MONDAY 29 AUGUST 2005
You buy ‘Smoke’ magazine. You photograph the word ‘London’
on a park bench near the Millennium Bridge. You blow it up all grainy.
You post it to the ‘Londonist’ group on Flickr. When did you
start to fetishise this city? You just used to live here. This is like
some bitch just gave your boy the eye, and you mysteriously remember why
it is you like him. That jumper you always hated dips beneath his collarbone
in a most interesting fashion, and you suddenly keep sneaking peeks at
the way his lower lip pokes out. Or maybe you’re just trying to
remember it forever. Store up a few mental images to gorge on after you
Whatever. It’s time for more Londo-porn, because you’re going
out, digicam in pocket. Big out: ‘up west’, as they used to
say on Eastenders, and you used to laugh, but that was before you lived
in E9. *Out* out, not just to the chavvy pub at the end of the road, or
silly, boring old Shoreditch, but proper, old school, centre-of-London
out, to the eternally-enticing Soho; so you dress carefully; you dress
The new to you pillar-box red polka-dotted
secretary blouse. Pencil skirt. Boots. The scarlet coat from the shop
in Madrid, with the heart-shaped buttons, and the heart-shaped pockets,
and the black acrylic paintstain on the left tit, from that time you and
Leee got drunk at the Klinker on the night when you were allowed to make
paintings on pre-stretched canvases. That night you and Leee ended up
painting a big black cock next to the words ‘Miss AMP’, which,
at the time, you both thought was the best thing ever, but the next day
so embarrassed were you that you left it in the street. You hoped that
someone who was as wide-eyed as you used to be when you still delighted
in finding things in the street would treasure this found ‘art’,
though you secretly doubted that a big black cock accompanied by the words
‘Miss AMP’ were really likely to bring serendipitous joy to
the provisional art appreciator / finder…
You’re bouncing along on the tube, leaning your head against the
window, next to a smear of someone else’s hair product. A boy you
once shared headphones with said that you listen to music too loud, and
definitely your ears ring when you turn it off, so you turn it off as
infrequently as possible these days. With the advent of relaxed media
workplaces which encourage music-listening, it’s possible to go
a whole day with your ears full of sound. Soon you’ll never have
to talk directly to another human. You can’t wait.
You glide up the escalator at Oxford Circus, feed your ticket into the
machine. Clump up the stairs. Ooze down Oxford St: through the piss-scented
gap near Knickerbox, along the dark scary street towards Soho, deafened.
You amble towards Greek Street, early for once. You find the place. You
wander in but it’s scary, so you wander out again, stand on the
steps, next to L’Escargot with its golden snail on the railings.
The music’s so loud you can’t feel a thing. The night is navy
blue and the wind blows your hair into your eyes. It’s August, but
there’s a welcome chill in the air that permits the red heart coat.
You whisper a ‘bye’ to summer 2005: it was a lot of things,
but it wasn’t boring.
You eye the street. You’re standing opposite a bar where you once
had a date with a horrible public school boy. Its sign is neon, spilling
pinky-yellow brightness onto the pavement. Its tables are high. He had
got you stoned in Soho Square, that boy, then taken you to a restaurant
where they served ‘burnt ends’, some kind of burnt meat. You
remember the horror of it: not sweets, not ice-cream, not even breakfast
cereal, no: burnt meat. Over the crispy, blackened husks, he had told
you he had a problem being interested in anything anyone else said to
him. He had said he was only really interested in himself. He still expected
you to fuck him. Worse still: you had. Whoops.
The people stroll past and your eyes eat them up. The gayboys. The straightlords.
A boy comes. He’s big. So big. Not just big, he’s almost fat,
he’s chunky. He’s wearing a jacket with frogging on the front,
his hair is black, fluffy. He looks like he’s in a rock band, only
he’s with his dad. His manager? You briefly make eye contact; then,
as he moves away, he reveals the dainty form of your sister on the other
side of the road, plucking her headphones from her ears like she’s
tweezing eyebrows, smoothing her fringe down her brow with the flat of
her other hand.
