Queen’s Park to the Elephant

Bright lights shining off the river, tall buildings of the financial centre in the background, an old domed church making the skyline instantly recognisable. A man sitting hunched up against the side of the bridge, a piece of paper asking you to take pity and give him some money for a cup of coffee. He stares down at the floor, eyes dead, filthy hands visible. The tourists ignore him as they snap away on their cameras, posing, taking selfies, some discreetly trying to fit him in, give their self-indulgence some character, make it a bit more edgy. Make it a bit different to the thousands of pictures they beg their friends to like. A homeless man will do the trick, won’t he?

Edgy’s the thing these days ain’t it? Move to that part of town that your mate who went to buy a gram of Charlie in once said is a bit rough. The one where people have lived for generations, built communities, shops, cafes. Ask them if it’s a bit rough, they’ll tell you ain’t rough, it’s home to them, much like your little Buckinghamshire village. Life’s boring if you don’t live a little bit on the edge though, I mean, you’ll have to live in one of them nice new flats they built after knocking down a block that had been there for years. Need some home comforts, can live amongst them but you don’t want to become them. I heard Starbuck’s were opening up down there too.

A river that divides a city defines where you are from. Don’t go south of the river mate. It’s just a mirror image of itself. People on both sides going about what they have to do. Shiny new buildings slowly taking over the sprawling housing estates. History on both sides, but still we’re just a little bit different from each other ain’t we? Not quite the same. Where are you from? North, south, east, west, you have to prefix it. Unless you live in Mayfair, but if you live in Mayfair you’re probably Russian who’s on the run from the state. Wouldn’t drink any cups of tea if I were you, never know what might happen.

The view from the other side of the bridge, where the power is. The building a Catholic geezer tried to blow up 400 years ago. The people that make the decisions, change your life. The reason I’m dropping 700 bar a month to live in a room. Where else am I going to go? I don’t want to go anywhere else, this place, this city is my home. Faults? There are so many faults. Do I care? Of course I care. But I love it here. Big Ben, strikes 10 o clock. I smile to myself, one of the most famous sites in the world is a clock with a big bell. A kid looks at it in wonder, I rebuke myself for my cynicism, is it this place that has made me cynical?

As I stroll off the bridge, walking back towards the centre of town I pass people falling out of pubs, pissed, laughing and singing. They mingle with the crowds coming out of the theatre, clutching their bags close to them, nervous eyes darting backwards and forwards. Memories of my mother holding my hand as we walked through Piccadilly, so many people. It seemed a world away, yet it was only 15 minutes on a bus. Stories of runaway kids and people looking to kidnap young children. China town with stories at school of triads and Asian looking geezers running around with butcher knives looking to cut people up. Your imagination doesn’t half run wild as a kid.

Watching people as you walk up Regent’s Street. Wondering who they are? What do they do? The half cut man in a suit crumpled against the wall of a side street, crying. Why’s he crying? No one looks at him as they pass, avoid eye contact, avoid any contact, cross the road, please don’t say anything to me, I can’t help you. Then he starts laughing to himself, stands up, brushes himself down and walks off. If I only just saw him I’d think he worked in the city, nice suit, good job, probably loaded, a couple of kids and a wife at home, happy families. Just a passing glimpse is never enough.

A man handing out fliers on Oxford Street, only God can save me, I’m a sinner who’s led a life of debauchery and sin and only by turning away from those evil paths can I spare myself from the wrath of God. The leaflet goes straight in the bin. Smite me if you will I say to myself as I look up at the sky, a drop of rain falls on my head and I smile to myself. Down to the cover of the underground, the heavy air, harried people who rush along old tunnels, desperate to get to their destination, a man playing a saxophone, pennies filling his hat. I throw him a pound lest I be smitten again.

The train pulls into the station, I sit and read the advertisements above the head of the man opposite me. Can’t look at him in the eye, he’ll think I’m crazy. He gets up as his stop approaches, I can relax, I can gaze contentedly at the black walls as they pass between each stop. The man gets off. Warwick Avenue. What the fuck is even in Warwick Avenue? I bet he lives an exciting life. That cynicism again. How am I to know what kind of life he has? I look up at the map of the Bakerloo line. A straight, brown line from north west to south east London. Every station, every person who gets off there has a story, defines this city better than any building or place. Queen’s Park to the Elephant, London without the clichés.

 

 

Going Home

 

A couple of days ago I took a trip back to the area I grew up in North West London, it was the first time I’d been back in 9 years.

Getting off the tube today at Queen’s Park felt like I was going home. Even though I have no home to go to there, my legs were taking me where I wanted to go; back along the streets and across the roads I know so well. It’s taken me nine years to go back on my own, the feelings and emotions of being in the place I grew up a suppressed fear; the good memories and the bad ones too, all coming back as I walked.

Walking through Queen’s Park, a kid again, being with my dad as we strolled from Kilburn Park through the back roads to go and play pitch and putt. Crossing the small park next to where I lived for years I could see myself playing football. The cold, rainy days kicking a ball around the park, the long and hot summer nights playing headers and volleys until it got dark and then sitting on the wall and chatting shit with friends, laughing, joking.

The flat that holds so many memories. Nights spent with good friends, drinking, getting stoned. It was all innocent then, there weren’t any consequences yet. Staying up all night and then climbing up onto the roof of the flat to watch the sun rise above London. No cares, no thoughts as to what the future held, just enjoying that summer, a summer I’ll never forget, one I’d love to live again. There were bad times too, but today wasn’t about that. The bad times have had their moment, they’re not going to spoil my memories anymore.

Past Brondesbury station and that smell hit me. When I used to reach the platform, a wide eyed kid, the smell of the old trains meant I was going somewhere exotic, some place far away on the train. Back then Richmond and Kew were exotic, going to see the deer or those big, hot houses with all the plants in it. Peering out the window of the train trying to catch a glimpse of an unkown part of the city that you’d seen on the map, another world to a young child.

Down the High Road, the old Sainsbury’s, the butchers next to it that had sawdust on the floor. The walk up to school every morning, the clock that has now gone telling you how much time you had left until the bell rang. Sunday afternoons leaving the church, 45 minutes that had seemed like a life time, the smell of the Sunday papers, the high street deserted, the shops closed, men in suits sneaking into the pubs for a quick pint before Sunday dinner.

The homeless man that used to sit outside The Old Bell, his old black dog. The Old Bell, the pub that people spoke about with a whisper and a tut. Mum giving the homeless man money to buy the dog some food. Me wondering how he ended up like that, where had he come from? When he dissappeared where did he go?

Past Kilburn Park station and looking up at the flat I spent my earliest years in, I can see myself looking down out of the window. Watching the buses, wondering where all the mysterious places on the front of them were, what was there? One of the old red buses passing, number 31, the conductor looking out from the opening at the back. Is World’s End really the end of the world? Saturday mornings, watching waiting excitedly for my dad to appear, off to the Rec to play football.

Sunday evening, summer of 1990; my dad buys me a Coca Cola ball, the World Cup final about to start. Walking up to the Drum and Monkey in St John’s Wood, imagining I am Maradona with my new, small, red ball. The old man that was always there. Slowly drinking his pint, nodding at people as they came through the door. The walk back home to Kilburn Park, still warm, West Germany world champions, me tired from excitement.

The pub has gone now, a lot of the places I remembered as a child aren’t there anymore, but walking that route today I was a kid again. It’s been an emotional few days; old friends, old places, memories that will stay with me forever. Goodbye London, I’ll be back soon; the only city in the world where my heart rests easy.

Why Aren’t You Listening?

In 2017, in a developed country whole blocks of flats shouldn’t be burning down because regulations were ignored or sub-standard materials were used when attempting to make the brutalist mistakes of the past look pretty. People have lost their lives through incompetence, austerity measures and a human right that every single person is entitled to: To have their voices heard. Residents of Grenfell Tower repeatedly tried to make their concerns known, instead of being listened to, they were threatened with legal action.

When a section of society are ignored because they don’t have the connections, money or knowledge there is something fundamentally wrong with the institutions that are supposed to protect them. It should not take the deaths of those same people before people start to take notice and pretend to care. If they cared, the situation would have been addressed, if they cared they would have used cladding that wouldn’t pass regulations in other countries. You can’t place a value on human life, there isn’t one.

This situation isn’t going to be unique to people in North Kensington, there will be people all across the country who will have concerns that won’t have been listened to. The government has stripped back money from councils, legal aid has been cut. In what is supposed to be a progressive democracy we are going backwards, people are being threatened into silence and denied their rights by the people who are elected to serve them. How can one come to any other conclusion than these cuts being deliberate measures to maintain the status quo?

