Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Dead Seal Scrolls

‘Merry Christmas!’ says my Grancha, ‘who wants some sherry?’

‘It’s Christmas Eve not Christmas yet’ interjects Granny, ‘you always want to be early for things.’

‘Oh. I see darling. B’won’t stop us from having sherry though will you?’ He asks sweetly but already up and meandering over to the drinks counter. Grandparents in Orkney are the sort of people who have a drinks counter; two bottles of Castelgy Gin, bitter lemon Scheweppes - almost certainly flat, aged sherry sweet and dry, a vintage Taylor’s port, and some red wine that I drank the whole lot of last night. 

The fire is grinning and burning up, toasting the backs of old socks and yesterday, I, as the Youngest of the Lot was on my hands and knees digging ash out of the lead bucket that’s been stuck in the fireplace for over a decade. The grill has snapped in two due to the continuous fires overhead but it still works and can’t be replaced anymore. Scraping ash in the morning - and seven piles of it - when touched feels cold and smooth, like the pebbles on the beach outside. When I was six I threw a tantrum and ran down to Watersound and had a go at the sea, I was angry about something with a burning desire to kick everything to bits and to quell my rage I shoved my hand in to the cold wet sand and dug down until about my whole arm was lost in the depths of the shore that clenched it. When I pulled it up it popped out from the suction and a small yellow-green crab had it’s pincers around my middle finger! I shrieked for the tiny life of me and waved my arm about frantically yelping and jumping about until the crustacean plopped off and scuttled back in to the sea. I ran back home no longer angry or crying but at peace with whatever had just gone on. The ash in the grate was cold as silt and smelt distinctly of nothing.

*

‘Hello. Big fat gross dead Mr. Turkey’ it sat there as a lump in shallow pools of watery-blood, ‘We’ll eat you tomorrow. Sleep well.’

*

When the door bell rings twice succinctly in two onerous rhymes that means Colin’s at the door, he is my hero and 90 years old and wears a fluorescent jacket that has Duck Patrol printed on the front breast pocket and Game Warden emblazoned on the back. It was a joke present from his longstanding friend but he wears it with pride and jauntily. Recently Colin took in Lily, an abused rescue-dog who hangs by his side enduringly and always looks so nervous of being hit again, what brutality can sear in to even animals’ brains I thought, and my hero’s bushy crown of white hair and weathered toothy-smile is what brings life to our laughter. 

‘Someone to come and see you’ Colin says nodding at Lily on the end of the leash, she turns her side to me and only dares to look up with twitchy eyes when she thinks I’m not looking (I am). ‘And to drop off this.’

‘An Orcadian dictionary, perfect. Thanks.’ I bend down to touch Lily but her leg wobbles and I just put my hand out for her to sniff.

‘Merry Christmas then!’ Says Colin as he saunters off with Lily tight by his side, and Granny tuts and murmurs to herself about it only being Christmas Eve. 

Don’t say ‘noo’, say ‘now’,  
Don’t say ‘ku’, say ‘cow’. 
(C. M. Costie, Speech)

The language of Orkney seems to have passed from the Norn to the Scots and then to the “correct way” of English, taught throughout the schools during 20th Century to standardise their spelling and speech. That’s fine I see it happening that way everywhere, I think, but it’s a shame. Now the dialect is known as Orcadian and to be honest when I speak with some I still miss half the conversation or the whole meaning. ‘Back of four’ means anytime after four o’clock and I find the logic sort of odd, just as I find it sort of odd how the sun rises and settles in one low position above the horizon for half an hour in the day before it starts to set again. Darkness is here by four.

*

‘Maybe after lunch you’d like to go beach combing together?’ asks Dad hopefully.

‘Only if we find treasure.’ I say non-plussed, stirring my tea with a hot spoon.

Wrapped up in layers of wax coats and fleece wearing a hat with a flap on both respective heads, the two stride up the drive, atop a cliff edge and down to the Playgroup Beach. Here, if you were to walk in to the sea and carry on straight you’d arrive in Norway, tells me my father, god know’s why we talk in as-the-bird-flies hyperbole. Totally unrealistic. I wanted to look for treasure, odd bits that fell off boats or deep-sea-shells that got thrown up by the swells but all I could see were thick mats of seaweed; layering sinews dripping wet and ripped up from the ocean bed, strewn across the sandy beach and now covered in little skippers (sand midges) eating away at the decaying water-fauna. Then lying there on the shore - I was drawn to it - a body like form. Corpulent; whale-ish in demeanour not size and not yet bloated, actually very calm and still like a sleeping policeman. 

One dead seal.

A big grey body and two little paw pads where the tail should be. I asked in that swallowed-shrill-cough I save for times of shock and persistent calm - 

‘Where’s the head?!’ It was severed clean off.

