Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Inbetween Time

The only time you ever have ‘enough time’ is in between things. Such as now - while I lie flatly between duvet and throw - when I am supposed to be packing. An in between state (I am in) because I left work an hour ago to go home to pack for the very long journey tomorrow where we cross continents. Another man I know crosses oceans (going the other way round the globe).

Everyone is on the move again after the roast turkey and stuffing and gravy sandwiches. I lie flatly and think of the beauty of the way - how family will fly up to taunt and tear one down and then shoot up like a distress signal which ends in a glittering shower-burst of light - the winds picked up at night and in the day it was still. 

Orcadian landscapes have a haze they wear; the locals call it the Har. When there is no wind and the sun is lower than you could possibly paint it on the horizon the Har dissipates the sunlight and generously spreads the particles across seas and mounds making everything glow, faintly. When the wind picks up the droplets are blown clear and you’re left with hewn edges. Fragments of rock that were sleepy giants turn in to tablets. There are bird calls everywhere and the sun rises only to set - you’re right there sir - there is a certain timelessness about it all.

When I travel my body puffs up. That is when I travel internationally across time zones; that is when I am not in any time zone. Maybe it’s because the mental state of waiting (for the flight to be over) versus the physical sensation of it being day when it should be night (thus having gained a few hours out of nowhere) creates a physiological contradiction in me that makes me swell. I have no idea but time is tricksy.

And so why is it that I only feel like I have enough time in between things. Like for example, you have a meeting at 3pm but you got out early from the dentist's at 12pm so you have 3 hours to kill - you literally have it in such abundance that you need to get rid of it via murder - poor time. You think we don’t want you when you know all people want is more time, you must get such mixed messages all the time time. It must be the want for something to arrive quicker or last longer that marks the passage of time. Or gives it any meaning at all, otherwise we’d all be here in between states neither waiting nor wanting nor waning. And a warning to all layabouts like me who try to hide from time in between inner and outer layers of bedsheets fully clothed lying really pebble still - we won’t go unnoticed - time will creep up and devour us whole like a crocodile.






Sunday, 6 December 2015

Guide Dogs (or things with jobs)

Have you ever had it where you’ve been so hungover that when you put a sweet in your mouth you forget to chew? There’s two older men over there, gentlemen is what I’d describe them as, and one wears a faded navy blue jumper with a muted v-neck and the other wears a maroon jumper rolled up at the sleeves. They look like teddy bears and the blue one is drinking water from the smallest tiniest bottle of water I have ever seen and the maroon one has bitten in to an orange still with its skin on*. Now the carriage fills with the smell of zest and I look around and expect to find more wonder. There was a blind woman with a guide dog at the station. I love guide dogs and all dogs in fact but particularly guide dogs, who have a pretty worthy job and I wonder if a guide dog met a police dog at someone’s Christmas party, would they get on? Would they even acknowledge that they both were canines with important jobs; I wonder what they think of cats. And the guide dog patiently stood head bowed at the foot of the owner (who I am presuming was blind) whilst she intently thumbed through her boarding tickets. One by one. And I thought how would she know which one is outbound and which one’s return? But she did know! And then she went through the big barriers with the dog at her side. And then I thought blind people mustn’t be able to use the self-service checkout tills because you won’t know which buttons to key in for items and so they really can’t get rid of the checkout people. Or the train station guards who sometimes open the barriers for you when you’ve missed a train and so you want to pop back out for a cigarette or to buy a sandwich, and then when you come back they remember you like a doorman at a venue. The other night I couldn’t believe that this doorman at the theatre recognised and remembered me. Admittedly, I have been there a lot but to get that kind of recognition you must be a regular and I don’t think I’ve ever been a regular anywhere. It’s an ambition. I’ve had friends who work in places and so they recognise me, but the reason for the recognition is a preexisting relationship not a relationship built on having the door opened for you multiple times. Wow. It might have been my greatest moment of the month (of November, which was dire but it’s over now so moving up moving on). Finally it’s cold and proper, not muggy and ineffectual. The weather that is. Sticking my finger in to my mouth to try and dislodge a bit of sticky sweet makes me think that this is what it must feel like to wear dentures and not have your own teeth anymore, only gums. That will be a sad day when you can’t chew on sweets and in fact be afraid of them incase you swallow one whole and then sadly, top it. The ticket inspector just called, doing his rounds. Do you think that milkmen still wear the milkman uniforms classically seen on re-runs of old television shows? Because I’m never up early enough to catch the milkman who comes to our door or ever see a milk float, I don’t have any way of checking. I wonder why milkmen had to wear those white uniforms in the first place if they’re just putting bottles on people’s doorsteps. Was it for the guise of hygiene or maybe to remind the people of milk? Who knows. A girl in the seat opposite just fell asleep and lolled her head and then woke up and is now falling back asleep for it to happen again. Trains are fun. Moving scenery is fun. Sweets are fun. Even with a stonking hangover. 



