George Pringle

George Pringle writes…

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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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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Two Pints on a Table

If we were pints in this life, I would be the one who had had two sips or got spilt a bit, on the way to the table.

I’m sorry but it’s true.

I always feel like everyone else got to the table full (of themselves)

and like I say, I can never contain…Somewhere between the till and table, I manage to cock it all up.

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NYE 2007

I am going to a party.  The theme is “Movies”. I have false eyelashes on.  I backcomb my hair.

Hairspray: Diamond

Affixed: With kirby grips

Where do they go when they get lost? It must be like drowning.  To suffocate the night long and emerge, gasping by dawn.

I’m Holly Golightly.  Method acting, my whole life…dying to be Golightly.  I drink  Absinth (a Christmas gift). I then start with a seriousness, on gin. By the time we leave, I am hot in the belly.  A fire powers my legs which lead me, blown, like a plane, failing to plant a runway.

Elephant & Castle: Broken Sci-Fi

A mammal that follows her guiding stars: Satellites

Brother and I sit in “Sonny’s” beneath the railway arch.  This fast-food outlet is a long corridor. We sit, awaiting our verdict:

Sentence:

“To remain sober and outside of the chicken shop.”

Too Late!

Exposed, beneath strip lights.

“No! We won’t eat this. We’re sorry. We can’t eat this. This is the worst chicken in all of England!”

You know there’s chicken and then there’s chicken.”

“In the Deep South, that’s all there is! DallasPerfectThe CottageThe Palace…There’s chicken that’s pink…free-range and there’s chicken that’s grey, from a cage and there’s breadcrumb in every hue: Ochre, taupe, sand…this land is filled with all seasonings, all colourings…all textures.  Dry and salty, spicy and crunchy, bland and soggy (when the chips are oily) and the sauce comes in little containers, just like contact lenses.”

“Whenever you feel lost, in the South, put yourself on a bus, downtown.  Haply you will drift, illuminated by their signs.

Your Tiffany’s is Morly’s.

Corsica Studios

I instantly lose my brother. I wait in the UV WC, behind the girls in the queue.

I sway a bit and decide I’ll be sick if I stay here any longer.

10pm.

I go to the cubicle and sit, heavily on the toilet seat. I listen to Sylvester thumping below and wish I could enjoy this. Eventually I heave to my feet. Soap lashes the side of the sink as my hands wave about, trying to intercept.

I walk out the club.  At the roundabout, two gangs of kids shout at each other across the whirlpool of traffic. One gang have a dog who is barking.

His raw jaws and glistening eyes are the still point in my turning –

Home

I lie in bed. The whole room tilts. I wrestle with my covers. This horrible room, full of laundry…

What a place to spend NYE!  Alone in this dirty room.  Sick as a dog, too. I run to the bathroom and watch myself be sick. What a shame to be so drunk, I think.

London, you are full of ghosts. I am outside my own soul tonight, bumping blindly into things on this silent, empty street, dark and with damp pavement where from a distance I can witness my own extensive folly.

I live in the middle of the city, by Big Ben. History steeped, everywhere – it screams at me. I live behind the Necropolis, where trains would bring dead away from the city.

one stop from infinity

Midnight

I listen to the bongs and count. When it gets to twelve something very strange happens. I see a Victorian at the end of my bed. She stands in her wide, tweedy skirt with a bell.  She moves it up and down like a woman that’s popped from a cuckoo clock. Stiff and mechanical.

Then a little boy with a newspaper shouts “Read all about it!”. He runs past my bed and into the wall where he disappears, forever. I lie, completely still in the dark, suddenly afraid of the space.

Epilogue

I woke in the morning and went to the bathroom. I looked around but found no evidence I had been sick.

I thought about the strange Victorians, of the out-of-body experience and of Big Ben chiming. I thought about what that was all about. Wasn’t it very strange, to spend New Year that way?

I sat in my dressing gown, smoking. The cigarette fizzed in my cold little fingers as it burnt itself down. I drank some black tea. My stomach growled…tannins slid across the surface, like sinister memories.

