I love this city. But not the policemen with machine-guns casually slung across chests, sauntering down Victoria Street. I remember, on my first trip abroad, the shock of spotting pistol-packing gendarmes – I’d never seen a gun before. Since then, I’ve had my LA Metro ticket scanned at gunpoint and my passport stamped on the train from Budapest by Slovakian border-guards toting rifles Mr Mainwaring would deem antique, but those were all weird, foreign, uncivilised places.
Introduction to Smoke#7 – Matt Haynes
London is not a wonderful city because it’s home to our national government, to international business, to the tourism trade, to the big noises and the bright lights. London is a wonderful city because of its humanity. All its contradictory impulses and affects – its kindness, its harshness, its sweetness, its sourness – are part and parcel of the human condition. And these are as they are because of the people who live here and the people who come here to make London their home.
Introduction to Smoke#7 – Jude Rogers
Another son, presumably equally dashing, is out and about doing actual magic. Their lovely wives lend a hand as and when, having thoughtfully provided several grandsons who already seem keen to serve in this magical mafia. Even the baby, who could always be put to use if rabbits were scarce; though with a popular catalogue item being the Rabbit-Production Drawer-Box, that looks unlikely.
The Rabbit-Production Drawer-Box – Sue Saunders
They were always between shafts, wearing heavy, straw-stuffed collars, accoutred in brass and – above all – blinkered. I still remember the unsettling moment when, as a child of about two and a half, I first discovered that horses had eyes. Seated on the kerb, I glanced up and saw a brown orb regarding me from the narrow space between the bossed leather flap and the hard, bony muzzle.
The Chalk Horse – Dai Vaughan
I remember standing on the roof on November 5th when we’d broken though the padlocked trap-door to party with the Italian anarchists who’d taken over the whole of the twenty-second floor. They wanted to share their rough red wine with us to celebrate the Gunpowder Plot. We could see the good people of the estate burning a giant effigy of Margaret Thatcher, and it was a mad pagan frenzy of fireworks and flames leaping up. There was dub reggae reverberating, bass blasting out of huge loudspeakers, rolling like a tidal wave around the concrete blocks and echoing up to us, and it seemed right and fitting that there should be such mayhem and insurrectionary carryings-on below, on Hackney Downs which had been common land for ever.
Nightingale Finale – Jane O’Sullivan
You must observe the images that surround you: the first-hand, steadfast evidence under nicotine-stained glass. Your leader is named Ronnie O’Sullivan and you must trust in him. If Ronnie isn’t in – and he often is – then bask in his spirit, all around. It’s wise to re-visit the photographs every so often to re-affirm your faith. Every night you return, sure in the knowledge that so too, one day, will he. Never doubt this happening.
Let There Be Light! – Nick Doherty
Every morning was a joy; she’d get up early to curl her eyelashes, puff up her hair, and lipstick her smile. Sometimes they’d both have to stand, and she’d dream of his back brushing past hers down Rosebery Avenue; her losing grip of the post, and falling into his arms; and the perfect house, perfect children and perfect life that’d somehow emerge from this rash, silly daydream.
Routemaster Romance – Jude Rogers
An old cow proverb has it that the grass is always greener on the other side and, though most herds now sport some younger, “cooler” members who enjoy pointing out the inherently circular nature of the advice, and then refuse to budge, its diktat still informs most contemporary bovine thinking.
A Cow In The Hydrangeas – Matt Haynes
I was locked out when I got home. I didn’t know what time they’d be back, and I didn’t care at all. I’m quite used to it, really. I love sitting on my front step, people-watching. Sometimes, my neighbour sits and plays his guitar. Sometimes, people stop and talk. Cars pull up, motorbikes roar down the road, dogs bark. I sat down slowly and let the sun wash over me. I could hear the late calling of birds some distance away. A 159 churned noisily down Kennington Road in slow, reluctant defiance, and the tarmac blazed in the sunlight, sticky and glittering. Somewhere, not so far away, the distorted tune of an ice cream van floated by.
Feathers – Hannah Pressman
I don’t see how labelling Brixton a “cultural quarter” is compatible with mainstreaming it and disassociating it from unconventional people – the mad, the poor, or those narrowly perceived as “undesirable”.What happens to the former patrons of Harmony, and Mr Henry’s livelihood, if newer residents succeed in getting it closed, or if it becomes an exclusive bar? What happens when there are no cheap cafés selling egg’n’chips? What happens when the council’s criminal neglect of Brixton’s famous markets ultimately causes their demise? What happens when jerk chicken is available only with a side-salad and a glass of white wine and it costs £15? What of so-called “vibrant, multi-cultural Brixton” then?
Cold Comfort In New Brixton – Paul Bakalite
Searching the thickety undergrowth for the kitten, he was surprised, to the point of dismay, to come face-to-fang with an animal presence he subsequently described as black, larger-than-a-labrador, and resembling a panther. An altercation ensued, oaths were almost certainly uttered and, after a struggle, both man and beast withdrew: the former to his kitchen, the latter without trace into the darkness. History does not relate the fate of the kitten. Scotland Yard was baffled, the RSPCA mystified. Nor were there reports that Battersea Dogs’ Home had either lost, or had had handed in, any very large black labradors that looked a bit “catty”.
