Dedicated to Frankie, Gerry and Claire.
And of course Mel and Abbi.
Let’s not forget Bob, Andy, Barry, Stefan, Manuel, Sebastian and Richard.
To all the wanderers and wanderers.
No Junk Mail.
Phones Off For The Lads
It may have been a Friday, definitely, defiantly Summer, in West London in 2007. Or was it 2005? Yes, that was it. We had finished our degrees a few months previously, got our 2.2s and had been carrying on as usual. This meant waking up on an adhesive leather sofa in a vast high-vaulted room, wooden beams on the ceiling, an A-frame, with a DVD Video logo projected over it in 2 metre high letters. The sun projected upon me, sliding half on half off the tacky cushions onto a floor that clanked with cans, crashed with bottles. Dry, arid, Argon, Radon, gas, heat and poison.
Bob’s house. The noble Headquarters of Freemasonry, Great Britain. I had been wandering around London the previous day, found myself in Covent Garden, walking down the steps into the market basement. The crowd looked over at me, then turned to watch me descend the stairs, throwing down my feet in hiking boots, torn flared jeans, ready to grab the banister at any moment. What do I look like?
“You’ve gotta know what you look like / Before you go out.”
I took my Sehnheiser headphones off and Mark E. Smith was replaced with the baritone bass of an opera singer serenading me, who had been for apparently some time. She wanted me. She was looking at my eyes, which I cast around the feet of the crowd; saw a large collection box, in which sprawled easily 40 pound coins, and a fair few fivers. I just wanted to get to the public toilet. I swear to God. I knew I had no money without checking, so I just hunched over with sick red-faced smile and barrelled past into the cool darkness of the basement vaults.
I was found near here later by Bob, Abbi, Frankie and other presences. They said they were having some mushroom tea at Bob’s, that I should come. I needed little more psychic torment, and said so. At Bob’s we clambered out onto the roof of the Mason’s Halls he was able to rent for cheap. We didn’t spill the tea. The sun shafts shot through afternoon heat haze sky. A real Dole Day Afternoon.
“I remember / How the darkness doubled / I was listening / To the rain / I was hearing / Something else.”
The cafetiere was passed around for The Second Brew. The Cadillac pulled back into the graveyard. I was now overjoyed at being rescued from the streets by this solid collective of psychonauts, astral navigators, wanderers, wonderers. I was laughing with Frankie about something Chris had said a while back of the Mushroom Experience; “I’m getting clichéd psychedelics.” We laughed for a while longer, just having a laugh, lads laugh like, when I remembered another bit of wisdom; “Phones off for the lads!” Last thing you need is The Man calling up and harshening your buzz. A few minutes later, and Frankie was leaning his back on a chimney breast, slowly sliding down it as the buildings creeped and leered, leaning into him. They obscured the sun and surrounded, blank square-eyed. Just then a phone rings. I realise what is happening.
“H-hello? Yes. Er… Okay. No. I er… OK.”
“Who was that? Phones off for the lads!”
“My landlord, he wants all the outstanding rent today, by four.”
What can you say? Frankie turns his phone off, with a nervous wired grimace that twists with the mushrooms. My mushrooms? His mushrooms? Who knows. Only thing certain is there is no way that rent is getting paid. Not today.
First Day Back
That is why Frankie & I are now dragging ourselves out of the Underground Central Line, having breached reality last night, we are now thoroughly engaging with it. Not too much though. We are in Notting Hill to do an honest day’s work delivering leaflets for an estate agent, a gig our friend Claire fixed us up with. Straight in the Tesco by the station, a few warm cans of Stella are located and brought to the conveyor belt. We point and nudge towards the massive bottle of unbranded vodka that is being purchased by the customer in front of us.
Round the corner we sit, warming our backs on concrete wall, paving slabs conducting heat into us too. Frankie gets some cold Biere Etoile from Marks & Spencer. Ponce.
“Sort me ouuut!”
We sit on this W1 street corner, feeling like this is the life. A feeling we would subsequently chase, try to re-experience and re-live, it was often referred to, but never achieved. It was always different, you had to accept that, and not cane the vibe.
The leaflets are much much more than that. Classy A4 matt affairs, select palette, seductive sans serif, cool to touch, aspirational to the core, paper cut you to the vein. Books on How You Should Be Living, If You’re Any Good At Life. The agent’s name is Chard. They are heavy, they are expensive, and they are not aimed at those who have spent the night half on half off the sofa at a subsidised student gaff. Still, they were all we had to read when not delivering them.
