life

Green Lanes

​I was standing on Green Lanes when it began to rain. It always rains on Green Lanes apart from when it doesn’t. Once I walked 6 miles of it because I lost my bus pass and that was during a heatwave. I remember it because the added heat and smoke from the bakeries and kebab houses and the Saturday afternoon crowd made the trek almost unbearable to the point where I wanted to cry but I had no tears to shed because I was so dehydrated, and never will I ever be so happy to see the Palmers Green triangle as I was when I finally made it home on that day. When I met my friend she said I smelled like I’ve been charcoal grilled. I felt like I had been charcoal grilled. 

Anyway, this time it was raining. Big, heavy raindrops, the ones that almost hurt when they hit your skin. I was early for the meeting with my solicitor so I loitered about, opting to murder my finite minutes outside a Turkish bakery a few doors down from his office. Inside the bakery I could see a group of women making baklava and some men congregating near the counter, drinking tea. I could hear the men’s animated debate and the subdued chatter of the women through the open door though I did not understand a word.

I lit a cigarette, holding it within my cupped hand in such a way as to shield it from the rain, and watched the women work. It was mesmerising, truly, seeing them expertly arrange layers upon layers of filo pastry, the filo so thin it was almost transparent, delicate and satisfying in one perfect sheet like when you peel off sunburnt skin, lifting up a huge sheet of it with such care but seemingly such little thought, a technique honed through the decades, passed down through generations. They were wielding rolling pins that were probably longer than the women were tall, never tearing the pastry, never once coughing or spluttering from inhaling the continuous cloud of starch powder that engulfed them, toned arms made strong from years of lifting vats of honey hidden under old cotton dresses, the patterns and colours of their aprons faded with age but their hair as white as sugar and their eyes as green as the pistachios that they crush in the giant pestle and mortar. Traditional, routine, precise, step-by-step, live art.

The women didn’t notice me but the men had their eyes all over me and they beckoned me in. I shook my head and held up my cigarette to say “I can’t come in right now even if I wanted to.” They insisted, but again I shook my head. The women glared at me. I suddenly felt uncomfortable, and certain that they were bitching about me in Turkish. The men are probably their husbands. Then, just as I was feeling unsafe, someone came up behind me and grabbed me, digging their fingers in my ribs with an almighty grip. Without a thought I twisted my upper body around and elbowed the person in the face. He immediately let go of me and his hands rushed to his face. He was doubled over and blood dripped onto the wet concrete.

Fucking hell!!” he said, into his hands. “Why’d you do that?!” He stood up and took his bloody hands away from his face. “Oh my God, GEORGE! I’m so sorry! I didn’t know it was you, you scared me, I thought you were a robber or a pervert or something!” “No, it’s just me. Fucking hell, you’ve broken my fucking nose!” “No I haven’t, come on, let’s have a look at it,” I said, searching for a tampon in my handbag. “It’s not proper broken. You’re still handsome, don’t worry,” I promised, as I unwrapped the tampon and shoved it up his nose. “Fucking hell, I only came over to say hello and invite you out to this thing tonight!” he winced. “Oh, Georgie, I’m really sorry, let me kiss it better,” I said, before I kissed his nose and he laughed. “You’re a nutter, you are,” he said as he wiped his bloody hands on his jeans.

We went into the bakery, George cleaned up and we had tea and baklava. One of the men in there paid for me. George said, “If you weren’t so pretty you wouldn’t get away with half the shit you do.” I concurred that that is probably, sadly true. My solicitor called to say he was ready for me, so we hugged goodbye and arranged to meet at Frank’s in Peckham at 10 that night. I promised to buy him a drink to say “sorry about the whole elbow in the face thing” and he promised that we would catch up properly later on and that he had some exciting news.

He never turned up at Frank’s that night. Nobody had heard from him. His phone was dead when we tried to reach him, and it’s still dead 4 years later. I ring it from time to time, just in case it might be switched on.

Where did you go, Gorgeous George? You just disappeared. No social media clues, no sightings, no ideas. The grapevine mentioned you running away to Thailand but then it also mentioned you in prison, and it was even suggested that you were living under witness protection and your true identity had been compromised. I don’t think you topped yourself. I just don’t know where you are. No one does. I wonder if I was the last person to see you: I hope I was, so that you didn’t meet a fate worse than a bloody nose and free baklava. And I will always look for you on Green Lanes, especially when it rains.