Don’t They Know What It Is Yet? – Andrew Flynn
The Tavern felt like a scuzzier version of the canteen in Star Wars. Everyone was a refusenik of some sort: students who hated students; local petty criminals who wished they ran a bookshop in the West Country; struggling artists who really should’ve been civil servants (and vice versa). And no one even pretended they were minor celebrities. The most famous regulars were the unnameable Only Fools and Horses actor who played Mickey Pearce, Joe Absalom, and someone who claimed to be the Super Furry Animals’ sound engineer, but probably wasn’t.
Elegy For A Pub – Rhian Jones
Watching it over 75 years later, you recognise the old-fashioned world for which books and TV have primed you: the trolleybuses, the neon signs, the billboards for Bovril, Schweppes and Britannia, the minks and furs of the hoi polloi floating around the dancefloor and the nightwatchmen’s cigars. But then, as the film moves on, you’re taken to the shady streets of Limehouse, where Shosho lives; to the gambling dens, the bars serving both English and Chinese people noodles, the spit-and-sawdust dancing hall where black and Far Eastern faces sing alongside white, and you know you’re somewhere very different.
From Limehouse To Piccadilly – Jude Rogers
Panelled with large slabs of cream, brown and browner, the Beech Street tunnel positively glows with an archaic idea of what 21st century London would be like – a buff new world as imagined by 60s visionaries who foresaw a metropolis teeming with silver-suited commuters jet-packing to work, munching on protein pills, and communicating via devices no bigger than a large hardback book.
The Time Tunnel – Tom Alexander
I can’t tell what’s real any more. Between news programmes, the Groundforce team are joking in the garden with Nelson Mandela. He tells Charlie Dimmock she looks like a Spice Girl. I ask you whether Nelson Mandela lives in England now and you say it might be the African garden outside the British Museum. What, I say, is it his garden? Does he sit there all day? Yes, you say, you can wave to him from the Number 7 bus as you go by.
London Attacks – Helen Sandler
He’d burrowed into the Bible, but it was just as unhelpful as it had been last time he’d tried it, after his cat had fallen from a window and disproved a generally received truth. Patrice yawned. “Were there wings?” she asked. “Two.” As if the number of wings on the apparition was the issue, rather than their simple, diamond-feathered presence.
One Angel Court – CK Gilchrist
It’s not, as I’m sure any professional singer will tell you, that easy to project properly from a slightly cramped sitting position with an easily confused labrador between your legs; the effect, though, was astonishing. Almost before the words You’d betta shape up had left my mouth, Frank had leapt to his feet – quite tricky, for a man of his girth, and those grand old buses were really not designed for big musical set-pieces, whatever people say – and begun to reverse-shimmy down the aisle, shaking his bottom and wagging his finger in time with each ooh! ooh! ooh!
Dancing Up The Aisle – Tricity Bendix
There is always a chase which usually includes me running barefoot (where are my shoes?), and there is always him being persistent outside my door, throwing pebbles on my window so I will throw him my keys.There have been instances where things have been vandalised (I am sorry for the damaged trash bin on Marchmont Street), but there have also been instances when he cried.
The Show – Szilvia Molnár
Oh, Routemasters look charming on the postcards, but for anyone who actually uses them – especially if carrying anything larger than a small box of fudge or cursed with offspring, wheeled or otherwise – they’re hopeless, and I can’t help feeling that those who want to preserve them (a) rarely go on them and (b) are the same people who insist their local “classic caff” continues serving them cups of watery Nescafe for 50p, even if the owner then has to work a 16-hour shift just to cover the rent while his adoring clientele jump in taxis and head off to 40K jobs in the media, writing features on classic caffs and Routemasters for the colour supplements.
Bus Of The Month – Matt Haynes
As Will Hawkins grabbed the microphone and shouted one-two-three-four, the band emitted a noise comparable to a jet engine in reverse. By two minutes into the first song, a Western-style brawl had erupted. Double Diamond trays and pale ale filled the warm sweet evening air. Amidst the debris and the broken pint jugs, young Sykes slipped through the crowd and picked up the remains of an electric guitar fretboard, his souvenir of a night of punk rock angst. As he was chaperoned away by his concerned father, the streets and pavement were checkerboarded with panda cars, dispersing the mob.
Big Will Hawkins – Alf Sykes
I like benches because there’s something curiously lovely and lonely about them, whether they’re the ones near me in Hackney, pockmarked with graffiti and gum, or the ones that come with plaques that remember the dead. I prefer these. I like the idea of someone having once enjoyed sitting there, looking out and taking in.
Take A Seat – Jude Rogers
Each time I leave London I wonder if it will let me back in. Perhaps after my next spell in the bear-infested wilderness of the country-outside-London I will haul myself back on the train and meet with an iron portcullis where Liverpool Street station should be. Guards in eye-patches will poke their callused noses through the holes and grimace at me. You left, they will say. We thought you’d had enough. We thought you’d given up. You are a fickle one, playing with our hearts. We will not let you pass.
The Return – Louise Carr