I’ve finished the Magnetic Sabots project, and hope to write up the Solo Campaign notes for
last two weeks in charge in a day or two. Today’s more-than-usually-pointless
Hooptedoodle is just a yarn – something I’ve been thinking about this week.
It’s probably a time-of-life thing. Sometimes I remember someone, or some event, that I haven’t thought about in many years. Mostly my recollection is crystal clear, but increasingly I find that it seems like some of the things actually happened to someone else or – occasionally – they seem so improbable that I wonder whether maybe I just read about them or dreamed them up. Tales from a bygone age.
A couple of weeks ago I did a stand-in job with a jazz group, and was delighted to meet up with my old mate Finn the piano player. We chatted about this and that, and then he said, “Did you know Levi died?”.
Wow. Levi – hadn’t thought about him for ages, yet for a short period of my youth he was the person I hated most in the whole world.
The first time I got married, both my wife and I were 22. I was a year out of university, an actuarial student, and she had a decent job in a bank. We had both had more than enough of student squats and shared bed-sits, and we rented a lovely little basement flat in a Georgian property in
Edinburgh’s West End. It
was more than we could strictly afford, but we felt that the comfortable
surroundings would ease the shock of being newly-wed.
Levi was our landlord – he lived upstairs. I first met him when I went to sign the lease. My recollection is of a grey man – grey hair, grey face, grey suit, grey tie – in (probably) early middle age. He showed me into his sitting room, which was immediately above the flat and actually occupied the same area as the entire flat. You could have had a reasonable game of football in there, with spectators. It was furnished with exquisite taste – the whole place looked like something out of a lifestyle magazine. Levi himself was not very impressive, but he spoke like Earl Mountbatten. He lived with his mother – a surprisingly jovial, astoundingly Glaswegian lady whom we only saw once in the 2 years we lived there. We used to make up mysterious tales about how she was kept in a cupboard downstairs – certainly she was not much in evidence.
We called him Mr Toad, because he looked and dressed rather like the character from The Wind in the Willows. Levi would tell me elaborate stories about the people he knew and did deals with. He described himself, with practised vagueness, as “a sort of property developer, and a would-be patron of the arts”. He used to say things like, “Of course, I’m very friendly with the Steiners...”, which impressed me not at all since I had never heard of them, nor any of the other names he dropped.
The problem was that we only had the front half of the basement. Our half and his half were connected by a locked door, for which he had the only key. I installed my future wife in the flat in May, and I was to join her there after we were married in October. Immediately, I started getting panicky phone calls – someone had been in the flat, tidying up her clothes. Someone had walked through our flat and left through our front door, at 1am. Levi phoned me, too, to express his displeasure over the fact that my intended had moved a vase from the desk to the dresser – he had moved it back.
I went to see him, and said that the reason we paid him rent was because we were depriving him of the use of part of his property, so I would be obliged if he would stay out of the place. I told him that I intended to fit a bolt on my side of the connecting door, and henceforth it would only be opened by agreement between us. He went crazy. For a few minutes, he ceased being a grey man and became an extremely crimson man.
If I read the lease, he said, I would find that he was entitled to all reasonable access, and in any case the official fire-escape route for his basement passed through the flat, so this was a legal matter. What he didn’t say, of course, was that he paid considerably less in council rates since the flat was not actually separate, and no tax at all since the flat did not exist as a rentable entity. A couple of nights later, he showed some dinner guests and some people from a catering company out through our flat at about midnight, and I phoned the police the next day. The police said this was just a disagreement between a landlord and tenant, and they didn’t wish to become involved. I said my wife was frightened to be in the flat alone. That did it.
The police were round to see him next day, and then came to brief me. They gave me some useful ideas about things I could say to him which might carry some weight. So I rehearsed a bit, and I went to see him, and told him that it would be a most awful thing if I came across him or some of his guests in my flat one night, failed to recognise them and caused them serious bodily harm – of which I was quite capable.
We had no further trouble with the connecting door. Levi and I exchanged very few words during the two years before we left to buy a place of our own. I occasionally saw him in his big picture window, glaring at me as I came and went. I still imagine him like that – a grey man with the light behind him. He must have lived to a good age. Apparently he was still alone when he died.