‘Probably cut off by a propeller of a boat. Nice and clean.’ There’s me looking at the dead thing in disbelief and he sees that and walks away.

‘What boat?’

‘Could have been your ferry. About the right timing.’

‘Hey, I was not involved in the murder of this sacred seal.’ I protest and I have an urge to get close up to it, it doesn’t smell yet and it’s fresh just headless, that’s all.

‘Don’t go near it. Sea-knits.’ Dad walks away and so do I. I don’t believe in sea-knits but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. 

‘Merry Christmas, dead Sacred Seal, I’ll pass on your regards to dead Mr. Turkey.’ Another year washes by.










Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Winter / Summer


I hate winter mornings
Waking up not quite sure why
Darkness recedes oh so slow
The blue hue dissipates
To leave an awning of white
Haze, the morning mist

I miss the summers
Warm starlit nights which
Did not glimmer in ice
But laid bare stretched out
Over balmy breeze and boats
Bobbing up over the horizon

Georgia O'Keeffe - Starlight Night, 1917

Friday, 12 December 2014

Bridge


‘What do you think?’

I fidgeted with the phone to my ear to get a better grip of it, it was damn cold and the train tracks overhead were causing a buzz.

‘I think Wesley used to enjoy getting the laughs more and now he wishes he could get rid of the act and become more honest –’

‘What?’

‘Honest. Be more honest. You know lose the act because he feels like a dancing monkey more than ever, for people like us, or so he says he thinks on stage.’

The pause that follows was him giving up on me because of my high morals or laurels, is it morals or laurels? I think it must be morals, but then why do we call it a laureate…

‘Don’t bother coming in tomorrow, I don’t know what’s come over you.’

Click.

Phone got hung up and now I’ve made it to Waterloo Station to catch some line that cuts through the Green Belt, last train on a school night is 00:14. Why do I even stick up for myself, I should let people with more power and weight come awash over me, less friction more subscription, Christ I need a job.

Come home to an empty dreary place, no curtains on the windows so sleep under a coat over my head to act as a temporary canopy. 23 unread e-mails and a kettle that takes a snail’s pace to boil, you flick the switch on before bed and you’ll have a hot cup by the morning. Sometimes Luck works in your favour, other times not at all. For the last fortnight She’s been working at ‘not at all’. Made too many uncanny promises, taken part in odd transactions I can’t see the consequences of, have a hole in my shoe and sweater, and don’t have time to eat properly cooked food. Every day is a Greggs and I hate eating a Greggs.

1 New Message: Do you want to come and get a Christmas Tree with me tomorrow?

Reply: What day is it tomorrow?

Typing…

I fall asleep knackered to the hum of the kettle.

Bright and sunny as a day can be. I wake up to vibrations under my left shoulder because I sleep with a phone now, for without the possibility of human communication via a cellular-glass device that has cracks galore what’s the point of existing on the outskirts of a city. Thankfully the end of last night’s message trail said ‘Saturday’ so I could do some tinkering in the day. I had a show that was going up late in the evening, which I worked menially at; all Saturdays were the boisterous light-entertainment times for the squares (Mile) and all weekday nights were left for the students and freelance-creatives (wankers) to fill.

Stuff my head full of dry cereal due to no milk in the no fridge that I own and slap on some makeup, makeup the day in to a nice array of sweet things and knitwear, it was Yuletide after all - and one hates appearance to be dictated by mood, right? Trundling down the Estate’s path I feel nauseous from the dizzying sunlight and stress and lack of a good night’s sleep, I can see it all in colours and frozen article headlines, ‘Promising Youth Dies Inhaling Pine Needles’ or ‘Cat Aids Kills Yuppie in Shared Flat, Zone 4’ or ‘Tragedy: Exploding Pavement Kills One Whilst Leaving Many Unharmed’. Whatever direction I was heading in today it was a bleak and overtly self-involved one, blustery winds dishevelled my coiffed hair, and I almost mistook a child for a small adult and had a go at it when it scooter-ed in to my path, the prick.

Trains Cancelled.

Staring agape at the board of orange LEDs I’m privy to some desperate humdrum -

‘You know what he thinks?’ Says grey wiry hair and dandruffed shoulders.

‘No what does he think darling?’ A mother-figure wrapped up in scarves and one spherical camel coat.

Even if this vanishing grey man still had the energy to stamp his feet in tantrumic fervour it wouldn’t have helped.

‘He thinks that I am now irrelevant to his career!’

‘Oh dear.’

‘If I get another photo of my niece I don’t care about I am going to kill somebody.’ Rouge cheeks, immaculate nails, dead behind the eyes.

‘Did you try and do that no makeup in bed selfie? Don’t. I looked dreadful so will you.’ Non-plussed, fingering her phone, eyelashes elongated to perfection.

