Open mic shite – guest story by Kriddy T

Stories

Open Mic Shite: Point Blank Fuck Off – a guest story by Kriddy T.

It was me.

I went to a grotty little boozer in South Croydon, and teed off my set with a track from Half Man Half Biscuit’s début, the song was ‘Fuckin’ Hell It’s Fred Titmuss’. The locals were lapping it up, much to the dismay of my fellow musicians who were waiting their turn, a couple from Prague who were on a weekend break to South Croydon even bought me a cup of beer as well as complimenting me on my choice of song, however they said they would have preferred ‘99% of Gargoyle’s look like Bob Todd’ but that was nit-picking and anything from the HMHB back catalogue would have been, and I quote, “shit hot”.

“Cheers, Croydon. Lovely to be back…” I said as I chimed the last chord (D7).

I then burst into ‘One Step Beyond’, complete with me peacocking and jumping around, getting right up into peoples’ faces and knocking pints of lager everywhere. The song finished with me ducking as a foaming glass of Fosters (read piss) came whooshing over my barnet and exploding all over the pool table, fists started flying and a small burly but amiable bloke with severe eczema around the mouth came running from behind the bar.

“Oi oi! We’ll have none of that in our pub, now mind ya fucking language and keep playing sunshine” said the working class chap who owned the pub.

By no means was I going to calm the baying angry mob who I’d just antagonized into a frenzy.

“Any requests?” I smirked, as I tuned my shitty little Argos guitar up. I purposely dragged it out, this took well over five minutes to do, as I wound my rusty old guitar up, I read a passage from the Qu’ran, don’t ask me what part cos I’ve not got a fucking clue to be honest wiv ya.

“Get on with it you ‘orrible little mug!” said a small Jewish child who was out with her family for a few pints of Strongbow.

“Right then…” I mumbled as I downed the last drop from the pint of milk I had on-stage.

I was thoroughly tuned and ready to play. I laid out a frantic and crazed rendition of ‘Le Freak’, with most of the song featuring me in my pants kicking the fake wooden partition walls in till my monkey boots snapped like a Kit Kat. It went down a storm, a bloody great tropical storm that is, a bloody great storm that involves lots of civilian deaths and mass property damage, culminating with a bloody awful pop single to raise money for the poor bastards, yeah, one of those storms. The angry flatcap-sporting proletariat filth were now in pure infatuation and sheer awe of my performing skills. A few chaps at the front became so delirious with excitement that they were carted away to the hospital, and I do mean carted away, a wheelbarrow was fetched from the cellar by a blind racist geordie fellow by the name of Iain who insisted, often with force (largely verbal), that his name was to be pronounced “E-AAIIIIN!”, if you were to call him “E-UN”, he’d (try to) thump you.

I tried to lull the heated, hostile crowd, even pretending to be one of those violent black rappers you see on the telly.

“S’bout time we wind this shit down. Y’all need to chill the fuck out, ya feel me?”

By now the crowd were spilling out onto the streets, forming streams into the back roads, every vantage point had been seized in the whole of South Croydon, twitter was ablaze as people sent frenetic messages to one another from their tiny illiterate brains “OI @BAZSEXY1978 DIS MAN IN DA PUB IZ WELL GUD, CUM INNIT”, stuff like that I imagine.

“I, just took a ride! IN A SILVER MACHINE…!”, I screamed, the audience singing to every word, a large mosh pit spawned from the front making its way all the way to back of the pub and people became enraptured with sheer delight, my delight, angel delight.

As crowd-surfers knocked down the light fittings and the blazer wearing old men shouted the words to the Hawkwind classic, ‘Silver Machine’, I threw my guitar down in fit of pure spiritual incandescent rage.

“Goodbye Croydon. Goodbye.”

My Cash Converters Hell – guest tale

Stories

A lovely winter warmer of a tale by Kriddy T, who still refuses to blog. One of the best things I’ve read for months and happily reproduced here from Kriddy’s message. James Kelman in reverse. Enjoy…

C A S H  C O N V E R T E R S : MY HELL –

So i got my nat king cole (kriddish for dole) money on tuesday and went on a spending spree. The day started with me going to Penge. I had a little look on the internet for a musical instrument shop that sold maracas (that weren’t £15 or above) and found a good place that had them for £9 (not exactly a bargain but probably the cheapish i could get). I then took the 176 up to the good ol’ Walworth Road for a look in the fine boutiques and bistro’s, I bought a microphone from cash converters that seemed pretty decent and that was a tenner, I also spied a black 8Gb iPod* at £24.99 as I went out but thought “nah, fuck it”. I then went off to south london’s finest market, east street market (or ‘da fackin lane’ if your a prole) and looked at all the useless shit on offer, i contemplated buying a green denim shirt but then i got scared of the thought that i might look like a t4 presenter so quickly binned that idea. *my old mp3 player fell in the bath

Next stop was tottenham court road, I got the 12 up to oxford street cos i wanted to go into this charity shop that has sometimes has decent clobber on sale but there werent much on offer so I walked down oxford street whilst stopping in HMV to have a look at the albums n stuff. I like having a look at the albums, mainly just to have a closer inspection of the cover art (which is alway good with The Fall) even though im never gonna buy them as all i do is simply type into google “[album name and artist] mediafire” and hey presto! Free music.

I got down to Denmark Street and realised that it were so like totally hilarious and LOLZ that theres a Job Centre on a street full of musicians n shit, like bare funnzy innit. So I went into a shop and had a look at the guitars trying not to feel too intimadated by the fucking cunts who eyeball your every move in there (also while i’m here, i have to say, they have the worse taste in music imaginable) and i asked the guy “how much is your cheapish guitar lead?”
“£15”

So i took a trip to few other places and found a shop that did a lead for £4, which isn’t too sore at all.

All this walking around was thirsty work, I went into a little shop and bought one them lamb samosa things you getter in plastic packet (i usually get them when im pissed so this made a nice change) and thought “y’know what, i’m gonna go for pint…..by myself”. Now some people might say I am a sad little man spending his dole money in spoons by him self and i might well probably agree, then the thought of someone seeing me drinking by myself made me anxious, I downed the pint quicker than can say….”pint”.

The 176 turned up eventually and I boarded back to camberwell, it started fucking pouring it down, but the sun was still bright so it made central london extra atmospheric, i took the opportunity to take a photo on my fone (cos im one of them twats that does that) which prompted some american tourist to come sit next to at the front and take a picture too (plagiarism). Then I got a flash back of the iPod in the cash converters. I wondered whether to buy it and thought to myself “I wonder whether to buy it”. Yes, yes I will.

At the cash converters the same guy got the iPod for me from the glass cabinet and handed it over to blonde polish assistant (weren’t that fit as she sounds if your wondering) for her to try it, which she did and showed me it was working. As she checked it she went “Aaliyah!” with a smile, the previous owner hadn’t deleted the contents so I was in for a nice suprise of r’n’b and other pop ditties. I handed over the cash and left with a now bulging bag full of fun.

I felt a little peckished so went to Greggs (where da fuck else?) for a sausage roll and then headed into morrisons to see if they had any good stuff in the reduced section eg. scotch eggs, yoghurt, booze, pork snacks in any shape or form etc. I bought three bottle of stella (those big one’s) for fiver (i got id’d and i havent shaved in a week!) and headed for the bus.

I tried to have a little look at my iPod on the bus but there was no battery in her, so just enjoyed the lovely ride down the boulevards of the walworth road into the salubrious area of Loughborough Junction.

When I got indoors my Mum was on the computer doing work, i cracked open a bottle of John Graham Mellor (kriddish for Stella) and i gave one to my mum, she likes a drink from time to time when shes doing her work, cant blame her really. I climbed upto my room to and fired up the laptop, not before i had a little mess around with the maracas and I checked the microphone was in working order (which it was). I plugged the iPod into the laptop and got ready to get down to some serious file transfering.

It came up as “aisha’s ipod” (yes it had a name), I deleted all the old crap and christened it “My IPOD”, which is a cracking name i know. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank “PHILLIPS 8Gb MP3 PLAYER” or Phil as he was known for his longstanding service until his untimely death in which he drowned in the bath with me, his corpse is now lying in the kitchen next to the teabags. I started putting all the stuff i wanted on to it, starting with ATV (there actually not too bad as it goes) finishing with The Velvet Underground. Happy days i thought (not the tv show), I disconnected the iPod which was now pregnant with fine music and switched her on to have a gander at it.

Everything was fine with it except the fucking menu button didn’t work, so you could listen to a track but if you wanted to go back a step you didn’t have a chance in hell. “Fucksake!” i roared.

I had a look on the internet, maybe there was someone way of tackling this, maybe on yahoo answers there might be some thirteen year old kid from Ohio who knows the way of unlocking it or something. I found one page which showed you how to open an iPod, with a vague suggestion there might be problem with dirt or something stopping the menu button from properly clicking. I got my manly wife (kriddish for stanley knife) and prized her open. This was the electrical product equivalent of key hole surgery, one wrong wrong move and she’s brown bread (cockney for dead). I then got too scared to carry on for fear of braking her. I carefully closed her body up and put it back in the bag. Refund was now on my mind.

The next day I got up and watched some shite on youtube for a bit and read about the stone roses reunion (to be honest i dont find the stone roses interesting but they do have some alright tunes tho, the reunion will be pretty darn embarrassing as they usually are but i spose it will make a lot of people happy so I why not pilage your legacy eh) and went downstairs for some toast with Sainsburys peanut butter.

The thought of the showdown at Cash Converters was weighing heavy on my mind. Now is the time, bring it on, “let’s fucking do this shit, yeah!?” i screamed at the top of my voice (in my head).

At the Cash Converters I was served by a different guy, a polite african bloke served me and asked if i wanted a different iPod. I agreed and he fetched a new one. He checked to see “My IPOD” was as bruck up as i said it was and he let have the new iPod (i say new, it was second hand with abrasions to sides and back), it was a kinda crappy teal colour instead of the black, but i thought this was a good sign, a sign this its going to work. I asked the guy if i could have a thorough look at it, i spent a minute whirling round the menu and clicking everything making sure it was in 100% tip top form which it was, and the guy let me have it even though it was priced ten pounds more at £34.99. Happy days (again, not the tv show) i thought.

A sausage roll later im on the bus trying to check it out, see if I could have more of a look at it, there was nothing on it so i switched it off, the previous owner was obviously savvy to the wonderful and frightening world of second hand retail and had eradicated the contents to not annoy the future user. Thank you sir/madam/

I got her home, going through the same process, for amusement purposes I called her “CRYPOD”. I got all my music on there and thought “now i can get on the bus and listen to music and i wont have to bat an eyelid at those charity bastards you see outside sainsburys in brixton cos ill have earphones in my head therefore meaning i dont have to talk to anyone”. Everything was working fine, the wheel and all the buttons on it worked and all my music was on it. I was happy. I plugged in the headphones and played taxidermist from the trendy sequencer-botherer’s Factory Floor (sound like these new puritans when they first started, s’alrite like).

“Fucking hell…” i moaned like housewife in a tone that suggested i had done this before.

The headphone jack on it was messed up, it only came out of one side. I checked to see if it was the headphones and plugged them into my laptop, perhaps they were damaged in the drowning incident on that fateful monday night when Phil died. The headphones worked. I tried plugging my iPod into my speakers and the sound only chimed from one side of the speaker.

“What the fuck!?!”

By Kriddy T

Three Swords

Stories

A new draft story for the gamblers and data administrators, but dedicated to M.H., wherever he is. It’s an experimental piece, a little too long, but I’d love to hear people’s impressions. It can largely be read in any order with the exception of the first and last part. Please – it’s not a confessional work, but explores some dark new psychological non-places that have appeared elsewhere in my stories, characters, lives and scenes. It requires an essay to explain it, and in some ways is the creative equivalent of my MA dissertation, which I am on the verge of finishing. Sometimes a character possesses you. Don’t make assumptions about the author, I’m quite fine, as is everything…

+ + +

It would not be too much of an effort to pause sometimes to look into these stains on walls, the ashes from the fire, the clouds, the mud, or other similar places. If these are well contemplated, you will find fantastic inventions that awaken the genius of the painter to new inventions, such as compositions of battles, animals, and men, as well as diverse composition of landscapes, and monstrous things, as devils and the like…‘ – Leonardo da Vinci, Treatise on Painting.

This exercise works like this: he walks over to the wall, puts his back up against it and stands there in an attitude of utter resignation. For a minute or two. And that’s all. The exercise is over.‘ – Sigizmund Khrzizhanovsky, “Red Snow”.

There was a certain liturgy of words that had to be kept pure, uncontaminated. Words were sick creatives, continually expanding and mutating as new data-streams ruptured their existing semantic structures. We had to write and maintain entries for every word on the continually-expanding database. To say the task was exhausting, well – even that phrase catapults one back into a realm of etymological tracings, clauses and a mania to have done with it all.

The “I” was a construct of all these words and entries which were arranged and re-composed like elaborate sand-mosaics at the hands of children at the shore-side. No longer anything, but this infinity of things and names needed always to be characterised and organised. New words were being created at every second, disrupting the flow of existing meanings and requiring the databases to be updated and adjusted on a continual basis. Sleep, if necessary, was deferred for exceptional occasions. The body was a passive media device whose highest utility and calling was in coding its flaccid impressions into truth as digitised information. To this end, such externalities like physical health, reproduction and the like would have to be submitted to the regulation of pure information. To say that the task of data administrator was important would be no understatement. I had seen men and women slumped over their digital devices, their inactivity mocked by some asinine screensaver.

There was a person I used to think about very much when undertaking this vocation.

The work could be intensely demanding. We were frequently having to deal with trojans, viruses, errant codes. Working in former shops and warehouses, usually in industrial estates surrounding the M25 ring, our networks were safer and network-intruders were easier to detect away from the busy information traffic of the central metropolitan areas. Frequently though we shifted location. Many of the older workers stood at their workstations, it was a fairly effective way of remaining awake – it was easier to eat, piss and shit where you were. Any wandering around the perimeter was incredibly exhausting, and there’d been unfortunate moments I’d spent looking for some more Eudex, waking hours later slumped in the kitchen area or garage of the office, wrapped in my jacket. Lost time.

Gil Upscott was a fairly typical case. His deletion order had come through from the National Identity Database (NATID) and I’d been emailed a Temporary Licence Exception Order (TELEO). It was easy enough work. I had no idea what Upscott’s crime had been, but NATID wanted all digital traces and evidence of his existence to be deleted. In the past this had been a difficult task, but his traces could be found primarily in 3 or 4 locations. Facebook was used to disable his account under some unknown abuse. His blog http was reassigned to a minor basketball sports academy in Chicago. If they were well known, data administrators had to be a little creative – so I created a fake identity. Instead of being an obscure legal historian, Gil Upscott was now a mediocre US Basketball player from the early 1990s who had been forced into retirement by injury. I rewrote his Wikipedia entry, used Youtube to replace his speeches with some old digital footage of basketball games, and went to remove his Amazon page but this had already been deleted. That was generally enough. I got into the NATID database and found out his bank account, email addresses and phone numbers, and had these either deleted or rendered inactive. There was something immensely satisfying about this. Getting a new ID was intensely difficult. Afterwards I earmarked a few favourable reviews and websites discussing his most recent work, “Law and the abuse of emergency”, as criminal under the Anti-Terrorism legislation, a fairly convenient way of closing down websites without question. The Google algorithm was adjusted by a huge number of simultaneous data requests that brought the fake basketball player up when Gil Upscott, Gil Upscott law, Upscott emergencyand other phrases were typed in – the most time-consuming task. After around 35 continuous hours Gil Upscott effectively no longer existed. Even if a man with this name claimed to be asserting his identity, he would either be arrested as an identity fraud or confused with the American basketball player. It was ingenious touch and I was very proud of the shift’s work, as would be the client.

*

There was a menacing atmosphere in the air, as if I had offended some minor tyrannical deity whose language I would never know.

The children were having bets on who could explode a collection of fire extinguishers and found crockery. Somehow they’d managed to make it up to the top of the medium-rise housing block, and were throwing down rocks. The extinguisher wouldn’t explode of course, but most of the windows on my adjacent car were smashed through. As I gingerly approached the vehicle, they began urinating from above.

I climbed into the wrecked vehicle, but my presence here was dangerous. I found a lighter in the glove compartment, next to a pack of latex gloves and a wedge of dictol. The car upholstery eventually caught alight after a few abortive attempts that burnt away the plastic seat coating. The insurance company would provide an alternative vehicle. But the words would continue increasing and elaborating well after the data parsing was over. I was very tired, and somehow I fell asleep in one of the transport depots. Whether it was night or morning I could not discern.

*

Another time, leaving the building where these tasks were carried out, Claude had asked me to join him in one of the hotel rooms of a Travelodge in a nearby retail park. Occasionally we needed to work together, corroborate some entry or data set, and after that we might drink, wander around the retail park, perhaps eat some McDonalds before returning to the room to watch pornography. The June evening air was glinted through with a greenish dust that momentarily appeared beneath the street-light glare like the cheap trick of a mystic, a stage-prop of a mediocre punch and judy show.