Conservative ideology is one where people are told they will make it if they work hard, if they aspire to be the people at the top. What about the single mother that works four or five cleaning jobs and then goes home to look after her family? In what world does she not work hard? She works as hard as any but the reality is that she is trapped in a cycle where the only aim is to survive and provide enough to get through the weeks or even days. When it comes to aspiration, what are kids supposed to aspire to be? The person at the top who doesn’t listen to them anyway? No one is going to aspire to be the person that creates all of their problems in the first place.

Populism isn’t the answer either. I have no love for our current political system and what I believe to be the erosion of democratic rights. The left are as adept at shouting down alternating opinions as the right are in completely ignoring them. What the people involved will want is an answer to why they weren’t listened to, what is going to be done in the future to prevent it happening again and what will be done to help them rebuild their lives. Capitalising on this situation with empty promises and radical solutions that are not viable will only lead to further problems when they go unfulfilled.

When people are ignored they turn to extremes. While it is easy to label every person that voted for Donald Trump as ignorant or racist, not all of them will be. People in America were ignored. Rust Belt towns and cities that have been neglected and left to rot and die are glaring evidence of that. When the people living in these places heard someone telling them what they wanted to hear they listened. It’s not about ignorance, it’s about destitute people looking for glimmers of hope where they’ve had none.

Through all of this, the people of London have shown their strength and community spirit. They’ve come together and helped those in need. That is what gives me hope for the future. There is a realisation that austerity has created problems for societies most vulnerable, and in this case the biggest price has been paid. Governments, politicians and officials can’t keep ignoring people’s needs, nor can they try to capitalise on tragedy to ride a wave populism. What they need to do is listen and give people equality in being able to have their voices heard.

 

Queen’s Park to the Elephant

Queen’s Park

 

Looking in the mirror, how do I look? Not great. I’m not sure, I reckon I’m not that bad looking. People say I’m good looking. I don’t know though, honestly, I don’t know what good looking is. I pick up the bottle of aftershave, it’s quite expensive, Tommy Hilfiger, I push down on the spray a couple of times. I don’t think that’s enough. Another couple, that should do it. I reckon she can’t miss me now. One last look in the mirror, I adjust the collar on my blazer so it’s sticking up, my shirt untucked, I’ll put it in before I get to school.

The freezing air hits me as I open the door. It’s still dark, I breathe out, watching my breath freeze in the air as I walk down the stairs. The grass is frosty, shining from the orange glow of the street lamp. I quickly pat my pocket, making sure I have the packet of 10 Benson in there. The old man I see every morning is on his way back home from buying his paper. I wave at him, he waves back, saying something I don’t quite catch. I laugh as if I’ve understood.

I look back to see him turn around the corner and pull out the packet of cigarettes. I light one, taking a long pull, my head rushing as I feel the nicotine hit. I cough as I blow out the smoke. My mate’s mum tried to grass me up for smoking, she phoned my mum and said I was making her son smoke. My mum laughed at her, said that I’d never smoke, I hated cigarettes. I feel a bit bad, I don’t know how she doesn’t know I smoke.

Reaching the end of the road I watch the bus fly past. Fuck it, now I’ll have to walk 20 minutes down the road. It either comes early or I have to wait half an hour for it, how comes it never comes just as I’m reaching the bus stop? I button up my blazer, it’s colder than I thought, the wind blowing straight into my face, I can feel my cheeks raw, they’re probably bright red. I walk past two girls standing at the bus stop, they start whispering to each other and giggling, I look straight ahead, they laugh louder as I pass. What the fuck are they laughing at?

Half way down the road, it seems never ending. I quicken my pace to make sure I get to the station on time. Another bus passes me out. I thought they were every half an hour? How comes there’s been two of them this morning. If I’d have waited at the bus stop that would never have come, I’d still be standing there. I walk even faster, I can’t be that late can I?

Walking into the station the warm air hits me. I look up at the clock. It’s still only 7.15, that’s a touch, I’m on time. She’ll definitely be on this train that I’m getting on. I buy a newspaper from the stand and read the football news, waiting for the train to pull in. There’s a man standing next to me, he keeps huffing and puffing, tutting because the train hasn’t arrived yet. I smile to myself as he keeps looking at his watch and then up at the station clock. Looking at them ain’t going to help you mate.

“I’ve got a bloody meeting to go to!” he mutters, just loud enough for people to hear, make him feel important. I’m sure he isn’t the only one with important things to do on the platform. As the train pulls in he rolls his eyes and then looks at me, “bloody trains”, I half smile back. I honestly couldn’t give a fuck mate.

You know how long it takes to get from one station to another, even though the tunnels are pitch black and you can see nothing out the window you know when each station is coming. As it approaches Kilburn Park I try to catch sight of the little alcoves in the walls of the tunnel. I do it every day, every day the same thing comes into my head. When I was only a kid, we lived across the road from Kilburn Park station, one day on the way home there were police cars and ambulances outside the station. Mum told me a kid was doing grafitti and tried to hide in one of the alcoves but the train caught him and dragged him along. I still can’t work out how he got into one of them alcoves.

In my head I’m trying to put myself in his position. How could you be mad enough to go down on to them tracks just to paint a train? Madness. How must he have felt as the train was approaching? I don’t know why it sticks in my mind all these years later. Maybe because he wasn’t that much older than me. No fucking way would you catch me running about on the tracks.

The train pulls in, the driver opens the doors and then closes them almost immediately, the man in the suit smiles to himself. Probably thinks it’s because of him that the driver is going through the station so quickly. Next stop is where she gets on, my head starts going a million miles an hour. It’s stupid, I’m not going to say anything to her, I ain’t even going to look at her, I can’t. I don’t know why but I just can’t, it’s like there’s something stopping my head from turning and looking. The train pulls in, she’s not there.

I open my newspaper and start to read it. I can relax now. It’s fucking stupid ain’t it? A girl I’m never going to talk to because I don’t have the confidence affects my journey to school every morning. I’m an idiot. I bet that man in the suit wouldn’t have any problem talking to someone. I swear tomorrow, if I see her I’m going to talk to her. I’ll just do it. How many times have I said that to myself? Every day for the last two months. I’ll never do it, I can’t, I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

I get off the train to change to the District Line, the platform is packed. The man in the suit pushes past people tutting and muttering to himself. He runs up the escalator, I watch as his foot catches one of the steps and he trips, half falling as he grabs on to someone. I laugh as he looks back to see if anyone saw him full. The escalator is packed with people, some of them laughing, some of them looking down at their feet wanting to laugh. He turns around and bows, some people clap and he runs off up the escalator to his important meeting.

A couple of my mates are waiting on the platform for the Wimbledon train. We nod our heads at each other.

“Did you hear about John?”

“What about him?”

“People are saying he’s a drug dealer?”

“Who said that?”

“Loads of people are saying it.”

“I don’t believe that. He’s quite posh ain’t he?”

“Did you do your homework?”

“Not yet, I’ll do it when I get to school.”

“Fucks sake, I was going to copy yours on the train.”

“You should have done it last night then.”

“You didn’t do it either. You’re eyes look fucked man, did you even sleep last night?”

“Not much, I was sitting up smoking some weed my mate brought around. Didn’t realise the time. He said be careful with it, I must have smoked about four joints and I was fucked. My head still feels a bit mashed.”

“You need to stop smoking that shit, it’ll fuck you up proper.”

“Na, it’s okay, if I have to do some English homework I can write mad stories.”

“Did you see that girl this morning?”

“Na, not this morning.”

“Did you talk to her yesterday? I swear I seen you on the same carriage as her on the way home.”

“Na, she was busy innit, talking to her friends. I don’t want them laughing at me.”

“You ain’t ever going to talk to her. I swear every day you say you’re going to talk to her and then the next day when I see you, you say you ain’t spoken to her. I’ll just talk to her for you.”

“Na, don’t do that, man. I swear if I see her on the way home I’ll talk to her. I don’t know what you’re talking about anyway, you keep telling me how you get every girl’s number but I’ve never seen you with any of them.”

“I’m not going to be bringing them to school am I. You reckon I’m lying? I’ll bring one down after school next week.”

“Yeah, yeah. Come, get on the train man otherwise we’ll miss it.”

