London: failed date (2006)

A monstrous rage…attacking on all fronts…seething from the train carriage all the way to the tube…with a clenched bottom lip and a harsh petulant march between commuters. Somewhere before the escalators Tomo rang me and the sound of that voice aided the incandescent turmoil. Londoners off in the background on a Thursday evening sliding between doors and tunnels and walls and lifts and ticket machines and networks and some shit about modern day technology was knocking me sideways. Over filled by a strange rash on the palms of my hands manifesting everything I touched into a wild itching frenzy. Just fucking irritated. But calm it down mate, there is no deal, no drama. ‘Softer, smoother…’ But I am not the Zen Buddhist I once was – the instrument had worn out and all that remained was a stale trumpet sound of high squeaks and monotonous soundtracks. Meanwhile, the undercurrents persisted and I clenched my fists on that night carriage with a minor plague of people scattered about me like a hazardous disease, echoing along the waters and never quite making the dry land again. I felt like a suspect. Perhaps I should just call it quits, return to the carpeted home and curl up with another pipe and leather armchair and one more single ice cube. Surely that reality would be better than this fucking nightmare? But why limit myself to that? Why forsake an evening of Japanese dinner made by a Japanese lady, with full prospects of curling up beside her and rubbing feet? But one may be fantasy and the other cold-stoned FACT. Three more stops until the turn off point becomes impossible on this Northern Line. There is still time for a couple of white rocks and a paper-thin cigarette painted brown. Still time for the cushioned life, the glowing red room of night. The unconditional womb. No monsters, no future to face. Only the morning and Humprey Bogart to pay attention to. We don’t even have to listen to old Al Bowlly Floyd, we could spend all night with Burial. The echo chamber. The London. The unlisted factories. The open warehouses. The industrial estates at midnight. We could return down into the pace of South London–

The tube pulls in to a station. Doors open. Close. It moves off again.

–why are we heading NORTH? What do we know about North London? North of the river is vague territory, mere autumn spots, there is no real winter there. A canal in Camden, occurring memories in Wood Green, a bad experience with a woman who vomited in High Barnet, an old friendly sofa in Finsbury Park, a nightmare in Walthamstow, awkward squats in Leytonstone, a thousand reckless nights in Camden…I am homesick for the South. Why now? Why tonight? – when I am about to be greeted by some petit lady with a fair face and arms to be held. Why can’t I put my arm back through the window and drop my anxious caution? Weak human. Unprepared human. No longer claustrophobic human.

Another station. Less passengers.

One more stop, and then I cannot go back. I know my answer. My decision already made, and I don’t like it any more readily. Put on the face to be ready to greet people, seem available to other beings and all their talk and satisfied actions. I need to start preparing to seem colourful, warm, happy, positive. God, this is some self-help bullshit DEATH on a Thursday night six feet underground, moving north and only wanting to head south. Be nice. There is nothing right about this. But what type of coward walks off the tube to forsake a prepared dinner only to go home and get high? The answer is: plenty. Dostoyevsky can go fuck himself.

The tube grinded into the last station. And miserably I scratched myself out and found myself within view of all the other punters. The network: a broken electric night resounding shades of teal and broken glass in windows, mirrors, smoke and beggars. Dead funk. No exits, one WAY OUT and a dozen metal steps, filthy ceilings. Each step upwards burdened by weight and an odd sensation of frost. And then I remember the whiskey. THANK GOD…at least there was the whiskey.

Outside and life was morbid. Black, cold ambushes along the Camden road from a bewildered gallery of people arisen from every nation state. Grimey looking whitemen in frogsuits and hoodies, ugly policemen cornering stereotypes, shady folks in corners, foreigners looking fed up with their ancient tour of London – permanently fixated at a bus stop. This evening, life was grim. Death at every junction, never further than a meter away…death on the roads, suicide in the shops, homicide on the pavements, the culmination of a day of a long mind-rape down an alley which concluded in Camden. Still, it was seven o’clock respectively, sleep would surely come soon enough and not much of the grey horror could persecute then.

(At the bus stop). Pulling out my whiskey and taking a snifter, normal London behaviour. I need to blow my nose. A cold liquid is congealing around the nostrils and making its way south. No tissues, so I wipe the fresh yoke onto my finger-less gloves and rub it in. More sniffs. The 27 bus arrives. This was the chariot that used to take me to her, the chalice that dropped us off together outside her front door. (Oi. Let us forget the old atrocities.)

