Genesis To Revolutions

Having concluded the night’s business, I had retired to our humble quarters in a room somewhere at the top of the establishment and done my best to ward off the biting cold with a pile of coats and sleeping bags while my colleagues caroused in the bar below. Outside the snow fell steadily. Inside, as dawn wore on the party ground to a halt and as the last reveller collapsed grunting onto a mattress in the opposite corner, silence overtook the building and we slept.
Not for long! 06.30 glowered from the clockface as I dragged myself from the semblance of warmth offered by my festering cot and pulled on my boots, tired but ready for the day’s toils. Wrapping myself in every last spare item of clothing I made my way downstairs into the darkened barroom and began to search the wreckage of the previous nights festivities for some breakfast. Now, I’m an easy going chap when it comes to victuals, and especially when abroad I have learned not to be too choosy but I must confess that yesterday’s shrink-wrapped raw bacon rolls, 95% thick white fat, garnished with caraway seeds and ice cold, nearly defeated even my calloused digestive tract. Nevertheless, in the absence of Weetabix or marmite soldiers, I wolfed them down, stuffing a couple into my bag for later along with a handful of chocolate bars from behind the counter.
Outside it was freezing cold, dark and completely snowbound except for a curious patch of black ice underneath our dormitory window that seemed to suggest the outpouring of some warm liquid at irregular intervals. I stumbled through the snow to Rosenthaler Platz U-Bahn station and confronted the ticket machine with an early morning exhibition of xenophobic impatience, which performance attracted the sympathy of a friendly local who explained the system: “you buy one ticket for DM3.90. You travel anywhere for duration of tickets validity (two hours). On expiry ticket will into a pumpkin turn. If then you catch by Inspektors, then testicles in vice will crush.”
“Thank you.” I put in my thumb, pulled out this remarkable plum and climbed aboard the first Southbound train to Alexander Platz where I was to change for my first destination - Berlin Hbf.
Lacking any kind of data whatsoever on either the local network, or the whereabouts of the locosheds I was traveling blind. I knew from my Metro pocketbooks that there was a shed at Berlin Hbf. itself and anticipated a long morning lapping up ex East German locos in droves. Past experience of even the more modest German stations had raised my expectations so I was disconcerted on my arrival at Hbf to find it consisting of some 14 platforms, 90% of which catered for the swarms of S-Bahn services, while the others dealt with only 2 or 3 loco hauled trains per hour. A bit like Manchester Piccadilly really.
As it was still too dark for photography, I elected to take the S-Bahn on to the next station, on the mainline East of the Hbf - Warschauer Strasse, a kind of German equivalent of West Hampstead Midland - to see if I could locate the engine sheds. Tragically the heavy snow and general murkiness restricted visibility to such an extent that all I was able to make out were a couple of shunters and a derelict railwayscape redolent of any one of the most depressing former yards in England. Not at all typical of the Deutches Bundesbahn which, compared to our ravaged network is a huge and thriving concern. Still, Berlin had recently undergone a lot of trauma, so some measure of reorganisation was only to be expected on the railway map.
By the time I returned to the Hauptbahnhof it was just light enough for 1/60th. F2.8, which was fortunate as 180.008 presented itself: a ghastly corrugated iron Skoda-built E-lok. No one would believe in it without a photo! I picked up a couple of stabled 112s, a 103, 345.029 (station pilot) and a couple of 232s before hitting upon the happy notion of asking a driver where the Locoshed was:
“Gibt es lokschuppen in der nehe?” I demanded with appalling schoolboy aplomb of the bemused driver of 232.568. He answered with an incomprehensible stream of German, accompanied by gesticulations and broad smiles of encouragement. I was none the wiser.
“Lange weg?” I asked hopefully. His reply seemed to indicate that it wasn’t a very lang weg away at all, but I’m no student of language, so I begged a street name which, duly supplied proved indeed to be so near as to suggest that the locoshed must be “just behind that large building over there.” Now that the snow had stopped and visibility was improving steadily, I decided to S-Bahn back to Warschauer Strasse and see if I could pinpoint the shed - a successful tactic as it turned out. Berlin Hbf. shed, I can confirm, is South of the main line about 200 yards East of the station in a depression beside the river Spree, hence invisible from the station. Access from Hbf. is via a headshunt.
