Locked-down And Out In London

May 8th

 

“Pandemic! Got that pandemic.”

We can continue with The Wire as someone is feeling a bit stronger this week – less overwhelmed and more outraged. Eerily, season four’s first episode opens with the kids on the corner selling their wares, previously given names such as “WMD”, “Bin Laden”, and “Red Top”. Today shouting, “Pandemic! Got that pandemic!”

It rings out through the empty streets of the episode. And the next, and the next. Possibly through the whole series.

“Pandemic! Got that pandemic.”

The children’s play area in the local park is covered by metal grating to stop the kids passing the virus on to each other as they play, to their mothers and their fathers; the reality of dystopia is much more subtle than it has been portrayed in books and films, and that’s all the more unsettling.

Old men sit solo on their benches, catching the rays two meters apart, as if the park was designed with this very future in mind.

On an empty bench, there’s a plastic bottle filled with stagnant water and red carnations to remember the dead. She was called Clara and she died in 1998, when this future was still a twinkle.

I watch Graham Brady, the Tory MP who thinks people like staying at home during a pandemic too much, in disbelief. As his foul utterances limp off his tongue, his mouth becomes dry and cloying, his body so ashamed of the words coming out of it that it tries to shut his mouth in any means possible, directing all moisture away from this orifice and towards his armpits. But his self-assurance is a fiercer force and it keeps him talking, pushing for lockdown to be eased before it’s safe. People are “too willing” to stay at home and not go to the jobs they’ve hated their whole lives in order to save their lives, and their loved ones lives, and possibly even this guy’s life.

I think of a time earlier this year when a friend and I were walking back through Soho, only to find Old Compton Street closed off by police, then Wardour, Greek, Frith… everywhere rushed to be closed off by a large number of police. It must be serious; this is literally the whole of Soho. I ask a policeman what’s going on, he is busy and, unanswering, he shoos me along. Up at Soho Square, I ask another.

“Bomb threat,” he says.

Oh shit.

Behind him, his colleague is trying to stop, and physically block, a man desperately trying to return to work. Having informed the man there is a bomb threat, he’s trying to shield this man from something that could kill him, and the man is pushing and saying, “I don’t care! I have to get back to work! It’s just over there, just let me through!”

The desperation to get back to his job, the fear at being late back from lunch, the complete disregard for his own life for want of his job was very sad. My friend and I agreed that surely, in any sane country, you’d just leave for an hour or two and then return. Or, should the bomb go off, just clock off for the day.

On the news later, it turns out they had discovered an unexplored WW2 bomb. So don’t tell me people don’t cling to their jobs. I just think people like Bradbury have found it a surprise that most people cling to their lives more dearly.

And so, there is hope.

I hear the first scree of a swift: summer has arrived on May 6th – at exactly the same time as it arrived with my sister, it turns out. And the swift and the summer is more welcome than ever. With the swift’s forked tail trails every summer that has come before this one, good and bad, happy and sad, every future summer, every blue sky and setting sun. And we long for it. We long for them all.

The plane trees that were pollarded within an inch of their lives are thick with green leaves that wave like a celebration.

I miss the charity shops, the displays in their windows have been the same for two months now and they used to take such pride in changing them every week. I miss going in and saying how overpriced everything was: “£65 for a pair of Miss Sixty sunglasses?! Fuck off.” Only to find an absolute score hiding on the rails.

I miss my family.

The whistling sound of pigeon wings haunts us like an angel of death. Except it’s the angel of shit.

Blue, white and black face masks litter the streets. They are like all things left on the street, a sorry sight. When I lived in Dalston it was strands of weaves that tumbled and drifted along the roads. Saturday and Sunday morning it was like walking through a Sergio Leone set. I preferred the weaves.

