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, 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
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
the degrees fall away
with our dignity
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,