Still the world is wondrous large,—seven seas from marge to marge—
And it holds a vast of various kinds of man;
And the wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Khatmandhu
And the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban.
Here’s my wisdom for your use, as I learned it when the moose
And the reindeer roamed where Paris roars to-night:—
“There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
Rudyard Kipling, In the Neolithic Age
Peter Jump was withered, hunched and riddled with nervous ticks. When lucid, he claimed to have worked at Abbey Road Studios in its heyday and to have produced the finest records of psychedelic rock. In the same era, he had drunk what he called a 4M cocktail, mixing mescaline, MDMA, methylated spirits and milk in a blender before knocking the whole concoction back, to be found days later, naked and in the grip of a psychosis from which he never completely recovered. Jump muttered to himself in spurts, intoning agreement and disagreement in a garble of difficult-to-hear words. His favourite gesture was the shrug, and he used it in conversations with himself as well as other people, extending his right hand out, with palm open and fingers wide apart, while uttering a nasal “Aaaa”.
I met Jump at the Belsize Tavern, a pub in a fashionable part of North London with a fashionable chef-owner to match. Its pretentions were not entirely equal to its appearance: the Bell was ragged in places, with frayed carpets covering holes in its wooden floor and a trail of dents and stains across the surface of its antique bar. I worked there near the end of my year in London, in 2005, serving drinks to an admirably egalitarian band of celebrities, tabloid journalists, musicians and working people, who would come in for a meal at lunch time, when other customers were just surfacing for the day’s first drink. The Gallaghers stopped in occasionally, as did Kate Moss, Pierce Brosnan and Sean Bean, but it was the regulars that I got to know – and Jump was one of them. He drank gin and tonics without fail, but always took time to ponder his order. If I ever second-guessed him, Jump would call me an importunate young man and make a show of ordering something else. He did not like to be predictable, even if he was.
I didn’t know what importunate meant when Jump first used the word and asked if he had invented it, like he had invented so much else. “Importunate? Im-por-tew-nate, im-porrr-tu-nate, im-por-tuuune?” he replied, cocking his head from side to side to better hear himself sounding out the words. “It means annoyingly, intrusively per-sis-tent. Look it up!”
Jump was the battered product of an English public school. Other than his stint at Abbey Road Studios, he had not had any discernible career and I assumed he was drinking his way slowly and deliberately through a sizeable inheritance, which also paid for his drug habit, a nearby bedsit and the prostitutes from Eastern Europe he occasionally took back to it, in twos and threes. He had a head too big for his reedy frame and pink, fleshy ears, which stuck out sharply from his close-cropped grey hair, like satellite receivers on a stubble-covered hill. When he walked, his head and body moved independently, giving him the appearance of an oversized bobblehead doll, rolling and bouncing down the road. He wore tiny spectacles, which he peered through myopically – or over, with a look of beady clarity, reminding me that he was not as far gone as most people assumed.
Jump also had a grin of pure mischief. It was always the same – neither innocent nor wholly sordid – whether he was propositioning the pub’s manager, who called him granddad, or remembering a night on Primrose Hill, in the company of Jim Morrison. Although he struggled to make conversation, I sometimes joined Jump on the other side of the bar, and watched as he wavered between grinning observations of literature or music and panicked apologies for imagined slights, which made him crumple up into himself as if in physical pain. He was proud, and pretended to have found virtue in his vice, but he was also desperately lonely and – like the Bell’s carpets – did a bad job of hiding his drug-piqued sense of shame.
Jump was an anachronism. He had drunk so deeply of his hippie past that he could not exist fully in his hungover present, and I saw in him an embodiment of the whole movement’s soiled idealism. Like a hero and a fool, he had tried to make it through to the other side – but he had only fallen into the chasm in between, and it was from Jump that I first heard Kipling’s line, when he said one day out of the blue,
The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Kathmandu
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