*I think it was to peel it more effectively.






Friday, 27 November 2015

First Winter Morning




Blink blink sunlight passed over the horizon and the playing fields of clouds rolled out over the misty blue. A letter with two fish sealed upon the envelope had arrived awaiting my thumbing. The days at work seem long and dreary because of the on-off central heating the lack of cats and the dead lightbulb turned upside down on the adjacent table, ‘I’ll buy a new one at lunch’ I say feebly and never do. Screw-in tops, I’m cautious of buying the wrong size. The boss suggests I embrace what the Danes do ‘hygge’ and I wish I could so I try and do it but the only glitch is it’s difficult to do alone.

I think of my friend in America where the weather must be getting “pretty baltic” as he described it over an e-mail from long ago. New York in Winter. I wonder if it’s prettier of more wintry than here? Two sprawling mega-cities with cosmopolitan folk and rundown neighbourhoods. Do they have council Christmas lights? I notice that on my street to work the lights on the lampposts aren’t lights but green shrubs made of plastic and shiny spindles. This street mustn’t have the budget for lights. 

The envelope contained a pale blue letter with a black and white photograph glued to the reverse. The small things really count, I guess. This little messenger guided by two swimming fish on the creased white paper tossed and turned over mailbags and conveyer belts. Guarded by perfectly formed handwriting. ‘What’s you landscape?’ she asks. 

That self-induced dawn, the first Winter’s morning was brimming with light but shy. Her streaks of pearl pink brushed against the sides of flat clouds but if you looked closely she could have been the aurora in disguise. I think of Orkney and the crashing waves on to a placid shore that’s seen it all. The cliffs are grand but unassuming. The few weathered goats that eat seaweed are as much part of the landscape as the jutting out rocks from beneath the sea. Sometime seals bask blubbery and gleaming with snouts like dogs and big wide eyes. I delight at the sea. So to answer your question, that’s my landscape Annina, but this will do for now.



Monday, 16 November 2015

November Greys

November is a time of solid grey. As Winter approaches the sunshine looks like a dying breed - getting scarcer and scarcer - until one day you’re taken aback by a patch of yellowish hue that glows and fades away on a garden wall.  Leaves take over. The red and brown ones are trodden in to mush that make a dirty patchwork carpet for us workers to pad over - to go unnoticed - with our heads down heading in to town like curmudgeons.

The wind makes it harsher than it should be in this placid autumnal humidity and it’s where anything shouted across the street won’t reach your ears; instead it’s tossed aside by the rustle of plastic and soaring jet engines. The feeling of grey “the presence of grey” that puts you off your toast and tea, that makes you wonder how we could possibly hunker down in time for Christmas and get jolly about it all: the fairy lights, the mistletoe and the bells that will follow. Surely they’ll follow. Watch as clothes become coats and boots and loose hair is cropped and kempt beneath big hats and all the while coughs become prevalent in city carriages.

But in the darker months you notice things that are smaller, softer, quieter and keep you warm at night. The muscle memory of a sweet hand squeeze that lingers with you for ages. Or the taste of tea and milky things - the speed of a pup rushing past your knees - the rumples in a bed sheet.

I’ve spent time consuming things in awe of these creators - Giacometti, Auerbach, Hepworth - and I can’t seem to put a finger on it but they have the will to do things to completion by moving on and not stopping. During November I have stopped. And it’s sad. But I have to remain and something however small will start again, like a little broken clock inside my skull that needs a winding on.




Friday, 6 November 2015

Modern Girl

How many un-drunk cups of coffee must exist out there? I find one lurking at the corner of my room which I forget to take downstairs only to remember it upon my flight back up the stairs with another one. The milky residue leaves a circumference of skin that you can ignore up to a point. I’ve been finding that the Modern World can be wholly underwhelming at times. Heck it could be the change in temperature and so the change in tempo: from frazzled happy youth frolicking over the sunlit pavements of the Thames Walk to layer-laden quarter-aged pauper in ripped jeans and bobble hat shuffling under a tunnel in Vauxhall. Gripping a steamy tasteless coffee from Greggs contained in paper thin cups that burn the palms and fingertips that it’s a bit like frostbite but the opposite.