We don’t talk to each other as the train seems to take forever to get the last stop. This is supposed to be my last year before sixth form. I don’t even want to go to sixth form at this school. I hate it. I never wanted to go here in the first place, I wanted to go where all my mates went to school. It’s a good school, but most of the people, they ain’t my people. They’re all these middle class kids that go home to big houses and shit. Not all of them, but a lot of them.

I want to leave, but I don’t think my mum will let me. I want to go to the college just down the road. The train pulls into Notting Hill gate, that girl’s friends are all waiting on the platform, one of them sees me and smiles and then whispers into her friend’s ear. I smile back but can feel myself going red. Her friend looks up at me and gives me a dirty look. My mate punches me in the arm and laughs.

“What you doing?”

“Nothing, you’re a fucking idiot.”

“Shut up, man. Why don’t you go and get her number?”

“Na, I’ve got too many numbers.”

I know he’s talking rubbish. He’s one of them people, a good person, someone that you’d always want around, someone that would always back you up but you know that most of the things that come out of his mouth are rubbish. I remember one time he told me how his dad was a secret agent. This was years ago when we first started secondary school. A secret agent? How does he think anyone is going to believe that? I just smiled. I’m one of them people that will just let it go, I don’t want to say I know you’re talking shit, I just can’t do that, I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

Half the train is filled with kids now, all going to one school or another. The ones from the girls school pointing and laughing at the boys from our school. All the boys from our school trying to show off or pretend their hard, telling stories about things they did the night before or what they were going to do at the weekend. There’s a little kid sitting down on his own, he tries to laugh along but everyone ignores him. One of the younger kids tells him to shut up, he looks down at his shoes. He looks up again and catches my eye and then looks back down at his shoes. What am I going to do?

We all pour off the train, most taking their time, not wanting to get to school, trying to delay the inevitable. I walk ahead of my friends, I need to get in early and finish off my homework. It’s mad, four or five years ago when I just started I always did my homework, I never did anything I wasn’t supposed to. Now I’m not doing my homework because I’ve ended up spending all night smoking weed. I hope my mum doesn’t go into my room because you can’t mistake the smell.

My best mate is sitting at a table reading the newspaper.

“How comes you’re here so early?”

“Someone was looking for you yesterday.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I got off the train at Notting Hill there was four boys asking me if I knew you.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know who they were, they go to that other school. I said I don’t know you.”

“How do you know it was me they’re looking for?”

“The way they described you. It was you.”

“Whatever man, I don’t know who they are or why they’d even be looking for me.”

“Just be careful.”

“Yeah, yeah. You still coming around mine on Saturday night, it’s my birthday.”

“Of course, you asked that girl yet?”

“Na man.”

“You’re such a pussy. I swear if I see her today I’m asking her for you. Come on man, if you don’t ask her it’s just going to be me, you and Ally.”

“I’ll ask her, I swear I’ll ask her on the way home tonight if I see her.”

“I saw her yesterday, she was looking pretty good.”

“Stay away from her man.”

“I’m joking you idiot, I wouldn’t do that to you. Remember them boys are looking for you though. They looked like they wanted to start something.”

“I don’t know who they are. I ain’t even done anything to anyone either so they must be talking about someone else.”

“It’s you they’re looking for, I’m telling you.”

“Whatever.”

I take out my books and start doing my homework as quickly as I can. Who could there be that would be looking for me? I had some trouble with kids in my area last year but they wouldn’t be looking for me on any trains. Most of them wouldn’t go out of their own area. There was them two kids that tried to rob me on the way home last week but I told them to fuck off. Maybe they got some of their friends and were waiting for me to try and rob me again. Why would they be waiting at the wrong station though? It ain’t me they’re looking for, it’s someone else, he’s just trying to wind me up.

The school day is long. My English teacher hates me and I’ve got double English. No matter what I do it’s never right. I did a presentation last week. I never prepare properly for anything, but this time I did, brought in a video, wrote down loads of stuff and was ready for it. I thought it went quite well and he still gave me a C. Some other kid in the class did his by reading from a piece of paper as quick as possible and he gets an A. It’s no wonder I don’t fucking try.

The teacher is reading from some book that is important for our exam. I’m looking out the window, nothing he is saying is going in. I see that kid that was on the train, he’s walking across the playground but he’s limping, like there’s something wrong with his leg. I’ve never noticed him before. It’s a big school but you usually know the kids that are disabled. He stares at the floor as he drags his leg along. That must be shit, being in a school when there’s something wrong with you, kids are fucking relentless, they’ll take the piss out of anything.

He trips, throws his bag down in frustration and then looks up and around to see if anyone is looking. He can’t see me all the way up here. I feel bad for him but what am I going to do about it? It’s one of them things, that’s how it is in school, you just try and survive yourself, try not to attract too much attention so other kids don’t start giving you grief. I can’t wait to get out of this place.

“Stop looking out the window and pay attention to the book!”

I look at the teacher and then pretend to look at the book. This idiot sat in front of my mother and told her I was apathetic. I had to look that word up. He said I have potential but I’m never going to fulfil it unless I try harder. What’s the point in trying harder if you never get any praise for it anyway. Some kids don’t have to do anything and they’re the most amazing thing in the world. Fuck it, it doesn’t matter. It’s my birthday at the weekend, a few mates around, I’m going to ask that girl as well. That’s all that’s important to me, just getting wasted.

“Can I talk to you for five minutes?”

“Yeah, what about?”

“Listen, I think you can do really well in your exams if you just pull your finger out and start being a bit more motivated.”

“I am motivated…”

“You’re not. Look, I know you don’t like your English teacher, I know that most of your other teachers think you have massive potential but they think you’re lazy.”

“I’m not lazy, sir. I just don’t have any confidence, I don’t believe in myself.”

“Why not? You’ve a few months left to sort yourself, if you even try half as hard as some of the other kids you’ll walk the exams and then you’ll be in sixth form with university to look forward to.”

“I don’t want to go sixth form here, I want to go uni but not this sixth form. I hate this school, you know that sir.”

“Just try, you’ve got all the potential in the world. Sort yourself out, get your head down.”

“Okay, I’ll try.”

What was that all about? No teacher has ever said anything like that to me before. Maybe he’s right, I should just sort it out, stop being lazy and make a proper effort. After this weekend I’ll give it a go. One last mad weekend. It probably won’t be the last one but I’ll just tell myself that.

Last 10 minutes of the day. I keep looking up at the clock. The teacher is talking nonsense, no one is listening. The bell rings and everyone rushes out the door. I walk slowly up towards the station, none of my mates are going home straight away, they have things to do. I see that kid with the bad leg in front of me, there’s two other kids walking beside him, calling him names. I quicken my pace.

“How do you even get home with such a fucked up leg. I bet it must take you about 10 hours.”

“How come you don’t have any friends?”

“Fuck off and leave him alone you pair of pricks.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

I grab one of them by the collar and throw him against a wall. His mate backs off, I let him go and they walk off quickly, not looking back. The kid with the bad leg looks at me and says thanks, I just half smile and carry on walking. I look back, he’s still looking down but this time it looks like he’s still smiling.

The platform is filled with kids. The train pulls in and it’s packed as well, I see her though, through the crowd. Long black hair, she catches my eye through the window as the train slows down at the station. The door opens and I push in through the crowd. I can feel her looking at me. I look around and she looks away as our eyes meet. I feel myself go red. I can’t not talk to her today, if I don’t I’ll never do it.

Most people get off at Earl’s Court, she’s still standing there with her friends. I ain’t going to talk to her with all her friends around. I’ll wait until we get on the Bakerloo Line. What am I going to say to her? What if she just ignores me or thinks I’m some kind of weirdo. You just have to do it. Doesn’t matter what happens. The doors start beeping as they begin to close. Someone jumps on quickly. It’s that kid that tried to rob me with his friend last week. He’s on his own but he keeps staring at me. It don’t matter, he’s not going to do anything while he’s on his own.

The whole journey to Paddington he keeps staring at me. I want to say something to him but I can’t be bothered with any trouble, there’s no point. She’s on her own now, only one more stop until we both get off. My heart is starting to race, I don’t want the stop to come, I don’t want to get off and have to talk to her, but at the same time I do. This is madness, why can’t I be like one of them confident people that just talk to girls no problem? If she ignores me or rejects to me I’m never going to be able to talk to another girl again.

