The best way to describe Danny Mulligan is to allow him to blossom via his own words – and the present writer (and the world) is fortunate to have access to a series of letters that he wrote over a period of years in the 1980s and 90s. Although (very) regular in the Magdala he lived in a variety of flats around Camden Town and sent his own highly distinctive reports of the district. An example:
‘Hillbilly Haven, Upmarket Camden
But bloody hell, wasn’t last Thursday terrible cold? Down-town Camden was like Stalingrad just before the surrender. Not that I was out in it, no indeedee, no! I was snug at home, improving my mind with a Jeffrey Archer novel. You could do worse, Mr T, than to take a gander at Mr Archer’s oeuvre – might improve your literary style! But damn and blast it – I went to make a cup o’ rosie, (how you must envy me my hobnailed plebeian mode of expression), and found I’d no milk! I struggled into my sealskins, put on the snowshoes, and headed for Kwik Save.
Outside was totally deserted, hardly surprising given the cold and the biting wind. Funny thing though, the junction at Albert St and Delancey St was sealed off with tape – even the pavements had this ticker tape stuff across them. I had to duck under it and walk on the road. As I walked along, I could see someone halfway down Delancey St gesticulating and shouting.
“Bloody winos”, I thought, “wouldn’t you think the guv’ment ud do sumtim’ about dem”.
Actually, it wasn’t a wino as it turned out – it was a cop. He’d been shouting and waving at me, it seems, to get off the street. “Has there been a hold-up, officer?” I asked politely. “No!” he snarls, “there’s a suspect car bomb in Albert St – (practically on my door-step) – you’ve just walked past it, you berk”. Well, I gave him my 007 sardonic sneer, pushed my way through a bevy of his fellow officers crouching in Arlington Road and continued on my way to Kwik Save.
It was just as I was passing the soup section in Kwik Save that I collapsed. Delayed shock, it’s called.’
Mulligan was born a Dubliner and not even almost sixty years in England could erase that obvious fact. His upbringing on the tough north side of the Liffey remained stamped on his personality like a watermark. Even his first job after leaving school aged 15 was to go to work in the Guinness brewery. His tales of growing up in Dublin were legion. One of them involved a policeman called ‘Lugs’ Brannigan who patrolled the neighbourhood. He was a huge man who literally used his belt to clout the head of any child who stepped out of line. Although he never rose past the rank of sergeant and despite his occasional rough justice, ‘Lugs’ was popular on the street. When he retired, the local prostitutes presented him with a cut-glass decanter.
On arrival in London in the 1960s, Mulligan took a variety of jobs. He was of small stature but nevertheless held his own on the building sites. It was while involved in a site job that the event occurred that changed his life. He was digging at the bottom of a deep trench when the side collapsed and almost buried him alive. After his rescue he determined to change tack.
‘Rattlesnake Farm, Upmarket Camden
Bumped into an old flame of mine outside St Martins Theatre last week. I must say, she gave me a rather reproachful look, as though I’d just beaten up Tiny Tim and robbed his crutch. Turned out I’d arranged to meet her there for the opening of Agatha Christies’s ‘The Mousetrap’ in 1952. When I told her I was sorry for being late, she head-butted me. (Was it my fault there was a heavy smog that night?) As I lay on the ground holding my broken nose, I shouted after her and asked if she’d like to see ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ sometime. She never even turned round. Funny creatures, women.’
He moved temporarily to Munich in West Germany where he became a night porter in a hotel. One night after a heavy evening in the beer gardens, he was relieving himself against a wall when he received a tap on the shoulder from a policeman. It turned out that he was urinating on the Munich Police Headquarters.
‘The Bus Shelter, Upmarket Camden
Things are still pretty rough down here in the Camden War Zone. As I look out the panoramic studio window of my luxury penthouse suite with its unrivalled view of Camden’s deserving poor – (‘oh, look! There’s Mercer and Garland [See above chapter. Ed] trying to steal a piece of bread from a pigeon’). My mind harks back to those happy days when a cardboard box meant something other than a place to sleep after a hard day’s begging. (Hang on a second – the pigeon has won the fight – I’ll just throw these old fish-heads down to Mercer and Garland.)’
