I’m standing at my workbench, re-stringing a Gibson SG Special and glancing out of the window at the street below. There is always someone peering in the window of the dubious bookshop across the road. The odd thing about this bookshop is the display window. It’s approximately 6’ x 6’. There’s no traditional shopfront, just the window and an ordinary door. On show are a small selection of shady books and magazines. Gerard Street is always busy. I’m close to Wardour Street. This end of the street is more Western. As you progress down the street, it becomes progressively more Chinese.
I’m in the workshop — which is a huge room — with electronic engineer Alan Baldwin and guitar repairer Sam Lee. Steve Howe, lead guitarist of the band Yes, is speaking to Sam. Sam is repairing his guitar. His workbench is at the other end of the room, at right angles to mine. It does not face a window. Steve breaks away from Sam and approaches me. He speaks:
“That’s a beautiful guitar,” he says. “Can I have a look?”
“No problem. It’s my own.” I pass him the guitar.
“I see you’ve customised it,” he says, turning it around in his delicate hands. Steve sits down on a chair, crosses his legs and rests the guitar on his thigh. His maroon polkadot shirt hangs over the waistband of his jeans. He has long fair hair. It hangs down passed his shoulders. He plays a few blues runs. His technique is faultless.
“Thought I’d see what it sounded like with a humbucker instead of the P90 pickup,” I say. “I had to make a different scratch plate to accommodate it. Can’t afford to go out and buy an SG Standard, so I modified this one.”
“The action is amazing,” he says. “The strings are so light, you hardly have to touch them. Can I plug it in?”
“Yeah. Not too loud though. The dentist downstairs would complain.”
Steve doesn’t stay long. We chat briefly about his band, then he collects his guitar from Sam, takes some notes from his wallet and pays him. “Nice to talk to you all,” he says as he leaves the workshop.
Ten minutes later Dave O’Sullivan walks in. He is in his late 20s, wears sandals with no socks. His hair is long. He wears horn rimmed glasses, like Buddy Holly. Dave is a throwback from the beatnik era. Nearly every sentence he utters is punctuated with the word ‘man’. “Yeah man. No way, man.” I like Dave. He is humble, gentle, easily pleased and pure in heart. He says hello to Sam and then sits on the chair that Steve occupied a few minutes ago. Dave reaches into his pocket, pulls out a small bag of grass and rolls himself a joint. “You want some, man?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a puff,” I reply.
Sam doesn’t want any. Alan refuses too. We have known each other for a long time, live in the same street in Camberwell. We travel to and from work together.
Sam walks over. He speaks:
“Did you ever hear about the Domesday bomb?”
We all express our ignorance. None of us has heard of it.
“The Americans have an enormous bomb that can destroy the planet,” Sam tells us.
We look sceptical. But these are strange times. The Americans and Russians are capable of almost anything. Who knows. There might be something in it.
“Seriously,” he says. “It’s always airborne, twenty-four-seven. If there’s nuclear Armageddon and America is faced with destruction, they will unleash the bomb. It has the power to totally destroy Russia. The radiation fallout and nuclear winter that follows, would kill everything on the planet. There would be no food, no vegetables, no livestock. Dense smoke in the upper atmosphere would block out the sun for years. Nothing would grow. The temperature would plummet. Any survivors would either be irradiated or starve.
“So that’s the Domesday bomb, is it?” I say.
“Yeah, not a lot of people know about it.”
“How did you find out?” Alan asks.
“I’ve got a friend in the American Air Force,” Sam says. “He told me all about it. Scary stuff, eh?”
Dave sits there drawing on the joint, the conversation seemingly wafting over him. He speaks: “Wow, man, that’s heavy stuff. Some weapon.”
“Yeah … scary stuff,” I add.
“Those Americans, man. Maniacs. We’re all fucking doomed,” Dave says, and blows a pungent plume of smoke into the air.
“Have you got anything lighter to tell us?”
Sam laughs. “I was at a friend’s house the other night. There were four of us. We were playing cards. Someone mentioned sadomasochism. My friend said his wife would do anything for him. He tells us to sit and watch.
He shouts his wife’s name. She comes into the room. “Go and get my dirty underwear,” he tells her. She disappears and returns with a pair of boxer shorts. “Did you get those from the dirty linen basket?”
“Yes,” she says.
“Now sniff the crutch,” he tells her.
She stands there holding the pants. She looks down at them and then looks up at her husband.
“Sniff the crutch,” he tells her.
She holds the pants to her nose and breaths in deeply.
“Keep sniffing,” he tells her.
She buries her nose in the crutch and takes repeated deep breaths.
“Okay. Now put them back.”
She nods. Without uttering so much as a word she leaves the room. We sat there amazed, not knowing whether to be embarrassed or to treat the whole thing as a joke.
“See, I told you she would do anything I asked.”
“We couldn’t dispute that,” Sam says. “So we resumed our game of cards.”
“Well, that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I said ‘uplifting’ but it was interesting,” I say. Dave offers me a slug on his joint. I take it, then get on with my work. Sam drifts back to his workbench. Alan picks up his soldering iron and continues where he left off. Dave leans back in the chair and finishes the joint.