Smoke 1 excerpts


This is my city. This is our city. When I hang up my bag on the Met Line. When I hang from the pole of a Routemaster. When I skip through the tunnels at King’s Cross. When I run for front seat on the Docklands Light Railway. When the chimneys of Battersea loom into view. When I spot Canary Wharf from a precious new place. When I walk the warm streets of Brixton. When I run round the clock tower at Golders Green. When I wake up, half-drunk, at High Barnet. When I wake up, still dreaming, at Morden. When I find a new postcode with which I fall in love. When I find a short-cut never spotted before. When my breath catches me, suddenly, as it did that first time, and all the others, when crossing Westminster Bridge. When I wander the streets, half-tired, half-there perhaps, with friends and companions, or sometimes alone, and suddenly see it again, in the air above.

Introduction to Smoke#1 – Jude Rogers

The first of these thoughts, of course, was that God Himself was speaking to me. Maybe he’d twigged, found me wanting, and was about to smite me with His wrath again? Or maybe He’d suddenly come up with a real humdinger of an 11th commandment, and now wanted me to fetch the relevant stone tablet from somewhere of truly Biblical awkwardness like the top of a bald mountain or the stomach of a giant fish or that bit of Kingsland Road that’s no longer Dalston but not quite Shoreditch. I quickly dismissed all this on epistemological grounds, however, mentally citing in evidence the existence of so much inexplicable suffering in the world, and also of a small loudspeaker in the roof-panel above my head.

Introduction to Smoke#1 – Matt Haynes

Rimbaud spent longer in London than he ever did in Paris. It shows. It was where he perfected his poetry; and where he abandoned it, at just 21. How perfect to think of him on the seedy backstreets of Somers Town and King’s Cross with the whores and rent boys, slipping along the path by the Regent’s Canal with its waters “yellow like death”. Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of him on the streets: drunk and crazy and impossibly beautiful as only a seventeen-year-old can be.

The Noise from Bars (and Bedrooms) – Tania Branigan

John Constantine doesn’t write social commentary. He just happens to live in London. A London where a nun is slaughtered in Mornington Crescent tube by a man whose limbs have all been disjointed. Where demon yuppies slumming it in trendy Spitalfields bars have the upwardly mobile queueing to sell their souls. Where dead homeless men desperate for a hug haunt Camden council estate towers. Where Arsenal fans get hooked on smack after watching Victorian ghosts re-enact their own murders night after night. Where deceased fictional characters have a pint with readers at Death’s boozer in Southwark.

London’s Patron Sinner – Abraham Kawa

DANGER: VOID BEHIND DOOR… you’ve read it many times but never quite believed it; you’re a rational chap at heart and, even though you’re prepared to concede the possibility of an arid and formless netherworld – and even that there might be points at which it lies mere inches behind the dull surface of our own familiar realm – the idea that a portal into such mind-terrorising nothingness could be accessed via a small yellow door on the southbound Bakerloo Line platform at Waterloo has always seemed preposterous. Until now.

Danger: Void Behind Door – Matt Haynes

Enter The Settle Inn in the grim shadow of Suicide Bridge on a Tuesday; a challenge of honour, for the princely sum of nought pence. Bring along a masterful friend with knowledge of far-flung currencies, ancient dictatorships and 1920s FA Cup Results, and you, friend, will prosper.

Your Starter for 10 (in N19) – Jude Rogers

We perfected the art of gaining free entry to all the capital’s fashionable concerts, clubs, aftershow parties and music biz exclusive functions, even if many of the organisers had accidentally forgotten to invite us. We knew that most gigs by third division Britpop bands were simply a front for the real event of the evening: the aftershow. Here you could meet and attempt to befriend the artistes, network with the important movers and shakers who could help your career and, most importantly of all, get drunk for free. Our technique for acquiring places on closed guest-lists was talked about in hushed tones by undiscovered rainforest tribes.

The Romos in Stringfellows – Dickon Edwards

… at times, the 253 is a hotbed of romantic intrigue. I confess to having got a date on board one drunken Saturday. I was wearing a studded dog collar (a punkette phase I was going through), and he was intrigued enough by it to approach me – although seeing as how I was coming back from Camden, it didn’t seem that unusual. It was a one-date wonder but, as I’d only just moved to London at the time, the whole affair made me feel impossibly sophisticated and urban.

Bus of the Month: 253, Euston to Aldgate via Holloway Road – Kathryn Hudson

So now, rather than being turned away from the gates of London’s over-stuffed churchyards and forced to resort to back-street cremations, surreptitious tippings over Battersea Bridge on moonless nights, or amateur taxidermy, the newly bereaved could have their previously beloved casketed up and carted off on the back of a horse-led hearse to Waterloo, where they would be loaded into the stately black carriages of a Funeral Express and whisked non-stop to Brookwood for a mere two shillings and sixpence per coffin – with 30% off if the occupant’s Network Card hadn’t expired before they had.

Woking, City of the Dead – Matt Haynes

The sad, shameful fact that he’s been colonised by a van rental firm can’t mar his magnificence, nor can the fact that his erection in this forsaken spot was ultimately unnecessary (if you’ll pardon my French). The promise was there in the grand plans of expansion in the early 20th century – a time of industrial optimism that’s left us with ghost stations in all corners of the city.

London’s Lost Tube Stations, No.1: York Road – Jude Rogers

There were other regulars in the park along with myself: the career mom tugging her son towards the posh school in his ill-fitting hat and shorts and the Asian man who smiled and said “Hello” as I passed. Like the words of the bagel-seller who greets me with a “plain raisin bagel” and a compliment each morning when I walk out of the York Street subway station on my way to work in Brooklyn, this man’s morning smile meant the world to me. Here I was in a foreign country, and I had become a part of someone else’s routine.

