Thursday, August 26, 2004


Her hands caress my satsumas. Toying with them slowly, painfully slowly. Finally, finally, the sultry young woman places them onto the cold, hard metal.

"Say something," I think. "You've been waiting fifteen minutes for this moment. Tell her this is wrong. And that it's always, always, like this."

"Shout," I tell myself, "shout that there's ten of us waiting, here in a line, just for her. Ten of us. And what did that other woman do? We saw her come out, wanted her help like a goddess. But rather than rescue us, she fiddled about with the flowers. Fifteen minutes! Ten of us! Flowers! Fifteen minutes!"

"Sorry about the wait," she says suddenly, flashing me a look. Such a pretty face!

"O," I answer with an automatic smile. "No problem at all!"

I pass by the line of shoppers on the way out. Women, flicking through magazines, or fiddling with a mobile phone. Men, fuming like volcanoes, muttering, muttering. A few give me a look, as if to ask, why didn't he say something? What's he got to smile about? And I answer to myself, lovely satsumas!

Tuesday, August 24, 2004


I'm not evil, am I?

This morning: the usual street from the tube to the office - but a blind man ahead, tap-tap-tap with his walking stick - and ahead of him - some metal barriers - stacked up from a recent whatever - and him heading straight for it - and me beside him or almost beside him - and coming up to the stack - tap, tap, tap - almost there - should I say something? I don't, the stick flicks them just in time, his body stops, shudders, shakes, his mouth gasping open as bolts of fear and horror thunder through his frame.

I'm a good person, right?

The other night: dawdling up to the tube entrance, not far now, jolly with cava, thinking back to some clever joke or whatever, and goodness! Look at that homeless man. Slumped against the entrance railings like he's lost the will to live. Should give him some change. Once in a while, it doesn't hurt. Have a bit from the pizza we ordered. Get it ready - here he is now ... and he's not a man at all, but a black rubbish bag.

Now, the end of another day in the same office. Papers shuffled about, taking turns for coffee, filing a few things, nothing in the post. Outside this orderly world, the chaos of city streets, and everyday mistakes waiting to pounce. Nothing to measure the ancient simplicities of good and evil with, as I post my blog, turn off my PC, take my umbrella from the back of the door, and head for home unwitnessed, just like most days from these weeks, these months, these years.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004


Dr Freud: not needed to explain this dream.

An office: papers strewn about like rocks, and a silence like a still desert night. Faces flood to the door. Hands – that are free, that know not torture, know not slavery – welcome them in, usher them in, like a butler his master.

These hands, these hands.

The hum of the chatter sweeps in, like a sea over harbour sand. Each swollen swirl of mouth is a whirlpool – spreading sound like steam, clattering together like clowns, blind like brass instruments – blaring – blurting – and an orchestra of out-of-tune trombones marches through sleep and into the morning.

New job: needed.

Friday, August 13, 2004


With every second sheet the machine jamming, with the machine exhaling a constant, hell-like heat, with sweat flooding out, with empty boxes getting kicked into pieces, with passer-by’s getting scowls, this morning in the photocopying room defined rage. And only a few days back. Friday 13th. Rage.

O (I managed to think, in the odd moment of calm) – to be resting once again in the graveyard, the ancient little graveyard at the end of my street. To be lounging across the faded tomb – the tomb of Joseph Mitchell or Milosz, I have half-guessed-half-decided – and in the spread of summer heat that hint of a breeze – a breeze whispering its shushes in the leaves floating above – the flux of the leaves filtering the sun – the sun a sparkling flow of a patchwork light – woomph, whir, hum – and that stammer of bleeps again. Paper stuck. Section D. Please open...

O (I managed to think, in the odd moment of grace) – but think of the others in that graveyard, the bones of the dead, returned to the earth, think of those under the tombs, not above them, their times of trouble, love, work, family, fun, sex – everything totally gone for eternity. Or, even, think of those above them – the drunks wandering about the grounds, searching for a drink, for a bed, for cash, for a friend, for the soul they somewhere lost, even – as unenviable as the dead.

But try not to think of the kids playing football – whose fashions and speech are a mystery, of all the freedoms they hardly know they have, of all their futures waiting, futures to be half-found by them and half-forged by them, of their relentless energy and hormones, of all the unfucked dots of virgin cunts waiting just for them, pulsing and waiting under the skirts of teenage girls – girls cooing at them from the benches. And no machine to dirty, to darken their innocent hands with its squirt of black ink.