Access for me proved to be a walk back from Warschauer Strasse, beside one of the few surviving sections of an old concrete wall that seemed to have excited some interest in the past, as it was painted all over with emotive slogans and murals of cryptic design. In places it looked like it had been beaten down by a million little toffee hammers. “Rum indeed,” I told myself, and turned left into the depot entrance, through the remnants, by now almost melted, of the morning’s snowfall. On shed were around a dozen class 112s a couple of 232s and a shunter. I sated myself and walked back to the Hbf. The light improved steadily and the remaining bacon rolls in my handbag had heated up almost to body temperature. My appetite for a shedbash whetted I surveyed the departure boards and pondered upon how to pass my remaining two hours. Only a handful of worthwhile trains were due to depart, along with about 10,000 S-Bahn services but a closer study of the Berlin rail map drew my attention to Lichtenburg station, four stops East and clearly an interchange between several regional lines, including more than one that were definitely not part of the S-Bahn system, whose ancient electric trains, although worthy (and in the book) were not my quarry that day. It seemed worth a shot, so replacing my expired ticket, I hopped into a train and headed East.
The deeper we went into the wilds of East Berlin, the bleaker and less welcoming the townscape seemed to become, and I became aware of the presence of a number of gentlemen with alarmingly short hair and boots laced up to their knees. Several occupied one end of my carriage after the Ostkreuz, and every station platform seemed to have a couple lurking somewhere. Instinct told me that now was not a good time to be an Englishman abroad, so I huddled into my overcoat and tried to look like I had just finished work in the carriage sidings at Warschauer Strasse, and wasn’t a foreigner at all.
After passing Noldnerplatz, the tracks opened up on my left and my attention was diverted away from the bald thugs, to the delights unfolding outside the carriage window - to my surprise, and delight a fair-sized locoshed, complete with roundhouse, turntables and rows of orange shunters! Hoorah! Amazed at this turn of fortune I baled out at Lichtenburg, oblivious to the surrounding activity, which was certainly more interesting than the Hbf., and caught the next train straight back. Alighting at Noldnerplatz, I ran the gauntlet of concrete, swastikas, graffiti and surly youths, and found the depot entrance just around the corner. By now I had one and a half hours maximum so I did a blue flash to the foremans office - the Lok-leitung is the chap you need to ask for - and received his blessing. So it was that for the second time that day I feasted upon 112s, which seem to predominate in these parts, and picked up as well several more 232s, a few 143s and lots of shunters, including two really sexy little black Kofs.
So it was back to base, successful and more than compensated for the miserable effort that went into getting out of bed. Next time, I decided, now I have the gen, I shall include Schoneweide or Pankow on the itinerary, and hope to pick up some 202s out there in the badlands. I shall return.

XI. Channel Passage

My initial Channel passage to Belgium, was made on a truculent slimy sea in a wretched vomit-stained ferry boat that resembled nothing more illustrious than a floating motorway service station. That some of the vomit stinking out the toilets was mine, was due to the fact that I had immediately dosed myself with the most expensive plate of egg and chips in the world while still in the shelter of Dover’s harbour waiting for the storm to abate. This was my first experience of ships, and I was not impressed.
Whatever happened to travel? At what point did it ceases to be an adventure and get turned into a squalid herding of souls from A to B, without any serious thought being given to their comfort? Who designs these vessels? Who is responsible for the hideously uncomfortable chairs in the passenger lounge that never recline quite far enough, but keep you hanging in a half-sitting half lying position until your limbs ache, your muscles cramp and you give it up as a bad job and go and lie on the floor? Whom do we sue?
I realise, of course, that I am poor, and consequently cannot expect better without paying for it, but it’s the dishonesty that galls me. I don’t mind being served shit so long as it owns up and admits it’s shit; but serving me shit and telling me it’s sugar really isn’t a nice thing to do! Cross-Channel ferries are cheap and horrible things, precisely because they cater for the poor and meek, who cannot afford to have a choice: they have us over a barrel and milk us for everything they can get. We’d be far better off if they just tore out all the ugly trappings and gave us an empty hold with a few mattresses, then we could all lie down and sleep until the voyage was done, and leave the creaking tub refreshed and grateful. ‘Quality’ and ‘luxury’ are words we hear too much of, it’s a lie, and a waste of everyone’s time. Quality and luxury are things you get when you pay for them, and not until. It’s all so patronising!
Zounds were herded into a tub called ‘Profit of Free Enterprise’, which was the usual ugly pile of chipboard and formica, decked out in the Emperor’s new clothes, with a bar full of travellers from Swansea who were unable to hold their drink, and a restaurant whose prices would shame Harrods. I was not, I repeat, impressed.
