George Pringle

George Pringle writes…

The Luck that Cards Bring

What a listless day: Grey and Overcast

Today is made for clearing and packing into boxes

and bin bags for the charity shop, or the clothes bank.

I’m not leaving (yet), I’m cleaning. 

What is all this stuff, anyway?  Each item is a lead. 

A thread come loose to remind you of another time.

I shouldn’t be so weary.  It’s just…

I’ve this feeling of being stuck. 

Of waiting:

I was always very wary of that.  

Back in the bar I was always waiting…

for some guy to save my life.

– “What if he made you sad?”

Be wary of superstition

of tarot cards…

And witches.

When I was 24, I believed in all that.  

I’d sit on the floor in my best friend’s flat,

smoking my fingers to the bone.  

Drawing my Major Arcana…

We were very serious with it.

The Psychic-

Signs…

Divine Intervention.

Maybe it’s because we felt special

When you’re young, you’re always feeling special, 

and everything means something.

The luck that cards bring…

is a big deal.

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Reduced Aggregate Demand

“Pear’s Soap smells of The Blitz”

My perfume smells of Fig

Grandmother wore

“Je Reviens”

“I will return”

War speak, for all you earn, being but a memory.

The power- 

Of being someone who isn’t there.

She sewed herself into dresses. 

A waist so thin, I can’t imagine.

Short black hair

Like waves of silk 

Tonight I wear cheap high street

And boots I’ve had since way back when…

No bathtub 

To measure water…

They say youth is a real fountain

An immeasurable stream

And as you grow away from  memories-

“Je Reviens”

Manufacturer, “Worth”

The party stops for nobody

The trees, without your name carved in.

Delete

And onwards, always

Better leave before you’re late –

Calculate your Net Worth.

The Jacob Chronicles

Well, well, well, if it isn’t my favourite person!” he said, bustling in, heavy beneath his carrier bags. He lips spread into a wide smile and hunched over like that he had about him something of a Frog. A sort of charming caricature of a Frog…

I dreaded this daily appointment as much as I looked forward to it. I downed the last of my coffee and pulled together my Jacob strength. It was going to be a trip. I had to get onboard…you know, fasten my seatbelt. Most importantly, I had to perform. This was the thing that made his day.

He sat down in his usual seat in the corner and grinned, wide and antagonistic.

“You know I thought of you the other day. I thought about what you said…” he tailed off before tensing up into a slightly frightening and uncontrollable seizure of mirth.

What?” I said, defensively.

“But first, I gotta get some water.  Could you get me some water?”

I looked at the water stand, I’d forgotten to put it out again.  I went to the tap and filled a tumbler for him.

“I mean, you gotta forgive me…” he said, all New York. Thoroughbred. Like a bagel with legs.

“What…”

“Im sorry…” he said, wheezing into his neatly pressed shirt. “I’m sorry but I just had to tell someone else the story you told me.”

“What story?”

“The story about the 25 year old guy…you know, the date in the bar. When he said…”

Oh god.”

“When he said he preferred porn to having sex”

“Yes, Jacob. Yes, it was very funny wasn’t it.”

“Hahahaha. I just thought, what a stupid asshole. You go on a date with this incredible woman and…aye, it totally killed me.”

“Well, Jacob you know, it’s a modern problem.” I said with a loaded sincerity toward his grey hair.

He started rummaging around in his Paul Smith carrier bag. It was beat up around the edges from following him everywhere. He always had the Paul Smith with him.

He produced a bottle of Hermes, “Terre D’Hermes and doused himself, liberally in it.”

The smell permeated the whole space, making it feel like an airport.

“Jacob…”

“Yes?”

“You know how they have Bag Ladies…well…”

Well?

“…are you a Bag Man?”

He looked up over his spectacles before retreating his face to his shoulder, gangster style.  Like a pissed off De Nero…

With a theatrical hostility, he plunged his hand back into the luminous pink carrier bag  before producing a large, yellow roll-on and hoisting it up under his pinstripe shirt.

“Jacob…Are you putting on your deodorant infront of me?”

“What, is that not ok?”

“Seems like kind of a personal thing to do…don’t you think? Wait…is that a L’Occitan deodorant?”

