When the fickle temp of Fate is on reception, any small business – the publisher of a supposedly quarterly periodical, for example – can have its works totally spannered by events that at IPC or Emap would result merely in the cathartic defenestration of an aesthetically unpleasing intern. Or, to put it another way, magazines that should be out in April sometimes actually appear in May due to all manner of things which, were I an Ancient Greek, I would blame on the Gods; but which, seeing as how I’m not, I shall blame on the Ancient Greeks. Yes YOU, Pythagoras, you and your bloody… hypotenuse.
Introduction to Smoke#10 – Matt Haynes
“Annette,” she said, “ze climate ’ere is vairy damp, all London’s little brick ’ouses look ze same, and Eengleesh napkins are vairy smoll. C’est impressionant.” She was deep in Shoque de Culture – not surprising, as we were on the slowest and most inner-city-degraded part of the 176’s route, the long crawl down the Walworth Road between the Shell garage and Camberwell Green. Next to the bus, a vairy smoll paper napkin was drowning in a dark brown puddle in front of a Wimpy. Outside a phone box, a child stood still and weeping as, inside, his mother’s arms flailed hope out of existence. I handed Fab a Malteser – a bomblet of comfort to counteract the gloomy vision. She let it melt on her tongue, nodding with appreciation. And once home in East Dulwich with bags unpacked and a cup of camomile in her hands, she was shown an English napkin larger than ten centimetres square, and cheered up a little.
San Cristobal on Peck – Annette Songhurst
Far from bringing peace to the nation’s bomb-scarred cities, the ending of the Second World War heralded an unprecedented crimewave. The full impact of this epidemic of lawlessness, fuelled by commodity shortages and the black market, was felt in London. As well as products such as sugar and clothes, unlicensed guns could be purchased from the flamboyantly dressed spivs who prowled the bleak post-war cityscape. A high proportion of those guns were probably battlefield souvenirs, smuggled into the country by returning servicemen. When the Metropolitan Police announced a brief gun amnesty during 1946, 18,000 firearms and over a quarter of a million rounds of ammunition were handed over. By 1947, a staggering 10,300 Londoners between the ages of fourteen and twenty were convicted members of criminal gangs. Alongside these fresh-faced gangsters, there were the established criminals, not to mention an estimated 17,500 deserters who, without the ration books necessary to buy most items of food, had to break the law in order to survive.
Gun Crazy – Paul Willetts
The bus turned serenely past the Swiss Cottage pub, chastely quaint in the middle of its roundabout, and I reflected on the curious fact that, regardless of how many long evenings one spends there, looking at the snowshoes on the wall by the stairs, one is never sufficiently convinced that a Swiss person has ever set foot in them or, indeed, within 500 yards of the place itself.
C11, Bus of the Month – Anna McKerrow
Streets of Edwardian terraced houses have seeped towards the Palace, engulfing the old racetrack, and a car park suffocates the site of the Victorian era Japanese village constructed by real Japanese workmen. Antiques fairs have taken the place of Bella the Performing Mare and her Great and Novel Trotting Act. An air of absence pervades the Phoenix Bar. You’d never guess, as you sit and sip a pint of bitter, that you’re within feet of the spot where, above an admiring crowd, Professor J.S. Baldwin of the USA ascended into the sky clutching a rope under a hot air balloon, before letting go to release his parachute and drift across the quiet suburban streets to land on a Highgate roof. (On returning to earth he was presented with a bill of £5 for damages.)
The People’s Palace – Emily Cleaver
MP William Huskisson, having already cheated death once, when a horse fell on him during his honeymoon, found fame as the world’s first railway fatality after being hit by Stephenson’s Rocket just outside Newton-le-Willows. Yet, despite being a nineteenth century cove, he’s been immortalised not in waistcoat and stovepipe hat, but wanly draped in a consumptive’s bedsheet, limply fingering a scroll; or maybe it’s a gift for Mrs H., who gave up on the honourable member shortly after realising there was, frankly, only so much one could blame on a horse.
London’s Campest Statues – Matt Haynes
Maybe it’s because I’m from a market town that I prefer markets to shopping centres. Although if you want anything more exotic from the fruit & veg stall in my home town than potatoes, swede or onions, you’ll have a problem. Not so in Chapel Market. Here, we have butternut squash, chard, mangetout, big bunches of coriander, pineapples, star-fruit. For ready-made food, there is takeaway sausage & mash, pad thai and spring rolls, Manze’s pie house with its marble tables, the Indian Veg £3.50 vegetarian buffet, and four caffs: Café Millennium, Café Titanic, Café Perfecto… and the legendary Alpino’s, which is English food in an Italian style run by a Chinese family.
Going To The Chapel – Rachel Stevenson
You’d like London as it is now. But not that much. When I moved back after our time on the coast, I found it hard to cope with the lack of space. You have to seek it out, like you have to seek out the friendly faces. Woolwich is a pretty friendly place. People in red Ford Escorts keep driving up to me while I’m out walking to enquire if I want to buy a laptop. Actually, it may well always be the same person in the same car. I’m not sure it’s always the same laptop.
Can I Be Electric Too? – Andrew Scowcroft
And then I bump into a cute British girl with a quaint accent who keeps a Rubik’s cube in her purse and my mind immediately leaps into action, conjuring up scenes from our inevitable first date to… well, who knows quite where, my mind is a tricky beast, and never seems to factor in my inability to have normal social interaction with a stranger of the opposite sex. But I still continue to think that maybe, just maybe, in this new setting, in this new scene, I can go off and achieve just part of that dream.