My fellow travellers on this maiden voyage were, as ever, Steve and Lawrence, but we had a road crew for this tour in the shape of Mark the Hat and one Kevin Sheridan, a gentleman of Jewish origin, and one possessed of both an ironic turn of wit, and hair so curly that it put even Lawrence’ to shame. These two had come along to drive the ambulance which we had borrowed from Sarah for the trip, and which even now was having as bad a time as I, tossed by the restless waves in the stinking belly of the boat.

“Think how much dope we could have brought with us!” sighed Steve regretfully, as Ostend fell behind us in the darkness. We had somehow taken a wrong turning at the port, missed customs clearance completely and found ourselves on an obscure unmetalled track lined with orange flashing lights. The ambulance, being built like a brick-privvy, made short work of the rough and we soon found ourselves in town once more, and back on the road to ruin.
“I couldn’t half do with a Jimmy Cliff now,” mourned Kevin. “It’s way past the time that an honest man should have started smoking his daily quota.”
“That’s true. It’ll be dawn soon.” Sober, we rattled on towards Brussels. Wary of fascist douaniers we had finished up the stash on the road to Dover the night before and now there wasn’t so much as a roach in the van to lighten the burden of reality which was slowly appearing, grey and drawn as ourselves, in the freezing Belgian morning.
The first short leg of the tour involved an encounter with an expatriot Englishman named Peter, under whose roof we passed our first night abroad. Peter was lead singer in a band called ‘Banker,’ with whom we were due to play the first show in Rotterdam. I believe he was in some way connected with the organisation of the tour, but I, as usual, had proved neither willing nor capable of exerting myself in any kind of organisational capacity, so his exact involvement remained to me obscure. Peter was a short stocky man in his thirties, kept a rabbit in his house which roamed loose, had vaguely rodentish features himself and “No!” he informed us with virtuous satisfaction, “I don’t have any dope, but you can get some tomorrow in Rotterdam, where it’s legal!”
The prospect of Holland, the dope fiend’s Mecca, lulled us to sleep that night, and not even the nocturnal curiosity of Peter’s rabbit could dampen our spirits.
We drove to Rotterdam next morning in convoy with Banker, who had some pretty good songs based around the simple but tuneful basslines played by Peter’s wife, Anna. We all slept that night in a big squatted factory complex, and I dimly recall shaking the rabbit droppings out of my sleeping bag and settling down to smoke ourselves silly in a roomful of ugly metal sculptures. “Zehr kunstlich!” observed Kevin thoughtfully. “A primitive symbol of the wedding between God and technology.”
“Shut up and stop bogarting that spliff.”
“Never hurry a Humphrey.....”
Onwards next day then, to the Leiden home of Helmut, mastermind behind the Dutch band ‘Troops Out’, in whose company the rest of the tour was to be made. Helmut, surname unknown, was a character of such a bizarre and unlikely nature that closer study is warranted: a man of such singularity that God could have created him for no other reason than to say “Look! Here is man that I have created both high and low in all his wild flung diversity; look upon my work and marvel at the inscrutable will of the Lord thy God.” At least that’s what Kevin, who claimed to be nearer our God than we, would have had us believe.
Every English band ever to play in Leiden must surely remember Helmut, for he was the Godfather, manservant, chronicler and willing host to the punk movement in that town. Helmut knew the entire history of Punk, right down to what Sid Vicious had for breakfast on the day of the 100 Club gig with Siouxie and the Banshees. His interest and enthusiasm was not for the ideology or struggles of youth and music, but for hard facts and historical accuracy. To Helmut, Punk was not an attitude or a means towards an end, but an end in itself; a historical progression to be studied in much the same way that one would study the pharaohs of Egypt or the Tudor succession. His degree in history from the University of Leiden no doubt influenced his outlook and approach to this subject. Helmut’s thirst for punk trivia proved too tempting a target to resist, and I immediately set about the task of feeding him some red-herrings to add to his fund of lore:
“Did you know that Charlie Harper used to manage the Rubettes?” I told him with untruthful aplomb. Helmut gaped and began to twitch excitedly. “Oh yes,” I continued, “in the mid-seventies he was involved with a lot of English pop bands - his real name is Bruno Eberhardt - he gave it all up in 1977 and became a barman at the Roxy.”