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prosetry

Scream Queen

In London no one can hear you scream.

You can scream all you like, princess.

Scream up Fleet Street, scream down Holloway Road, scream all over Clapham Common, scream up at Nelson’s face, scream along Blackfriars Bridge, scream out from the top of Primrose Hill until your throat bleeds.

By the time you’ve found somebody who’s ready to listen, you’ll have run out of scream.

I always thought that my screams were being ignored.

Now I know that, really, everyone in this city is so deafened by their own screams that they can’t possibly hear mine. Just like I didn’t hear yours.

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Another Time At Camden Lock

It’s a strange feeling, this. To be left alone in the middle of a crowd, to be abandoned by people that I’ve never met. The sun disappears and so do the strangers, and I sit cross-legged on the harsh concrete edge, lockside for the thousandth time, with my purple lipstick and my white wine eyes, wearing a garnet ring that was prised off the finger of a dead woman, with not even my faithful moon for company, and if I told you that I feel alive, it would be a lie, one greater than the lie I told you last night, the one that you will cling onto for the rest of your life, the one about loving you, the one about trusting you, the one promising not to die too soon.

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This One Time At Camden Lock

I watch the man in the crumpled white shirt take a swig from his can of Stella
and remember how anything looks beautiful when set against a pink September sky.
I catch his eye through the smoke trails left behind by infinite Marlboro Lights
and then he picks up his guitar. I notice that there are flowers painted on its body,
which feels unfair as he will never see the flowers inked on mine.


I come here because I am unknown here.
Here, I can be anyone. I can be anyone I want.
Nobody here knows my name or my situation or my secrets.
I can talk to strangers here and know that they are strangers.
Here, nothing is expected of me, and all we have are first impressions.
I can hide what I like, reveal what I want.
I don’t have to say a word but I can also say them all.
Whatever I say or do here exists in its purest form.
Here, I have no history.
I am not known for my past transgressions, I am not known at all.
I can be whoever I want to be.
And here, I always choose to be me.
Because here, I can.


I laugh out loud at the groups
of young girls who look exactly the same from behind,
clones, pretty clones,
with their Instagram lies and bad blonde highlights,
all wearing the same beige trench coat,
drinking the same sugary cocktail,
taking a photo of themselves pretending to drink it,
no delete that one oh my god I look disgusting,
take another one!
no, I don’t like that one, delete.
One more.
Ergh, no!
One more.
One more, one fucking more,
I despair at the state of my generation.
I imagine what the girls look like
without their eyebrows drawn on.
Who are they trying to deceive?
I shake my head in disbelief.


I am overwhelmed at the tragic haircuts
these young white males are sporting –
another deluded bunch,
convincing themselves daily that they don’t look like utter twats.
I laugh again because they look ridiculous
and I don’t know why they’re here,
they don’t look old enough to drink,
and I wonder why their parents haven’t told them
that they look fucking ridiculous
and I remember the time I was leaving the house
and my mother told me that I looked like a prostitute
and she meant it as an insult
but I took it as a compliment
because that’s what it is nowadays.


The most grotesque PDA is taking place to the left of me.
The girl has a blade of grass in her hair.
I wonder if I’m the only person on this earth who knows that it’s there.
I think I am.
The guy keeps staring at me, leering.
He has a horrible laugh. It is false and it makes my skin crawl.
He bites the girl’s bare shoulder and keeps his eyes fixed on mine
the whole time and everything suddenly feels a lot colder.


This place is saturated with vague memories
of the midsummer evenings of our glory days
and we sit here pretending that it’s not all over.
Plastic sunglasses and plastic cups,
a dropped kebab and cigarette butts,
we all sit on the dirty concrete ground by the water
and watch the sun cringe away behind the buildings
embarrassed
not wanting to stick around
to witness our demise into debauchery.
The summer has gone but there is a lot of skin on show.
Heavy winter coats are being thrown
on over denim shorts and tiny vests,
and the more we drink the less
we notice the temperature drop
drop
drop
the degrees fall away
with our dignity
and self-respect
until there’s none left.