‘You know what’s really annoying me? I was doing my good deed of the year doing this Princes Trust volunteering thing -

‘When did you start doing that?’

‘Work makes us do it.’

‘Your office is so great.’

‘Trying to make us good people’, a cutesy forced laugh, ‘and you know it had to be her who got placed with Josh on this young offenders course – and what’s really annoying me is he’s stopped texting me so much now because he’s so busy with the volunteering and she’s probably all over him…’

I step in to one the saddest looking railway cafes with a little box TV perched in the corner and two bits of tinsel dangling over the counter. I order myself a black coffee, not because of my mood but because I need caffeine in a great dose and I can’t make choices anymore.

The man behind the counter in an apron asks smiley, ‘Do you want a croissant?’

‘No.’

He smiles back timidly, knowingly.

‘You can have it as a compliment.’

I don’t quite understand.

‘Why?’

‘Because I want you to be happy.’

And a great deluge of emotion hits me as this chasm opens up between me, the coffee, the man and the counter, something ached from the inside out and I wanted to retch at the kindness and the lame tinsel and the swirls of hot coffee vapour. I was beside myself but I kept it clean.

‘I’ll take a croissant.’

‘You can choose which one.’

‘Thank you. That’s really kind. Thank you.’

* * *

There’s a lone vulture that hangs atop a railway line going in to Waterloo. Today he is there and tomorrow also, no body else gives him notice, why would they it’s rush hour but even on the weekends, he sits grooming his balding chest due to the stress of the city. He hangs his head down and looks at us crooked, if birds could smirk I think. But today when I pass him I hold up my croissant in defiance at the misery because today some stranger was kind to me for no reason and I show it off like a medal from the wars. Nothing will make me evil today. Not even to strangers.

Sat there waiting for a friend who needs a tree I am mesmerised by a non-speaking couple. They certainly have the ability to, but for as long as I have been sat here at this gastro hoping not to be turfed out sipping on tap water the couple don’t flinch. Is it me they are waiting for to leave so they can restart a conversation? I want them to be happy.

Sunlight floods for a second as the door swings open and a bell clatters above her head, she sees me and makes a florid beeline.

‘Oh I am so sorry I’m late!’ Two kisses on either side, ‘How long have you been here? So sorry.’

‘Don’t mind don’t worry. You look great. Beautiful.’ And she really did, what a stunner, the only woman with poise I know who can offset big golden hoops with a Yves Saint Laurent neckerchief: a catwalk pirate.

The conversation turns somersaults from foreign affairs in the political domain and foreign affairs in Florence, to the broody misanthropy of young mothers and why we find it so difficult to be fine these days.

‘He told me hated him.’

‘Really why?’

‘They had a fight over cocaine.’

I notice the unspeakable couple who were sat beside me had started conversing in hushed tones now, I knew it, they were waiting for me to look away!

‘Over cocaine?’

‘Croquet.’

‘Drug politics is really dull.’

‘Over croquet.’

The couple sup at their drinks, one a stout ale the other a gin and tonic (slim line I think). When they talk they look straight ahead like they aren’t talking to anyone in particular.

‘Oh.’

‘Do you mind if I just write this one e-mail?’

‘Sure go for it.’ The perfect disguise they’ll think I’m talking with her whilst I listen to them, I don’t know why I’ve become so concerned.

‘What do you want to do?’

She doesn’t speak and he doesn’t look at her but continues to lisp things out.

‘This was my idea so what do you want to do now. It’s your turn.’

She doesn’t speak some more.

‘Maybe I’ll give Jessop a bell and get him out here and we could go have a drink over by the river.’

She doesn’t look impressed.

‘Or we could get a boat to Canary Wharf.’

‘Why would we do that?’ She draws out her words like it’s hard for her tongue to make shapes.

He pauses to have a think of why he might have suggested a boat.

‘Because it’s Romantic.’

‘Fine let’s do that.’

We find St. Peter’s church where the crypt has been converted in to a youth charity inspiring those without jobs to work, and from here we can buy a pine. There’s nothing so fresh as the smell of a pine, even when carrying it through traffic-jammed streets it smells of purity not pollution.

The rest of the day won’t compare to the smell of this pine.

It’s late and I have that pervasive feeling that drowns you after pints in the pub after the other place with pints in the bar, curdling your insides with that tacky sandwich shovelled in some place forgotten. I wish in this life we sat down and ate more. The show was described dismissively by the organiser and I couldn’t remember a scene in it either because I’m stuck in this stupor and the last few stragglers have made it over to Charing Cross Station, god knows how in time for the last train, and I feel a bit sick.

‘I think I’ll make the 32 minutes past’, young lad says on his tippy toes.

