Smoke 4 excerpts


I’ve been asked if I’m lost. I’ve been asked if I’m sane. I’ve been told that I’m not in Addington, madam, and asked “have you been drinking?” I’ve tracked names of my friends that form roads, streets and avenues, and spent hours finding the places from which these names came. I’ve found rookeries and marshlands. I’ve loved the latticework of reservoirs in Tottenham and Sunbury, the yellow webs of junctions at Wanstead and Coombe, the woolly skeins of railway at Willesden and Norwood, and the six-pointed star of Heathrow. I’ve found magical places called Barn Hoppet, Freezeland Covert and Lonesome.

Introduction to Smoke#4 – Jude Rogers

That’s why sometimes, if the words won’t come, I’ll simply stop, put on my coat, and set my controls for the heart of the city; the streets of London are teeming with untold and unimagined stories, we just need to step in their way. Other times, I’ll put on someone else’s coat, and hide in their wardrobe – people get really upset when they think their clothes have come alive. And sometimes, yes, I’ll dress-up as a giant fish and run around outside the London Aquarium just after closing-time, gesturing wildly at the door handle with my fins, rolling my eyes and making loud gasping noises – is it so wrong?

Introduction to Smoke#4 – Matt Haynes

Cities, I assumed, were like London; and if they weren’t like London they were probably countryside and thus to be distrusted. In retrospect, I blame holidays at my aunt’s house, where I was horrified by the daily requirement to “go outside and play in the paddock”. An unfortunate rural incident (pony, silage machine) resulted in physical and mental scars which endure to this day and which served only to reinforce my Londoncentric view. An extraordinary attempt at a mozzarella and tomato salad in a Glasgow restaurant circa 1997 temporarily shook my belief that all was well in the world of cities, but I recovered my composure quickly enough on the train home and settled back into contented complacency.

Farewell Leicester Square – Charlotte Thorne

Southbank exerts an inescapable pull on anyone in London with a skateboard and some time to burn. It’s a meeting point with a weird tendency to turn out to be a staying-point, a hallowed place where just a couple of pounds or an alliance with a canny shoplifter can garner an entire day’s worth of amply fed, undiluted entertainment. It’s also a nutcase magnet. Drunks and lunatics flow through the place with an indefatigable frequency, stopping to rant and gambol, often inspired to mischief by the pervasive sense of pointless, childlike play that ricochets around them. Many demand skateboarding lessons, buoyed-up on Special Brew and wonder. This is never a good idea.

London’s Skatespot Netherworld – Stuart Hammond

A new girlfriend, later to become permanent and, like my five-shilling piece, still with me, appeared complete with a Queen’s Gate Terrace address. She was very much part of the sixties scene; I still kept up the pretence of being an insider but always knew in my heart that she, not I, was part of this world. Was I carrying off my pose or did people sense my underlying lack of confidence? I bet the Rolling Stones did when I came across them striding purposefully towards me in Hyde Park one day.

Down There – Don Griffiths

Despite all this, Coldharbour Lane is quaint. Clifton Mansions stands behind wrought iron gates like Buckingham Palace. It sports a horse head above the door, shop-dummy parts at a garden party, and coloured flowerpot crates on the oriels. The juice bar, lined with African books, is filled with androgynous intellectuals. The furniture shop next door aims its wares at people who have died and gone to heaven.

Brixton Market – Nicola Brittain

When I was not only nearly hit by a pony and trap but also chased down the road by several small knickerbockered and multi-petticoated Victorians bowling hoops and whipping tops, I immediately leapt to the obvious, scientific, conclusion: that I’d passed through a temporal fissure in crossing Kennington Road, and travelled back in time. And it was only five months later, when I glimpsed the finished programme on my neighbour’s magic picture box after going round to borrow some oil for the lamp, that I realised my mistake, and bitterly regretting having wasted half the year cultivating a waxed moustache, nurturing a puritanical pomposity, and inventing the pneumatic bicycle tyre.

Bus of the Month – Matt Haynes

This is more thrilling, showing the forgotten heritage of Yiddish music hall burlesque and hideaway backroom anarchists and communists. Lindley Street was where Rudolf Rocker organized Jewish tailors into a Yiddish-speaking renegade union, meeting on “The Waste” on Mile End Road, an open-air space dedicated to seditious activity. On Cable Street, having beaten back Moseley’s fascist “invaders” at Royal Mint Street, Jewish socialists united with non-Jewish East Enders to fight against the police and attempt to lead a revolutionary uprising. Maybe I’m naïve, but – where did this dedication to fairness and a better world go, not to mention pride?

The Jewish East End – Charlie Phillips

As we chug round the line, we stall at Wellington Junction. We could walk back to our depot in less than a minute. But we sit and talk, peer through the green roofs of the trees, marvel at signs uttering magical phrases like “Limit Of Shunt”. When we ease on, we see Haste Hill’s manicured lawns, the blades growing in stripes of peppermint and apple. There are birch trees and foxgloves and the obligatory single rose growing through a crack of bare earth, waiting for a student photographer to shuffle off a lens cap.

