George Pringle

George Pringle writes…

Victoria

Nostalgic excerpt from yet to be titled essay on the Female Flaneur,  from “Steel & Industry”

When I first started documenting the city, it was quite by accident. I had found myself in bad relationship. We happened to be living with one another. Anyone who has ever been in a rapidly cycling destructive environment will understand the importance of escape. There are places you can pretend to be, for hours on end.

For me, this escape was on the streets of London. It started with a particularly bad argument that escalated rapidly. I stormed out of the house and within the heaviness of the hours that succeed a conflict, I found myself on the darkened streets of Victoria. I’d wandered from Lambeth, crying all the way. Looking up to Big Ben, I wondered how he always looked ahead, never down, to me. In the slate blue sky of the early night, against the honey coloured streetlights, I felt truly anonymous. The city didn’t care if I lived or if I died. There was a beauty to it.  Something of a solace in that damp winter evening.

There is something quite splendid about Victoria Street. It is marvellously drab. Whenever we would go down it in buses as children, my brother would remind me about the IRA bombing. I would gaze up at the long grey block of the “Army & Navy” through the low bus windows and feel small and very ’80s. That’s not to say it was the ’80s. It was the mid ’90s. But I carried with me this ’80s feeling and I always ascribe it to Victoria.

After all, this was the place my father and brother had come, one grey, December day in 1984. Between Christmas and the New Year. That’s when I was born. In the old Westminster Hospital off the Lambeth Roundabout, with its palm trees.  It has since become an innocuous office block.

They had celebrated at the McDonalds here, across from the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what I mean: For me, Victoria has an 80s feeling. And of all I am sure is the year I was born smelt of burger gherkins and dusty bus seats. It looked all battleship blue (news programme colours). It sounded of serious “RP” voices on strobing, half-tuned TVs. It tasted of “Boil in the Bag”.  Arctic Roll. Soda Stream.

 

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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.

 

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“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.

 

 

 

 

ULU, February 2008

From “Lone Stanger – Tour Diaries”

I became very aware that something was beginning to drown out my music. It had started somewhere at the back of the auditorium and seemed to advance towards me like a Mexican wave through the crowd. It had a back and forth chant to it. Solid and Rhythmic….“I would, I would, I would, I would”…”I would what?” I thought, in an instrumental bar. I kept trying to do my lines but the sound only got stronger…So I shouted the next line, louder and suddenly it had turned into a competition, my voice vs them…”I would, I would, I would I would…fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, fuck you”. I couldn’t believe it…the group of guys were saying they wanted to fuck me. I turned my backing track up but I could still hear them.

Worse, it had now changed:  “Show us your tits, show us your tits, show us your tits, show us your tits!” I couldn’t believe it.

I tripped up on my words and stopped singing…It wouldn’t stop though, they just kept chanting the tits bit, over and over again, it was overpowering my performance. I had to stay onstage and do two more songs. I desperately wanted to run offstage but running off would mean they had won.

“Show us your tits, show us your tits, show us your tits, show us your tits!”

Who knows how I got to the end of the set…

Some days I still feel I can hear them. It’s like a corny flashback in a Netflix Original.

Amsterdam, June 2016

From “Bible for a Hopeless Girl”

In the garden of Reichts museum, all the greco statues looked haunted and grey. Looking at them, I suddenly felt horrified.  Their mouths all seemed to moan. Out the gate of the garden and down some bleak side streets, it finally started to rain.  I felt very strange and decided to take myself for a drink.

A woman in a pub down The Jordaan served me a beer and charged my phone. She had crumpled paper for skin and navy liner, tattooing her lids.  She reminded me of a teacher I’d once had. She’d worn blue eyeliner too and was pale-blonde-grey in the same dainty way…only this woman was coarse from a lifetime worked on the floor.  She pulled herself a half pint and went into a tiny kitchen where she fetched a plate of onion rings and bought it outside to some friends.

After a while she came back to wash up.  She placed the glasses in the square basket and slid them into the dishwasher.  She flipped the lid closed and put her hands in a accomplished way on her hips.  A familiar churning started.  How funny it was, I thought, to be on the other side…She looked at me with a thin smile. I know this smile well. She asked where I was from and why was I in Amsterdam.  I said I’d come from London and I was over just for the day. She looked at me in disbelief.

“Just for the day?”

I shrugged, amicably…

Because I am losing my mind. Because I cannot stay in London.  Because I am self-destructing.

She asked who I had come to see and I told her I was alone.

She looked astonished “Alone?”

“Yes”

Very alone, so alone, sometimes I’d like to die, if only there were someone to miss me.