“Who’s got Oxford Gardens?” asks Stefan. He has now completely given up on anyone delivering leaflets, and now just wants to make sure we get away with not doing it. His demotion from Supervisor has converted his work ethic from efficient taskmaster of door-to-door estates promotion to diligent business student, to be found with his textbooks in one of the many libraries he is a member of, all day, in West London.
“I have.” I said. Nice area, not many bins though.
“Make sure you do 65a, the basement flat, Andy Chard lives there.”
I don’t need to be reminded of him. I was doing my round a few weeks earlier, a song in my heart, a skip in my step, walking down the steps of a grand house, back to my trolley, slapping my feet down, jeans swinging in time with the music in my head.
“The minute you walked in the joint / I could tell you were a man of distinction / A real big spender.”
I couldn’t tell who the red-faced man was, the one saying something to me.
“Get back and do those bally basements!”
Oh shite, sorry sorry, yes yes. I grab the trolley and run across the road with it, inadvertently advertising the fact that I hadn’t done that side either, something I think I may have said I had done. I swerve back, driving my trolley clattering, staggering up the kerb, and pace back down the road, hearing the man call someone on his phone.
So now, the modus operandi was to deliver one leaflet to the silly old duffer’s grim basement flat, then chuck the rest of them in a goddamn bin and fuck off to the park. We could never understand how the owner of the second largest estate agent in West London could end up in such a shit flat. Full of Chard leaflets. Much like our own flats, in fact.
“Ibsolutely ivrey bin in Wist London is ibsolutely full of fukin Chard liflits!”
The game was up. Well, it wasn’t it seemed, as we still had our jobs. There was just a new supervisor from South Africa who got us into a basement office for a mass bollocking. I could never believe the lengths some members of the public would go to to get a complete stranger in trouble. Were they uncomfortable with the idea of someone getting away with something? They would have to get into the huge steel bins that we preferred, dig through the layers of generic rubbish we would put on top of our jetsam. As Gerry said one cold November morning in a Corporation of London bin shed in Earl’s Court;
“Ah nivver thought ma life would come ta this, putting other peoples’ rubbish oan toap of ma rubbish.”
These huge bins were the best, and the best of all was one which was hidden in a store beneath a block on the Fulham Road. No windows, no-one looking, dark as night. This bin was known as ‘Old Faithful.’ Our only friend on those streets.
People were very hostile to us, to our encroachment on their territory, pushing airbrushed images of ‘lifestyle living’ into their homes. Can’t they see we are not associated with Chard? We aren’t like them, we are like you! We like you! Actually, I hated most people I saw, as they would be walking the streets, going somewhere, looking at the pavement, and would see my boots, swinging out of tears in my jeans, the luminous yellow trolley faithfully rattling along at my heel, and look up no further. They didn’t see my smiling face, desperate to make contact with them, friendly contact to prove I was human, and nice. But they never did, the cunts. Old, young, rich, poor, but especially rich and old. They detested us the most, the ones who could afford the jewel-bedecked, Berber-carpeted, ‘beautifully appointed’ palaces we were parading about in our magazines.
And if they hate getting these magazines so much, why do they get into a bin, get them out, and then call the office to say that they aren’t being delivered? The dichotomy, the quandary, the stuck-between-limbo-and-purgatory life of a Chard Promotions Agent.
Notting Hill Bitches
On the King’s Road, roaring noon, I saw an old, old lady, draped in fur on this hottest of days. She was scowling at the pavement, knitting her brows together, looked like she was about to spit on the ground with general outrage at the world. I sped up my pace exponentially; saw a line geometrically calculated to collide with her at maximum glancing force. I looked down too. I tossed the trolley’s handle from my right hand let it pause in the air under its own momentum for a moment before my left hand felt the air behind me and grabbed it. My right shoulder went down and I barged her, gave her something to suit her expression and followed through on my line, off to Hyde Park, where I sat on a sheltered bench and tried to go to sleep.
Impetigo Burning Bright
Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial skin infection. Impetigo is not common in adults. The name derives from the Latin impetere (assail). Impetigo generally appears as honey-coloured scabs formed from dried serum, and is often found on the arms, legs, or face. Whilst suffering from impetigo, it is best to stay indoors for a few days to stop any bacteria from getting into the blisters and making the infections worse. Good hygiene practices can help prevent impetigo from spreading.
We all suffered from impetigo of the face and neck for a few weeks on the rounds. It was winter, and the air really cut through it. One’s scarf would aggravate it, catching on the scabs. Warm clothing made one sweat, increasing itching, and releasing a thin toxic film to infect further. Turning one’s head to look for cars when crossing the road caused great pain, induced images of squelching scars and bilious bile drips and made you appreciate how amazing the body is when it works.