The doors open, she walks off down the tunnel, she seems to be walking quickly, she doesn’t want to talk to me. I can’t do this, she really doesn’t want to talk to me. Why did I ever think she’d like someone like me anyway? I’m an idiot. I look back, that kid is behind me still staring at me. What the fuck is his problem? I swear he doesn’t normally get off at this stop. She’s quite far ahead of me now, that’s it, the chance is gone, another day, another time I’ve bottled it.

I see something drop out of her bag, looks like a pencil case. Everyone else just walks past it. I pick it up, now I’m going to have to talk to her. I take a deep breath and start to jog through the tunnel to catch up with her.

“Excuse me, you dropped this.”

She turns around as I tap her on the shoulder, she looks surprised but then she smiles. She takes the pencil case.

“Thanks! I didn’t notice I’d dropped it.”

“No worries.”

She walks in step with me, not walking away like I thought she would do.

“Where abouts do you live? I see you on the train every day.”

“I live in Queen’s Park, well just up the road from Queen’s Park. And you?”

“Between Kilburn and Maida Vale.”

“I used to live in Kilburn when I was a kid. What’s your name?”

“Emma.”

“You want to go to a party on Saturday night?”

“Whose party?”

“Mine, it’s my birthday.”

“You know, I’ve seen you on the train for months and I thought you would never ever speak to me and now you’re inviting me to a party.”

“So, you want to come?”

“I’ll come, where shall I meet you?”

“Meet me at Queen’s Park station on Saturday, 5 O’clock, I’ll be waiting for you.”

“Okay.”

We stand in an awkward silence until the train reaches her stop. She smiles at me and waves as she gets off the train. I sit down on one of the seats. Why did I just stand there in silence? It doesn’t matter, she’s coming to my party. I look up at the ceiling of the train and smile. Through the window between the carriages I can see that kid is on the other carriage. I swear he’s following me. It’s still just him though. What if there are people waiting for at Queen’s Park?

At the last two stops I scan the platform, seeing who is getting on and off the train. The platforms are empty and there are only a couple of people on the train. I can’t stop smiling to myself. It’s been a good day. I can’t wait to get home, no, I can’t wait to get off the train and have a fag. My heart is still racing. I half run up the stairs at the station, I don’t think that kid is following me anymore, I’m going to walk through the park on the way home, I like that walk when I’m feeling happy.

I go into the shop to buy a can of Coke and a packet of Rizla. The man behind the counter is singing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ to himself. He gives me a funny look when I was ask for king size blue Rizla and then laughs and carries on singing to himself. I laugh with him, leaving the shop and then turning down the side road towards the park. It’s already starting to get dark, I forgot the park might not even be open. Doesn’t matter, I’ll just walk down the quiet back roads.

I light up a cigarette and walk slowly down the road, I can’t even feel the cold. I wonder what Saturday night is going to be like now? It’s taken me all this time to build up all that courage and in the end it was easy. Me, the least confident person when it comes to girls finally does it. I can’t wait to tell me mates tomorrow. The streets have a strange orange glow from the street lights.

My head starts to wander as I dream about walking down the road holding her hand, going to the cinema together. Sixteen on Saturday, start of life, nearly an adult. I kind of understand what that teacher was saying to me too, he was right, I am lazy sometimes, I need to do something about that.

I hear a noise behind me, like someone scrapping their shoes against the floor. I turn around but can’t see anyone. Usually I’m alert but I’ve been lost in my own world. I carry on walking, listening to hear if there’s anyone behind me. I’m sure there was no one there, must just have been someone going into their house. I might walk back towards the main road anyway, at least there’ll be people along there.

I feel something sharp in my lower back. I turn around and see that kid. He’s looking at me, his eyes wide open like he’s frightened. I start to feel dizzy and fall backwards on to the floor, I see him run off down the road. Everything seems even more orange, the lights really intense. That kid that was killed by the train flashes into my head. There’s someone by my side but I don’t know who it is, they’re holding my hand and talking to me, they sound upset. I’m back in the train station again, talking to Emma. Now I’m drifting off into one of them deep sleeps, don’t look back in anger, I heard her say…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kilburn Park

There’s people everywhere today, what’s going on? I look out the window, there isn’t usually this many people out and about. What I’m I going to do? How am I going to go out? I sit down on the chair again and tap the table with my fingers. I look back out the window but I can’t see down on to the street, only the buildings on the other side of the road. Some woman is smoking a fag on her balcony, watching the world go by. I take a sip of my coffee, it’s strong, like tar, I scrunch my face up as I swallow.

There’s a fellow on the radio talking about how it’s a new era for Britain, this Tony Blair geezer is going to change the country. Ain’t going to change much for me is it? None of them ever do. I was supposed to go and vote but I never, I made it as far as the old metal building but I couldn’t go in the door. I made it that far at least. Better than nothing I keep telling myself.

In the kitchen I open the fridge door, there’s nothing in there, empty, not even a carton of eggs. I’ll have to go out, I’ve got no choice. I’ll have one more coffee first, then I’ll get ready and go. Just walk out the door, that’s all I have to do.

This is the first short story from my new book Queen’s Park to the Elephant. Each short story is based on a tube station along London’s Bakerloo line during the 90s. The above story is inspired by my own experiences and also recent happenings in the area where I grew up. There has been a lot of senseless violence for petty reasons and the above story illustrates we’re all just people, there’s no need for the foolishness that goes on among the youth of today. 

You can sign up at the link below for emails each time one of my books are released. I will only ever email you when a book is released, I’m not a fan of mailing lists but as an independent author they are a necessity! Thanks for reading and if you haven’t already please take a few minutes to have a look at the two previous books I have written which are linked to below.

Book release newsletter: http://eepurl.com/cScA0r

The Unwashed: My first book which is a book of short stories based on an inner city housing estate.

Liar: My first novel about a kid growing up with his heroin addicted mother and his constant fight to throw off the labels which people give him.

Invisible Walls

The trains are moving back and forwards through the yard, none of them look like they’re leaving any time soon. I don’t even know where I want to go, most of them will go south. Maybe I should just go south, it’s warmer down there, the wind and rain is starting to get to me. The car with the security guard has gone past a few times, not enough for me to be worried about him, I’m done with worrying, I’m sitting here waiting because I don’t want to worry anymore.

I arrive home from work, my small apartment spotlessly tidy. I fall onto the sofa exhausted, another 13 hours gone by, another pay cheque, all I have to do now is fall asleep and do it all again tomorrow. I’m too tired to even read a book, watch television, my mind is fuzzy, not able to think straight. As my eyes start to close I hear the two people next door arguing, I can’t make out the words, it’s just noise. A door slams and I hear footsteps walking away, sounds of crying through the wall. Welcome home.

I roll up my sleeping bag, ready to go. The train yard has a strange orange glow as the setting sun breaks through the clouds, the rain stopping. I take a long drink from the can of beer and throw the rest of it into the bushes. This train looks like it’s leaving, let’s just hope it’s going in the right direction. It passes my little hideout slowly, carriage after carriage of freight, coal and chemicals. It stops, now is my chance, I jump out from the bushes and look left and right, making sure no one can see me. There’s no one there. I throw my bag into the back of one of the trailers carrying those long cargo boxes, grab the steps and climb up, lying down so nobody can see me.

Sitting on the bus in the morning, barely awake. It’s all automated, I just go through the motions, I don’t even need to think anymore. Putting my clothes on, walking to the bus stop, getting on to the bus. If I wasn’t on the bus I wouldn’t even remember walking to the bus stop. We pass a railway yard, I notice there’s a man running towards one of the freight trains, he throws his bag inside and then jumps in himself. Is he a worker? Where would he even be going on a freight train? Wouldn’t it be dangerous?

I wait, everything is silent, waiting for the lurch of the train, pulling it’s never ending line of cargo to some place unknown to me. It jumps, picking up speed as it pulls out of the yard. I peek over the edge my hiding place, the security car sitting there watching the train to see if they can spot people like me, people that aren’t supposed to be there, unwanted cargo. We pull off into the darkness, away from the bright lights of the yard I sit back against my bag, at least I’m moving now.

Nobody acknowledges me as I walk into the office. No ‘hello!’ or ‘good morning!’. They’re all just sat at their desks looking at computer screens. Not even work, just reading nonsense about what the latest celebrity has done, or looking at pictures of their friends in far off exotic places, secretly hating it them while they write out some comment telling them how beautiful their pictures are. It’s just torture isn’t it? Constantly looking at things we wished we had and never giving a thought to the things we do have. I laugh to myself, I am most guilty of that.