O (I managed to think, in a moment like a dream) – picture the roses, picture the rose beds in the graveyard, the roses fed by the soil and the dead below them, the rose with its layers of red, purple-red folds, perfect fold upon perfect, purple-red fold, spiralling to the minute dot of their centre, the source of their flowering, and the little sigh of their scent. O, to live in a dream of a rose – a symbol of the female genitalia – as mysterious and luscious as no name can capture.

The drunks in the graveyard, living in their alcoholic dreams, still have bodies that need to piss. One, a big guy in his mid-30s and always track-suited, has a favourite spot amongst a bed of roses. Hidden from the road, trees behind it, with a view of the rest of us, there at a rose he adds to the world a stench from himself, a poison.

Someone walking past him, someone trying not to watch him, someone smelling the rose in ignorance after he’s gone – that someone might have felt annoyed, angry, something approaching rage, even. Or, perhaps, they might have sensed the symbol of a sad collision. A collision of the perfect world that can flower eternally only in the forms of a dream, colliding with the world and its moments that march machine-like on – stuttering or not – the space-spun world that is always turning, always tumbling; sensed how ideas alive behind eyelids drown in a flood of cold facts. Then caught between two realms are human hands – hands that are praying, sweating, groping, to make work the tools of this world, to find good use for the tools of this world, perhaps.

(But don’t forget the human feet, that almost kicked the life out of a photocopier, this ordinary morning.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


The smell of smoke in my school uniform, love-bites, alcohol on my breath, bags of marijuana, drug-dotted eyes, phone calls to this or that girl - and her noises later in the conservatory, badly-written books praising like a god the psychedelic-self, alcohol in my stride: surely, days of having something naughty to hide from my Mum were long gone?

On Saturday afternoon, I arrived at the train station back home waking from a doze, vague about what happened the night before. Why was my tongue hurting even more than my stomach or head? Why had I stunk, really stunk, of booze this morning? What exactly had happened last night? There in the toilets, I inspected my mouth. And there it was, about half-a-millimetre long, something between a scab and a cut. Queenie! She had bitten my tongue! That was right! And chucked a drink on me! For no reason! Surely, days of giggling about drunken escapades were long gone, too?

Back home, Mum started filling me in on all the neighbourly news. Teenage pregnancies and divorces mostly, one kid going off the rails with drugs, two deaths from old-age, some child and the grades he needs for University. "What are you smiling about?" she asked, out of the blue. A shrug of the shoulder, a noise meaning "dunno" - all with my mouth shut. "You're strangely quiet Adam." Just a bit tired, I explained, through thinly opened lips, stifling a smile at how ludicrous I must seem to be.

Eventually, it's time for the usual, inescapable video: the hospital drama she watches religiously once a week, and has nearly all of taped, too. I tried suggesting a game of something instead, but that's never interested Mum. "You'll love it if you just give it a proper go, Adam," came the usual plead. "This episode is a classic."

"What's that?" she says, about the book with me.

"Walt Whitman? A poetic celebration of America's unique vitality?" she said, echoing the back cover. "Shows what he knew!"

Then she remembers that she saw that Johnny earlier, who I went to school with. I could do with someone to whitter on to about Queenie. How she used to work with me, there was always this tension, but I didn't bother - other people were around then and she knew it. Until last night, that was. In fact, I thought, I may as well chuck in Katy, Cath, Molly, Kat; can't have seen Johnny for over a year.

Johnny, as it turns out, was as keen as me to escape to the pub. On the walk up the hill to The Churchill, he lights a spliff. "Want a toke?" he offered after a few pulls.

"I thought those days of this stuff were long gone," I said while deciding. "But heh, why not?" Something else to hide.

"Damn," I spluttered, passing it back, "is that stuff strong or am I light-weight?"

"Both," says Johnny.

The pub is a strange place. Photos of Churchill and World War Two victory parades everywhere, bearing down on us. Quiet for a Saturday night. Too hot for most people to bother. Big leather seats. A fruit machine, silent, flashing, unplayed. A few men drifting about with tattoos and football shirts. We sit near a couple of girls who are finishing their huge meal, and catch up with gossip about school mates.

I remember one piece particularly because of the effect it had on Johnny after he'd finished telling it. I'd asked Johnny what he was doing now, how the lovelife was, and so on. "Still top secret stuff in military intelligence." Exciting? "You don't want exciting. Take old Bradley. You remember Bradley?" I lie and say I do, to keep the story shorter. For some reason, I was considering asking the prettier of the girls if her meal was nice.

