to the imitation zone
Forget it, brother, an' go it alone
London calling upon the zombies of death
Quit holding out-and draw another breath
London calling-and I don't wanna shout
But when we were talking-I saw you nodding out
London calling, see we ain't got no highs
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes

These were not pretty lyrics, they were burning with angst, teenage rebellion, most of all, they were about a place far away. As a child, the victim of constant teasing, to the point of abuse both at home and at school, the only escape was reading and listening to the radio, those songs about far away places and experiences.

A different child, that was how I was described, alternately introverted and then talkative, when I got tired of the relentless family pressure. How my mother, an immensely well-known, former bazaar beauty queen, the toast of her family managed to produce me was beyond the understanding of most people. A tomboy who preferred climbing trees to frilly dresses, I was neither pretty, or sociable, worst, there was a tendency to athleticism, something girls from my background certainly weren’t.


Now get this
London calling, yeah, I was there, too
An' you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won't you give me a smile?

I never felt so much a' like

From early on, we were taught to have “shame”, not bring the family name into disrepute, to always behave in a certain way. Sadly, I never fit in, anywhere. At school, too different from the other children, at home, same thing, the worlds were far apart. I wanted so much to be like the girls at primary school, who went to dance class, swam competitively or rode their bikes and had play dates with the other girls. Needless to say, the reality was a houseful of people, who didn’t understand why I couldn’t relate to them at all and as a result, punished the heck out of you because you spoke “properly”, looked different, and was shy.

“Roxanne, you don’t have to put on that red dress tonight, those days are over, you don’t have to sell your body to the night.”

Now I talk about those days, in a somewhat rose-tinted way, but truthfully, books, TV documentaries, music, those were my escape from a life that was filled with people always finding fault, name-calling, who you felt, just could not accept you for who you were. It is ironic that my father, a compulsive gambler and inveterate charmer was the one diagnosed as manic-depressive. He was, but his life did not revolve around ours and my mother was often left to pick up the pieces of his excessiveness. It was painful, and for a long time, I think she resented that he still maintained a modicum of relationship with me, not her, when she’d given up so much for him.

They’d had to get married, they were expecting me; my father in the late sixties had briefly slipped the constraints of his own narrow up-bringing and reinvented himself as this happening, forward thinking dude. Until he married my mother the belle of her family, then there was the resentment. The war raged on until her death, both parties refusing to admit the writing on the wall and call it quits, either too coward or too much in denial, I don’t know. He with his outside love child that he would never admit to in life; she, herself depressive but too proud to admit it, the fights and the constant refereeing taking a huge toll on the oldest, me. I hated going home.

Home was an oppressive place, lots of rules, all those things you couldn’t do and little encouragement to be anything more, and me, never able to toe the line. Teenage years filled with English bands, me struggling to understand that it was okay to be creative, to not be like the rest of my family. And boy was I rebel, I saw myself with my wild coloured hair, becoming a gypsy, roaming with no fixed abode, going where the wind blows and having experiences. Not for me the cloistered world of the good, sort of, Indian girl. I could never win my family’s approval, too wild, too outspoken, what kind of girl went to protest marches for God’s sake! It was a stifling place to be, my Grandmother in those days an oppressive weight who constantly complained to my mother about my behaviour; because I wore shorts and mini-skirts, because I had six or was it seven earrings, because I went to parties or the cinema with my girl friends, because I avoided the huge extended family functions and had opinions which I was not shy in sharing.

This was not who we were and I was the shame bringer. I wrote letters to my pen pals and plotted on how to get out of here. To find out what was out there. London was calling. It took an incident between my parents and an aunt in Canada to make me understand that I was never going to escape.

So I rebelled some more and started becoming more and more me, the Coffeewallah of today. It took my parents dying, my own divorce and a host of diverse professions for me to understand that London Calling was that restlessness within me to be me. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Christmas ’79, a lot of lessons learned, a lot of acceptance and coming to terms.

The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want has largely become my anthem, I don’t live by it but it nicely sums up that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing. Another day in the saga of a Coffeewallah.

I saw her today at a reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she would meet her connection
At her feet was her footloose man

No, you can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
And if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand
I knew she was gonna meet her connection
At her feet was her footloose man

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

Oh yeah, hey hey hey, oh...

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a 50-amp fuse"
Sing it to me now...

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need
Oh baby, yeah, yeah!


GirlBlue said...

Good one Wallah, so similar in tastes but still so different

Coffeewallah said...

Well, gotta do something.


Gabriela García Calderón said...

Very moving post. Coffeewallah. I can see where you got that sensitive way to see life. Not fitting in is always hard, I use to feel like that sometimes.
Maybe that was the path you had to tske to be the wonderful person you are now. I just know you from your writings, I call you by a nickname, but I can tell you are, indeed, a wonderful person.
Thank God I decided to take a look into your blog some weeks ago.
¡Saludos desde Lima!

Marcus the Coffedude said...

Been there and whilst having two kids now makes that seem so far away, I can see my tendency to defiance, independence and rebellion etched into my sons faces (and unfortunately sometimes in their teachers notes!). Can sum up those feelings in a quote from one of my favourite fictional anti-heroes: Mark Renton a.k.a "Rents" from the novel Trainspotting. (apologies for harsh language in your blog, I have "blurred" them out)

"Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f**king big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of f**king fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the f**k you are on Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing f**king junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, p*ssing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f**ked up brats you spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else."

In the novel the "choice" Rents makes is Heroin addiction. Not something I have experienced nor do I recommend it. However, I have often identified with the sentiments.

It may be a bit Janus like to have feelings and experiences like that but still be a good person and contributing citizen and (scarily so) a nurturing parent and supportive husband but I think these are the complexities make us whole, real and human.


lyricsman said...


You ramping up Wallah...beautiful, straightforward and as real a self portrait as has ever been drawn. This is who you are, the words and their understated majesty...this is you in words

Wuzdescene said...

WOW ... just got a chance to read this piece ... I eh brave enuff tuh write one like dis ....

PS: I still wear six earrings! :-)

Coffeewallah said...

Thanks for the comments everybody.

It was a hard piece to write but sometimes you have to not hide behind the mask.

BTW, in addition to the six earrings there are also three dragon tattoos.

Marcus the Coffedude said...


more inspiration for your coffeeshop!


HPD said...

It is so good to know you. The true you. Still being you. Making you. I know that feeling of "London Calling". You know why I like you? Because you are like me in amny ways. Through our mistakes and the mistakes of others we become more closer to who we are. Always walking the road and no end in sight.

Angry African

Coffeewallah said...

Thanks AA