This is a tourist hotspot. This is why I can be unknown here.
I can spill my soul to a stranger, steal a wallet, fall in love, punch someone in the face: I know that I’ll never see them again and that any witnesses are gone too, so the damage is deleted. They’ll be gone tomorrow, or next week, or next month. What happens today never happened tomorrow.

Ah, Camden Lock: you never see the same face twice.
Unless you want to, of course.

So everyone around me is chatting away in various languages and I am writing and quietly singing along to the lyrics of the songs that the man with the guitar is playing.
We are all listening but not really.
We clap when we’re supposed to but this is just a man who’s singing for fun, he’s not supposed to be here, we didn’t pay to see him.
An old man who looks like a shit version of Iggy Pop dances around the guitar man, spilling his can of Scrumpy Jack’s on the floor.
He gets on down on his hands and knees and licks it up.


So, this guy is playing a free acoustic set
for the ignoring masses
and suddenly I feel bad for him,
like I’m the only one who’s listening
and appreciating his presence.
He plays songs that I know and love,
by Cash and Dylan.
Then he points at me and says,

‘Your boyfriend will probably come and beat me up for this, but I’ll take my chances – this song is for you.’

And then he starts singing Brown Eyed Girl
because of course, fucking of course,
because that’s the song that you would always sing to me.
And my throat gets really tight
and the tears begin to rally together on the edge of my eyeballs
and I don’t want to remember anything anymore.

I can’t look at the guitar man.
Or Shit Iggy Pop.
Or the PDA guy.
Or the chav youths with bad haircuts.
Or the girls pretending to drink their drinks.
I just stare into the canal and let myself zone out,
lighting a cigarette, ignoring my heartbeat,
wondering how many prostitutes are rotting away at the bottom of the lock,
attempting to conjure x-ray vision to look through the algae to see the bodies below,
trying to remember what the Camden Ripper’s real name is,
estimating how cold the water is,
mapping out the route of the canal in my head,
thinking that I’d rather drown than be burnt alive,
and then everyone starts clapping because the song has finished
and suddenly I’m no longer in the water
I’m dry and warm on the concrete
and I smile at the guitar man
and he winks at me
and then he starts playing American Pie
and I’m fine again,
I’m fine,
I’m fine,
I’m fine…

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life

Insane? Contain, Restrain, Detain

Knock Knock Knock Knock

*male voices*

Is this the one?

Yeah.

Knock Knock Knock

*opens door a fraction*

Yeah? What do you want?

We’ve received a call from a member of the public and a call from one of your neighbours expressing concerns about your welfare, can we come in?

What? No. You fucking can’t.

Come on. It’s just me and my colleague Jerry, we want a little chat.

No thanks, you’re alright.

Right, come on, open up now, there’s a good girl.

I’m fine, seriously, piss off.

*sighs*

We can do this the easy way or the hard way.

You got a warrant?

No, but we have reason to believe that your safety and the safety of others may be compromised. We can either chat to you here or down at the station, it’s entirely up to you.

I’m a smart girl, I’d never be stupid enough to invite filth into my own home.

Fine, get some shoes on and we’ll take this down the nick.

Wankers. You’re never there when we actually need you yet you’re always there when you’re not welcome.

Yep. Could you also bring with you a list of any medication you’re taking.

Nope, because that would suggest that I’ll be in your company overnight, which is definitely not happening.

We’ll see about that.

Bastards.

Right, get your coat.

I’ve pulled?!

*Jerry laughs*

*Pig #1 does not laugh*

Hang on, what the hell’s happened here? What’s all this?

Hair dye.

Hair dye?

Hair dye.

Hair dye, Sir?

Jerry, go down and get the first aid kit will ya?

Sir.

If that’s hair dye then I’m the Queen of England.

Don’t flatter yourself.

Right, I’m gonna need you step outside of the property please. I’ve had enough of your lip.

Oi, don’t you fucking touch me. My father always told me never to go off with strange men.

*death stare*

I need to get changed, you can wait outside in the corridor, I’ll be 2 minutes.

Nope. Don’t think so.

I haven’t even done anything wrong, just go away!