"Police officer, old Bradley. On the beat. Complained for the first two weeks that the job wasn't exciting. One day, he's walking along. In front of him, a doddery old geezer with a walking stick stepped out in the road. Same time, car charging along same road, doing fifty in a thirty. Hits the old guy around the kneecap. Didn't break it, didn't bend it, didn't twist it. Sheared his lower leg right off. Sliced it. That's what that kind of speed can do. Bradley runs up, tries to save him. Within minutes - minutes - the old boy has bled pints. No chance. Gone. Dead. Bradley's loved the quiet life since, when he can get it. No more complaints about excitement, oh no."

The girl to my left with her unfinished chips, who was becoming astoundingly attractive, flinched, shifted away a touch. Winston stared on. Two guys arm-wrestled. Should have stuck with the hospital drama. The beer seemed to taste funny. And amidst all this vaguely spinning stuff, Johnny started opening up about his personal life. The affair he's been having with Jackie, his bosses wife. His boss who just got back from the middle east. How she ought, really ought, to leave that bastard James for Johnny. As the hint of a tear glinted out from the corner of Johnny's eye, it struck me as hilarious that all their names begin with J. Damn spliff. Something else to hide from someone else.

The pretty girl to my left, seemingly the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen, while toying with a chip, was talking with her plump friend. Telling her not to worry about men. Especially if she would lose some weight, she was sure men would flock to her. Telling her they were only seventeen anyway. That she didn't have to worry about getting married and having babies, not just yet. Really, she didn't. She was sure she wouldn't end up alone. Telling her that she didn't mind having this conversation again, but why don't they talk about diets instead? Or applying to university? She really should, didn't she think? Well, mighten she warm to the idea as the year goes on -

- and "What do you think of the plan?" asks Johnny.

"The plan?"

"Yeah. To get Jackie. I can see that little half-battered brain of yours whirring away. What do you think?"

"Hmm." Nothing I can say, of course.

"Maybe that girl next to you," stated Johnny. "What do you think?"

"Maybe," I muttered, trying to hide my total lack of listening. "What do you think?"

"I think when Jackie sees me in the club, with her there with James, and me there with some bird on my arm, that bird I mean," hushing his voice. "And when Jackie can't do anything about it, and when I'm with that fit bird and she looks really up for it - Jackie'll go home and know she has to leave James. She'll feel exactly what I feel. She'll see me exactly as I see her. With someone else who's wrong. And I think the girl next to you is perfect. What do you think?"

That it's madness. And what I said was, "You know how in those computer games we used to play, you'd get more and more powerful weapons to use as the game went on, but gradually?"


"You're going from pistol straight to bazooka." Johnny gives me a doubtful look. "Maybe try talking to her, and giving her time. She is married, you know."

"Yeah," said Johnny. "But I haven't had sex for two weeks." He looks sheepish.

I change the subject, kind of, and show Johnny my tongue.

"What happened to that?"

"I got bit last night, kissing this woman I used to work with. Very drunk. But I think she did it on purpose. I'm seeing her next week for her birthday anyway, I'll ask her then. I don't really remember."

"London," summarized Johnny. "Full of freaks. Never fancied it myself."

Later we get chatting to the two girls. Or rather Johnny does, mostly about being in the army. Looking at the perfect one, I conjure up the vague idea that I want to tell the plump one - the one worried about ever finding a man to make a family with, the one not sure whether she should go to university or not - that she is but a child on a hillside, staring over the valley of her future, staring over from her childhood home at the hillside on the otherside, staring over trying to see her future family home, dreaming that a man will come to fly her over the valley and straight to the hillside on the otherside - and that she should instead be readying herself for the valley, readying herself for lectures and parties and clubs and travels and jobs, readying herself by not staring over at otherside of the valley, and not by raiding the cupboards of her current, childhood home, but by preparing for the path through it, the path through the valley with all its sexual freedom and new friends and different places and whatever she wants - from which she will find what to take with her and make a new home with on the otherside, there on that future hillside home, and what she will leave be in the valley. And of course, in the valley she'll find men, lots more men, interesting men, different men. My head spins more. Have I been staring at the pretty girl too much? She sharply announced her boyfriend was driving up to meet them, soon. Night fell. A stumble home. Another spliff. A fall. A graze. Something else to hide.