I stopped by the hall mirror. A lash had crawled like a caterpillar across my face to my brow.

 

Bus Stop H and the Ghost

Excerpt from “Steel & Industry”…

It is a dark night in Kennington, down in the Oval. When the lights in the local authority blocks are out, the park is closed and all that’s illuminated on the horizon is the Strata building with its motionless fans, silently razoring the night sky.

You know you’re closing late when even the chicken shop has thundered its shutters to the pavement. Straws and napkins swim with leaves lost since autumn and sweet wrappers from school children move like algae in the bottom of a tank. How do I know this? Because I have policed this strip, as a barmaid, protecting my door from outlaws and the many pieces of wanton trash, blown by busses like ticker tape in our solemn, southern parade.

The top end of Brixton Road is a peculiar place. I think of it as a Bermuda triangle. A space where lost souls convene, floundering in its temperate waters. If you are to head south, you will go all the way to Brixton, if you steer east, it will lead to Camberwell and Peckham. At Oval, people drift up or downstream, alive but sometimes, outright crazy.  Magnetically drawn up the Brixton Road towards darker and leafier Kennington. This route ends at Bedlam.

The bar is by a bus stop. Bus Stop H, next to the “Lucky Day” takeaway. Often I have watched passengers waiting here, as long as the day itself. From behind the coffee machine, whose steam creates mirages…beyond the plate glass, people purposefully stroll or they wamble with strange gaits, stopping to peer at you, in the gloom. Women fleetingly catch themselves in your mirror.  They pull their best face. A bus stop is a strange metaphysical place, not altogether real, with its apparitions.

The morning people come from the office block across the way. They wear expensive brogues, backpacks and glasses, like overgrown, Bauhaus children. They sip on artisanal coffee in rubbery, sustainable cups and flick with their thumbs on their phones. Little old ladies with shopping trollies squint, tearily into the wind.  And in the afternoon, at 4, teenagers leave school and go to the chicken shop next-door. They lean with their bags on the glass, they scuffle and shout, running back and forth from the frame.

Then the first drunk shakes his leg, to start his sparring with the shop owner, to our left.  The street is run by a Sri Lankan family.  They own multiple businesses.  Both chicken shop and corner shop are theirs.

Bus stop H heads uptown to Trafalgar Square and Marble Arch, apart from the 415 which heads across to the Elephant. There’s the 3 and the N3, the 133, the N133 and then, the N109. There’s the 159 and her younger sister, the 59. How funny it is, in London, these routes…similar but different.

Bus stop H captures a particularly strange period of my life. Back in 2014 I worked winter evenings here, alone. I sat in this dark, empty bar, on display, illuminated by candles.  Like a Medium, awaiting her spirit, often, it felt that way…like waiting for stray ghostly faces to wander in off the street.

These haunted evenings merge, demarcated only by subtly unnerving incidents that differ in tone and intensity.

October.

The bar is totally empty.  He comes in wearing a camel overcoat with large, dark and tormented eyes.  He puts his leather sports bag down on the ground and he stands there in a very upright way and asks for a glass of red. I pour it for him and sit by the till. I try to read my book.  When I look up, he’s standing there still.  I look to the many empty tables behind him and restrain a sigh.

I go down to the coffee machine and do a pantomime of shining it up.  I fiddle around with the jugs.  I look in the bucket under it, thick with curdled milk.  I march it down towards the sink and cast the liquid over the steel. I watch as the clumps of milk snag on the filter.  I rinse it out.  I walk back to the machine but I see he’s still staring.  I glance to his glass.

I walk back towards him because his eyes anticipate the next dose.  I pour for him and he smiles in a strange, slightly dark way but I don’t talk to him…in spite of this whole standing there business, the staring there business and this whole being in an upright way…attentive, like a puppet. I go and clear the floor. I feel him watching me sweeping.  My back has that feeling, as though someone is pushing with fingertips.

When I return behind the counter, I change the music. Opioid, Jazzy moaning switches to “Strangers in the Night” by Papetti.

