Are You Lonely?

‘Who am I?’ It’s the third time he’s asked that question to himself today. The hundredth this week. Today is a good day. On the television a man is telling another man how great he is. He feels he should know who both the men are but he doesn’t. His hand reaches out for the remote control, he wants to turn it off, but there’s a strange draw. He has nothing but contempt for this individual who has made a lot of money, lives in a big house and is for some reason adored by millions. Stupid hair, sly smile. Crook. ‘Prick’. The word slips out of his mouth. He presses the red button, only his own reflection left in the television.

He picks up his pouch of tobacco, hands shaky, he’s not sure why they’re shaky, it’s starting to worry him, he should go to the doctors but that means the doctor might tell him he’s dying. Next week. Definitely next week. A sip of coffee, a pull on his roll up, a long stream of smoke streaks across the room, the sunlight making it linger in the air. He looks at the clock. Ten o’clock. Still early. Could go and get the paper but that woman will be there and he doesn’t want to see her because he looks a mess and well, he fancies her. He’ll turn red, stutter, say something stupid. Wait until it’s gone two and she’s finished her shift. Asif will be there then. He likes Asif, he doesn’t say anything, no questions.

‘Who am I?’ he’d forgotten about that fucking question, just for a few minutes now it’s there knocking around inside his head. Not a bad person, I always help people if I can. Jesus, just because you help people, it don’t make you a good person. Now he’s arguing with himself. He closes his eyes and shakes his head, as if it’ll shake that unanswerable question from his brain. He opens his eyes again, another pull of his roll up, blowing out the smoke. What if he is a bad person? Then what? Does it mean he’s fucked for the rest of his life? Will it always be like this?

A small black cat brushes against his leg, he reaches down with his hand, not looking at it. He’d found it in the rubbish chute, it was almost dead, skinny, barely able to move. Spent all his money on getting it fixed up. Now it never leaves him alone. Of course it won’t leave you alone, it loves you. He picks it up and puts it on his lap. ‘Sorry.’ The cat purrs, kneading his jeans. It loves him. He smiles, a sad smile, a loving smile. Sad because the cat is all he has, loving because he has the cat. He puts her down on the floor again, she looks up disappointed. ‘Sorry mate, need to go out.’

He looks in the mirror. His blue eyes looking back at him. He doesn’t look too bad today, not as bad as he thought. Puts on his jacket and looks in the mirror again. Doesn’t look great, really. Sits back down on the sofa, does he really need to go out? What’s he going to get? The woman next door, is talking to someone. A saviour, he won’t go out until she’s gone, he doesn’t want to talk to her or see her. He likes her, but she fusses and she’ll say she ain’t seen him about recently and she’ll ask questions and he doesn’t want to answer any questions.

Phone vibrates in his pocket, looks at the number. His mother. He ain’t talking to her now, she’ll only be moaning about something. What’s she got to moan about? Life is good, nice pension, goes away on holiday twice a year. She better not come knocking today, he doesn’t need that grief. A million fucking questions and no answers. He shakes his head, it ain’t her fault. It isn’t anyone else’s fault. A deep breath ‘Sort yourself out.’ That’s what they keep saying to him. How do you do it? Is there some sort of switch and if there is, where is it?

Another deep breath, he’s going to do it this time. He’s going to go out. Another look in the mirror, not too bad. Could be better. He can’t meet his own eyes, scared to look at himself, scared to see what lies inside. Hand reaches for the door, hesitating before turning the latch. Once the door’s open there’s no going back, someone would see and they’d think he was a lunatic. They think badly enough of him as it is, can’t let them think he’s nuts as well. Step forward, out into the open. She’s there. He thought she’d gone.

‘Hello, son! How are you? Not seen you out and about for a few weeks. Thought you was dead!’

She likes him, always liked him. Nice polite young man. Bit quiet, don’t really say much, looks like he thinks too much. Sometimes she wonders if she should ask him for a cup of tea or something. He could do with someone to talk to, he don’t ever have any friends around. Well he did, but then they stopped coming and now he never goes out. Poor kid. Must be having a tough time of it. What can she do though? It ain’t really her business, he might think she’s interfering. Could do with a hug, that’s what he could do with.

It’s a joke. He knows it’s a joke but his heart sinks. It’s that word ‘death’, it sends shivers through his whole body. Not because he’s scared of it. No, because he keeps thinking about it and he can’t make it go away. He wants to tell someone, but they’ll just think he’s gone mad. Maybe he has gone mad? He smiles weakly at her, she beams back at him. She goes to say something and then stops. He thought she might invite him in. Why would she? It’s what he wants. Just to sit with someone for ten minutes. He hears her door shut as he makes his way along the landing to the stairs. Head drops, she probably doesn’t like him.

At the bottom of the stairs, he looks one way then the next. Which way? He doesn’t know. No direction, no purpose. Just go back upstairs, you’re safe at home, no one can see you, no one can bother you. If no one can see you, no one can hate you. Not everyone hates you. No one hates you. Conflicting voices. A fight in his mind between the rational and the irrational, the irrational always wins. And here he is stepping into the world of the rational while the irrational stokes hatred, not hatred of them, hatred of himself.

A newspaper. He’ll go and get a newspaper. She’s there though. She might have finished work or have a day off. Head down, he sets off towards the shop, eyes flicking up to make sure he’s going the right way. Opens the door, his heart pounding. Looks up at the counter. No one there. That’s good, no one there, he can’t buy anything so it’s best to leave and go home. She appears, smiling. Why is everyone so happy? He smiles back then looks down at the newspapers. Doesn’t know which one he wants, they all look the same, not able to take in any information. He pats his pocket, pretend you’ve forgotten something. Back out the door. A mess, he’s a complete mess.

Sitting in the park, going over and over his ridiculous attempt to buy a newspaper. Another roll up, his chest hurts. How did it all go so wrong? It had all been so right and now it’s gone. Alone, nothing, failure. Two kids kick a ball between each other in front of him. Laughing, taking the piss out of each other. That was him. A few years ago, with his own mates, kicking a ball about, friends. Now they’re gone. Where did they go? They didn’t just disappear. Slowly, slowly. But that’s what he wanted and he doesn’t know why.

A blackness, a cloud. It had just appeared one day. It took over everything. Enveloping his life. All those hopes and dreams he’d had? They’d never be realised. The cloud had snatched them away and persuaded him they were just foolish, childish naivety. There had been glimpses of sunshine, tiny rays of light poking through but they were fleeting, teasing, taunting him. Look at what you could have had, then disappearing back behind the cloud which cackled at him. It had control and it wasn’t going to relinquish it.

One of the kids rolls around on the grass, pretending to be hurt. His mate laughs with him. A smile spreads across his lips. A genuine one, one of those glimpses of sunshine. Maybe he could be like that, maybe he can turn it all around and it’ll be back to how it was. Sunny, summer days in the beer gardens with his friends, enjoying the company of people. Hatred gone. That’s the hardest, hating things you don’t want to hate. They pick up their ball and head home, slowly ambling across the grass, happy. He’d forgotten what that felt like.

A man and a woman pass, holding hands. A surge of jealousy pulses through his body. He can’t look at them for more than a second. He wants to be that man and there’s no way he can see he will ever be like him. He gets up from his seat on the bench, turning away from them, heading back home to his safe place, the place where he can’t be teased and taunted. Except by himself, but he can handle himself. Well, almost.

A quick look up at the balcony. He’s hoping she’d be outside. She’s not. Probably gone shopping or talking to one of her friends in the kitchen. His hope lies in a woman he doesn’t really know, a woman who has no idea what is going on inside his head. Passing the door he stops, listens. No sounds, she’s gone out. If she’d been there, he’d have stopped, talked to her. Told her he wants to scream out loud because he doesn’t know what to do. He wouldn’t have. He knows he wouldn’t have. It never comes out, he’s tried. The cloud tells him he’s stupid.

The cat is waiting for him, purring, rubbing against his leg. He reaches down and picks her up, sitting down on the sofa. Tears fill up his eyes. He looks down at the cat, she rolls on his lap.

‘I don’t know why this happened and I don’t know what to do.’

She jumps down to the floor, playing with a piece of string. He’s failed. Into the kitchen. He takes three cat bowls from the cupboard, filling each of them up as much as possible with food. She purrs as he puts all three bowls down on the floor.

‘That will do you until someone finds you.’