Bayswater Road – Elizabeth Beidler

Nadia leaves the flat of the man she’s just had hollow second-date sex with to take the night-bus home. N171: Trafalgar Square – Camberwell – Peckham – Brockley – Catford – Hither Green. It’s as simple as that. She lingers on the doorstep, hopeful, pathetic; he kisses her on the cheek, leaning across her mouth. She leaves; he finishes his beer, lights a cigarette, shakes his head slowly. Michael Nyman’s strings stab in the background and the bus skims through the November rain down Waterloo Road.

Wonderland: a South London film – Lucy Munro

In Iain Sinclair’s most recent work, London Orbital, the author walks anticlockwise round the M25, “trying to exorcise the shame of the Dome”, accompanied by a photographer, Marc Atkins. The parallels with Downmarket – in which the author walks clockwise round the Elephant & Castle one-way system trying to find out where they’ve moved the bus-stop for the 188 to Surrey Quays, accompanied by a man in a dressing-gown who keeps shouting at him – are potentially actionable.

review of Richard Mansworth’s “Downmarket” – Russell Hobbs

Stage 4: Hackney Wick to Stratford. I pass a sign soldered to a crumbling tenement block, proclaiming ‘Mine Is The Voice In Your Head’. I double-take, to see if conditions have induced hallucinations, and it is still there… is my Bovril spiked?… the sparseness of surroundings doing little to ease paranoia… waste ground, pylons, industrial noise… the realisation that I have as yet not passed this point… and then… an abyss of a tunnel… is this… is this the end?

For God’s Sake Look After Our People – Jude Rogers

My local landmark, I see it framed at the end of my street as I approach from Hammersmith, side-on from the Cromwell Road as I lug the shopping back from Tesco, from the Millennium Wheel (never quite in the direction I expect it to be in, like everything else), and from planes to Heathrow, just before the wings tip up and I lose all sense of where we are and start to focus instead on passport control, customs, getting home, getting to work…

The Empress State Building – Clare Wadd

How far, I wonder, would this man follow a subject? On a Tube strike day, for example, it’s perfectly reasonable that someone would start a walk in Charing Cross Road and end up in Hammersmith. Perhaps he circumnavigates this problem by having a carefully marked out patch with a border that cannot be crossed; he sees the “Welcome To Islington” sign and feels the same dread as a criminal facing “You are now entering Texas”.

Top Hats – Jeanette Leech

I’ve always loved the Woolwich Ferry. I love the fact that in 1889 parliament decreed that there must be a free ferry here in perpetuity; so, come greenhouse summer or nuclear winter, the Thames – be it a raging flood, mud-flavoured ice-pop or dusty hollow stuck with rusted trolleys and the bleached skulls of Beckton pit-bulls – will always be crossable at Woolwich, and for free, because Lord Salisbury said so. And I love the fact that it’s part of the North Circular – that London’s only major ring-road inside the M25 completes its circuit only at the whim of a ferry called Ernest Bevin, for whom you must queue. But mostly I love the fact that north and south London can still be cut off from each other by fog.

The Ghosts of Camden Road – Matt Haynes

These days, EastEnders rarely snarls a pull, it being too far-fetched, too bloody stupid. Consider the Mitchells’ dubious links with the Cockney mafia, or the possibility of three sentient women wedding and bedding Ian Beale. Or maybe this distaste for the present is coloured by my love for ye olde Walford lore; my rain-stained, mid-Eighties childhood forever tainted by Den and Angie, Ethel and Willie, Lofty and ‘Chelle.

Life Before Albert – Jude Rogers

Long after she herself was viewed as pop passé, invitations to her parties were still sought by every bright, trendy young thing and massive star alike. Fans of the Beatles or Stones would camp outside Alma’s pad as often as at the “real” homes of their favourites, and one legendary night at Stafford Court saw Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Chuck Berry, Gene Pitney and Cliff Richard all enjoying a singalong with Alma’s mum.

London Pop Girls: No.1 Alma Cogan – Jeanette Leech

Midnight, Saturday, piled-up on the stairs of an N3 as birthday gifts are passed round for appraisal – “Do I look like the sort of man who needs a sorbet-maker?” he asks us, crestfallen.

Words found written on the steamed-up windows of late-night buses

The gallows was removed in 1783, but there’s a small plaque at Marble Arch at the top of Subway 14 to mark where it stood, although obviously the subway wasn’t there in those days, and people took their life in their hands when crossing the bottom end of Edgware Road – indeed, quite a trade grew up in small boys offering to cross the road on your behalf in return for a shiny farthing, and this continued right up until Victorian times when, at his own expense, an appalled Lord Shaftesbury Avenue arranged for two men – one entirely dressed in green, the other entirely in red – to be installed at the junction in a sentry-box, from which they would emerge alternately to beckon or stay the throng. He then relocated the trade in small boys to a new street he’d just invented at Piccadilly Circus.

A Riverside Stroll – Tricity Bendix

Curl up sweet Regent Street, round the deep crescent. I hear music of water and the teeth of guitar. The swift sound of knocks on Brook Street. A conflict of sorts. In a hot haze of indigo, Jimi’s making a racket, evading all major thirds. George Frederic emerges, reams of crotcheted paper… I’d write another Messiah, young Hendrix, to force you from next door!

Blue Plaques – Jude Rogers

And now, as the Channel Tunnel link bullies its way through from Hackney, St Pancras is once more a victim of railway driven desecration. The stark skeleton frames of the gasometers whose rusted black tracery once crowned this brooding vale have gone – like Hardy’s corpses, they were in the way. A new home for them, away from the tracks, has been promised – but not named, so I’m cynical: and if no-one remembers to label the dismantled parts, I guess they too will have to make do with a poem.

Shuffled Stones – Matt Haynes