God, it looks low! It looks like low living, dirty hedonism; sweat boxes, poppers, super-strength cider, kisses with saliva. Totaled on White Ace and the giddy rush of new love.
“Turn down the TV / Turn down your pulse / Get away from it all / ‘Cause it’s getting too much.”
We were proud of the impetigo, of its contagion, as it bonded our group together, showed the world how close we were. We slave together, rave together, shave together.
Letters and Text
Left, right, left right, left right. I slide another leaflet through a brass letterbox with ‘LETTERS’ written on it. State the obvious, why not. I think I hear a dog bark, grab the leaflet out of my hand with its jaws, but the music going in my ears is too loud to know.
“Decadence and anarchy, he said / And smiled”
I stand between the square trimmed privet hedges in this person’s garden path and unscrew the 250ml JP. Chenet Chardonnay bottle I purchased earlier at the Tesco next to the office. My eyes coast up and down the street from beneath the fuzz of my Russian-looking hunter’s hat, with earflaps. This and my beard has led Gerry to describe me as looking like “A Jewish intellectual.” Well, time for the sacraments. I bob my head down and tilt back the little bottle, which gurgles as I spy Frankie coming down the steps opposite, laughing!
Left, right, left left right. Still no reply. I sent it at, let me see… 9:48, and it’s now 10:00! Abbi hasn’t texted me in response to my imploring, longing, yearning message, full of wine-sodden grief, thus;
“Morning! How are thee? I enjoyed our journey into darkest Old Kent Rd. via K Way last night! Back on the rounds. Looking forward to the gig tonight- what time can you get there? Where is Rhythm Factory? Have a barry day! Sx”
As many questions as possible, all crying out for a response. Surface lightness, reflective even. Asking after her. Referring to events as ‘our…’ Showing her I’m thinking of her. The ‘x,’ though, that was contemplated for a good five minutes. Although we held hands briefly, near McDonalds on the Old Kent Road last night, I don’t know if that was too forward, or the ‘x’ too presumptuous now? Her touch sent a clean electric impulse through me, up my arm, into my brain. It cut through the K, the sodium light, the rain that I longed to protect her from, in my arms. Now each check of the messageless phone results in a little clutch of pain somewhere in the vicinity of the heart.
I swig at the wine again, not caring who sees, holding the squat bottle in my right hand, checking the phone with my left hand and thumb.
“He knew the evil of the phone.”
Is this the life I long for? No, it is what I have been given instead. And if I had what I longed for, would I need this? Look, friends, 250ml JP. Chenet Chardonnay at £1.49. Come share my humble repast!
Blue Eyes, Bitter Water (Or, It’ll Be Shite On The Nitrate)
It had just been Thursday night, now I was sitting by the river on Friday afternoon, having passed a few hours and 5 Magners in the Victoria Station Wetherspoons. The SW1 round is truly magnificent! Terry had called me up at one point, and when I answered the phone the station announcer started booming about Strawberry Hill and Twickenham, as I barrelled to the toilet. I was running a little low on money, as earning £7/hour doesn’t really correlate with an expenditure of 3 pints/hour. Therefore, I popped by the Londis outside the station, where six Grolsch were on offer. I had to buy all six, economics forced me to. Somehow, I dropped one, which split in the trolley and gushed the loupin warm beer all over the letters I was meant to be delivering. I must have been in a bit of an 808 to achieve this.
Never mind, off to the river, where I found a choice bench, cracked a surviving can and put on some Radiohead. Then I took an almighty rip on the poppers, while smoking a cigarette.
“If I get old / I will not give in / And if I do / Remind me offff thhhisssssss…
The skyline turned buildings into graphic 80s equalisers, the glass and steel, the MI5 bouncing up and down, as thin lines and contrails in blue sky gridded, twisted and grooved. The river splashed, sounds poured through my ears and out my mouth;
“Oohh… dearahh… Fuck meee….”
My heart thudded ahead of the music, and the basslines and beats of the previous night’s Paranoia Club were stoked up inside me, the Montague Arms lights strobed green and red behind my eyelids as sound coursed through the vessels escaping my head.
Even Deep Blue couldn’t process this.