Dramatic irony.

I look up and he’s there, staring at me.  His glass is empty.  He asks for another.  I fill it up, hastily taking his money.  And so this goes on, one time…then another.  Nobody else stops by.  Just he and I…alone in our beautiful bar.

Ultimately he throws in the towel.  He understands I’m too smart for all this. He’s a creep.  Silently we have this understanding.  I’m so grateful, I could kiss him. Yes, sir, I’m too smart.  Yessir, you’re a creep.  Thank you sir, for understanding me.  Thank you sir, for respecting me.  He picks up his bag and he leaves. “Have a nice evening!” I say.  Drunk but stunned by my insincerity he walks straight into a bus, which hydraulically judders to a holt.  The driver gestures, incredulous, but he seems unmoved by his near death experience.  He crosses the road, nimbly and walks in his upright way. Like a puppet. I watch him all the while ’til his overcoat vanishes.

 

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South Bermondsey, October 2008

Excerpt from “Lone Stranger – Tour Diaries”

“Would you actually eat anything unless I gave you something?” he said to me, amused, roughly cutting a stale baguette before stuffing it with all the pornographic hues of some processed mortadella.

I didn’t say anything, although I did silently compute this truth. I suppose all the cigarettes made it so I never got hungry. I just wasn’t ever really hungry. It was strange, I never needed much food. I struggled to think what I ate….perhaps he had a point. I took the sandwich and ate it, reluctantly before going back into the room and listening to a fake Moog looping, on repeat.

Food had always been so complicated. I’d always had such a fat little head on-top of that thin little body. I supposed I looked about twelve years old. I could see it when they took pictures of me, when I was singing. My face was a round little ball.

The next day, somewhat self-consciously, I went to the Millwall cafe and ate some fish and chips. It was the only place for miles you could eat unless you strayed from the industrial estate to the Old Kent Road, to pick amongst the chicken wings. No, this midway cafe was quiet and I felt as though I could be left alone. God, I just couldn’t stand it when people saw me eat. I drank a can of Fanta and read a copy of The Sun. A guy in overalls stared at me over his sausage sandwich. He must think I’m a prick, I thought, suddenly aware in the bleach of my hair and my thick, mink eyeshadow. My earrings swung like pendulums above the batter below.

I went back to the studio and puked in the toilet.

Paris, September 2011

Excerpt from “Lone Stranger – Tour Diaries”

When you got to the end of the road, you stopped in the van and looked in the rearview.   You looked into it for minute or so. There was no traffic on the road, just me standing there, camouflaged in my grey blazer against the cobbles and the pale walls rising about us. I don’t know if you saw me in the rearview. Whether it was me you looked to. But I like to think so. That when you stopped at the end of the road, you thought of how you’d miss me. Or you thought of how small I looked on that big grey street.  How you wanted to drive back and get me.

In reality, you were checking your blind spot. A best case scenario, you simply stopped and saw me looking small in the road and you thought for a minute or so of how I looked just standing there.

Off to Sweden you went, with my money.  You would stay with the promoter. Usually when promoters are attractive and they ask you to stay…I didn’t want to think about it.  And they did look a bit like models, her housemates…I’d seen them on FaceBook.  A group of pretty girls living in a pretty house on the lake or wherever.  How did I know this?  One of them always liked your photographs. I’d gotten sucked in and binged on her life.  I didn’t want to think about it.

The road now had about it a strange kind of quiet.  The clouds had closed in.  Is it possible, there was less sound?  Here I was, alone in Paris, £700 down, missed my Eurostar and now, an eight hour bus journey to look forward to.  Yes, that’s what I was like, a certain kind of foolish man. The kind you see in old movies. The type to give some floozy money and furs. Then she disappears.  This inverse cliché amused me.

I took myself, heavily to a cafe. I ordered a coffee and a pain au chocolat.  I ate it slowly.  My thin cheeks collapsed in on the frail flesh of the pastry. The cafe was in a stodgy style, the kind you see everywhere in mainstream Paris. Brass and plastic, lattice chairs…my eyes wandered over to the corner, to a boy.  He must have been about nine years old. He seemed to be sitting alone.