He wrinkled his brow in amazement

“How do you even know that…it hasn’t even got a logo on it anymore”

“I know because I had that deodorant, Jacob. Don’t waste your money on £18 deodorants. Get some Nivea in your life.”

She knows the price! This is killing me! You’re a real kick, do you know that?”

I continued…

“Only spend on your face and your hair.’

“You wanna now the real reason I bought it? I was travelling and I couldn’t get anything else.”

“Who are you kidding?! (suddenly going a bit New York, myself) You thought long and hard about that deodorant. You thought about how it will look in your bathroom, what it says about you.”

“You gotta stop it, you’re killing me! You know I told my girlfriend there’s a woman who serves me coffee in London who abuses me. She said, “good!”

“When are you seeing her next?”

“New Year’s! We’re going to Switzerland.”

“Euthanasia Retreat?”

Hahaha. This is why I love you. That could only come from you! Euthanasia retreat…The St.Moritz hotel…last meal, on the house!”

“Hahahaha” (I’m really laughing now…)

“Happy New Year! You know it’s going to be my birthday next week too…”

“How old are you going to be?”

“32…”

“That’s a beautiful age” he said, smiling suddenly in a rather peaceful way.

“Have you got me a present? You know…for all the hard work?”

He looked poleaxed before going back into the Paul Smith for some time and producing a book. He leapt up suddenly and placed it on the counter before returning swiftly to his seat.

I had a look at it. It was “Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky” by Hamilton. I’d read this. And yes…all this…it was a strange moment.

“Thanks Jacob, that’s sweet” I said, picking it up a little hesitantly.

“It’s really starting to happen…age…” I said, pretending to read the back cover, trying to avoid eye contact.

“Will you listen to me?” he said abruptly before fastening his coat and gathering up his many bags before shuffling over the counter and leaning in, conspiratorially.
“Now…you gotta promise me you’re not gonna be a jerk and make me laugh.”

I pulled my face into some kind of a semblance of serious.

I promise

“Don’t care about that age bit one bit. Now lissen’ You are one of the most beautiful people I know, both inside and out. I really mean it. Those boys just don’t deserve you!”

And with that he left.

Later that night, I started reading the Hamilton in bed. I noticed something caught between the pages…it was an eyelash. I pulled it out on my finger and looked at it. It was short and black.

Suddenly I felt creeped out, lying there in all my deshabille, with Jacob’s intimate eyelash perched upon my pink index. I got up like a woman possessed and hurriedly thrashed at the blinds, keeping the eyelash steady on my finger. I opened the window and flicked it out.

Blowing it would have been too ceremonial.

As bad as a kiss.

 

 

 

Safe Space

I go to take the cup from the table and I notice something unusual about the surface of the wood. It has had something dug into it in biro. I look closer as I wipe the crumbs onto the saucer. It’s my initials…Someone has taken a biro and written ”GP” with a heart underneath it. I stare, momentarily transfixed.

Yes, that was one of my lyrics…”I carved your name on my desk”. This had to be a fan…Only a fan would do that. All of a sudden, I feel plain spooked. This person who has this knowledge, that I work here….they might have heard my conversations behind the counter. The counter, that was the biggest stage of them all.  No wonder I felt so comfortable. If I threw my voice a little too far, you’d hear it, you’d have some nugget, some little piece, to take away and stick to my face…create something around me.

We all did it, I’d noticed. We all hammed ourselves. Otherwise, how survive this cabaret life? Be a bigger version…that’s what it was…Being a bigger version was all I really knew. “George Pringle” could be a waitress too. In fact, I’d just give them that. What a sequel! The Waitress, in an apron.

What a fantasy.

I look at all the “readers” of this city sitting around me, worried it could be any one of them….reading their books…typing on their tablets, feigning their analogue sensitivity. I want to grab them all and say “You know it’s dead! It’s all fucking dead!!” To just grab the laptop off the desk and throw it across the room by now, in my head I’m reeling around like Isabelle Adjani, laughing in a crazed way…“Nobody cares if you sit in a dusty old chair. Hahahahahahaha. Nobody cares! Nobody cares because it’s dead. It’s dead! It’s all fucking dead! You won’t make a difference-you won’t make a difference. Hahahaha!”