She raised her eyebrows in bafflement, smiled awkwardly and shuffled outside to her friends.

My phone never charged, as it happened so I went straight back to the hotel.  What was the use of staying out? Only to be looked at like I’m sad…

Sometimes you can go for a drink but really, only one. Any more and you’re Jean Rhys.   And I thought of all the drunks in the bar and how they were largely male.  How the female alcoholics were different.  More self-conscious.

No, men don’t go home with a bottle of wine –

and why should they? They’d shamelessly drink the night away, needing all the attention…and so far cast into a night so strange and of their own making. They couldn’t see your pity, couldn’t see it for the trees…

No, I would stay sober.  I would go to the hotel.

I lay on the bed watching Tour de France.  The sun was now out and the whole room had turned a resolutely seductive hue:

I looked at my trench coat, hanging…

I felt small and blue.

And I thought a lot of how sensual it was, just to lie in your underwear.  Just to lie, with smooth legs on a large white bed, alone.

 

 

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The Land of Lost Boys

From “Lone Stranger – Tour Diaries”, Los Angeles, Jan 2012

I lay on a yoga mat, on the concrete floor of a mezzanine above the party. Careless chatter, a throb of Italo, puffs of pot rising – cosmic, like smoke rings instead of “Z’s”.

At about four in the morning, I got up. The concrete floor was unbearable. I could feel my tired heart pounding away in my chest. This, my own fearsome architecture: Arms flat on hard ribs and hips, all sore.  Surely this is the hardest floor in all the land…

“This land is your land, this land is my land…From California to the New York Island”

And only here in California, can a yoga mat be called a “spare bed”.

Only here in California, where everyone I have met is a snob or a scriptwriter or a wannabe actor.

Edible Hash,

and wide brim hats…

AND EVERYONE IS A STYLIST

Neon signs,

Sad eyes…

 

CLEAN AURAS

Why do I remember pyjamas? I wore polkadot pyjamas all tour.  It’d been cold in Olympia, sleeping on the floor. There was snow on the shrubs.

I’d been sharing with the boys, who I would annoy with

my hairdryer.

My hairdryer,

BASTION OF FEMININITY.

My hairdryer,

WENDY

I climbed precarious down the ladder, it’s rounded rungs seemed to slide me off. Merely a piece of paper in this, our gruesome press.  A grim expression on my face, my fringe springing all angles and wearing the infamous pyjamas, I hurtled, madly into the party.

“We need to book the flights to Austin.”

“Sure-sure. It’s fine George…We’ll do it in a minute.”

“No.” I said

“Do it now.”

There was an awkward pause.  A guy wearing a transparent raincoat with long hair and a beard like Jesus stared at me.

“Christ” I could be such a buzz-kill.

 

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The Soya Latte

Introduction from a London short story, “The Soya Latte” from “Steel & Industry.

She loved bars of soap. In fact, she could write an essay on the stuff.  Soap:  The kinds she liked and the kinds she didn’t.  Savon de Marseille came many ways: Rustic and fatty, dissolving in its dish, fine-milled and solid or brightly coloured. Then there was glycerin soap, which she loathed.  She noticed if it were placed the wrong way, without holes to ventilate, it would cloud up and become translucent.  Like a baby jellyfish.

Then of course there was olive soap.  She had felt so good when she bought it. It was Palestinian, from Islamic Relief.  But how soft and grey it became in her hands, it squelched between her fingers.  It smelt of play dough, her got rose.  She threw it straight in the bin.

There were many kinds of soap and she was always hunting. When aimless in town, she would wander around the specialist pharmacies.  In department stores…on the creaking boards of Liberty, she studied the rough, artisanal paper and pressed the soap to her nose.

She didn’t feel right unless she had 5 bars sitting calmly in her cabinet. She liked the number 5 and all multiples therein. It was a round and contented number. It was nice just to open the door and to take the bars out, to smell them and for a moment, to carry their scent on her lip.

She was fond of her bathroom cabinet and she was fond of her reflection in it. Yes, she remarked to herself, she was plain. She had always known this but all the same, she was pretty enough and she did have an excellent figure. Her face, though bland, had an edible mouth and her eyes were wide and blue.

It wasn’t just soap, though, it was body oil.  Creams too…Hair masks, shower gels, floss for teeth…She was often occupied, online, reading product reviews. She wondered frequently about these things, like Pure Retinol and was it true, could Collagen delay the inevitable?

Reading of reviews happened mostly at work, between phone calls from clients and post. Sometimes address labels would stick to her top coat, if, for some reason it were badly applied.  With not enough time between consecutive coats, they could pucker or snag the surface.  She hated this, when she was too busy or  she hadn’t time to visit the Thai.