I drift in and out of an uneasy sleep, the train bumping along the tracks. I dream of being back home, hearing the door knob turn and my father coming in from work, picking me and swinging me around as I laugh, my mother watching and smiling. I wake suddenly, expecting to be lying on a bed but I’m not, just cold metal. The sun has risen already, a lake to my left, mountains trailing off into the distance. This is better than waking up in a bed.

My manager talks to me but I’m not taking any of it in. I stopped taking any of it in years ago. There’s nothing that she says that is of any meaning. I know what I am doing, I know what I am supposed to do. She knows that too, but she has to feel like she’s doing something, doing her job even though it isn’t necessary. She rolls her eyes and walks away to do the same to the person in the cubicle next to me. A pantomime repeated over and over, day after day, year after year. 

The noise and the incessant bumping are made easier by the beautiful scenery. How is it that beauty can remove us from our immediate surroundings? Right now, I’m not on a train, I’ve not just got a bag and the clothes I have on my back. I’m seeing snow topped mountains and beautiful blue lakes, there’s nothing else, just me and nature. Is this escapism or is it how it should really be? Why is appreciating beauty and letting your mind wander escapism? Why is taking off into the wilderness, living a life different to everyone else running away?

I look up at the clock, it’s time to go. Everyone walks out at the same time, barely speaking to each other, just exchanging a few words. I walk to the bus stop, the rain is soaking my clothes but I’m not bothered. I push onto the bus, there’s hardly any space to move, people pushing and shoving, tutting and being aggressive with each other even though they all have the same objective, get home and fall asleep, maybe if you’re lucky you have kids and you can spend some time with them. I’m not that lucky, it’s just me. 

The train comes to a sudden halt, back to my surroundings. I’d got so lost I didn’t realise we’d stopped just outside a town. Do I stay on or do I get off? There’s nothing here I would guess, this is the middle of nowhere. I grab my bag and jump off, change of plan, heading south can wait.

There’s a pile of letters in my mailbox. I pick them up and then throw them back down on my table with the rest of them, all unopened. Money, that’s all they will want. I sleepwalk my way through each day to make it, then I come home and have to give it all away again. I could keep it and run. Where would I run to though? Between my home and the office is a route and that route has a big invisible wall that you never go outside of. Sometimes you do climb it but when you’re outside of it you never feel comfortable, you just want to get back between them walls, the uncomfortable feeling of no escape is really your secret comfort.

I climb up through some trees and emerge on a road. I can hear the screeching of the train’s wheel as it pulls away, almost like it was waiting for me to get off. I don’t know when the next one will be through, it could be a long wait. I head along the road towards where the town should be, no cars are passing, this place really is the back of beyond. I’m hungry, I hope there’s somewhere to eat.

I wake up with my plate of dinner still resting on my stomach. I fell asleep without even eating. I take a bite but it’s stone cold, it would have been bad enough warm, I throw it in the rubbish bin. I pick up the letters from the table and throw them in too. The shower gives me enough energy to start the process of getting through the day. I reach for my briefcase and then stop, instead I pick up my backpack and throw some clothes into it, shut the door behind me and walk to the bus stop. 

The town is empty, not a person on the streets. There’s what looks like a bar and an old diner next to it. There are some houses behind the main street but no sign of anyone. I approach the bar, I push the door expecting it to be locked but it swings inwards. It’s empty apart from a man sitting at the bar and someone I assume is the owner. Neither look up as I enter. I sit down at the bar,they still ignore me. I ask for a beer, he reaches under the bar and pulls a bottle out, putting it in front of me. I have nothing to open it with. I pop the top off using the edge of the bar and leave some money, I’ve not much left now.

The bus stops outside the train yard. I feel as though something is holding me to my seat, not letting me move. I force myself up and push through the crowds and out the door. People give me strange looks, wondering why is he getting off here today? It seems as though the bus is hesitating, it thinks I’ve got off at the wrong place, that I’m going to want to get back on. I turn away from it and walk with purpose to the fence of the yard. The bus pulls off. 

The diner appears to be closed, I sit outside on a table sipping my beer, it should take the edge of the hunger. It doesn’t bother me much though, I’ll find something to eat. A man walks down the street, he keeps his eyes on me as he passes, then he waves and approaches me. I wave back, nervous, wondering what it is that he wants. He asks where I am going, I tell him I don’t know, he laughs and talks about the weather and then tells me there’s a train coming through at 8, he winks as he says it. Join him for a beer if I want. I agree and we walk back to the bar.

I see one of the trains starting to move as I jump off the fence. Where is it going? I look back to the bus stop, there’ll be another bus in a minute, I could just get back on that, I’d only be 10 minutes late. The train screeches. I run, copying the man I saw yesterday, throwing my bag onto the train and then climbing on. I sit there watching the city disappear, the countryside replacing the concrete. I’m free. I’ve left. 

We sit together in the bar, drinking beer that he keeps paying for. He doesn’t say much, we sit drinking, each lost in their own thoughts. Eventually he looks at his watch, I look up at the clock, it’s almost seven. I start to say my goodbyes but he gets up to, walking out of the bar with me. As we walk back towards the spot I got off the train he looks at me.

“Once you’re free of that wall, you’re never going to be able to get back inside it…”

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

 

There’s Nothing to Eat

There’s a woman on the television telling me I’m useless. Not just me, everyone that is struggling to make ends meet. Funny! I suppose when you’ve grown up with everything given to you, you’ll never understand what it’s like to have to try and achieve something, try and get somewhere in your life. I pick the book up I’ve been reading from, it’s part of the course I’m doing, trying to better myself, I throw it at the television and punch the air in frustration, screaming inside. The tears want to burst out but I won’t let them.

“Mum, are you okay?”

“I’m fine, love. The book fell out of my hand.”

She looks at me as though I’m odd, my own daughter probably thinks I’m a lunatic. Then she laughs, like children do, distracted by something, she runs off out of the room. I pick up the book and put it back on the table. I’m angry at myself, I shouldn’t lose control like that. It’s frustration though, you do everything you can but still you don’t get a break. See, even now I’m doing everything I hate, feeling sorry for myself, being the victim. Am I a victim though? I don’t know, I don’t want to be. Society would say I’m just one of the average Janes.

I watch as Charlotte runs around the living room. Lost in a world of her own, one of them that only children can find. I wish I could do that, just for five minutes, run around in a circle and be somewhere that’s not here. Her with me, she can come off to this fantasy world with me, fuck the rest of them. The woman is still on the television, droning on and on. Talking nonsense, it means nothing to me. I’m not stupid, but it’s all just platitudes, cliches, meaningless numbers. How am I supposed to have any connection to a person like that?

I put my books away in the small cabinet beside my tatty sofa. A friend gave it to me when she was moving house. I catch a glimpse of the envelopes with my name and address written on them, quickly putting my books on top of them so I can’t see them. If I can’t see them I don’t have to think about them. Well, I do have to think about them, but not as much as when they’re staring back at me. They’ll be due soon, I’ve nothing to give them. What’ll I do if they cut off the electricity? The winter will be here soon enough. I’ll find a way, I always manage somehow.

There’s a knock at the door. Who’s that? I’m not expecting anyone, it can’t be anyone looking for money.

“Charlotte, be quiet a minute sweetheart, sit down on the sofa.”

I look down out of the window, it’s a man in a suit, wearing a blue tie. He’s skinny, doesn’t look like he’d even be out of school that long. He can’t be looking for money, if he is then he isn’t going to get very far. I walk down the stairs, open the door a crack. He smiles a fake smile.

“Hello, madame, I’m from the Conserv….”

I shut the door back in his face. I’ve not got the time or energy to be listening to another one of these clowns promising me the world, telling me what they are supposed to have done for me, all while I stand there wondering what I’m going to feed my child with tonight and whether I’ll have enough money in the morning to get myself a cup of coffee as a treat when I take her to school. Like any of them give a shit. Same as the woman on the television. They’ll never connect to me, or anyone that lives around here, their lives were and always will be a million miles away.

“Mum who was that?”

“Just some man telling us how great he is, Charlotte.”

“Why’s he knocking on our door?”

“Who knows?”

“What’s for dinner? I’m hungry!”

“I’ll get you something now. I think there’s some eggs in the fridge.”

I open the fridge, there is a box of eggs, I open them hoping there will be more than two. No. Only the two. I turn on the gas and put the frying pan on to the flame, frying the two eggs in a daze. My stomach hurts, I’ll check my purse, see if I can go and get something from the shop. I finish frying the eggs, put them on a plate and on to the table. I call Charlotte and watch as she devours them. Doesn’t complain that it’s too little or that she’s still hungry.