I’m not letting you out of my sight, sweetheart.

CAN YOU PLEASE JUST FUCKING FUCK OFF. I NEED TO GET CHANGED AND I NEED THE TOILET. UNLESS YOU WANT TO WATCH ME CHANGE MY TAMPON, YOU SICK FUCK! GOD, you people really are the fucking worst. Just back the fuck up and I’ll be out in a minute, alright?

First aid kit, Sir.

Ah, Jerry. Right. Tell me. How did you hurt yourself? What did you use?

I didn’t. Nothing. And I’m no-one’s fucking sweetheart, by the way.

Have you taken anything today?

Why, what have you got? Anything good?

Are you currently in possession of any offensive weapons?

My mouth.

Are you currently in possession of any item or items which you could use to harm yourself or others?

Wait. Yeah.

What is it?

My wit. It’s pretty sharp.

*Jerry stifles a laugh*

Jesus wept. If you don’t tell me right now I’m going to have to cuff you for your own safety and for mine. Hands out.

This is ridiculous.

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT LOCKING THAT BATHROOM DOOR, GODDAMMIT.

I’LL BE ONE FUCKING MINUTE, MY GOD.

Right, I’m going to count down from 10, if you’re not out here by the time I reach 0 I am going to break the door in, right?

Sure.

10

9

8

Jerry, radio 6423 and see if they’re local.

Sir.

5

4

Tell ’em we’ve got a live one.

3

LAST CHANCE MISSY.

2, 1!!!!

Jeeeeesus, keep your wig on!

Right, let’s go.

But why?

Follow Jerry. Go on. Watch your step.

Wait, please tell me we’re not driving… your Cop Shop is 150 yards across the road, surely your motor would be more useful out patrolling the streets catching genuine threats to society?

Get in the car.

Wow. Met Police, saving the planet, one unnecessary detainment at a time.

Mind your head.

This is getting silly. I haven’t actually done anything wrong.

But you will, which is why we’re intervening now before you do any major damage.

That is utter bollocks. And I’m supposed to be the insane one, hahahahahaha, you mad, mad bastards.

Sir, is there any point of taking her to the station? Can’t we go straight to the hospital, let them deal with her?

Errrrrrrrm, yeah actually, I’ve had enough of nutters for one day: good thinking, Batman.

Sir. What do I tell Chief?

Uhhhh, pfffffft, the usual spiel: too many injuries to accurately document, urgent medical attention required, high risk psych, station’s too busy and understaffed to deal with her, blah blah blah.

Okie dokie, thanks Sir, got it, Sir.

Hey, can I go for a fag while you do your paperwork?

No.

Why not?

Because I said so.

Please?

Nope.

Bastard.

Have you got your meds list?

I’ll write you a full meds list and list of my diagnoses, plus the names and numbers of my uncaring care workers and unsupportive support staff if you let me go for a fag. How’s about that?

No.

Andddd I’ll give you the correct phone number of my next of kin?

No chance.

Hmph. Hey, has anyone ever bled to death in the back of your fancy little cop car before? “Urgent medical attention required” and yet we’re just sitting here in the car park doing jack shit.

Put pressure on it.

Er, I’m pissing blood back here!

You’ll live.

Yeah. Sadly.

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prosetry

Soup

I had spent the week in the same way, lying in bed, flat on my back, arms straight by my sides, staring out of the window, watching the ash trees slow-dancing and the gangs of birds loitering with intent and the city skyline lurching woozily in the heat, listening to the rattle of spray cans from the garage downstairs and the mistakes made by the bell-ringers during their weekly practise peal.

On the third day, West London was on fire and the smoke was rolling in vertical waves: I didn’t think it would ever cease. And still, I lay in bed, useless, like a wildly unconvincing Frida impersonator, spitting words about inside my head, words that have already been said, already been read, counting magpies and missing dragonflies, thinking of names for the children that I’ll never have, tearing the skin around my fingernails, peeling ’til they’re bleeding, and waiting, just waiting.

In the mornings I lay waiting for nightfall. In the evenings I lay waiting for the sun. I lay waiting for sleep, for help, for silence, for affirmation, for you, for life, for a sign, for God, for answers, for revolution, for the tide to turn, for Godot, for death, for change, for justice, for love, for me, for reprieve, for miracles, for time, for everything, for anything, for nothing in particular.

