Alma Cogan

Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn

Book: Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn Read Free Book Online
Authors: Gordon Burn
house near the slipway have always kept a particularly unsightly sign in their kitchen window, where no dog-walker can miss it: a line-drawing of a dog squatting to take a dump with a broad red diagonal through it. (They seem to have a fetich about laminated signs and badges: the rear window of their car is spattered with stick-ons from stately homes and safari parks, in addition to one advertising another pointless untruth – ‘Child aboard – keep your distance’.)
    Recently, though, a home-made effort went up, close to where they park their car on the far end of the quay by the slipway: ‘Please do NOT allow your dog to defecate in front of this house. Or please TAKE THE FAECES HOME WITH YOU’.
    The contrast between the drawing-room language – ‘defecate’, ‘faeces’, the reiterated ‘please’ – and the crazy underlining and piece of old board on which the words were chalked, seemed evidence of a personality coming apart at the seams.
    My last walk of the day is one of the parts of the day that I most look forward to. Taking the flashlight and walking along the river last thing has become one of my unshakeable rituals.
    On the darkest nights, when there is no moon (it’s a connection I’ve only made since I’ve been here), it reminds me of beingbackstage in the time before I was due on, just out of sight of the audience, which I always found a companionable place to be.
    It’s where every day was headed. The relief to have arrived, plus the condition of total black-out – the only light was the light bleeding from the stage – was conducive to a kind of careless intimacy that I knew nowhere else in my life.
    If somebody had to do a quick change, they came off and did it where they stood. Chorines were constantly flinging off one piece of flim-flam and throwing on another. Behind the flats were steaming heaps of towels, tights, athletic supports, brassières, dressing-gowns.
    It was a refuge that was always available. A settled environment. Somewhere to retreat to out of the light.
    A thing I learned early on was never to play a theatre blind. You had to know where the exits, pillars, balconies, bars and, most of all, where the lavatories were located if you wanted to avoid being thrown by stray blobs of darkness moving in the dark during your turn, like elements of the dark reordering themselves.
    When you go out on stage, go out smiling, look at your audience, start at the top balcony, captivate your audience, look at them and  smile, then take your eyes down to the bottom balcony, look from one  side to the other, and go into your number.
    If it’s a night when the tide is out far enough for me to walk most of the way to where the causeway links the villages, I can see the scales of the illuminated silver cross throwing scrims of light into the street below it, giving the steep street the appearance of a stream negotiating stones and other small obstacles on the way to emptying itself in the river.
    A blurry blue light comes from windows on both banks in rooms where people are watching television in the dark. If this had been earlier in my life, the probability is that I could have told you, almost to the minute, what they were watching.
    I carried television and radio times in my head without even thinking. Gazing into windows as we came into strange towns, Icould take the elongated shadows playing across curtains and ceilings and instinctively convert them into familiar faces and settings.
    The dark has never held the usual terrors for me. On the contrary, I’m happy when night comes. I welcome it.
    Recently, though, I have felt their eyes on me. Felt sure I was being watched. I’ve seen shadows moving behind their bedroom window in the dark.
    A few weeks ago, playing the beam a few feet ahead of me as usual as I went, I lit up a series of symbols drawn on the quay in fresh white chalk.
    There was a diamond, a circle and a triangle, all geometrically precise and aligned, and in the centre

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