A friend sends me a poetry exchange that I don’t take part in in any orthodox manner, I “break the rules”. And because I broke the rules, they break the rules and don’t send me a poem, but a song by a Brazilian man called Caetano Veloso:

I walk down Portobello road to the sound of reggae
I’m alive
The age of gold, yes the age of old
The age of gold
 
The age of music is past
I hear them talk as I walk yes I hear them talk
I hear they say
“Expect the final blast”
 
I walk down Portobello road to the sound of reggae
I’m alive
I’m alive, vivo muito vivo feel the sound of music
Banging in my belly
Know that one day I must die
I’m alive
 
And I know that one day I must die
I’m alive
Yes I know that one day I must die
I’m alive vivo muito vivo
In the eletric cinema or on the telly
Nine out of ten movie stars make me cry
 
I’m alive
And nine out of ten movie stars make me cry
I’m alive
 

A few days later I think of this song as a man drives with his top down smiling and listening to loud reggae. And as the sun pats my cheeks and the reggae drifts in to the distance, I think, this is living

 

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“Baby Hats! Got them Baby Sun Hats!”

Pregnant Witness

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There are two guys fighting on the street.
One is in a car
mouthing off,
revving,
head twisted back,
one hand on the wheel —
the other, I assume, is on the hand break.
The second man pursues the creeping vehicle up the hill,
speaking in tongues.
The first talks in spits and swerves his wheels.
I can’t hear what they are saying;
I’m sure it’s very important
but I am watching the pregnant witness
who looks out the window opposite.
Glasses on, she can see their very animated picture,
but she opens the window to better hear the drama
because her life is empty of it.
There is no darkness in her
refurbished house in leafy suburbia.
I would like a life like that
but I’ve too many shades on me, it would seem,
a spinning prism is my diadem.
So I’ll watch the pregnant witness
watching the two men screaming on the streets;
she’ll get some junk mail later
and that’ll be as bad as it gets.

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Photo: Martin Parr

Fancy A Little Guerilla Poetry Warfare In The Morning?

Back in the old days, when things weren’t immediate — when news didn’t travel at lightspeed and creations were nurtured in a bubble of time — things were said to happen in ‘the space of Pater Noster’, the space of God.

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Over the next 10 days (I started at 5am yesterday) I will be gracing my favourite streets in London — mostly ones I have lived on over the years — with a little surprise through the letterbox. The aim of the surprise is to serve as a bubble, a space in time between the bills and bank statements, where nothing is asked of you. At worst it makes excellent recycling material; at best it might add a little magic to your day — if you receieve one, whether you like or dislike, please get in touch (contact details on its reverse). x x x

Spoilt Rotten

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My soul has buckled under the weight of all the strange gifts you have given me,
Crumpled like the silver linings I crushed with the beer cans in the recycling.
But still you keep giving, donating twisted things to a
Cabinet of curiosities that’s already bursting at the seams.
You –
If that is your real name.
Me,
And my essence depleted to the compact crystals of flint.
But still you bleed me like a maple tree,
Leech from me
I walk through the streets like a zombie.
Not hungry.
Dim mist is me.
You
Who kicks stones at the legs that keep marching,
Keeps laughing at the ghost with no life-lines.
“She’s so persistent; but aren’t they all
Drowning in my dream whirlpool.”
Can you see us in the water?
Can you see us in the bright blue-green?
Can’t you see that I’m your daughter?
Can’t you see I’m in the waving trees?
It’s
Such
A
Long
Fall
For
You,
You who speaks in sunlight
But giggles in blackness.
Yeah you,
Who I forgive for the heavy treasures I did not wish for,
That I will not list here –
Did not put on my Christmas List either –
Because there is warmth in the wind, there are grebes in the pools and there is
A man who speaks softly to his dog. Who speaks like the earth.
Press this still-wet summer grass against my flesh.
In the seconds of this particular forever
All is well, and all that is wraps me in its bubble
And rolls me down the hill. To the lake
Where the bathers go to chill their brittle bones.
So cold.
Where did you go?
There are whispers when it’s hardest that
You
Do not exist.
But there is drama in your silence
Like the bottom of the sea.
See me: I am the echo of the waves.
Living proof of
Nothing
But a siren call called
You.

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Painting: Milky Way by Peter Doig