I’ve Got Your Number (Written on the Back of my Hand)

Jenny Turner

  • High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
    Gollancz, 256 pp, £14.99, April 1995, ISBN 0 575 05748 3

Rob Fleming is 35 years old, nearly 36. He lives in North London, in a one-bedroom conversion flat in Crouch End. His girlfriend, Laura, is a lefty lawyer who would like to be working for a legal aid firm but finds herself, to her dismay, with a flash job in the City instead. Laura has this very morning walked out on Rob, with a carrier bag in one hand and a hold-all in the other. ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing,’ she says, crying as she goes. So this is what Rob does:

I sit down on my chair, the one that will stay here with me, and pick bits of stuffing out of the arm, light a cigarette, even though it is still early and I don’t really feel like one, simply because I am now free to smoke in the flat whenever I want, without rows; I wonder whether I have already met the next person I will sleep with, or whether it will be someone currently unknown to me; I wonder what she looks like, and whether we’ll do it here, or at her place, and what that place will be like; I decide to have a Chess Records logo painted on the living-room wall. (There was a shop in Camden that had them all – Chess, Stax, Motown, Trojan – stencilled in the brickwork beside the entrance, and it looked brilliant. Maybe I could get hold of the guy who did that and ask him to do smaller versions here.) I feel OK. I feel good. I go to work.

Rob’s work is a second-hand record shop called Championship Vinyl, situated in a side-street off the Holloway Road. One of his colleagues, Dick, always carries large numbers of tapes around with him, in a plastic bag with a very underground American logo on it. ‘He went to a great deal of trouble to get hold of it, and he gets very nervous when we go anywhere near it.’ His other colleague, Barry, likes to stick his lips out and clench his teeth and go DA-DA, in imitation of the guitar riffs on Clash records. He otherwise spends much time talking about music, films, Terry Prat-chett ‘and anything else which features monsters, planets and so on’, entirely in terms of best-of-the-year lists of all-time top fives. It is a habit, says Rob, that he and Dick have been infected with. He isn’t kidding there.

We have already heard about Rob’s own desert-island, all-time, top-five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order from age 12. ‘These were the ones that really hurt. Can you see your name in that lot, Laura? I reckon you’d slip into the top ten, but there’s no place for you in the top five ... Close but no cigar.’ We will shortly be hearing about the following: all-time top-five episodes of Cheers, each described in religious detail; the all-time best track one, side ones; best films; best American films; all-time favourite singles, as requested by a newspaper called the Tufnell Parker. ‘But where have they gone, all these records I’ve had in my head for years, just in case Roy Plomley or Michael Parkinson or Sue Lawley or whoever used to do My Top Twelve on Radio One asked me in as a late and admittedly unknown replacement for somebody famous?’

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