There’s an unholy amount of time spent waiting for something banal to happen in the Modern World. Flossing your teeth which is just a person craning their neck and opening their jaws wide in front of a mirror to clean it from gunk, it’s so boring and gross that in the underwater world you’d get a cleaner fish to do it for you. And for those who think flossing is actually an active source of engagement with the body then imagine the boredom of having to stick a vibrating brush inside your mouth and waiting for it to finish dealing with each tooth. The worst is you have to stare at yourself whilst this happens which makes the process all the more empty and personalised. And during these acts of nothingness it’s not even worthwhile looking at your phone to thumb it to make noises that don’t add any significance to your life or existence, it’s just dead time. Modern World antics and people have to go through this every day. Sometimes several times a day. Holding a glass under a tap to fill it so you can have a drink of water can eke the sodding life force out of you - and some taps trickle - but that’s all part and parcel of the Modern World we live in.

Bank transactions that take 3-5 working days to clear. What’s the money doing? Is it busy? Is it travelling? Has it been held up going through some check-in system that it has to self-operate like the tills that don’t know how to categorise an avocado so has to tag them as a separate item? It should be a fruit because it has a stone. I’m happy - I’m happy - but I’m going mad with these unfinished coffees and receipts everywhere.

But then I found it. The answer. Sheena Easton.




Her song Modern Girl was a serendipitous find. I went to a fancy-dress party in 1920’s gear because that was the theme and my Japanese mother said to me ‘Ah, modern girl!’ when she saw my outfit. (NB/ there was apparently a socio-political fashion movement in Japan called the Modern Girl or Moga which conflated 1920's dress styles with female independence but look it’s been discussed by someone else proper online). A week later I was in search for this mysterious Modern Girl comment and out she pops: big-eyed and very made-up on my Macbook Air screen all shiny and fuzzy from the 1980s. Sheena Easton with her hit single Modern Girl.

Is it the opening sequence which strikes such a chord? Listlessly walking through a market soon to be gentrified in a neon translucent anorak, clunky heels and jewels? Or is it the lyric describing her on public transport through London where ‘She eats a tangerine / Flicks through a magazine’? I mean that’s my life! But written a decade before I was in London (or born) and simply augmented via drastic colour palettes and synthesisers. Then the chorus rises up with the best bit of a pop conundrum: catchy tune, powerful lyrics, but mixed messages that sum up the whole Modern Girl in Modern World problem. She keeps repeating that she doesn’t need a man but the whole song is about her man, and then she says that she is free to be what she wants to be but she still bloody eats a tangerine everyday on the tube and picks up a drab office phone and watches trash telly. What sort of Modern Girl is this? Not one I want to be, but then, I choose to use the self-checkout till and waste time on my apps and think hard about filters. What a load of crap. But hey, what a great tune. Na na na na na na na na na na…




Friday, 30 October 2015

Estonia & Finland

Finally feel like being back and who would have thought it memory wears thin. 

Last Sunday I returned from a trip to Estonia and Finland, the Nordic lands. It was a great escape, the highlight being driving out to the country through the straight-laced woods; pin-prick after pin-prick made up of silver birch and pine, their stiff standing-to-attention silhouettes and trim waistlines flitted past my passenger-seat car window as we pelted across chilled tarmac to the western most tip of Estonia. 

By the Baltic Sea. 

The wind started to pick up and we had no fire to cook the meat on. The massive man in lumberjack wear with bounding Alsatian dog in tow told us the hob wasn’t meant for steaks only porridge, so, my friends seized the outdoor barbecue and lit it in a brewing storm for the dozen spare ribs we had bought for seven Euros. The fire lit and the wind picked up. We had arrived at a wooden bird watchtower a shade of emerald green, a two-story Scandinavian designed beauty with an outdoor spiral staircase that led to the upstairs where the three beds lay and the downstairs held a kitchenettete and sauna. The next day I appreciated the heat from the sauna rose to warm the top room - everything here is well designed.