Strange to be stoned again, ending up back in the bedroom of my boyhood. Ancient music magazines, faded photos, a few certificates, old tapes, the odd scrapbook, and a couple of games, dotted about. Life in London sits in a valley miles away, with its chaotic swirls of people and lights, and as flecked with human pollution and confusion as anywhere is. I look at my green, adult face in the mirror. The face that has been skiving work to play on the internet as if it mattered no more than a dull day at school. The face that has been playing around with women as if they made up a hand in a children's game of cards, and the prize no more meaningful than a payment of matches. And surely I am not just another card in the pack, being shuffled around randomly, getting dealt into arbitrary hands? With currencies and fires flickering around me without a care in the world? Surely this is just the drugs talking their tedious nonsense? Through the wall came snores, seemingly in agreement.

Friday, August 06, 2004


I have spent this morning lying in a graveyard and mostly thinking, Whose bright idea was this? A week’s holiday at home. Or rather, a week’s holiday spent lounging about London. Doing the touristy stuff. Seeing the sights, dancing under the lights. Lunching out, catching up. Or something...

Omens were there at Katy’s little gathering, perhaps, the only major thing I’ve done this week. Funny how someone you think you know comes across differently when she’s amongst her other friends.

First off, there was Ewan. An actor! Great. But not acting in anything right now? Some work soon though? Yes. Great! What’s that? It’s work in a call-centre. O... another temp grandly declaring themselves an Actor, announcing the word Actor as though the essence of their being shone out from that word, that word a beam from a lighthouse across the choppy ocean of low-wage London jobs, announcing to the ship of their future the port of the stage is theirs, just sail in the right direction, faith in the breeze will bring you home. Good luck, I tell him of course, when he tells me about some audition for some course in Poland he’s got coming up. But I don’t really mean it. Anyone who’s worked in the lower levels of an open-plan office here has seen Actors drifting into the slavedom of middle-age administrative assistance, heard them preparing their excuses for their resignation from the stage, for their retirement from treading the boards, sometimes even disappearing to teach kids, kids who at least might remember that last insane piece of physical theatre without laughter or boredom.

“I’m so glad you chatted with Ewan!” Katy says much later, who usually spots when I’m weary or unimpressed before I do. “He’s an actor, you know.” I answer, “No, he’s not.” The smile falls from her face and she looks over my shoulder. Stood right behind me. But I tell myself he didn’t hear that, as he shakes with a hard squeeze my hand goodnight, and goodbye.

Second, Pamela. Enormous her body spreading out over three-quarters of the two-seater sofa, even disguised in that cascade of loose, flowing black clothes. “Got any coke?” she asks me. “Cola?” I say. “Are you joking with me about cocaine?” she snaps. “Obviously not very successfully,” I answer. Silence. “I don’t have cocaine, no.” Pamela turns to Katy, and asks her. “You could try Clay over the road,” says Katy. “Forget it,” says Pamela. What happens next vaguely mystifies me. Katy – funny as anyone Katy, not giving a crap about meaningless crap Katy, easygoing Katy – is so very, very sincerely impressed by Pamela’s new ring. By Pamela’s recent raise and how much she earns as a script-editor for BBC dramas now. By Pamela’s seven hundred pound handbag. Perhaps it’s gratitude, because Pamela is treating Katy to a break in Barcelona soon. “Getting a Pepsi,” I say, and on my return I sit elsewhere.

I sit, in fact, next to Ian. As we chat, I watch Katy moving amongst her friends. Making flirty, nervous puns with Hilary about that threesome we had back in April (which I didn’t think that Katy really liked), glancing over at me and Ian. Gazing impressed at Julian as he waffles on about Philosophy and then some Activism website. I sense a bad mood rising and don’t know why. Time to get to know Ian.

Ian, as it turns out, is new to London. He took a photography degree and tried to make it in his home town. A few exhibitions here, a bit of sponsorship, a few commissioned pieces there. His home-life sounded similar to mine – keeping from school just a few close friends, whilst laying low and letting the mass get on with their fighting, failing and fucking. And eventually, to London! London and its great galleries, London, its millions and its mystery, its mess and its majesty. Or, kind of: in fact, to London to work for a magazine for lads, the sort stuffed with interviews with the wilder of the football and film stars, asking them about birds and boozing, stuffed with pictures of girls in underwear dishing out their wisdom on the subject of the best sex in the world – and at the grand age of twenty-two, no less, stuffed with ludicrous adverts for razors, aftershaves, and body-building feed.