Black screen, green blocky writing traces a light across my vision, across the sky:
COPYRIGHT 1982 BBC MICROCOMPUTER
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
BASIC 1.0 VER. 2
My mind booted up with a sickening lurch as I bolted upright and wheeled my legs onto the ground, knocking the Diet Lilt bottle onto the floor. Some children’s heads darted back behind the wall above my bench. They must be responsible for the bottle. The sky was suddenly ink dark. I leapt up, grabbed my trolley and ran for the stone steps. I could smell the metallic tang of uric acid. Each step made the tarnished aluminium of the trolley ring out an off-key tuning fork response to the tolling of Big Ben. Four o’ clock. Or five. I need to be back at the office. It could have been midnight for all I knew. Perhaps it was 4 or 5am?
I careened across the Whitehall junction, narrowly avoiding a gunmetal BMW accelerating towards me. The cars would moan as they pulled away from the lights, then drone past me. I stuffed the letters I hadn’t delivered (all of them) into the cyan-coloured plastic recycling bins on the side of the road. I’ll try to be green, even when blue. Do my bit.
I burst back into the office, and went past boss and assistant quickly, cradling my trolley down to the basement. I was careful not to fall down the stairs. To prove I had been engaging productively with the work, I started chatting on to the new boss about how amazing the database was that was responsible for routing and addressing the letters we delivered. I had noticed it omitted a derelict building, so I mentioned this.
“Its amazing how good that is, how the database knows, when you are delivering, where not to, like the derelict ones, aren’t in there. And the basements. Lots done, almost all in fact!”
“Have you been drinking?”
“I had a pint at lunchtime.” Look him in the eye. Look at the threadbare carpet tile.
“Its just I used to be in the police force in South Africa, so I am used to it, sensitive to detecting it.”
Did that mean he could detect even small amounts, like the proverbial ‘pint at lunchtime?’
“Oh ok. See you Monday!” Exeunt.
I swung out the door, into the cool, cool, blue night, the dirty pavement sloped upwards, a slight incline, I slid up it, into the darkness, to hide in London, to hide from life. The weekend was here. Frankie rounds the corner. He pops in the office, and back out.
“He said to me, ‘Oh no, not another drunken monkey!’”
Oh, boss man knows. But it matters not. For tonight, we are free, the possibilities are endless, the night has drawn in to meet us, all the way to 5:30, we can go left, we can go right, we can get off at any stop on the Tube, zones 1-6. Strawberry Hill, Twickenham. This freedom is what we have waited for. I could look at the moon, but I choose to look at the floor. I remembered the rest of that Radiohead tune:
“Remind me that / Once I was free”
With my arm over Frankie’s shoulder, we slope off, over the bridge and up to the mainline station. The fulcrum on which the week and our lives balance: 5:30pm, Friday. The sun around which we revolve.
He slides along as if on wheels. I do too, because of my trolley. He steals glances that I receive. The multi-coloured doors of Portobello slide behind. He can read my mind. You see, you get lonely out on your round. And the pay is only a few pounds. Maybe I can make some more, and score. He cases me, chases me, and is still there, imagining my underwear. After half an hour, he has the power, crosses over to speak to me, he’s very kind and sweet to me.
“Can I fuck you?”
“Err… Ok…” He looks rich. Tanned, fur coat. I smell oil and musk and hair. He smells rich. “I am working right now though…”
“Take my number.”
I type his number into my Ericsson flip phone as I see Terry slowly cruise by in his silver Chard van. I wonder how I could explain this situation. He won’t think it is untoward as he would never be able to grasp the twisted thinking behind it. He’s too innocent.
I hurry around the corner, leaving them behind, knees shaking, hand trembling, racing mind.
I was sitting on a wooden bench in Brompton Cemetery, trying to hold my jacket closed against the wind, when I had an idea. I should knock off early and go to a prostitute in Soho. Maybe it was the men cruising each other in the cloisters opposite; the straight, the closeted, the chronic. They were looking for something, I should be too. Plus, it has a ring to it, a ‘worth it for the anecdote’ style; visiting a prostitute on company time. Chairmen of blue-chip companies get busted for this…
So I head up to the station, passing the delicious deli which serves brilliant hot dogs in baguettes (£1.50). This street has smelt of poppers all day today. Its a bit too much. But I feel sick excited!
Exiting the tunnel of sex shops and peep shows, neon lit popper vendors and white T-shirt wearing touts behind, I see a luminous pieces of card in a doorway opposite. The cards were like the ones you see advertising ‘Cottage Pie, £3.50’ in greasy spoon cafés. They said ‘Model’ and ‘First Floor.’ I got into the stream of people walking that pavement, then slipped sideways into the doorway, ascending two steps at a time through a dark spiral stairway wallpapered in magnolia flock woodchip, tarnished by hundreds of greasy hands descending.
