In which The Author concludes his trilogy of train-based encounters
This strange incident took place on an evening departure from Cardiff, a good few years ago. It was one of those occasions where a spur of the moment decision several hours earlier had unexpected consequences later in the day.
The story began one Friday lunchtime. Jeff and I had gone to Kitty Flynn’s for our regular lunchtime drink and chat with the regulars. I’ve got a feeling that I was off the beer at the time, because I was having trouble with my shoulder. (If you’ve read the preceding couple of chapters, you’ll know that it’s hard for me to recall a time when I wasn’t having trouble with my shoulder. This isn’t one of them!) Co-codamol is prescribed as a painkilling panacea. It also fries your brain beautifully, so you definitely shouldn’t drive or operate machinery. Combine it with a pint and you shouldn’t even try selling books.
Kitty Flynn’s stands on the corner of St Mary Street in Cardiff (as I noted in A Letter to the Editor 6
). It’s a stone’s throw from the Millennium Stadium, and cheek by jowl with the Brewery Quarter restaurants and bars. The side door leads out into Caroline Street, known to everyone in South Wales as ‘Chip Alley’.
If you wanted to set a drama in a seedy part of town, Caroline Street would have been perfect. In its narrow pedestrianised precinct, flanked by high-sided buildings, there was every conceivable ropey location for a gangster film: Dorothy’s (the best chippy in Cardiff); a handful of takeaways; a branch of Greggs; a shop selling ‘second-hand books and DVDs’ behind permanently-closed Venetian blinds; a Chinese restaurant; the side entrance to the Kings Cross (Cardiff’s best-known gay pub); a tattoo studio; a short-lived fetishwear shop; and the Darts Shop.
I don’t know whether that was the place’s official name. It was really a newsagent’s, but it also sold flights and other accessories for everyone’s favourite pub game. The tattoo studio occupied the first floor. The rest of the retail space had the usual collection of papers, magazines, cigarettes, sweets, canned drinks and general odds and ends, as well as the darts paraphernalia.
The counter was at the far end of the shop, and behind that was a small area separated off by a curtain made from narrow plastic strips. A sign nearby warned people that nobody aged under 21 was allowed through the barrier. I only ever went through it once, for a look around. It had more porn magazines that I’d ever seen in my life, but in fairness most of them seemed pretty tame. There wasn’t much in the way of BDSM/fetish material. On the other hand, the rack at the far end was wholly directed at gay men. A friend of mine once told me that he’d been in the shop, and the chap at the counter was leafing through one of the gay mags. It was a very strange shop, all in all. But it sold the full range of chocolate, so I used to pop in there whenever I felt a Bournville craving coming on.
Jeff called in every day on the way back to work to buy a paper. On this particular day I went in as well, and spotted a magazine/DVD package on the top shelf. It purported to be a magazine of film reviews, but it seemed to be a front for articles which you wouldn’t find in Empire. It reminded me a bit of Redemption, a magazine I bought only once. This issue in particular caught my eye:
I didn’t care what the film was. I gathered that it was called In the Flesh, but it meant nothing to me. The standing girl on the cover ticked all the boxes for me. If she was in the film, it was worth the £5 or so cover price. I decided not to buy it there and then, but returned for it later in the evening. Then (as it was Friday) I decided to have a couple of pints in Kitty’s and do the crossword before heading home on a later train.
I was sitting on the train when a middle-aged chap came and sat in the next seat. It seemed a bit odd at first, as the train was fairly quiet. I carried on doing the crossword and he took a magazine from his pocket. After a little while, the train stopped and I glanced up to see where we were. As I looked back down, I caught a glimpse of my neighbour’s magazine. I realised that it was one of the magazines which would have occupied the very last rack of the Darts Shop. I’m not an expert, but I’m sure it can’t be healthy for a man to have a physique like that, to be honest.
He must have spotted my involuntary interest in his choice of reading matter, because he angled it towards me.
‘Is this your sort of thing?’ he asked.
‘No, not at all,’ I replied. I reached into my bag and withdrew my own magazine, showing him the picture of Miss Whiplash on the DVD cover. ‘She’s much more my type.’
‘Oh, sorry,’ he said quietly. He gathered up his stuff and went to sit somewhere else, before getting off at Abercynon.
The film turned out to be a very strange fetish-dress adaptation of the Scottish Play. From the very start, with the three witches cavorting in black PVC around a bonfire, it’s obviously not the sort of production one would see at Stratford or the Globe. Every so often the lead characters just start shagging for no apparent reason. It’s a bit of a kinky treat all the same. Lady M in particular is gorgeous, with long red hair, a tight PVC dress and a stunning metal collar with long spikes. As for the girl on the cover? She appears for no reason in what I assume to be a dream sequence, having vigorous sex beside a river. She must be truly beautiful in the flesh, as it were. Why on Earth this particular item should have come my way is a mystery. But I’m pretty sure that I might have found myself involved in a rather difficult situation if I’d left it on the shelf in the Darts Shop that day.