The sauna was hot. The wood-burning stove was made of heavy black hunks of metal and burned soundly, the coals atop were charcoal and sizzled when any touch of moisture happened. Lifting out ladles of water and splashing the rocks made the hot little wooden room's temperature rise by ten degrees to reach 80. Sweat spilled like water. We took it in turns to jump outside from the sauna to the world, where there was now a mighty gale whipping round the edges. The rush of the sea wind through invisible dark trees made the whole experience bewildering and so did the vodka. There were dares to run out to the Baltic Sea, which were completed by others (some twice dunking his whole head under like what I can only imagine a drunken beluga whale) and we raced back to the heat of the sauna across grass and moss and nettles and guzzled more beer. It was something between a frolic and a frenzy and the next day we all paid for it, me especially, with a hangover that silenced. 



Photo credit: Aidan Clifford

Monday, 5 October 2015

Seasons


I look down the corridor and it is still. I look out of the window and I see a formation of seven geese soar above the roof. I bought a chilli plant this morning and was given a white porcelain pot to place it in. The stolen clock now contains batteries and tocks above the bookshelf.

*

There is nothing profound in saying this: how times change. Everyone’s said it. And everyone’s felt it I bet. The return of seasons make progress seem familiar but times are never similar. Not that I’ve found anyway. I have always had a penchant for chilli plants and that began two years ago when I lived in an ex-council flat in Bethnal Green, which was a pub crawl away from Columbia Road Flower Market that opens every Sunday. The narrow street would fill to bursting with flowers; stalls and hawkers; coffee enthusiasts and fixed-gear bicyclists; expectant skinny mothers and babies in suede, it was a version of heaven - back then. And I would try and pick up the dregs of flowers that hadn’t been sold at the end of the day, because it was cheaper still and I would always be enticed by the chilli plants. The red and yellow bulbs that shone, and I knew you could eat them and the taste would be sweet or bitter and if you’re lucky, extremely hot.

Friends I cared about but no longer see stayed with me back then. In my rented apartment that I no longer live in nor share with the people I knew (the housemates have all scattered too.) The friends who stayed over had only just finished university with me and so there was real promise of visits and “no plans over the weekend” and such and such. And when I think of the daily trials and tribulations of two years ago it was different – I was drunk more, I couldn’t tell if I enjoyed my job at all, people who meant nothing meant everything, and the Winter seemed long. Maybe Winters always seem long and we forget because Summer stupefies us.

Today on the bus a woman thus spoke to a neighbour:

‘Make the most of the sunshine
You don't know when the breeze is coming
In this town
And the darkness'

In her Caribbean accent she had directed it at a neighbour who wasn't sat beside her. Oh, there was someone there certainly; it wasn’t a call of madness. It was sound advice. Later she fell asleep. I heeded it. I should be enjoying every minute of this.






Monday, 21 September 2015

Hibernation

Two weeks of this, two weeks of bliss and it’s hard to get up and do something about it. The plates are piling up in the corner of the room scenario. The washing needs folding not just moving onto another clear surface situation.

The squirrels are going nuts for nuts right now. They have pouches in their faces full of foliage, and they slither along the ground scouting for yet more nuts to store somewhere they won’t remember. Rains come and go, plump off-white clouds are ensconced in the skyscape and morph in to night time with its hazy pollutant glow.

We are in uncharted seas, bobbing along between summer and festivities that involve baubles and time is sort of sloshing about and I feel quite tired and complacent. There was a play I saw, where the protagonist turned out to be a slug or a caterpillar of sorts, and he described his home fondly as being the underside of a cool dank rock. I get it now. He was living under a rock. That’s what people use as an excuse for not keeping up to date with television or the Kardashians or Cameron; I’ve been living under a rock for the past year.

Hibernation is a want, isn’t it. If only because daylight is getting scarcer and layers of clothing are growing thicker; we could all just snooze a little longer, and move less and eat more and sleep deep. But alas, we aren’t bears or caterpillars or squirrels, and we have timepieces and electricity and appointments. Oh to be a bundle! I said, Oh to be a bundle.





Monday, 7 September 2015

Back and Forward

Birdsong rushes in through the open windows. The weekend has been and gone. A new day has started.

One would think being back where you went to school is a bit of a regression. Intimate knowledge of a wall you used to hide behind to smoke cigarettes at lunch break, or the school gates that you passed through a decade ago daily would be somehow a reminder of things you left behind. But in fact, they are memorabilia now, like nuggets of memory to fold-up and place into your left breast-side pocket to be patted down every now and then. For reassurance and nostalgia. I was that. Now I’m this.