A man comes down, we look near each other’s face, then mumble “Cheers mate” for each other’s sidestep on the stairway. I try not to think. I am at the landing. A woman comes out of the room on the left. I can’t remember what she looked like, but my brain has conjured up an image of a woman dressed in red and black, fishnet tights with seams at the back, sharp shoulders, a little top hat. Playing cards. I don’t think she was really like that. I was directed into the room on the right. Inside, the wallpaper was worse, pond green floral, with pink swirls on the ceiling. One wall was mirror tiled. There were 70s pornographic pictures scattered around, all very soft core. Then I looked at the girl. She stood up, said hello, asked me to undress and went out.
Why didn’t I just have a wank?
She comes back in, I’m still falling about the place, taking layer after layer of winter clothing off, hoodies, coats, jackets, jumpers, shirts and T-shirts, then try to take a shortcut by pulling trousers off over boots, why, don’t know, result; I fall. I remember being alone in the junior school hall like this once, trousers stuck fast over my shoes. Why I was there alone, I don’t know or remember. I don’t know which.
The clothes aside in a heap, we go onto the bed. She asks where I’m from.
Did she need more detail? Or do I look foreign? Are all her customers from somewhere else?
“I am from Germany.”
“Oh, ok, that’s…”
She snaps a lime green johnny over my semi-flaccid penis. Dear God! I must get value for money. Quick, think sexy thoughts while she sucks that slice of rubber. Considering sex is usually a sexy thought, but it was happening, and it wasn’t. She stopped, so I tried doing it myself, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, kneeling over this woman (red/black, tits, top hat?) and got excited enough by the sheer gutter ambience of the situation, that I sucked in my gut and tried to have sex. She raised her knees up to her chest, probably protecting herself from getting any nearer to me. I must have stunk under all the clothes.
After an eternity of embarrassed jostling, like on a rush hour tube, it was finally over, and I threw my clothes on and got out of there, tipping the madam a fiver, nodding to the guy coming up the stairs, and adding to the dark marks on the wallpaper. I fancied a cottage pie.
Now, I’d like to introduce you to a very special person. His name is Terry. He was our supervisor, so I assumed he was older than us. However, a glance at myself in a train window that morning, which I compared with his clean, smooth beardless face made it clear he was much younger than us. Also, he seemed a little less knowledgeable about the world than we thought we were. We would meet him by his silver van at one of the many Chard branches across West London. Today we were in Fulham.
Terry looked over at me and Frankie coming towards him. We smiled in unison. He looked down at the ground.
“Have a good weekend, Terry?”
“Yes!” I tried to chuckle, tried to imply experience and debauch he could never know. However I just felt sick, sick of Monday, the train, the commuters and this fucking round. Terry handed us the photocopied maps that had our areas highlighted. Mine was a vast area, covering many little roads with huge Victorian terraces. I thought “Terraces. Terrance. Terry. Tezza.” I grabbed a trolley out of the back of the van (a nice silver trolley, new-looking with a bright luminous yellow bag on it) and loaded two boxes of leaflets into it, half filling it. I started to wander off.
“Wait, you need more than that.”
Busted. Terry brought another box of leaflets over, and placed them delicately in my trolley. He went back to the van as I looked on, came back with another and laboriously, deliberately, started positioning it in the trolley as well. It was bursting, the little old-granny axle was bowing under the weight.
“Terry, why don’t I just deliver the two boxes, then pick up some more later?”
He continued silently on his assignment, loading more into Frankie’s trolley. Then he put some in Gerry’s. Gerry had arrived late, humming a Fall tune and, hunched over, rapping a few lyrics from the new album:
“Bang bang, coco ba ba!”
He looked up at me and Frank from under his Thinsulate hat as he tried to rearrange the boxes Terry had loaded on. As he was late, he had the shit trolley, the one where the bag would act as a brake on the wheels if it was over loaded, and due to Tezza, it was severely overloaded. The arrangement fell apart, and a box toppled and spilled leaflets over the edge.
“Och, Terry, Terry, its happening again!”
Terry looked round from the back door of the van and saw Gerry’s hat slide off, revealing his grey wild hair, as me and Frankie looked on, laughing, Gerry wrangling with the leaflet spill.
We were up and away, dragging our fully-laden trolleys, Gerry’s being especially difficult to haul. We delivered two boxes worth each, before Terry found us in his van and loaded two more boxes onto each of us.
“Terry, look, if we just have two boxes each, we deliver them, you bring two more. The way it is now, we never deliver the bottom two, just haul them all day and bring them back.”