“Will you read me a story tonight?”

“Of course I will, go and finish your homework and then we’ll sit on the sofa and read.”

I take my purse out of my handbag, there’s just enough to get through the next couple of days until I get paid. I can’t afford to go and get something from the shop. I’m scared I won’t have enough to get more food in for tomorrow. I close the purse, putting it back inside the bag. I laugh to myself as I see a lottery ticket, a desperate hope. They’ve always got to keep you hoping don’t they? I think back to that woman on the T.V, I wonder what she’s doing. I bet she isn’t hungry anyway.

Don’t vote for those who don’t care about the working class. 

Below are two of my books which are available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback. please have a look!

Like a Kid Again

My first holiday since I don’t know when, I’ve been waiting so long for this. Time to myself, get away from work and all that stress. Finally get to go somewhere I’ve always wanted to go to as well. I feel a bit like a kid, not felt like that for a long time. I feel a bit silly for feeling like this, it’s good though. It’s a bit like when you were at school and you going on a trip to some place that you’d spent all term learning about and now you’re actually going to get to see it. Ha ha, butterflies and excitement! I’m 30 not 10!

I’ve got my backpack on, no suit and tie and trousers, feeling relaxed. The underground train is full of people. Lots of tourists too, I’m a tourist at the moment! When I’m back home I always look at the tourists and the metro and laugh at them looking clueless, holding maps, running their fingers along them trying to find out where they want to go. I know where I want to go, I’ve already looked over the map a hundred times. I know exactly where to get off and exactly which entrance it is that I want to get off at.

I used to look at the pictures when I was kid, then I’d look at the map of London and find a place to start. I’d trace my fingers along each street and then along the underground lines until I got to my destination. Then I’d look at the pictures and pretend I was there, taking it all in. 20 years on and I’m here for real. At least I don’t look like a tourist though, well apart from the backpack, I probably look foreign too, you can always tell when some isn’t local!

The doors open on the carriage, I try to relax, not walk too fast, I don’t want to look like I am too eager. People will think I look silly if I do that. The big, round, red circle with Westminster written in the middle of it. My stomach flutters. How can someone get so excited about going to see a big clock? Ha ha, who cares? For once I’m going to allow myself to be a kid. I might even buy myself one of them souvenirs, the little model ones.

Up the stairs quickly, I can see the exit now, out on to the street. I’m smiling to myself, I don’t care if anyone sees me. I push past another couple of tourists in front of me, one of them is a kid, I want to get there in front of them! I look back at him and stick my tongue out, the kid looks at me like I’m crazy, his mother pulls him closer to her. Some people are just no fun! Another person next to me laughs and says something I don’t understand, I smile at them and they smile back.

Finally, out into the open. I can see the tower there in front of me. Hundreds of people below it taking pictures, taking selfies, smiling. It’s not just me that’s so happy to be here. I cross the road and stand on the green that is in front of Big Ben, looking up at it. Another two minutes and the bells will ring. I walk in front of someone taking a picture, I wave at them in apology, they smile. She points at me and makes the action of taking a picture. I give her my camera and she takes a picture for me.

You wait your whole life to see something, sometimes when you see it for real it is not the same as you thought it would be, you get disappointed but it’s not like that. It’s everything I thought it would be, not just the clock, the people the feeling, the excitement. I need to do things like this more often, stop working so hard, learn to enjoy my life a bit more, be more like I was when I was a kid, not take life so seriously.

I cross back over the road and walk up towards the bridge and the river. I’m going to walk all the way back to my hotel later, along the river, maybe stop in a few pubs and have a few drinks. I push through the crowds to get to the centre of bridge so I can take a good picture. My wife will love it, she rolled her eyes when I said I was going to London to see Big Ben but I know secretly she was pleased for me.

People are shouting and screaming, what is happening? I feel something hit against me, I think I’m on the floor but I can’t see anything. I can’t hear anything either. Have I been dreaming all of this? No, I can see the outline of the clock, loud noises but they all seem so far away. What’s happened? Now it’s all black, I want to sleep and never wake up, I’m so tired. At least I managed to see the clock, I can come back again another day.

Innocent people die because people are intolerant of other’s beliefs. Thoughts are with all those who were injured or died in London yesterday.

Dublin to Galway Walk

On 12th December I am going to be walking from Dublin to Gort, which is 208km across the whole of Ireland, arriving at the final destination which is my own home on . The walk is for charity and all donations will be going to The Simon Community which is a charity in Ireland that helps homeless people and those with housing problems. I will be documenting the walk on here and putting an update for each day of the walk. I’ll try and put some pictures up too but being December in Ireland the weather might not be great, just have to keep my fingers crossed for that!

Thank you to everyone that has supported me, friends, family and strangers, I really appreciate it!

If anyone wants to donate you can do here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Se-n-Hogan1

 

Walking All Night

That kid has walked past me twice, both times I know he was looking at me. I don’t want to look at him back, what’s the point in provoking him? Should I move? What if he wants to give me something? He’s turned around and is coming back again, I’m looking down at the floor; I can feel his eyes on me. Please just keep walking, please don’t bother me. I feel the kick into my side, I look up at him, his eyes filled with hatred. Hatred for what? He doesn’t know me, I don’t know him. He spits at me and then walks away.

He’s gone, I sit myself back up again, there are people watching me from the bus stop across the road. Concerned? Maybe. They can’t be that concerned though, not like they’re rushing over to help me. Fuck them. They might miss their bus home. I wish missing the bus home was an inconvenience I could experience. Why am I getting angry at them though? It’s not their fault. 20 years ago I would have done the same thing. How have I ended up so bitter? Ha! That’s a stupid question.

The Styrofoam cup with the coffee in has gone cold, I’ve nothing else to keep my hands warm but to pull them up into my jacket. I take a last sip of the coffee, it’s even more bitter when it’s cold. The bus pulls up across the road and the people get on. A man is looking at me through the window on the top deck. The bus pulls away, the people on board on their way back to their homes. I allow myself a smile. I wonder what they think when they see me sitting here on my sleeping bag?

People have this image of people living on the streets as hopeless alcoholics or drug addicts. I don’t drink, I’ve never done drugs. Even if I did, what does it matter? Does it mean I’m less deserving of being able to sleep somewhere warm, somewhere safe. I know why people do drink, I know why they take drugs. Somehow I’ve managed to hold onto some hope that it’ll get better one day. That’s not an easy thing to do. Not being able to hold onto slim hopes doesn’t make you weak. Other people’s hopes are different.

Some people hope that the postman is going to bring them something they ordered yesterday, or they hope that they won’t miss the bus because they left work late. Hope that their dinner didn’t burn because they left in the oven for a little bit longer than they should have done. Is that really hope? Hope to me, hope to other people that live out here is seeing the day through being able to eat, keep warm, maybe even just have a conversation with someone. I don’t blame anyone for losing that hope.

I should move, it’s cold tonight. I pick up my sleeping bag and the plastic bag with all my belongings: a facecloth and a toothbrush. The shopkeeper nods his head at me as I walk past. I force a smile back. He gives me a coffee each evening. I should be grateful, I am grateful, or am I? Why do I have to force a smile to acknowledge one of the few people that help me. Envy? Probably. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not him, it’s just what he represents. Why didn’t he come out when that kid kicked me? Did he even know? Fuck!

I walk by the river, it’s not sheltered, I’d have been warmer where I was but I just want to walk. If that kid turns up with his mates things could get a lot worse. I look down at the floor as I walk. It’s late and there are few people about but I don’t want to make eye contact with anyone, I just want to ghost through the streets without being noticed. I’m not going back there tonight. Where can I go? Just walk all night? It wouldn’t be the first time.

I am going to be doing a charity walk to raise awareness and money for homelessness in Ireland. The walk will take place starting from December 12th and I will be walking from Dublin to Co Galway which is about 200km. You can donate below. Thank you!

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Se-n-Hogan1

 

 

This Time Or Is It?

I’m going to do it this time, I know I’ve said it so many times before but this time’s going to be the last. I’ve been preparing myself all week. I’m scared, but I want to do it. If I can get past the first two days I can do it. I usually fail after about six hours. This is going to be my last trip to the off license, the last awkward walk back with a bag filled with cans and bottles. The woman behind the counter won’t ever see me again, the way she looks at me with pity makes me feel ashamed, it has to be the last time. If I don’t go through with it, I’m not going to have long left.