Five days into my self-imposed bed rest, he phoned me up to talk about nothing in particular. He checked if I was still alive. I said that I was, that I am. I heard him smile down the phone but could not mirror the sentiment.

He told me about his brother receiving a big compo cheque for his motorbike crash. He asked me if I wanted to go to Dublin with him for a few days next month and I said “I’d love to but don’t think I could manage it.” He said that he’d picked up his neighbour’s cat off their garden wall and taken it indoors with him because it was a nice cat and he wanted to hang out with it for a while, but he wasn’t sure if that was called “kidnapping” or “catnapping” and what did I think? I said “borrowing.” He invited me to a party on Sunday night, I said, “Absolutely not.”

He told me about how Islington Council are chasing him for library fines. He said he’s lost the book somewhere in his house before he’s even read it, and that the overdue charges fine is now so huge that he could’ve bought the book brand new four times over and still have enough money left over for a bag of chips.

I asked what book it was and he said, “It was Book 5 of My Struggle, I can’t even remember what it’s fucking called.” He asked me what I was reading and I said Fireworks – short stories are easier for my broken brain to comprehend. Then he said, “I’m coming round to your place soon, I need you to I Ching me,” to which I replied, “Ooh, kinky.” He reminded me to eat and to pay my rent and to stay alive.

One day before Bed Rest I had made a huge vat of my special tramadol, tequila and tomato soup. It means that when I’m tired of being conscious I can drink some and quickly go to sleep for a few hours: when it’s cold it’s just a More Bloody Mary but is equally knockout. If I could sell this soup at the Farmer’s Market I would be a millionaire. The Grenfell death toll was creeping up and I was ready to go back to unconsciousness.

As I was crawling along the floor from my bed to the kitchen I spotted it in one of the stacks of books that line every wall of my flat. “Some Rain Must Fall: My Struggle Book 5 by Karl Ove Knausgaard.” I only ever bought Books 1 + 2. I grabbed it and opened it. Sure enough, inside there was a stamp from Islington Central Library and a few sticky barcodes on the back.

“Fuck,” I thought. “That man will do anything to get me out of bed.”

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life

Ladybird

COCKNEY

I balled down the frog and toad in my Barack Obamas to nip in the offy.

“Usual please, Bossman.”

He got a box of rags and an aristotle of Oddie off the shelf behind him and a #5 scratchy out the deck.

“And a Jack The Ripper as well, Boss.”

“Which one?”

“Anything that can cook a Jeremiah.”

“I’ll pick a goodun for ya,” he said.

Most of the fighters had starkers puddings or daffy plugs or footy badges on them. I didn’t give a flying fuck what the fighter looked like as long as it Captain Kirk’d.

He goes, “‘Ere we are!” and gave me a green one with a shamrock and a ladybird on it.

“Cheers,” I went, while having a butcher’s for a nugget in the sky rocket of my Hackett.

“I’ve given you that one cos you gotta stay lucky out there and cos you’re a top bird.”

I thought I was gonna pipe my eyes out:

I’ve always been a lady but never a bird. Now I’m a bird. A top bird. A ladybird.


ENGLISH

I walked down the road in my pyjamas to go to the shop.

“The usual please, Sir.”

He got a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of vodka from the shelf behind him, and a number 5 scratch card from the roll.

“Oh and a Clipper please.”

“Which one you want?”

“Any one that is capable of making fire.”

“Ok, ok, I will choose good one for you,” he said.

Most of the lighters had naked women or silly slogans or football crests printed on them. I really wasn’t bothered about the design on the lighter in the slightest as long as it worked.

He said, “Aha!” and gave me a bright green one with a four leaf clover and a cartoon ladybird printed on it.

“Thanks,” I said while searching for a pound coin in the pocket of my jacket.

“I give it to you because I hope your life will be lucky and because you are very nice lady.”

I could’ve cried:

I’ve always been someone’s bird but never someone’s lady. Now I am a lady. A very nice lady. A ladybird.


Inspired by this scene in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73d6h_go7QI

True story:

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