Smoke 6 Excerpts


Yes, this is the very place I said to Jude “What, you mean we’d create a race of 3ft-high silver robots which would take over the world at our behest?” and she said “No, I mean we’d create an A5 fanzine dedicated to writing and art inspired by London” – I think we’d been slightly at cross-purposes up till then.

Introduction to Smoke#6 – Matt Haynes

London often goes on without me. My London becomes this laptop, humming away on a wonky table in Clapton, and the noises behind me: the whoosh of double-deckers, the clatter of the 38, the whip-whur of sirens, the odd brawl on the pavement, the shouty slang of teenage girls, the crowds milling outside the fried chicken huts.

Introduction to Smoke#6 – Jude Rogers

The only real reminders of the past were the sepia-tinted photographs dotted around showing such scenes as Christina Foyle walking the shop floor in the 1950s – presumably looking for someone to fire – and Margaret Thatcher speaking at a Foyles Literary Luncheon. Someone had set about her with a sharp instrument, little realizing they were picking on the more liberal of the two women.

Please Pay At The Till – Steve Lake

His voice was gravelly from years of smoking, and positively dripped sexiness with his Macedonian accent. I swooned. His pad was in Oval, a small, surprisingly clean (for a single man living alone), ground-floor flat in a council block. It struck me that the walls were curiously devoid of pictures given his previous career as a picture-framer.

A Capital Affair – Celine Hughes

Last summer, Euro 2004, making a nod towards male bonding, I invited a load of friends over to watch the opening England game. Ten minutes in, I looked around and not a single eye was on the match.

“You know you’ve got a naked woman opposite?”

“I know,” I said.

Naked in Dalston – Ben Kersley

London is damp, foggy and wonderful. The plane tree bark peels beautifully, the great flappy leaves wrap round my school shoes. My father comes back late from his office in Essex on the Greenline bus. Sometimes the fog’s so thick the conductor walks ahead with a hurricane-lamp. We wait and wait, my mother and her in-laws united (for once) in their anxiety.

London Pride – Jackie Banerjee

Briggs of St James’s is hidden behind the aristocratic shirt shops of Jermyn Street, in a narrow yard where the Duke of Ormonde once stabled his horses. In the next yard was Swinging London’s most exclusive club, the Scotch of St James, where Beatles drank with Rolling Stones. Our barber was there long before the pop stars. Like many older immigrants, he learned English in a time when the English still spoke it. His careful grammar and earnest diction, coloured in warm Mediterranean tones, are a soothing pleasure.

The Barber of St James’s – Paul Du Noyer

If Laura looked out of her first floor bedroom window she could see the churchyard. Hardly at all in summer, because the foliage of the trees was thick, a verdant wall. But in winter she could spy the well-kept, cosy little cemetery better, see it filtered through the fishbones of the smaller twigs and branches. She walked through there twice a day. Each time, as she approached the twin belaurelled death’s heads grinning from the gateposts, the thought would come. Each time it was effectively the same: he’s here, beneath my feet.

A Private Burial – CK Gilchrist

If you’d walked into the saloon bar at the rear of the Wheatsheaf any evening between 1943 and 1952, you would inevitably have found the handsome Maclaren-Ross ensconced in his favourite spot. Dressed in a pale suit, an astrakhan-collared coat and American aviator-style sunglasses, the knob of his malacca cane in one hand, a cigarette-holder in the other, he’d be standing at the crowded bar regaling a flock of hangers-on with some deadpan monologue.

Oxford Street’s Rive Gauche – Paul Willetts

If you feel no journey from St Paul’s to the Tate is complete unless a fat man from Minnesota has walked slowly backwards into you whilst attempting to capture on video that epoch-launching moment when a hitherto resolutely stationary building on the South Bank suddenly collapses and reassembles itself twenty yards to the left against all known laws of physics and bricklaying, then the Millennium Bridge is the gently thrumming plank of light for you.

Stepping Across The Thames – Matt Haynes

After I’d first found the building, without the neon letters to give me encouragement, I kept going back, to check it was still there. I’d head down Clapton Passage, sneak up the main road, tilt my head round the corner – and there it’d be. For nearly 27 years, it had slowly discoloured, weakened and wasted. It moved me every time I saw it.

Everything Is Going To Be Alright – Jude Rogers

The sun is bright and around you couples and dogs are strolling, but in your head you see the dark bulk of a wave growing on the horizon. It crashes through the Tate & Lyle refinery, sweeping a hundred thousand tons of sugar before it. Split-seconds later, cloudy with sediment like home-made lemonade, the sugar-water will surge across the Barrier and burst all that engineering apart.

Drowning in Lemonade – Deirdre Ruane

And then we met. I remember how he walked into the room as if he had blown in from a snowstorm and he shook my hand and I liked him. He played the piano. He told me stories of places and artists he had met and growing up and having no feelings and losing his girlfriends and the long, lonely walk from Penge East. He wanted to write a novel but he wouldn’t. The fear of sowing seeds.

The Naturalist in London – Olivia Armstrong

Since when did the 43 become such a hotbed of furtive glances and wistful longing? Why didn’t the N29 rank more highly, when between murky old Holloway and the lights of the West End lies Camden? Surprisingly, it seems, the combination of alcohol, post-party disenchantment and polyglot confusion doesn’t lend it self to romance.

Once Seen, Twice Forgotten

As Joe, 3, explained to me recently, some things just are. Eating alphabet sweets on the way home from the shop, he dropped a pink pastel M on the pavement next to a worm which had clearly just been trodden on.

To distract him from the still-pulsating worm guts, I asked him: “Do you think worms like sweets?”

He considered briefly.

“Some worms do,” he replied. “And some worms don’t.”

Some Worms Do – Jessica Smith

I stopped, wondering, not for the first time, if having a literary agent who was forced to make ends meet by taking part-time bar work might be holding me back. He’d had to miss the last Frankfurt Book Fair on account of some new Carlsberg two-for-one promotion, and that couldn’t be good.

Tugging on the Apron Strings of Deceit – Tricity Bendix

Maybe one day we’ll get a driver whose natural instinct is to stop at request stops rather than put his foot down? But 607 drivers are – like their buses – a breed apart. They don’t even flinch, their steely-eyed gaze fixed on the next stop over the horizon. The only one I know who breaks this rule is a middle-aged lothario uncannily reminiscent of Robert Daws in Roger Roger, who has been known to stop randomly to collect any woman under 50 who smiles in his general direction.

Bus of the Month – Steve Lake

Men – it’s almost always men – school round the Public Carriage Office like fishes. Some in yellow coats, fresh off their bikes. Others with shirts tucked in tight, thrust into smart trousers, hidden under shiny belt buckles. There is fidgeting, walking back and forth. Cigarettes stuck in their mouths. You guess that this is the quietest some of them have ever been.

Who’s Going To Drive You Home Tonight? – Jude Rogers

Triple-period games on midwinter Wednesdays meant a council bus-trip to the edge of Hackney Marsh, for football or hockey or cross-country runs along the edge of the hump-shunting yards at Temple Mills, trying to out-run each uncoupled wagon as it gathered pace down the artificial slope, gravity driving it into its ordained berth via a deftly flicked set of points. Across the rainy wastes beyond the goal-posts, the tower-blocks at Hackney Wick tantalised us – over there, that was London.

London’s Loneliest Train – Matt Haynes