Suddenly a young woman gets up from the table in the corner. She walks across the room, slowly before stopping at the water station at the end of the counter. She pours the crystal fluid slowly into a tumbler. She lifts this elixir to her lips, as she does so the lamp catches it.  Backlit by the terrace, it is divine.

She opens her mouth:

“You know, it’s not technically the end. You know, there’s some really great initiatives going on at the moment. The world is changing. We’re all recycling and experimenting with the way we order our lives. We’re all investigating the post-truth of our own identity and discovering that we are much more splendid than we ever thought and the power of our incredible and enlightened identity will change the world which will, in turn, save the planet from all imminent harm and so, through this curation of our knowing and conscientious actions, we encourage our own deep-learning of one another and in the process, achieve a utopia that is not victim to the hands of capitalism or corruption or climate change.

We will all be fit, clean and intelligent. The strongest minds will survive. We will learn to channel all negativity away from our brains and in the process become better human beings. And wearing this very clean, fresh lycra, it’s easy to feel…the change…and streaming these movies on our laptops and having this pristine sex with our own hands, alone in our bedrooms and only travelling in Ubers and choosing the self checkout and when we go home only chatting real talk with lovers on messenger (before we switch them off) and when we are done with the day we will feel yes, we successfully got through that day without having a negative impact on the world, on others and yes, this really is a safe space. We have been mindful. From the sky…we can see ourselves as though we are another planet. And we can say, safely, “it was good.”

 

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Marianne, The Faithful

Mexico City.

N.B. The events, characters and firms depicted in this photoplay are ficticious. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual firms, is purely coincidental.

The plane pushed its way into the sky. Purple midnight cradled them as they rocked in a cosy way against the clouds. By now they were all exhausted. Beyond the aluminium, it seemed to become warmer as they headed south, across the border. Contained in this cheap and empty airplane, they drank beer, loose in their company.

Then they hit the city. It was alight. Lights…as far as they could see and all and everything they could see, was lit. Illuminated swimming pools, stencilled palm trees, billboard signs and sprawls of houses glittering on endless horizons.

They whooped, wildly, excited, like kids. Delirous. Eyes, widely drinking in the jewelled surfaces.

Met with a sign at the airport.

The promoter was waiting in the hotel foyer, wearing cuban heels and an expensive looking burgundy leather. They dropped their bags and he took them to a hip bar. They ate oranges which coffee grounds aside their tequila and picked at fusion food against the quasi-colonial interior. They drank a lot of tequila and beer and then went back to his apartment, where he and his girlfriend, Clara, plied them with Mescal and regaled them with stories of predictable debauchery.

Marianne wasn’t so sure about promoters.  Sometimes they would sit around Mick as though he was some kind of a genius, about to preach his unique Gospel.  They were nervous creatures, so reverent.  She despised it.  It had a lack of dignity to it…all this paying for the playing and the entertaining and the wide-eyed wonder at these people.  We’re just flesh, she thought.  Especially this band.  We all shit and fart, you know, we’re the worst…we’re the ugliest people you’ll ever meet…egos like swiss cheese…we’re there in the drive-thru, eating shit meat and rowing, you know, we’re rowing all the time. We can’t even get on because we’re all alcoholics.

She went out and sat on the balcony, looking into the dark. She could hardly see a thing. She smiled, simply, high on the Mescal. She giggled, feeling euphoric, vague yet immediately connected with her surroundings in a benign, almost zen way. In spite of her slackened state, she sat, analysing her calm, almost disturbed by it…thinking it over so that it almost ceased to be and she became normal again, just a girl sitting on a balcony. This balcony could be anywhere in the world…

But this balcony was in Mexico City and she was becoming unwell.

Ashen Face (in photos)

Hair:

Almost grey

Slippery, like a baby’s.

At around four in the morning, she awoke to a racket in the bathroom. Keith had thrown himself drunkenly from the neighbouring bed and plunged his head beneath a jet of water. She listened to him desperately gulping whilst Mick snored in a jurassic way. She had always been a light sleeper. This was the limit. She lay there, parched and grumpy.

“What an idiot”

Rule Number 1: Do not drink the water in Mexico City.

In the morning they smoked, blearily on the hotel balcony with coffee from a machine. The shower ran in the room next door. Everything sounded small: Carpeted. The building across was being renovated, the roof had been peeled off and men without hard hats on were clambering around on ladders. Down the middle of a neighbouring building was a large crack in a Nouveaux detail. Sign of a past quake.