‘Yeah you’ll easily make it.’ I reply. I have to cross that bridge now, the one that gets me to Waterloo.

‘I have to cross that bridge now so I can get to Waterloo. My train goes from there.’

So I leave them like a chaffinch all flashes of colour and contained misplaced energy and hop off to the bridge. Someone is singing ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…’ and all I can taste in my mouth is rhubarb crumble. Apple pie. Custard. There’s that feeling again, that feeling you’ve forgotten something but there are things you can’t forget. I see the man. I see his feet dithering on the railings of a bridge. He’s been drinking and I’ve been drinking and he’s going to jump in to the River Thames and I’ll gladly walk past because it’s really not my problem.

Fuck.

‘Hey. Hey. What are you doing?’

No response. Obviously - from a man about to take his own life. Suddenly I’m sober and I’ve stopped on the bridge. And look at me I’m making other people stop too.

‘Are you ok? Do you want some help?’ Christ I really didn’t mean help in the act of suicide I hope he understand me.

‘Just been drinkin’ me’, says he. To which I nod. I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to be this pretend sort of stupid saviour. Can’t someone else stop and do it? And you know what, someone does. A man in a suit with a girlfriend and an umbrella. He comes over to talk with the suicidal bloke and he helps him down off the railings and they walk away together back to the safe lights not above tumultuous waters.

I hurry along now to catch that train and I don’t feel sick anymore or stupefied or confused, just a bit lost. I hope things like the croissant find me again and keep instilling hope in my tiny icicle heart.





Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Teen Spirit


I saw a boy walking towards me carrying two instruments slung over his left lurched shoulder, one clearly a guitar case and the other may have been a ukulele, perhaps a mandolin in disguise. He held limply on to a wireless amp hanging by his right side and wore all black; a sixth form suit, damp hair, pale emo skin with a disenfranchised smirk. Two parts apathy three parts attitude. What made me swoon pathetically at this kid who padded past me was the green-top milk riding in his pocket, just on show enough to flirt with the imagination of us city commuters that suburbia is romantic. I wanted a teenager again.


Monday, 17 November 2014

Halloween

One eve (not Christmas nor New Year’s) she sat cold as a defrosting pigeon on a platform. Trains. Heck she didn’t really have a place to be so she needn’t worry but it was cold so what can you be but morose. 

The man in military uniform swaying side to side disconcerted her beady eyes because he was fat and inebriated and on a platform. 

The lad sat beside her but got up soon enough and shook his jacket collar apart around his neck where stretched earphones dangled and sat back down again. 

The two femme fatales at the end of the bench sniggered.

‘What do you work in?’

Sniggering stops and the one with the immense eyelashes glares, the other flutters hers and searches for a phone.

‘Don’t be scared I’m only making conversation.’

We can all see that and it makes perfect sense but it just doesn’t sit right in the dark in the cold in the purgatory of a train.

‘Marketing.’ She says bluntly.

‘And yourself?’ 

He hasn’t got friendly eyes but rounds off his vowels with a smile.

‘I do PR for an events company.’

‘Do you know who works up there?’ He points at some skyscrapers looming over the station.

‘No why should we?’

‘Lawyers. Top dog lawyers.’

The man in the overcoat coughs a bit splutters an inch towards the edge of the platform. He might not be military actually, too rotund but he is tall, an odd old guy rolling his bowels around in his slacks.

‘Guess what I do?’

‘I don’t know.’ She bites.

‘Can we get a hint?’ I think the other girl thinks this one might be “fit”, he’s lean and wears one of those jackets Richard Hammond wears, but I also think the first girl thinks he’s a bit of a waster; a morsel of lint she needs to get off with a sticker.

‘Army.’ The first one says and I do understand why.

‘No.’

‘Lawyer.’

‘No.’

‘You work up there with the lawyers don’t you?’ The hopeful one lisps out.

‘No. I work in sales.’

‘Oh.’

‘What do you sell?’ She’s still hopeful and now engaged.

‘The most boring thing as well. IT of course.’

Train remains “expected at” aeons away. Oh p’lease and the lad strides on committed to gain ground and hold some attention whilst not waning attraction. Everything is for them. Those two. That particular one. He was born to please them.

After zipping up his jacket and unzipping it slightly he speaks, ‘I studied marketing. Wish I’d continued with it really.’

‘Never too late,’ one chimes -

‘Yer still a spring chicken,’ chimes the other.

‘Yer what?’

‘Still a spring chicken. That’s a saying isn’t it?’

‘So do you know of any good places to go out?’

‘No. We don’t much.’

I like how the bolder one speaks for them both and I like how the lean one doesn't take notice of feigned stupidity. No one is giving way in this game of wordy-footsies, and you wouldn’t even know it, what a puny spectator sport this makes.