Last Train to Ruislip – Jude Rogers

You could take a plane from Heathrow and land it at the Beckton City Airport, spanning the great beast as if it were Belgium or Lichtenstein; or you could get on some murky pleasure-boat around leafy Shepperton, where the mad people live, and pilot it downriver, through the locks of the Upper Thames and out into the authentically frightening Lower Reaches, where fierce tidal streams sweep everything away, out to the Barrier and beyond, to marshland, grain silos, silt, wharves, terminals, Gravesend, the North Sea.

London A-to-Z – Charles Jennings

But, drawing closer, you grow confused, your knees cease to tremble, your bowels recompose. Can it be true? Can this whinnying, skinny, mincing ninny really have got the gig as Guardian of the City? With his prancing, high-heeled gait, his flapping wrists, his greeting not so much hail, stranger as hello, sailor? Surely the only fear this dippy creature could instil would be a slight worry that, if you let him buy you a cappuccino, he might try to show you his piercings.

London’s Campest Statues – Matt Haynes

The first of May is the best date in the calendar for a spot of Dark Art bashing. While pagans burned wicker, I’d join the local sisterhood for a little light basket-weaving. While children danced ’round the maypole, I’d lie prostrate, in a star-shape, on Islington Green. While anarchists smashed windows, I’d blow glass statues of seagulls. Quite a trick, that’s for sure, and one that could keep a girl in dinner dates for the rest of her prime.

What’s It All About, Alfege? – Jude Rogers

I sit opposite a family. A young girl with an extraordinarily small face checks her nails from underneath a jet of brown hair. She wears bright red from head to foot. The effect reminds me a little of Meg White from the White Stripes, the only difference being that Meg’s face is massive.

Around The Beneath – Chris Moffatt

I suppose one day Joanna will come to me and say: “We’re getting a place together,” and “we” will no longer mean she and me. And I’ll be living on my own with a cat. I wonder when a girl living on her own with a cat stops being fun and la la? When do you cease bringing boys home just to kick them out the next day to jealously guard your Sunday with the papers and breakfast? How long before you become a spinster? Trying to get the man to stay on a Sunday to share the croissants because you’re sick of eating them all yourself?

Lonely, London – Rachel Stevenson

The Telegraph and Times are in abundance, for these are sedate terraces a short walk from the palaces and mausolea of power. But many houses are split into flats and infested by young professionals, and the Guardian and Independent have strong showings. The Daily Mail forms a small minority, a fact I find intensely reassuring. Tabloids are rarities indeed. Perhaps they’re just thrown from the windows to add to the rubbish-devils that swirl endlessly in the courts and quads of Churchill and Lillington Gardens, forever caught between hand and street, unable to touch down and settle into a role as litter.

The Bins of Pimlico – William Wiles

Moura’s luck at remaining undetected was incredible. MI6 had had files on her since 1918, but until 1940 dismissed the possibility that she could be a spy. The British Embassy in Moscow had warned MI5 in the early 1920s that she was a “very dangerous woman” and friends with Stalin, whom she had once given an accordion. The Communist connection reappeared in 1934, when Moura arranged for Fabian Society members Wells, Shaw and Sidney and Beatrice Webb to meet Stalin and discuss Communist philosophy – perhaps with a little accordion music on the side.

Chiltern Court: Access To Intrigue – Anna McKerrow

On the stairs I step over a Perfect Fried Chicken box with bones in, two screwed-up unsmoked Benson and Hedges filters, ash, tinfoil with brown detritus on it, seven burnt matches and, on the first floor landing, a damp patch. Surprisingly, it doesn’t smell of urine. Three months earlier, before things went a bit wrong, I lived in a three bedroom house with a fragrant garden. Friends’ floor hospitality has run its course and now I am about to live here. Prospect House. Good name.

One Week In Dalston – Des Willie

In the years following Windrush’s docking, the profile of West Indians in British society began to rise. And when, in 1950, their national cricket team beat the English side for the very first time, it was like a door opening. Lord Beginner’s Victory Test Match, an ode to the joys of cricket, lovely cricket, was the song that marked this success. Praising the West Indian heroes Ramadin and Valentine, it still trills from cricket fans’ lips like a soft-spoken hymn to the sport of willow and leather.

London Belongs To Me – Jude Rogers

Some people, I’m sure, would argue that a Soviet nuclear submarine – especially one patrolling the politically choppy waters of the North Atlantic in the mid-Sixties, with its inexperienced young crew growing ever more restless and ill-shaven after two months at sea without sight of land or woman – is no place for an 11-year-old girl from North London.

The Naked Minotaur – Tricity Bendix

He walks on, pondering in his slow vegetable way how the politics have shifted. It is sad to have lost Highgate Wood, but plants have a more leisurely sense of time than animals, and the city came suddenly. It might leave again just as suddenly. He thinks how beautiful the railway platforms are now that their concrete has been overgrown, and takes that as a sign of hope for the future; anything can be redeemed.

The Green Man of the Woodland Walk – Deirdre Ruane

I am immersed in the idea of provincial English towns in the late 80’s early 90’s, all these ketamine entities shuffling around, garish graffiti drug references in acid yellow and dayglo tangerine, girls trapped in post-goth/pre-chemical generation sartorial dilemma… we have a pint and feel the place drift around us, into us…

We Walk Diagonally – Laura Oldfield-Ford