I had not seen Lola for some time now. Exhausted, we had abandoned our attempts at feelings after our reproductive period was over. Our two children had been genetically successful and her parents had proved adequate in supervising them. Resource executives like her were wired, their work made them impatient, short-tempered, impulsive – so I thought. They generated all kinds of idiotic codes and slang that needed to be continually regulated. Like most couples we had been encouraged to have multiple temporary partnerships to enhance our ‘balance’ – absurd terms stolen from New Age medicine were frequently employed, with suspect origins, but little matter. Spas had been a regular feature of underground gay sex but a new mythos of compulsive eroticism had emerged with improved health and mental agility cited as benefits, and registration fees for spa memberships increasingly constituted the bulk expenditure of myself and Lola’s bored, disintegrating relationship. I actively consented to this system. I found myself attending two particular spas on the M25 periphery around three times a week, and would’ve attended more if there had been time left. It was our one leisure activity. Users would rate each other’s performance, liaisons were generally arranged online before, so even the workday was filled with a fairly insistent if monotonous sex-chat, a kind of call-and-response testing of interest. I was very proud of my 78.8 score, though it had been in general decline over the previous months, and was beginning to jeopardise my membership at one of the more premium spas. After the suggestion of one of my colleagues in another department, I insisted on home sessions with colleagues from various associated companies, but the weekly meals and sexual activity after soon exhausted the attentiveness of our limited range of taboo and transgression. I had now lost track of her lovers and she mocked my failure to emulate.

I had described my personal life for over 1000 words now, but this was a fallacy, as the I has already been established as not existing. Passengers on the transport networks occasionally erupted in violence and collectively these would stalk dreams, generating new codes for fear, outsider, terrorist, disruption.

*

It was a cool July evening. The swoosh of tires of a bulky goods vehicle against an oily erupted gutter injected thick fuzzy memories of the South-east, the regular transit of buses and the animalistic fighting and general violence pounding through the gated communities and retail parks like bad hip-hop. On a night not unlike this very one, I’d spent the day completing some semantic re-upping on a client’s database. Back then I’d largely been working as an Oreo™ Child Flourishment Executive for the South-Eastern district Social Services. It largely involved processing probation details and inputting the details of reoffending justice reports, arranging custodial transfers, but to supplement my income I’d occasionally sell parts of the database to media agencies or identity letting organisations. Hacking into databases out of a nihilistic boredom had given me the strangely obsessive taste for data admin – an obsession a few old pros like myself and Claude had and took pride in.

The heavy bags in my hand were full of scotch, lager, supermarket sandwiches and a couple of pornography films. Claude was sat inside the silver vehicle, engrossed in his media device, and I had to wait for several minutes before he was able to let me in, his self-deluded paranoia and lack of social skills almost charming. The car radio was reporting some criminal disturbances around the major metropolitan centres, with a large imperious voice, possibly that of the Justice Executive or the President announcing new emergency powers for the military.

The country’s sick”, I offered, quoting the words of a TV presenter I’d heard earlier that day.

Claude ignored me. “Butt-fuckers Booty-camp 2, I’ve seen that one”.

No matter”, I replied, handing him over a can of lager.

Have that”, he returned, shoving a couple of mittex into my gaping mouth.

Laughter.

You have always been a good friend to me”, he offered.

I suppose so”, I said.

It takes love to tell a person truly what their faults are”, said Claude, tracing the outline of his lower lip with his index finger.

It’s possible”, I replied.

Often we would go back to a hotel room but tonight we stayed in the vehicle, watched wiry foxes, bloated middle-managers with their chicken-tikka suits and roach-swagger, and anaemic young women with their plaintive rock music and depressive self-narratives scutter across the deserted car-park towards one of the supermarkets. We were watching a particularly violent male prisoner pornographic film, Prisoner from Cell Block XXX 9. Claude was getting quite turned on, the mittex and scotch often had a profoundly disinhibiting effect. Depressed at the likely outcome of events, I insisted that we drove around for a bit, but we were both too drunk to accurately command the vehicle, and we got stuck on a roundabout on the exit of the now-deserted retail park, the vehicle rolling and twisting around in perfect concentric circles, Claude roaring with laughter until finally I managed to switch the vehicle onto manual control and plough it into a small embankment, sustaining some minor bruising in the impact.

*

Myself and Lola habitually had sex, yet these sessions had recently become increasingly violent, more so the less intoxicated we were. She now encouraged regularly cutting, usually in the soft hidden skin below her buttocks, and a certain violence, biting and hitting had become necessary to reach climax. It was hard to estimate how many times we’d come together, but I’d recently taken recourse to sleeping at various hotels that were closer to my workplaces, or in the beds of various lovers, even the spas on occasion when I was too tired to travel back to Lola’s. The cutting was a concession to the banality of love-making. It had begun under my instigation. Resentment and frustration was satisfactorily played out in violent exchanges, but for a while I had desired to taste another part of her, and was given the opportunity after a particularly pathetic attempt at self-harm. I’d taken the blades and applied them fairly carelessly to a point she’d lack self-consciousness over, close enough to the major erogenous zones. As I forced the wound open I wilfully spread the blood around her, and the heady metallic taste, spread through kisses, drove the pair of us to push through the other limited range of taboos available.

She joked later that it was curious that such behaviour would land us both in a prison cell or at a mad house any other time.

My eyesight was diminishing. The words continued creating, mutating and modulating into innumerable new forms, perverted by number, splitting like quantum particles each time I attempted to make any sense of them.

The data input device that had once represented a part of my anatomy was now corrupting through age and overuse. The sensor I often wore above my eyes was increasingly crashing. Tiny silver and gold circles like bullets or firecracker-flashes exploded across my retina, confusing my vision. I collapsed and held my head, scrunching up my eyelids in a vain attempt to deprive my brain of witnessing the corruption and sickness already inside it.

*

Time had increasingly flattened into an infinite and endless present of interminable demands and data-streams. The events that might constitute my identity and life were one such data bank, whose experiences I could increasingly tap into and use, though the characters of this earlier life had all departed. And where, I could not say now. One memory: I’d wandered through the wreckage of an old leisure centre taking photographs. Isla was sitting quietly as I came in, her pale and spidery fingers generating Satie’s first Gymnopédie out of the keyboard in the corner of the apartment. I sat next to her on the stool, the third-floor window in front of us depicting some colourless scene of a central European housing block of the previous century’s Brutalist school, a billboard extolling the virtues of a new brand of toothpaste. She smiled, she was wearing some ill-fitting stripy frock probably belonging to an older sister, which her soft brown hair, unusually undone now, flopped against.

It’s wonderful”, I said finally.

She carried on silently, though smiling now. It was only her failure to keep the pace of Debussy’s moonlight song that finally had her erupting in giggles, the song creaking over like a runaway tram down a tranquil frozen Sunday morning hill, in the snow, possibly.

I kissed her neck and offered her a handful of Burfurine, but she ignored the request. The words were running rampant now, flickering and corrupting into new combinations and variations. I was feeling very nauseous. She eventually came back into focus after I managed to regulate and reduce my breathing to a slower speed.

You have so much love in your heart but none for yourself”, she replied.

I found charming but a little sad the way she would project her own qualities onto others and compliment them on these, whilst ever-castigating herself with apologies and sudden, sharp self-condemnations (“I’m stupid, I can’t”), when of all of us back then, only Isla could and only she would, though like in all these juvenile moments I said nothing.

Sol”?” Perhaps I’d failed to get her sarcasm on these occasions, an esoteric subtlety of words that they might in fact contain their own self-subversion, their own energetic undoing, puncturing the integrity of the steely-eyed data administrator like a jack-in-the-box. But no, Isla was strange always, laughing hysterically and out of rhythm to some unknown and unknowable joke.

I was day-dreaming into the car rearview mirror. Rain was falling and bringing a copperish dust onto the evening windscreen. I grimaced at my own reflection and inspected my teeth. In the glove compartment was the same brand of Burfurine, a physical link now back to those times. I’d only been known as Austin as part of the necessary identity change for the job, but so little in a name. I swallowed two pills. My user-rating was in decline at the spas, reducing too the potential amount of meetings available on my membership. The pills steadied my nerves, and when mixed with a couple of lines of Eudex made the user feel highly energised, beastly. Parking the car from the deserted goods-track round to the multi-storey car-park, I wondered one last time what might have happened to her and those words, her codes.

*

Hairs in butter. Various murmurs were now circulating about Claude, insanity and his bad DSM record, his expected departure. Such circulars were issued by the HR-PR departments about imminently departing employees. Some pop-psychology about blocked neurolibidinal receptors. Half the department of administrators were bipolar alcoholics with a declining grip on what was going on, as was I. It made us take our jobs even more seriously given there was very little else successfully occurring in our wearied and self-destructive existences. The industrial estates of the M25 were packed with drunken autistics, driving around in sick and deathly circles.

Happiness is a matter of science”, a woman later erupted at the spa later as we approached climax. It was strange how people often uttered catchwords as their bodies shook in tremors, manically licking their upper lips, another side-effect of the Burfurine. She was presumably a doctor as the tone had the self-confident semantic staccato of grade 4+ medical history programming, but there was no need to ask questions, as we generally lied about our backgrounds anyway. I had somewhat recklessly began telling people the truth about my life lately, just because it was so unlikely. I later slept in my car outside Lola’s apartment.

*

I gently held her chin with my snooked hand.

You know I’m not experienced”, Lola said. No, not Lola. Who though.

We’d been wandering around Westfield East in search of some cheap duvet covers for one of her service support users. I had kept pulling at her hair and clothes in a somewhat vain effort to amuse her. Our union had always been founded on a certain idiotic friction, either in gesture or word.

Who is, in this day and age?”, I replied, using one of a certain TV presenter’s favourite expressions, who had in hindsight been a real father to me.

You lot are only ever after one thing”, she replied.

I suppose it’s better than not being after anything”, I came back. I still enjoyed making her laugh, even back then, stealing smiles from her face like that.

The words and impressions shifted into one another, the unspecified parameters of more vague concepts like law, or love, or fuck, or war, troubling and confusing this jittery flow of data through my conscious thoughts.

Perhaps I was still dozing in my car, the Eudex comedown and the greenish dust, the rain. It was now a cool August afternoon, I forget the year, but it was certainly before the children were born. It was before even the prospect of the generous tax-breaks had come to appeal to us, on one of those rare occasions where we both had taken leave off work, and were out together. Unproductive days like these were not so unusual as they are now today, but I remember the rebellious buzz of our uselessness. We’d spent the day wandering around the old City of London, its forgotten churchyards in between the shambling pseudomodernism of the last century, and were now at Old Spitalfields market, watching elderly couples dancing slowly with care in each other’s arms. Whilst Lola was capturing images on her phone, a particular couple caught my attention. It’s strange how I’m so used to calling her Lola now, but she’d been encouraged to take on a new name after the children and the sicknesses of that year. She was called Eleanor I think when I met her, again I forget now. This elderly couple had both been shrunken by age and seemed at first entirely nondescript. But after watching their peaceful rhythmic gestures, I discovered just once a melancholy beauty in the careful motions of the human form. As he held her hips in his outstretched hands, she thrust her pelvis around and he emulated, but the peaceful way their hands clipped together, now his hands around her arched back, gave the lie that he was in control. They shuffled back onto her backfoot, then so quickly twisting around, left-right-left under the old market pavilion, her vintage blue floral dress, his at first ludicrous thick mustard Aran sweater and suit trousers, his cream soda quiff and her over-application of blusher and strawberry lipstick.

Their graceful gestures in imitation and synchronicity with one another, the mediocrity of the music made virtuous by these ancient, repetitive moves, motions myself and Lola in our relationship had perhaps known at certain points. But our real marriage was to our jobs, even during the kids – us both inadequate lovers highly capable of loving one another. No matter now. Eleanor become Lola, Sol become Austin, the mass-popularity of the spas cannily assuaging heterosexual angst with a wonderfully-simple panacea. Work and fuck. No matter the identity of who licked or loved whom, just a cool and lonely transaction, the wounded architecture of our lives, desire rendered to the status of hotel breakfast buffet where everything is on offer and nothing no longer tastes of anything, the possibility of the future now deferred or abandoned.

I asked her if she wanted to dance, but she gave me a dirty look. “Don’t be stupid”, she said.

You’re far too passive”, I replied.

It’s the work. I’m exhausted”, she said, looking away as if distracted, but with a certain hint of panicked excitement, which at the time still mistakenly struck me as intriguing and erotically charged, almost hysterical.

It’s not the work”, I replied again. She was upset, and would only hold my hand once we’d left the crowds. We saw friends later. I was surprised at how young we looked when I saw the photos after.

*

A fashion had come in for taking photos and short films of couples and group sexual activity in public places, particularly casual and busy sites such as a McDonalds, a bus, an airport terminal, anywhere more risky that might result in more hits and kudos. Lola was into these things. As info-workers, a certain classiness was used to distinguish our sexual acts, usually with ‘quotes’. These could be fashioned fairly easily: our parents’ generation had been very much into pulp literature like Harry Potter or Marvel/DC superheroes, so a certain classiness could be immediately connoted with an appropriately-applied lightning flash or a certain lurid choice of neon spandex. But this kind of garb wouldn’t be enough to get your photo listed on MSN Favorites or one of the Mirror or Sun videos pages. A certain inventiveness was called for. I remember myself and one of her colleagues were encouraged to dress as Wilde and Bosie in Victorian gear and were captured fellating on the boating lake of the Serpentine in Hyde Park, full of American and Chinese tourists. Of course amateur images were preferred, especially where obvious evidence was provided that the image had been taken whilst in the act, and a certain normalised vogue of either the missionary or cowgirl position, taken from a 45 degree descending angle usually, was preferred. Media outlets especially liked it if you could quote their name in the image, either by having their latest daily edition in your back trouser pocket or having some inane reference to a trending news topic scrawled on your body. It may sound perverse to describe all this in such detail, but much of the slang and data-codes that emerged out of these public practices constituted the entries upon which my vocation was predicated. Indeed it was the largely sexualised nature of data administration which first led me to enforce many of the experimental practices that would later have such a powerful effect on our relationships. The media outlets had abandoned their original moralising and were now largely full of home-made sex clips, of which one usually abandoned the copyright to when uploading, and a crude new terminology had appeared which required even more information processing. The entire process was ridiculous.

*

Who knows why, but later we were rolling around in the gutter like pissed dogs, grit and grease coating our collars and hair. We went without shaving for a while, allowing our bodies and clothes to acquire scents, allowing the afternoons to acquire a certain lazy cheekiness. We stayed with her brother in Lausanne during this time, often poaching his savings to take long sorties out into the country. He was a fool and we often took advantage of his self-pity to take him to dinner, ask him about his latest tryst or depression whilst conspiring to incite one another to further offensive behaviours. I was still working on a software data-processer at this time, one that would around all MS English 2006 words within a comprehensive semantic dictionary. It was a hopelessly naïve pursuit, and my algorithms were continually corrupted by errant data from web-gamers. My obsession with data-process had a negative effect on Eleanor. Yes, Ellie. Ha, that was her name when I first met her. We moved back to London after I announced to her with a complete lack of conviction that my devotion was to her alone. My cynicism possibly appeared from that date.


*

I returned to the apartment where the TV had been left loudly on a porn channel. The heavy breathing next door was unmistakeably that of Ehren, from another department, and a man, seemingly a little overweight given his deep, resonating whimpering. Outmanoeuvred by this sexless night with Claude (we hadn’t even masturbated together), I wandered into the living room where from the bar I lifted an old cointreau bottle and took some blue pills out of a leather pouch. I undressed and joined the lovemakers, curiously Lola was not there, and they were engrossed in servicing one another, a formulaic repetition of certain key phrases. Breaking one of the rules, I became violent and directed the fat man’s face towards my torso, pushing it down. A circular from the Health Association had emphasised that regular intercourse would improve mood and productivity.

Ordinarily rules and agreements were established beforehand, but the man was compliant and useful. Lola came in later in a gown. After a few lines were shared, the others became more intoxicated.

*

Anxiety of new words following corruption of non-user language on gaming databases – potentially revealing the huge number of non-human users, which may lead to political scandal. These improved the game experience but there was some anger against these A.I.-avatars that they were dangerously useless, consuming valuable energy and data, parasitic and decadent.

The new phrases didn’t bear the flexible usage of ordinary human phrases, being at least one third made up of numbers, but user chat was seeing a strange semantic crossover. The new words kept mutating and corrupting their entries. I took great pleasure in code-epidemics like these. Word-sicknesses. Policing data, like a gamekeeper in a frontier of nonsensical, non-meaning chaos.

A fox strolled across the deserted car-park. I had a letter in my pocket, a strange interconnecting series of observations of my own life titled “Three Swords” and addressed “To You”. I had to dispose of it in some organic way. I tore up the small notebook I’d scrawled into during my hours at work and pushed the notes inside the meat roll I had lost interest in, the papers scattering around, my childish cursive drifting into the pocked asphalt. The fox eyed me viciously. I flung the roll towards some rubbish a little ahead of his or her path. After a moment, the famished creature stole towards my papers, sniffing and devouring the meat roll, but the papers scattered everywhere. I kicked them around for a minute into the dusty potholes before hurrying along. So long as the words could not be encoded into any database I was safe in the security of my own self-pity and banal excesses a little while longer.