Clara picked them up for lunch. She drove them to a very good restaurant. As they passed traffic islands filled with succulents and palms, she mused on her life in the city. “Yeah…You know, when I moved here I thought I was having a problem with the food. I had a bad stomach all the time and then I realised it was because of brushing my teeth. I was using the tap water to brush my teeth and it was making me sick”.

She tried to suppress a wry smile and glanced over at Keith, who looked a little green.

That afternoon, they wandered the streets of the area trying to find the venue. They passed tiny corner shops with little tables with vinyl tablecloths. Televisions buzzed within. The misery of lugging this equipment, the hard plastic handle and wrenched arm socket, had become a daily dread.

In soundcheck, she could feel everything through her bones. She could feel the bass vibrate up through her feet and into her chest. A sudden, stiff pounding seemed to be caught in her neck. Her breathing seemed slow and shallow. Every sound sent a tremor through her breasts. And somewhere in the back of her head, she was taking stock. She was freaking out. What was she doing here, so far from home, in Mexico with the boys in this band? Wasn’t it only a year or so…yes it was…she’d lost her mind completely. She could hardly leave the house. The London underground howled at her, shrieking and wrapping her tight in its cape.

Her room was a prison. She would wake and sit in bed, breathing in a laboured fashion, counting the pounds, effusing strange, half-formed feelings that had not the energy to be tears, to be sounds…

She never knew if it were an anxiety attack, a hangover or perhaps, plain exhaustion. Either way, she told the promoter she was feeling strange and needed to lie down.

She went back to the hotel and slipped in and out of a frightening consciousness. She felt detached from her body, drifting in the plush down of the thousand tog duvet. Lost in a clean, plastic hotel land. She had palpitations when she tried to stand.

There was a knock on the door and the boys and an unknown man in a leather arrived. They don’t remember his name but they called him Gabriel on account of he was Mexican and in his own, lukewarm way, something of an Angel. The boys sat around the bed looking at her. Look at this (she thought) all these guys sitting around…trying to bribe me. What are they going to do, sedate me? They don’t need help with that.

Roman Holiday

But Seedy

They need me

To complete the Royal Tour

And lying like this…they ain’t got no synth.

Keith handed her a drink. As it turned out, Gabe was also some kind of a Witch Doctor. He had with him an enormous bag of dried cocoa leaves and herbs and rocks to chew.

She was beginning to feel very calm and still, as though she were a pale blue glass of water.

“Did you like the Valium Water?” asked Keith.

She couldn’t respond.

It made sense.

The boys left her alone with the Angel who spent an hour massaging her. He did this in a reverent way, as though she were a saint. “Shouldn’t this be more dirty…” she thought as she lay, like a pancake, flipping when appropriate. When he was done and had left the bag of cocoa leaves next to the bag of weed on the dresser, the boys came back in with some room service. She sat up in bed like a sick kid and ate.

They couldn’t lose this gig. It was the only one that paid. In fact, it had made the whole tour possible. It didn’t matter if she went home and died, they had to play tonight.

So she sat up. She put on her Go-Go dress. She drew a lick of liner…

They got paid.

They stayed up until four in the club which was full of beautiful women. The most beautiful women they had ever seen.

At some point they lost Keith.

In the morning, they woke up too late. Keith was nowhere to be seen. She looked at her phone. It was half past six. They had to get a taxi to the airport. Mick tried to phone Keith but there was no reply. She looked across the room at all his clothes which were in a heap on the floor…In a blind fury, she packed up his things, cursing all the while.

Fucking hell, what am I? His fucking mother?”

and

“What kind of a prick just goes missing when we have a flight to catch?”

In the midst of all this, Marianne was outside of herself.  It suddenly became a film  of a story from the 70s.  She didn’t know whether she were really awake.  She noticed there was a very large volume of narcotics in the room. She looked at the weed next to the Room Service Menu and thought:

Holy Fuckballs

She had been in America too long.

She took the drugs and threw an amount out the window. She watched as the buds caught on the city wind. It was a hazy morning, much like a dream. The men were back on the construction site, fussing around an isolated sink unit. She rushed into the bathroom with the bag and threw some down the toilet, before flushing it. There was still so much left…she took the rest and stuffed it into the tissue box.

