Smoke 12 Excerpts


Smoke isn’t a political magazine. And not just because a magazine that appears only every four months – and sometimes achieves that only by not writing the months in the correct order – really shouldn’t be attempting an Election Special. Smoke is, we like to say, a love letter to London. Ah, London: with all your moods, your inconsistencies, your complete failure to ever do what you promised – as long as you can still set our heart racing with an unexpected glance on the escalator, we’ll forgive you anything. Won’t we?

Introduction to Smoke#12 – Matt Haynes

I couldn’t look anyone in the eye that first morning as I walked to work. No thanks, I said to the Big Issue vendor on Hungerford Bridge. And Sorry, to the small woman who bumped into me outside Charing Cross. I stared straight ahead and fiddled with the ticket in my pocket, and wondered what it meant to sleep with someone on the train to work, without knowing their name or background, without even knowing what their face looked like.

Sleeping With The Man On The Train – Cara McVean

“Not to do Doug down, but Shepherd’s Bush is day-to-day maintenance stuff, really. Sliming the floors, propping up the busker, scribbling obscenities on the sheep. Done by breakfast and not even sweating into his cornflakes. And, anyway, that’s a locals’ underpass. This” – he pats the yellow tiles with his palm – “this is a showcase. Natives or tourists, when people come up the steps out of Tottenham Court Road tube, they expect a complete… experience. Something to make them think. Glamour, grime, the West End. It’s our job to provide it. To go even beyond their expectations.”

The Gourmet of Grime – Julian Ridgway

After all, careering down Primrose Hill on a bin-bag luge is surely less help in preparing you for the four-man-bob than going to the sort of English public school which still makes boys share baths, and where four-at-a-time only works if you all face the taps. I reckon Eddie the Eagle deserved a slap on the back – or, to play safe, a round of applause – for actually staying mostly upright. He did, after all, come from Gloucestershire, where the locals’ natural inclination, upon seeing a hill, isn’t to nip off to Snow & Rock to stock up on ski wax in anticipation of some good deep powder, but to roll a cheese down it.

The New Romantic Luge – Matt Haynes

And I did wait. I stood there trying to remember how long it had been since I’d last waited for a man. A long time, I concluded, as I prodded the cracks between the paving slabs with my numb toes. Such a long time, that I couldn’t even recall who he was, the last man I’d frittered seconds of my life away for. And now, here I was, on the edge of Primrose Hill, giving one whole shiny second away to a man I’d met on the Tube, a man who told me his name was Oliver.

Balloons – Michelle Keill

Some nights I’d walk out into Whitechapel, past the warm havens of bars full of trendies, the streets loud with Bengali and hipster mockney, the curry touts, the textile sweatshops, the neon grottoes of chicken shops. Over the faded sign of the boarded-up pub at the end of her street, above a heap of rotting sofas, someone had spray-painted a big lopsided heart: I LUV U. This seemed somehow appropriate. And once I saw an Asian man in the same place, assisted by three companions, lifted from his car to sit, head in hands, and spew into the gutter a richly gurgled and endless stream of yellow beer.

Patience – Duncan Kennedy

“The thing is, just because it’s taken four billion years for humans to evolve, we think we’re it, the pinnacle. But d’you know who’s going to be watching when the sun explodes in six billion years’ time?”

“Is the sun going to explode?”

“Yes, for certain.” The lights changed, and the cars behind us began to sound their horns impatiently.

The week after, Ben told me that the minute particles inside atoms jump quite comfortably from the present to the future and back again. He drew excited diagrams on a scrap of paper to make sure that I understood. We lost sandwiches to so many bin men that Ben wondered if we should go and buy some to compensate.

The Pret Run – Janet Maitland

After sun-up, you’d stand more chance of hitching a lift with Dracula in his 2-seater soft-top than you would of flagging down an N50. And to which nocturnal terminus does this after-midnight rambler sally forth? Why, to Gallions Reach Retail Park – via Canary Wharf, the Keir Hardie Estate and Beckton ASDA. Which, of course, just thickens the mystery: who are these starlit strangers, scattered along the northern bank of the Thames, who need to go to Gallions Reach Retail Park at 3.20 a.m.? It’s bad enough in the middle of the afternoon.

Bus of the Month – Matt Haynes

In Illuminations, Rimbaud wrote: The caravans departed. And the Hotel Splendide was built in the chaos of ice and polar night. Which brings us back to Mornington Crescent. For at No. 25 stands the Crescent’s great curiosity: the Hotel Splendide. With its dirty stucco, pillar-flanked porch and ersatz Parisian signage, the Splendide is an almost theatrically exact definition of a seedy hotel. Was Rimbaud, rambling through the slum housing of London on some dark winter afternoon in 1873, inspired by the sight of this rhapsodically dilapidated hostelry, looming out of the dusk?