The Mind Is A Terrible Thing – Leor Galil
In 1919, a cabbie leaving the Pimlico shelter in a slightly distracted state of mind – he later blamed a particularly spicy sausage – missed his turning on Vauxhall Bridge Road and discovered a whole new part of London south of the river. When he returned, five days later – wild-eyed, unshaven, a Crystal Palace pennant lolling limply from his lamp – he began to regale his colleagues with tales of all the strange and awful things he’d seen. Scared and bewildered, they hit him repeatedly until he stopped. Then, having spiked his tea with absinthe, they painted him blue and dumped him on the steps of Charing Cross police station. But it was no good: the world had changed.
The Hungry Cabbie – Matt Haynes
It’s not uncommon for the ponds of our London parks to be encircled by keen fishermen at certain times of the year. Each with his own low-slung chair, thermos and pot of fishy appetisers. Some even set up green camouflaged tents, pitched discreetly between benches, from which they can hunt overnight. The rest of us laugh and seem unable to understand the attraction of sitting by a pool of water small enough to converse across and barely ten feet from the edge of the South Circular. And surely they catch the same sorry fish repeatedly; whose mouth must now be one of the most heavily pierced in all of London.
The Gentrified Life of Ponds – Katie Cuddon
Most of our time outside lessons had been spent discussing not only which handsome men we would marry but also what profound and worthwhile things we would do with our lives – because the nuns had always instilled in us a belief in our own worth. “We are not,” I remember Sister Fiorentina once saying, as she perched cross-legged on the edge of her desk in one of the new “shortie” habits some of the younger nuns were wearing – hers also had an arrow on the back, as she had a thing about Steve Marriot, though Mother Superior had been assured it was just a very pointy crucifix – “mere sexual playthings, to be pleasured against our better nature by people who claim to know the drummer but don’t really, and then left backstage in runny mascara and laddered tights to order our own taxi home.” It’s to Sister Fiorentina that I owe my love of metaphor and thus, you could say, my career as a writer. She really was a great nun.
South Eastern and Chatham – Tricity Bendix
Terry looked around in horror. The square stared back. He was surrounded; the whole of the outside of the square had turned in on him. There had to be a way to appeal to them but, dressed as a man-sized orange with the Spicy Nell logo emblazoned across his chest, proving his innocence, he could see, was going to be a little difficult. In desperation he whirled around and saw that, to the north, up Sloane Street, everyone was too busy retching to block his exit. It was his only chance. With his legs poking out the bottom of the orange suit, he waddled off as fast as he could, oblivious to the Number 19 bus tearing round the corner.
Terry’s Noxious Orange – Paul Carstairs
I once went for a job interview in darkest Coulsdon, a journey that involved a forty-minute ride in a slam-door train that ran approximately once an hour, a muddy twenty-minute walk down a semi-rural A23, and – unless I’m very much mistaken – being posed questions three by a weird bearded bloke in order to cross a bridge. Yet when I answered the interviewer’s enquiry about where I’d grown up with the word “Romford”, she responded, with a sharp intake of breath: “That must be a bit of a trek into town.”
All Roads Lead to Romford – Jonn Elledge
When Dr Ellman first asked me why I had so many clippings about Lisa, I shrugged. I genuinely didn’t know. “Tragic Beauty” Lisa – the unknown girl from the sticks who’d just landed a part as the young Boadicea in a controversial new play at the Royal Court, instantly condemned by Mrs Whitehouse as “shameless filth”, to quote the placards outside on Sloane Square – had excited the tabloids to quite vertiginous heights of prurience and sentimentality; but it was only when the Sun interviewed her flatmate, Jane, and I recognised Jane’s photo, that my interest became more than passing. Not that I actually knew Jane; but she was another actress, so we’d probably crossed paths at some shoot or party; less than a year into my job at Terry’s studio, I was already getting quite blasé about actresses and models.
Blind Tunnel – Matt Haynes
I passed a Young’s pub, with benches along the riverbank, and ye olde English Budweiser brewery. Then it got muddy. Really muddy. I found myself stomping through swampy puddles. The mud slopped in through the holes in the sides of my Converse trainers and bathed my feet in brown gloop. The Ship had been my next temptation, but with jeans that looked like I’d just got back from Glastonbury and feet that looked like they’d been dancing for pigs, I saved myself the embarrassment.
A Dry Walk – Clayton Smith
I scampered along to number 69 and had a nice chat with Fr George, during which I established that Fr could stand for Father or Friar, as he performs both functions, and also that he used to teach English before having “a midlife crisis” – his words, imparted with a peculiar air of self-deprecation and self-awareness that here he was, a man in his fifties, running a monastery in a terraced house in Brockley and, well, here he was. He also told me how grateful they were for the now-legitimately-theirs filing cabinet. Although as soon as it had been placed in its new home, he added, the drawers had ceased to open; which had caused some concern, on both a spiritual and a practical level.
Dominus in Sanctum – Mark Woffenden
Readers, I’ve been a fool. I’ve been a fraud. I’ve been a charlatan (and people always said if you narrowed your eyes I looked like Tim Burgess). You probably thought that my London knowledge was as rich and as deep as a single malt, as wide and as broad as Janet Street-Porter’s rictus grin. But I have a gap in my nous bigger than the one that’s not actually in Watford or the N1 Centre, and the shame of my ignorance blights my soul – I feel as a Catholic priest might after accidentally inspecting a choirboy’s ruff. You see, the chink in my armour has always been the size and shape of that parcel of land wedged south of the South Bank, west of Deptford, north of Mitcham and east of Battersea. There, for me, lurked roads less travelled, bus routes untrammelled. But, lo, I have taken them. And I have arrived.
Notes from an Editor in Exile – Jude Rogers