It’s one of them crisp, cold December evenings. I can’t feel the cold though, I’ve only got a light jumper on, no t-shirt underneath it. The sweat pours down my forehead, it’s a sticky sweat, thick and sweet smelling, all the booze coming out of me. I’ve tried to cut down to make tomorrow easier but I’m going to have one last bender tonight. It ain’t really a bender, not what other people would call a bender, sitting at home on your own drinking yourself to the point that you black out and will never know what you did.

I’ve still got that Ready Brek glow, where everything feels good with the world. I’ve got the confidence to look people in the eye, I’m not drunk, I just feel right, almost normal. It’s a window you have, it’s small and rarely lasts long but it’s your connection to reality, you feel hunger, sometimes emotion, you act normally, your mind still not consumed by the madness of whatever it is you are drinking. It’s a limbo, the only way out is the terror of withdrawal or the insanity of blackouts. If I could always feel like this I don’t think I’d stop, wrapped in cotton wool for the rest of my life.

The grey blocks of the estate don’t look as grey as they usually do, I wonder how many other people behind them windows live like I do? How many of them are contemplating the same things I am? Will they go through with it or will they fail. How many of them will make it until next year? A red light in one of the windows reminds me of being a kid and having a red lamp in my room, I don’t know why I chose red, perhaps it made me feel warm as I read late into the night. Innocence, you don’t know what’s out there waiting for you when you’re a child, everything is always going to be okay.

The woman in the shop doesn’t pay any attention to me as the bell on the door rings as I open it. I need to choose wisely, it’s going to be the last time. I automatically walk towards the ciders with the cheap labels on the bottles, I can smell it even though it’s not open, I gag, vile stuff, but it’s kept me going the last few years. I won’t miss it, maybe just a small one for old time’s sake, it’s only a couple of quid. I hesitate as I move my hand towards the bottle to pick it up. Fuck it, I can’t spend my last night drinking this shite.

I walk up to the counter with three twenty pound notes in my hand, wanting the woman to look at them, to think he’s got money for once. She still ignores me, why would she care that I have £60 in my hand? I look at all the bottles behind the counter. Why do I really enjoy drinking? Is there actually anything about it that I get any pleasure from?

“A bottle of Courvoisier and a bottle of Smirnoff, please. Oh and 40 Bensons, actually make it 60.”

She takes the bottles from the shelves barely acknowledging me. I give her the money and she hands back my change.

“This is the last time, you’ll never see me again.”

No answer, just a look of confusion. It seems she means more to me than I do to her. I’m insignificant, just another customer, someone whose face she vaguely recognises. Was I always just imagining those looks of pity? The woman who works in the off license has been a person who has been a constant in my life for years, I don’t know her name, I have no idea where she lives, I can barely make any conversation with her, yet here I am feeling disappointed, illusions that there might have been some kind of connection between us shattered. Loneliness, eh?

Walking back from the shop towards my block I try to catch people’s eyes, I want to tell everyone that this is the last time, that they’ll never see me walking back from the shops again with bottles in a bag. They’ll never see me late at night crawling up the stairs, they’ll never see me shivering and shaking waiting outside a shop waiting for it to open. They won’t ever see me talking to myself because I’ve drank so much all sanity has left me. They’ll see me looking healthy, going to get a newspaper in the morning and a can of coke. They don’t give a shit though.

Sitting on a bench on the green that separates two of the building blocks is an acquaintance. He’ll listen to me. There’s a can in his hand, holding it tightly with both hands as if it’s the most precious thing in the world. He nods as I veer from my path home and head towards the bench. He shifts up the bench slightly giving me space to sit down. I can see his eyes on my bag, I know how he feels, that can is his last and he probably has no money, thinks he’s won the lottery, me sitting next to him loaded up with vodka and brandy.

“Not seen you around for a bit? Where you been?”

“I went off the booze, went into some rehab for a few weeks, I couldn’t take it so I walked out.”

“Not managed to stay off it then?”

“What’s the fucking point of giving it up? Life’s shit anyway, all they did when I was in that place was talk about my childhood and all that bollocks. How’s that supposed to stop me from having a drink? Fuck it anyway, I know my fate.”

“I’m going off it tomorrow.”

“Are you fuck. You’ll last a few hours and you’ll be down the off license by the afternoon.”

“I’ve been cutting down, I’ll do it this time. I’ve had enough of it, it’s shit. What the fuck are we doing with our lives?”

“Wait until you start feeling things, you’ll know how I felt then. You going to share that booze then?”

He necks his beer in one go and throws the can onto the grass, looking at my bag eagerly.

“Not today mate, it’s my last little party for myself. Take this, go and get yourself something with it. Have a drink to my success too. See you around, look after yourself.”

I leave him with a £10 note. He can do what he wants with it, he ain’t coming to my last little party though, it’s only going to be me. I wonder if, when I walk past him in the future, will I look at him with pity? Will I even acknowledge him? Maybe I’ll turn into one of them people who see it as some kind of crusade to turn everyone sober. Nah, fuck that, it’s about me, I don’t care what anyone else gets up to. They need to solve their own problems. Time to go home and get ready for my last night of madness.

The block I live in is 10 floors high. I live on the fifth, it’s a long walk up when the lift doesn’t work but I run up the stairs faster than I have done in years. I haven’t had a drink in a few hours now, I feel sweaty but not too bad, the bag is in my hand, it’s a comfort, I know that I’ll be able to have what I want whenever I want it. At the top of the stairs I stop and look out the window, looking at nothing in particular, just surveying the land. I feel a tear in my eye, is it the start of the grieving process? I wipe it away and open the door. Last time I’ll be coming in here with a bag of booze.

I put the two bottles on the coffee table then sit down on the sofa. The glow is starting to fade away, I look back at the bottles, I don’t really want to open them, I’ve never had that feeling before. It rules my life, every single thing I do is controlled by that liquid inside those bottles. I can’t get up without it, I can’t go anywhere unless I have enough of it to see me through the time that I’m outside. I go into the kitchen and take a glass and return to put it down next to the bottles, I’ll wait, I want to show it that it has no control, that it really is the last time.

My living room is sparse, there’s only my coffee table, the sofa and an old television that I bought a couple of months ago. Before that I would just sit here and drink, no television, just me, my sofa, the coffee table and a bottle. The sun is setting, the red glow in the winter sky makes me feel warm, when the next few weeks are over I’ll be able to go out for walks, enjoy the sunset, enjoy all the things that I have forgotten that I enjoyed. I might even make some friends, it’s not that I don’t know anyone, I do, they just don’t want anything to do with me.

I close my eyes for a few minutes, it’s a small escape from the room, when I open them again the bottle seems to be pulling me towards it. I unscrew the lid of the vodka bottle, the cracking sound as the seal breaks, the smell of the alcohol drifting up towards my nose making me shudder. I put the lid on the table and sit back again. It’s like a game, trying to convince myself that I’m stronger than I am, really I am just delaying the inevitable. I sit back up and pour the clear liquid into the glass, I pick the glass up and knock it all back in one go, it’s begun, for the last time it’s begun.

Half the bottle is gone and I am starting to have a fight with myself. I’m trying to convince myself that it isn’t necessary to give it up tomorrow, that I can have one more little party tomorrow night. How is one more night going to hurt? It won’t, surely? Anyway, when I do give it up, what am I going to do? Sit in here on my own all the time, no friends, watching shite television, going for walks on my own, what’s the point in all of that? I won’t enjoy it. I’ll just end up lonely and bitter and with nothing to take those feelings away.

The worst thing about it all is that I’ll never be able to feel like this ever again. I won’t be able to feel confident, I won’t be able to feel like anything is possible. Sitting here with the vodka inside me I feel like I could travel the world or find any woman I want. I can make a great life for myself, I just haven’t made the effort yet, I can if I want to. I can keep it under control as well, I know I’m an alcoholic but I could just become one of them functioning alcoholics. That’s got to be better than giving it all up completely.

I remember them times when I used to go down the pub and spend hours in there drinking with friends, talking about football, laughing and joking, and then we’d go off to some club somewhere or go for an Indian. We’d go back to someone’s flat and carry on drinking into the morning. If I stop, give it all up them things ain’t ever going to happen again. How will I be able to enjoy life? I don’t think it’s possible. It might be a bit fucked up sometimes but it ain’t as bad as I think it is. I can see how I feel tomorrow, if I feel too rough I’ll just have a drink and try again the next day, it ain’t that important at the moment.