‘The train now approaching platform three is the delayed…’

Somebody keep and eye on the fat bloke swaying! It’s alright it’s fine the train’s rolled in and the bewildered walrus rushes on board, parting the seas, he may have been sleeping standing up. And the two in dresses climb up in to the carriage; the lad remains cheerful as he keeps their attention by dangling hot disinterest and cool warm-heartedness all whilst his left foot leaves the platform and his right foot shuffles closer to them inside the train. The doors beep - that loud defying bleep - and as a pigeon I sit encrusted in frozen specks of dirt.








Sunday, 2 November 2014

Flat Atlas


Why’s he got a limp?

What dyu mean why’s he got a limp?

Why’s he got a limp?

Flat shoes she said, but he said he wears heeled boots – he’s a heel-wearer. Lack of sleep, not sleeping well she mused and he said no he’s been sleeping alright lately.

Rest of the workers look on as this lame colt walks slowly to and fro from stage to back-stage to green room. He still has to make the coffee, order the pizzas making sure that at least two kinds have pepperoni topping; one deep pan; one a romana base; and two must be vegetarian. None of the acts were ever gluten-free or vegan, thank goodness he thought to himself as he staggered carrying boxes of pizza piled atop one another with a straightened back as possible; the tower of pizzas leaning upon his ill-burdened shoulders. Dammit. A pathetic Atlas (but with a paunch no muscles and flat hair) if ever you saw one. He had forgotten to buy the non-alcoholic beer.


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ditty

How can anybody really live here with it’s lights and affairs and it’s all very garish. An opera woman is stuck beneath a bridge and her voice echoes as a 18:46 train rumbles overhead and the old R. Thames splish sploshes aside another thing that happened today. 

Seagulls lark about. Crows look on dismissive. 

Children are just about everywhere from the thicket to the spinney to the scrubland, and parents linger on holding out a phone directly in front engaging with their infant via telecommunicational screen, and what are they capturing without a flash in the dark? Some tiny silhouette doing a pirouette on a concrete slab in London. Fond memories.

I don’t want to be alone when I’m older. You don’t want to feel embarrassed. You don’t want to seem quiet. But she is not quiet. She is resilient. That’s why she is silent.

How can anybody really live here where life is too good to waste. A land of plenty but one ends up wanting more. Pork scratchings the film Closer John they keep dropping off like flies they keep getting divorced and John they’ll send John Lewis gift-wish-gift-lists soon John.

In out, one dies one born, so lonely so happy, one marries one separates.

What’s with all these lit baubles on trees, short trees, more like hedgerows. Waste of light makes your head dizzy. She was really pretty with long legs and auburn hair. She reflected in the dark tinted windows. A man in a suit with rugged meant-to-be-there facial hair studies her right there and then and when home she studies herself in the mirror. Looking good, they both think. The baubles make you blink and squint and maybe they distract you from what you’re really thinking which is, ‘it’s cold out’ but you’re dazzled and so you think, ‘this is bloody marvellous and romantic’. I mean no wonder we’re confused. Most of the time a soundtrack is playing or a coloured tint is being put across a familiar face to hide blemishes and I can always plug in if it’s getting too much and you could be right there facing and talking to me. Oblivious. Me? In your dreams. But remember the clean edits and the montage scenes in rom coms giving the impression of a passage of time filled with happy holding-hand long-shots with sunlight dappling through autumn leaves and ducks being fed and what not. The stakes are very high. Instagram is a lie and I cry.








Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Sam Swiss Cottage




An old woman sits in a Sam Smiths.

‘Darlings, will you look after this for me while I’m gone? Won’t be long.’

Sweetly slurps the ale in the pint glass and shuffles out. We look on and nod. Leaving behind a book on dramaturgy, the pint glass, and one blue plastic bag. As time crawls on – we’ll have to leave soon – she’ll still not be back; unnoticeably.

I’ve gone up to the ancient bartend for some grub.

            ‘Bangers and mash please.’

            ‘No bangers.’

            ‘Steak and liver pie please.’

            ‘No pie.’

            ‘Ale battered cod and chips?’

            ‘No fish.’ Has more gums than teeth and shaking elbows but with an indomitable stare. ‘It’s been a busy week in the kitchens’, he says by way of no apology. That’s fine I mean I didn’t know places stocked up on food for a week, does that still happen in London establishments, it is the capital after all, but then again I am in a Swiss Cottage.

            ‘How old’s this pub?’

‘Two-hundred-and-forty years.’ Might explain the kitchen stasis.

‘Steak and kidney pudding please.’

‘Chips or mash with that?’

‘Chips.’ Reading the talent on display in the menu I ask a question (though I have asked plenty already), ‘What’s suet pastry?’

‘Steak.’

‘No suet.

‘Steak. Meat.’