He leans down and softly kisses her black fur. Sits back down on the sofa, makes another cigarette. Smokes it slowly. Enjoying it. All doubt has gone. There’s no need to doubt anymore. He smokes the cigarette faster, it’s getting in the way now. Stubs it out in the ashtray. Stands up, turns towards the window which he’d left open. No hesitation. The drop to the bottom over in seconds. Life flashing before his eyes. It doesn’t matter. It’s over. The cloud is gone.

If you know someone who is lonely and depressed talk to them. You’ll make a difference. 

Feature Image Copyright: https://www.123rf.com/profile_gurb

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From the Bottom of a Bottle to the Himalayas and Beyond

I don’t post anywhere near as much as I used to on my blog, I’ve been busy with writing and other stuff. I recently started a YouTube channel, which as I explain in the video, I never thought I would do but sometimes you have to challenge yourself to things you otherwise wouldn’t! The first video is pretty long but it’s my journey from being a kid in London, through 10 or so years of addiction and my journey in recovery in my own words.

From Jumpers for Goalposts to Wembley

Cup final week. For weeks before you’ve been anticipating it, in class you’re not listening to your teacher as he goes on and on about some shit that’s completely inconsequential to your immediate future. Doesn’t he know there’s a cup final soon? Boring bastard probably don’t, doubt he even likes football, looks like the kind of geezer who goes home at night and plans how he’s going to torture the class by maths the next day. One of them who thinks football is for ‘oiks’ and sighs at the tribalism of the working class masses, hooligans! Who do you support sir? A wife and two kids. Fuck’s sake.

On the long walks home from school you’re going through the match in your head, play by play. A 94th minute winner after a 90th minute equaliser. There has to be drama, running away with it in the first half would be an anti-climax even though your team would have won. That’s what Wembley’s for: drama. You’ll be thinking about getting the Subbuteo out, you’ve not touched it in years and half the players are broken. Your previous intentions of having stadiums and corner flags given up on when you spend more time setting it all up than actually playing it and that’s just with the players, the pitch and the scoreboard.

Every kid dreams of it don’t they? Scoring in the last minute of the cup final, being a hero, as your teammates lift you onto their shoulders and the fans invade the pitch. Front pages of the newspaper on Sunday morning, your name all over it. Walking home is a blur as you’re completely lost in the moment, each time you add an embellishment. First it’s a header from inside the box, but that won’t do, it has to be a thirty yard screamer into the top corner. Picking the ball up inside your own penalty area, beating six players, rounding the keeper and then slotting it into the net. Yeah, that’s the one, that’s how you win a cup final. Before you know it, you’re home, the walk home is so much easier when you’ve a cup final to play.

When you get in doors you press the button on the remote control, looking to see if there’s any news, if someone’s injured, just a little something which will make you confident your team will win. Ceefax page number 302, the same page you sit in front of on Saturday afternoons, waiting impatiently for the page to turn, to see if there’s been a goal because your team isn’t on the radio. There’s match of the day but fuck not knowing what the score is, you can’t wait that long.

When they are on the radio you spend half your time running around the room, holding it up in the air or half way out the window to stop the crackling, just as they get near the goal, the voices disappear and you ain’t got a clue what’s happened. It nearly goes out the window, but the voice returns. Your imagination running wild as you picture in your head everything that’s going on on the pitch. The commentator’s voice getting louder and louder, he’s excited, you’re excited then his voice drops, nothing’s happened. He has to be doing it on purpose.

The cup final’s on television though, that one game which is always on tele. It starts early, the build up, interviews with players, everyone is excited. Des is looking suave as he always does, Brazil of 82 could be playing Real Madrid of the 50s and Lynam would still think he was the star of the show. Giving the camera a wink as if to say, ‘You’re watching for me, the football’s just a sideshow.’

Before the match though, you’ve got your own final to think about. Your mate, the one who’s always organising things wants to have a cup final in the park. Eleven against eleven, but you’ll never find twenty two players so it’ll probably be five against five or five against six with the kid no one really wants on their team being put in goal or defence as the extra man. He’ll play a blinder and then everyone will want to pick him next time when he reverts back to being shite and everyone shouting at him, an issue he’ll probably be discussing with his psychiatrist twenty years later.

The weather has started to turn, the sun shining, those dark and gloomy days of the winter when it’s dark at 4pm are now long evenings and sunny mornings. The council got the lawnmower out in the park, the smell of the freshly cut grass alone makes you want to get out there and play football. The makeshift goalposts are put together, a couple of jumpers, a bottle and someone’s cap, arguing if the goals are the same size. Someone will think they’re a professional pitch inspector and start pacing the pitch out. Most don’t give a fuck, they just want to play.

Some random in an Argentina shirt will turn up in boots, because he’s wearing an Argentina shirt and he looks a bit foreign he must be good. Everyone argues because they want him on their team. Your mate who never shuts up will ask him his name then forget it five minutes later and start calling him ‘Argentina’, he was going to call him ‘Diego’ but if he calls him ‘Diego’ he’s implying he’s quite good and your mate thinks he’s Maradona, Pele and George Best rolled into one and wouldn’t want anyone to think he’s admitting ‘Argentina’ is better than him.

You’re not that arsed, you just want to have a game of football, enjoy yourself but the kid who thinks he’s a defensive master keeps shouting at you to ‘keep goalside of the defender’. It’s a kick about in the fucking park, not the world cup final. Who does this geezer think he is? For the rest of the game you’ll be planning on killing him, getting the hump and contemplating throwing a strop and walking off the pitch. Then you’ll do something good and he’ll shout ‘Played!’ and all is well with the world again, he ain’t that bad after all.

As the game is starting to wind down, one team will be running away with it and Argentina will knobble someone. Full on two footed challenge, leaving the geezer he’s tackled rolling around on the floor. He’s overstepped the mark, you’ve allowed him to join in, you lot don’t usually let strangers play on your pitch, this is a bit too much. The kid he’s knobbled is threatening to go home and get his baseball bat, Argentina doesn’t look bothered as he holds his hands in the air in a gesture of ‘what’s the problem?’.  Someone will whisper that their mate knows ‘Argentina’, he’s not Argentinian, he’s Colombian and his dad’s a drug baron. Argentina hasn’t said a word because he’s Dave who’s visiting his aunt who lives on the estate down the road and he’s quite enjoying the pantomime.

The kid rolling on the floor is no longer wanting to get his baseball bat but wants to take his ball home instead, you’ve got another ball but it’s fucked, the panels all torn off, sitting on top of one of the jumpers half deflated. The kid’s ball is brand new, can’t let him go home now, there’s only ten minutes left. Argentina shakes his hand and pulls him up, still not saying a word. The kid tries to look angry but everyone knows he likes a tantrum and are just relieved he’ll let you finish the match.

With five minutes to go, one team winning seven nil, that familiar shout goes up ‘next goal wins!’. Next goal wins? It’s 7-0. If they score how can they win? It’s a load of bollocks. They inevitably do score and they run around celebrating as if they’ve won the world cup, the previous hour ignored. Wankers. Argentina has slipped off, never to be seen again, spoken of weeks later in hushed tones, the time you all played football with a Colombian drug lord’s son. Dave from Brixton will never know the myth he created.

On the way home you go over your performance, recreating in your mind that one little piece of magic you had in the game. Underappreciated, your mates don’t understand talent. They laud over that geezer who’s quick but just kicks the ball in front of him and runs, but he’s just fast. Argentina should have done him. How could a kick and run merchant have had trials for West Ham? He’s making it up, he’s got to be.

The next week crawls by, school is torture. You get up early in the mornings to try and find a tape with the cup final from a few years before on. None of the tapes have any labels on, most of them are just Coronation Street or Eastenders from Christmas day. Rewinding and fast forwarding. Why does someone always tape over something you wanted to keep? They ain’t even going to watch whatever shit it is they’ve taped and they’ve ruined all your football tapes. You find the beginning of it, just as the teams are coming out, you’ll watch it tonight when you get home, excitement building at coming home and sitting on the sofa and watching it, the tape goes fuzzy and Pat Butcher appears. They’ve taped over it.

A kid at school reckons he’s going to the match. You were swapping stickers with him and he just casually dropped it in. ‘Got, got, got, need…’ ‘My dad’s taking me to the cup final.’ Thing is, he said he went to the cup final last year as well, and the year before that, the year before that he went to the world cup final in Mexico even though he was in school a couple of days before and was in school on the Monday morning. He reckons his dad is a spy as well. He’ll definitely, definitely bring the programme in on Monday morning, he’ll get you a scarf too he says. Wonder what the excuse will be? His dad had to go on a secret mission, probably.

