The history of art, music and literature is littered with works which changed the world but then had their impact and beauty diminished by their creator’s cloddish insistence on milking it. Does Damien Hirst really need to keep pickling things? Does Iain Sinclair really need to keep walking round things? Of course not. No sane person can doubt that Run DMC and Aerosmith together changed the face of popular music when they melded rap with rock on Walk This Way, but which of you remembers the follow up, If I Could Walk That Way, I Wouldn’t Need Talcum Powder? Exactly.
Introduction to Smoke 13 – Matt Haynes
It’s warm and quiet now in the bathroom. I put my hands over my face and stare through my fingers into the dimness. There’s swirly silver paint on the walls, and an oil painting of a houseboat. Like me, Mizz comes from the Essex marshes. We’ve known each other a long time.
Mizz And The Month Before I Left – Stef Lucien
Niko didn’t stay much longer in my flat. One night, he got more drunk than usual. Tearful and angry, he set light to his collection of pornography, making a bonfire on his bed. As the fire got out of control, he tried to calm it down by throwing blazing pages out of the window onto passers-by.
For Stace – Vanessa Woolf-Hoyle
One of Mother’s most regular gripes was that, after a long day at the office – or wherever it was he went – Father would often seek the twin comforts of a hot bath and some boisterous sport with his favourite dog having proffered scarcely a word of hello to his crestfallen spouse. For God’s sake, I once heard her say, what pleasure can a man possibly get from a soapy labrador that he can’t get from his own wife? And the primly hatted ranks of the Hampstead and Highgate Women’s Institute had nodded in sympathy.
The Bonnington Square Affair – Tricity Bendix
Eleanore feared that she would be buried alive, she feared that she would be stuck in some chamber underground or under the sea; mines and submarines troubled her, though she had only entered them in her imagination: but she had a vivid imagination. I’m cursed with a vivid imagination, she would say, and look at the ground in despair.
Lydia and Eleanore – Howard Colyer
The good folk of Cambridgeshire were eventually persuaded to return the pub to us, and The Mitre no longer has to stick to Fenland licensing hours. Nor does it – to my knowledge – harbour the perpetrators of jewel heists. Walk into the back bar today and you’re more likely to find yourself in a scene reminiscent of an Agatha Christie drawing room denouement: lots of men, lots of tweed, lots of money, occasional deerstalker.
Escape to Cambridgeshire – Steve Lake
She was far too old for him; and he was far too gay for her; but that night on the 188, he thought what the hell, and took her dancing.
Words Found Written On The Steamed-Up Windows Of Late Night Buses
She led me down a staircase piled with defunct radios in bakelite and magazines gone sepia with age and obsolescence to a basement room where no kind of liveable light would penetrate. Everything smelled of dogs long dead. The light was dodgy, she said, she’d call her son to fix it; no one else lived here now: the last lodger, a foreigner from somewhere she didn’t know where, had left suddenly and for no reason she could think of. When her son lurched through the door bearing a new light bulb in its flimsy red box like a sacrificial offering, keening quietly, a streak of Hammer-horror drool down his gurgling face, I made my excuses and left and ran down the street, giggling with relief.
Frosts and Fasts, Hard Lodgings and Thin Weeds – PDK Mitchell
Or maybe the US embassy came across rumours that the final alignment of the Victoria Line had been determined not by commuter demographics but by a need to link the secret subterranean chambers of various Cold War hang-outs – MI5’s Curzon and Gower Street gaffs, the BT Tower, Prince Philip’s underground lair – and started getting thoughtful: if al-Qaida should come bursting into reception, then a cunningly concealed trapdoor in the basement – with possibly a fireman’s pole – could be used to drop cornered spooks directly onto a secret trackside platform from which escape could be made to either Brixton or Walthamstow Central within three to five minutes. Two to three in peak hours.
Viva Vauxhall! – Matt Haynes
A year is a longer period of time than the Lost Property Office would usually consider acceptable, and Camden Town to Morden is a lot of stops, but because I am very professional and because I thought the capacity to love was a terrible thing to lose whilst stood for a long time on a crowded train I said that I would see what I could do.
Lost & Found on the Underground – JL Bogenschneider
These darkening skies take me back to that long night in Kilburn, and the train that never came. We walked home – we didn’t mean to – but the seven long miles seemed like seven small footsteps. My heart was bigger, then. It was open. Now it is dead, silver and shut, like the gates of the Thames Barrier on a wild, stormy day.
Arrivals & Departures – Jude Rogers
At last the glittering towers of Croydon town centre appeared on the horizon. And here I must confess that the first pangs of trepidation awoke in my stomach. This was the last bastion of civilisation. Beyond Croydon, nothing was guaranteed.
In Search of the Happy Valley – Matthew Link
This was in the days before zones and travelcards; back then, you informed the conductor of your intended point of alightment in full, properly punctuated sentences, and he in turn told you what a journey of such length would cost, in shillings and pence. He would then, if he wasn’t too busy, give you a handwritten receipt, a souvenir pencil, and enquire after the welfare of your good lady wife.
Bus Of The Month – Matt Haynes
She smirked at him with tolerant amusement. “It’s true though…” – and she began to outline her theory about the muffins, cakes and condiments at the various chain coffee shops that she frequented. She and Miriam had evidently had an extensive conversation about it.
Death of a Postmodernist – Philip Church
He’d just wanted to take the teddy bear back – Melissa had left it and he’d wanted to return it because he knew she couldn’t sleep without it. He shouldn’t have gone round, not at that time, but he’d tried ringing and it had just rung and rung. Sitting on top in the number 75, harsh white lights against the black windows, the days litter collected at his feet, holding Snow Bear on his lap – well, there’d been no turning back then, had there?
Drowning – Orlaine McDonald
Her friends turn back to look at her with new interest. It’s the first thing she’s said all evening that was not simply following the others’ lead. They ask questions, desperate to know what kind of look it was, exactly how creepy it was, whether he licked his lips or started to sweat like that old man who used to hang around outside the school gates in Year Seven. The girl, realising what she has said, tries to minimise the incident now, but her denials only pique their interest.
Night Bus – Andrew Blackman
The worst thing about the war in Iraq – other than the whole wilful advancement of Armageddon thing, obviously – is that it’s now impossible to take out a camera or notebook in central London without some bloke in a hi-vis tabard sauntering up to ask you what you’re doing; even if all you’re doing is looking for the sandwiches you’ve stupidly packed underneath your notebook and camera.
In Sleepy London Town – Matt Haynes
She had always wanted a dog, ever since she was a girl. She had thought a lot about it. She wasn’t fussed about the breed as long as it was short haired and reliable. She would call her something nice, like Audrey, or perhaps Rita. She stroked Armani’s wrinkled forehead and the bridge of her nose. It couldn’t happen, she thought, it wouldn’t be fair; she worked all day and didn’t have a garden.
Number Nineteen – Polly Card