Walter Sickert and The Lovely Samantha – Giles Morris

Recently, I’ve been musing on street refuse and slime on brick walls. I’ve been daydreaming about damp leaves in doorways and scruffy plants growing out of old prams on neglected plots. Fantasizing, reconfiguring South London exploding with the fauna that might emerge from these patches of life, this fertile ground. Flocks of starlings, swarms of gulls – cadaverous cormorants from the Thames. Imagining that, once society has broken down and governments have fallen, things might get even more intense, and rat armies battle with turtle hordes amongst the shit in the sewers.

Bird Stories – Annette Songhurst

Bernie counts the bikes on Lordship Lane and bacon hisses on the griddle and I count the prams. There’s twenty-two prams today. Twenty-two prams and a half-dozen estate agents for the twenty-two prams to look in the windows, take the babies for a walk from one window to the next, take up the whole fucking pavement, look at me like muck on their new shoes.

Where Are You From? – Simon Sylvester

As day broke a few hours later, I was astonished to find myself stumbling into a ring of ancient dewy megaliths on an open hilltop somewhere just the other side of Brockley. Wispy bits of mist wafted around the grassy summit and, cross-legged atop one of the stones, a small figure – so slight he seemed almost to be formed from the mist itself – sat playing softly upon a set of pan pipes, like some tiny translucent Bolivian. Albeit a tiny translucent Bolivian with tightly twisted horns and the legs and hindquarters of a goat that had yet to discover Immac.

The Piper at the New Cross Gate of Dawn – Matt Haynes

For Cally Road Market, the golden age will always be the turn of the 20th century. As word spread that there were bargains to be had – priceless jewellery and antiques obtained from the estate of yet another ruined aristocrat – the market began to attract fair-skinned, fur-wrapped society women, who would come to rummage through the objects on display, mixing with the throngs of bare-footed housewives, slaughtermen, con artists, shiftless peddlers, drunken beggars and “little helpers” who had skived off school on Friday to earn themselves a penny for a day’s efforts.

Going Up The Cally – Jez Smadja

My only previous experience of the East London Line had come after an ill-advisedly large lunchtime curry on Brick Lane. Waddling around with a madras-packed phantom pregnancy, I’d decided that I’d save vital footsteps if, rather than stagger to Aldgate East, I caught a train south from Shoreditch. This, bafflingly, had required waiting for the station to reopen after its lunch break.

Chuffin’ ELL – Rupert Candy

And yet I can honestly say, with hand on heart, that neither former prime minister had contrived to whet my fancy with his fiscal grasp. What I was drawn to wasn’t their politics, but their power, and when that aphrodisiac is fizzing through my veins, Left or Right simply doesn’t come into it – I barely distinguish between the power which comes through high office and the power which comes through 13 Amp sockets, let alone that which flows from different parts of the political spectrum; once the lights are out and we’re under the duvet, I’m happy to be approached from either end.

Hard Shouldered by Love – Tricity Bendix

It was a motorway. Or was once meant to be. One that would have stretched from the river to the M1, and then round a whole city-manacling circuit of similar pre-cast gaugings. The London Motorway Box. A high-flying lap of the city, with slip roads. This particular piece would have flown or carved through much of West London, even leaping over the Earl’s Court exhibition halls. I emitted a tender gasp of Brutalist desire. It would have delivered on the Northern Roundabout’s nominal grandeur, if rendering the name rather inaccurate in the process. It was like Syd Barrett – cut down before its prime.

The Six-Lane Spectre – Julian Ridgway

Hearing Dylan for the first time in a flat in Powis Square, smoking dope with Lois the chef in a Westbourne Grove café, walking up King Street sharing a walkman and listening to Lionel Richie singing All Night Long – these were the things I remembered about out time together. Him cooking steak and mushrooms in the little kitchen of my flat on Craven Street in Paddington, while I drank wine on the balcony. We fought and made up all over West London.

On George Street – Dolores Pinto

Paddington didn’t get much of this love. To me, it remained a sad point of departure, a place to come to, then leave. And, within its soft, white-washed buildings, its worn, dated restaurants, its drab hotel signs in typefaces full of nostalgia for the future, the delicate melancholy of exodus still heaved and breathed. For years, I still dashed through the place as quickly as I could; I didn’t need that mournfulness to tug me, to dig in its claws. Instead, I needed to embrace heat, love and life, and the last thing I wanted to do was get caught in West London’s dark shadows.

West Two – Jude Rogers