Now she was Hunter S.Thompson.  Yes, if Hunter.S weren’t such a  disappointment…

And if all the girls in the stories weren’t always christians…or prostitutes or…

you know, peripheral cocksuckers.

You know, Rock & Roll is for dudes...

She was learning the hard way.

Dude, don’t forget it.

The morning was fragrant with Diesel and Acacia on the highway out to the airport, the palms and road signs bent through her plastic lens.

She awoke from this in the airport. Keith had arrived in the end. It seemed he hadn’t even got laid, he’d just stayed out, partying. Mick lost his landing card. There was a drama. In spite of all this they made it back to L.A, drinking Margarita Mix as they changed at:

Dallas Fort Worth.

 

At Least I have Nail Varnish

I sat watching BBC news, on mute.  The subtitles were out of time with the mouth movements.  What a pain to be deaf and to know you’re being cheated. Like everyone else is one step ahead. The old lady infront had candy floss for hair…a cauliflower head.  A friend of mine once said old ladies have cauliflower heads.

I wondered, studying the back of this woman, whether I too would become a cauliflower head one day.  One moment, you’re a lithe thing, with hair that swings around your waist.  The next, you’re a cauliflower head.  Then you’re dead.

When my name was called, I entered the clinic.  “Miss Richards-Pringle”.  God I hated it when someone came out to shout my name and all the other patients looked around, to see where the person with this name might be.  This name, it was so longwinded.  So self-important.

My doctor was fairly elderly.  He had glasses and speckled, freckled arms.  His forehead was large and bald and flaky with small red discolourations.  It seemed entirely appropriate he worked in dermatology.

“Miss Richards-Pringle, what brings you here today?” he said, casting his eye over my notes.

“My nails.”

“I see, yes” he said, with a silence, running his eyes down the paper.

“Alright, well let’s have a look.”

He shifted himself towards me on his office chair, the claws of which scraped the floor.

He got out a torch and peered, with a laboured senility at my fingers with a magnifying glass.  The student doctor who was sitting in, started taking notes.

“Right index, minor pitting…right middle, serrated…left thumb, discolouration.  Yup…yup…yup”

Once he was done with his inspection there was a pause and he pushed himself clumsily back to his desk.  There was a moment of calm before he started his prognosis.  He said it quick, like a rehearsed speech and in a slapdash manner:

“Yes, it is seems you do have Psoriatic Nails.  Psoriatic Nails is a kind of Psoriasis.  It’s an autoimmune disease.  Now, there are a number of treatments for this condition.  We can use Salicylic Acid, Calcipotriol or Tazarotene…Local treatments applied are often not very effective, however.  Or we can inject steroids into the nail bed but this is not always successful and you can risk losing the nail and so we find usually, the best method is to just leave it.  I would say, looking at your case that perhaps it is best to not pursue a course of treatment.  What do you do for a living?”

“I work in a bar.”

“And so you use your hands a lot.  Do you often get your hands wet?”

“Yes.  I’m always washing up.”

“And do you wear gloves?”

“Not all the time.”

“I would suggest that you use gloves whenever you can and try to keep them dry…Yes, this is a nuisance, particularly since it is not the most attractive condition.  Some patients find that it flares up particularly when they are stressed.  Have you had a particularly stressful time?”

I sat there and thought for a moment.

“Well I guess it hasn’t been a very good year.  I mean, my boyfriend and I broke up He moved out.”

I glanced self-consciously to the student doctor taking notes.  He looked awkwardly at me before burying his eyes to the lines.

“Yes…” he said, seemingly deep in thought.

Somewhat brusquely, he suddenly slapped his hands on his lap.

“Well, fortunately for you, you are a woman and so you have nail varnish!”

I sat there, momentarily stunned.  I glanced down to my short, mutant fingernails. Their prehistoric contours and shades of agate reminded me of fossils.  I must have done so in a morose manner, for he went on…

“Don’t worry.  You’re a very attractive young woman. I’m sure you will find someone in no time.”

 

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#Persephone

The more I thought about it, the more my life seemed to string together into disparate, insubstantial adventures. This was not to imply that my life had been in any way boring but it had been filled with forays into different worlds and constructed identities, all of which left me feeling I had no idea who I really was.