*

Lola had now returned, by now the fat man and the women were in the bathroom, and myself and Ehren were discussing some trifle on the bed, I think it may have been whether Tom Hanks would have been a great comic actor, some nonsense all the same. She returned after with one of our blades, the other two coiling in after, now lying against the pleated headboard, the woman massaging Lola’s shoulders, the man laughing like a pig. Her distracted delivery as she swept back and rustled her fringe was characteristic.

Look, he’s already turned on. This little thing, you know how it is to play?”

The other man, Ehren, possessed a charmless, guilty glare in the proud yet pathetic sorrow of a man who might’ve felt profound guilt over killing an ‘innocent animal’ or breaking the heart of a certain dewy-eyed youth. Such moments occur hideously quickly – a few words, a defiant gesture and everything shifts, callously quick. The blade slips in, or the facial architecture is undone by a few poorly-selected words, a heart’s hopes unmade. No matter in the end. I admired the way he had restrained the growth of hair around certain parts of his anatomy. Lola’s choice of red halogen light-bulbs in the bedroom, which had struck me as expensively over-indulgent at the time what with the animal-skin furnishings too, now seemed strikingly inspired. The Miscox was already kicking in and I could feel my armpits and the backs of my knees becoming very itchy and my temple sweating, a familiar sign of its efficacy.

Whilst Ehren held down my shoulders, the fat man began licking my exposed chest, whilst the woman began masturbating my sex violently with a jejune lack of sensitivity. Lola slithered up the black bedsheets and met Ehren’s lips.

“Come on Loli, you know it works one way alone”, I said, attempting a certain playfulness in my words.

No no Austin, you’ve shown me enough to know what a thing really is”.

As the other woman’s lips met my stomach, Lola raised the blade and with a fairly clumsy lack of precision drove it straight through my nipple, and etched what might have been a V-shape. I couldn’t tell, the pain was extremely great, and Ehren had cupped his hand over my mouth as the woman aggressively worked her amateur technique.

Lola’s face was pale but seemed pleasured all the same. But these impressions wouldn’t cease. There was Eleanor and I again, we were somewhere in Switzerland. Her brother couldn’t drive, it was a somewhat ridiculous handicap given the suburban nature of Lausanne, so he depended on me for lifts and so on. Either way, we had gone for a weekend drive and were out near the woods. He wanted to see some old war burial pit, so we left him south of the haunting Lac Léman I think, while we took the car up towards the Jura mountains, getting lost amongst the hills until the road came to an end. The fresh morning with its cool hints of lemon, blackberries, mint and other nameless herbs, pine and late-summer blossom already fluttering onto the vehicle bonnet and into Eleanor’s hair. I left her with the car as she struggled into a dress, and I began hurrying through the trees, laughing, hoping to discover an old dwarf’s castle amongst the woods. I scrambled down a clearing and across a leaf-filled stream, the trees thin and young now growing deeper, knotting thicker into grotto-canopies. As I scrambled down another slope in the distance, my foot collapsing into some rotten wood teeming with small red beetles. Around me now though in this clearing were a collection of fallow deer. I fancied the mad idea of throwing my arms around one of these gentle creatures, and assuming it would dart off in response to my violent energy, I instead slunk gently towards one of the larger deer. The other three began to slink away, but this creature continued gazing at me out of the corner of its eye, its soft fur the same colour as the thin trees behind it, its spindly legs seemingly attached to the forest floor. I smiled idiotically, somehow thinking this would persuade it of my misguidedly amorous intentions.

So-ol!”

Eleanor’s cry behind me, she’d somehow caught me up. And beside me almost was a great hart, its rich brown eyes huge and worldly, its mode calm and poised, ready to run me through with its glare as though nothing. And my phone began ringing, and the vibrating tone frightened off the creature, the deer sloping quickly through the dense wood which seemed to close up behind them.

What you doing crazy boy”. And all the colours of their bodies, their slumped shoulders and erect shoulders, the various hues of hair-colours and lengths, the various tones of their eyes and lips of all those I had ever loved shivered and fused into one, who now guiding himself or herself upon my hips, their gentle sighing.

He’s drying up”, and I recognised the girl’s brown eyes and the thin lips, straight out of my earlier dream. And they carved another new line beneath my armpit, the skin opening up like a burst plum, though they had cut too deep, I could sense this, but they too were hungry.


*

I’ve made a big mistake”, murmured Claude.

I glared into his eyes, scanning their pinkish rims, assessing their whites, the thick brown pupils. After a moment, I handed him the bag of supermarket sandwiches, lager and scotch.

I doubt you know what it is to love a person”, he said.

Don’t be ridiculous, you sound like a child”, I replied.

It’s more like a sickness”, he said.

I began adjusting the internal heating of the vehicle. “And I suppose you have no intention of ever saying or doing anything about it?”

He was engrossed with pouring the whisky into a couple of small shot glasses he presumably kept in his bag for unusual occasions like these.

Irritated by his failure to respond to a basic command prompt, I continued. “I can see why you’re always looking sad and sighing. You’ll never make any money with all of these profitless side projects.”

Take this, Austin”, offering the whisky to me.

Nonsense. What people call love, for a person or a God, or an idea, is just love for some part of themselves. They never match the reality, Claude, and it’s bad for both sides when they’re expected to. That’s when peoples’ emotions become damaged.”

And you know all this, sir”, he replied. He often mocked our difference in age to excuse his relatively slow speed of sexual climax or my lack of liberalism on the rare occasion we were comparing opinions on contemporary political events.

After silence, he resumed.

And I should call you the hanging man”, he said.

I am the man who will hang you”, I replied.

He glared into my eyes, an unusual gesture, but he lacked the dramatic sense to communicate his intention with a certain look, whereas I was well-schooled in all these things. He turned away and switched the classical music back on again.

I enjoy it”, he replied.

I’ll tell you what you really need”, I snapped back.

We sat together in silence for a while. He got out of the vehicle and began smoking one of the cigarettes.

A certain sexual liberalism was encouraged amongst the data administrators on the other side of the M25 ring, in the industrial estates and car-parks of Purley, of Thurrock, of Bluewater, of Dartford, of Hemel Hempstead, Foots Cray and Potters Bar. We were widely encouraged to exchange more psychologically harmful intoxicants like alcohol or cocaine in favour of Eudex, Burfurine or Mittex and the ‘dutty padders’ as they were nicknamed, but our habits were fairly well-established. The double and treble-shifts took their toll no doubt, but we were custodians of html, C++, UN-EN, and my speciality, MS English 1998D. As the labour was increasingly outsourced to India and Nigeria, workers like ourselves were killing ourselves and those around us in whisky and pills binges. Claude was already shattered. A man like him only had a certain amount of lives left to piss away.

Later I heard that Claude had been reassigned to another department. We were notified in a collective bulletin. I had hoped he would contact me separately to express his great friendship, perhaps offering a gesture of goodbye. Such a private memo was not forthcoming, and offended, I did not even make formal notice of his departure.

*

This had been perhaps two days before the night now with Ehren, Lola and the other two. I’d stopped attending sessions at the spa and found the compulsive eroticism of those occasions somewhat staged, as if all our labour and intoxication and exchanges were exhibited for someone else’s benefit. Largely I didn’t mind, so long as this absent other might declare their interest. But I’d stolen home late at night. We’d attempted something but I’d fallen asleep halfway through, it was my own fault for being so drunk. Whenever I’d been drinking scotch and snorting Eudex I found my sleeping patterns totally disrupted. This night was unusual – late summer and sticky, she had candles burning that against the red bedroom wallpaper struck an eerie impression. But rather than watching Sky-screen or masturbating, she was just staring into the empty space. I could see some kind of problem, like she’d been crying.

Why you awake”, I murmured, twisting around in the sheets and adjusting my pillow, facing her now momentarily.

Doesn’t it bother you how bloody pointless it all is?”

What is?”

Nah you don’t know. You give your body, and you suffer every day to live in this city for a job you hate and a life you despise, and all this debt you get into, for nothing, all this debt for a miserable life. In debt for nothing, for this? For a man who knows nothing, and for kids you never see? I bet you can’t even remember what their names are. And to think, despite that, Austin, that I’m mad enough to care about you, even though the only thing you might have ever loved is fucking random strangers and updating your bloody databases”.

She was surprisingly relaxed the morning after. Several items of post had arrived for me, one of which bore the Health Association’s logo on it.

You good?”, I said to her, with a certain disinterest, as I padded into the kitchen whilst unpicking the first of the envelopes.

You a madman now, honey”, she replied, without her usual irony.

The letter was in fact already open, as were all the others.

Yeah looks like you saw our kids what, 0.8 times in the last 3 months? Yeah don’t say nothing, fool. I saw your psych report, its saying you’re in danger of developing narcissistic dissociation aggressive disorder.”

Cheers Loli bunny. We don’t need a report to know what a junkie you are neither, rah. Has it got the right name and NI number on it too? I bet it says ‘ To the occupier’, yeah?”


“No Austin, it’s got your name on it. Don’t you ever get bored of lying to everyone?”


“It’s junk-mail. You look like shit.” I flicked her ear with my fingernail as I walked past. The result was bad in fact. She’d not read to the end, but my DMS V score was -0.28, a decrease on the last quarter by 0.18, quite a margin. If it got below -0.30 it might start appearing on my work record. I decided to put it down to a careless typing error, perhaps when I’d been inputting my weekly blood levels during a particularly sleep-deprived shift.

She looked sad and exhausted. Part of me wanted to console her, to hold her shoulders and kiss her hair better the way I knew would work, and part of me found her sadness repugnant in equal measure, and mention of the children equally patronising. I’d been raised by my grandmother and not knowing my mum or dad hadn’t affected in any way my strength or character in any way whatsoever, and I despised the implication.

The fridge was empty. After her silence, I felt emboldened enough to reply angrily back with some truths. I saw from the previous night that her hairstyle had changed, that there were new photos and colours in the apartment, that I was increasingly and deservedly obscure in my own life. Whilst I was happy to leave, I felt compelled to wound a former partner in the way only intimate lovers can.

You think after these gifts, after these meetings, he’ll somehow look after you in a way I couldn’t? Like I can? Because I can give you gifts”, and I picked up a gilt frame of a fairly handsome young-looking man smiling, with some kind of botanical garden in the backdrop. “And when we fuck, I know it’s right, and you know it too. I know every term inside you, every bit of data inside your skin. I can take you to dinner for fuck’s sake. What ultimately is this dickhead’s point?”

You don’t get anything at all Austin. There’s a world out there which you can’t even see”, she replied.

Unusually, I lacked the semantic content to respond to her proposal. I took a shower and then left the apartment block. The dust-count on the city was unusually high, and I’d used it as an excuse to clarify a large amount of the semantic backlog of queries, hacks and abuse on some of the user-forums. Mina and Perry were fairly heavy Mittex users. Knowing they were fairly young and naïve still, I took them along to an area processor meeting where my team supervisor largely spoke over myself and the other admins for ‘extra vigilance’ for over an hour. We yawned and appreciated the sandwich allowance at these kinds of non-events. Afterwards we drove around and picked up some whisky and a couple of their friends and started dancing and playing music in one of the Stansted car-parks. Mina’s hips snaked around Perry’s as I sat on top of the vehicle, laughed and threw bottle caps and coins at their skipping shoes while some poor girl, easily affected by the combination, rambled on about her miscarriage and the young Irish boy who loved and left her, with all the naïve idiocy of an illiterate. I yawned and wondered about Claude. Rumours had gone around about his apparent perversities which I hadn’t sought to correct. I realised very little regarding a personal reputation was factual. I had even taken to doctoring my own data entry with false quotes from invented clients.

*

Are you OK.”

The woman had disembarked and it was Ehren now, his mature, hairless face now filling the entirety of my vision. I had faded back into consciousness again but couldn’t move my spine. My belly was soaked. I couldn’t tell if it was the heat, but his pupils were fat and I knew there was very little activity going on beyond the sensory excess.

And what’s your date of birth, Austin.”

I’d come to in the back of a car, the insurance replacement model for the last burnout, judging by the plastic light fitting above my head.

It’s alright, I’m a nurse, sometimes”, said the same unknown man’s voice again. There was muffled laughter.

He’s a data-parser. They don’t share anything unless you’re paying.”

How much do you reckon I’ll get for the shoes?”

Enough of you. Piss off now, rah.”

Look at the state of him”.

Piss off now, he’s coming up”.

The car was blacked up, smoked out.”You can trust in me”, said the man again.

I could hardly move, the words all spun out of shape, a nameless and wordless panic blocking my throat, suffocating my flattened lungs with horrible, shrieking gasps of some inarticulable pain which might have signalled the formation of a new language beyond semantic utterances. My chest was in unknown pain, but between my exposed legs was an outstretched young man trying to adjust my shoulders. I could see what looked like quarry ruins behind him, but it was in fact a KFC and a boarded-up Currys store, and a series of parked cars in front of these retail warehouses, a cold grey morning with a certain greenish tint in the air. Most of the car was melted away but the upholstery was untouched. They’d tried to torch me in the vehicle perhaps after the fucking, make it look like another M25 suicide burnout like Claude’s, which I’d heard about a day or so ago. But after the fire with the children, the insurance company must’ve given me a fire-proof model, perhaps my DSM record had scared them. I was too sore and too tired to really get up.

Give him a packet. You can see the pain he’s in, struggling around ain’t he like a drowning cockroach.” Muffled laughter again, perhaps two others with this young man.

You’re quite fine aren’t you, bone man”, the young man said to me now, addressing me properly for the first time. “A brave day to play the Three of Swords, hey duke?” And he reached over and flicked my ear, and smiled again.

I’ve spent all my time, Sol”, I replied.

Thanks again”, I offered, in a vain attempt to appease the hopeless circumstance.

He reached over again and pawed into my mouth a bundle of pills. “Paxil. Midazopam”.

You’ll never learn anything like that,” I replied. There was silence now.

Later I could hear the monitors of the cops as they pulled out my cold naked body from the wreckage. I pretended to be unconscious still, it would be too much explanation, too much data, and I was quite done with all that now.

The reassignment process would take a matter of hours, the insurance-nurse told me later.

Just like that”, I murmured finally.

Some of the tattoos would need to be re-inked, but they’d otherwise faithfully followed the diagrams and instructions etched on my chest.

Learning how to disappear – the Deptford Psychogeographical Association

Stories

A story, the second in the Disappearances Trilogy. The third should emerge in late October, a certain time is necessary.  This is one of the few bits of writing I stand by. The rest is a locked house of noise. Yadder yadder yadder. Symphonies to Dorothea or St. John of God, who knows. More to come on all this, and on the real art of disappearances. Originally appeared in Nyx 5.

 

Learning how to disappear: My time in the Deptford Psychogeographical Association

Time in the late-age was bound by rules, necessities: for a little while I’d been working in a supermarket; before that, cleaning offices, bar-work, child-minding in the evenings. That was fine. Too tired to do anything else, hands raw and feet sore, my instincts quelled, I could pay the rent on my fifth floor Deptford bedsit and send a little money home. But when that kind of work dried up there was drink and little else. An archaic habit now, given how most citizens under the age of 40 were dependent on prescription drugs, but it did something else for me. It touched into a place I used to joke was freedom. The illegal stuff was too expensive or dangerous to take now that they’d closed up all the national borders, as well as the London security ring. When I’d been working as a party performer/escort I had approved ID access to get into the City, at least then you could move around London. But this group of rich finance clients got way too hands-on one evening, and when I refused one guy broke my nose. Luckily I managed to get away before he could force his way further, but I’d been blacklisted from performer work since. I was just the scrag end of pissed dockers and engineers passing through the south east district. I’m racing ahead though, and for once this ain’t about me. This is about Ehud, and his nocturnal wanderings. Dark places. Boredom. Full-moon nights.

Ehud was like me. He washed his hands obsessively, shaved and sprayed himself in fragrances at least twice a day. His shadow had twice the presence he did. Silent, lanky, hands fidgeting inside the pockets of his black Harrington jacket, short black hair, olive skin. Orderly. Almost normal. People thought we were sister and brother. He had CHRISTINE tattooed on the front of his neck above his Adam’s apple. Most of the people round this part of London had branded themselves in similar ways. Whether they enjoyed the pain of this self-modification or just the end of etching was a riddle to me. Yet why they chose Ehud as a specimen for the Department of Opportunity Social Refitting Programme wasn’t that mysterious. Remove the tattoos, delete the nervous data of his twenty-something years, reboot his biopsyche and install a new successful programmed-persona, he could almost be normal. His mum had brought him and his brothers and sisters over from Israel when he was still very small. He said little about his family, or anything else for that matter, but there was little trace of any Israeli heritage, and he had converted to Islam in his early teens. His brother might be paid compensation for the compulsory takeover of his body, and most people would forget he ever existed. People were too messed up to be bothered, and besides, refitting had apparently demonstrated itself as such a successful social model. Take physically excellent types, usually of high fertility and immunity, but living either proletarian or sick lives, and forcibly replace their biopsychical data, usually with that of very successful businessmen, politicians, scientists and so on. A recipe for success. With the declining generation of new bodies making education irrelevant, this rather crude technique was celebrated by a cynical age for bringing back its great minds. Perhaps once again they might return us to the prosperity, freedom and happiness that lay just around the corner, if we waited just a little longer.

