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"I'd just like to breathe in the atmosphere of the building, imagine Denton sliding down the bannisters, taking tea in his room, perhaps gazing out of the window to the spot where I was now standing."

by Bertie Marshall


"Writing is everything but reality. Heavy as mud, powdery as meringue, silvered all over with a clouding slime, everything true escaping underneath the words''
-- The Journals of Denton Welch

As I'm just days away from my 43rd birthday, the days seem to be passing not in a gallop or a trot but crawling like the mangled, diseased, hind quarters of a laboratory rat.

We are melting like butter being chased around a tree, the sun is not forgiving us.

Legend or death, I say to myself. August is the cruellest month.

In the week of temperatures rocketing off the barometer, the only refuge I could find (the U.K. is not equipped with the concept of air conditioning) I wander down to the Isle of Dogs to the under the river tunnel that leads to Greenwich. The tunnel built in the late 1800's, runs from the park on the Isle of Dogs to the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. It must be a mile long and the old white tiles drip with dirty Thames water. Dimly lit and full of echoes of other pedestrians and other times. I stand in the middle of the tunnel, letting kids and tourists pass. I put my face against the cooling, damp walls. Fathoms five of filthy Thames water swills above my head, booty on the shoreline, old clay pipes, broken bottles, headless corpse, dead dog, drowned Swan...

On the other side....

photo by Steve Severin

Into Greenwich Park in the sweltering heat, the grass burnt to straw by the sun. To one side of the park runs Grooms Hill. I stand behind the evergreen bushes and peer thru the iron railings at a three-story Regency house, number 34, where the writer Denton Welch lived in the early 1930's when he was an art student, where it all began for him.

One day he was going to see an Aunt somewhere in the Kent countryside, he cycled as far as Beckenham where he stopped for tea, biscuits and cakes -- a particular favourite and often a theme in his glorious writing, was his love of the minutiae of the moment, obsessive details of strawberry meringue (''like buttocks parted, as though dripping blood"). Denton wrote mostly in the late 30's up until his death in 1948... After taking tea on this particular day, Denton on his bicycle pulled out from a turning onto the main road and WHAM! he was hit by a car.

Denton spent the remaining 13 years of his life a semi-invalid. (Genius thru paralysis?) He wrote a novel (his last) about the accident, A Voice Through a Cloud.

From A Fragment of a Life Story: "Granpa, what would happen if a man married a dog?! I merely imagined a rococo scene with a fat Spaniel, dressed in a veil and orange blossoms, emerging from a Gothic Revival church on the arm of a well-groomed gentleman, my Grandfather shocked and outraged said 'Don't speak of it, Don't speak of it'".

Denton was championed by poetess Edith Sitwell who called him "A born writer and a considerable one too!" and later William Burroughs cited him as a major influence and based the central character Kim Carsons on him, in his novel The Place of Dead Roads.

I stood looking at 34 Grooms Hill wishing I was rich enough to buy it -- although it's not for sale... I'd just like to breathe in the atmosphere of the building, imagine Denton sliding down the bannisters, taking tea in his room, perhaps gazing out of the window to the spot where I was now standing.


Bertie Marshall was born in 1960, grew up in Catford, South London, dropped out of school to follow the Sex Pistols in 1976, and became part of the legendary Bromley Contingent. His first novel, Psychoboys was published in 1997. For more info read our interview with Bertie and visit his website.

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