Pale and bespectacled, he blew cautiously from behind his frames, cooling his allongé. He sipped with a seriousness that depressed me. I averted my gaze and remarked to myself that I had never seen a child drinking coffee before. I needed sleep. This place was freaking me out. I went out to the terrace and lit a cigarette.  Sitting within the transparent tarpaulin, I smoked it fast, suddenly realising the time.

I rushed off towards the station. One last honk of the Gendarmerie.  A last look to the foreboding column, ruling over Bastille and a lingering glance to the faded greyish-gold of the sky before the Metro could swallow me.  I would miss this miserable splendour.

When I got in to Gallieni, I was late, so I started running.  God I just hate to be late. My Mary-Janes clattered on the brown tiles in the underpass. I had fifteen minutes but I’d made it!  Handing my ticket to the man at the kiosk, there was an unnerving silence.  He studied it closely, before lifting his disenchanted face.

“Ce n’est pas le ticket, c’est la confirmation. Vous devez aller et imprimer le billet.”

He said this quickly and officiously before sliding the pointless paper across the counter towards me.

 This could only happen to me.

“Oh s’il te plait. Je n’ai pas le temps. Le bus part maintenant. S’il vous plaît pouvez-vous simplement accepter la conformation? Vous pouvez voir l’heure de départ et le … le paiement …et…mon nom” I said, running my fingernail pedantically beneath each detail.  

He looked at me with something akin to distaste.  I suppose he was right.  Who was I to give him a hard time?

“D’accord” was said, before flying into a bind panic.  I started running again.  My bag overwhelmed me.  It leant me a demented manner as I hiked the stairs and skirted the ring-road outside in a frenzied fashion, looking for a hotel

I ran into the first place I saw and looked at the man on the desk.

“S’il vous plaît, j’ai un besoin urgent d’utiliser Internet”

Silly, schoolgirl French.

The man behind reception looked at me. There was a beat and he slowly turned around in his revolving chair to look for something on the desk behind him. His tie rested on his taught paunch, it burrowed between his buttons.  He laboriously went about writing something down, stopping to check it was correct before scrubbing it out and starting again.

My blood ran warm.  He handed the code to me before ambling across the room to a PC. He rummaged around on the floor, finding the power button.  A flimsy ping and then a clunky “Warning” sign flashed on its lapis screen.  A fizzing of circuitry turned to a clumsy fan. It was taking forever.  Finally the time appeared on the right, it said it was half past already. My heart vaulted and I put my hand in my pocket to look for my phone. No, it was ten minutes fast.

I still had ten minutes.

Eventually I managed to launch a web browser, to login and to print the damned thing. I left the man with 5 euros, not waiting for my change. I rushed back and arrived, triumphantly on time.  My friend was just about to close his kiosk but miserably he stopped, taking the ticket, silently, scribbling with biro, absently before cordoning everything off.

 

Coffee.jpg

 

“C” is for “Cloakroom”

Excerpt from “Service Journals”,  “Steel & Industry” 2017

“I just want you to know that you really need to move this thing from here”

She points an acrylic nail in a nude, French hue at the golden latch that holds the counter to the cloakroom up.

“I was just here on my phone and I caught my head on it and I’m bleeding. I’m bleeding…

I look at her in a neutral way, trying to gauge the temperature.  I’ve been in this situation before.  If I indulge her too much then she will try and make me feel bad.  But if I seem as though I don’t care, my life won’t be worth living.

The woman’s friend interjects –

“You should really change that because you will get sued one day. Seriously, someone will SUE YOU”

“If you want to file a complaint maybe I can get the manager for you”

“No. I don’t want to file a complaint but I’m just telling you ok…just so you know….This is not cool”

“Ok, I’ll tell my boss when I see him.”

“You’d better, because its like…” she pops her eyes out at me, as though to impress the importance of this unsound item, how it is clearly my fault.