Returning to London, Mulligan obtained a place at the North-West Polytechnic in Kentish Town and emerged with a degree in French and German. The degree was good enough to encourage him to take a Masters – however, he dropped out at the last moment.
‘Dead Man’s Gulch, Upmarket Camden
I myself continue my quest for A Decent Pub in Camden Town. Leastways, I would be if that tiresome crowd in the Town Hall would desist from sending me insulting, terse notes concerning something called council tax. And why are their communications always in red? Don’t the manufacturers produce blue/black anymore? I may well write to Mr Baldwin about this, you know.
But back to A Decent Pub. In my humble opinion, A Decent Pub is one frequented, nay, patronised by recognisably three dimensional human beans. People who immerse themselves in the dual delights of loquacity and liquor. Alas! The situation in Camden Town today is that the place is swamped in spiritual mutants. The pubs are flooded with pre-pubescent, mobile designer labels, whose native language is the monosyllabic grunt and whose limited attention span demands loud noise, flashing lights, and technological flim-flam. It’s either that or hordes of suited, spotty youths who monopolise the bar and bray endlessly about ‘The Market’ as though speaking of the imminent arrival of the Messiah. Oh, how we miss you, Ché.
You, of course, with that computer, Mr Spock-like, logic of yours, are asking me why don’t I use the Wheatsheaf? All I can answer is – if you have dandruff, prepare to shed it now! The Wheatsheaf has been closed, preparatory to being refurbished and then being reopened as – a BACKPACKER’S PUB!! Verily, I say unto you – much is the wailing and many are the teeth being gnashed in Jurassic Park tonight! It’s a catastrophic tragedy when an old pterodactyl like myself cannot find a welcoming tavern in which to hang from the rafters.
Ah, yes, indeed. The Wheatsheaf was an old-fashioned drinks emporium which also knew how to dispense old world charm. A veritable oasis of tranquillity, where unemployed lady bricklayers could indulge their passion for competitive arm-wrestling and diverse entrepreneurs could engage in commercial transactions, ranging from white powder substances to the sale of a multiplicity of items which had inexplicably fallen off the back of lorries. It was also a very popular pub with City business-types, many of whom were to be seen sitting in some secluded corner quietly discussing their next takeover bid.
Occasionally, a rare shaft of sunlight, which had managed to penetrate the dirt-encrusted saloon bar window, would briefly illuminate their open battered faces, broken noses, and mangled ears. Their shaven heads would be tastefully offset by a complex network of tattoos which seems to be de rigueur nowadays for those engaged in the arena of high finance. What attracted all of these punters to the Wheatsheaf was, of course, the elegant, refined ambience of incisive, intelligent debate, liberally sprinkled with witty, cultivated bon mots, a scenario strongly reminiscent of a 19th century literary salon.
Regrettably, I have to report that shortly before my departure to Dublin last July, there was a deplorable lapse in the high standards which was the hallmark of the Wheatsheaf. There was a slight disturbance. Well no, I tell a lie – it was actually a major fracas. Some Scottish gentlemen engaged in a polemical exchange with some gentlemen cleansing operatives about the merits or demerits of certain football teams. Well, before you could say ‘Desert Storm’, the whole pub was rolling about on the floor! I straightaway climbed up on the counter, rapped it sharply with my silver-topped cane and shouted above the heaving mass: “Was it for this form of desperate behaviour that Hegel formulated his ‘Triadic Law of the Dialectic’? Did not Jean-Paul Sartre warn you of the dangers of facticity? Have you so quickly forgotten Schopenhauer’s message in his ‘Die Welt Wille und Vorstellung’?”
Well, that hit home to them, I can tell you! They immediately stopped brawling and looked at each other sheepishly before starting to gather up the scattered remnants of medallions, bracelets, etc., from the dirt-ingrained carpet.
