Jeremy Clarke

Low Life | 1 August 2009

Tale of woe

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I handed Trev his usual — a large house vodka and coke. ‘Come outside for a fag,’ he said. We took our drinks outside and Trev got out his Mayfairs. The landlord followed us out and told us ‘for the hundredth time, for crying out loud’ that we weren’t allowed to take drinks out on to the pavement, so we followed him back inside and placed our drinks on a table and went out again.

Trev had had a bad week, he said. He’d broken a bone in his cueing hand on someone’s head, he’d spent a night in a cell, and to cap it all one of his houses had burnt down. (Trev is a builder. Recently he bought a couple of ruins, did them up, and let them out.) ‘What, completely destroyed?’ I said. He described the extent of the damage to the house by using the past tense of the most commonly used obscenity. In that case he wasn’t exaggerating, I said. He really had had a rotten week.

And that wasn’t all, he said.

Unbeknown to Trev, his tenants had been using the house as a cannabis farm and stealing the electricity to power the grow lamps from the national grid. The cause of the fire was the improvised wiring, which had been unsafe. While tackling the fire, firemen had noted the absence of furniture inside the house, and the presence, instead, of hundreds of cannabis plants. Police were advised. Their enquiries led them to Trev. Trev supplied them with names of his tenants. His tenants, whereabouts unknown, had since got word to Trev that he’s going to have his legs broken for ‘grassing them up’. ‘The coppers asked me who lived there, and I told them. What else was I supposed to do?’ said Trev, beseechingly. ‘And now I’ve to go around watching my back all the time.’

The thought of having to go about watching his back made him sag with the tedium of it all. As he sagged, his cigarette slipped from between his fingers and dropped neatly into the hole between his thumb and the surrounding plaster cast, lighted end first, and lodged there. In a single moment the expression on Trev’s face changed from gloom to panic to agony. Then he managed to shake the cigarette free and it registered relief and finally gloom again.

‘I’m having to sleep with a bat in the room,’ he said indignantly. I was taken aback. It was unusual for a country boy like Trev to worry about something like that. He knew, of course, I said, that the idea that bats can get tangled up in people’s hair was an old wives’ tale. ‘A bat! A baseball bat, you dummy!’ he said.

But the tale of woe didn’t end there, either. That afternoon, he went on, the police had arrested one of his tenants. They were holding him in custody. And Trev had agreed to go down to the police station the next day for an identity parade. If his tenants were threatening to break his legs for simply naming them, said Trev, what were they going to say when he turned up at the police station and started picking them out at identity parades? If they wanted to fight him fairly, have a straightener, then bring it on, he said. He’d take on the lot of them at once. But it was the looking over his shoulder all the time that he couldn’t stand.

‘What do you reckon?’ he said

He should have taken up references, I said. And it was his ex-tenants I felt sorry for, I said. Cannabis is not easy stuff to grow. You’ve got to separate the male plants from the female and prick out the buds. If your initial investment won’t run to automatic water sprinklers, you’ve got to water the plants assiduously. And then there’s the harvesting, the drying process, the chopping it up into saleable amounts and packing it into tiny plastic bags. The work is labour-intensive and you have to employ students. They sit around all day smoking the stuff and work progresses at a snail’s pace. And after all that work and effort, the farm burns down. No wonder his tenants were frustrated, I said.

I once owned a smooth Jack Russell bitch who loved to kill. Gnats, rats, ducks, bumblebees — you name it. And when she had something in her sights, her eyes would glaze over with a horrible kind of ecstasy. I saw Trev’s eyes milk over with a similar kind of glaze in the nick of time.

‘Joking, mate,’ I said.