*

Books on philosophy – the names of modern political theorists adorn my wall – a book shelf absolutely teeming with all the knowledge and know-how that I don’t possess. The dormant army sit there offering up a quiet challenge to be better. Get smarter. Come on, read me if you can. I can’t imagine anything more enticing to return home to and it fills me with gladness that I’m going to be able to live in this house that’s a home.

We get milk delivered to our doorstep in clear glass bottles.

The window of my room faces east, so sunlight pours in whenever I can manage to open the curtains like I did this morning. Big yellow trees are splodges on my sightline, a townhouse garden extends forwards in to thickets, I see some allotment patches, one small misted-up greenhouse and a shiny spider’s web that glints once or twice before it disappears. Nothing is dramatic nor apparent and it’s bliss waking up to the niceness of this.

A few marauding cats get shooed off the grass and the leaves blaze leaving a trail of summer behind before falling in to autumn.




Monday, 31 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe




Shove the bacon buttie in my face and absorb it instantly.

Things I will not miss about the Fringe are: the wet drips which fall from the grim underside of that bridge in Cowgate, the stairs (that are everywhere), and flyers.

Hungover days and the restless nights that come with drinking too much, and then the Scottish fried goods and the endless walking over from New to Old parts of town. It never stopped not even in the downpours or in the early morning, stuff just kept going on.

Lurching down steep steps, which I’d only just clambered up half an hour ago to collect some pants I’d left in the print storage room (spare pants - because I’m always prepared - or because I forgot that I’d left my pants in a back room of a venue and thought before catching the train “outta here” that I should probably collect them).

Sweating. Ski jacket. Prepared for all-weather but not for all this weather meaning the sunshine we’ve been getting. In Scotland? I know right.

But the upside of all this traipsing by a banister is, or, were the shows. I managed to see a heck of a lot of good shows. So here’s some I remember the most jotted down for you:

Le Gateau Chcocolat who is a big black beautiful opera singer told an achingly honest tale of a young man who grapples with depression, being gay and being black. The lighting design was the lighting design to beat all others. His voice is ridiculously amazing.

The show which dedicated it’s heart and soul to the artist and wife of Beatle, Yoko Ono, titled appropriately Oh No! by Jamie Wood was brimming with creative nurture. The most enticing bit was when Jamie curated some Bagism on stage and invited a member of the audience to get in a bag with him and get completely naked. The minutes of silence that ensued after this innocent plea was met with awkwardness until a fly lad of 23 got up, crossed the stage and entered the bag/blanket with him; they both followed to get completely butt-naked beneath the sheet and then continued to talk about whether said young lad had ever fallen in love before, and what it means to love a person. Performance art + comedy = happy fun.

LetLuce in Sea Men (A Naval Tale) was a hilarious and sometimes trippy ride in to the world of two clown-character comics who’s unfurling narrative about a fish who wants to go clubbing on River Island and a pirate captain who wants to drink the Potion of the Ocean (said in an elongated Brummie accent) was just the bomb. The nuts. Mighty Boosh would have taken their hats off to the pair.

The stand-up that I enjoyed the most was Liam Williams with his second stand-up hour: Bonfire Night. A pretty neat and of course, damnably clever hour to follow up his last show (Capitalism). Lots of self-hating and millennial naval-gazing, you just have to laugh or else you’d cry.


They’re my picks and in hindsight, I did have a good time and managed to tone my arse from all the stairs and got a surprising tan out of the outdoor flyering ordeal so, all’s well that ends well. 



Thursday, 9 July 2015

Hero





A note slipped in her diary whilst she was away in the toilet. 

That was a bold move, Andy thought. That was a bold stupid move. Andy was sat a few tables away from her and he had promised to watch her bags and laptop whilst she ‘nipped to the loo’ as she put it. With no idea of what her name was Andy had formed a relationship of trust with a stranger, something he doesn’t very often have with anybody. His last girlfriend Clarissa was either a control freak or a nervous wreck, flitting between the two so that Andy always felt slightly responsible for their continued state of tension. She’s dating that bikram yoga instructor now so, each to their own he consoled himself.

Whilst peering over the edge of his book at her belongings intently (like a hero) it occurred to Andy that, well, she had been quite attractive really. Kind eyes, bright hair, soft features; he continued to muse contentedly that he was now her watchman, her uncredited protector. 