Later on, the unemployed lady bricklayers invited me over for a drink. One of them asked me where had I learned to ‘talk dirty like that?’ I told her that it was due to a top class education at a first rate Irish public school called ‘Mountjoy’ and also to an assiduous and unrelenting perusal of quality journals such as the Sunday Sport and the News of the World. So that’s the situation as it stands at present.’
At one point Mulligan became friendly with a barman who worked at the prestigious Garrick Club in Central London. One night, the man was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and for attacking a police officer in the Strand. When he came up for trial, he swore his innocence. The judge in the case questioned the arresting officer.
“You say that the offence took place at 9 15pm exactly on that night?”
“Yes, your honour.”
“Are you absolutely certain about that, officer?”
“Absolutely, your honour.”
“Well, that is indeed strange. Because at precisely 9 15pm on the night in question the accused was serving me drinks in the Garrick Club.”
Mulligan took up painting on retirement from academia and became quite proficient at landscapes and even some portraiture. He continued to visit the Magdala and because of the disinclination for late night travel often sofa-surfed at his friends’ abodes. On one occasion he staying at Tony Elworthy’s flat and as the place was quite crowded already with visitors, Elworthy cleared a spot underneath the dining room table for Mulligan to lay out his sleeping bag. As Mulligan climbed into the bag, lay back, and stared up above him, he remarked: “I like the wooden duvet, Els.”
On another occasion while staying at the home of the present writer, he woke in the morning to find that his false teeth were missing. We searched the place from top to bottom but found nothing. Then we noticed that the cat was outside the cat flap, lying on his back gripping an object with both paws and gnawing away at what turned out to be Mulligan’s teeth.
‘Honeysuckle Cottage, Rural Camden
No, don’t ask me, just don’t bloody ask me! Well, if you must know, I had a bloody awful Christmas, awright? It started off innocuously enough, the Lord knows. On Monday, the 23rd of December, I went along to the Constitution pub to meet Guy Gibson VC and his girlfriend, the delightful Audrey from Dublin. Gibson is the manager/administrator, (very professional), of some sheltered housing where I lived some years ago. He is also by way of being an amateur psychologist, (not very good, I might add). His goldfish would employ more subtlety in this particular field. On the other hand, the vivacious, delectable Audrey is an asset to any civilised gathering. A smile from her and old men die happily burbling. You will gather from this that I did not go along to the Constitution to be a guinea-pig for Gibson’s psychological fumblings.
I enter the pub.
Shock No 1 – The Con is now under new management. The whole décor of the pub has been radically altered and now resembles an ill-reputed Mexican taverna, in which Clint Eastwood might well despatch 20 Italian extras with one swift draw of his Colt 45.
Shock No 2 – the whole place is crammed with lager-drinking trogs, whose common denominator was probably B.O. and halitosis. I spotted one female there, a peroxided middle-aged blonde with the gentle smile of a barracuda playing on her delicate lips.
Shock No 3 – I find Gibson in the company of three dour Scotsmen and one incomprehensible Geordie. Well, at least the Geordie tried to communicate – after five minutes in the company, I came to the conclusion that the three Scots had been raised by Trappists. It was obvious that the four of them were inmates of the shell shock unit in the sheltered housing, out on their Christmas beano with Doctor Frankenstein, (i.e. Gibson). Christ knows how he intended to practice his psychology in this quartet of dingbats?
At this point, I realised that the delectable Audrey was not in evidence and my central nervous system came close to collapse. “Jesus H Dulally” I thought, “what the feck have I let myself in for here?” Happily, the delicious Audrey arrived twenty minutes later. It was then decided to move the carnival because we were seated by the door. Every time it opened I felt like Shackleton, because it was ball-freezing weather outside. The only other seating available was a table and five chairs on a raised dais or stage. There was also a television set on a stand on the stage which was turned towards the multitude in the pit below us. Liverpool FC and Newcastle United were farting around on screen, and every time some prima donna blew his nose or scratched his scrotum, the whole fecking pub jumped to its feet and started screaming like shit as though they had just missed the last lifeboat off the Titanic.