Ian says he’ll get back to proper photography soon, as he shows me some of his work in the magazine. Odd to think, as I look at the woman with her breasts blurting out of her blouse while she eats a curry, that metres away from her stands the guy sat next to me, who is wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt and denim, and who has long, lank black hair, under which his pretty, nervous face is talking wistfully about the photos he used to take of his home town, of the canals and shoppers, photos of the fights outside the night clubs, of the struggles of local shops and provincial lives, of his home town, where with such false-confidence the fists of adolescent boys grope for wads of such bold, brightly coloured pages, and pay his wage while elsewhere, he forgets about them and rolls himself a spliff.

The conversation stops as someone very drunk announces they want to play a game. It goes like this. Someone picks three people, and you have to decide who you’d have a dirty weekend with, who you’d marry, who you’d kill. Katy kills Stephen Hawking in order to have a dirty weekend with Bruce Forsyth and marry Prince Charles. And so on. Eventually it occurs to someone to play the game with the people in the room. I get to marry Hilary, suffer a dirty weekend with Pamela, and Katy kills me. For my part, I kill them all and use my hand. “Play serious, Adam! We all are,” says Pamela, and I feel nauseous.

That was my excuse to leave to the rest of my unsatisfying holiday. Did I spend this morning mostly thinking, Whose bright idea was this? Or have I more been trying to work out why I like this graveyard so much? Or plotting about the drinks with Queenie tonight? Or deciding whether Saturday and Sunday in the country is a good idea? I don’t recall. Insubstantial thoughts swirl about like the drifting wisps from cigarettes, that disappear into the drunken dark of a party night. Perhaps I spent this morning mostly staring up at the planes – ants crawling across a bright blue surface. Little dots departing, their smoke-trails crossing, then darting apart and away so distantly. One of them containing Katy and Pamela. Off to Barcelona. One of them containing Katy, Katy whom I suppose for a week or so I have been wishing safe journey, bon voyage, adios, goodbye.


“I know where we can shelter,” said my buddy and IT guy Chris after coffee, as the storm caught us, unleashing its dark horde of rain, and gusts of wind assaulted the coherence of umbrellas. “The internet.” A sprint and a phone call later, and I’m stood outside a huge building at the corner of a street. No door, no sign, no windows, no name. Just mirrors, a whole building made of mirrors, floor to roof, showing a city under water, with water pouring down them.

One of the mirror-panels has a line running down the middle of it, and a small panel to its side. Chris waves a card over the panel. It opens to reveal a pad. Chris puts his hand on the pad, and the pad flashes green. We push through the door and escape the rain.

Inside is a reception area. No-one is here. No papers on the desk, not files on the shelves. The draws are empty. A silver chair sits behind a silver desk. A telephone crouches on the desk in silence. Two chairs the other side of the desk wait indefinitely. The number “3” is projected on to the wall at the far end of the room, above a lift. The clank of our umbrellas as we hook them round the coat stand is shocking, like something clinking on a Church floor during prayer. Then, again just electricity quietly humming its monotonous song.

“Rare that anyone is ever here,” says Chris.

Another scan of Chris’s hand, and into the lift, a silver cube with four buttons. Up to the second floor. Outside, a corridor. The first door. Another scan. In we go. And there it is – stacked on rows and rows of grey shelves, from ceiling to floor, from left to right the width of the big building – the internet. Little lights are everywhere flashing on and off, endless the hum of electricity, and the faint sound of our human breath.

“We own eight of the shelves,” says Chris. “A fraction of a fraction.”

Strange now, to be typing on an internet page, knowing it is somewhere coded as little flashes of light on boards on shelves, surrounded by mirrors and not quite silent, and immune to rain and lightening. Strange to think of this lumped along with the terrible porn and high-class art-nudes, with the important news and the chatter about Buffy, with bloggers crying out for love and bloggers hitting out with cries, the political pages boiling over with hateful howls and the photo-albums of kittens, with film reviews and first schools, with... with what I know and what I don’t know. Amidst all that stuff existing in unpeopled rooms. Never to be summed as one, never to mean one thing to all people. And of course, whoever you are, you have flicked a few lights amidst those miles of electricity to bring you arbitrarily here, to pass your human eye over a story about sheltering from the rain that happened a couple of days ago, and then to go on, into the unknown, elsewhere.