But then the waiter came and dread filled his feeble fleeting heart.

Alexander the waiter believed in himself and called everyone “darling” in a lovingly sexist way. If a pretty lady entered his establishment and didn’t have the exact change for a mocha he’d do what any self-appreciating male with sexual prowess would do, he’d give her a smile and a wink and let her have the mocha for less. Sure less, not free - he has principles come’ on ladies. Twenty minutes ago, Alexander, was serving the lady with the currently unattended bags and had spotted her feminine waistline and shiny eyes. Now’s his chance. Striding over with purpose to her empty chair Alexander wipes it down with a cloth and slips his phone number in to her closed diary that she left on the table. 

Wide-eyed but with no other external signs of shock Andy awaits with foreboding. A dark cloud emitting drizzle has formed around his head. Clammy.

What if the nice woman who had asked me to watch her bags while she went to the bathroom thinks it’s ME?! And I have somehow broken her trust. I’ll never be asked to be a hero again. I’ll never be considered by her to be an honest trustworthy individual! And when she finds that number she’ll be filled with conceit and probably tut inside her head that all men are pricks and after one thing only. Well I’m not after one thing only! He thought decidedly (although he did quite fancy her but that was besides the point at this minute.)

She came back and Andy had missed his chance to do anything about the note slipped inside her personal private diary, he was livid with himself, all he had to do was take the note out and eat it or something why hadn't he acted fast enough?

‘Thanks’, she said and smiled back at him. 

The waiter behind the counter gave her a wink across the cafe. Andy grabbed his belongings hurriedly scraping them in to his bag before disastrously upturning a saucer filled with the residue of his filter coffee on to his crotch making him exclaim ‘shitheap!’ downwardly into his soul. The woman who was sat cross-legged at her laptop smiled over the edge of her screen in his direction with forgiveness and understanding. ‘Sorry’ muttered Andy and hurriedly dashed out forgetting his book behind, and so clambered back in past the other diners and metallic tables that scraped over the linoleum floor apologising again and again to recover his book and then finally leaving to get the hell out of there. 

Cath turned to the correct page of her diary to check dates and found a slip of paper with a telephone number written across it and a small black scribbled heart in the corner. Written on receipt-paper she thought turning it over in her fingers. The heart looks like something drawn by a pre-schooler. Completely uninterested she ordered another black coffee and went back to checking dates in her diary.





Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Heatwave and more fish

I had thought about buying another bowl for the boat. At the moment we can’t both eat soup at the same time, nor anything else that requires a bowl, for that matter. I had thought about buying another bowl for the boat but I had thought about many things since walking aimlessly around this store because the heat had made me go insane. I gladly stood still in the milk and cheese aisle for 10 minutes considering my options about a bowl and then bought a cucumber and left.

Heat brings it out of people. Crying (a woman outside the Tube station, into her hands with a friend stooped low to help), fighting (beefcake boys on bikes skidding and smacking), cavorting, frolicking, rollicking, shouting with jubilation at passers-by because they’re happy or sad or mad. It’s a bad rad heat that’s struck London this week. Tubes like slums, pubs like slums, everywhere like slums, with temporary shacks along the pavement springing up comprised of pimms-in-a-can or slimline-gin-and-tonic-in-a-can or something else that clatters. I bought a can of coconut juice which instantly became tepid when I left the coolness of the newsagents. 

‘Excuse me!’

I don’t hear a thing because I’m miles away sitting on my boat rooftop, my thoughts are like smudges.

‘Excuse me! Hey there miss!’

Oh it’s a child. On a bike. With a friend. What does he want… ‘Yeah?’

‘Do you know where you can buy fishing stuff around here?’

‘Not really.’ I go back to my staring out across water at nothing. But they’re still there waiting expectantly on their tiny bikes. I have no clue how old they are but I don’t think they could mug me because their bikes are so small.

‘I thought because you live on a boat you’d know where to buy the stuff.’

He said “stuff” with this inflection that made it sound like drugs and I’m no dealer, of fishing stuff or any stuff. ‘What sort of stuff?’ I calmly ask because it’s just so very hot.

‘Fishing stuff.’

I feel like we’re going in circles. Then the other one perks up, he’s on the small red bike.

‘Oi, do you reckon there’s fish in here bruv?’

‘Yeah I reckon so.’

‘I saw a massive carp get caught the other day, so sure there’s fish in the canal.’ I’d apparently decided to be part of their conversation.

