Smoke 3 Excerpts


I can see, for instance, why someone with a morbid interest in creating a perfect scale-replica of Swanage station circa 1923 would buy Railway Modeller, why someone needing to know where in Hoxton they could get a chrome pepper-mill for under £120 might subscribe to Time Out, or why a retired cornetist with a lifetime love of brass instruments would have no qualms about admitting to lady companions at dinner that he still got The Horn once a month.

Introduction to Smoke#3 – Matt Haynes

Some things in life are great levellers. Time is the one we all know: a creaky old sot who shuffles maladroitly, leaving his teeth on the sink-side, reading People’s Friend on the stairlift, pendulum swaying, hands slowing, forgetting to wind himself up as the world slides on by. His proclivities are peculiar, but his sweet disregard offers rich schooling for life.

Introduction to Smoke#3 – Jude Rogers

We hit London at 2315. Well, we hit Gatwick at 2315, which is considered to be London, although Sussex touches not even the outest of outer London Boroughs. As far as I’m concerned, it’s 0445. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want to be here. Another week on the beach and I would have been done for. I would’ve turned into the Californian hippy in the Buddhist cafe, eating dhal and awaiting his guru. My stomach would be immune to tap water and unpasteurised milk and mosquitoes. My arms would be nut-brown. My body would smell of Ayurvedic oil.

Home Thoughts from Aboard the Plane – Rachel Stevenson

It’s the sort of place you’re surprised still exists in London alongside the Larriks and O’Neills and All Bar Ones. They’ve never heard of interior design. The Christmas decorations stay up all year and the carpet’s threadbare, with at least two dogs lounging on it at any given time. The middle-aged clientele sit at the bar like waxworks all day, then at lock-in time they get down from their stools and start to waltz, sometimes with each other and sometimes with the dogs.

The Flatpack Pub – Deirdre Ruane

But, beyond the lake, the park gives up hope. The genteel terraced houses that look like they got lost on their way to Chalk Farm come to an abrupt stop, and the shattered concrete estates take over. The wooden sculptures intended to brighten the place up resemble rotting tree-stumps, while the noticeboards are devoid of notices, their broken cases dripping shards of glass onto the ground. A rusted metal monstrosity apparently designed to skewer local children turns out, on closer inspection, to be art, c1979.

Burgess Park – Jonn Elledge

And what do I tell people who want to know where I live? If I tell them I live in Lambeth, they think of Lambeth Town Hall, and assume I’m a Brixton boy, with all that that implies. So I’ve learnt to play it by ear: if I’m at a party and trying to impress some pony-loving blonde from Up West by implying I might own a period pad in one of south London’s rare Georgian enclaves, I say I live in Kennington; but if I’m wanting to appear cool and funky or tickle a drag-queen’s fancy, I say I live in Vauxhall; and if I’m in the kitchen swapping small-talk with an estate-agent, I tell him I live in South Waterloo, and that I really must be getting home.

A Cold Wind Blows Through New Cross Gate – Matt Haynes

By the turn of the eighteenth century, there were Kickit players in every tavern along the route from Newgate Gaol to Tyburn. Some unscrupulous landlords were so keen to increase their window space and cram in a few more players that they started to widen their pubs at night, pushing the walls out inch by inch so as not to arouse suspicion. The final straw came when, arriving at work one morning, Executioner’s Clerk Antony Babington discovered that his High Holborn offices were now less than eight inches wide.

Tyburn Kickit – Sebastian Brennan

And I will realise that this clue to her tribe is a big sign of what’s going on, and I will start to see all the tribes that this city is pulling together in its detritus of street signs, high-rise window boxes and discarded elastic bands. And I will start to look at pinstripe men with briefcases and stare at them on trains watching them become high-rank druids with cartoon robes but arcane and serious expressions.

Notes on the Exercise of the Derive – Sam Geall

Maybe things are changing: we have the Gherkin, and City Hall, and planning-permission’s finally been granted for London Bridge Tower, a 300m icicle through the heart of Prince Charles in SE1, but right to the last English Heritage were drawing maps to show that, if you stood in a certain part of Hampstead on a clear day and genuflected obsequiously towards St James’s Palace, its glassy needle would skewer St Paul’s like a cherry on a stick, and Germany would win the war after all.

Sham City – Matt Haynes

We forgot the natural inclinations of our cherry-hued, big-bottomed friends. Buses are creatures of the wild, their natural bent to wander and roam, the habitat they navigate hardy and tyrannous. No leashes can be tensed enough to tame their waywardness, so they have rebelled. They have snatched the Darwinian sway of evolution, mutated in accordance with nature’s rash laws. In the spirit of Sartrean cheekiness, they have exchanged Being for Nothingness.