Tezza continues on his program loop, adding another box onto Frankie’s trolley with precision. Frankie blows some air through his teeth, biting his bottom lip.
“That fucking zero-watt bulb, can’t he see? Most of us have three lights, the sign of genius is five lights, then there’s Terry, who has no lights.”
Turning from the brick lined alley into the riverside felt like crossing a giant-sized version of one of those Dyson Blade hand driers, except the air was cold, freezing. It cut across the exposed area of your face. It felt quite good, straightened you out a bit.
“Suki was the girl who liked to hang out in the graveyard / She did brass rubbing, she learned you never have to press hard”
There was a row of deserted benches facing the grey Thames, no-one sitting there. I sit there and watch the disposal barges swing round and off to sea, gulls following:
Jacket a day-glo
Pipe mists a rainbow.
LaFarge silos and disposal barges
Go go go large on disposal barges.
Regain is its name
It lists and lies
Orange top and a
If you go large LaFarge
You get more fries
To slide in the bin
For disposal barges.
Yellow metal cans disposal barges
Sound a second horn for disposal barges.
Swing arcs slow, one month notice.
Rusted towers by Stophard & Pitt
Grey ferries cruise Cobelfret.
Mine’s a marginal seat
On the bluest day
Of the Blue Circle pay
Roll on roll off roll
On roll off.
Factory half smashed down
Windsock drifts right
Crap chips and tins in disposal barges
Upstream jump in disposal barges.
I’m so thirsty and unsure. If everyone felt like this… I’m sure they don’t its only me, always has been. My bones feel hollow and brittle, and I can’t pull my reflection into focus in the Mercedes window. My hand moves up to the left side of my neck, and I feel the little tumour there, slide it around under the skin, test its thin edge, drag my fingers through the skin. Cells peel off. Still not dead.
A 4/4 rhythm starts in my head: Simon – Cleary – Dead – Full Stop – Simon – Cleary – Dead – Full Stop. The cadence comes from another voice within; “Shut the fuck up!” Its been going like this for years now. I first felt this thing in my neck when I was 13. I was watching Medicine Man, and a child was dying of cancer. There was a tumour in his neck. I felt my neck, and it was there. My life ended there. Only Sean Connery could have saved me, and he was a fictional character, I realised. So I decided – the Centre Parcs holiday would be my last time on Earth. I wouldn’t mention it to anyone. I didn’t mind.
I got through that holiday, but left my watch in the changing rooms of the Aqua Dome. I had just been given it for Christmas. My parents brought me another present- a huge box, then another inside it, then another, another, until there was a small little black box under all those layers, right in the centre. I opened it. It was a watch. But not the same as the one I lost. I cried and cried, I threw myself from the bed to the floor, I burnt my knee on the pink rough carpet. Why? Why? Why didn’t they just get me the same watch again, from Argos? It could have all been so easy.
Now, eleven years on, I guess I’m not going to die. Not off that anyway. Nothing happened, I still had to hand in my Art homework that next Monday. Didn’t get out of that. But perhaps this has always been in my mind, brain tumours? maybe this is why I can accept sinking, going down in the marshes no matter how fast I try to run. I’m unsure. Mum is so positive. I’ve really noticed how…
“Mummy, Daddy come and look at me now / I’m a big man in a great big town.”
So, lets move on, step around the block, up those steps and pop the leaflets in. Here is a block of flats with many rusted gold letterboxes, I can put away loads of leaflets here! A earthy puff of pipe smoke drifts by, and overcomes the mouldy atmosphere of the flats’ lobby.
Yes, the marshes. I find a girl later on in this story who lived on the edge of Hackney marshes, in a house like one of a Luton childhood friend. I think the mouldy smell and the smoke must have reminded me of both of those places. Anyway, not much happened with her, she was a virgin, I was close to death. I saw her over a shoulder, touched this shoulder and turned her around, broke out of the embrace of another. She walked inside the building. When I followed into the squatted chapel with the other, another girl saw me, stood up, turned and walked away. They could tell. I’m dying.
I am standing in front of an array of coloured sheets of A4 paper, neatly arranged into stacks. My job is to put one of each into an envelope, then put the envelope in a box. It is a temporary job for this weekend only. Inside! But still involving stacks of paper. Outside my window, on the pavement by the tree, there is a girl swaying her hands left – body right, body right – hands left, with a focussed concentration.
“I am making art.” she says, then sways right, swings hands. “I am making art. I am making art.” She repositions her hands at a higher point, just above her face, looks at her hands, startled, and says “I am, making art.”