The bell rings on Friday afternoon. Finally the week is over. You’ve got butterflies already, probably won’t sleep tonight. The walk home is again a blur as you tweak the imaginary goal you score, beating eight players instead of six. Getting home and reading a copy of Roy of the Rovers, wishing you had a pair of boots like Billy, magically transforming you into Maradona. Tomorrow is the day you’ve been waiting for and every time you look at the clock only a few minutes have passed by. The old man is speaking to your mother in whispers, you catch something about a train and start to panic, what if they’re taking you away somewhere and you can’t watch the final.

Waking up early on the Saturday morning, you don’t know what to do with yourself. Flicking between the channels to see if there’s anything to watch but it’s just shitty cartoons which you can’t be arsed with this morning. You put your team’s shirt on and go down the shop to get a newspaper, hoping someone will notice the shirt and say something. The geezer in the shop doesn’t take any notice, you ask him if he’s watching the football this afternoon but he shakes his head, he only likes cricket. How can you not watch the cup final?

The old man is waiting in the kitchen when you get back, dressed and ready to go out. ‘Come on, son, we’ll go down the pub and watch the game.’ At Marylebone station there’s already loads of people outside the pubs, chanting and singing, the noise and the atmosphere making your hairs stand on end. It’s not just excitement, there’s fear too, the fear will go but for the moment you’re worried it’s all going to kick off and you’ll be caught in the middle of it. Glasses are dropped, cheers go up, you look at the old man for reassurance but he just laughs. Why are we getting the train to the pub anyway?

The crowds pile on to the train, you’re wedged into a corner as beer is spilt, people are singing, someone starts to rock the train and you shit yourself. The old man doesn’t seem bothered, he’s seen it all before. You start to relax, take it all in. An idea pops into your head, maybe he’s got tickets? Nah, he would have said. ‘Have you got tickets for the game?’, ‘Nah, we’ll watch at a pub in Wembley.’ He winks at some geezer he’s just met who laughs in response. He’s got tickets, he must have! The train takes forever, knowing when them doors open, you’ll know if you’re going to the match or not.

There it is in front of you, the stadium you’ve had in your dreams, the place all those recreated goals in your mind have taken place. The twin towers, the atmosphere, the geezers selling scarves, the smell of shit food. A place of magnificence which you wouldn’t realise until years later was a crumbling, run down mess of concrete. The old man gives a geezer some money and then hands you a programme. Your first one, something you’ll keep for the rest of your days, a reminder of the day that you’ll show your children.

You both walk towards the turnstiles, still not quite believing you’re going inside, expecting the old man to turn around at any minute, some elaborate joke. Through the turnstiles and you’re there, you’re going to watch the cup final. Out into the stadium and down to your seats, looking around, trying to take it all in. The seats are shit, just behind the goal, you can hardly see anything, but it doesn’t matter, you’re here.

As the teams come out and the atmosphere grows louder, it’s a feeling unlike any you’ve ever had, maybe it won’t be topped. The past few weeks have been spent dreaming of being here, you might not be on the pitch but you’re watching, you can feel the crowd, you can feel the love, the hatred, the pessimism and the optimism. That tribalism your teacher talks about? He’ll never experience anything like this. He can have supporting his wife and two kids.

The match is boring, nothing happens, but it doesn’t matter because you’re buzzing off the atmosphere, watching grown men and women around you becoming children again as they shout and scream, kick every ball, call those eleven men who their hopes lie with every swear word you’ve ever heard and some you’ve never heard before. The old man is agitated, he thinks you’re going to lose, he can’t watch as the opposition team get nearer the goal, covering his eyes, looking every way but on the pitch. The ball goes out of play harmlessly and he breathes again.

Five minutes left, the geezer in front of you is standing up and you can’t see anything, sometimes he moves and you can see but then, as something is about to happen he blocks your view. The old man picks you up and puts you on his shoulders, tells the geezer behind him to ‘fuck off’ as he moans his view is being blocked. Then it happens. Your team scores, half of the stadium explodes into raptures, strangers hugging each other, pushing towards the front of the stands, screaming and shouting, but it isn’t frightening, it’s exhilarating, the adrenaline flowing as you go mad too.

The final whistle goes and it’s all over. You’ve won the cup, not just the eleven on the pitch, you and the forty thousand you’re amongst you’ve all done it together. Your trampled programme is on the floor you pick it up and push it down your trousers, you’re not losing that for anything. The crowd is still swaying, no one wanting to leave. Even in your wildest dreams on those walks home from school could you not have imagined feeling like this. It’s almost as good as scoring the winner, not quite, but it’s close.

 

 

 

Sweet Home Kilburn High Road

The madness. It’s how your life becomes defined. In the madness, before the madness and after the madness. Just after the madness, it’s nothing more than hopes and dreams, all in your hands but still far off glimpses of light as you start to exit the tunnel of the period of life which has engulfed all before it. Each and every day you’d wake up and think ‘I’m an addict’, that’s me, that’s who I am, I’m different. You’d be hoping when you had reached the end of the tunnel there’ll be parades and flags and parties celebrating your new found freedom. There are none. Why should there be? You ain’t that different.

People, places and things. People, they’re there one day gone the next. It’s harsh, but that’s just how it is, if you want to exit the tunnel and keep going you’re not going to be able to let those people back on the train. They’ll just take it hurtling in the wrong direction and it won’t just be a derailment this time, it’ll be a crash in the middle of nowhere without an ambulance in sight. There are the ones who aren’t there anymore, you never thought you could become immune to death. Death, so absolute. It could have been you, it should have been you, how the fuck are you still here anyway?

Things? Fuck knows what things are, how do you define a word which encompasses everything, everything can trigger you, everything can bring you back to the feelings you don’t want to feel. Looking at a picture of you stood outside your home, 1985, the tower blocks in the background, they’re things. Things that are now gone, once people’s homes, much maligned yet even those things which others see as bad were just part of the landscape you grew up in, memories flooding back. South Kilburn to the Kilburn Quarter, how very posh.

Places. That’s the hard part. Places hold things, people, memories, good, bad, happy, sad. Happy can morph quickly into sad and then back to happy. Home is where the heart is and all that bollocks, but it isn’t just the heart, it’s everything. It’s the place which shaped you, made you who you are today, the reason you speak the way you do, think the way you do. The heart is too simple. Twenty odd years of your life revolved around that high street, the parks, the shops, school. Heart, mind, body and soul.

You’ve wanted to go home for a long time. But you’d vowed never to go back, you were frightened. Some questioned it, ‘how can you never go back again?’ There’s too many memories, too much hurt. You forget the good because the bad was so bad it painted the flat you grew up in a shade of grey in which no colour can escape. The high street which you walked up every morning to school, early because you wanted to play football with your mates, it wasn’t that high street, it had become the high street you walked down sweating, shaking, staggering, gasping, needing to taste that sweet, sweet taste of horrible, chemical laced shit that took all the pain away.

The man in the shop and his pitiful look. Watching as you count the change you found down the back of the sofa. He looks like he wants to say something to you, tell you you’re wasting your life. But you know that. You don’t need the geezer in the corner shop questioning your life decisions and your inability to accept responsibility for the position you’ve put yourself in. Right now, you hate him because your own paranoia is telling you he’s judging you. Later on this evening you’ll love him, because he’s someone to talk to, a brief escape from the loneliness.

You should be remembering the man whose sweet shop you went into every day after school with your mate to fill up your sticker album and nick penny sweets while he wasn’t looking. The shelves and shelves of junk which you looked at in fascination, the typewriter which you so desired even though you had no use for it. Always wanted a typewriter, a model airplane too, maybe even a…fuck knows what that is but you want it anyway. Happy memories, so quick to wipe away the sad ones.

Ten years it took before you’d go home, ten years before you were ready to face all those memories. What had passed in those ten years? Seven years in Chengdu, six months in India, backpacking around Asia, all your inhibitions gone. You can even speak a new language, them squiggly lines on that pretty little calendar in the local Chinese you used to stare at as a kid, they’re not squiggly lines anymore, words, beautiful words, not that the fella who’s taking your order of sweet and sour chicken gives a fuck because he speaks Cantonese and you can’t speak a word of that.

Sitting on the tube as it pulls into the station, those big letters ‘Kilburn Park’, still shabby, the same smell it’s had since 1984. You’re there again, you’re a kid, your old man next to you holding your hand as you let train after train go by because you want to get on one of the red ones. The red one never comes, so you get on one of the old grey ones, off to see your nan, the smell of fry ups and fudge. Why fudge? Your nan isn’t around anymore, you’d give anything to go back, walk through the busy market on a Saturday morning, sitting down and having breakfast, bacon, sausage, black pudding, fried potatoes, the smell of the Racing Post, the little betting shop pens on the table. Her laugh as the old man says something terrible about the old girl who lives next door. ‘Jesus! Will ya stop!’