‘So you do fish!’

‘No. A man was fishing.’

‘Where’s this man then?’

‘I don’t know.’ I stayed still and quiet but they still noticed me and looked in my direction expectantly so I shrugged and pointed and said: ‘He went that way’. 

And with that they left. 

I heard a crash of breaking glass hitting pavement, a roar of applause and some ensuing argument or other dissipating from the pub in the opposite direction to where the two boys headed. They hadn’t caused the commotion but the sounds of laughter and braying of men and women wafted over the river for eternity in this heat. I bet they’re cycling extravagantly towards Mile End.




Monday, 29 June 2015

Light at the end of the tunnel and fish

Feeling quite lucky today, walking along the tow path back to my boat. 

This weekend we sailed from King’s Cross to this part of town, Angel of Islington, a nice part of town. To come out on this side of the canal however we had to drive through a long and treacherous tunnel, underground for what seemed like five hours to me riding on the back fending off the arse of the boat with a pole to stop it from scraping the sodden crumbling walls of the Islington tunnel; built over 200 years ago; lingering with the smell of stale sweat and the feeling of dead men. Crumbling walls, crumbling bones, cobwebs gliding over face and shoulders and my mind flying at the thought of getting stuck. There was light at the end of the tunnel - behind and up ahead - but there seemed little promise of making it through alive. Of course I’m being dramatic. My friends told me they enjoyed the ride afterwards. 

Today, sunny and mundane I stroll along the tow path back to my boat which we parked beside a small chug-a-long of a thing. There’s soulful American folk playing from within, the tinny twang of guitars drift through my cabin windows as I peek out to see a pretty lady with maroon-coloured hair painting her toe nails on deck. Summer has broken out in patches across the city. This part of town has rustic warehouse conversions, busy manic cafes that spill out on to the tow path and bespectacled clientele with vintage briefcases and art-student graces. People look rather beautiful here. There was a man who caught a monster of a fish when we arrived on the scene. I asked what kind of fish is it? He told me a carp. And the passers-by went up to have a look, to take a few photos. The two fishermen took a cool swig of their beers, looked pleased with themselves and let the big fat carp go. He splashed its face a few times with canal water before the carp looked lively enough, then the unfortunate grotesque aquatic creature flicked his tail and dove down in to the depths of the water to dissolve. 

Whilst in Orkney we were walking along a stretch of beach outside my grandparents’ home called Watersound. At the headland there’s a disused pier jutting out and there two kids, one with bright orange hair and the other with spiked white hair were playing. Being bored and shouting at the sea, mainly. When we threw rocks in to the sea the white-haired one copied us and got even bigger rocks until he held a minor-sized boulder and crashed it down in defiance in to the shallows roaring whilst throwing it. Feral kid. The other, who was hanging off the pier out of sight shouted back to his mate, I caught a fish! I caught a FISH! and they both scarpered and screeched through gritted teeth, excitement, anger and amazement.

Fish are exciting, apparently. 




Friday, 12 June 2015

Moving Eastwards Moving On

It was nice to see them both. My two friends from the good past who live in different lands: New York, Berlin, London (that’s including me). Oh sure, we’re jetsetters. It’s where history has flung us all - out - so that today we can sit on a Friday afternoon amidst the Notting Hill yuppies in a pub sipping £5 ale. It’s no big deal. We’ll pretend that this occurrence is normal, nothing special about it, just so happens that we’re all here in the same country in the same public house. Talking drinking, spouting nonsense, finally. Like the not so recent past… what has it been 3 or 4 years since we all lived in the same town house in a part of the world called Jericho? Where the bricks are made of sand; stone has been bleached by the oddly bright sunlight for southern parts of England and the streets are broad or winding; pubs pop in to view when you turn down a lane or continue to walk along the grassy meadows. I remember herds of cows galloping. Today we all shirk responsibility that has to do with growing up, I notice, but we all deeply care. The affected and ineffectual bunch. You hope we’ll make a good impression on the world. I listen and I listen and the thoughts of Annina are great and grandiose and matter. She makes them matter to anyone who listens and I wish I had her sense of striking passion, and I love her and I listen. And then Owen, the master of sciences, looking rather more worldly donning urbanite-upgraded Woody Allen specs and shabbier, longer hair. They’re both a pleasure to look at and to share time with, supping our rusty-coloured pints and dusk falling, dinner is next on the cards.

