And in these ill-lit taverns, stevedores scented with cinnamon rubbed shoulders with drunken sailors who didn’t know what to do with themselves, while brightly lacquered ladies of the night (or, indeed, of the afternoon or morning) rubbed whatever the sailors and the stevedores paid them to. Leglessness in all senses was rife, and the old sea dogs who sat swigging grog and telling tales of mermaids and buried parrots came, unlike the bar snacks, not just salty or pickled, but usually both.
Fortress: Wapping – Matt Haynes
At the bottom of Herne Hill, the flood was the colour of elephant, and about half a metre deep. Folk were gathered at its edges. Like a migrating tribe with a rich mythology, we gazed at it, as if expecting the waters to part; or benign, magical creatures to rise up and carry us across on broad, blue backs.
The Memory of Water – Annette Songhurst
She spoke, and this is where it gets ugly, because she wasn’t slouched, or frightened, or trying to be somewhere else like anyone normal. That little girl sat up and, when she spoke, her authority and poise was that of a queen. She spoke, and what her lovely little mouth said was: “I will eat your soul tonight.” And then she smiled. Upright, focused – in control. By now, I was staring openly at her, and when she shut her mouth, in that perfect statue’s smile, she looked around the carriage and her brown-green eyes fell upon each of us. I felt a flush of warmth and something else I’m not even going to think about, because this girl looked at me and my mouth dried up – I felt like I’d looked the essence of love, and desire, right in the face. And I’m not that way inclined, you know?
Chavatar – Chandra Nova
“But this is all utterly ludicrous,” I remember Sister Siena suddenly wailing, as she stood out in front of our class with a packet of Sunblest and a box of Findus 100% cod fish fingers trying to reconcile The Parable of the Loaves and Fishes with the Law of Conservation of Matter, “it couldn’t possibly have happened!”
The Brentford Musketeer – Tricity Bendix
She would look beautiful at those Avon Parties. All the women made an effort, but Mum, she shone. Rapturous in Rapture, Avon’s best-selling cologne. On the rails of the cheap factory outlets in town, the clothes she’d bought had hung limp and lifeless, but at those parties she transformed them into haute couture; it was if Coco Chanel herself had stayed up all night sewing a special outfit by candlelight before dropping it round in the morning for a woman to wear for her friends.
Shelter – Josephine Serieux
My own grandmother, a good Bethnal Green girl, caused much consternation by stepping out with a young man from Bermondsey, for such things were just not done – Bermondsey was Over The Water. And people from Over The Water had vestigial tails, thick webbed toes (you’ll be reassured to know that I’ve inherited neither), and thumbs that had evolved specially to fit into belt-hooks. They had no written language, but thirty-seven different words for lock-up. It was not even generally accepted that transmarine mating was possible, or certainly not that it was safe – surely, people argued, the unholy union of a Bethnal Green girl and a Bermondsey boy was likely to produce some sterile mule-like creature, useful only as a beast of burden or underworld goon (again, you’ll be pleased to know that my mother is neither)?
Bus of the Month: No. 108 – Matt Haynes
The Lord Auckland carried on quite happily without me, I’m sure. But if I hear, say, Edison Lighthouse or Chairmen of The Board, I’m sent back to Battersea, with her Rays and her Maureens, her Daves and her Cathys, and those hot summers, Carlton Long Size and Weston’s Cider, Number Six and Afghan coats. Black and white had yielded to cheap, heavy colour, amphetamines to Party Sevens; hair and sideburns had grown, bottle perms were no longer a laughable deviation. I tell you, that was when the sun never set on that town in South London. For a brief, menthol-odour-tainted period, it never set.
Everlasting Love? – Jason Crimp
The train to Windsor climbs the curve onto the railway bridge at Richmond. A swan is preening in the four foot. Another is standing on one foot on the iron railing. Although Bill has seen swans on the line before, he always finds the whiteness of their feathers startling. They are bigger than he thinks is reasonable for a bird. He draws the power brake smoothly back, bringing the train to a stand before the swans. He knows it is illegal to touch swans. They belong to the Queen. If they continue to block the line, Bill will request a power cut and assistance from the Royal Warden of Swans office.
Timetable – Meg Green
Hanway himself is long dead, buried in an elaborate tomb in the church of St Mary, Hanwell, crowned with a magnificent stone umbrella and containing room for his extra-long coffin (he insisted on being buried with his stilts on – much like a cowboy, but taller). His umbrellas live on, however, annoying some – most notably my girlfriend, who is driven mad by people using golf umbrellas on High Holborn – but keeping us dry. A little roof on a stick, protecting us from London’s weeping skies.