We’ll walk home he says, stop in the Rec and play a bit of football. You want to be a goalkeeper when you grow up, spending hours jumping around your mother’s beds pretending you’re in the world cup final and Maradona is through one on one, he feints one way goes the other but you’re too clever for that, snatching the ball from his feet as the final whistle goes. You’ve done it, you’ve won the world cup! All because of those years you spent diving around the bed and your old man hitting stinging volleys at you as you palm them away. Diving around on the shabby concrete in the makeshift football pitch at the back of the estate your childminder lived on.

Tired you walk back home, the old man telling stories of going to football matches, you gazing into the distance at the two empty tower blocks, square windows, something out of some dystopian world in which the masses are thrown into blocks of flats which are characterless blots on the skyline. They aren’t dystopian fiction though, they’re real. No one lives there, they had to move out, asbestos. Imagine what it would be like to be let loose in there? Imagine, a kid with a whole empty tower block to themselves. The king of Westbourne Grove, holding court over your non-existent subjects.

All these memories because you’ve stepped off a train, seen a round sign and smelled the damp, warm air of Kilburn Park station. Maybe it won’t be as bad as you thought it was, why didn’t you come sooner? Bouncing up the escalators, out the door, lamenting the absence of the old girl who used to have a little stand where you’d buy Roy of the Rovers each week. Poor Roy, lost his leg in the end.

There it is, straight in front of you, the home you grew up in. The little flat at the top of a Victorian house, once the home of the rich, gradually chopped up through the years, the tone lowered, chopped up into the chaotic flats of the prostitute who lived next door and the mad woman who talked to herself. Your mother used to tell you the woman next door was skipping when there was a tapping all night on the wall. Funny time to be skipping at two in the morning.

Looking up at the windows, you can see yourself looking down. That little kid who used to look out at the buses parked across the street and wonder where those places they were going to actually were. Mill Hill, Edgware, Cricklewood. Exotic. Well Cricklewood isn’t so exotic, you had to go up to the DHSS and wait for four hours once with your mother and that was shite. Brent Cross, too, that’s a big expedition, rumour is there is a Toys R Us up there but you’ve never seen it. Toys R Us, that mystical, fabled place which only sells toys. Jealous because your mate at school’s mum took him there at the weekend.

You’ve done all right for yourself, you’ve seen the world, you’re on the right path but there’s this little nagging voice which asks you, where did that quiet, innocent kid who looked out the window at buses and was obsessed with red tube trains go to? How did he end up nearly dead less than twenty years later? Always the quiet ones ain’t it? Cambridge Gardens, where the dreams faded and the madness began.

Turn around and up to the High Road, back to 8th July 1990. The old man has just bought you a Coca Cola ball, you’d wanted one for weeks and weeks, your mates all had one and you wanted to be like the kid on the television doing all them tricks. It’s the World Cup final too. Maradona, Matthaus, Voeller. Excitement building as you get nearer and nearer the pub, the estates of Kilburn seamlessly turning into the leafy streets of St John’s Wood. It was here you’d play runouts with your mates on summer evenings. Abbey estate with the strange orange glow shining off the red bricks, almost haunting.

The old boy with his dog is sat at the bar, drinking his pint, staring at the wall. His perch, his home, why was he always here? You’d find that out later on in life. Them pubs. You don’t get them anymore. Big high ceilings, red carpets, wooden stools, the fruit machine, the fag machine and the geezer behind the bar was everyone’s mate until closing time. Packets of cheese and onion crisps, peanuts and a couple of cokes. Listening to your mum and dad talk about things which sounded so important, people you’d never heard of but made you conjure up images of them, most of them were wankers according to the old man. Everyone is a wanker. Remember when the key worker asked you why you were so cynical? There it is, son. It all started in the Drum and Monkey in St John’s Wood.

Reaching the high road, the Old Bell in front of you. The den of iniquity which you were told never to go into. It was a place of myth and legend, it was were the drunks disappeared and never came back out of. They even let the two old boys who lived in the street into that place. The old boy with the black dog, your mum give him a quid once and a tin of dog food. One of his mates was cold one night and lit up a load of newspapers in a squat and the whole place went up. Poor geezer. At least the fella with the dog made it, dogs always make people a little bit nicer.

The high road, where it all happened, where every Friday night was a trip up to Sainsbury’s to do the shopping, the same Sainsbury’s you would stand outside with your mate a few hours earlier. The plastic pound coins nicked from school, put in the trolley, waiting for someone to come along and ask ‘you finished with that mate?’ The security guard watching suspiciously. He’s got your number. The pound coin handed over and straight to the shop to buy penny sweets. No thought to the poor fucker who’ll be rewarded with a plastic pound coin when they take their trolley back.

Sundays were when it was quiet, shops closed, up to church, where you’d spend the whole half an hour, an hour or even an hour and a half, depending which priest, praying it’ll end quickly. If it’s that wanker with the guitar then you’re in trouble, if it’s the fella who you see coming out of the bookies then you’re in luck. Ran off with the girl from Boots in the end. Should never have been a priest that geezer. Mass finished it was the never ending walk back home, hoping the tape you’d put in your Amstrad hadn’t crashed and you could spend all afternoon playing games.

They were all out on a Sunday, pouring from the church, in their best suits, the old boys who’d come over on that boat so many years back. Come to find their riches, streets paved with gold. Now propping up bars, dreaming and singing of a home so different to the one they’d left. A quick prayer for the forgiveness of their sins and a pint of Guinness or ten to wash it all down.  A little enclave of Ireland in the middle of north west London. The old boys have gone now. They either made their fortunes or made their miseries. Home in the The Fields of Athenry or lamenting the Rare ‘Auld Times in Dublin city.

People would ask where you’re from and you say ‘London’ and they say ‘Oh! You’re English!’ and you’d say ‘I’m not sure what I am.’ They look at you funny, as if you’re mental. You don’t know though. You were brought up in London but it wasn’t really London because everyone you knew was Irish and when Ireland were playing the teacher would get the television out and you’d all watch the football. The green on Paddy’s day, everywhere. Then you’d go on holiday for the summer to Ireland and they’d tell you you’re English. Confusing, ain’t it?

The old clock above the bakers has gone. You’d keep an eye on it all the way up the road as it gets closer and closer to eight fifty five, the start of the school day. Hoping you’d have five or ten minutes to play football. Weren’t like other schools though. They could play with balls. You and your mates had to beg the geezers who were moving the beer barrels into the social club to give you the tops off the. Little round discs you’d play with until the sides had worn down and couldn’t be kicked anymore. Then it was back to the railings and waiting for a beer delivery.

Back on the high street and the 98 passes by. The world’s shittest bus. Wait twenty minutes and three come along together? Nah, wait an hour and five of them would come along. You could sit upstairs though, the conductor never came upstairs, couldn’t be bothered. You had to wait for it when you went to work, down in the market, carrying bags of spuds and boxes of watermelons. Times had changed, you weren’t that shy kid who daydreamt his way home from school, dreams of becoming a footballer. Life was now for going out and getting fucked up. Five years. Such a short space of time, such a massive change.

The spuds and watermelons put away and it was into the pub and pints of lager at twelve in Church Street. Your nan would catch you coming out of the pub and then have a go at your guvnor. Like that Friday you were pissed out of your mind and went and got a haircut and she was coming back from Tesco’s and nearly had a heart attack. There was many a ‘Jesus!’ said that afternoon, a good few prayers, maybe a candle at six o’clock mass. He can’t have been listening because it all went downhill after that.

Passing Brondesbury station, the smell of the trains hits your nose. When going to Richmond and Kew was an adventure, they seemed so far away. Sitting on the train, looking out the window to catch a glimpse of the parts of west London you’d never seen before.  See if it was the same as home or if it was different. Spending hours looking at deer and flowers. Richmond and Kew. Exotic. A million miles from home.

At the top of Kilburn, down Christchurch Avenue. This road holds so many memories. Some brighter than the ones at the bottom of the high road, some much darker. It’s the darker ones which hit you first. Remembering the day you knew. You knew why you were shivering and shaking and had been getting sick. You knew the only way to stop it was to go to the shop and get another one. There was no denial. Eighteen years old. All that rock star bollocks, glamourising addiction? It ain’t like that. It ain’t like that at all. It’s shit.