– Hey you!

– No!

– Wait!

– Shit!

I’d been drinking heavily another night, again out of boredom, with the media unit flickering away in the background, feeling bad. There were guys trying to contact me all night to ‘have fun’ via the Network, but as much as I needed the money I wanted to stay on my own that night. I was thinking about cutting down my drugs again, but I had to see my Opportunity Worker in a couple of days and if I failed the regular urine test they’d cut off my account. There was nothing to swallow the pills down with so I shuffled out to the African grocers to get some more drink. After picking up vodka and beers I headed back up Deptford High Street where, just outside the old job centre, I saw this ratty bloke daubing these fly-posters over the windows. He had headphones in, and with no-one else around he didn’t spot me. The fly-posters were mostly black, though each one was different, with various photos of the butchers shops round the area, of the Department of Opportunity building, of Christopher Marlowe’s grave. On each poster there was a broad outline of an eye and a simple type logo that read DPA. The posters were obviously home-done, and the paper he’d used was of a peculiar material that prevented it from sticking to the window for more than a minute. I leaned back against the railway bridge and slugged down the 100ml bottle of vodka, before watching him with great interest. I don’t know what came over me, but I decided to throw the bottle at him. It shattered a meter or so behind him. Terrified, he ran.

 

*

New dawn. I skulked through the Deptford stink in search of breakfast and a place to pass some time. I saw him again later when I was queuing at the Department of Opportunity building in Catford. He was in the Medical Enquiries queue a few places ahead of me, still with those headphones in. Presumably like most people in the queue he was being tested for Form 52B ‘Personal Capacity’, with the obligatory 2 minute session on the DSM VII computerised diagnostic system. Afterwards followed the chat with your Opportunity Worker and the urine-test to make sure you’d taken all your anti-depressants, tranquillisers, behavioural management pills and the like. Later I spotted him again in the Jobseekers’ suite where the last few library books were stacked against a wall in a large windowless white room full of computers. The desks were peopled by middle-aged men and women scratching their heads, sneezing into the keyboards, slurping high-energy drinks and watching online music videos and porn whilst pretending to look for non-existent jobs on the Departmental website. He was rustling through a box of old history books stored in a fairly grubby medical waste crate. He was surprised that anyone even knew who he was.

“Every man is a toilet” he said later, in his slightly stilted and deep Thames estuary drawl, sighing and folding his thin body into the blue formica seat of the Favorite Chicken shop. I hated this place but he insisted he only ate chicken or chips, never both, and that Deptford had the best fried chicken in the south-east district. I asked him about the DPA.

– The Deptford Psychogeographical Association.

– What?

– Ah it’s a long story. I was on one of them flippin’ Opportunity Community Choice schemes, we was clearing out gutters and dead people’s flats and shit. Nasty stuff. Well this old guy was there and was tellin’ me all this business to do with Guy Debord and these French guys who used to just walk around innit. We used to bunk off, skin up and roll around the area while he told me all this stuff, about knowing and seeing the area. I know this area. I’m from these ends. But I never knew the secret impressions the buildings make on you, the old buildings you see and what they were used for. All kinds of secrets, you know. It’s about your emotions, and the spirits yeah. You see, I can’t sleep. I dunno if it’s these pills they give me for my concentration but I can’t sleep, so I just walk around and I feel the place innit. The ghosts. The angels. When the wind cools on Evelyn Road or the high street you hear this shit, all the voices and sadness of the dock-workers, or the Navy men with their scurvy-up teeth and missing legs of the girls who killed cows like 24/7 at the British Empire Cattle Market. Their lives were tough like ours, but they couldn’t escape it. In the end me and this guy thought we’d take it further – we’d try and record and save these peoples’ lives.

– I don’t get you.

– Well you don’t have to get it. There’s plenty of people doing it. There’s other people like me who can’t sleep. We go together innit. Loads of us. Only at night, after curfew, when the Justice men aren’t around and we can move around a bit more. We moved Christopher Marlowe’s grave to where it should be and no-one even noticed. We’ve renamed some of the streets as well, but the Police arrested Femi and Harris, the old guy I was telling you about, and Femi just disappeared, so we ain’t doing that for the time being.

– Ok, but what’s this psychogeography though? That just a nice word for walking around at night when you got nothing better to do?

– Ha, maybe. You should come though. What is your name?

– Meliha. It’s Turkish.

– I am Ehud, by the way.

Ehud was sick, like most people in the district. He couldn’t sleep and spent the nocturnal hours wandering through the area. Eventually through idling around in the Department of Opportunity we met other addicts and insomniacs compelled to walk and drink together, photograph locations as crime-scenes, take notes and recordings. It was essential that nothing was available online. For that purpose, on that first experiment I joined them on, we all got drunk (like eight of us in total) before breaking in to the old Job Centre to establish our first archive space. Later I realised he was a bit manic when I had first met him – for much of the time after he was subdued, mercurial.

After the first few experiments I kept my distance a little, joining in when Ehud told me there’d be some drinking or maybe some violence involved, like Ehud’s crazed idea of crashing a car full of radio equipment, binary-jammers and antennae into the entrance of the Department of Justice station on Amersham Vale in order to sabotage their psychic hold over Deptford. That was a laugh. After spending some time together, Ehud finally surrendered one of his childish obsessive prejudices and began to drink alcohol with me. From then on we drank together a lot. I taught him how to play othello and backgammon, old games my Nanna knew. I was bored and curious, and one night after quite a session we took things further. His entire body was covered in these self-etched tattoos, of binary code like 10101011 all across his arms and legs, and other weird symbols, some of which I recognised from the digital keyboard. He was surprised I didn’t have any, but I needed to keep clean for work. It was a standard for men to try and finish as quickly as possible with legalised sex-workers in order to save money on the hours system introduced by the state. But this was nice. Afterwards, as a kind of joke, I asked him if Christine minded, but he just stared straight through me.

 

*

Otherwise my own life was starting to get out of control. The DSM VII computer programme had put me on a stronger course of behavioural reassignment pills, but the problem was that prescription drugs themselves were becoming harder and harder to obtain. Since the closure of the borders and the London security ring around the M25, it was impossible to bring through any illegal drugs. The other fact was that no-one was interested in illegal drugs now that the prescription drugs available were so much more powerful. Anti-depressants were used to treat criminal behaviour, meaning that you never really saw violence except by those few people not on the drugs, but there was a growing black market for them. Organised gangs had been targeting the drug company convoys, and so this time round Deptford was near-dry, meaning people were having to get their painkillers in the betting shops and takeaways.

It was a summer afternoon, rich with that hazy and heavy luminescence that sticks sweat to skin and drives colour into fever. Feeling sick of it all, I was queuing at the pharmacy for whatever emergency supplies they had for my English Nanna. She needed her immunity meds and her Alzheimer’s pills. Auto-immune diseases were striking down a lot of the population, and aside from ‘personality disorders’ like mine and Ehud’s were the main cause of the high unemployment of the London outer districts. They began like allergies but just persisted. Painkillers and ointments could be used to treat them at least in the short term. But I didn’t want to end up like that. Greasy and fetid mattresses were piling up in the derelict car-parks.

On my way back to my Nanna’s, I passed the boarded up school, but this time I could smell smoke and hear shouting from inside. Any kind of human noise was pretty unusual compared to the consistent speech and projections of the multimedia advertisements stacked all over the district. Curious, I ventured inside the now unlocked school entrance, through an old dusty corridor, through to what must have been an inner courtyard where the shouting was coming from. I saw a group of girls and boys shouting and laughing. Two boys lifted up an old media unit and threw it onto the raging fire burning through the pyre of piled fridges, radiators, old books and media boxes. They couldn’t see me, so content were these strange children within themselves. I wandered home, feeling dizzy and feverish.

I was very sick for a long time after. I don’t think I left my bedsit for at least a couple of weeks. I had enough water and painkillers, and my sister came over after a week to look after me. Imprisoned by vicious labyrinthine dreams. I lost my eyesight for a little while.

 

*

The DPA was becoming more and more active, taking over some of the local shops, organising literacy sessions and community work. Rosa and Harris were largely leading it now and its original and more occult bent was disappearing. As had Ehud. I asked Rosa if she’d seen him at all recently, but there’d been no sign of him for weeks. From checking through his contact ID I knew where he lived, so that afternoon I brought over a couple of large bottles of drinking water after another local shortage. I dressed up. I was looking forward to seeing him now I felt healthy again. He lived on the third floor of a block round Prince Street. I had never been to his place before, and when he opened the door with a confused look on his face it reminded me how remote he was. He lived with his brother, who spoke (and spoke over us) for the most part.

– You his girlfriend yeah? Well you know he’s been selected by Opportunity to be refitted right?
– No I didn’t….

– Well it’s an honour. You’re a good specimen aren’t you bruv? Apparently he looks a bit like this first chairmen of one of the data companies, Apple or something. They shoulda picked me! But don’t worry, this money’s gonna help us out. And you’ll have a better life than just taking your pills round here. You’re going to be happy bruv. Just a small thing. You won’t notice when you’re going, and then you’re someone different. I think we’d all do it if we could, have a free life and be rich.

Ehud was silent the whole time, and though I’d brought some wine over he asked me not to stay. A few days later I called again but he was gone. Then I got a letter from him, posted from Harwich in Essex. It didn’t make much sense, but it seemed like he’d been refitted – it was largely brief, but written and then scribbled out was STEVE followed by his real name EHUD. There was so much sadness in that letter. I had to see what they’d done.

 

*

Morning, a time I’d hardly known in recent years. There were no coaches out of the city for those with limited access, but it was easy enough to jump over the walls at one the more obscure suburbs like at Brickkiln Wood in the east, as presumably Ehud had done. From there on I headed to Billericay, then avoiding the motorways I tracked through the fields and minor roads to Maldon, before heading onto Mersea Island in the evening, where I found some trees and a hedgerow in the north part of the island to sleep under for the night. I had a rough map and I aimed to get to Harwich where I figured he might still be. It was the first-time I’d seen or smelt life outside the city. The paths were muddy but not like ordinary city mud – this was golden soil, the air smelt of fresh, crisp and somehow invigorating shit, and smoke from the large tractor units that rolled the wheat around the late summer fields. I hadn’t expected anything from this journey, but my mind replayed endless conversations with him, things I should have said, even small silly things about my life, about my upbringing, whether he believed in anything at all.

Perhaps the first day of my life. Birdsong scattered in an infinity of directions, each call and response describing new moments of experience I had yet to discover. The breeze tickled my shoulders, and the sun flickered through the embrace of the hedge which was so comfortable, tricking my closed eyes with all types of shapes beneath my eyelids. I woke up and walked around the surprisingly small field in my bare feet, letting the slightly damp soil wriggle in between my toes.

I found a supermarket in Wivenhoe and bought some vodka and cheese rolls. I followed the coastline for the rest of the day, reaching Harwich in the late afternoon. I’d still been thinking of our reunion as I walked along – would he remember who he was? Refitted individuals were usually moved somewhere completely different in order to avoid the danger of “regression”, and the media channels rarely discussed the process except in criminological contexts to describe its social benefits. Maybe we were all in some way refitted. Ehud’s refitting had clearly gone wrong in some capacity. No data from his old biopsyche should have remained, but he was so bound to the poxy and grey part of the south-east district we both shared that rambling out of the city was entirely out of keeping with his obsessive behaviour. His letter was uncharacteristically lucid, compared to most of his words, which usually began with inscrutable observations and had little personal bearing on anything remotely tangential. He even personally addressed it to me. He spoke of techno-biological knowledge, that time had been used as a weapon against us and that this way of living was a daily death. While the media units projected a world of war and disaster there might be others out there who could help reclaim the technology that he had personally created, and which had fallen into the wrong hands.

No-one was told who he’d been refitted and replaced with, but the Department of Opportunity and their financial backers may have wanted to get him back and get a return their investment. They may have wanted to kill him, or maybe this was the punishment already inflicted: their motives were fathomless. I finally reached the small town outside of Harwich where his letter had been written. The town itself was nothing much to look at however. Several whitewashed and pebble-dashed bungalows jutted against the fatigued estuary, barnacled in satellite dishes and St. George’s flags, with piles of lager and meat curry cans scattered on the patios pierced through with scrawny weeds and dilapidated people. One arterial road sunk through this town twinned with nowhere, drive carefully, a boarded up school, absolute silence and the stale sweat of frustration.There was a closed newsagent with a postbox where Ehud may have posted the letter, a declining and archaic medium used generally by the state and advertisers. He had been here, but where was he now? In the distance, just by the road that exited the village, was a country pub that offered rooms for the night.

– Yeah there was a weird bloke who came in last night, coming to think of it. He looked a bit Arabic, you know. Well we would’ve, but it would’ve upset some of our customers.

– Where did he go after?

– No. I mean, yes. But I don’t know where he went.

– What else is round here?

– Just the beach and the old docks and fair. There’s Felixstowe across the bay.
– …

– Do you want to leave your contact ID in case he calls back?

I found the path, but with no help from the gawping locals or that sweaty and pervy man who ran the pub. I didn’t even check for a room, I was so tired and getting angry. I had no money anyway. My Opportunity Worker would be wondering why I’d not shown up for my appointment today. The sun was already setting, burning through the heavy and languorous sky with rich burnished golden intensity, with a hum of peach and lavender emanating around it. The pewter sea extended to infinity. Somehow that concept gave me a little hope. I found the coastal path and reached the beach, following the pebbly coast northwards towards the bright lights of the docks. The sky was quickly transforming into a pale indigo cooled by the evening breeze and the distant cry of the gulls and the waves. After perhaps half an hour of this evening stroll there was still no sign of Ehud. The coastline began to snake round inward to the left, with the dock lights bearing brighter and bolder.

A shadow up by the rocks at the end of the beach caught my eye, and I ventured over. There were the remains of a fire, now cool, some empty beer cans and plastic sandwich packaging, his jacket, and folded inside his jeans and his shoes, and inside his right shoe his socks and pants, and inside the left a t-shirt and some money. The air was still now, and the night was rejoicing in a feast of stars.

The beach didn’t quite end there. On the other side of the rocks were some old fishing boats stacked up. I managed to wrest one and its oars from their dusty stupor and drag it down to the fastly-ebbing tide. THE BLUEBELL 314 FELIXSTOWE. After a minute of gently rocking while the seagulls clamoured on, the boat seemed seaworthy. I slung my belongings into the vessel, sinking the vodka before chucking the empty bottle back onto the shore. This time I did catch Ehud’s coat. Gently, against the heavy moon I embarked out North, angelically weaving between two Maersk super-container ships. The men shouted, but for once, perhaps, I was free, heading nowhere and everywhere. Maybe this nightmare of God had temporarily become something in a small way good. Maybe he had made it across, to the other side. There was only one way of knowing. Sick of spectatorship, I rowed with all my heart knowing there could not possibly be any way back.

Late night stupid story part ii

Stories

Second part of story in one of my old zines. Currently working on a couple of new bits of writing but life has been both harsh and busy recently, in many ways. This tale here is particularly jaded, and far too serious. You can read the first part here ….

Part 2. Coldharbour Lane – Brixton end.

“It was a summer night: laughter fell softly: it was the sort of night that if you wasn’t making love to a woman you feel you was the only person in the world like that”.
— S. Selvon, The Lonely Londoners.

There is only so much entertainment a ceiling can provide. I can’t sleep, again. It is my own fault I know, I should not have started watching tv after dinner. Never disturb the insomniac’s bedtime rituals: dinner, glass of rum, hot drink, quick wash, teeth brush, half hour read a book, lights off. But I can’t sleep.

There are many things on my mind, and for so long I considered Brixton to be my new start, my refuge, my “Brazil”. Port of Spain was no longer going to disturb and distract me. I tried to cut my roots. Yet as a wise old dread once said, you can’t cut them roots man they are on the back of your head. You see, a woman broke my heart. Ha ha, yes, it is trite, but let me tell you it was no “vale of tears” I chose to wallow in. It depends on what you call a prison. Is it a vale of tears? Is it an addiction? Is it just a matter of survival – of surviving each day as it comes, ‘by hook or by crook’, as the English say? Well then I retract: it was all three. You don’t know the street my friend, until you have slept on it. You may walk it, but until you have lived on it. . . .

But what am I saying? I never knew the streets, not with my twilit days, in the throes of addiction. All I knew was survival. And baseness. And the surprisingly guileless art of pocket-picking. And finding ways of getting a fix. And then getting that fix. And then finding new ways of getting a fix. And so on. I’m sure you’re getting the picture.