The new building that is to house the Art department is coming along well, just over the road, behind her, behind the tree. The design for the building has a big scribble of a sculpture on its balcony, like the architect tried to reinvigorate a Biro before sending off the plans. Don’t get me wrong, I do like it, and if it had happened as a result of low ink levels in a pen, I’d like it all the more.
It is these by-products of everyday living that I find interesting, they are where I see art. I put in a blue sheet, I put in a yellow sheet, I put in a green sheet, I put in a purple sheet, I put in a dark green sheet, I put in an orange sheet, I put in a beige sheet, I put in a russet sheet, I put in a little pink A5 sheet! They contain instructions to new students on how to live in Halls. The girl is still in mime mode outside. I am making art.
“These estate agents man, they’re really caning the vibe!”
Manuel and I are sitting on the steps below road level at Chelsea Embankment. The Battersea Power Station is a hollow shell in front of us. Manuel put his hand on my shoulder and explained something of the systems we work within. I wasn’t listening because the half-severed finger on his right hand was on my shoulder. I could see it, or rather, not see it, out of the blurred corner of my eye. Manuel is from Brazil, and is a thoroughly lovely guy. He organises psy-trance raves, takes part in ayahuasca ceremonies, and sends money home to his family.
Right now we are so close, so high, right at the water margin, letting a few leaflets spill into the Thames and be carried away on the current. There is a current entering me, high voltage, and I shiver with its potential energy.
“I’m fucking rinsed, man, this is so good.”
“Yes, brother, oh my God, what vibes!”
However, we never become good friends. When Terry split me and Frankie up on the rounds, hoping to divide and rule, me and Manuel quickly found similar interests. Yet it is those interests that keep us apart. You see, a normal relationship has its ebb and flow, gentle rise and fall from day to day. A drug relationship is more extreme, and it has two states: drought or flood. Anything else is just timid resignation.
Monday and Tuesday were a write-off for Manuel. His cheery character and enthusiasm for “psy-trance” and “vibes” were not seen on these days. He even did some delivery. I never thought you could feel that low. This was the result of ceremonies every weekend involving the brew “ayahuasca.”
A notable and puzzling property of ayahuasca is that neither of the ingredients cause any significant psychedelic effects when imbibed alone; they must be consumed together in order to have the desired effect.
A notable property of our little group is that none of the individuals have and significant dangerous, psychedelic or otherwise unproductive effects alone. Terry noticed this, and began to isolate us. On Mondays and Tuesdays, this was welcome by all. But by Wednesday it was all in sight, we were ready to become fully paid-up members of União do Vegetal.
He sold me out in the end, grassed me to Terry to secure his job. He caned the vibe.
“So, I’m allowed to go?”
“Yes, anyone can go.”
“Then why is it called a ‘private’ view?”
“You have to know.”
So there I go, wearing artfully de-constructed jeans, stencilled with my tag that says ‘RIIIIIIIIIP!’ I have a green T-shirt decorated with a handwritten list of reasons for temporary lapses in productive thinking that I plagiarised from some artist. I walk tall because I’m feeling small.
Frankie, Gerry and me exit a battered, graffiti-covered lift. There were was an allusion to a Fall lyric written in there: cm2. Frankie got it. The private view is in an artists’ studio in this ex-factory. A building I later found out my Dad used to work in when he was 16. It used to make lacquers for furniture. He worked on the No. 3 lathe.
In this little white room, everyone looks to the centre of the room, huddled in dark clothing in groups. There is a lot of laughter, mostly there to hasten the end of one person speaking, so someone else can speak. Then get a laugh. No one looks at the small works on the walls, yet they try every door looking for the bar. Its always a free bar. They live for Thursday nights. I grab a few Becks, put them in my jeans pockets, which dangle through the rips, and take an almighty rip on the wine box. Then pour myself a plastic half pint of wine and go and see this art we are all so excited about.
There is a 2×2” picture of a skull drawn in black ink. It is so detailed, it looks rather solid, yet is made up of a mesh of intricate lines which spiral around, it feels like the pen went behind the picture on the paper to draw the lines we can’t see on the other side of the skull, and I imagine the third side, the inside. It is really beautiful, it deserves a look, but it seems like a ghost, no one is willing to bend over slightly and peer at this small graven image.
“Is there a bar here?”
“Yes, just down that corridor on the left.” I point, he goes.
“There’s no wine left though.”
If you didn’t spot the Chris Morris reference in my description, you will have to try harder, or pretend you did. Bad referencing is a crime in many social groups, and here it is catastrophic. Its like being at a Warp Records rave and telling some guy wearing glasses and a Rough Trade T-shirt that you can’t wait to see Apex Twins. It will be of no use to call out for Squarepusher by his brother’s nickname as you are pushed out the door.