It is important though isn’t it? I mean, I’m remembering all the good shit that has happened, I’m forgetting about all the bad times. All them good times were in the past, they ain’t things that have happened recently. When was the last time I went down the pub? It was fucking years ago. The reason I don’t go down there is because nobody talks to me, they all think I am a waste of space, a liability that they can’t take anywhere. What’s the chances of them changing their minds? None, they’ve heard it all before.

Travel the world? Find any woman I want? The only place I am going to be able to do that is here, in this room and it’s all in my head. Some mornings I can barely make it to the shop, dizzy, sweating, sick, retching. Half my teeth are missing, I can’t hold a conversation for long because I forget what I said at the beginning of the sentence. My brain is addled. It’s all just wild fantasies that I’m using to convince myself that stopping is a bad idea. It’s the same every time. I know it’s all bollocks, yet I believe it because I am scared, petrified of the unknown.

More than anything I would love to go for a walk, my head held high, not paranoid because I ain’t sure what I did the last time I went out. Not having to worry that people might be staring at me. I just want to go for a walk on my own to just enjoy it, the simplest of fucking things, I’ll be able to stop and sit on a bench, not having to worry about how I’m going to get enough money together to get another drink, how I’m going to get through the rest of the day. Care free, that’s all I want. I just want it to go away, leave me alone.

The bottle of vodka is gone, the other bottle is still sitting there. I feel unusually tired, normally I’d have the second bottle open and ready to go but my eyes are opening and closing, I’m slipping in and out of consciousness. I know that if I really am going to do it I should throw the bottle down the sink but I can’t find the energy. I want to move my body forward so I can stand up but it’s not responding, I’m half dreaming now. I’ll throw the bottle away in the morning, it’ll be a test of my resolve, a test of whether I really want to do this.

I sit up straight on the sofa, eyes still blurry, the bottle of vodka and the upturned glass is at my feet. My mouth is dry, I reach down to the glass but stop as the smell reaches my nose, I put it back down on the table. I pick up the empty bottle and walk out to the kitchen and put it in the rubbish bin. I take my only other glass and pour some water from the tap and drink it one go and then another. Back in the living room I light a cigarette and notice the other unopened bottle sitting on the table. I’ll throw it away in a bit.

It’s still dark outside, I turn on the television, it’s six. I’ve slept for longer than I thought I would, usually I can only sleep for a few hours before I wake, needing to drink something. The first hour is the easy part. There’s still all that booze in my body from the night before. After that first hour is when it’ll all begin. The woman on the television is talking about eating healthy foods, I turn the television off again, the clock in the corner of the screen makes me feel as though time is passing too slowly, the numbers never seeming to change.

Maybe I should go for a walk? It’ll pass the time quicker, it’d be good to get some fresh air before it all starts. Nah, I’m not going to go for a walk, I didn’t drink that much last night, I’m starting to feel a bit sick already, if I go out and start getting really sick I’ll only have one option. I feel a shiver go through my body, I hold out my hands, they are shaking slightly. The bottle on the table is starting to call me, I knew I should have thrown it away last night. Did I do it on purpose? Do I really want to go through with all this?

Two hours have gone, I’ve checked the television every ten minutes, I’m willing time to pass but it’s going slower and slower. My hands are really shaking now, I don’t want to stand up, if I stand up I feel like I’ll just fall over. No one would find me, nobody would know. Everything in the room has started to take on strange shapes. The coffee table seems larger, overbearing, like it’s going to smother me. When I turn on the television it feels like the people are talking to me, watching me, every word coming out of their mouths sounds loud, echoing through my head.

Fuck this, I don’t think I’m going to be able to do it. It was a good idea, it was the right idea but I don’t think I have the strength. Am I even worth all this? Am I actually worth having a life worth living? I curl up into a ball on the sofa, my knees against my chest, my arms squeezing my legs tightly. My hair is drenched with sweat, I can smell the alcohol seeping out of my body. I don’t have the energy to have a shower, I’d fall over anyway. The bottle is on the table looking at me, willing me to open it. I can still throw it away, but I don’t want to, it’s my safety blanket.

I hear footsteps outside. Someone is coming to get me. What did I do last night? I wasn’t that drunk, maybe I did something another night and now they’re coming. The steps fade away and I breathe again. A loud bang, the next door neighbour doing something. My heart just stopped. I wait and listen out for more sounds on the landing outside but it’s silent. I roll off the sofa and crawl into the corner of the room. Huddled up, protecting myself. I want to turn off the light, it’s burning my eyes but I can’t stand up.

The coffee table has started to change shape. It’s getting bigger and bigger, taking over the whole room. I push myself back further against the wall. There’s nowhere to run. More footsteps, the coffee table goes back to its normal shape. I’m covered in sweat, I relax against the wall and hold my hands out again, they are shaking uncontrollably. This is foolish, there must be another way to do this. I crawl back to the sofa and turn on the television, only a few hours have passed. I turn it off again, the colours are too much.

Just a small drop, just enough to make this a little bit easier. Surely that’s the best way? Doing it like this is just torturing myself. I can just have a few glasses throughout the day and by tomorrow I’ll be able to stop completely, there’ll be nothing left then anyway. I lift the bottle from the table undo the seal and pull the stopper. The smell of brandy makes me shiver, it’s the most beautiful thing I have every smelled. I pour it into the glass, the golden brown colour looks like liquid honey. I put the stopper back on and put the bottle back down. I hold the glass, staring at it.

I’ve made it a few hours. If I can make it that far I can make it another few. You’re not going to make it, just drink it, you’re killing yourself for no reason, it’s there in front of you, you can end it all in a few minutes. And then what? Then nothing, you won’t feel sick, you won’t be paranoid, you can get another few hours sleep. Then I’ll wake up again and go through the same thing from the beginning? No, it’ll be easier. You don’t have to do it this way. I can do it, I can make it. You can’t, you’re weak, you gave up last time, you’ll give up this time. Fuck you!

I put the glass back on the table. I want to get sick, it’s coming in waves and each wave is bigger and stronger, more frightening. If you don’t have a drink you are going to die, you do realise that don’t you? You can’t make it another hour. Just leave me alone! Death might be better than this. It’s okay, all you have to do is pick up the glass and drink and it’ll all be over. I don’t want to though, I don’t want to, I just want it all to go away. It will go away, what is wrong with you? Just pick up the fucking glass and drink!

I pick up the glass and bottle and walk with purpose into the kitchen, I throw the glass of brandy down the sink. I pull the stopper and the smell hits me again. Don’t be stupid, this is your lifeline, anyway if you throw it away you’ll only go to the shop later. It feels as though something is holding me, my arm won’t turn. You will regret doing it, if you think the first few hours were bad, wait until the next few, you’ll end up throwing yourself out the window. I use all my energy to turn my arm, the liquid glugs out and down the sinkhole, I wait until it’s empty and then turn on the tap. I slump down onto the floor next to the sink.

I’m not sure how many hours pass, I keep turning my body, running my hands through my hair, my muscles tensing, painful. I’m convinced I am going to die, at the moment, death would be a better option. I can’t focus on anything, I can’t think properly, all my thoughts are jumbled together into one big mess of nonsense. The only thing that isn’t a mess is the picture of a bottle in my mind, it’s always there. I close my eyes, feel as though I might sleep but jolt myself awake again, if I fall asleep I might never wake up.

I open my eyes, my forehead is still covered in sweat but I can focus. I lift myself up and sit against the kitchen cabinet. It’s bright outside, I reach for the sink and pull myself up. The bottle isn’t there anymore. I struggle into the living room, dizzy and shaky, there’s glass all over the floor. I fall onto the sofa and stare out the window, the blue sky looks warm but I feel cold. I turn on the television. Fuck, a day has passed, I’m still alive. I must have broken the bottle, my hands aren’t cut, maybe I was hallucinating again.

One day. I’ve made it one day. I still feel like shit, but not as bad as I did yesterday. My body is sore, I haven’t felt pain in a long, long time but it feels good, it feels like I am existing, that I am alive. I sit up and then stand up and walk towards the window, I’m unsteady on my feet and still feel as though I will collapse at any moment. I hold the window ledge and look down to the green. That fella is sitting there holding something in his hands. I made it longer than you said I would. I fall back onto the sofa, one day, one day, one day, I’ve got to make it to two. Maybe when I reach seven I can go for a walk. Only six to go.

This short story has been taken from my book of short stories The Unwashed which is available in paperback and on Kindle here. My first novel is also available here.

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