“In the throes of addiction….”, what a way to start! I was no man. They used to spit on me, even old women! It was no use begging for change. I tried, believe me. I busked! I got nothing, not enough any way. Addiction is a downward spiral. But I will not burden you with a lengthy account of my indulgences and transgressions: lord knows I’ve lectured enough times on the damaging effects of crack cocaine to the famished lifeless faces of rehab groups. It bores me. Let me tell you some of my story.

I came to England seven years ago, with a firm desire to write a dissertation on the poetry of Samuel Selvon and the ‘Trinidad diaspora’. But I never finished that dissertation. I cannot even remember if I even began it. I was an ambitious but naive islander when I came over here. My accommodation didn’t work out. I fell in with a ‘bad crowd’, at least, that’s what they seem now. At first it was exciting, a big family. But it descended. Like I said, and bear the image in mind now, a downward spiral. Drugs became our communal obsession: getting high was what we talked about, what we lived for. It was a long while before it became an addiction. For a year or so it was sheer pleasure. The best days and the worst.

I was living on and off the streets for about three years, in Brixton! Ironic as it is I am all too aware, and why I have chosen to return to Brixton to live a more ‘vigorous’ life is a question I can find no proper answer to either, except perhaps I know this place. London can be very alienating. I had a couple of friends still in the area. They were surprised to see me still alive. But so much for that. For to the question you might be pondering, what was an educated man like myself doing living on the streets? I still ask myself that. There is no answer, and perhaps even no use in asking the question. I was virtually deported back home! Deported! I had to keep it a secret from all my family. Only my cousin knew: he worked at the justice department. I lived with a friend of his for a while, Nathaniel, a good man, and that is how I got myself back on my own two feet.

Mr Nathaniel got married, so I had to find somewhere new to call home, and for a while I lived with Nathaniel’s sister, Bridget. It is there, in her little house by where is produced Angostura bitters, that I came to love the woman. In that house and in that woman’s love I rebuilt my life. I started teaching at a local school. For two years it was almost perfect happiness. Then the tornado returned. It seems futile recounting all these things here. Let me blunt: the ugly touch of infidelity smeared the love that grew in that house, blackened it. No. I’ll be blunter. She was fucking another man. He moved in. She kicked me out the day after. For a while I moved back in with my Nathaniel and his young family, but I felt bad living off their charity and goodwill, and so as soon as I had saved up the money, I moved back to England. As you might have deduced, the authorities haven’t noticed that a deported man lives and pays taxes to Her Majesty. I laugh now, believe me, but it is a dangerous life, and I must say honestly that I am constantly watching out for strangers. I never open the front door.

Since then I have been trying to establish fresh a new life well atop of the old. No mentions please. “I have no history”, I tell people. I have even considered changing my name. But I cannot escape what is in my mind. And now, and how bitterly do I taste it! – there is no point. Port of Spain has caught up with me.

I pull myself out of bed and walk to the other side of the room. A bedsit, small I know, but good rent for the Brixton area (well ex-council flat, Tulse Hill) but near enough to the bus stop. Like a few others in Mulberry Court, it is owned by Esther, a fat Nigerian woman who is always far too busy when it comes to essential repairs like fixing the boiler, damp-proofing the walls, or buying in an oven that actually works, but is always fully-attentive and behind your shoulder when the rent is due. “Don’t bother me Mr Smith,” she sneer, “don’t tell me about the washing machine until you’ve paid your rent sir”. The walls were probably a pleasant and nice ‘brilliant white’ years ago, but now successive tenants have all left their own contribution to a speckled and stained near-beige wall, with nicotine patches around the window. Still it’s alright for me. As long as I have bed and roof over my head then that’s a better circumstance than I’ve been in before, believe, and I’ll find myself something a little bit more decent in the future. So I tell myself anyway. Money is not the biggest thing on my mind right now.

There’s something on the desk over there troubling me. It’s a letter from a woman I used to know, the very same woman I used to know who broke my heart, who I know cannot bring myself to name again (I said her name once! Is that not enough?). The memory of her blocks my throat and causes my eyes to sting. How she got my address is a mystery as I have not been in this place very long, but that is not the main thing on my mind as I re-read her short letter again. She says that she has a son back home and I am its father. How she knows this I don’t know, but she says she is sure about this. It was two years ago now that I left Port of Spain: she says the kid is one and a half, which is possible if he was conceived before I left. But I don’t know! How can I be the father? I was with this woman for about two years, but I could never trust that she was not with another man behind my back even back then? This woman, she was full of tricks! She wants money, but she could just be making this child up so I will wire her some money back for the upkeep of this child, when all it will do is resolve her latest financial calamity! She has included a photo too: the boy, smiling, “his farthers eyes”, in blue biro her caption reads underneath the Polaroid picture. I search the photo. Yes he does look like my nephew Wayne, but then there were many men in Port of Spain that might look like me!

I can’t think straight. I need the night air to straighten up my thoughts, and maybe a drink too if there is somewhere open. I put a jacket and hat on and head out towards Brixton. The door slams behind me. The emptiness and historical repetition of my situation strikes me as I descend down the concrete staircase toward the street level, a situation I dare not even think about, so troublesome as it is, that to even consider what to do would necessarily entail me to place a first step on some new and difficult path that would involve me sacrificing a part of my life now, lonely but in control, quiet but happy. My mother too is ill. My brother is in prison. They all want money, they all want me to go see them, but each time I tell them I can’t I’m busy I have no money in London now. Each time I lie to them, but it is with the closed-eye sigh that knows it is free still to step out of its obligations to the world. These burdens of the mind do they never cease? Gone from Port of Spain to escape such troubles and worries for a reason! And now a little boy too, shit. Man I need a drink!

It was a long night, timeless, suspended, in limbo. The moon was hanging so low to the sky like it would fall unto earth, all yellow and puffed-up, a strange sort of moon. From a labyrinth-like network of side-streets and back-streets whose mysteries I was slowly being initiated into, I came out onto the Effra road. There weren’t very much open at this time so I headed down to Coldharbour Lane where I might find myself a something to eat and to drink.

Not many people do walk these enchanted streets at this time, just the wayward and the wretched perhaps – a few, though some yardie boys outside the KFC still, some white boys trying to buy skunk off one of them fellers. Many a drunk man, old Leroy still sitting on a small wall by the library, lost in some wide-eye stare at the bust of Henry Tate, friends with a pigeon eating some bread by his hand, a can of red stripe by his heel; I duck my head low so he don’t spot me and hassle for a little loose change. A young lady waiting by the bus stop, her pretty hair in the wind, just folk waiting for a night bus to take them home. The lady looks lost and sad, maybe a hard day I don’t know. A car hooting away at them drunk men coming out of the Prince Albert now, singing and hollering in the street. A strange tension in the air, like everything feels a little different, even my index finger and thumb which I rub together out of an old and thoughtless habit, even the skin on my fingers feels different. Like something somewhere is going on, something strange and life changing happening to somebody, but not to me. Like the moon I am in limbo, temporarily visible.
A few folk still scratching about. I walk past a hollow-eyed man fishing through a rubbish bin. He looks up at me, a look of familiarity like he know me from somewhere. There is something I recall in his strange wide-eye look, yes, it is familiar, and his red woolly hat too, and his beard, yes, damn it, I can’t remember the name of the man but I have seen him from long back when I was wandering about London sleeping on benches and in parks. It is a friend of Anthony’s. He wants to talk. He recognises me. I know these sort of guy – I was one of them. He will hassle for money.

“ere that you Marcus? Marcus ma bwoi?”, he says, craning his head up towards me, his hands still digging through the pyramid of waste inside the bin. I recalled his voice then and there: Leon, a man who I was good to a long time ago, like so many things. Just off the … by Tooting Bec, we took it in turns, each night one would sleep on the sofa, the other would sleep on the floor. If that person never showed up, well the other would get the sofa. You can see that, even in a squalid place, we used to invent our own home comforts. Anyway one day Leon disappeared, coincidentally with a stash of money of mine I’d kept secret from the world, underneath a broken washing machine in the old house’s creepy pitch-black cellar. “Leon my boy, you look terrible! Wagwan?”

“Ha ha ha”, he cackled toothily. “Is you Marcus? Me ain’t seen you for long time. Where you been?” His hands had now left the bin, and were embracing me eagerly. He stank. I needed to go. I could feel he was already checking out where my wallet was. The sight of an old friend in the street is always an uncomfortable one, but this guy I knew to be dodgy! He’d robbed me once, and one time is enough. I knew a bit of oldspeak would defuse the situation and get me to the shops before they shut with a wallet still in hand to pay for things. I sighed.
“No worry Leon. Mi ere fi likkle while to see a brother. He is dying. Mi come out a prison not long ago. Mi clean. Where you staying?”

He looked at me, disappointed. He could sniff I was lying, but the offer of going to see him would distract him a while enough, at least to catch up an old times, whatever times they were to catch up on. He would also want to get me back on.

“Ha ha ha. I am staying with Pauline in …. Now. See this ring? Cost me a lot of money. We have child now, a little beautiful boy, my son. See look.” From his jean back pocket he retrieved a soiled and dog-eared photo of a little boy, handsome and smiling. He couldn’t have no son, but maybe he lost his marbles. Maybe he thought this was his son. His little brother died in care, drowned in some domestic accident he said once. Said his foster-dad did it. Drugs addle a man’s mind like that. Make him twist the guilt of one thing into some mad delusion of another. His eyes were gone.

“Listen Leon, mi come see you in the next week. I have to go now”. I looked up at him, my voice changing. Now what impulse drives a man to show a dead man generosity I do not know. And Leon was a dead man. He owed too much money to too many people. There was no point asking for my cash off him. Out of my pocket, and out of the same sense of shame and guilt that drives a white man in a suit to give money to a poor man, I pulled out a five note, and with a shake of the hand, shoved it into his palm. I let go, and patted him on the shoulder. “Good luck Leon”. Like the white man, once the shame wore off, I immediately regretted it.

And with that, and the shouts of “where you living now boy? Tick me now? Spare me just a quid for the bus?” I dashed off down the Coldharbour Lane, eager to escape this demonic vision of the past.

Our dreams formed a multi-layered tapestry that cloaked and clothed our ugly lives, shimmering and shivering in the ocean-like expanse of the night sky, just a sickly full moon and my eyes, so unsure. Now only dumb memories rage across my lost thoughts to times like this before. I was feeling it man, feeling the blues. I lit a cigarette. This feeling would be exhaled. I wandered under a bridge and continued down the long and barren road. My thoughts wandered and meandered upon the same paths that they had been this very night. I decided to write a letter to Port of Spain. I would ask for some evidence. I would also say that I was in London, that I was too busy and I couldn’t afford to return to Port of Spain soon.

“Like a painting of a sorrow
A face without a heart”.

The words choked in my mouth. Hamlet, a Shakespeare without a son. I don’t know! I need a drink! Finally I am there –
The smell of chicken, sweet frying meat, enticing as I approached, smelling so good. I was about to go into the costcutter when I saw a white woman outside, looking a little lost, headphones in them ears. “Have you got a light”, she asked, politely, hazily, lacking in all intonation and vitality. Yet her eyes were not glazed, only simply sullied in a cruel smudge of mascara, all run down her cheeks. The lady had been weeping.

“Here you are my darling”, offering the lighter towards her face.

Mercurial, her drifting thoughts contorted ugly, jagged yet angular, twisted inward. Listlessly, she waited around for just anything to happen. Wearily, she sighed inside an empty kitchen, whispers bouncing between the walls, blood on the cleaver, cracks. Cautiously, she hesitated between each moment, wary that quicksand could be mistaken for the beach, hopeless. Electrified, the frisson of conversation, desire, chance encounters, all flared surly, listlessly. Ruefully, she returned to the disregarded circumstances of her reality, baleful, banal.

He laughed first, ostensibly, light-heartedly. She saw something reassuring in his smile. “You lost lady? You look lost.”

She looked around. An N35 careered towards Loughborough Junction. What was she saying? She took a deep inhalation of the cigarette. Delicious, so much needed. He seemed a nice man, his face not quite as old as his general worldly manner. “Am I lost? I think so”. She laughed awkwardly. It was a thing new to laugh about. “Well listen lady, I think I am lost too!” He laughed, heavy-heartedly.

She looked around again. She was speechless. Her chest felt all clogged up, like she needed to throw up, but it wasn’t nausea but something else she was holding back, something far more heavy. A strange music drifted into her ears. It was when she put the besmirched restaurant napkin back in her pocket did she notice she’d started crying again. He was still smiling, though with a generous look of confusion on his face. She stretched together a smile. It was no good.

“Lady are you ok? I may not know you, but, if you forgive my presumption,” and he stammered, unexpectedly, “you have something suffering you on your mind. Some sorrow has written itself on your brain and now, blinded, you cannot see anything.” Her eyes were looking elsewhere. He was losing her attention. “Listen, if you need someone to talk to……well, if there is no one….”

“There’s no-one”, she interrupted, surprising herself. “….ok well I am here, you can talk to me. Do you want to talk?” He offered. Something about the lady’s sadness hung heavy on him.

“No it’s fine. I must be going.” She looked up at him, and then realised once again that he seemed genuinely concerned. She didn’t want to shrug him off, but, it was no good talking about it now, here in the street. She was drunk, and lost, and this man was a stranger. No it was no good. She started again:

“Look I’m alright thanks, I just need a glass of wine and a bit of sleep. I’m sorry, I mean, thank you for being nice. Oh,” she sighed, and sniffed, “I just don’t know anything any more” What’s your name?”

“Marcus. May I ask yours?”

“I’m Emma. Listen, Marcus, would you like to go for a drink sometime?”

“If you would join me, then I’d be honoured.”

“Tonight?” His over-the-top gentlemanliness was ridiculous, quite silly, and disarming. Trusting.

“It’s the very reason I took the air this strange evening!” he laughed.

“The air is strange, I’ve noticed it too. Is beer ok? My place is not far from here.”

“Ok Emma. Perhaps together we will find some truth in this wine, and recover our minds from this sorrow. You
know what I mean?”

“I think so”. She laughed. Remembering, she took off her ring and put it in her pocket.

A yearning for some measurable meanings, blinded by the black and the gold, a kissing insatiable bodily itch, touch, he disappeared again, she woke up in an empty bed, life’s long exile from the womb, never ceases, it never ceases, but no one really changes, we’re all arseholes to someone at the end of the day, mum’s first rejection, her words, overheard it in the dismissive humiliation of the cool kids I tried to impress in the playground, 1979-1990: we were never the first ones, a world without redemption, irredeemable, it’s all over and done now, to tell you the truth we’ve lost forever, oh the bloody story’s ended now hasn’t it? Shit, and I forgot to tell this joke:
A brain went into a pub and said, “Can I have a pint of lager please?”” No way” says the barman, “you are already out of your head”. . . . . . . . .the end.

Late night stupid story part I

Stories

Regrettably this story isn’t new, but one of few pieces of writing I’m pleased with. It’s called Late Night Stupid Story, this is the first part. It’s a two part tale about drunk gutter blues.

“Besides, some things are so ludicrous, that a man must laugh or die. To die laughing must be the most glorious of all deaths!”

— E. A. Poe, ‘The Assignation’.

The long and empty night has its own faint, swirling music. It rolls and lollops in the wan silences, swilling, tangling together into that strange flotsam and jetsam that amass between the gaps of those words and images that fill our restless thoughts, tingling and tremulous, listlessly lost.

It is a music that greets us at the point beyond sleeplessness and falling asleep; that taunts us at the crossroads that separate sobriety and sanity from drunken ecstasy and agony and madness. It is a sad and enduring music that forms in the mind only in the complete absence of any desire or feeling or thought about anything really in particular. That it would fall into the category of ‘melancholy’, yes, at least for the stranger or the taxonomist: yet for the weary and all-too-familiar, it is a music of small but occasional consolation. As symptom, it signals nothing.

It is a music that accompanies our loneliness and descends with it; its plaintive quintessence rubs against us as we stare blankly at the texture of a ceiling or the bankrupt print of a vapid book. It describes the view from a bedroom window, fogged-up and drearily familiar, bifurcating an outside world that is but alien space now, no more than the fat and barren landscape of those long and lonely lived-out nights, lived-out over and over again repetitively and uselessly, the old and forgotten stories of lonely Londoners, staring out into sleepless nights. These are stupid and easily dismissed thoughts.

A swig from the mug of cheap, warm rum on the dresser. Perhaps time to compose the thoughts. What are we talking about here? Ah yes, an old saying: “In vino veritas”, in wine truth, or perhaps truth in wine. Appropriate enough: the leaden-hued and excited words of the drunk have been long dismissed both for their apparent absurdity and self-unravelling babble, as for their momentary truths, unsettling and uncomfortable observations that lie under them.

The scrutiny of the drunk, bawling and cursing in the gutter: “could it be me?”, the young ask. “It was me”, an old voice crows, and sparks up a fag, and raises up his can of cider, in order to raise a spiteful toast of the most mocking fashion. The young join him reluctantly, eager to snatch at his spilt outbursts of truth, so that they may procure intoxicating revelations that can be converted to the 6 figure sums of ‘young fiction’. The drunk proceeds, glad of his audience: “to drunkenness! – the cheap and cowardly refuge of the melancholy, bored and diseased! – a psychotic music that rages and roars and charts the beyond! thrashing out of all boundaries!”