Who was this person, then, who had amounted to nothing? Who had washed up in a bar, in Lower Marsh.  The bar was like a cavity on an otherwise smooth surface, somewhere people could go in and be dirty or escape into some kind of a projection of something that no longer exists. They would surface, glistening, back on the veneer. It was another business, staying here. All those customers, they walked away from this place…They went back to their clean homes, their office space. Or they didn’t, you know, sometimes they really lived it.

How had I ended up living it?

And I thought of all the times I had walked to the bottle bank and back, to the corner of Westminster Bridge Road. How many times I had lifted the lid to the bins and tipped the bottles in.  And I thought of how many times I had felt different ways, doing so. In the summer, loose, with the through wind lightly lifting my skirt. In the winter, stiff. You would pant from the clammy bar feeling newborn and full of only your thoughts on this special, solo mission.

When the bin was almost empty, they clattered like a drunk on steep stairs. The bottles were individuals, sharp and hard, pronounced in their difference, sparking a round tone of tinnitus. But if they hit a bed of glass, the sound was short and fast, like two sticks on a skin. When you walked back with the beer box propped beneath your arm, you felt just like a rock star.

Prowling

I suppose I never saw this period as infinity. I thought it was a stop-gap, an inter title in the “Big Story”.

And all the while, this surface had been changing from bright white, to rotten. The hair had been blonde and tiger stiped, there were jeans and pumps and oversized Tshirts. Sometimes the hair was black as night and then, again, brown, it was with a fringe before it got mouse and short. The body was very thin, the skin, very white…the clothes were neat and 60s, (with little court shoes) before I got tanned and golden brown, (the weight had been 49 kilos).  There were spots on my chin. The body got larger (less empty) and all that was worn were flannels and shorts. By then the girl was a woman (she grew some breasts). The body that had been chubby at sixteen, had been a woman at sixteen was now just a normal body, a normal size, not fat, not thin, not adult, not child. And the hair was just brown now, only it showed a few greys.

When I got to the end of my Aperol Spritz, I was convinced I would go home and die. I was sure my sadness could really kill me. Not like I would kill myself or anything but more like, my sadness would do it. It would come up behind me and do me in. I’d never have to be a success. I’d just be some freak, smothered by sadness.

“The first woman to be smothered by sadness”.

I had a haunted feeling when I looked at the clock. It was only 5 o’clock. The whole evening stretched before me.

Languorous

No, this won’t get the better of me. I checked my phone…if there were just someone with whom to drink…no, there wasn’t. I would surely go home and expire, then. Hadn’t I done with these lonely evenings?

Shouldn’t it always be fun and company, forever? Parties and Spritzes…anything to avoid going home, to sit with your phone and your thoughts:

I sucked up the last additives from the ice.  I split the straw with my teeth and thought:

“Some people are born lonely.”

I wondered what is was that made it this way. What made some people lonely, every place they went? I got up and left. I walked into town. I walked past all the restaurants where people were clinking their glasses and tucking into their food. It was cold. I walked the route I always walked, through Covent Garden, into Soho.

I won’t go home…

No

Radio 4.

News pieces, reiterating the hell we live in

TV…

Simulation of Human Company

Post a book on instagram…

“See, I’m really rather clever”

It was some business, this being alone

Then there was dinner to look forward to, too…

Soup,

Cous-cous (with vegetables)…

The uninspired egg…

…on its bed of luscious lettuce

(half a can of tuna)

There were endless salads to be had…

Pizza…

and the king of everything:

(drumroll)

The Lonesome Steak

or pasta…

PASTA

That’s all you’ll have:

Is PASTA

 

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Sixteen #myveryfirstband

Left alone in the house for the first time, I got a walkman and copied The Clash onto cassette. I put it in my walkman and drank some booze from the cabinet. I went down into the basement and went through some old boxes. I found an old Hawaiian shirt that had belonged to my brother, I put it on.  I found some black shoelaces from some old school shoes, I put them in my trainers. I got a safety pin from my mother’s sewing box and put it in my ear. I drew thick black lines in Kohl beneath my eyes and looked at my pudgy face. Yes, I supposed it leant me an edge. I stayed up playing guitar and watching late night TV. Columbo…dramas with sex scenes.