And you’re in. It’s a members’ club, but it’s
having a ‘literary salon’, and you’ve secured entry
by pretending to be literary editor of something, which you sort of are,
but you don’t get paid, so it doesn’t count. You went to a
members’ club one time before. They’re not like the clubs
you’re familiar with, fag-ends on the floor, smears on the cisterns,
neon scorching your corneas against a background of blacklight. They’re
for rich people, these clubs, a place where they can look around them
and, just by being there, know that they’ve achieved.
A published writer took you to the other Soho members’ club, a ‘proper’
writer, a creator of books with spines, books that nearly won literary
prizes and everything. There were paintings on the walls, and fairy lights
everywhere, and there was a slender black-haired lady with a voice like
horsehair sofas and balldresses, who greeted you like old friends, and
brought you gin and tonics, and served you lamb with rosemary, and it
was elegant and breezy, and the air in the
room had tasted of success.
You and your sister giggle as the ‘hostess’ of this one (is
that what they’re called?) a plump, warm, jolly lady called Amelia,
ties ribbons round your wrists. The ribbons are embroidered with the name
of the salon and the night in slanting italics. Later you will show this
ribbon to your best friend admiringly, and she will roll her eyes and
call them ostentatious, and you profligate, but your sister and you, you
Upstairs there are chandeliers everywhere,
and paintings on the walls, and chaise lounges, and burlesque girls who
look like they are from the 1920s. They are wearing feathers on their
heads and satin bustiers and high heels and seamed stockings, walking
around selling cigarettes and hand-made artists’ books. When they
walk their buttocks fold delightfully, and you gaze, transfixed, like
a man, even losing your train of thought as one stalks by you to the ‘green
room’, and your sister laughs.
One woman wears a skirt that is slit
up to the waist, revealing white ruched knickers on healthy brown legs.
She has a black net in her hair, and a flower on the other side. She is
French, tall and mannish. She reminds you of the girls you used to get
crushed out on, in the days before the clubs and the gigs and the guestlists;
the stagy ladies (see main site for more on them!), glamorous and sophisticated
and pretentious as fuck. You had forgotten them, but it seems they still
exist, but not at indie gigs, just here, in posh-person members’
The people are all rich, and some of
them are glamorous, and all of them are strangers. There is one
you recognise from the early fanzine days, who went on to write a book
about fetes, but he never used to speak to you anyway. Is that the trajectory?
Fanzines --> rich posh literary salons? Can a book about fetes earn
you that much? Maybe you should write a book! It could be about hate-fucking,
and ketamine. Or maybe hate-fucking and ketamine are not so appealing
as fetes. Something tells you this is the case, otherwise they would be
more overground activities, and there would be Hatefucking and Ketamine
Countrie Fayres every bank holiday, with Guess The Effect Of The Bump
stalls, and a game called Bash the Slut, where a cuddly-toy slut made
out of a sock stuffed with newspapers is shot down a tube and you have
to hit it with a rounders bat in order to win the prize. You consider
asking Fete Man’s advice, but think the better of it.
You sneak into the ‘green room’ and interview your poet, but
all you can really think about are the strangers. Strangers with feathers
in their hair. Strangers flashing their knickers and doing rubbish poems
about sex and semen in sexy French accents. Strangers charging you an
exhorbitant £9 for two glasses of house wine. Strangers in striped
shirts looking you up and down, showing their ‘rah’ face.
You don’t know these people. You’ve never fought with any
of them. You’ve never fucked any of them. They don’t know
your email address, your career trajectory, your website, the patterns
of the freckles on your arms. You’re nothing. You long to pull your
digicam out of your bag, and snap the strangers, the chandeliers glinting
behind them, the twist of their lips as they brandish the expensive wines,
the murmers that ruffle round the room as the French knicker-flashing
poet utters the word ‘semen’ for the tenth time, but that
would be gauche, so instead, you scribble it here, all jerky and out-of-practice.
Just when you think you know this city, that
it has no more surprises, no more dark corners, no more strangers and
strangeness, it does this to you. It tugs its jumper below its collarbone.
It pokes out its lower lip. And you look again, startled and impressed.
previous : : : about
: : : next