Smoke 8 Excerpts


All the ducks at Rotherhithe City Farm had been kidnapped – bar one, who was now “living with a large goose”. This struck me as a pragmatically sanguine South London response. And if somewhere on the Pepys Estate a dozen hollow-eyed ducks are chained to a radiator waiting for fifty grand to be left in a hollow tree in New Cross – the cash isn’t a problem, the tree’s a bit more tricky – then I bet they’re being pretty stoic, because they’re LONDON ducks: they’re a little bit tasty, a little bit crispy, a little bit aromatic. They know the score. They have a mate who’s a large goose.

Introduction to Smoke#8 – Matt Haynes

It’s part of London’s natural rhythm. There came a time when Charing Cross had to kiss its last Jubilee line train goodbye; a time when the last Routemaster had to clatter its way mournfully across Westminster Bridge; and even a time when the scorpions of Ongar had to rear up on their hind legs and see off the Central Line east of Epping. (They’re still at it too, you know: services on the volunteer-run Epping to Ongar Railway that took over the route still stop short at North Weald, the front carriages presumably darkened by the shadow of a wrench-wielding arachnid.)

Introduction to Smoke#8 – Jude Rogers

When the World Cup was stolen in 1966 it was found near my grandma’s house. No charges were ever brought against her. I took Jenna to see my grandma. It went horribly wrong. My grandma thought we were engaged. Jenna thought it meant we were getting engaged. I thought I was getting a decent home-cooked meal. Turned out we were all wrong.

20 Things You Need To Know About South London – Andy Scowcroft

There’s no sign of a wedding band, but they were not so fashionable then; and even though she is doing her own shopping, her hands don’t look raw and scrubbed from maid’s work. Her face, turned from camera, is laughing, laughing as you spin your curly-mophead from the shop-owner’s gaze. Will she be laughing still, I wonder, when, like the shopkeeper, her apple-form fleshes out to a permanent pear from child after child, nine-month after nine-month?

Seven Dials Mystery – Anne Welsh

Just as the football fan gets out of breath walking from the car park to the pub door and has not touched a ball since he played with his kids thirty years ago, and was never any good at it anyway, so I get seasick on the shortest of boat journeys, cannot stand the cold, and get irritable if I do not eat every four or five hours. But just as our man can spout off rubbish at the bar about Ferguson, Wenger, Sven and Rooney, so I, despite not knowing a mizzen from a jigger, a sheet-bend from a clove-hitch, or even port from starboard, can bore you for hours about the Weddell Sea, Elephant Island, Worsley, Crean, Wild and Chippy McNeish.

Come On You Shack! – Vic Templar

In the great misty loop of the Thames to the east, a 17th Century Dutchman slung up a wall of mills not for grinding grain, but for draining the Isle of Dogs; at the time, the soggy Isle had but one lonely inhabitant, a hermit-herdsman who squatted there with a waterlogged clump of moody cows to whom he would sometimes remark that though no one liked him, he really didn’t care – a pointlessly bolshy refrain later taken up by Millwall FC, though only after they’d splashed across the river to Cold Blow Lane.

White Sails in the Sunset – Matt Haynes

We complete our journey in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, where cycling is forbidden. Unlike similar warnings on the canal, we take this notice seriously; if you disobey, they won’t let you ride the lift. Instead of mounting our bikes and cycling, we balance on one foot and coast down the incline at alarming speed. Technically, we aren’t cycling. Technically, no.

Cyclists Dismount – Elizabeth Beidler

And when the Green Bridge did not come to pieces, the Clean Streets President did. She took matters into her own hands, with a chisel and mallet from her Trevor’s old tool-bag. “I’ll break the bloody thing down myself,” she said, and lay with arms over the bridge-edge like the graffiti artists she’d cursed, and chipped away at the Green Bridge. She was in her pyjamas, and soon cold. But, mercifully, because she was not really all there, never really had been since her Trevor passed away, the people came. They took her away in a blanket for a cuppa and a wee chat with her GP at Bromley-by-Bow.

The Nine Lives of the Green Bridge – Lawrence Patchett

The Japanese girl worked timidly and methodically, dressed each day in some bizarre creation that only she could pull off. The Polish girl always arrived drunk from the night before; she quit the same day that Poland joined the EU. The Italian girl was the most animated, especially when her boyfriend would stop by; she would bounce over the countertop to meet him in the doorway, and in one movement wrap her arms around his neck, her legs around his waist, and shove her tongue into his mouth. And the French guy – the only male employee besides the Algerians in the kitchen – slept with almost every girl who worked there, somehow managing it so that not one found out about another. The lone British girl was sixteen, and worked only on Saturday mornings. She used her salary to buy concert tickets.