My housemistress had identified I was different on account of I cried all the time.  I was inconsolable.  She’d seen me weeping into my Special K at breakfast.  She’d made me come to a meeting. The only thing I wanted to do was listen to records and draw. I’d skived off class and sat backstage in the school hall next to some wistful trees from a past production.  Eventually the reverend found me and dragged me back to class. I wouldn’t work. I spent every Saturday in detention, doing homework and crushing on a girl from the year above who used to sit on the other desk.  I still remember it.  12 Detentions in a row.  I carved my initials in the drawer of the desk.

GCSE Revision.

“CO2 + 2H2O + photons → [CH2O] + O2 + H2O. carbon dioxide + water + light energy → carbohydrate + oxygen + water.”

I smoked in the back yard looking up at a basketball hoop from my youth.

I heard that weird sound in my head a netball makes on the ground. A strange compressed, pinging sound.

I went out at dawn, listening to my walkman. I bought a Red Bull at the corner shop. I took a turn around the park. There were the dog walkers out but otherwise it was empty. I gulped the toxic thing and sat on a swing, listening to “Police And Thieves”. I swung higher and higher in the empty playground. So high, it felt mad, all that freedom.

I didn’t do any revision that half term but I passed my GCSEs.   I responded to an ad and joined a band the moment I got back to school. I took my brother’s Peavy practice amp and a cheap Strat a 40 minute walk uptown to meet two boys from the local comprehensive.  We sat together in a tiny box room and played for hours on end.

A Guy and a Girl with Bad Boyfriends

Excerpt from “Bible for a Lost Girl”  

 

Jay turned around the room with his shirt caught up in his nipples. He had the body of a snake. We were dancing to “Like a Prayer”. It was the only gay bar for miles. Jay and I were as vulnerable as the other. He had real problems. His face was all beat up from his boyfriend. He had a black eye. He’d woken up and his boyfriend was in the same room as him, cheating. I had no real problems by comparison. I had a boyfriend who seemed to hate me but beyond that, Jay held the crown. I was there for him tonight.

When you’re bonding over respective crises, it’s important to understand who holds the crown. It’s also important to understand who the fuck you are. I was a middle class ex public school girl in a working class gay bar in the West Midlands. That did not make me any more or less lost than Jay…perhaps I was another extreme, one that knows no identity. One that loathes itself and so resorts to the lowest low:  tourism.

My displacement had another quality which I couldn’t myself, understand. But we did work in this cafe together and we were both in abusive relationships. His guy had fists. Mine had words and scissors to cut off my hair. As such, this bond was stronger than any societal one, any encoding that could place us alike. But as sister and brother, we were facilitators of excessive behaviour.

In one another we recognised combustabilty. And it was magic. On the dance floor it came out, proud and defiant.

I liked it when he got crazy like this. He was able to take it further. I always sought these people. The ones who did the things I couldn’t. My impotence always sought the hard-core rebels. I had found plenty, lately.

But Jay…When he’d been on the tanning beds…when he felt great and belligerent. When he understood his certain power, had the confidence…When he got his power back from somewhere, wherever it was…a far place from the boyfriend and cajoled by Vodka Red Bull…Jay was incredible. He had a photo album on him, he carried it around in his bag. He’d pull it out and go “Bab, look at this!” It was him and his housemates in drag and they dressed up like proper ladies in neat and tidy pencil skirts with big bouffant hair and plastic pearls and girdles. They’d pose in the cul-de-sac like the Happy Housewives of Worcester.

I giggled and moved my shoulders to the taught poppy-house. The jukebox made an awful sound, distorting into the damp tudor beams. The disco lights flashed like prom night. A mobile disco, magenta, green…we loved it, though. The pub was totally empty. It was just us, doing our thing for a man with thick forearms at the bar.

When you mime to “Like a Prayer” your face takes on a certain kind of pain that is so sincire. It’s beautiful. It is the truest “mime”.

Worcester was golden for nights like these. If you were on the periphery…it was wednesday and you were high on “Reef”. You’d been to “RSVP” and consumed something that looked like de-icer. You’d end up in “T-ramps” or Terrys or whatever they called it, merry and popping like someone “Vogue”. My plastic beads flung up in my face and hit my teeth. My hair fanned against the back of my neck, reminding me of where my mane had been.

Samson?