The few years before, they were good. You had a good time. Sitting outside the little park at the end of the road with your mates after playing football until the sun went down. Laughing and joking well into the night. Talking about the times when you were both living down in South Kilburn, wondering what had become of people you hadn’t seen in years. The future? You didn’t give a fuck about the future, it would be what it would be.

The nights when you’d trek down to Hammersmith, dodgy ID in hand. Drinking the nights away next to the river. Your mates couldn’t handle their drink, pissed as you staggered up Ladbroke Grove to home. Staying up all night with cheap vodka, smoking draw, watching shit on television. Your mate coming up with his next business venture, your other mate making plans to go and travel the world. You’d take out the atlas, you were going to do it. A couple of more years and you’d be off together to have the times of your life.

One of your closest friends, both took different paths, he stayed on the train while you got off. You came out the other side but he didn’t. Looking up at the roof of the flat where you both sat watching the sun come up, you wonder what you could have done differently. Probably nothing. Everyone says that. Still doesn’t stop you wondering. You’d got clean and were backpacking around Cambodia. He was in Thailand when he died. Two figures, sitting on the roof, plans to go far away. You both went far away but only one of you came back.

They were the happiest years. It was really just a limbo between innocence and debauchery. You were having a taster but you weren’t quite there yet. The line was visible, you knew if you crossed it there wouldn’t be any coming back across it. It seemed so far away though, as though it was just a warning, like one of them coppers who used to come into school and tell you it you smoked a spliff you’d be selling your arse down King’s Cross for a couple rocks the next day. You’d think, that’s a load of bollocks but at the back of your mind it was there. The line, cross the line and you’ll be fucked.

How can a leafy road in north west London bring back so many memories, so much feeling? You shiver, you can almost see yourself walking down the road with a blue bag in your hand, inside a bottle of cheap shitty cider. You’d have been going home to sit on the sofa all day, dreaming of all the things you wanted to do but couldn’t because you were just going to do the same thing you did yesterday. Get pissed and dream. You’re not dreaming now though, you’re living it.

Fuck this, it’s too much. Turn around, go back to the High Road, that’s where the good memories are. You’ve faced the bad ones before, you can’t keep going over the bad ones. Back to the Coca Cola balls and run outs and playing football with beer tops, two white abandoned towers and sweet shops. Pubs where you’d spend the evenings with your mum and dad and nan. That’s the place you want to remember. Sweet home Kilburn High Road.

 

My Books

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Falling Angels – Chapter 1

The television is on but the sound has been muted, Dale Winton is prancing about with a shopping trolley while a middle-aged woman waves an inflatable hamburger above her head. The air is thick with cigarette smoke, an ashtray on the coffee table is overflowing with fag ends. There’s a bottle of vodka which has been half drunk, next to it a bottle full of blue pills. John sits down next to his friend who still hasn’t acknowledged his presence. He picks up one of the pills with two fingers and holds it in the air, examining it as if he’s never seen one before. He knows what it is: Valium, the elixir of life for the depressed, the doctor’s saviour.

‘This is stupid, Rob.’

Rob turns his head, his eyes are black, thick black hair sticking up on one side where he’s had his head rested against a cushion. He shakes his head but says nothing.

‘She was fucked mate. There’s nothing you could have done about it.’ John stands up and walks to the curtains, he opens them slightly allowing a few rays of light to penetrate the room. Rob squints but doesn’t object.

‘When did you last go out?’

‘Last night, to get that.’ He nods towards the bottle of vodka. It’s cheap, the kind of shit you bought when you were fourteen and wanted to get pissed with your mates in the park, get off with that girl you fancied in your year but instead you ended up being carried home covered in sick. There’s a big eagle and a sword on the label, a marketing gimmick: It can’t be that bad if it’s got a big fuck off eagle on it. John shivers, just the sight of the vodka bringing the nail varnish like taste to his mouth.

‘What’s the score then Rob? Were you still shagging her or something because I don’t get why you’re so cut up about this. She was a crackhead, she sucked off half the geezers on this estate so she could buy some rocks.’ Rob’s look is one of self-pity and anger rolled in to one which gives John his answer.

‘Well that was fucking stupid then wasn’t it?’

‘I wasn’t shagging her, I was just helping her out.

‘That’s a more eloquent way of putting it, what’s the matter with you?’

‘I swear on my mother’s life, I haven’t slept with her since we were going out with each other.’

‘Enlighten me then? Why are you taking this so fucking hard?’

‘Maybe cause I’m not a heartless fucker like you. You know what it’s like to go and see someone every day only to find them lying on a mattress out of their head while fucking cockroaches walk about the floor?’

‘What did you do to help her, Rob? Nothing, mate. You might have thought you was helping her by giving her money but it don’t work like that. She didn’t give a fuck about you, she lived for one thing and it was those little white rocks which, funnily enough, the geezer you work for sold her.’

‘Fuck off! I still loved her!.’

‘Oh, Jesus Christ. You didn’t love her, Rob. Felt sorry for her I agree but there weren’t any love there. She wasn’t even the same person.’

‘She was the same person! I could see it.’

‘I’m off, you need to sort your nut out. I get that it ain’t easy, I understand you had some sort of feelings for her but sitting around feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to help you.’

‘She jumped off a fucking building, John! It keeps playing over and over in my head. What sort of friend are you?’

Rob pours some of the vodka into a glass and takes a sip of it neat, coughing and spluttering as he swallows. He picks up one of the pills and throws it into his mouth. John shakes his head, leaving his friend to wallow in his own self-pity. Hearing the door slam, Rob puts his head in his hands and begins to cry. No one understood, they just saw her as the local slapper crackhead. She was more than that to him, he could see through the skinny legs and the skeletal face, the packets of bacon she’d be trying to sell off to anyone passing by. He saw the girl he’d hold hands with when going to school six years ago, his first and only love.

 

It’s one of those shitty days where the sky is grey, the clouds heavy and dirty looking, making everything else look dirty, old and worn.  John lights a cigarette, looks up at the sky wondering what to do with himself. There’d be no point going home because his mother is in one of them moods where she feels the need to lecture. Twenty-two years old and he’s still scared of his mum, he shakes his head blowing smoke up into the air. Going for a pint would be a good choice.

The estate they had both lived on since children wasn’t the most desirable of places, in fact it was somewhere those who lived in the leafy streets a few hundred metres away would tell their children they’d send them if they were naughty. Grey rectangular tower blocks, each adorned with rectangular windows and rectangular balconies. Sitting between the three tower blocks was a small park, covered in shattered glass, a solitary swing remaining, blowing in the wind as if it were part of the introduction to some documentary on deprivation.

The social experiments of the 60s and 70s were long forgotten, it had become a place to put society’s less fortunate, whether they liked rectangles or not. The pub is rectangular too, a flat roof, the windows blacked out. The Orange Tree, a place of myth and legend to those who passed it, but to those on the estate it was just the local. A man with a rolled up copy of The Sun in his back pocket and a betting slip in his hand nods his head at John and holds the door open for him before jogging off to catch the early race at Kempton.

The pub is empty apart from the barman. John sits down at the bar and orders a pint of Stella, the barman pours it and puts it down in front of him, grunting as John hands over his money. He sits there sipping his pint, trying to think of something to say to the barman, the barman doesn’t look interested in conversation though and John’s presence is an obvious annoyance.

‘Weather’s a bit shit ain’t it?’

‘Yep.’

‘Not many people in here today.’

‘Nah.’

He gives up, the barman is more interested in reading a newspaper, letting out occasional gasps of exasperation as he reads about the latest plot by foreigners to turn England into a rabies infested, T.B ridden hell hole in which those proud Englishmen, such as the one behind the bar with his tattoo of a St George’s cross and a bulldog will become second class citizens, not welcome on this fair island they call home.

‘Put them all on a boat and send them back to where they come from.’ John looks up from gazing at his pint.

‘What was that mate?’

‘Put them all on a boat and send them home.’

‘Who?’

‘These foreigners, I’ve had enough of them.’

John picks up his pint and moves to a corner away from the gaze of the budding national front member. A man walks in the door, John recognises him, he lives a few doors down from his mum, the man gives him a nod of the head and then in his thick Jamaican accent orders himself a rum. The barman looks delighted to see him, shaking his hand, asking where he’s been because he’s not been in for a long time. Obviously just a part time racist.

His mind wanders back to his friend and how he’s going to help him out of his self-imposed misery. She was a nice girl. If someone who he was close to died he wouldn’t know how he would take it either, probably not very well. She was a fucking mess though, she was only using him. Everyone could see that; must be why they say love is blind. Rob was his best mate. There’s a period of time in your life where the friends you make are always going to be there, they’ll always have a profound influence on your life; Rob was one of them.

