Meet at Topshop, Oxford Circus. All the young lovers meet there. Boys and girls and boys and boys and girls and girls in this mixed-up muddled-up shook-up world.
I meet Janet there and she is late as normal. And I’m as mad as normal and she flashes me that big beautiful smile. And she takes my arm and I forgive her. Cos I always forgive her and we walk through the backs to Efes for kebabs and steaks. And beautiful dips and pittas for a beautiful girl.
We share our joy and pain. Sunshine and rain. We eat and I drink. Jan has a Baileys that she sips. And she keeps smiling and we talk about our friends. Mutual and otherwise. I tell her I love her and she tells me the same. But this love will not be consummated. This is platonic love and we both know that. We hold each other close in our hearts. We are mates and that will do me fine. Beautiful as she is – I don’t break up relationships. My morals are low but something deep, very deep keeps me from her. But no messing I love this beautiful girl from Streatham.
And this beautiful girl from Streatham loves Tom Waits and to a backdrop of the chitter and that chatter of twenty-nine accountants and one secretary I slowly and quietly start singing:
“And you can ask any sailor and the keys from the jailor And the old men in wheelchairs know That Matilda's the defendant, she killed about a hundred And she follows wherever you may go Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda You'll go a waltzing Matilda with me
And it's a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace And a wound that will never heal No prima donna, the perfume is on An old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey And goodnight to the street sweepers The night watchman flame keepers and goodnight to Matilda too”
Through welled-up eyes and a lump or six in my throat. And she flashes me that big beautiful fucking smile. The suits are bewildered – twenty nine of the fuckers trying to chat up the secretary from Southgate who will lead them on and half-listen to their tales of accountancy and flow charts. Budgets and provisions, sports cars and salaries. When all you need to fall in love is Tom Waits and gorgeous Turkish food.
We talk about growing up and Jan tells me Tom Waits’ Kentucky Avenue is the greatest song about childhood. I tell her Springsteen’s Growing Up is the greatest song about… er growing up but she flashes me that me that big beautiful fucking smile and I know she is right.
Waits once said when introducing the song: “I grew up at a street called Kentucky Avenue. Well, I was born at a very young age, and eh when I was about 5 years old I used to... I used to walk down Kentucky Avenue collecting cigarette buts. And I finally got me a paper route. I used to get up at 1 o' clock in the morning so I could deliver my papers and still have time to break the law..."
But the song is more about his best friend. This friend had polio and he used to be in a wheelchair and they’d race to the end of the road. And Jan tells me this and she sings in her sweet South London voice:
“I'll take the spokes from your wheelchair and a magpie's wings And I'll tie 'em to your shoulders and your feet I'll steal a hacksaw from my dad and cut the braces off your legs And we'll bury them tonight out in the cornfield Just put a church key in your pocket, we'll hop that freight train in the hall We'll slide all the way down the drain to New Orleans in the fall”
The suits don’t understand poetry. They don’t understand love. Don’t understand platonic love and the way that Janet’s big beautiful smile means more to me than anything in the world and they don’t know who Tom Waits is and it pleases me no end and it would please Tom Waits as well…