Delilah…

I cannot explain it any better than I was born in the 80s and Madonna was a big thing.

 

The Confession Booth

In the cathedral, I suddenly realised it was Sunday. God. What the hell was God about? How had I found myself standing around like a journalist on a porn set? I had to admit it was stunning. How had I never been here? The Marble was quite fantastic. All murky greens and blues and was there anything more beautiful than the solid sound of a pound, hitting the collection box?

The hushed whisperings and massive reverberations of the priest, like a Dalek, calmly recounting across the PA his messages, which were swallowed somewhere significant, in the air…up in the cold stone.

My God was the first toke of a cigarette…a nice, free feeling in my temples…My god was wine in my veins, the feeling of resignation. That’s what God was to me.

The best way to be blue was in a swimming pool. That was my kind of church. Swimming in the absolution of Mary’s cape…Bronzing on a sunlounger, thinking out into the sky like a kind of vacuous philosopher. Travel was the place I could think about who I was or who I’d be. That person I’d curated, in my suitcase:

Consumer objects were my relics:

Sunglasses (Francoise Hardy)
Swimsuit (Jean Seberg)
Shift Dress…(Anna Karina)

“ Hey world! That’s who I was, on that holiday.”

Hey, Airplane!

Here I am, feeling small (and self involved), as though a cloud could nudge me the wrong way..

I’d hit the ground full of thoughts like…”I’m gonna make it work now I’m here. I’m gonna get married and have children. I’m gonna be a good person. I’m gonna shut up, stop my raging. Stop my hating on everyone and everything, specifically, myself…”

This cosmic bargaining left we nowhere but even more lost to my own indulgence. Even more soft and vulnerable to ills.

I found the quietest bay of worship. One with a saint and some angels in mosaic on the gorgeous, golden ceiling. I looked at all the serious people sitting there in serious thoughts and I instantly thought, they’re all here because someone is ill or if they don’t come here someone will get ill and they’ve got bills and people who don’t love them. Or people they want to keep loving but they can’t you know because there’s flesh. Fucking flesh. 

I looked up and cried a little to myself and thought about St.Augustine’s in South Kensington as a child, where I had stared at the pictures of Jesus all pallid and carried and green around the jowls.

I was a Shepherd in the Nativity there.

I wet myself on the church floor during the rehearsal because I was too scared to ask where the toilet was.

When I went out I passed the Confession Booth:

The Cloakroom

A handsome man but not my type comes in and splays on the counter. His ringed fingers drum in agitation. I watch him until his head pulls up.

We introduce ourselves.

“I’m Frankie”

(I think it began with an F…)

He wants his bag, he wants to go…

He is in an agony about some people he came with. A guy and a girl. The girl is cute. He has a long-distance girlfriend, though. The two were getting together.

He’s the third wheel.

They’re all over each other like mwhahahahaha” he says…

“You know what?”

“What?”

“I just wanna go home and eat!”

“Yeah?”

“I just wanna eat-eat-eat!”

“Ok.” I say

“What do you cook for yourself in the middle of the night?”

“Well, I’m from Atlanta Georgia but when I cook, I’m vegan you see…Oh, I just can’t wait to go home and eat! Know what I mean?”

“I do…I think I’d quite like to do that right now”

“Really?”

He smiles at me suddenly, like a kid who found the one person in the playground who speaks his language.

Then two people he mentioned come into my booth.

The guy is huge, he’s drunk. The girl is cute.

I remember he had wanted me to charge his phone but he couldn’t find it.

He reaches behind the counter and hoists a phone, like a crab on a line.

Hey-hey-hey, that’s not your phone!” I say.

He stops for a second and then looks at me with an affronted brow.
“I thought I gave you my phone…No-no-no baby girl, you can’t have lost my phone. My sister’s in labour. I’m in the shit if you’ve lost it. Oh my days, I can’t believe this! You have not lost my phone!”

He flicks his head, dismissively.

I start sweating. I get my torch and swing its beam across the elastic bands and crumpled tickets.

There is no phone.

The guy turns to my manager and starts talking about the phone.

After some patting of his suit, his waistcoat, his pockets…his trousers, his jacket, he concedes it is after all somewhere in there.

Relief

I look at Frankie’s sad face.

I must be a saint.

Saint George

 

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