I should have anticipated this event, how when bankers let loose, they can sprawl across the counter to the cloakroom.  They’re drunk-dialling Yves and Charles or Lorenzo…when they’re on 2 percent and don’t realise they’re on “airplane”.  They need to remain umbilically chained to the “Charge Station ” below the counter.  This can lead to sprawling…to hair, caught in latches.  It can lead to bleeding.

I go and hide down the side for a moment and down the remnants of my Champagne, sitting in its plastic goblet. You see, the glasses were accounted for. We foresaw that.  You see, glasses can break.  They’re technically, unsafe. They can lead to bleeding.

“It’s so dark in here. I can hardly see anything, except for that you are very beautiful”

 “Haha ha ha” I laugh, grinning hard, avoiding eye contact, smiling down into the cash drawer: Please swallow me, I will swim in your pennies like a perfect Scrooge for eternity if you please make this man understand we’re not going to talk all night.

I quickly gather up a load of change and notice I’ve taken some old pound coins.  I decide this guy won’t notice if I give him one.

“Is that an old pound coin?” he says, the second it hits his palm.

Never.  Fool.  A banker.

“Gosh…”

I feign surprise.  I spend a while looking at it as though I had no idea.  As though this is the first time I’ve seen a coin in my life.

“You’re right, it really is dark in here. Here, let me get you a new one…”

He doesn’t look impressed. He’s Swiss, it turns out.  The cuffs of his shirt are crisp. White as Mont Blanc.

He stays for long enough to have this conversation, to tell me he’s Swiss and to ask the same question that is asked every ten minutes, in this city:

 “Where are you from?”

…and I say I’m from London.  They always say “Really?” like they don’t quite believe me.  He smiles and hangs on after every line until I’m visibly bored and dry and he takes himself into the club.

The corridor has emptied.

The other cloakroom girl says “Oh my god, what is that?” and she gets her phone and she turns the torch on and she shines it behind the back of her leg and says “I can feel something”…and after about a minute, she lifts the stable door and goes into the bathroom across the corridor and after about five minutes she comes back looking wired and catatonic.

“What?”

“I’m really getting fat.  I have, you know this orange peel thing on my legs.  Oh no-no-no.  I was eating so much junk this week.  You know, like cookies and sweets”

I glance momentarily to the bin by my feet and see the empty packet of strawberry wafers we ate the night before.  Yes, she was eating a lot of junk.  Honestly it was the thing I liked most about her.  It was very cute, the eating of all the wafers and the turning up to work drinking coffee and Baileys.  It was like something out of Anime.

And then the Bar Back came in and he was sharing his Haribo with us and he said “You know, when I get Diabetes I’m going to blame you.  I really love sweets” and we all started laughing because this is as close as it comes to camaraderie in this place and the girl from out on the floor came in to get her chewing gum and she said “I’ve got M&Ms in my handbag, help yourselves” and then we all laughed because the only way we can stay awake is by eating sweets and drinking Tequila.

“You’re not fat.  Don’t be silly.  Everyone have that, even models.”

“Nooo, it’s true” she says.  I believe her, she looks distressed.

Two very thin Sloanes with plump, pillows for lips walk in.  One of them is wearing a Policeman’s hat with a waistcoat and a bra.  The other is wearing a see-through shirt, with no underwear.  They hand their coats, continuing their conversation:

“You know earlier, when I said that, I didn’t mean you didn’t look hot. Because y’know, you always look hot. So, like what I was saying…Babe, I was so happy when I met you.  What I mean is I was so (“so” for a Sloane, is always said “sew”) happy when I met you, am I allowed to say this?  I was so happy because, y’know, I finally met someone as hot as me. Is that really bad?  I always wanted a hot friend.  That’s a really bad thing to say…(minor expulsion of mirth) But y’know, babe. It’s true.”

The girl in the policeman’s hat grins.  Her lacquered lips are a shade of Dominatrix. She grins though the vinyl plum, deep into her tits which are hard and firm and standing to attention.