The girl who’d killed herself, Claire, had been Rob’s girlfriend when they were both still in school. John resented her, not because she wasn’t a nice person, she had been, but because his mate was always with her. She was clever too, she didn’t work hard but still managed to pass all her exams, one of them annoying people that breeze through life with little effort. It all changed a few years back, they’d been split up for a year when John started seeing her hanging around places you only hang around for one reason and that was to score drugs.

He runs his hands through his hair and blows out a big puff of air. He should have been more understanding with his friend. Whatever Claire had been to him in the last couple of years, they still had memories together. His pride will stop him from going back there though, not today. Poor girl, things must have been bad for her to end it like that.

Ten years ago they were fucking around in the little park at the bottom of the block they both lived in. Kicking around a deflated football, knocking on people’s doors and running away, asking their mums for 10p so they could go to the shop, rob it blind and keep the 10p for school the next day. Ten years later and their paths have taken different directions. John has decided to become a policeman while his best friend is running around collecting loan debts and drug money for some small time drug dealer.

The door opens again and a man and woman walk in. The barman looks at them with disdain. They both have Down syndrome, there’s a place they live in just next door and they come in for a drink now and again. The barman doesn’t like them because they get pissed and become a bit rowdy and he doesn’t know how to handle them. If he threw them out people would say he was picking on disabled people and they were generally harmless although one of them kicked him in the bollocks one night because he’d wanted to throw him out after they had set the toilets on fire.

John looks down at his pint, there are only a few mouthfuls left. He doesn’t want them to come over and talk to him. Not because he’s got anything against them or like the barman believes in the survival of the fittest but because he doesn’t know what to say. They could ask him the most normal of questions and he would sit there like an idiot and reply as if they’re a couple of children. He notices they are both holding hands and he feels like even more of a cunt for thinking the way he does. A simple act of normality from a group of people viewed differently by society makes you question your own views and beliefs. What the fuck is normal anyway?

There was a kid they went to school with who had something wrong with his legs, when he walked he looked like he was a puppet in Thunderbirds. John felt sorry for him, would even talk to him sometimes at lunch. One day a load of kids picked him up and wrapped him in insulating tape and then dumped him behind a wall, leaving him to be found later that evening by the caretaker. He’s held on to that, every time he sees someone with a disability he sees that kid, wrapped in black tape, and he tortures himself for not helping him. It was a choice though, ostracised by your mates or hanging around with that kid for the rest of his school days. Being perceived as cool always wins.

They sit down on the table next to him. All the empty tables in the pub and they had to choose the one next to him to sit at. He takes a mouthful of his pint, swirls the rest of it around and finishes it off, stretching his arms, making a big show of having to go, like there’s somewhere his presence is required. The man and woman look at him and then giggle to each other. Leaving the bar he puts his loose change in the charity box because there’s nothing better to placate your conscience than throwing a few pennies in a box with a teddy bear stuck on the front of it.

The man turns to the woman, ‘He should have just given it to me, I could have got another pint.’

 

Rob sits in his flat alone, his tears have dried but his face is still red from rubbing it. He’s in a new phase of loss now, the denial is gone, he wants revenge. The world and all who exist in it have created this mess, it was their fault she was so fucked up, none of them did anything to try and help her. All the police did was nick her and then let her go again. No one gave a shit, why should he give a shit? Fuck the lot of them, there will be a way to get back at them. He picks up the bottle of vodka and swigs from it. His head is spinning from the combination of alcohol and Valium.

John as well, he can’t get away without any blame. The way he talked about her even though he knew how much she meant to him. Not much of a mate really is he? He’ll just drop him out, never speak to him again. John’s going to join the police force anyway, that’s good enough reason  to have nothing to do with him. He swanned off to university thinking he was better than everyone else, talking about philosophers and writers he’d never heard of. Fuck him! The stuck-up prick! Next time he sees him he’ll be lucky he doesn’t knock him out.

Outside the front door he can hear people laughing and shouting. He looks through the spyhole, a bunch of kids messing around, nowhere better to go than outside his door. He feels his anger boiling up, who do they think they are? Having a good time especially at a time like this, they’re taking the piss out of him, they know. He opens the door and stands there, his big frame taking up the whole doorway, they all turn to look at him and then burst out laughing before running away down the stairs.

Kids don’t care, your reputation is nothing to them. He stands at the doorway feeling stupid for trying to frighten them. They’d know who he is, he’d probably been to at least one of their houses before to get money from their parents. The man who comes to get the money, the man who means they can’t eat something that night or won’t have enough money to get lunch at school. They blame him, they never blame their own parents who are idle and lazy and prefer to spend their time and money smoking drugs.

He turns on the light in the living room, squinting as he sits down on the sofa, picking up the blue pills and squeezing them tightly. There are enough there, if he wanted to go the same way she has, all he has to do is put them in his mouth, take the last gulp of vodka and then sit and wait. It’s a risk though, what if he doesn’t die? Or what if he does die and there’s nothing? An endless blackness, those guilty and sporadic trips to confession a waste of time.

All she had to do was take a step out into the open air, all he has to do is put the pills in his mouth and swallow. It’s different though, he could phone an ambulance or call his mate to come and help him. When you step off the top of a tower block that’s it, all you have is the few seconds it takes to hit the ground. What went through her mind? Did she regret it? Is there enough time to regret it?

He opens his hand and looks at the pills, he stands up and opens the door to his balcony, holds the pills out over the edge and lets them go. You can’t be tempted by something you haven’t got. He looks out at the night sky, the lights illuminating the city in front of him. In the block opposite he sees a woman cooking her dinner. He’s sure he’s been in that flat before. How many people who live around here has he made unhappy? A crisis of conscience.

The morning she killed herself he’d been to her flat. As usual she was lying on the dirty mattress, pipe by the side of the bed. Her eyes were dead, she had no money and he thought he’d done her a favour by leaving her twenty pounds. If he hadn’t have left that money, would she have gone out? Of course she would have. He did give her drugs though, thinking he was helping her, the reality was he was just enabling her. Maybe she was just using him, but he doesn’t want to think about that.

Back in the living room he turns the volume up on the television. Cilla Black is talking in that grating accent of hers as some geezer who looks like a cross between a catalogue model and a banker is trying to choose between three girls he can’t see. Cilla oooos and aaaahhhs as he smarmily asks them questions. Rob turns the television off, the geezer will be taking which ever one he chooses away on a holiday somewhere and he doesn’t want to watch their happy smiles. He throws on his jacket and takes off to find more vodka and more reasons to hate the world.

 

John’s mother is sitting on her armchair, fag in her hand, blowing smoke into the air defiantly, a book resting on her lap. Since he’s come home she’s said nothing. She’s in of them moods where he knows something’s up but he doesn’t want to ask because he knows it’s him who’s done something wrong. It’ll be a small slight, maybe you didn’t wash a plate up after you finished your breakfast or she asked you to bring home a pint of milk but you’ve completely forgotten about it, what with your best mate looking suicidal having lost his crackhead girlfriend, milk isn’t really your priority but it is hers. Her day will be ruined by a lack of milk.

She’s reading a book about feng shui.

‘You going to move the furniture about then mum?’ She looks at him, she doesn’t want to speak to him but someone finally wants to listen to the merits of strategically arranging your furniture so as to bring positive energy. She tried to explain it to her friend while they were having coffee earlier but she didn’t understand. Some people are like that, they just don’t get it, they’d rather bury their heads in Hello magazine and come up with another conspiracy theory as to how Diana died. Sandra isn’t like that, she’s got brains and she never liked Diana anyway, too much of a do-gooder, so even if they did kill her they were doing her a favour not having to watch her fanny around pretending to pick up landmines.

‘I’m thinking of getting a fountain.’

‘A what?’

‘A fountain.’

‘We live on the eighteenth floor of a council block mum, how you going to put a fountain in here?’

‘Just a small one, it’ll bring us money.’ John nods his head, knowing full well there won’t be a fountain appearing in their flat and by next week she’ll have found something new to obsess over.

‘I’m going to make all the furniture point east. Put the tele against that wall and turn the sofa around, it’ll look nice.’

‘Yeah, I’m sure.’

‘It’ll bring me luck. My son might remember it’s my birthday today as well.’

She lights another cigarette, blowing the smoke in John’s direction. Her lips are pursed as she lowers her fag, her eyes asking ‘where’s my card and present?’. John has two choices, he can put his hands up and hope she forgives him, or he can lie and pretend he knew all along and he’d stashed a present somewhere. The shake of her head and look of disgust tells him she won’t take pity on him. Did the old man remember? He wonders.