Bothered – Jenny Montasir

The infinitely faded profile of the King of Rock & Roll, garlanded with Hawaiian flowers, looks out, mystical and aloof, in the direction of Brixton Hill, while inside the restaurant’s cavernous vaults some ersatz Elvis relives the Vegas years. Two doors down, a Mexican cafe urges: “Don’t Siesta – Come and Fiesta!” Until recently, this too was an Elvis restaurant. There was a deadly rivalry between the two establishments. The two Elvises (Elvii? Elvae?) once duelled nightly, refereed with Zen calm by the Thai restaurant occupying the building between. Then one Elvis blinked, doffed his cape, and slunk off to the great Graceland in the sky.

Streatham, Sin City – Giles Morris

Finally someone in the flat above ours came to the door. The Greek Freedom Fighter we called him afterwards, because of the skirt he wore over his jeans and the long skinny pigtail that hung down his back. He wasn’t big on conversation though, he didn’t ask our names or anything else, he knew what we wanted; he just disappeared inside his flat with the leads, then signalled for us to go downstairs. We found the plugboard dangling outside our bedroom window and sure enough when we hooked it up, the kettle began to sputter.

Paradise on Upper Street – Lane Ashfeldt

Paddington sat gazing dejectedly at the laminated Lite Bite menu. Years ago, he’d tried persuading them to add marmalade sandwiches to the list, but they’d refused – no demand, they’d said. Eventually, they’d made him some specially, seeing as how he was a valued customer, but they’d used a crusty baguette, and the marmalade hadn’t been marmalade at all, but something they’d called orange coulis – and THEN they’d had the temerity to charge him four ninety-five. He’d hidden it under his hat, telling them he’d save it for an emergency, and hadn’t mentioned the subject again.

Paddington Chews It Off – Matt Haynes

Kaufman never fully recovered from his first and only experience of sexual intercourse at the tender age of fifteen, which lasted several days and cost him an eye. He was an amazingly vain and narcissistic man. Said his official photographer: “I’ve never met anyone so critical of their own face.”

Matthew Kaufman – an obituary

Alan Farmer, a weir-keeper on the River Lea, was roused by a shaken passer-by hammering on the door to tell him that there were two bodies in the water, and demanding that he take a look. Sure enough, on heading over to the weir, he found a pair of corpses, skinned and headless and yet still more than six feet tall, floating in the river. The police were called, and the carcasses hauled out of the icy water and laid under tarpaulins on the bank, with speculation rife as to their nature and origin. Victims of a particularly nasty gangland execution? A very odd suicide pact?

The Curious Case of the Bodies in the Weir – Ian Simmons

One name surfaced again and again: David Farrant, local occultist, drifter and alleged “black magician”. In 1970, his determination to track and identify the creature whose appearances had caused such a bizarre media fallout was to land him in court, accused (improbably) of vampire-hunting, black magic and, by implication, Satanism, a charge which he has always refuted.

The Highgate Vampire – Hester Sweete

Conversation would digress in the direction of the neighbouring I Live Here sign, with its fuzzy polaroid of a cross-eyed Gussie – Gussie was the family labrador – taken on her fourth birthday. Was the intimidatory nature of this notice not somewhat compromised, our visitor would hesitantly venture, by the pink crepe paper hat Gussie was wearing lopsidedly over one eye? And Father would explain that it wasn’t supposed to be a threat, as Gussie could no more tackle a burglar than she could re-wire an electric kettle; it was simply a reminder, to Gussie herself, for she really was a tremendously forgetful dog. Obviously he wasn’t under the illusion that she could read – my father wasn’t stupid – he’d simply assumed she’d recognise her own face, and taped her photo to a spare copy of a similar notice bearing my mother’s image, without bothering to delete the wording.

Blue Moon Over Northolt – Tricity Bendix

Even sober I’d have been in no position to offer any expert counsel. What I wheeled out, I realise now, were platitudes; like how she was still living in his memory and if he jumped he wouldn’t just be killing himself and so on. I thought I was being highly original. We shared the vodka and, because I didn’t think it would be clever to say actually I don’t smoke, a packet of Benson and Hedges.

Last Train – Stephen Sparshott

Let Camden Town pass without a fight. Go through Archway and know that Highgate isn’t so different from Clapham Common after all. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more, knowing what you know now. Embrace East Finchley. You’ve come a long way to be here. Enjoy Finchley Central. Don’t worry about Mill Hill East because there’s nothing you can do about it.

Freedom and the Black Line – Rosie Fletcher