This Thursday she happened to be tense. The massage chair prodded her spine. This was a very cheap place but it was all she could afford. In fact, she reflected, it leant her an edge, though she didn’t like it when they razored her heels. She wondered, for a minute if it were truly hygienic before stopping herself. It was rude to assume they were unsanitary, still it was alarming, lifting her calf to the padded stool to see the profusion of soggy flesh fall like confetti from her heel.

She was always going to weddings these days. It was an expensive business. Each one could set her back, for she hated to repeat an outfit. There were hen party activities too, like pony tracking or afternoon tea and little gifts to be bought. There were WhatsApp groups that throbbed, intermittently with arrangement times and flights.  It seemed unrelenting.  This pedicure was for Josh and Natalie.  For the long weekend in Cyprus.

The woman hacked away with the razor from behind her white mask. She found this  barrier soothing.  Impersonal.   She returned to more relaxing thoughts. Such a trance was this, with the whirling spa and the rhythmic working on the feet and the occasional firm tap on each ankle to indicate that it switch.

 

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SW10 (2006)

Excerpt from “Steel & Industry” and also as featured on “Salon des Refuses” 2009

We were on the brink of self-combustion so we dressed as soldiers and dodged lines in the pavement and staggered the streets that we knew. The houses that held us were crumbling. I climbed the scaffolding and lay on my stomach and I took pictures of the debris and felt nothing.

We walked until we couldn’t. Until your tin hat hurt your head and my pigtails no longer seemed ironic, and when I woke in the morning the flight path was still alight. Planes were scoring lines and jet engines perforated my sleep and my heart was racing. It jumped like a synochopated bassline in my chest and my breath scorched cigarettes.  Another dream, another plane crash. This time it missed our house but all the passangers were dead. I couldn’t pull them from the wreckage. I crouched there and put my head in my hands and they lolled in their seats.

The house was empty and I was alone so I loitered. Everything felt the last time so I stayed in. I stayed in my pyjamas weaving between wine glasses and empty bottles. I pulled some shapes and laughed to myself. I didn’t know what day it was or how long I’d been pretending to work and I couldn’t remember where my parents had gone or whether the cat had been fed. I didn’t know when the last time I’d washed or eaten had been.

My brother’s room was a crypt and mine was a display cabinet in a museum, books and childish ornaments displayed like fossils. The cat looked at me incredulously. She hates me, I thought.

So I closed that Diane Arbus book. I resigned myself and I went out walking. I suppose I was searching, well I found the canvases that had been there all along only they were under construction. There was a knife surrender bin on the corner where the bottle bank had been ten years before. The laundrette was smarter and “Green Shadow” my racer bike was in the Satlvation Army playground. The hollagrams were still stuck in his wheels. “Tony the Tiger is dead” he whispered through the fence “and fat children are riding me every day and they quarrel”.

Whistler Tower seemed less imposing. Shoebox housing that once felt as though it could topple and crush me any second were just flats and the kids that used to try and mug us had grown up. They posed no threat, and the ones that had come to replace them were just kids. They posed no threat.

The cafes were all shut, chairs on tables and extractor fans off and backlit cabinets displaying nothing longed for cake. And the pool near the wharf that had seemed an ocean was a calf-deep trench that grimaced blue. It was empty and locked beyond gates.

The sky was still purple and brown.

Stars were still fighting to be seen.

 

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Prologue

Excerpt From “Steel & Industry”.  

On the large bow window in the Girls’ College, high up over Avenue Road there are names scratched into the glass from former inmates.

Brenda Whitby, Vera, Edith C…

“1970”

At Boarding School, I learnt very much to be a dreamer.  That’s all there was to do there.  Those windows looked out on the station where trains could take you away.

They could take you all the way to London.

Winter nights, I lay in bed listening to station announcements.  The words would rattle around in the glass sky.  It was so clear in the country.  You could really see the stars at night.

Sometimes, like a lost dog,  I would sit on a bench in the station, smoking…watching trains coming and going.  Watching the electric doors closing and opening….knowing I was on the precipice of freedom.

The last train to London left around 10.  This ritualistic rocket launch always stirred a sadness in me.  A longing for London.

Home

And when that last train left, you were really alone.  You had lost your chance for that day.

In my room, I learnt to be a dreamer.

I became a person capable of tremendous fantasy.

And I suppose that fantasy is something that makes me who I am.

But at times all that dreaming has a loneliness to it.  And it brings me back to school.  The Winter evenings.  The trains.

The sad names, etched in the glass.

Brenda Whitby, Vera,

Edith C…

And me.

 

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