Still, I tried manfully to get to grips with the trappings of this odd transpontine world: with the trains that ran above the ground rather than below it; with the unique one-eared, one-eyed fauna; and with the way entire conversations could be conducted using only subtly different inflexions of the word “Millwall” (it’s a tonal thing, I think, like Chinese – to my untrained ears, and even after ten years of living next door to a pub, it still just sounds like people shouting “Millwall!” at each other).
Introduction to Smoke 16 – Matt Haynes
I shivered where my satin jacket touched bare flesh, which was everywhere: I was a well-covered teen. On the train, Tracey pulled out a packet of Player’s No. 6, a pot of Baby Blue eye-shadow, and a tube of silver glitter. We dabbed spit onto our cheeks and pressed on the glitter, then threw the remainder high and caught it in our hair. Giddy with nicotine, I watched Tracey stick her head out of the window. An express train screamed past and she screamed back.
Rocked – Jane Woodham
“What’s going on?” He’d clocked the others moving in, the gleams in their eyes, the hardness of their lips, the petrol can I’d got Fincher to bring from his dad’s garage. At the time I hadn’t known what for, but then I saw David McIntyre and I did. I wasn’t involved in holding him down; I just helped pour the petrol. As I splattered his shoes I saw that he was wearing his school plimsolls and they were white like mine. We all lit matches.
10.17 p.m. – Jacqueline Downs
This girl remembered a very different world. Streets sitting tightly together, the buildings before the bombs. Her mother’s face before she died, bright, wide and bonny. Her father going away, and him not coming back. But now she was here, and she must make her own way. By the grove of Queen Margaret, along the walk of King Henry, near Cowper and Spenser and Milton and Shakespeare.
The Girl of Wolsey Road – Jude Rogers
I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar when I first met Phil Oakey from the Human League. For years, though, the felicitousness of this rather passed me by, as I had no idea who he was; I’d been brought up on Mozart, gloomy songs about Jesus, and something which Father referred to coyly as avant-garde jazz but which, I later found out, most people referred to as the theme tune to Dr Finlay’s Casebook.
The Nun With The Eagle Tattoo – Tricity Bendix
Someone is fighting a lonely war against noise on the Central Line. The shrill tone that announces that the doors are closing is too loud for them, or too high-pitched, or both. They scratch their complaint into the doors: Excessive Door Noise; Noisy Doors Cause Deafness; Too Loud. Always the same hand, the same terse concision. How long has this been going on – scratch-scratch-scratch attrition on one side, deafening psy-ops on the other?
The Leyton Roar – William Wiles
Every night I got this dream of the windscreen which is imploding and the wind tears through me, just me and my bus and the tunnel forever to heaven while all around me the streetlamps turn to fire and my mum recites the gospel and my hands shine through to the bone.
You Don’t Talk To The Driver, The Driver Talks To You – Simon Sylvester
We pull away smoothly, and through the glass I see E8’s rear windows. I suddenly remember the days living nearby with Barry, the purple and yellow Silverlink trains shaking our papery walls, our tottery washing-up, our CDs stacked like Jenga blocks. As this train moves off with a soft whoosh, I leave all that behind; I think about how things move on, and about how much has changed.
Between The Lines – Jude Rogers
Behind Lloyds Pharmacy and the Tesco Metro lies an intricate web of narrow, deep-shadowed alleys. Occasionally opening into secluded piazzas overhung by glistening balconies, these silent pink-walled pathways clearly still adhere to some ancient medieval street plan; indeed, the many private courtyards, with their gently bubbling fountains, have an almost monastic air. My companion remarks that it reminds her of Granada, where – unable to reach her hotel using sat-nav – she’d recently been forced to abandon her hired Fiat Punto in tears, along with the remainder of her holiday.
Ales of the Riverbank – Matt Haynes
When I get off the bus I see a man passed out on the floor, mountain bike lying next to him. No wounds are visible – probably drunk. At midday, midweek, with a bike? It seems strange. I’m still staring when a newcomer kicks him in the shin. “You still in this world, bruv?” No response. God, is he dead? It’s always a possibility. The newcomer kicks the man harder, hard enough to bruise: head rolls, eyes still closed, but there’s a drowsy smile. The kicker turns to me, grinning. “He’s alive!” he says. “Well, that’s good,” I say.
Keep It, Don’t Lost It – Cassandra Solon-Parry
It’s funny seeing my brother in a suit and tie. He didn’t wear it last Christmas, which was the last time he visited me and our mam and dad. We had everyone round at ours on Christmas. It was a nightmare. All everyone wanted to do was speak to my brother about London. It must be so fast all the time, they said. Do you get the Tube everyday? I suppose it’s second nature to you now.
Small Fish Big Pond – Adam E.Smith
We had an illegal picnic in the museum, praising your mum again for her foresight and great sandwiches. You took some funny photos of me being attacked by dinosaur hand puppets in the souvenir store. You didn’t complain when I said I couldn’t buy you anything.
Our Day Out – Melissa Davidson
So my legs do my thinking – and my lungs the second thoughts, fifty fast yards later. I find myself getting on the open-top bus. Completely the wrong direction, of course. All the same, I bound up the stairs to the top deck to properly survey my city. I sit as near to the front as I can, behind a woman with shiny, almost iridescent long hair, only just settling down herself. She seems very nearly as flustered as me.
The Magic Open-Top Number Eleven – Jamie Mitchinson
Sometimes, I get a few of those BNP boys on board, mouthing off about Pakis and Poles, and… it makes me wonder what went wrong. And just what sort of English values they think they’re fighting for. There’s a plaque on the front of the town hall, commemorating all the Eastenders who went out to Spain to fight for the Republic. No pasaran. Imagine, going off to kill and be killed somewhere foreign because you’re actually clued up on history and politics and know what’s right, rather than because you’re a silly little boy who likes playing with guns and enjoys a bit of aggro.
Bus of the Month – Matt Haynes
Highbury Fields, ten in the morning, the soft breaths of early summer rising from glossy blades of grass. Today, N5 is showing off in the sunshine, wiggling her shoulders, hoisting up her skirts, auditioning her exquisiteness for a Richard Curtis rom-com. My scruffy, ancient trainers clash against the silver pavement. My messy reflection smears the windows of the terraces. My hair snarls and knots in the elegant breeze. I am the square, splintered peg in this smooth, perfect bolt-hole.
Northbound – Jude Rogers