I go out onto the balcony, leave the art and artists, and look down over East London. This is truly breathtaking, the new buildings in the City, the old furniture yards and bus depots nearer by. A canal silver snakes the boundary. The moonglow surrounds the vast, standing gas monitor. I breathe in the cold, bluish air. It is cut with Marlboro Lights and liquorice rollies. They can’t decide which is hippest.
How To Get A Girl In Eight Easy Years
You know, if you get the impression it was all bad, you are wrong. It was great, as in large, and you have to do these things when they are presented to you. You only get one life, and if you accidentally blow it out from going too fast, at least you gave it a try. Things are clichés for a reason (like that one) so go and read a book, Simon.
I slid my card through the reader, and the barrier opened. I walked into the library, the warmth and the smell of the newsprint inviting. I entered the stairwell on the left, pushing open the heavy white door. Two steps up in the halogen day-glow I saw her. She was wearing a dark green duffel coat, with the hood around her shoulders. Her golden hair overflowed, and she seemed overwhelmed by the coat, hidden inside it. I said hello, as I passed, sidestepping on the landing halfway up, and she smiled and also said hello, moving around with the corner to her back. We said something, and carried on. I leapt up the remaining steps, five at a time.
I was off to meet her, synthesiser in my bag. It had been packed in jumpers, these stolen in a refund scam in TK Maxx a few years previously. I was to meet her in the studio, and we could make some music. This involved me banging the microphone, sliding it along the radiator, pressing random keys, making it go faster and faster, looking at the sound mapped out on the computer, daubed across the screen as if by a thick black brush. The music teacher looked in the window and smiled.
We had arranged to meet at the corner, roaring noon. We hit the street and ran down the stairs onto the tube. The train rattled and swerved up into the east. We talked of Ulipo, TG, bad art and Team B. We were going to have a look around London. She was so different, it was like a new city to me. We sat outside a really bright white church, among the grass and fallen branches. We walked around the market and walked into a bar. It felt like we could do what we wanted.
My girlfriend couldn’t measure up. I was sad about that, a little, but the anaesthesis was stronger. The antithesis and thesis were present, and I believed they could create a new way of being. It could all be better than this. Or as my friend Paul said, hanging drunk off my balcony “IT COULD ALL BE SO EASY!”
I wandered around and thought and thought. I rounded the pavements about the roundabout, running in front of cars, and past the taxi rank. I walked up to the park, around the stone circle, glanced at the city and descended back onto the streets.
I awoke from a night out at a Fall gig, at my Frankie’s house. I couldn’t remember the journey home. I asked what I talked about. Frankie repeated her name seven times.
“Cherry ‘brini… Cherry ‘brini.”
I recorded all this as an album dedicated to the other boss of Chard: “Barry Manners Thru Thee K-Hole.” The waves osscilate and glow, trail across the soundscape, ignore each other and wander past. They meet sometimes too. Great, if difficult listening.
“Whether to call you / Or whether to see / I never do anything / You never do things for me.”
I just wander around. I named her all the time. I talked about her to others and to myself. I was done. There was no way. It was too perfect, and I couldn’t jump in and wreck everything. And I couldn’t jump off the balcony. I waited and watched. I walked with her and raved with her, I stayed up all night talking with her. We shared loaves of bread and life stories. My mythology was that of the suffering writer, the tortured poet, the traveller between not earth and not sky. It was all bollocks. I was a self obsessed wanker, literally, and I never wrote. Definitely not possible. So when she said she liked this guy at a gig we were performing at, I went up to him and told him, asked him to come over and talk with her. They started a long relationship.
As Andrew Marvell wrote:
“As Lines so Loves oblique may well
Themselves in every Angle greet:
But ours so truly Paralel,
Though infinite can never meet.”
She and me met in the Marvellian sense of the word eight years later. Andy was right. Andy Marvell that is, not Andy Chard. Those lines should never meet. Just continue side by side forever.
Paving slabs slide onwards, beneath my feet. Weeds in the cracks, fag butts by the bus stops. The trolley rattles on.
The Fall Look, Know
Television Marquee Moon
Shirley Bassey Big Spender
Joy Division Exercise One
The Fall Smile
The Fall Garden
Radiohead A Reminder
Belle & Sebastian Sukie In The Graveyard
Talking Heads Pulled Up
Jazz Trance Barry Manners Thru Thee K-Hole
The Teardrop Explodes Sleeping Gas © Simon Cleary 2010