Only the young would bother contemplating it, his ludicrous toast, almost romantic perhaps. The two short sketches that follow do not dress themselves as red light parables or kitchen-gutter love stories. If you’ve got to break a person apart to see what strange essence spills out of their guts, then so be it. If you need a scene, let it be this: we’re on Coldharbour Lane. The author says he knows it well. He says he grew up there. For the reader’s purposes, envision it as your nearest high street, one complete with a 24 hour or at least late-night off-licence. The author says he wants us to meet a couple of people he knows well here. He hopes they will demonstrate his point. The first is a woman: she is lost. Fortune has deserted her. Now wine is her only guide. The next is a man: his mind is troubled by some news. What he does not say will be, perhaps, all being well, as revealing as what he does say. Maybe some good will come of it. The author hopes the following sketches will be as entertaining as they are sincere and to the point. Remember, there’s a joke in it somewhere, there’s got to be. Shit – here comes the woman now.

Part 1. Coldharbour Lane – Camberwell end.

Alcohol: why do my troubles begin and end here? These are the wine-stained words of someone who should know better, someone who should long ago have learnt their lesson. But there’s truth in wine, and also drunkenness, and disorder, and savagely all-too-sincere words, and viciosly stupid words, and music, and melancholy, and flirtation, and laughter. And, of course, regrets too, aplenty. Drink is a garrulous guide and a cosy companion into a state of fogged, blissful stupefaction. Recently though, or perhaps not so recent, it’s also been a fixation, a fix even. Well, all people need some sort of a hobby, but a lot of people fail to notice, fortunately perhaps, that it is also very much a way of life.

Read on. A Tuesday night, and it’s pissing it down. I’ve had half a bottle of cheap white wine and a few pints beforehand, and with nothing else to do and nothing else to drink, I’m making the lonely crusade to the 24-hour off-licence a mile away. The air fizzes and burns, broodingly, lethargically: some pain stirs, brews, some tension: some great ugly sulphurous reaction is going on. Across an unusually empty road, a train huffs and wails above me, rattling above Victorian arches converted into garages. A sudden flash of blue, from the electricity of the track, without warning bursts into the atmosphere, illuminating momentarily the sky around me. Something is brewing. Mercurial.

I pass by the demented blue chatter of lonely television sets in darkened bedsits, flashing away to an audience of sleepless pairs of eyes. I’m drunk – even I can tell it. I can smell it, goddamn it. I splutter onto a dirty tissue. A coughing fit begins, bringing up blood. It indicts me. I indict myself? No: I indict the doctor: the bastard should not have given me antibiotics. I cannot drink on antibiotics. I have just a drink and then I take them stupid fucking pills.

The street is swaying like the sea, the asphalt rolling and shifting like a cross-channel ferry. The sky is open, and through the black and the bronze of the streetlamp I can see the silver threads of rain, and beyond that, a distant blanket of white speckles and spangles – the stars we occasionally notice and project dull clichéd sentiments on, like I’m doing now. I’m thinking of the past, which makes me sad, and thinking also of my last can – the reverberating tinkle I hear when I swish it confirms my worst suspicions. I slug it back gingerly as I march down faceless, nameless, deserted suburban streets.

The moments that are so long gone, distant flashes of being in love, or the head rush of those coming-of-age moments where the world feels incredible, and a street-map or park teems with wonderful life, radioactive and vibrating with possibilities. Maybe it’s just the mood of the moment, or the booze maybe, but sad things are on my mind – the very same sad things that are always on my mind in moments like this, that I think about all the time. I tell her, my little sister, I talk to her, you know! I tell her I think about her every day. She’s watching over me now, with my dad and my nan. But even though she told me once – in a dream – to forgive and forget and to move on, I still can’t get that moment out of my head: my sister, dying in hospital with my mum, sitting by her, just shrieking horribly and without stopping. It was just me and her there, mum and me, when the young doctor left with a polite cough. He expected us to pull the plug out ourselves, but how could I do it, it was my little sister you know? I cooked for her, I looked after her when she started school, and she was still a kid to me in so many ways, even after the time when I took her to that clinic to get an abortion. We were just girls, but the world doesn’t wait, does it?

Mum’s hysterics and shrieking were so grating, it was just bullshit – it made me angry, real inexplicable anger, and sadness, and other things, because there were times, so many times when she wasn’t there for her, you know? There were times where it was like she didn’t give a fuck, and now she was like this, and in the madness of the moment I just screamed at her, enough! And then I realised, it was her baby too, her baby she’d lost, and I felt so bad, and she just stopped, and oh god it’s not even worth thinking about at all.

I learnt that pain though a couple of years later, the pain of that loss, just so deep, so horrific, just the emptiness of it, I can’t even describe it, adjectives aren’t there that do it justice. Staring at the fucking hospital ceiling – tracing patterns in the grey foamy tiles, following them where I could, seeing if I could spot some sign from my little baby. I only remember my first miscarriage indirectly – the stuffy white light of the very same’s hospital café, the intense nauseating smell of disinfectant and boiling beef gravy, the taste of cold tea that James made me drink and his stupid lost-boy look on his face, his hands doing all the talking. The last time I saw him. But I try not to think about those times. A new start, new beginnings, a new me, nothing like the old. James later wrote, blaming me for killing his baby. At the time I was on so much fucking meds I didn’t know where I was. “Post-natal depression” – the hardest part was accepting the first two words. I was sectioned for a while. I don’t remember much of it. People stopped talking to me: they didn’t know what to say. No one said anything. It was the silence that was really crushing, the silent social rejection – at least, it felt that way. Nothing can describe that loss, so common, yet so rarely spoken of. Some took James’ side. Even mum said it was my fault: “You shouldn’t have smoked, it’s your own fault, it was your baby!” she crowed, on the afternoon I came back. She was drunk but I knew she meant it. But the world moved on, and so did I.

It’s not exactly a full moon tonight. There’s something kind of elliptical in its darkness: it wants to hide its face, but a crescent peeps out, consoling the few unhappy people that are still walking these streets, expecting to find some sort of vacant epiphany in their bleak and self-enforced deprivation. When I said the off-licence was a mile away I must’ve misjudged the distance, as I’m still ten minutes away. My wanker of a husband is probably in his hotel room right now miles away in some cold soulless Travelodge or Holiday inn, somewhere in the Midlands. I wonder if he can see the same moon, whether he too is looking at it right now at this very moment, if he still feels the way I feel. It’s an unlikely scenario. If he’s not watching some of that underage pay-per-view smut that he’s so fond of, that I had to sit through with him on what should’ve been our happy anniversary, then he’s probably with some unfortunate young East European girl, making the same excuses and apologies, or, if he’s feeling slightly more adventurous, he’s probably getting a blowjob in the car-park, in my car that he fucking stole from me. Just a stupid note, on the kettle. I’ll read it again, no don’t, don’t upset yourself. What’s he saying, that I only see what I want to? Well it was his badly kept secret: he forgot who managed the finances of our joint bank account. Still marriages have ended in worse ways, I’m sure.

We’d had an argument the night before, one of those ravaging arguments that truly exhaust you, perhaps even prematurely age you – full of frustration, angry words, some regrettable, others scornfully meant under the cover of the bilious barrage. One of those arguments that don’t even end, they just run out of steam without a resolution; I take it John didn’t go to sleep afterwards because in the morning when I woke up he was gone. I imagine he must’ve got up and left earlier, maybe just after I’d fallen asleep. On the kettle he had left a fresh post-it note tattooed in a miniscule biro scrawl that ran onto the other side. He claimed he “wasn’t getting enough…”, that “the writing was on the wall”, just bullshit and hollow excuses, that “it’s not your fault, I just need some time-out”, but “I don’t know if I still love you”. Of course I couldn’t agree with him more, but it was all just stupid words now, bla bla bla, maybe it was over I don’t know, I just can’t think straight. No, it was the way that he’d gone about it. I think of mum again and her shrieking – yes, it was her baby, it was her baby that she’d lost too.

It’s easy to lose yourself in thought. I want to get revenge on him but I’m too tired, and besides it’d be pointless. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal to gain in thrashing about like so many friends who married when they were young, before us, whose dinner-parties we used to attend, and whose blazing rows were notorious. How looks were exchanged, certain doleful glares that declare, “I don’t love you any more”, over delayed vol-aux-vents and spilt bottles of cheap chardonnay. I was there when I saw that such a simple and pure feeling like loving somebody could expire and degenerate into the most caustic and rancorous loathing. But you just can’t understand how love can ebb away unless you’ve laboured through the perspiration of marriage, just as physical attraction and desire decline before that. I was there, when I saw that the best a woman could expect from her partner was friendship. Yes I was there, but like so many other things I never thought it would happen to me. And yes, stupid me I’m crying now, but I swear it is not for him. I will not let my mascara run.

Thoughts become too busy, too tangled, too confused, too all over the place – my feelings too, are indeed, all over the place. The same sad, familiar memories make their presence known like poltergeists, haunting my thoughts, mischievously creeping in through the windows of perception, and manifesting themselves as migraines, regrets, and a hankering need for another drink. Out of my handbag I eventually do manage to dig out my portable radio player. The first preset station is magic fm. That’ll do. The feel-good vintage pop tinged with the golden glow of public nostalgia, for late-night parties and a youth locked safely inside the confines of the 20th century – yes, that’ll do nicely. I slacken my pace, and take slow deep breathes – in, 1…2…3…4….. and OUT. Phew.

There’s a strange itch on my wrist that I can’t scratch, it’s an old scar, still sore, sickeningly so. I try not to think about now, I guess like so many other things in my life – like those five years I wasted living in Bristol, 92-98, no six years in fact. I also had glandular fever quite badly at times when I was a teenager, taking weeks and at one time several months off school. Goodbye to all that, all those previous circumstances that I recall which haven’t fixed into my memory. Like that too, cutting was a part of my life I left behind, but true to some tasteless cliché, the reminders are still there to see. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried ointments, creams, treatments usually for stretch marks, but it’s made no real difference. But it reassures me that they’re still there, a part of me from a difficult time that I “survived”, it would be said, if my life were ever made into some awful afternoon radio 4 melodrama. Might sound corny as fuck, but life was a choice I had to make a couple of times. Now how about putting that line in your melodrama! Hire me, I’m cracked.

But no, this is a horrible thought, a stupid thing to think – it’s nothing. Happy songs make me melancholy, so melancholy, not a word I use lightly except to describe a feeling of real heavy-heartedness. It’s not that it’s a happy song itself that makes you miserable because you’re not participating in the collective euphoria, no, it’s more a sadness when you get lost inside the music, or get sucked inside the rhythm and the descending hook of a chorus loop, where in between the melody and the beat there is a nameless plaintive emptiness.

It could just be that I’ve made up a load of poetic bullshit that masks the fact that I’m on my own and I’m drunk and I’m sad, and the only way to alleviate this pain is to totally obliterate it, lose control and fall into a downward spiral of the customary self-pity that usually elicits a note of awkward distance between me and the world. Fuck, what is this nonsense! It’s ridiculous, I shouldn’t be feeling in this way. I’m drunk, I’m free, I’m young, I should be out there having fun. It’s all nonsense. I’m sure there’s a very dark joke in it somewhere, the sort of thing only a witty fool like Joris-Karl Huysmans would snigger at. Yes, it’s all nonsense.

But the world could never understand why people do it – they see the scars too personally, too literally, but also way too symbolically. They don’t see the relief it brings through release, the control it fosters and returns to people who have lost control. Yet they cannot understand it, family, especially; boyfriends, especially – they can’t empathise, they can’t comprehend it, but men rarely understand how women feel anyway. But I don’t want to think on these things. I’m approaching the high street now so it can’t be much further away.

I’m listening that song, ‘On a night like this’, a saccharine tune that always brings out the silly girl in me. The song stirs up my insides – my heart feels tender and sore, heavy and bruised – reminiscent of my state of mind at 17, ‘lovelorn’, such a pretty word. Indeed my heart feels lovelorn now, but my mind is changed: it won’t let me, I’m unlovable, fat, ugly, a washed-up fucked-up drunk. But I don’t want my mascara to run – no sod it, no feeling is worth smudged make-up. Things have moved on, I have moved on. Despair becomes familiar until you get bored of it, and hey being happy is not a selfish thing to ask for. I should be stronger than this. Repeat it, I am only being silly because I am drunk and stupid and bla. . . . .

I’m outside the off-licence now, and to my blessing it’s still open. Two stout moustachioed men glance suspiciously at me from behind the shop counter, before tending to a surprisingly long queue of weathered souls. I find a bottle of wine for under a fiver, a familiar brand that I know at least to be drinkable, and enough beers to keep a 16yearold’s birthday party going for a couple of hours, and I pick out some chocolate too, fuck it. I hand over the necessary change and make my way out into a deserted high street. I walk down to a bus shelter to get some cover from the rain and go to light up a cigarette. In wine, truth, and in truth, nonsense. And so it goes. I don’t think this story has an end, not yet anyway, so I’ll leave you with someone else’s words, maybe they’ll vindicate me. I just don’t know any more.

ONCE I was good like the Virgin Mary and the Minister’s wife.

My father worked for Mr. Pullman and white people’s tips; but he died two days after his insurance expired.

I had nothing, so I had to go to work.

All the stock I had was a white girl’s education and a face that enchanted the men of both races.

Starvation danced with me.

So when Big Lizzie, who kept a house for white men, came to me with tales of fortune that I could reap from the sale of my virtue I bowed my head to Vice.

Now I can drink more gin than any man for miles around.

Gin is better than all the water in Lethe.

— “The Scarlet Woman”, Fenton Johnson (1888-1958).

Then I realise I haven’t brought out my fucking lighter.

Guest post: From Southall to Space by Kriddy T

Stories

One of the best xmas presents I’ve ever got – a zine story about the grim world of 1990s football stars following retirement, involving minicabs, custard, heroin and very very foul-play. Reproduced with kindness here:


Heat the milk

Crash! Wizz! Bang!

Andy Cole spat out his Kenco in perturbed horror “What the bleeding Nora was that?”

It was 10.17am when a deluge of custard entered Andy Cole’s living room via the granite fireplace where he lived with his Dad Peter Beardsley. Peter, or Pete, as he was known to his kith and kin was an affable chap with a penchant for online gambling, meat flavoured crisps and Newcastle Brown Ale.

Andy yelped up the stairs to his Dad’s room, “Dad! Dad! Come and have a look at the state of the front room” said Andy, appalled and astounded as the sea of custard crept up the walls, destroying Andy’s prized signed photo of Syd Barrett in its path.

Oh dear.” said Peter, in voice suggesting he may have been in a situation like this before. “Looks like someone’s in a bit of a pickle aren’t we eh? Not a problem, Andy. I know an Irish lad in Downham who’ll get this milk ‘n egg based mess cleared up.” said Peter in a reassuring tone.

Without a moments pause he phoned up his pal Niall Quinn. Quinn was now a retired cab driver who lived in a six bedroom house he’d bought with money he had laundered in the 80’s, despite being a career criminal, his close knit Irish upbringing meant he was always happy to help a friend in need.

Not todaiy loike Pete! I’m taking Belinda to Shagaluf for the week, y’know how I would Pete?” Niall explained in his thick Dublin accent.

Not to worry Niall, you enjoy yourself. . .” said a Peter in an understanding yet upset tone.

Y’calling me liar ya little bollix?” shouted Niall as he slammed down his phone.

Peter broke down to his knees, with his head in one hand, he began to bawl and howl like a starving badger. Peter was a broken man.

Whisk Eggs and add to the milk

Andy was to leave for football practice that evening with the intention of salvaging what he could from the yellow mess that was his flat when he got home. That night after football practice he visited his friend and colleague Tim Flowers at his Kilburn flat.

Tim was of tall height and could often be seen handing the Eucharist to his fellow team mates to encourage spirituality in the group, he was a devout protestant and a very austere man who spoke with a soft Devonshire lilt. Tim was in an unusually jovial mood that evening, the pair quaffed merrily on White Strike (7.2% Abv) whilst listening to ‘Hall and Oates’ and the latest ‘Blue Oyster Cult’ record.

I must say Tim…” slurred Andy. “You strike me as being in a chipper mood this evening…”

Yeah, you’re right there Andy. Yes I am….” said Tim agreeably as he topped up his Star Wars pint glass with more White Strike. “I’m going in for my photo for the Merlin Premiership sticker album…”“Lovely news Tim, lovely. Yeah, I often have fond memories of being a shiny. . .” said Andy in a sad nostalgic tone.

Tim’s face lit up, he widened his nostrils, raised his eyebrows and exclaimed “Well Andy… They’re making ME a shiny this year!”

Andy looked down at his Green loafers, revolted at the news. A sense of obsoleteness came over Andy. He was now sensing his career was going the same way as his best chum Neville Southall.

Neville was was a large moustached man with a rather dirty sordid past. He had been in and out of psychiatric wards from a very young age and was now living alone in a dank, empty flat in Hornsey where he had a shiny story of his own to share.

