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Monday, January 09, 2006


“I’ve never known the spring to turn so quickly/ Into autumn.”

So this is how my story pans out: Fear and Self-Loathing in Lower Clapton. Hackeneyed of Hackney Central.
I’m sat by the tombstones behind St Augustine’s. It wouldn’t surprise me if you’d never noticed them. Most people don’t. They know about the faded gothic glory of Stoke Newington, an Ozymandian empire split with weeds and spent condoms. But this is a far more prosaic affair. All that remains are the diseased, algaed stones, crudely impelled against the far wall, while the bus depot behind belches its impatient fumes over them.

I come here a lot. Sit at this spot, face to the wrought iron bars, trying to make out a few names. Strange, faded names: hints of an unknowable past; Albert Goodacre, John St Bavo, Christopher Urswick, Martin Tressett. Names of God-fearing men. If only they’d have known: there are far worse things to fear than God. Let them out of their desecrated plots and let them search for magic here. Let them taste real fear.
Let them find their way home.

I can’t go home. She’s there.
So I walk up Mare Street from the depot and the forgotten, trampled lives. Past the idle buses and empty faces, past the menace and the misery. And it starts to rain. Perfect. Grey turning black. Like my sodden socks. I cut behind the churchyard, never quite running, never quite walking.
Two young girls, gathered under an umbrella, pretty, black, skirts too short, mutter and giggle and hoot and kiss their gums as I pass them by. Not in a nice way. Not in an innocent way.
Two young girls. Too young to be so vicious.

I can’t go home.
I can’t stay here.

I’m sat over a tepid pint of bitter. An anonymous drink in an anonymous bar, trying to look anonymous. And failing even at that. I’m drinking too fast, trying to look at ease with my own company, in the company of strangers. Their eyes tangle with mine habitually, flitting, fixing. I stare at the suds in my glass. Glass with a handle. Landlord saw me coming.
Funny, he doesn’t see me now. Not now I’m back at his bar, silent eyes on me, conversations missed.

I run a clammy hand through my wet hair.
“Nice weather for it.” The landlord. His back to me still.
‘For the Duck.’
That was a joke. Meant to be. The Crown and Duck: that’s the name of the pub. Only I think they call it the Crown. Either way, he doesn’t get it, leaves it hanging in the stale room.
“Same again?” I can see him roll his eyes, even with his back turned. I see it in his coterie of regulars, in the ripple of smothered glee that swells through them.

Same again?
Same half hour of smug condescension and ugly, suspicious glances?
What choice have I got?

I can’t go home. She’s there.

You know what she said about me, don’t you? Said my crutch is the past. I don’t even know what that means. Do you know what that means? Something about dwelling in memories, I’d imagine – lingering.
Isn’t that normal?

I can’t go home. Not there.
Too many memories. Too much lingering. Too much.
So yes, I’ll have another. I’ll linger, and swill over the same again. Simon’s money is good for something at least. I slide a crisp note out from the others, nervously scrunching it into the ball of my fist before approaching the bar. Even so, the barman fingers it tenderly and holds it up to the light. Fucker. Since when was twenty quid suspicious? Since it was in my grubby grasp in this grubby shithole.
I know he doesn’t want me here, but I’ve nothing else to do but stew in my own stock. He slides the pint glass of bitter over to me, not saloon bar style, more out of contempt, as if repelled at the thought of our hands coming within the slightest proximity. I grunt a thanks and return to my stool. The conversation swells up again.

“Time please gentleman”.
The landlord again, for my benefit clearly. The others hardly flicker a response. A lock-in awaits for all but the weirdo in the corner.
I take my time.

I can’t go home.

I don’t have one.


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