‘That’s fine I’ll have that.’

Wonder back and sit down and the old woman is still not there but we discuss the game plan for tomorrow where we’ll be boarding a train and seeing some countryside flicker past a carriage window. Trying to get some money to fund a theatre show, it’s going to be a minor adventure. If only we could get in to the locked rehearsal rooms at the drama school Twig has managed to hijack for us. But we don’t have the key or the code or the access card, whatever let’s modern things in to buildings.

            ‘Did you know this pub is 240 years old? Apparently the whole town was built around this pub.’

Twig enters blasted by the wind and strides over to us in the inn. The steak and kidney pudding arrives on cue but no time to ruminate must shovel-in-mouth as precious rehearsal time dissipates. I won’t finish my pint but I don’t want to let it go. The others are ready to leave and I’ve almost eaten my last boiled carrot in gravy when scholarly Tennet notices:

            ‘Oh no. The lady isn’t back yet.’

            ‘The old woman. No you're right.’ Continue to gorge.

She goes and braves it in the hurricane outside but no sign of bobble hat or specs. Can’t believe innocent people leave behind an unfinished pint and book in a tavern like this, vagabonds trail this path. Twig downs an orange Juice. I grab my helmet.

            ‘They don’t have plastic glasses. Can one of you smuggle this glass out with you?’

            ‘I have a flask.’

            ‘No I’m not putting beer in a tea flask.’

As we venture out in to the westerly winds Tennet’s bulbous bags crash against one another and the helmet made of brass clangs in to walls and flakes off their plaster. Blustery.

Gale’s a blowin’, the ship’s mast is a creakin’.

Wet leaves layer the pavement. Orange, yellow, fire.

A cat crosses our path like a shadow. Flicks her tail. Peers strangely at us.

            ‘How long have we been walking?’

Days. Miles.

            ‘Have we turned a left bend yet?’

            ‘Yes we turned it a while ago at the bend!’ Must raise our voices against the wind.

            ‘Oh god. 12 minutes!’ Twig scrabbles around on her phone, ‘it must be wrong we’ve already been walking for about 20.’

The lady at the door who gave us the directions said it was right by a church: St. Peter’s Place. No street lamps just big houses, they give off enough street level lighting as it is. Impossibly large living rooms and double-breasted front doors. White crystal interiors looking more like art galleries than homes.

            ‘What's it look like?’ asks Tennet.

            ‘A church’ replies Twig.

We spot a church and scramble over to it. Maybe the drama school owns the church? What’s religion without a bit of performance anyway.

            ‘Yes this is it. How the hell do we get in?’

I’ve climbed over and trudging through a graveyard, Tennet’s looking for an entrance, Twig tries to pull apart a door. It’s very dark in this churchyard in Swiss Cottage. The branches swing about me and I think one will break off and kill me: “man under tree”. You know the abbreviation for “man under train” is MUT. Like a dead dog. A man lain to bury must be “man under ground”: MUG. No by all means, make it more poetic, “man under grass”, that’s more pleasant and English. I take a swig of the flask. Give some to Tennet.

            ‘I’ve found a door!’

Great. We pick up our bags and bundles and helmet and run across the yard to Twig who hails an entrance as she has the key(card). Thank god we’re out of the wind and the knight’s dark thoughts can dissolve and we can at last practice our presentation before boarding that train tomorrow.

 





Thursday, 16 October 2014

Archangel -


I came home tonight and I was struck by the mysteries of the world. A small letter containing an even smaller envelope awaited me, to my surprise. I broke the seal and unwrapped it and within was a sack. These sacks are special and from my homeland, for want of a better word, they are talisman that attest to my rootedness: Japan. I had no idea this was on the way to me or even it had been sent - or existed - in time conceived with me as recipient. The scribbling on the creased paper read (in English hand)



- Konnichiwa

For what I could understand this one is for happiness and dreams to come true. My best wishes from Kagoshima, among ashes and best ramen and onsen



The sender is someone in the past I had shared a great deal with some would fathom call it love. The recipient I am not sure, is someone I’d like to think I knew very well, that is myself, but at times like these I am left shaken. Shaken by the trepidation in the world I inhabit. Shaken by the lack of knowledge; the doubt. Who knew he was in Japan. Who knew he would think of me. I didn’t know he had my home address. But what it means is something of grand design of teleological virtue. I could not stand on a precipice and feel more the purpose of history.



For forever I had felt the unworthiness of this cause, of never saying sorry because I fucked up royally and you deserved better. Forever I had felt unforgiven. But tonight after a joyous event and drinks and singing I return home to this crumpled envelope and I see his handwriting and I read the note, I feel everything settle on me like a heavy blanket. It is unforeseen and that is what drives it home. The mystery. The thanks that I want to give to the wind and the tides that seek a home so far away from any shore, I feel like a pebble resting on a bank after attrition and journeys I cannot remember. Thank you Whoever You Are looking out for us seemingly abandoned souls. We really appreciate you angels.








