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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prosetry

RudeTube

The day after the November 2015 Paris attacks

I was standing on the platform with my eyes shut, listening for the familiar rumble of the northbound train. As the train was pulling up I saw how busy it was and thought, Saturday night, last tube out of town, of course it’s packed, I definitely won’t get a seat, bugger. But then the carriage that stopped in front of me had an empty bit where nobody was sitting or standing, an uncharacteristic gap in the sardines. I gathered that somebody’s obviously thrown up everywhere or that perhaps there’s an unconscious drunkard lying on the floor. Wincing at the prospect of the smell of piss and/or vomit accompanying me all the way to the last stop, I got on the train. But there was nothing there. Only a young man, dressed in traditional Islamic clothing, sitting quietly with two bags of groceries at his Adidas-clad feet. I was baffled. All of the seats around him were free and clean and dry and yet everyone else was standing by the doors and acting shifty. I looked at the other passengers for an explanation, thinking I must have missed something, but they all looked away or looked down or inspected their fingernails, so I said What the fuck? and sat down opposite the young man. I gave him a brief nod, took my book from my handbag and began to read, and then the man said to me, Thank you, and I said, I’m sorry

 

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poetry, prosetry

The Hierarchy

Food over rent
Booze over food
Drugs over gas
Smokes over leccy
Sleep over work
Sex over sleep
Firsts over familiar
Regret over loneliness
Fun over health
Sin over salvation
Lies over love
Fans over friends
Laughs over the Law
Matter over mind
Cash over heirlooms
Notoriety over change
Me over you

Me under the influence
You under the impression
Me under him
Him under control
Me under your skin
You under arrest
Us under the spotlight
You under pressure
Me under the weather
You under the bridge
Me under six feet of soil
All of us under the same old sky

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prosetry

Life As We Know It (Now)

Fortnightly overdoses and falling asleep in the bath

Ridiculous wine descriptions and tattooed knuckles

Antiseptic and anticipation

Disappearing acts and swapping house keys

Superglue and frozen teeth

A stolen bottle of mustard and an Irish funeral

Forgetting and failing and faking and Fuck Forever-ing

Rusty kisses and missing the last bus

Betting slips and 56 missed calls

Vanilla vodka and the First Casualty of War

Coffin shopping and cryptic crosswords

LSD and the ghost of Keats on Hampstead Heath

Tampon strings and sewing machines

Vape sticks and scaffolding

Tinned peaches and bascule bridges

Hugo Boss shirts and serial killers

A shelf-less bookshelf and ignoring aeroplane safety demos

Swimming to Mexico and believing in angels

3-day stubble, you’re bang in trouble, double up for £1

Pinching each other because we aren’t entirely convinced that we’re alive

Marriage proposals and morphine dreams

Rhetorical questions and infinite eggshells

Spying on the neighbours and eating jam doughnuts with a knife and fork

Lordship Lane and waking up with two black eyes

The United States of Shock and Dismay

Blonde on Blonde and asphyxiation

A pint of daffodils and the view from the bell tower

Blood tests and a ouija board

Perjury and the 4 hour Happy Hour

Grey hairs and burnt toast and wondering what the hell it’s all about

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prosetry

The Night That Never Was

Do you remember that strange night we spent in purgatory, our faces torn between the heaven of tipsy candlelight and the hell of gaudy neon signs?

That curious liminal state in which we existed, somewhere between the safety of our private candlelit sanctuary, the warmth and comfort afforded by the melting pillar that stood coyly between us as we sat in quiet contentment, bellies full of steak and rioja, and the rhythmic blinking of those electric signs on the other side of the window, the crackling letters in brash colours screaming 18+, touting Soho’s finest mags + dvds + toys + girls girls girls, and MASSAGE with a short-circuited M.

In that late-night limbo known only by the lost, we were faced with the age-old conundrum of deciding what to do next. The world was our oyster. The best city in the world was under our feet. We could have gone anywhere, everywhere. And instead we chose nowhere.

Retreating from ideas of excitement and excess, under the dim glances of tired streetlights on a silent faraway road we questioned our uncharacteristic decision to “be boring.” We discovered that waking up on a Sunday morning without a hangover would be a new experience in itself. And the money we didn’t spend could be used on our next adventure. And anyway, the golf ball in the sky told me that I was right to choose home instead of psychedelic liquid light shows – at least this time.

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life, prosetry

Quarantine

weather

It is hot in London. A twenty degree heatwave and Londoners have gone mental. Hyde Park is awash with walkers, roller-skaters, cyclists, footballers, sun worshippers, book readers, dogs eating ice cream. The other parks too: Regents, Green, St.James, Richmond, Clapham (Common). Rammed with people who will be red-faced tomorrow.

My social media feed, starved of usual as I have no friends, is gluttonous today. My phone buzzes. Requests to: “hit the park”, “crack open the Pimms”, and “play some frisbee”. Only on London-hot days do my acquaintances deny their proletariat roots and drink fucking Pimms. They will return to work on Monday and compare blistered foreheads with their colleagues, complaining how the sun was “too hot”.

I ignore my phone, knowing I will be spending the day in the hospital.

Walking through the entrance I am struck by how empty it is on a Sunday. No volunteers on reception, no sign of anyone playing doctors and nurses. The coffee shop has its shutters down and the cafeteria has only one hot option. What patients are around seem to be the nucleus of a mini-obesity epidemic. Not one of these rotund people are able to move without structural support, or a lumbering waddle. The National Health Service in this country is under as much strain as that guy’s walking stick. I move up two floors using the stairs, feeling the burn.

Inside the Children’s Ward my daughter is stick thin, a skeletal contrast to the flesh on show downstairs. She smiles as she sees me, pushing the last few wispy strands of her hair behind her ear. It seems silly and futile given how bald she has become, but she likes what remains and refuses to cut it short. I kiss her and she wrinkles her nose, telling me I smell of bananas, which is weird as I don’t like bananas.

There was a chance she could have gone home today, just a few hours of freedom, before returning that evening to continue her medical cocktail. Time out is not much, but it is an oasis of happiness for a little girl who has spent the last seven days quarantined.

That hope is snatched away by a frugal Government. It is Sunday and funds cannot stretch, it seems, to more than a single Doctor covering the entire fucking hospital. They take blood at 06:00 to check if she can leave for the afternoon, they return at 18:00 to say it is now too late to sign her release. I have never been good at stifling my sarcasm in the face of stupidity, and fail once more with my reply to the Doctor.

We wait in the room. First she sits on her bed, then on her chair, then back to her bed, already planning ahead to go back to her chair later– there is a dearth of options. Together we do sticker books, read stories, squidge Playdoh, dress dollies, watch television. Between distractions, she stares wistful out of the window, with more sadness in her eyes than a four year old should ever experience. She asks, “Is it hot outside Dad?” And I reply, “Too hot, cupcake, you wouldn’t enjoy it much.” She laughs and wrinkles her nose, knowing I am lying, but accepting because she has no choice. So she goes back to staring out of the window at the trees, the car park, and the crew-less ambulances abandoned outside A&E. I pick glitter from beneath my nails while she shuffles to her chair.

I am not complaining that I have spent a day indoors and not in the sun. There is nowhere I would rather be than at my daughter’s side, but my preference is not in a hospital, watching her suffer the side effect of treatment.

I hope every one of you reading this had a better weekend than I, and if you didn’t, I am so sympathetic.

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