The Long-Legged Umbrella Man – Richard Mansell
The graveyard also contains one of the most fascinating and intriguing epitaphs I’ve ever seen: on the substantial chest tomb of Dame Mary Page, who departed this life on March 4th 1728 in the 56th year of her age, it states that in 67 months she was tap’d 66 times had taken away 240 gallons of water without ever repining at her case or ever fearing the operation.
The Dancers of Bunhill Fields – Carole Tyrrell
I cross a stretch of grass dotted with daisies. Only one pigeon flies away as I get closer. I walk along the narrow pathway bordering the rows of old, dark wooden ribs, the remains of the slipway on which the Great Eastern was launched in 1858. The cost of the ship bankrupted Brunel and he died a couple of days before its maiden voyage. The Great Eastern itself was broken up in 1886. All that work, for twenty-eight years of use.
On The Way To And From The Post Box – Jess Sully
I used to say that, when I died, I wanted to be cremated, and have my ashes scattered over my ex-girlfriend’s mother. But obviously this only really made sense before the girlfriend became an ex; once she had done, it began to seem slightly petty, and perhaps not entirely fair. It would also have involved someone taking the urn all the way to Bristol just on the off chance her mother was in. Having them scattered over the penalty area in front of the South Stand at Brisbane Road was another option, but someone said the club wouldn’t allow that; there was too big a risk that Jabo Ibehre would trip over them and scuff his shot. In the end, I decided that setting fire to myself was ecologically unsound anyway, and that I’d rather leave my body to science. Perhaps on some sort of low plinth in the foyer of the Natural History Museum.
… And Perhaps Some Sort Of Small Annual Parade? – Matt Haynes
Little did I know then, though, that – after dark – the entertainment took on an altogether bluer hue. In the lurid late-night show, underwater exotic dancers called Aquamaids cavorted in the tank, while the dolphins – who’d been trained to react to specific commands – attempted to remove certain items of their clothing. To encourage the dolphins to perform this feat with ardour, the dancers had small portions of wet fish concealed in their swimwear; to prevent the male dolphins showing too much ardour and making passionate advances to the mermaid showgirls, the beasts were dosed with anti-androgens.
The Dolphins of Oxford Street – Michael Charalambous
So I wore this jacket and when I finished work I never wanted to go home, so I’d wander down the Charing Cross Road and look at the books in Foyles. You had to queue in three different places to pay, and that was after you’d found the thing in the first place. The shelving system was by publisher, so if you looked for something you couldn’t find it, and the books stacked in the aisles swayed like trees in the wind as people edged past them. Half the people in there looked lost and confused, and that’s just the sales staff.
The Jacket – Sarah Walker
If she didn’t have her bag with her she’d dance. She’d definitely dance; that would kill some time. But you can’t dance round your handbag at a punk gig. No-no-no-no-no. Which is annoying because punk is about anarchy. And anarchy is about freedom and taking responsibility for your life. So, logically, if you want to, you should feel free to dance round your handbag at a punk gig. That’s the way she sees it and, if she were bolder, that’s what she’d do. And if the people here really were free-thinkers, they’d have open minds and see that what she was doing was actually really cool.
Lager, Lager – Juno Baker
I last said “goodness me” when I was twelve and it was a line in a school play. But Magda and I were unable to swear at that moment, even in honest self-defence; we were on the psychic threshold of our Room of Ritual and, like practitioners of a martial art, were in the grip of a temporary prudity – a heightened and sacred sensibility. Hey, let’s be honest – the World of Salsa may be trash, splash culture, more World of Leather than World of Zen, but the codes of conduct are clear: women are ladies and ladies don’t never cuss. No, not never.
Gotta Learn To Do The Mambo – Annette Songhurst
I have left the warm, strangely rubbery embrace of my Horniman walrus forever. I believe now, looking back, that our love was not meant to thrive in such an exotic location. That’s not to say I hadn’t had plans. Indeed, I’d had hopes of a meaningful communion with the animal kingdom that lingered down beyond London’s long silvery river – a brief chat with a Crystal Palace dinosaur, perhaps, or a quick squawk with a Greenwich parakeet. But, alas, like a chameleon or a particularly complex sort of lemur, I have always been a fickle sort of creature.
Notes From An Editor In Exile – Jude Rogers