Friday, 10 October 2014

Gladys

A funeral was taking place and I wasn’t invited to it. I didn’t know the dead person so why should I have been? Maybe it was the notice board that made me feel left out.

The Autumn has set in and the leaves are well and truly off the branches - it’s wet pulp on the ground - and the commuter train carriages are condensed. I always think of leaves at Autumn even though there are barely any trees here, I look around and there may be the odd tree that’s been positioned to hang over a bench, but benches are sort of rare finds too. Like telephone boxes. People don’t want loitering. The mute passage of time. 

“Autumnal— nothing to do with leaves. It is to do with a certain brownness at the edges of the day… Brown is creeping up on us, take my word for it… Russets and tangerine shades of old gold flushing the very outside edge of the senses… deep shining ochres, burnt umber and parchments of baked earth— reflecting on itself and through itself, filtering the light. At such times, perhaps, coincidentally, the leaves might fall, somewhere, by repute. Yesterday was blue, like smoke.”¹

Hanging, waiting for someone to show up by a street lamp you definitely notice the urgency that sets in about people as the days get shorter. We scurry more. Previously in the sun’s long haze people looked off in to the distance, looked a bit more sure of themselves, ‘Yes the sun is here and today is another day amongst many days’ sort of stares (‘Gentlemen to bed… for we rise at daybreak’ sort of tones). 

Tonight the orange humming glow from the fluoro pallidly skims off the gravel. 

How did people cope in the past when light faded.
It felt colder. 
It was darker. 
Darkness often means danger or the unknown, I mean you can’t see.
You have no idea the confidence light gives you, I mean you can see.

There is a house in South Croydon where a notice board hangs off a south-facing wall. The message reads:

Gladys (8) died
Residents are welcome to celebrate her life. Funeral at 4

Room 8. That must be the 8 in the bracket. There’s nothing to it really, the message I mean: 'Somebody [room number] died’. Simple. But god, that’s a life. A whole life just ceased and and it’s plain there to see that it’s gone or done or whatever. 

Gladys, sometimes I worry that I’m too preoccupied with death - but it’s not just a morbid curiosity it’s the shock to the system that the concept conjures up. I don’t see enough old people in the things that I look at and I rarely have to think about ageing in my life. It’s like youth is sold to me as choice rather than a stage, and I don’t know how I’ll feel Gladys, when I grow older. 

Yesterday, in a film, I saw dentures popping out of a wizened laughing old face and the crooked thin-lipped smile of a white-haired gent. And the lens was so clear. And it stirred in me a delight. And his words reassured me, ‘We grow small trying to be great.’²



³


¹Tom Stoppard, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead”
²David Hockney
³Grancha


Monday, 22 September 2014

Snippets


The privilege of being able to walk in and out of others’ lives. The low expectations. Bold tiny snippets that you have no right to disclose or comprehend. Unfinished conversations. Satisfactory.

‘Really do you actually have to compensate?’

Listening hard to understand. Ears pricked - what two posh boys on South Western rail are talking about.

‘Quite. So the further distance away… they either compensate due to that… the pipes tend to speak less clearly.’ Wearing tweed. Flashes of acne. Younger than he sounds; older than the rest of us.

‘Would you then say that acoustic organs are better than electrical?’

Organs! They’re talking about organs. The instrument they play is an organ. The last one I remember was in Chapel tucked far away in a corner of memory. They do have pipes, I wonder if they’re woodwinds? Gospel choirs and Eucharists.

‘Fortissimo to pianissimo… the sheer range astonishes.’

A tea morning organised by a woman with a soul. Invite the neighbours, drink tea, eat homemade cakes, give to charity. There’s a green box with a Macmillan Cancer trademark lid, you put coins in the slot but others give folded notes. Sat in an armchair a woman wearing sandals and skin-coloured tights. She has a skirt that folds heavily about her thin frame. Maybe 70? Maybe 80? I like her glasses and cropped grey hair – thick big lenses that round off her angular elbows and knees.

‘I was working in print’ she tells me her voice is pickled with cockney and fruit salads, ‘a printing press.’

She continues, her mouth curls up a bit to give her a goofy smile, she’s got great teeth for an elderly – or dentures – a nice friendly sort of mouth.

‘You don’t have them these days. We used to print the cheques. The men would do the news, downstairs.’

I ask about the mechanisation of the printing press. She doesn't listen. That's fine.

‘And I think it were all women…’ she pulls a wrinkly finger up in the air away from the tea cup perched precariously upon saucer, and with that spindly hand attached to her finger she places it across her crooked smile, like a daddy long legs landing on a plate.