*

‘See you at 11AM at Royal Oak tube station’. And right on time Annina, the girl I call the sphinx, strides up the Underground stairs with a bagel wrapped in white paper in her hand ready to be part of the crew. Today is the “big boat move” that Mer has been planning for the last fortnight. Since we’ve now moored all over the western regions of the canal, seeing off Harlesden, Kensal, Little Venice and Paddington we have to move on eastwards, and to do so we must first take the top and sides down from the boat and drive it through the low Maida Vale tunnel. There’s no telling that we’re all excited but first Mer, the captain of the crew, gives us a solid debrief about not getting our limbs trapped swinging out the side of the boat and thus getting them ripped off. You see, important orders from the captain. A small fairground has been set up beside our mooring spot for a children’s day, so as we push off the banks and start to set sail innocuous bits of bunting wave us off. Bye bye West.

The tunnel is low and dark and dank and drippy. When we enter it, the 5 strong crew all go silent for a while, one pokes their head out over the roof to go under again, I crouch in the shadows with a large stick to fend off the sides incase the arse of the boat gets too close to the walls, and the sphinx kneels-on looking straight and forwards. When the entrance recedes and becomes like the pupil of an eye only letting the essential light in to reach us, the passage looks longer and more indeterminable. I got the impression of pirates and caves and Hades and the air tasted stale and sweet, as if the old cold stones sweated. Looking forwards, at first the exit was a small semicircle of brightness and as we slowly approached it light began to filter down, like ink on blotting paper and soon and slowly we were drenched in white light, as the nose of the boat broke the seal from the underworld to the real we all clapped or whooped and Mer told us to calm down.

The new world we had discovered was green and Arcadian. Great willows bowed low and grand as if welcoming hot summer heat and a tweed-jacket wearing frog, huge greco-roman buildings (surely, not houses) with white colonnades stood firm and ruled atop the banks. Then out of nowhere a huge avery filled with cranes, storks, exotic birds and a few wayfaring pigeons appeared and you see all of winged-colourful nature flying and hawking above your head and you forget about the city and imagine a crusade. Epic scales guys, that’s where boat tripping’s at.

After cruising past a floating red pagoda weighed down by frilly lanterns, the scenery changes again to one of grunge and iron. You see more young ones in peaked caps sitting on the canal side with their Red Stripes and a foray of unsurpassable tramps shouting fucks and twats at the passerby. It’s Camden Lock and there are too many tourists. Having never done a lock before I have to learn, but it mostly involves people jumping on and off the boat and running around over precarious bridges, which are actually the lock gates. Depending on what gate is open or closed, the water level rises or falls within the lock. The aim of the game is to get the boat from one side of the lock to the other. And the pressure is on when the sun’s beating down and children and parents of all nationalities are swinging their heads from side to side, licking ice creams or taking selfies right next to you as you sweat. Lock gates are hard and then heaving them open requires a whole other sort of strength, pushing with my legs for leverage, my whole body sprung out at almost 90 degrees shoving against an iron bar, ridiculous posturing from me I suppose.

The crew made it happen though, Annina and Aidan were the hero couple opening and closing locks as if there was no tomorrow, Mer shouting at us to jump on board or off, the others keeping steady hold of ropes so the boat wouldn’t kilter off to the side or end up mashed by the lock gates. There are a total of 3 locks between Camden and where we wanted to be, as such there was a lot of work to be getting on with. As we were inside the final lock, people took tea breaks and I dished out some chocolate bars and we filled up the water tank. 200 litres of water the tank holds, I wonder how many showers I can get out of that beauty? The sun was past the zenith but still in full swing, English July is surprisingly warm and it was certainly louts-with-shirts-off weather. 

The vista that opened up before us was sweet and impressive. King’s Cross, a skyline filled with cranes and brickwork. Two white swans with their 7 cygnet babies filed past our boat, in streamlined ordered parade; they looked regal and seemed to know it by law. The geese honked and the coots scurried and parted out of their way, whilst our boat headed eastwards to find a mooring a space nearby. 

*

After the long sun-drenched day my muscles ached and I had an unquenchable thirst. The sphinx lay languid on my cabin bed and I played with my newly acquired boustrophedon disk around my neck, it was brought to me from Crete and I’m very fond of it. We talked about nothing and everything and ate biscuits over tin plates and when the sun finally decided to leave the sky alone, we strapped on our shoes and went in search for pizza.



Photo courtesy of Annina Lehmann