Ghost Buses – Jude Rogers

A girl and her mother, both tall Scandinavian blondes, sit ahead of me. The daughter is about ten and has an imaginary friend with her. When she gets off at Abbey Road, just before the studios, she beckons it to her before she goes down the stairs. Outside, they walk off together hand in hand, the girl’s free hand mid-air, clasped by shadows.

Bus of the Month – Anna McKerrow

Concorde advanced through the curls of the crows and the pigeons, pushing air past the smoke-blowing juts, its hum ebbing by notches as its contours departed from sight. Days before the plane’s last trip across the Atlantic, it seemed fitting and right to stand in Battersea’s shadows, within the four crumbling walls of this monument, and see another old relic disappear from sight.

Battersea Rising – Jude Rogers

It was during my second term at St Dulcima’s, I think, that I first discovered I could hold my breath for eight minutes underwater. Apart from the girlish laughter echoing round the stone walls of the toilet-block, and then the rapidly scattering footsteps as someone yelled Nuns Ahoy!, most details are hazy; but I do remember thinking, as I later shivered and dripped at the back of Sister Josephine’s Contemplative Geography (a class I usually enjoyed, mostly involving staring quietly at photos of foreign countries and wondering why on earth they were like that), that such a gift would surely come in handy one day, especially if I ever needed to escape from Mexico in a hurry, which my father occasionally hinted mysteriously I might.

The Dog Beneath The Waves – Tricity Bendix

A walk along the embankment here on a grey November afternoon prompts comparisons with post-apocalyptic scenes from Mad Max; sirens howl across the water, hooded anglers huddle round bonfires on the shore, trail-bikers buzz furiously in the shadow of the sulphurous power station. I remember a wistful line from the film as I crunch through glass: “Lingerie, do you remember lingerie?”

The Furthest Ferry in the East – Melissa Bond

… but these are mere reveries, just so many Goldsworthian snowballs on a midsummer day in Silk Street, disappearing before your very eyes, dripping their Highland meltwaters back into the Barbican’s deep wells. All that remains in their pavement pools is a torn Hoxton Pimps flyer, a chilli-stained kebab wrapper, a crushed but indestructible styrofoam cup, bite marks and lippy on its flimsy rim providing scarlet clues for forensic investigators.

London Apprentice – Syd Bolton

I came up with this strategy when I first landed in London, fresh out of my Tardis, at the end of the 20th century. In Autumn 1999, I was brimful of wonder and hope; but with great awe, my pretties, comes dread. How would a scruffy student needle not get lost in a bus-laden haystack of a city? How would I steer from a grubby box-room under the Marylebone Flyover to the glamorous, smoky bars of the West End?

A Beacon In Fitzrovia – Jude Rogers

Last Tuesday, having shaken off my pursuers by taking the Hammersmith & City Line to Bromley-by-Bow instead of Iberian Airways flight 763 to Alicante, I found myself standing on the southbound hard-shoulder of the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach Road in sombrero and shades staring at the nameplate of a seemingly inconsequential side-turning: Gillender Street.

Circus Elephants – Matt Haynes

People tend to forget about Squeeze, but they shouldn’t – they produced some of the best city songs ever: literate, witty and eminently singable. Although Squeeze’s intermittent piano-thumper Jools Holland is now ubiquitous, the nucleus of the band was always the singer-song-writers, Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford: music and lyrics; lead and rhythm guitar; fair and dark; tenor and baritone. The voice of a bruised angel and the voice of someone who goes around bruising angels, often yoked together in a distinctive octave unison.

Sunlight On The Lino – Lucy Munro

I miss how we used to meet up at Seymour’s Tea Rooms rather than Costa Coffee. How you could get a takeaway for under a fiver rather than for under a tenner. I regret that, where I live now, every second face is Afrikaans, not African, and Australian rather than Asian. Immigrants move here to stay, not to do their 3 years Overseas Experience.

NW6 to SE5 – Rachel Stevenson

So I’m looking forward to finally checking out Becontree in my dotage, perhaps with Angel Mark IV in tow. And when they find me expired on a Parsloes Park bench, family and friends will ask: “What the hell was he doing there?”

Aimless Wonder – Alex Conway

One sudden fizz is followed by another. You lean out with your sparkler in hand over the black gap of the water and an answering spark shows below. Beside it your half-lit face floats like a ghost. The afterimage of the spark is like a burning fuse in the air, trailing a faint line as you make figure-eights and spirals. His sparkler swoops and zigzags, suddenly, and you try to follow the line but it’s too fast. Yours sputters out, then his, and you dip them in the water with a hiss. Your pupils stretch to the darkness again and you realise he’s looking at you expectantly. What for?

“Shall we light some more?” you ask.

“Did you see what I wrote in the air with mine?” he replies.

You admit that you didn’t.

“Ah,” he says, coming closer, and his angled arms shut around you like the hook that grabs toys at an arcade.

Four Walking Routes on the Grand Union Canal – Deirdre Ruane