Neville was driving around that night incredibly high, something he would often do after smoking heroin with his nephews Gary and Phil Neville, usually at their mum’s three bedroom flat in Stockwell.

Des ‘Da Dealer’ Lynham got into Neville’s car, a strong smell of Roysters escaped as he opened the door. Neville’s eyes were pinholes as ‘Da Dealer’ handed him his fill of heroin. “Cheers Des, you’re a good bloke you know that…” said Neville, glad with the portion of heroin passed over.

Same time tomorrow then Nev…” laughed Des as as he left Neville’s Vauxhall Corsa.

Andy left Tim’s to get to Chicken Cottage before it closed , he swayed from feelings of suicidal pain to white hot anger at his dismay of Tim Flowers being chosen to be a shiny in the upcoming Merlin Premiership sticker book.

Fired up on White Cider and chicken ‘n’ chips he made a call to Neville.

Andy! Jesus wept! Put the knife down you silly sausage!” shouted Neville fiercely. “We’ve all had our custard disasters, I know I have, and as for Tim being a shiny, be happy for him. Remember that howler he let in against Liverpool, besides he probably only got it ‘cos of his position in the Church” Neville continued….

Listen, I’ll pick you up from Kilburn Park Tube and I’ve got a shiny of my own to show”.

Add Sugar, Salt and Vanilla

Peter was now knee deep in an ocean of custard, his poor attempt at clearing the custard by eating all of it was showing no signs of working, he knew from the pit of his stomach that a horrific death was around the corner.

Yeah, I’d be up for going for Sushi”, Andy said, now cheered up after smoking line after line of Heroin in Neville’s beaten Vauxhall Corsa.

Fantastic! I know a nice little 24 hour gaff just off the Holloway Road” explained Neville. “let’s get this custard malarkey sorted. I’ll give you a hand, don’t worry, then we can for a nice bit of sushi, eh?”

Andy sank back into the front passenger seat as Neville turned up the car radio, Rinse FM screamed like a banshee from the speakers. The pair headed through the dirty, unloved street of North London to Andy’s custard occupied flat in Shadwell, arriving at ten past midnight.

Come on, up ya get!” Neville nudged Andy to wake him, with it being a school night Andy was not use to being up past 10pm, that and the copious amounts of Heroin he had been happily smoking from the shiny foil Neville had provided.

Dozy Dora…. I’ll sort this out then” muttered Neville to himself. He zipped open Andy’s tweed satchel and after a brief rummage he came across a set of Andy’s set House keys which were adorned with a keyring of Malcolm X.

He entered the flat, which had a faint sugary smell of calpol and urea.

A large Glaswegian ferret came racing downstairs.

Wot yooz focking daein’ ‘ere pal?”. This was the landlord. He was known in the local area as a bit of a Shaman, a spiritual mystic, people would often comment on his psychic abilities, even being able to predict the order of the bingo numbers at the his Bingo hall in Streatham.

Listen wee man…I got something to tell ye…I think…look…” the landlord voice trembled.

Go on….”

There’s been a mudda!”

Stir into Egg and Milk mixture

Neville prized open the living room door using his Swiss Army knife he was given by Michael Duberry on his 35th birthday. The knife was engraved:

NEVILLE YOU GIT – HAPPY B-DAY! MIKEY!

The knife was brown, rusty and had seen better days, much like Andy Cole. He poked his head around the living room door and took a look inside.

Shit the bed!”, Neville choked and recoiled in horror, Peter Beardsley was face down in piss, shit and Birds Eye custard, custard covered everything, a sinister gloop covered the walls, it had killed Peter, and even more disturbing it had broken their Alba 42” HD Ready TV which took pride of place above the granite fireplace. The flat was a write-off. A tear climbed out from Neville’s right eye, his sunken yellow sockets twitched as he began to sob away in grief.

The large ferret shook his fist at the sky in a furious violent rage “ You focking wee cont! Why Peter Beardsley? Why not Vinnie Jones or sum other wee prick? Why Pete?”

Calm down! Leave God out of this for Christ sake! Pete was a good man, a very good man, we all know that. Anyway, who the bloody hell are you?” said Neville now sitting at the foot of the stairs with the Landlord.

Am Mr. McCoist, call me Ally.” Said the rodent in a reconciled tone. “Listen I’ll get Pete cleared up and you go ‘n let Andy know, sound better from yooz. Please…be gentle on the wee lad, you know how fragile he is. Especially around the football sticker season…”

Neville arrived at the car, opened the door, wiping his eyes with his Stone Island fleece and turned the radio on to wake Andy.

Repeat until smooth

Hold tight da fone line krew! Big up da man like Matt Le Tissier…Shout out to Nigel Winterburn, Ray Parlour n the Highbury Mandem…High for life get me!”

He put his hand on Andy’s shoulder, quickly turned the volume down, setting the Radio from RinseFM to BBC Radio 3, he thought if he was to let him know his Dad, Peter Beardsley, 49, from Hexham, had died in custard, he should at least play a suitable soundtrack.

Andy was sound still sound asleep, looking content and peaceful, unaware of his Dad’s heinous death.

Neville noticed the car was littered with used foil which had now started to turn brown, the used heroin gave off a smell like that of Walkers Smokey Bacon crisps. Not only that, a large amount of heroin had gone missing from his stash which he kept in an empty copy of ‘Jethro – Live in Lancashire ’92’ VHS box.

Mozart, or at least Neville thought it was Mozart, continued to knell from the souped up car speakers, establishing a calm, serene yet grandiose scene in the Vauxhall Corsa.

The Car was old. Quite old. It had been crudely covered in dark purple house paint in 1994 by Neville’s then wife Cheryl Baker after a messy divorce. It wasn’t the best car, but it was Neville’s car.

Andy’s head suddenly lowered, his chin rested on his chest.

Oh fuck…FUCK! Andy! Come on Andy!”

Neville felt Andy’s right hand. It was as cold as a Solero. He lifted up Andy’s eyelids up, his yellow eyes were now rolled to the top of his skull, Neville began to piss himself like a Sheep in shock.

Andy was dead. The onset of rigor mortis crept in, he sharply moved his hand away from the glovebox, his fist was clenching a shiny of himself from the 94-95 season at Newcastle United. A season he cemented himself as a hero, scoring thirty six goals in forty games.

…That was Mozart’s Requim in E minor………”

As the sound of Mozart finished, sadly so did the life of Andy Cole.

Pour Custard into small dishes

Neville Southall began to mercilessly gnaw away at Andy’s thigh in a futile attempt to get high and destroy all evidence of the Andy’s overdose taking place in his purple Vauxhall Corsa.

Southall had lost what was left of his mind.

Armadillo!….. Armadillo!” he belted as he mauled the cold corpse of Andy Cole.

A faint siren began to well up, was this in Neville’s head? Was this a dream? A fantasy?

He continued to chow down the corpse, gobbling it up as it were a lovely Cheese ‘n Onion Pasty from Greggs.

Ally opened the door wearing a pair of cream moccasins and a brown duffel coat he’d stolen from Gary McAllister after a work do, he looked over the balcony at Neville’s car and shouted at the top of his voice.

Ai yoo! You cheeky little prick! You’re focked wee man and I focking mean focked! Ah know it!”

Ally had a sinister streak in him too. He was the sort of ferret that would tear down anything that got in his path if it meant an easier ride, his violent upbringing in Govan, Glasgow at the hands of his father Billy Connolly meant he was capable of anything.

Sprinkle the top with Cinnamon or Nutmeg, if desired

NEE NAW NEE NAW!! NEE NAW NEE NAW!!

NEE NAW NEE NAW NEE NAW!!

NEE NAW NEE NAW!!

NEE NAW NEE NAW!!

NEE NAW NEE NAW!! etc

Neville was fucked. Truly fucked. Well and truly absolutely fucked. Fucked to the absolute. Which reminded him he had a bottle of Absolute Vodka (37.5% Abv) in his glove box… He opened it up and happily drank the contents, with most it going down his fleece and and over his piss covered polyester trousers.

Ally rang the rozzers for the first time in his life, a contingent of Police cars arrived on the scene sixteen minutes later.

The Vauxhall Corsa was surrounded like a pre-pubescent boy in the Vatican.

Neville Southall knew to the untrained eye this could look like a callous murder or even cannibalism, he thought. He looked at himself in the mirror. Neville was covered in Vodka, blood, piss and heroin, he looking like a native of Ally’s home town Govan in Glasgow. The fact he appeared like this and he had the half eaten corpse of Andy Cole sat next to him in the front passenger of his dilapidated car meant he may have to explain himself more thoroughly than normal.

Neville was dragged by his moustache out of the car window by five Cornish Policemen, one of them looking like an Asian ‘Nigel off EastEnders’, they raised their truncheons, smacking him like a ginger step child.

A confused next door neighbour opened the door upon hearing the racket.

Ya rasclart babylon police, leave lickle Neville alone ta bumbaclart!” Mr. Yorke, or simply ‘Dwight’ as he was called by friends was a chap from the Caribbean, Tobago to be exact, he was a very unassuming and fair man, and an avid Pog collector.

Ally was pregnant with anger and hate, still stood outside his door he hurled a house brick at Dwight, just avoiding him by an inch. “Yoo wee buffty!”. Dwight went back in, he’d seen what he’d done to his friend Teddy Sheringham a few weeks back, he knew what Ally was capable of.

Lads. Come up! Come indoors” shouted Ally down to the small herd of Police below.

Six police men entered the flat. They were old fellas. Wearing flat caps with the Metropolitan Police Badge emblazoned on the front, one was even smoking a pipe, they looked like Last of the Summer Wine extras, short stumpy legs, pot bellies and vacant eyes. The police slowly dawdled up the stairs as Neville Southall was continually beaten on the bonnet of his car, the radio still on, this time playing Chopin’s ‘Nocturne In E Flat Major, Op.9 No.2 ‘.

Ally took the Police right up to the living room door, the Police detected a smell of custard, blood and shame.

The door opened, with it came a tide of Birds Eye Custard, Peter Beardsley was still face down, encased in his own mess.

Ally McCoist was not normal. Never had been, he was found as a kit floating on the river Nile where he was later adopted by Billy Connolly. He was a gifted yet violent ferret at school, teachers were always baffled at how he would get top grades at school yet barely attended, preferring to beat people up and sell Meth and Speed. He was cunning, cheeky and he was psychic.

The evil little shite tried eating this poor bastad ‘n all… with custard – the sick fock!”

Mr. McCoist sat the police down and gave his statement. He explained how Neville Southall had tried eating Peter Beardsley but was unable due to his rigorous Northern build, even destroying his whole front room with custard to make the Geordie more palatable.

This was a false statement, more further from the truth than Peterborough is from Pluto.

Bake your Custard

The actuality was, as Andy sweetly sipped his Kenco and his father continually screamed at the Wright Stuff, they were both deaf to the demonic stomping hooves of Ally McCoist and his biological brother Dennis Irwin as they scaled the roof of the flat. Dennis was a small man with a red face, he had little to no friends and could usually be seen ambling home drunk with his pal Darren Anderton from ‘The Dog & Git’ late at night. Both armed with fish tanks full to the brim with Custard they’d manufactured in a local primary school, they poured the whole forty six gallons of hot sweet liquid down the chimney, engulfing the flat.

Ally was in considerable debt, his cab firm ‘McCoist MiniCabs’ was on the verge of bankruptcy and he was in cahoots with a Ghanaian loan shark, Tony ‘The Terror’ Yeboah. No one messed with ‘The Terror’, not even a large ferret like Ally McCoist, he was a man who you would not want to rattle.

The plan was simple. If he could get the flat destroyed without anyone knowing he’d done it, he would gather a large payout from his Insurance company, Norwich Union, and pay off his debts, especially the one owed to ‘The Terror’.

He had tuned into his psychic abilities days before and Ally knew that Neville and Andy would cross paths, and of the horrific scene that would follow. A perfect man to frame the whole dirty act on.

Cool before serving

Seven months had past, Ally was paid out £2,900 from Norwich Union and was given an extra £5,751 in loss of earnings for the time taken off work to rebuild the flat, quite a feat for a Cab company that had been running at a loss of £210 a week for the past nine months.

Neville Southall was taken to the Old Bailey, the judge so appalled by Southall’s abhorrent actions that he decided this was a special case. Southhall was the first man in sixty years to be executed. He remained locked up in HMS Belmarsh for a fortnight before his execution took place, and in this time he grew a beard in honour of Beardsley and lost six stone in weight. Neville now resembled an emaciated Brian Blessed.

The day eventually came. It was reported by the tabloids that no undertaker in England and Wales would handle the cremation Neville wanted, meaning his ashed were to be blasted into Space, thus ridding the planet of his evil.

Neville Southall was blindfolded by the executioner Phil Babb, and put into the electric chair that had been shipped over from the US especially for the occasion. He was administered the last rites by Tim Flowers, as the switch was pulled down by Babb, Neville screamed

I didn’t want sushi anyway!”


the revolutionary conversation

Living, Stories, Theory

I sometimes think, maybe everything would’ve been completely different if I never encountered her. Who was she? An angel, a late-night saviour of sad souls like mine? I never got her name. I didn’t need to. We talked by the bridge, I bought her a coffee at a 24-hour caff, and we went different ways. That was all. I dream about it still.“ – Hussein Malik, Passages (2010).

 

The problem of talking.

Ideas are viral, passed on by others with entirely different motives through ports, cities, networks, schools, conversations outside pubs, television sets. Ideas are rarely given freely. No. Their origins are forgotten, lost, confused, traceless. Who cares how we acquire ideas. They spread, that’s all. Authorities have always tried to regulate and restrict this flow, from surveillance to social planning, from censorship to support for organs of passive ineptitude.

What dominant ideas define our age? Productivity, wealth-generation? Absolute alienation, so that even tolerance becomes stripped of any social intimacy it might have possessed? We call for a return of the conversation. Not the problematic public sphere as defined by Jurgen Habermas, but a new art of conversing with strangers.

We don’t talk anymore. Reading Hussein Malik’s startling work Passages, we’re reminded that some conversations have the intense power to save lives. The conversation has a distinct social history. It is the start of all human exchanges, resulting in the trade and civilisation which have defined homo sapiens to date. Edward W. Soja poses a new history of civilisation beyond the Darwinian kill-or-compete model, of the earliest cities like Catal Huyuk not being founded on agricultural trade, but a prior agreement of community. But community is founded in conversation. Exchanging stories, ideas and observations with others is the foundation of our work, our friendsh-ips and our social understanding. But unlike speech, which is the power-driven form of communication, conversation must be mutually interesting if it is to succeed, and good conversation will contain humour, generosity, kindness and originality.

Origins of conversation.

For our purposes, we must make several sweeping generalisations to illustrate a grander point. Please reserve disputations for the end, thank you. Cultures are transmitted and manifested orally, with the first writing appearing in cuneiform, administrative and economic records of commodity and labour trade, and later in the language of priests to create or maintain mystified power-systems. Our understanding of writing is based on the findings of the archaeologists, but we have no evidence of early conversation, except stories put to papyrus many years later. Perhaps our ancestors talked about unusual physical features of their livestock or children? Shared ludicrous and bawdy stories about rival tribes, or exchanged useful information and skills to others in their groupings? Argued over whose chunk of stone idol was the biggest and strongest?

We cannot know and the archaeology of conversation is beyond our questioning. Instead we begin with the assumption that conversation precedes and provokes writing, therefore that culture is communicated primarily through conversation, as is the individual’s personality. The vilified Sigmund Freud brought the Catholic confessional into the realm of madness, treating hysterics through a form of cathartic conversation to relieve and exercise unconscious desires. The talking cure is used today, from CBT to conversations with loved-ones and friends – conversations both have working functions but can relieve pressure. So much for the conversations many functions. We ask therefore how can we understand our era through cultures of conversation? Is the art of talking in our age starting to disappear, as we are warned?

In our families or with our neighbours, we observe a decline in intimacy that has also seen the decline of the charged exchange between strangers, with a unique history perhaps illumined by Socrates and the Sophists for the ancients, or in early modern London in the coffee houses and De Quincey’s rambles. The nature of online communities and expression is one with an emphasis on concise headline-like statements and a search for like-minded people, with everything focused on same interests coming at the almighty expense of an encounter with difference – which real social encounters provides.

Yet we are seeing a striking new phenomenon: the rise of the conversation with strangers. This is the one benefit of the earlier forms of online interaction. The internet chatroom brought us into contact with so many different people, and afforded the opportunity to speak on one’s own terms. Two-dimensional internet correspondences and friends were crucial in fashioning a mature sense of self for me. On the internet one is no longer a son, daughter, brother, sister, father, mother, husband or wife. One is no longer a black male or white female, Jew or Muslim, disabled or guilty, not if one does not want to be. One can be a free persona. This is truly significant, and online conversation was vital for my 14-year old self to work out feelings and ideas with others across the English-speaking world.

But you know this reader, at least I trust so. Our revolutionary conversation can be theorised on the internet but must take place in real life, amongst strangers. We see this already in public locations where a measure of intimacy is enforced, such as the seating on public transport, or the sheer lifelessness of urban centres late at night, except at crowded bus-stops. The revolutionary conversation begins in the non-places of our era.