‘Well, I think it were. All so long ago. We’d do the cheques. Yes, like for the banks and things. I guess you don’t use cheques these days do you?’

A pretty clever girl next to me sparks up, ‘I only get cheques in my birthday cards.’ I understand the subtext. Those birthday cards are sent from old relatives. Online banking just isn’t as romantic.

‘The factory was near Southwark Bridge.’

‘Near Southwark Cathedral?’

‘No. More toward the Borough. Do you know it? I didn’t mind it. Go in at eight finish by five’, she’s smiling like a smile in a faded photograph and says: ‘I did a lot back then.’

Life might have been easier the pace of it. But as you get older you sleep less, why is that? It might be because you do less so you don’t need to rest and recover as much. Imagine doing what we do daily with all the screens and the accessories and the contactless payments and the looking up and down at tube maps. Imagine all that brain power. You need sleep otherwise, madness. Just madness.

Meaningless.

The commute. Ends up making you hate humanity. No friends on an early morning commute – simply foe. No room to stand on your own two feet. God I hate the commute. Holy Communion. And it’s only Wednesday. For goodness sake. Everyone looks down and away at their swipey-zoom-pads. Mind keeps flitting in and out of divorce and adultery. It’s all the suits and ill-fitting pencil skirts. Bad cologne covering up a smell of sweat and last night’s lager. Geoffrey Archer types. Checkered shirt IT types. Immaculate spa day I work in recruitment types. Bored and not sure where they’re heading types. I’m the hypocritical teenage angsty type. Hair that’s on the left-field of convention. A wannabe. I hate the commute and it despises me. Sucks me up and spits me out with a last-laugh sort of attitude. Fuck you! Women caking on make-up in crowded situations so you see the pores being drenched with skin-coloured emulsion. Women’s beauty. When what you see and what you know don’t match the brain strikes up a confusion. A neat little pill to swallow before 9AM.

Lunch is the time for peace and piecing yourself back together again. When the sun shines it’s really not that bad. What were you so bothered about you prat?

Sit on a bench. Breathe. A breather.

A small woman eating hers opposite. Get salad envy. Remember the crisis of modern man.

Breathe. A breather.

‘Is that something you could get involved with?’ a fat electrical man gruffs in to his mobile, ‘I can’t tell if it’s hand-controlled or wall-mounted.’

Wishing I understood electrics. Physics class. Playing with diodes and something to do with salt. Or was it salt? Something to do with battery-powered potatoes. Did any of this happen?

‘It’s all in the spec Fred. I’m thinking about the, I’m telling you, I’m thinking about the metering package. Is that something you’d like to be involved in? You don’t know? D- d- d-on’t know?’

He breathes heavy. Panting like. He is built heavy too, has to lift himself up from the bench using one hand. Walks flatly and stammers with gravitas as he pulls up his trousers. Buffalo Gruff.

Or was it goats? Whatever.

‘You know what’s a really nice present?’ She has that posh gravelly drawl I get worried about. Skinny arms and legs, ‘…a cheese board.’

He says from his slightly creased expensive suit, ‘How about a coffee machine, I’ll just get them one of those.’ Flippant.

Sat opposite me displaying bouts of drunken slips of indiscretion, the rather well-made-up and not-convincingly-nice-looking couple talk loudly. Slurp stolen kisses. Spikey heels. Yikes.

‘How many people will you know at the wedding?’ He asks disinterested already in the question going in for a squeeze of her lower arm and then bum.

‘I don’t know - ’ (oh she knows), ‘- not many. You know we’ll be sat with Gail’s friends. You know Gail. Oh you do. You so do. Timothy’s girlfriend. You know Timothy. He. Is. Hilar-ious!’

A rail replacement bus service is in operation today, please go to Stop V. V. V. Where is Stop V? Already late and hungover and flummoxed by modes of transport. Ah, there’s Stop V. The bus stop is rammed. At least it’s not raining, and people are sort of milling and queuing up and leaving the queue to squint down the road for any signs of red loaded buses creeping up on us, this dishevelled lot. Love Sunday mornings just for the people who come out at that time. Either those with a purpose or weary with drink. Some churchgoers, but they don’t get the bus as much, either walk or drive. Smart people.

‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’

A faint sound of whimpering down a phone from a tall make-up-less girl in skinny jeans. Hanging off her shoulders a little big rucksack.

‘No tell me.’

‘No tell me.’

‘What did you do?’

Walking closely by her rucksack brushes my skin, I stay unmoved squinting for that bus. Come on.

‘You got with someone.’

Uh oh.

‘Did you sleep with someone?’

Oh no.

‘What?’

I hope she misunderstood.

‘How can it be worse?’

Oh no.

‘No.’

No.’