“No. I did not know this!” Helmut’s English was fluent, but accented and nasal. “He did not tell me this when we played with the UK Subs (pronounced ‘Ooooh-Kay’) in Utrecht. It was a very good concert, and everyone pogoed.” To ‘pogo’ was a verb dear to Helmut’s heart, redolent as it was of the great days of 1976-77. That the pogo, on the rare occasions it was performed outside the imagination of the British press, was one of the most ludicrous exercises ever given credibility bothered him not a bit. Helmut believed, as I had once believed, that punks pogoed, just as they wore safety-pins, spat a lot and were the sworn enemies of the hated Teddy-Boys.
“Well, they do still spit a lot”, Steve reminded us.
To Helmut orthodoxy was all, and to this end his wardrobe was a priceless collection of mint condition mail-order items from ‘Boy’ and ‘Seditionaries,’ a mass of printed cotton, cheesecloth, and black denim festooned with D-rings and bondage straps. Tartan strides hung alongside PVC, and an army of sunglasses of the cheap colourful plastic variety vied with studded belts and amulets for space on the shelves.
“Nice shades, Helm’ old boy,” said Kevin, stunned as we all were by the discrepancy between Helmut and his clothing. He looked like a history professor - short cropped hair and prominent Roman nose, thick, heavily framed spectacles and vaguely prominent teeth leading down to a pointed chin. Helmut wore his extensive collection of punk clothing with all the elegance and grace of a washing line. They seemed to hang on his angular frame in a manner so utterly devoid of style that it quite literally defied comprehension. Here was the man, here were the clothes; what then was missing that caused such an astonishing disunity between the Worn and the Wearer?
It was Vivienne Westwood’s worst nightmare. To say that his garb lacked character was like saying that Hitler was naughty - it just didn’t even approach the reality of the situation. They weren’t ‘his’ clothes. Legally they may have belonged to him, but he wore them as new, spotless and pressed, and with no interrelation between the various items. Each separate garment was present and correct in itself, but carried no hallmark of individuality and thus it could be said that Helmut didn’t so much wear his clothes, it was more the case that he bore them, protruding from their extremities like some awkward puppet, twitching in the hands of a novice puppeteer.
Helmut was not possessed of an animal grace, but moved in a mysterious way in which the only common denominator was the very unanimity of disparity with which each limb, joint and member strove to outdo its neighbour in non-conformity, and this, when seen in conjunction with his ungainly apparel combined to offer a uniformity of difference which was not ultimately at odds with itself.
“Oh Christ!” as we said at the time.
By now 27 years old and unemployable, Helmut lived in a flat on a pleasant estate in the North of Leiden and received that generous allowance of social security that led so many young English people to seek a new life in the Netherlands. His chief raison d’être, in the wake of his history studies, was his role as lead singer and songwriter with Troops Out, which group he used as a vehicle for travelling with and studying English bands, and furthering his collection of Punk legends. Largely due to this enthusiasm on Helmut’s part for England’s Dream, and his involvement in arranging tours, Troops Out had played with almost every band ever to set foot in Holland. Helmut himself had interviewed The Mob two years previously, when they had toured with Here & Now, and had impressed them with his striking personality. Crass, and the Poison Girls too, had crossed his path and were able to recall many happy instances of his eccentricity - indeed it is arguable that an even greater fund of Helmut-trivia exists in the hearts and minds of English touring musicians than ever Helmut gathered about them.
The great task of collating this information must, like the ‘Crassiad’, remain the work of another.
But if Helmut at large presented a challenge to the perceptions, how much more weird and wonderful was the sight of Helmut on stage with Troops Out! Armed with a plastic kazoo in the shape of a saxophone, upon which he would tootle tunelessly during the instrumental breaks, Helmut would caper and cavort in slow motion to some strange inner beat that none of his band could hear. Shaking his arms and bending his body - although folding would describe the action better, it was so lacking in fluidity - he would hold the microphone aloft and sing in a voice so akin to that of his kazoo that unless one looked, one would be hard pressed to tell the difference. Audiences, especially German ones, and border guards astounded by his other-worldliness, would taunt and mock, but to us, Zounds and our companions, Helmut was a priceless discovery; an artefact of immense value whose every word and deed captivated and fired our imaginations, and made of him, for the short duration of our first European tour, an icon, a talisman, and ultimately a living symbol of the overwhelming and inevitable triumph to come of the forces of light and laughter over the grey-uniformed nemesis that policed our waking reality.
But this, of course, was Holland, and we were very, very stoned.