‘Your father bought me a lovely cake and a bunch of flowers.’

Why didn’t the silly bastard remind him? It’s not just John who will have to deal with the fallout from this massive error, Ted Flynn will have to too. She’ll bend his ear all week about not being a good role model to their son and how if they’d brought him up right John would already be a millionaire and would have celebrated her birthday in a villa in some Caribbean hideaway.

‘I knew it was your birthday! I was just waiting to surprise you! I know you like surprises!’ She’s suspicious now but her eyes have softened slightly, the thought of a surprise has got her attention but she’s not yet convinced there is one. She looks up at the clock and then back at John.

‘Just wait another hour, at eight o’clock you’ll get it. I bet you don’t know why I waited until eight do you?’

‘Why?’

‘I’ve noticed you’ve been into your feng shui and all that, so I did a bit of research and eight is a lucky number for Chinese people.’ The geezer who owns the Chinese restaurant downstairs had lectured him on the superiority of Asian races when he was pissed one night and somehow eight being a lucky number had slipped into the conversation. His pleasure at his own genius is quickly replaced by fear at having to come up with a plan to surprise her within an hour.

‘That was very thoughtful of you darling!’ She looks at the clock again. ‘Only fifty five minutes to wait! I’m so lucky to have such a clever son!’ She’s excited now and that’s made it even worse.

‘I’m just going to pop out and get it. I didn’t want to bring it home with me because you’d see it then.’

‘What is it? Where did you leave it?’

‘Wouldn’t be a surprise then, I’ll be back at eight.’

Instead of taking the lift he walks down the stairs from the eighteenth floor, needing time to think and come up with a masterplan. He feels like a naughty child who has lied to his mother, he is a naughty child who has lied to their mother. Where the fuck is he going to get anything to do with ancient eastern mysticism at seven on a Saturday night? Mr Lee might know, if Mr Lee doesn’t know then he’s fucked and there’ll be no point going home, he might as well join Rob in drinking himself into oblivion.

‘Hello Mr Lee!’

‘Alright John, what’s the matter? You want a takeaway? My fryer is fucked, think I’m going to have to close. Why do you still call me Mr Lee? My name’s Dave for fuck’s sake.’ Mr Lee has a cockney accent, he is in fact a cockney having been born within the sound of Bow bells. His Chinese food is the best around but he has a tendency to get aggressive with his customers if they don’t show him respect and appreciation, which is why John calls him Mr Lee, had he called him Dave he’d have got the hump.

‘Listen, Dave, I’ve got a problem. My mother, she’s into feng shui and it’s her birthday, I need to get her a present.’

‘What makes you think I know anything about feng shui?’ Dave is defensive which means he’s going to be awkward.

‘Look, Dave, I just told her I have a surprise which she’s getting at eight because you told me it was a lucky number. Help me out here mate because if you don’t she’ll cut my bollocks off.’

‘Not my problem, John. If you don’t treat your mother properly then you deserved to be punished. I agree with your mother, maybe I’ll come and help her.’

‘Fuck you, Dave! I thought you’d help me out!’

‘Fuck me? I’ll cut your bollocks off before your mum does and I’ll even put it on my menu. Deep fried spicy bollocks. You wanna watch your mouth son.’

John raises his middle finger to the angry Dave but leaves hastily, there’s a counter separating them at the moment, if he gets to the other side then he’ll have a problem.

He spots Rob sitting on a wall outside the off license, still feeling sorry for himself, even with his hood up there’s no doubting who the figure staring down at the stones he’s throwing on the floor is. His choice is to spend the night with a miserable bastard or go home and spend it with his mother who is expecting great things which are nothing more than a hastily spun story. The miserable bastard seems a better choice.

Rob had already seen him coming out of the Chinese. Half an hour ago he wanted to kick the shit out of him, now he’s hoping he’ll approach him, he’s not going to show he wants him to approach, he’ll pretend he doesn’t even know he’s there. If he doesn’t come over it’ll just give him another excuse to hate him, abandoned by his mate at the time he needed him most.

‘Still feeling sorry for yourself?’ Rob looks up at his friend, he wants to take offence to the insinuation he’s ‘feeling sorry for himself’ but that would leave him lonely, he doesn’t want to be lonely.

‘Yeah.’

‘I can’t go home because my lunatic of a mother is expecting big things in about half an hours’ time. There’s a party on over in Brixton, one of the geezers I went uni with, his house. You want to come?’

‘I don’t know mate, they won’t be my sort of people will they?’

‘Just come, you might broaden your horizons a little bit.’

‘Fuck it, let’s go, I want to get away from this shithole anyway.’

 

Paperback version here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1986975509

 

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Falling Angels

Picture the 80s, what comes into your mind? Riots, coalminers striking, Thatcher standing up in parliament looking like the heartless bitch she was? Or maybe it was barrow boys from Essex who’d suddenly turned into millionaires snorting cocaine off the arse cheeks of some high class escort. Might even be Live Aid, the rich and famous finding a conscience, or trying to sell records, depends if you’re a cynic or not. A decade which had a cloud of grey hanging over it, playing out to a background of synthesisers and the shouts of an unemployed, disaffected youth.

The 90s began with that cloud still hanging over it. Thatcher went and people cheered, jobs began to turn up. The sun was beginning to shine through those clouds, ecstasy was all the rage, kids dancing the nights away in the fields of the home counties while the Old Bill were led on a merry dance. We’d forgotten about Africa as well, that charity thing was all a bit too 80s. Perms were no more, shoulder pads dispensed with. By the middle of the decade the sky was blue, Britain was cool again, Oasis, Blur, even the prime minister was cool, he hadn’t bombed another country yet. It’s amazing how a person can go from a saviour to a lying cunt in the space of a few years.

When you’re a kid a lot passes you by, growing up in the 80s you didn’t give a shit that the Russians might be coming. They were far away behind that imaginary curtain the teacher was telling you about in history. The miners were too far away, you didn’t really give a shit what they thought about. Some would say that about sums up Londoners, lost in their own world, all outside it irrelevant because the closest you’ve been to coal mines and green fields is the time your old man tried to take you away on holiday but the car broke down somewhere just past Watford so you spent the summer kicking a ball about in the concrete jungle you called home.

You tell people where you live and they’ll go ‘ooohhh, bit dodgy around there, ain’t it?’. You don’t really know what they mean. I mean your next door neighbour always seems to be bringing a new television home each night, and the woman who lives above you does seem to have a lot of boyfriends, what’s dodgy about that? There’s that geezer who lives on the bottom floor, apparently he likes to flash people, that’s a bit dodgy but he got nicked the other week so it don’t matter. The large grey blocks are good places to play run outs too, you wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Fuck the holidays.

Then you become a teenager and you fucking hate everything. You know the woman upstairs is a crack whore and the geezer that has a new television every night is nicking them out of people’s houses. Your mate at school, the one who lives in a nice house a couple of miles away, he has a garden and his mum takes him out each weekend somewhere nice. Took him to Kew Gardens one weekend to look at the flowers, you ask your mum why she doesn’t take you to Kew and she looks at you funny. You hate flowers and why the fuck would you want to be wandering around a botanical gardens with your mother. You’ve got to find some way to wind her up though.

It’s around this time that the mates you make are the ones who stay with you for the rest of your life. Not always physically, they might move away, in some cases they might do something stupid and get locked away or they might be one of them bods who gets married, moves out to Middlesex and has ten kids while he drives a van around putting up satellite dishes. You’ll always remember them though, the stupid things you did as teenagers, flashbacks as you walk down the street thinking about the time you nearly got nicked for running on top of cars.

If you’re like me, you’ll have the piss taken out of you for having a bit about you, wanting to go to university. Not that you know why you’re going to university because you’ll be fucked if you have any idea what you’ll do after, but it sounds like fun. Getting stoned while discussing Sartre in some flat in Brixton, thinking you’re cool with your Che Guevara t-shirt and Bob Marely flag draped across the wall. None of you are any more revolutionaries or capable of finding hidden meanings in music than the average person but you like to think you can change the world. It’s the drugs ain’t it?

People are transient, they drift in and out of your life, forgotten until some event, a piece of music or a glimpse of a stranger triggers your memory. You look back with happiness, anger, longing, sadness, nostalgia. And then some other thing in a world over saturated with stimulation diverts your attention. An advert with a load of ‘lads’ in a pub putting a bet on, a fat geezer shouting at the screen telling you to be responsible while you contemplate putting your weeks wages on United to win at home because they would never lose. See, that memory has gone.

