Choking from the tree pollen and the blanket of smog that had blown in from across the sea and the dust that had risen from the roads after the fires of the previous week. The atmosphere was unbreathable. Slowly jogging through the drag of streets from west to east was a chore for the chest. The sky was cloudless, but all the towers and cranes in the distance took on a muddy, sepia colour. It was a sense of desaturation, a fading, that was at odds with the coarse, thick reality of the air. The town was suffocating under itself.
Trains backing up into Surrey and the onslaught of the crush at the barriers.
A roadside reek of last night’s piss and the morning’s nicotine and bleach.
A man laughs into his hand.
A woman switches to flats.
The freesheets are a coconut shy.
Two shots please. I like my coffee very strong.
I couldn’t sleep because of our stupid neighbour upstairs playing music and crashing around at four in the morning.
Did you eat there? It’s amazing.
I am booked up pretty much all day, back to back. Sorry.
A notebook on a desk.
The words: ‘Dream of plenty.’
Dreaming of Cairo, so I thought, and I was on some concrete balcony at the edge of the desert, with the city in the distance, illuminated by explosions – and the death-rattle of guns and screaming missiles echoed across the void between me and… them.
I peered harder and saw that the explosions were fireworks, lighting up the sky with their crackle and kaleidoscope wonder. And the city was maybe Romford, somewhere not quite London.
I woke up. It was still night. Deeply so. A blackbird was singing. It sounded so frail and confused, so beautiful, and so full of dread.
After the merchants were pardoned and the townsfolk were sent to the fields, Tom the goose laid three golden eggs. The first hatched to reveal a hundred bronze brooches. In the second were a hundred silver goblets; in the third a hundred golden swords. The merchants pinned the brooches to their hearts, filled the goblets with ale and drank till they were mortal drunk. Then they cursed each other, took up the swords and fought till they were dead. Tom shook his wings and flew above the city, which had grown in its own egg, and waited to be born.
The little man at the side of the road where the hearses do their U-turns is pointing at passing pedestrians and shouting ‘You’ll never get out! And you’ll never get out! But you’ll get out! But you’ll never get out!’
I fall into the ‘Never get out’ category.
My coffee has gone cold and I am hungry, having skipped eating again. A caffeine/calorie trade-off. I should know.
Later, as I leave for home, water gushes from a pipe, soaking the reinforced concrete embankments by the train station where I spot a new piece of graffiti. It says, ‘City of sludge’.
That ol’ London thing, waiting at a crossing in rush hour between showers and a book falls out of the sky, lands at the side of the road, hardback, heavy, with a thud, the biography of a sports personality with late-career broadsides to discharge, and you look up, and there are only clouds. A day or two later and the same pavements are rammed with the supporters and opponents of President Kagame of Rwanda who is due to arrive at The Savoy. All morning the air vibrates to the sound of horns and singing. A limousine arrives, above it clouds.
A broad-brimmed black felt hat lies on the tracks below the bridge that crosses the railway line on Shoreditch High Street.
They sip sweet creamy coffee, shuffle and talk of failed interviews and jobs that didn’t work out.
A man by the Tube shouts ‘Freedom out!’ or perhaps ‘Free Time Out!’
They add a pre-meeting meeting to the diary, tapping fitfully while taking a call.
A line of immigration enforcement vans passes by as they hesitate at the wet kerb.
Restless regions shift like cumulonimbus across the horizon. We are heading for a low. A black hat rests on rails.
Jesus takes the rubbish out when the last customers leave the café at 5.45, nods to the lads on the street and goes back inside, brings down the shutters, exits by the back. Charlie and Isaiah are the first to the bags, carefully untying the orange plastic and reaching inside. Ricky and Mohammed look on, pointing and waiting their turn. It’s a good day. There is an armful of baguettes that can be shared round, a few tubs of salad, some milk and yoghurt. Each takes their share, the bags are retied – and the lads disappear into the cold night.
1. Dress up and jive dance at the Clore ballroom.
2. Watch carol singers on a giant screen in Paternoster Square.
3. Take the kids to My Brother the Robot at the Roundhouse.
4. Shop for last-minute gifts at a ‘German’ market on the South Bank.
5. Donate blood at Leytonstone Methodist Church.
6. Hear Atila, King of Crooners at the Park Plaza Hotel.
7. Enjoy a Victorian Christmas with traditional mince pies at the Charles Dickens Museum.
8. Check your numbers for the Euro Millions draw (top prize £62,469,261).
9. Watch Christmas Eve dawn on Walford.
10. Breathe. Sleep.
Downstairs in the shop it is sweltering. I am at a designer furniture launch. This is my job. Bring on the canapés, I should be eating dinner. Sean works for a competitor. He tells me about when his wallet was fat, when he was drunk every evening. Across the room Seb shakes hands. Everyone wants to meet Seb. But I can tell by the way he pulls at his ear that he wants out. Away from sales, marketing and clueless creatives. My forehead runs with sweat. The kids won’t want to go to bed tonight. I wish I was home.