As they leave the cloakroom, we realise the one in the hat is practically nude from the waist down.  She wears a thong and stilettos.

“Wow, I’ve never seen that before. Hahahah”

My mad colleague’s laughter turns into a song:

Deep inside! Deep-deep inside!

“What?”

“It’s that song.  You know, that remix.”

She searches it on her phone and presents a YouTube clip.  I stare blankly at the screen as it tinnily plays a dreadful song we have been subjected to at least three times a night for the past month.

“I’ll always think of you when I hear this song.”

Great.

My mind drifts back to the Sloanes and their lips.

“Hey, you know the lips thing…it’s interesting.  Everyone have it now…”

“Wha?”

I pout like a duck and touch my lips.

“Lip injections?”

“Yeah”

“I really want them.  My top lip is so small.  I think maybe I’ll get them one day.  Just a little bit”

“Don’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Don’t fuck around with your face.”

A portly middle-aged exec blusters in from outside.  He stops by the shelf of drinks, waiting for their smoking owners.  He finds his but knocks somebody else’s onto the floor.  He looks down before looking, pointedly at us.  He sort of smiles…

“Not my problem” he says, slowly, before his corpulent form is swallowed by the swing doors.  We look at one another before bursting out laughing.

The rest of the night we will say this about everything:

“Not my problem”

A man in his early 40s with curly hair and high eyes, fixes his gaze on me.  I shrink backwards into the wall of coats.  He introduces himself and holds out his hand.  Reluctantly, I offer mine.  He grabs it and pulls it in towards his mouth to plant a limpet-like kiss.  Oh god, this is so disgusting, I just want to wash my hand.  Why do the men keep doing this?  There was that huge man, who did it last week.  He said “Hi, I’m from Vegas!” (which seemed quite the exclamation).  I was alone in the cloakroom and he grabbed my hand and slobbered all over it.  At any rate, later he confessed he was rather drunk.  I almost forgave him.  But this guy is something else:

He’s talking about auras.

He loves my aura.

I have a light blue aura, it’s really tranquil.  He really wants to know what’s going on under that “French Beret”.  You see, his aura is dark red, it’s a bit intense so he’s looking for someone who is light blue to y’know…”to balance me out”.  “Look at her (look at me)…isn’t she an English Rose?  Look at them cute little dimples!” he says to his friend who is lingering in agitation, waiting to go for a smoke.

“You seem like you’re super chilled out…am I right?”

If only you knew, baby.  If it weren’t for the common laws of decency I would string you up.  I would put you in my cauldron.  I would cackle all the while, “babe”.  

Make. No.  Bones. 

“Oh, not really” I say, in a “super chilled” way.

After a while his friend drags him outside but another suitor has arrived at the other end of the booth.  He has eyes for my colleague.

“I’m just gonna say this, alright: You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

“Thank you” she says.

She is so gracious.  

He continues…”Please, please will you give me your number?”

“But aren’t you here with your girlfriend?”

“That’s nothing.  I’ve only been seeing her for three months”

“I dunno.  I think three months is actually something”

“Please, please give me your number.  I’m serious, it’s nothing.  I don’t like her, really”

God, I can’t even listen to this. I go down the back of the booth, deciding I need another drink.  If I stay in this place any longer, I’ll turn into a card-carrying drunk.  I happen to have a stash of shots that people keep bringing me.  They’re lined up alongside the lost IDs, the lipsticks, the glasses and the body mist…I down one, wince slightly and tune out into my phone.  When I tune back in, the guy is leaning further over the counter.  My colleague looks alarmed.

“Are you pestering her?” I pipe up, slightly strict but I follow this with an immediate and amenable smile.

“Am I pestering you?”  he says, cricking his neck in that terse, macho way.

“No, I just said I don’t want to give you my number, ok”

But she says it in such a way that is quite sweet and lovely, as though she might even want it.  She might even like it.

Finally, he relents:

 “All right, but you’re really beautiful.  If you change your mind…”

And he goes outside.