Don’t I know you? Pained, awkward, serially bored reader, brain anaesthetised in caffeine, loretadine, digital devices, packaged sandwiches and ludicrous hopes that you no longer have the heart to question, unless they collapse into dust or shimmer and disappear like mirages – quiet people can’t talk but they can write, that’s one thing at least. Well my hearts, let’s shift from this history of the conversation and learn exactly how we can talk. It is neither science nor art, but a game. In the process I hope to convince myself that it may well be a good world if you don’t weaken. I despise that statement though, as I despise physical exercise and going to work every damned day. Here goes.

Fabrications

The chief problem facing conversation is its conservative and dull nature.

I’ll borrow a generalisation to illustrate: all conversa-tions begin with small talk, with polite greetings and inquiries about personal well-being. Small talk often moves on to common sources of complaint – in British conversation this characteristically involves the dreary weather. Conversation may move on to a second purposeful stage, perhaps business, exercising desire or reassurance, inquiries, exchanging information. A third stage follows, usually at the point where one agent must depart, where the major partners come to some kind of agreement or resolution on the matter. But frequently conversation is defined by small talk, and frankly this is just not good enough.

Reality itself is a game. We all know this, but the rules have rarely been publicly discussed, save perhaps in mental health, where they plumbed post-disciplinary control to new depths. Like all games, there is great risk involved, but if the prize is life then there is everything to lose. For most, a simple risk-free game is enough. But not for you. That is why you are here.

  • So begin by introducing yourself and your friends under false names. This small fib begins the thrill – adrenaline pulses as the mind works actively to maintain face. Soon you’ll need to perform, embellish, dramatise. Invent your self a new past and occupation, and do this for your friends. Really drop them in it. They’ll hate you at first, but soon they’ll enjoy this too, and you’ll find the game struggles to stop, as your own identity begins to dissolve in absurd characters and egos invented in moments of high intoxication. This is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways of gaming life.
  • Brag about invented and ludicrously impossible pasts. Be a washed-up composer of Wagneresque opera, or a murder-scene photographer, a struggling performance artist (well?). Hear the baleful and the blissfully naive tales of others by introducing yourself to strangers as a journalist for the BBC, or as a sociological researcher. Tell people you’re writing a travel guide on the area. Play by mood.
  • Wear disguises. An example would be a high-visibility fluorescent jacket, which enables the wearer to travel to any location or building without question. Another would be the smoking jacket, slippers and pencil moustache of a dandy. If this is already your style, then opt for a strictly bland appearance of blue jeans and black blazer.
  • Produce highly offensive or pornographic writing under pseudonyms. Perhaps even create works that have the gall to tell us how we might escape this world. Photocopy in great quantities and distribute for free in public places, reading out certain chapters with the aid of a megaphone.

If you find your current life inadequate you can always borrow another. It is nothing less than a case of adjust-ing your persona, your manner. Too quiet, or clumsy, or half-witted, or dull? You can begin by adjusting your appearance. A colourful or ironic t-shirt, or a designer haircut or jewellery item can act as talking points. Tattoos of sailor’s pin-ups or stars. Most people are too nervous about their own impression to really observe or judge you, but a few blatant signals shifts things.

Observations

It would be an insult to the egalitarian exchange of good conversation if we were to leave you with just bare-faced lies. Conversing can be gentle and honest. I’ll supply a recent example of sharing something with a man I encountered, quite accidentally and without any methodology such as the above in mind.

Anyhow, so it was a Southend-in-winter kind of anaemic early afternoon, when there was this ashen man, baggy-faced and celery-lean, wizened and weary as piss-bullied suburban Oak trees. In a melancholic myopia I failed to see him standing outside the old folks’ home, smoking a cigarette against the pale yellow-brick wall, almost athletic with a catch of the moon in his hair, slunk back with a wad of wax with a lemonade tinge. He had that cockney standard issue black leather blazer jacket thing, you know, and a lot of talk about his poorly mum, dementia case. “Too many people are living too long…every time I see her, it breaks my heart…I have to do it, there’s no-one else“.

He shares his suspicions about the staff at the home. I talk about my nan who told me at the back of drinkers’ dormitory night bus to hell or Walthamstow, who knows, who told me nothing less than the entire contents of the universe can be found within the human heart, your very known. Beyond all the mulch of emotions and mouldy days, there is as much evidence of deities at the bottom of bags of Coco Pops as there are in the cathedrals of High Culture, education, fame schools or furniture warehouses.

We exchange pleasantries in the car park. In fairness I should have looked when I swerved round my bicycle into his soft reassuring corpulent flesh, but he only got a broken toenail and a nasty shock, if anything. He asked me one thing before I beat my retreat:

SIR: is it true?

MYSELF: what?

SIR: The way you’re dressed, young man. If that constitutes good taste in this day and age then fuck me, I can’t tell if you are an Arthur or a Martha.

MYSELF: ?

The place where I lost my mother’s only child

There is a word we must understand before we continue: logorrhea. It means an excess of words, an incoherent talkativeness, which we may commonly know of as ‘verbal diarrhea’ or ‘Jean Francois Lyotard’ – messages which deploy many long and difficult words to obscure a lack of intellectual meaning or point.

Conversation is not just an exchange of words. Silence is equally essential to the conversation. Indeed a successful conversation requires a strong degree of self-restraint on the listener’s part, in an exchange of banter we might describe as “batting“ versus “bowling“. Eye-contact becomes the motor of conversation too, and our behavioural experts are today beginning to pay attention to this area – one recent report recommends maintaining eye contact with the speaker, then breaking this contact away, in order to signal to the speaker that you wish to talk.

We must shut up at times as well. Beyond these technical-ities, our theory of the revolutionary conversation demands a strict use of silence. One should be silent for 24 hours for at least once in one’s life. This is primary. Speech must be restrained a little. A quiet partner in conversation invites the speaker to confess and reveal more, helping the exchange to tap through the protective bark of small-talk and reach into the sap of real experience. Laozi and Siddhartha Gautama tell us that we become most wise in our silence. Although no belief can overrule our core personalities, be they loquacious or introverted, if we’re going to blow our minds and explode the anaesthetised expectations of our peers, then an equal mix of bombastic bullshit and Daoist silence are essential.

Agape was a friend of mine

Reader, what are we to make of all this? To fabricate and to be silent, to befriend strangers even when these encounters are tedious or even dangerous? Yes, and none of these. This age understands nothing inside: everything is a code mediated by signs, an international language of faces and brands, a logos of the logo.

Against this I pass to you a weapon, the Greek word for an all-encompassing love: Agape. Unlike the sexual love of eros, or the conditional friendship of philia, Agape is an affirmative love for all life, a friendship with the world. It is not naive. Agape understands that this life is one of often great suffering but it goes beyond this: I am a friend of you despite your faults and mine. Whether you accept this friendship is up to you. I have already made my peace.

We end where we begun, with our conversation with Hussein Malik. The closest thing Hussein finds to an angel in his Passages is Rosa, a woman he encounters on a night-bus. The work ends with their revolutionary conversation, and with Rosa we give the last words here:

For some, the blind, all they see in this beautiful world is the miserable valediction of their ideas. Not me. I want to know the world without reference to anything, without metaphor even, and so I have to talk to people. I have to know. That, to me, is philosophy. And the language of philosophy is poetry. I talk to the strangers in supermarkets, car parks, train stations, you know I like to shock them out of the loneliness these place are creating. The good ones, I think, are relieved by the contact. I talk to God and my mother whenever I have to lose or regain my sanity. I talk to friends when I have nothing to say. And, when it’s something I cannot possibly speak but I have to express, I share it with the wind.“

Halloween story – Feast of the Innocents

Stories

I wrote this story a fair while back for another Halloween, but I had to re-edit the original to fit the word-count of a story competition, giving it a different ending. This version is longer and darker, and I think it merits a re-airing. Enjoy the halloween weekend, and be careful what you eat from midnight takeaways…

We had been quite taken aback at the volume of custom at the old —- Arms on the night of All Hallow’s Eve. Trade had been dead up until one hour shy of the witching hour, when a crowd of drunken revellers dressed in garish 99p store Halloween costumes burst into the pub, their loud squawky laughter and hoarse student roar rattling the bones of the old public house, and my nerves too. Nevertheless by half one we had cleared out the last of their obnoxious number, and, having wiped down the sticky table surfaces and piled away in some mouldy corner the great towers of glasses, the dregs forming strange and mysterious maps, I sat down at the bar with the landlady and kissed a warm flat pint of Guinness. It was impossibly vile in that way only Guinness from New Cross can be.

I was tired. With the prospect of attending a dreary wedding in the morning, I gulped down the smooth body of my comfort, made my excuses and hurried out the door, desperate for at least a few hours’ kip. I shut the door behind me. The cold air brought me to my senses, and ludicrously I became aware that the rotten pint was making me feel somewhat drunk! I was about to check my watch when the wail of a bus careered before me: it was the last bus home! Wearily it pulled away, leaving me alone in the deserted high street to curse the name of the Fates. I scarcely knew the area, yet exasperated at my luck, I reluctantly decided to head off in one direction. Surely it would lead somewhere? Then the rain began to fall. And did it: the rain fell like it had never fallen before, its bullying spray battered windows, spoiled newspapers, swilled in blocked gutters. Fearful of its ferocity, I hurried for cover. Sooner or later it would wash the town away, wash the dirty looks off peoples’ faces, turning them into nothing less than festering and jabbering corpses. That is, if there were such souls even crawling these streets. But it was just me. My walk turned into a sprint.

Solace appeared a few minutes later in some neglected tributary off the main drag. It was an old derelict Victorian family house, surrounded in gloomy lachrymose weeds, buddleia peeping through the roof. Three or four stories perhaps, I didn’t care to look. It had a veranda, and that was shelter enough for now. My clothes damp and sodden, I shuddered and got my breath back. I was exhausted. Slumber weighing heavily on my eyelids, inebriety tapping on the doors of perception, I decided to disregard my better instincts and bed down somewhere here. The property was clearly abandoned. I knew it was sheer folly, sleeping inside an abandoned house on All Hallow’s Eve, but I’d done far more stupid things in my life, and was far too sceptical for the supernatural.

The door was locked. Remembering an old secret of the trade, I took a piece of conveniently-placed nearby timber in hand and, positioning my hand through the letterbox, managed to undo the door lock. I slunk quietly into the main hall, and tiptoeing, shut the door behind me. Dozily, I took in only the most brief of impressions of the house, but I was primarily overpowered by the dampness and dustiness of the place. It was as if the tongue of fresh air had never licked the yellow papered walls of this forgotten residence.

Suddenly my senses returned to me with grave anxiety, and I froze in breathless terror: through the door at the end of the hall, leading to the kitchen perhaps, I could clearly see a someone’s back facing me, a woman’s perhaps, but not in the conventional sense. An evil candle emitting a foul green light across the room, radiating through the hall, and melting into the moonlight that oozed through the front door’s frosted window lighted her body. Whether she was talking to someone else in the room, or babbling away to herself, I could not tell, but drawn by a sinister compulsion, the inexplicable sort that drags many a man to great discoveries and even greater dooms, I crept towards the kitchen door, with some hesitance and not a little temerity. As I drew closer I began to trace the syllables of her strange cockney speech. She had voice that sounded like it had been brought up from birth solely on raw onions and sour milk. Truly it curdled the blood!

“It’s all your fault you know”, it began. “I’d’ve never ad to go at ya with me Stanley knife if you’da just kept your mouth shut like I told you to.” I drew ever closer, crouching by a slit in the timber kitchen door, through which I could see the woman, squatting on the floor, her hair and long flapping dress even darker than the dank shadows that festered in the corners of the room. She seemed to be talking to a bin bag. My ear pressed against the timber, intrigued by this unseemly absurdity. “But you just wouldn’t stop ya whinin, would ya, love? I told ya to hush ya gums but you wouldn’t and by god you paid the price. You got what you deserved, you evil little man…no one treats me and my kids like a punch-bag! What you did was evil!”

Stung by her chilling words, I had clearly outstayed my welcome. Quickly I turned to make haste back to the front door, but another voice bubbled from the kitchen, a deeper, gruffer, even more sinister voice. My legs failed me, breath refused me! Aghast, I sat paralysed by the door. The voice appeared to originate from a rather gruesome zombie prop splattered on the floor, a rather life-like skull of a middle-aged man. Soon the words began to sink into some context: “…no wife of mine has got the right to answer back to me…and those orrible little barsets deserved what they got. I tell ya, as long as god reigns over me, no wife nor child o’ mine has the right to attack me…all because…you were too stupid to do what you was told! If little Jimmy hadn’t of sworn at me, his own dad!…he wouldn’t be under the floorboards like e is now. And his stupid little brother should’ve gone back to bed…but no…he got involved…and he got his comeuppance! And I’d’ve had your guts for garters if….I’d’ve got you first! I never knew a wife of mine could be so handy with a stanley knife! Now…are you gonna put my body back together or what?

The woman’s voice returned, and the bickering picked up pace. Certain words peeped out above the morbid miasma, “chopped onions” and, what I think was “a rat ate my eyeball”. It had to be a sick joke. From what I could deduce, the man had been cut up and left inside the bin bag. This had to be some vicious prank. Ready to confront and unmask the scheme of these black-humoured hoaxers, I stood up, my frame filling the greasy window of the kitchen door. I was about to push open the door when I saw a spectacle of a nature truly of the grotesque and arabesque. I quaked. Either paralysed by the cold blood of fear, or ensnared by some masochistic compulsion to bring about my own immediate destruction, I stood there, gaping like a stunned pheasant.

From the binbag in the centre of the room, resting next to an upturned dining table, a mocking hand peeped out, hirsute and bloody. The woman, who seemed more like the undead, was slicing off a section of torso. About an inch deep, the rain-water that had collected in the kitchen took on a sickly red hue. It could not be! I could not restrain a pathetic high-pitched yelp! “WAAAARRGH!”

Whether the bickering sweethearts were distracted, or had not ears to hear me, I could not tell, but at the same moment of my terror, a series of thick and menacing thumps which I had presumed to be my very own slobbering heartbeat, suddenly ruptured loudly through the kitchen floorboards, and, furthermore, two pairs of short stubby arms erupted from the subterranean hell! In less than a second, two filthy and bruised children climbed out from under the floorboards, and now were standing in the kitchen right before me, staring with hungry eyes at the bloody bag of gibbering giblets! And no one was paying a damned bit of notice to me!

“You killed us dad. You stole us from the living world because we said your cooking was rubbish compared to mum’s. We’ve been hungry for a long time since then. Won’t you join us for dinner?” The woman by now was standing by a rather antiquated oven, upon which a frying pan suddenly sizzled to life. “No way! You can’t eat me! I’m your dad!”, yet his appalling cries went unheeded, and together the reunited mother and boys emptied the bin bag into the hungry pan. A doleful scream filled the air, gurgling away as the stringy flesh sizzled from pink to a whitey colour. The head had tried to roll itself out of the pan, but with admirable precision, the younger of the two boys speared it with a fork and plopped it back into the searing stew.

Without even the slightest bit of irony or seasoning, daddy’s guts were plopped onto three silver plates. The undead three sat down to dinner with a most cordial and untroubled serenity, and the tranquil silence was finally interrupted by a few words of grace. They were about to tuck into their stew when the mother raised her head, and with glowing yellow eyes, whispered to the two, “Aren’t we forgetting our guest?” And with that, I realised that my presence had been discovered. Their eyes turned towards me. “Won’t you join us? Won’t you be our daddy now?”

Now I have always been a carnivore, enjoying a kebab or chicken burger as much as the next person, and I would be lying if I said that the porky odours oozing from the cooker hadn’t whetted my appetite. It would be a folly to insult the hospitality of my new family, and besides, they said no mortal could witness this evil alive, unless he had tasted at least a bite of mother’s home recipe breast chops! We all sat down at the feast of the Innocents, and by god the stew tastes so good, I slurped up every last spoonful, yum yum!

Sleepy, I sat back on my armchair, rubbing my belly, and with a content smile, sighed. It then occurred to me that my family had not eaten a spoonful of their stew. “What’s wrong?” I said, nervously laughing, “were you not hungry? I dare say it was a little….rare” No one said a word, but by the wounded glares of their deep and bloody eyes, I realised I had somehow offended them. Had I eaten too quickly, too gluttonously? The older of the two boys growled at me, with a loud reedy roar, full of sickles and malice and bile. “You ate my daddy.”

I laughed, even more awkwardly this time, and scratched my neck. A voice peeped out from me, dumb courageously: “I may have ate him, but I certainly didn’t kill him! That guilty lot falls on your mother, my little angry friend!”

His voice returned, growling, backed up this time in unison by his family, who together stood (had they always been standing?), and drew slowly towards where I was sitting. “You ate my daddy, and now…….we’re going to eat you.”

I had scarcely leapt out of my chair by the time a well-directed Stanley knife slotted itself snugly inside my eye. Suddenly the bizarre chain of events began to feel stomach-churningly familiar, and as my eyeball rolled inside the gaping mouth of mother, I cursed my luck, again…