The funny thing was, none of this seemed to bother the delectable Audrey. She sat there gazing seriously into my eyes and smiling sweetly at me. It took me all of 20 minutes to realise that she was completely zonked out of her brain. For all I knew, she could have been Maid Marian, playing doctors and nurses with Robin and his Merry Men back in Sherwood Forest. She certainly wasn’t in the same time zone as the rest of us.
So there you have it, Mr T. There I am, sitting on this bloody stage like a figure in a Madame Tussaud tableau, in the company of three Scots catatonics, a Geordie who seems to be suffering from the after-effects of a mustard gas attack, one gorgeous female opium eater and a would-be psychologist! On top of this, we have an entire pub which seems to be directing its hate-filled gaze at me and which periodically erupts into collective dementia, spurred on by the peroxided Madame Defarge.
I now know how Sidney Carton felt as he waited his turn to stick his head in the guillotine. And you want to know why I smoke so much? Why my hands tremble, my eyes blink unceasingly, why my body shudders involuntarily? Pay a visit to the Constitution.’
Mulligan’s 70th birthday took place in August 2011 and his friends decided to buy him a present. The birthday, however, happened to coincide with the biggest riot that London had seen for thirty years and Camden Town was one of the main battlefields. For several hours Camden High St and Chalk Farm Road were under the control of the mob. From Mornington Crescent Tube Station up to the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm Road, the rioters looted every shop they could break into with the sole exception of Waterstones Bookshop. However, all the other shops, especially those selling mobile phones, clothes, bicycles, and electronic equipment were stripped bare. The police manned a frontline across the bottom of Haverstock Hill thereby saving Belsize Park from attack and by morning they had recaptured the streets. The slow job of cleaning up started.
Mulligan’s friends gathered in the aftermath realising that his flat on Delancey Street had been at the heart of the trouble. Meeting in the Spreadeagle pub which had just gingerly re-opened, they discussed what they could buy him that he would appreciate the most and decided on a new television set. It then dawned that there were no TV sets left in any of the shops around Camden. One of them gave an embarrassed cough and said: “Well, there’s a bloke called Winston down the back of the Lock and he’s got dozens!”
Mulligan arrived through the debris of battle for his birthday party. He said that the events of the previous night had encouraged him to join Alcoholics Anonymous.
“What the hell are you talking about, Mulligan? You’ve got a quadruple vodka right there in front of you!”
“Ah, yes, but then you see I’m drinking under an assumed name.”
‘Crocodile Creek, Upmarket Camden
I had Liz in last night. She’s away to Wales next week to burn incense and stand on her shaggin’ head in some doolally Buddhist monastery. She wanted to know if I’d like to go with her!!!!! I told her I’d love to, but unfortunately I’d already arranged to spend the week fox-hunting in rural Bishopsgate with Robert de Niro, Quentin Tarantino, and Prince Boris of Macedonia. Lord Jaysus! Am I the only sane person left in this bloody country?’
To see other chapters – go to top of page and, under the main title, click on the small heading ‘Under Ken Wood’
Feb 28: 1 South End Green – Prologue
Mar 7: 2 Where Eagles Dared
Mar 7: 3 Murder and the Magdala
Mar 14: 4 The Hepburns
Mar 14: 5 Private Godfrey and the Dame of Soho
Mar 21: 6 Garland and Mercer
Mar 21: 7 Laureates and Spies
Mar 21: 8 The Silver Fox
Mar 28: 9 The Hoffmeister and Kelly
April 4: 10 The Harvey Brothers
April 4: 11 The Journos
April 11: 12 Five Funerals and a Resurrection
April 18: 13 Scallawag
April 25: 14 Crime and Punishment
May 2: 15 Good Companions
May 9: 16 Sasthi Brata
May 9: 17 Bob the Bag and Cornish Pat
May 16: 18 Eddie Linden
May 16: 19 The Branch Offices
May 23: 20 The Mulls Kid
May 30: 21 The Musos
May 30: 22 Closing Time