The violence in the driver’s eyes are overwhelming, I return the look and feel like punching through the glass and stabbing him with my breath. Ticket received. Seated down and nervous, with a dripping nose, a dry tongue and a text message to the Japanese lady. Maybe she isn’t a lady. Maybe she is just the same as the one whose house we’ll pass. Perhaps it’s the 27 bus. Perhaps its all the women. Perhaps I’m just an arsehole.

I finger for the directions in all seven of my pockets and eventually find the manuscript. Something about a Tesco, a second left and a church. The moment arrives, I take my leave of the bus and the cold air hits me again. Egg white is beginning to leak towards my lip so I pull out my vest and release the mucus. I spray my vest with a sound similar to an empty ketchup bottle. Heading down a street and she suddenly arrives from under a tree and is walking briskly towards me, its almost skipping. I think she’s damn happy to see me after all.

‘Hey,’ she grins, ‘I got you plessant.’

She presents a can of Guinness.

I return with a look that says she is a genius.

Some mild talk about cold air, winter and snot. A fair amount of grinning, I think she even put her arm though mine. Jesus. Determined lady with great expectation of a chap with great limitations and a habit for the golden-brown sides of life. I hope I can rid myself from the swollen garment and shed the homesick cages.

*                                              *                                             *                                             *

Well, that’d been uneventful. I should have stayed in, seated at home on the great leather vacuum, smoked powders, eaten a fucking sandwich. Even a limp obligatory wank would have been better than this pathetic deflation. Did she really expect anything? Did she really want me to share with her? I certainly wasn’t up to it. Perhaps it was just a case of not being bothered. I preferred the auto-shell; preferred the bar-leaning routine with two packets of ice and a bucket full of tobacco; preferred avoiding the brief, awkward encounter with a different breed of female. Reflecting on this – I sniff my fingers, all I smell is mouldy smoke, when really a man in my position ought to be sniffing the stench of her intestines.

Walking along the late morning pavement in London. Smells similar to rain. Damp air highlight the damp people…our citizens turning weak-hearted, paranoid, gutless. Grey concrete curbs and a duller firmament. The stumpy buildings, rusty and sick, indicate that I am somewhere on the edge of the main city. I am away from the central terminal…slightly west, very North. I need to get home, need to get South.

I find an old rolled-up cigarette in my top pocket – bent and half smoked – and light it on my way in search of the Underground…but where the fuck am I? No corner shops, no queues, no walls, no sewers, no pubs, no council estates, no reds, no blacks, no dealers, no smells, no kebabs, no yesterday’s backward hairdressing salon, no lights, no signs, no trees, no bus stops, no parks, no parlours, no hidden church, no Asda, no cafés, no railways, no faces. Who bothered to invent this wasted corner of London? Who bothered to move here and call it home? Who bothered to take the bus ride back?

We all fucking did.

I keep walking in the direction that seems appropriate, but after several feet I ask a pedestrian whose lifeless corpse confirms the way…and at the end of the street I see the sign. Underground. An asshole with a haircut and a watch seems to smirk at me. I don’t see the funny side. I decide to hate him. Humour left me some months ago…save for the odd comedy moment everyone chooses to ignore. The fool feigns smugness. I snarl at him whilst he walks past and I’m the one who feels defeated. Now I am the asshole. What fowl circumstance turned me into this twisted screw-face in the street that snarls at others in order to overcome? I guess it was the day She left. I am an utter fool.

It wasn’t always like this of course. You know, you’ve seen. I once was at peace, but when the time comes to fall – one falls hard. In Taoist days they discussed ‘the middle way’ – always being that middle ground between action/reaction, light/dark, flying/falling. Many folks think that when you’re up you shouldn’t indulge in it too much for when you fall (and you will) – there’ll be a further space for you to drop. But what do we know? We’re Westerners after all…and why not? Why not indulge in our highs to the fullest – just as long as you are ready for the drop into the depths of a long dark sorrow and deep bitterness in the black hours.

We live once…in our Western world…and so, by that measure, we live by extremes; no better no worse than those who live in the grey reign, we’ve just got more to shout about.

No?

At home I decide to play some shit…the usual slit-death voice-box choking variety over several broken machines and a frozen organ. And all I can do for the rest of the day is rub my head and try to get at the bruise beneath the skull.

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