Holland was a land of plenty. We travelled for a week, visiting Utrecht, Apeldoorn, Njimegan, Rotterdam, Den Haag, Leiden and Amsterdam, and were feasted and feted wherever we went. This was my first introduction to the strange discrepancy that existed at the time between touring England and touring abroad. In England one could count oneself lucky to avoid paying for the privilege of playing in a rancid club, whose proprietor regarded you as of slightly less importance than the cleaners, and who would rather die than offer you a free drink. Here, we are the lowest of tradesmen, little better than criminals; disreputable nuisances not really necessary to the occasion but tolerated out of some vague sense of charity. On the continent, English bands commanded princely fees, receive hot meals and crates of free drink and were habitually made to feel both welcome and wanted.
Even the crap ones.
High spot of the first week for me was queuing up at the dope dealer’s counter at the Melk-Veg in Amsterdam. The novelty of buying ones’ drugs over the counter only outweighed by the smug thrill of sitting on the bonnet of the ambulance outside, lighting up a monstrous 5-skinner and puffing great clouds of smoke at the police station opposite. The Amsterdam police had been much taken with the ambulance, and on our arrival had given us a friendly escort through the incomprehensible one-way system that guarded the approaches to the club.
Not so friendly were the West German frontier guards.
Two dates were arranged for Zounds and Troops Out in Berlin, one at the SO36, and another in a squatted factory venue, also in Kreuzberg. The SO36 date was billed as a ‘Festival der Aggressiver Musik’, which sounded a little ominous to Zounds, who were lambs. We were capable of irony, and could even stretch to sarcasm when aroused, but to have described us as ‘Aggressiver’ was optimistic to say the least.
First of all we had to get there. We took one half of Troops Out with us in the ambulance - including Helmut, without whom we were as nought - and the others followed in a borrowed car. Disaster struck at the German border. The clipped and efficient officials told us in no uncertain terms that there was no way we could enter their country unless we first replaced all the tyres as they were too badly worn. Leering, the uniformed fools went on to inform us that we’d be lucky to get back into Holland now for the same reason, and would have to languish forever in the 100 yard strip of no man’s land between the two checkpoints.
Fortunately the Dutch couldn’t have cared less, and by a strange and fortuitous coincidence, a mere kilometre or so back down the road we found a large garage specialising in tyre replacements. Faintly, above the aroma of armpits, sleeping bags and stale roaches, I smelled a rat.
Kevin fired up his credit card - a device I’d had no previous experience of, and one that impressed me no end - and we got two of the offending tyres re-cut, and the other two replaced with passable second hand jobs. Back at the border some anxious hours later the wicked Germans took no interest whatsoever in the tyres, but contented themselves with rifling our pockets and dragging Steve and Helmut off to be strip-searched. Steve because he had a naturally suspicious air, and Helmut because they were bastards. Helmut was already in an agitated state due to the upset in our schedule, which had forced the other vehicle to head on to Berlin without us. Rigorous anal probing by the steely Teutonic fingers of the customs men did nothing to improve matters. Steve was indignant but pragmatic.
“If you think you have problems with us” jeered a blond young god, “wait until you try to cross East Germany!” and with this cheery thought they waved us on our way.
The East Germans, on the contrary, proved charming by comparison. Having established that we had no radios, hidden children or explosives on board, they lined us up by the ambulance, had a good laugh at us, took a few photographs and then let us proceed unmolested through the Berlin corridor. I was enchanted with the whole scenario of tanks, dogs, guns and ‘pinko-commie bastards’ and lapped up the Cold War atmosphere with relish. Steve tried to order vegetarian food at a service station and almost caused an uprising, while Kevin was mesmerised by the pistols on the belts of the Vopos at the next table.
“Imagine those chaps coming through your door at seven in the morning!” I said to Mark the Hat “Thank the Lord for the good old British Bobby.”
“I’ll thank the Lord for no such thing”, he answered darkly.
Our host in Berlin was an enigmatic terrorist named Max. Darkly handsome in the Bogart vein, Max lived in a vast L-shaped apartment off Waldemerstrasse, high up on the sixth floor of the block with a magnificent view out over the wall and the Eastern half of the city. Steve and I spent hours at the window gazing in stoned fascination at the deserted streets of communist Berlin.
In 1980, the Cold War was still very much in fashion, and Berlin still an island in the Evil Empire. One night we saw a flashing light signalling from a window opposite, invisible from the East, but maybe arranging some clandestine appointment, or co-ordinating some desperate escape plan? Like the fools we were, we flashed a light back in response, and the morse-code stopped abruptly, inspired by who knows what kind of terror: but we were lucky - we only had to sing about revolutions, we didn’t have to live in one.....