Falling Angels, available tomorrow 28th March on Amazon. Like my Facebook Page for more info

The Urban Playground

The tree lined street is silent, their bare, jagged branches reaching out into the winter sky; the windows of the terraced houses closed off to the dark night, the occupants safe and warm inside. The air is cold, a dampness lining the pavement, soon to become a white film which will be the cause of much dismay when the sun rises. Hurried men and women slipping and sliding as they rush to catch a bus or train, children laughing, their unfortunate parents sitting prone on the ground, cursing under their breath. From behind a wall, a thin cloud rises, the breath of a fox carefully examining his surroundings. Looking one way and then the other, not another living thing in sight, he emerges from his hiding place, hungry and watchful.

A faint smell drifts through the night air, reaching his small black nose. He stops, lifting it and sniffing, turning his head towards the object of his desire. He crosses the road, looking neither left or right, on the other side pushing open a small wooden gate with his head. A mound of black bags lie in front of him, a feast awaits. The silence of the night is broken, a soft rustling of thin plastic, a snuffling, his nose diving deep between objects which have no meaning or no use for him. He delves deeper, a strong scent of meat intoxicating him, he has found it.

It’s a small meal, a chicken bone; he devours it as if his last, cracking echoing into the night as his teeth break through the hard, white bone. Surrounding him are discarded objects, useless to him and the person who has decided they no longer want such a thing in their house. A toy lies next to his head as he gnaws. It is still shiny, only defaced by the small specks of food which now cover it. An unwanted gift perhaps, a child having grown bored of it quickly, taking up too much space in the house, the only solution to throw it away.

He stretches, licking his lips, satisfied with his meal. Snowflakes begin to fall from the sky, he looks upwards, the whims of the weather beyond his comprehension,  a brief curiosity. His bright orange coat dotted with white, he shakes himself, continuing his nightly prowl. Over a wall, he emerges in a garden, the grass covered, he sniffs, hesitantly licking, his head recoiling at the coldness of the snow. A red ball catches his eye, pawing it, chasing it as he pushes it around the garden.

From a window above a child looks down. The lights in his house have long been turned off, bedtime story has been read, now he’s secretly stealing a look out of the window. The night time world one he often daydreams of, but one whose darkness and mystery frightens him. A peek through the gap in the curtains, expecting to see giants and ghostly creatures stalking his garden. There are no frightening figures, just a fox playing with his ball. The animal prodding his birthday gift with his nose, chasing it from one side to the other. The boy giggles, the fox’s ears prick up, head turning to the window, his yellow eyes meeting the owner of the ball. In a second he is gone, through the bushes and away to some place unknown to the boy. He returns to bed, falling asleep, dreaming of frolicking with the fox in the snow.

A piece of paper floats along the street, carried by the wind and snow. The fox squints, his eyes stinging from the sudden onslaught of the soft, white crystals falling from the sky. The paper drifts past his head, he reaches out with his mouth, plucking it from the air. Sniffing in, he releases it, the wind deciding its fate. Written at the bottom of the paper are the words ‘I love you.’ A love letter, a failed delivery or letter never sent. An abandoned symbol of unrequited love perhaps. The fox cares little, it cannot be eaten; love, rejection and all it entails are concepts far beyond his understanding, the piece of paper simply a distraction in the night.

The sound of footsteps, he darts underneath a car, waiting and listening, sniffing. A threat approaching, he stays deathly still. Crunch, crunch crunch, closer the sounds come. Two feet standing just in front of him, unaware of the fox’sv presence. The feet shuffle forward, legs swaying, the person slipping to the ground. He rolls over, looking around him hoping his fall has gone unnoticed. It hasn’t gone unnoticed, the fox remaining under the car, too frightened to move. The figure stands itself up, brushing off the snow, whistling as they walk away, pleased their mishap is their little secret.

The snow stops, dim light gradually appearing in the sky; almost time for sleep. One more snack will do, to get him through the cold day as he sleeps among the bushes. He stops still, a shop door to his side. A figure sitting there, wrapped in a blanket, cold, tired. In his hands a box, the remains of his evening meal, one he too had scavenged. He tosses the box towards the fox, the animal distrusting but the smell of the scraps alluring. Grabbing the box with his teeth he runs forward a few steps, turning and looking back at the man. A look passes between them, both scavangers, both sleeping in the wild.

The man sighs; while the fox goes to bed, he has to pick up the mantle and do what he needs to survive. He blows out a breath of air, watching it freeze in front of his eyes. He stands up, folding away his blanket and sleeping bag, placing them in a sack. Throwing the sack behind his back, he trudges off through the snow, unsure what the day will bring. He allows himself a wry smile, perhaps it would be easier to be the animal; oblivious to everything but the need to survive. Or perhaps man and animal are just the same.

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/wonder/

 

As The Lights Go Out

In the corner, she said in the corner, but there’s no one in the corner. The lights, red, blue, green, yellow, streaking across the room, head swaying from one side to the other, mesmerised by the rainbows. No pots of gold at the end of these rainbows though, the leprechaun is from Peckham and he’s not smiling, he wants trouble. Don’t stare at the leprechaun, it’s not worth it, look anywhere but at him, but my eyes keep drifting back to his green hat and pointy black shoes. How can he be so angry?

I have to find her,  everyone else is gone, where I don’t know. Happens every week, one minute they’re there and the next they’ve spread out, gone. One will be on the dance floor, beer in hand, dancing, thinking everyone is looking at him but they’re not, they don’t care, don’t see. They don’t see because there’s twenty of them, all of them beer in hand, shuffling about, mirror images, all on their own. But they’re enjoying themselves, who am I to say they’re dickheads or pricks or whatever insult comes to mind. That’s for those pricks standing by the wall, looking moody, wishing they could go out and dance but self-consciousness is too much, instead they just insult. Wankers.

Then there’s the one who will talk to anyone, you won’t see him again tonight, he’ll have made new friends. Friends for a few hours, plans made, futures told. Until the morning, dreams and plans and the future are too much to think about, and that geezer you were talking to who you were going to off to Thailand and Vietnam with? You can’t even remember his name. Remember his name? If he walked past you this very second, your hungover, blurry eyes wouldn’t look twice, just another stranger in the night, a friend for an hour or two or three. Good bloke though.

The leprechaun has had enough to drink, the aggression is gone. He hugs people as they knock his hat off, ask where his gold is. It’s the booze, inhibitions have gone, hate has turned to love, anger to hugs. Now he’s dancing with a man, a massive geezer, rugby player looking, both of them staring into each other’s eyes, not giving a fuck. An hour earlier and it wouldn’t be a dance, it would be punches, maybe a head butt or two. Now it’s love, a fleeting, never to be mentioned again love, but love all the same.

Still I can’t find her, the lights have dimmed, the streaks have gone, everything is no longer fluffy and loving. I put the other half of the pill in my mouth and swallow, it’ll be back again in half an hour. For now it’s paranoia and fear. What if she’s gone home because I couldn’t find her? What if she’s been abducted and murdered? A long gulp of beer, a shot or two at the bar and it’s calm again, waiting to come up, this time I want to stay up. Coming down, down, down. There’s nothing worse than that endless pit of despair. That feeling in my stomach, butterflies and hunger, as though it’s going to drop through my body to the floor. I’ve found a way back up.

‘You know what, mate?’ As he thoughtfully takes a pull on a cigarette, an action so necessary when one is going to philosophically profound, ‘I’ve come up with a theory of life.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. See all these people? They ain’t real. You’re not real either, you’re just part of my imagination. Nothing is real, mate.’

‘Your imagination must be shit if you’ve ended up in this shithole.’

I leave him to discuss his thoughts with his imaginary friends, passing people, pushing them out of the way, are they real? Of course they’re real! How would you know though? Fuck off!

The dancefloor thins out, people drift out of the door, back to houses and flats to continue the party. Each woman who passes I check to see if it’s her but she must have gone. She didn’t want to see me anyway, she doesn’t like me anymore. I stand alone in the middle of the floor, wishing they were all imaginary, just my imagination and the tricks it plays. There she is, smiling, arms out, pulling me into an embrace. Letting go and taking me by the hand we walk off into the night, leaving the crowds behind.

By the river we walk, the lights shining off the water, the path empty, it’s all ours. We walk and talk, meaningless rubbish but it’s happy meaningless rubbish. The sun begins to rise, the pink, red and orange slowly turning to blue. The sunrise, the sign of a new day, the end of the night, the lights go out as you hope he was wrong, that it’s not all your imagination, that she’s real, that your night hasn’t been wasted.