Max knew all about revolutions. Besides having a pair of bizarrely painted-on eyebrows, and a large supply of very potent Berlinner homegrown, which he put at our disposal, he had a set of anarchist credentials hitherto unmatched by anyone in my experience. Max had come to Berlin originally intending to link up and work with the Red Army Faction and fight for the cause. Unable to make contact he decided to go it alone. Did he form a band? Did he write a fanzine? No. Max went out one night and tried to blow up a police station with a Molotov cocktail, for which pains he got two years in Moabitt prison. Now older and calmer, he contented himself with innocuous and relaxing pastimes, like street-fighting and mounting barricades on the streets of Kreuzberg, the militant population of which district have long harboured chips on their shoulders.
Zounds divided their time in Berlin between Max’s flat - and his homegrown - and the wall, deriving equal pleasure from the dubious fascinations of the one, to which they owed no allegiance and from which they were fortunate enough to be at liberty, and to the intoxications of the other to which they were willing slaves. Max, who owed allegiance to neither, merely raised a painted eyebrow and let us get on with it, while Troops Out went seriously sight-seeing about town and got called ‘cheeseheads’ when they tried to buy postcards.
The Festival der Aggressiver Musik exceeded our wildest misgivings. 800 Germans with very short hair and leather jackets got wildly drunk to the strains of Zounds, Troops Out, and half a dozen extremely aggressive German bands. To my dismay, it was decided that I had the best drumkit, and that for ease of stage-management it would be best if everyone were to use it. I was not about to disagree. In the soundcheck, I was entertained by the specatacle of an 18 stone ham-fisted German bonehead delicately, and ostentatiously, tuning my tom-toms to his exact specifications before beating the shit out of them with even less subtlty than I was accustomed to using myself. It was, however, a fairly good humoured event, and as no one either hit me or gobbed at me, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.
Berlin has changed so much since then, but not the Berliners, who have always been able to find something to be angry about. Kreuzberg is still a hotbed of sedition; SO36 is still there, but the flats on Waldemerstrasse, like the wall itself are long gone, and doubtless Max with them. Max told us that he had plans to go to the South Pacific, and didn’t seem the kind of chap to deal in idle chit-chat, so is probably painting his eyebrows to this day on some South Sea island. Troops Out accompanied Zounds back to Holland, where we made our tearful farewells and never saw them again, and I returned with some reluctance to England, to London, and to Albany Street at the end of the tour - none the wiser for the experience, but just in time to sign on.
But I became very attached to Berlin. I have been back many times since that first visit, and it has always been a pleasure. Sometimes it has almost felt like coming home. Sometimes it has felt like the strangest and most alien place on earth, but nowhere else, outside of this island, have I ever felt less like a tourist, but that I truly belonged.
Recently I have made visits to the locomotive sheds at Pankow and Lichtenburg, to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, and to other exotic locations out beyond the Ost-Kreuz in search of rare old Deutches Reichsbahn diesel engines. Out there, in the concrete wastelands of East Berlin, hostile, swastika daubed and resentful of intrusion, I have found something that strikes a chord deep within me, something that runs even deeper in my bones than the railway, and which takes me back there again and again:

Dawn a secret shy and cold
In shades of grey bereft of gold
Stole across the border
Caressed awake and morning-eyed
She daily through the frontier glides
And her papers are in order
She left me with an empty room
By bottle glass and smoke consumed
When duty came to call her
Now the children on the stairways speak in whispers
In the stalag-light you’re never quite at home
With the watchers and the waiters and the listeners
On the wire-tapped phone
Scarlet poppies blaze in Autumn fields
Where idle soldiers kick their heels
Now no one wants to know them
Murals fade along the wall
Where cold war tourists come no more
Now there’s nothing left to show them
Don’t get sympathy confused with understanding
When bitterness is bred into the bone
It’s indiscriminate obtrusive and demanding
And it’s better left alone

Now Nightfall leads her labour gangs
Uneasy East of no man’s land
Where dangerous men are working
Step we gaily onward so
The voyeurs and the panders go
To peep behind the curtain
Where Karpov ceding endless games
Caught and forced to mate again
Lays down beneath his burden
They have gallows-hands to clap you on the shoulder
And tarot cards to show you where to go
If you’re worried that your welcome’s getting colder
As the fire burns low

Looking for Cold War comforts.