Daniel Agnew

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Goodbye to Fitzrovia

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Middlesex Hospital Fitzrovia

My first ever London job interview took place in Fitzrovia. Arriving an hour early and trembling with nerves, I rehearsed my lines at the Crown and Sceptre. England had not yet banned smoking in public places and I drank orange juice in the corner.

I remember finding the job building with a Google map sheet printed off at Hillhead Library. It was a steamy hot day in mid-July and sweat beads were trickling down my lower back.

I had to go back to Scotland with something.

Writing out verbatim what I was going to say to my English bosses, I successfully got the job and returned to Glasgow the same day. It’s strange how these watershed moments in your life, the unwritten history of small incidents are so vivid in retrospect. How one slipped line could have eradicated my present day.

Construction pits and scaffolding herald a new era in Fitzrovia. Once a bohemian drinking hub for interwar poets, it has now become an investment square for plutocrats. I barely recognise the place walking around today. It’s a forgotten land.

Ghosts laughed here when the century was still young.

Gold Stars

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Like a delayed reaction to January I’ve been trying to do all the right things. Become more positive and outgoing despite the incessant misery of a news cycle I no longer want to read. Politics is necessary, but it corrodes the soul and forges barriers that need not exist.

Domestically speaking I am winning and have been since I returned from Italy. I have worked it all out in a scribbled list. Bought myself a new kitchen tap, painted the bathroom ceiling, gone running every (second) day and stocked my fridge with avocados, berries and salad bags.

Going to write a story for BBC Radio 4 and overcome my fear of dialogue. I spend half my life wooing girls in a chat box FFS.

It can’t be that hard surely?

**

Catching up with friends and having drinks with yoga missionaries, former colleagues and ex-flatmates. Sharing gifts from Italy and avoiding conflict with Room A and Room B. This is proving a challenge I must admit. It’s a source of frustration that no matter where I work or how much I earn, London is unforgiving and dazzling with space age greed.

Like when I scuttle down Whitechapel High Street with a new haircut and cream smooth shoulders. Carrying orange plastic bags from Sainsbury’s and my father’s rucksack towards the overground. There are muggings in this area.

Whitechapel is brutal in the evening rain, jet black with poverty, beggars and collapsing canopies as the Gerkin beats on in the distance.

Dazzling with light amidst the emptiness of my travels. I feel edgy and sad where usually I am steadfastly indifferent and preoccupied with other things. I overshare too much and maintain unrealisable dreams.

Where is the signal amid this noise? I ask myself silently. My phone is new, but the message is the same. But that has never stopped me looking for gold stars on a wet weekend in February.

Sounds on my pillow

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Dozing on my pillow, I wake up and have thirty minutes to spare. Outside the pneumatic groan of the 394 bus trails past on route towards Hackney Downs. My phone is buzzing with messages and the second alarm is just about to go off.

It’s noisy outside and the estate is getting ready for work.

Housewives are chattering outside my balcony and packs of kids in woolly hats are going to school. Local drivers are in the hunt for a parking spot. Downstairs a coarse man nursing a semi-circle of ill-health is effing and blinding like a complete utter cunt.

My alarm is now vibrating on a cold sheet of cotton.

Surrounded by grim tower blocks and dazzling towers of chrome and glass, I prepare for eight hours of home working. Gone are the crashing bells of Venezia and waking up to water taxis and gondola men whooshing past at dawn.

Ole! Ole! Ole!

I lived in a paradise for six months. That gives me comfort as my body swivels on a chair and switches on a bright electronic light.

Oddo’s Court

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Surrounded by old money in a Venetian town house, I was summoned upstairs by my elderly masters. An epic canvas of St. Marks Square dominated proceedings, like I needed any reminder of where I am living.

Earlier in the same street, a damp alleyway full of pot plants behind the Grand Canal, my boss explained I had to come with him: ‘I need to stay friends with them, Daniel, do you understand?’ I know this is an unfashionable thing to admit in any walk of life, but I like my boss. He’s warm, entertaining and affable. A networking hustler with an eye for a new deal.

After years of working in sterile British offices, my brief sojourn in Italy has been anything but dull. Like my meeting in Oddo’s court, where my apartment’s bills and surcharges were finally revealed. It was a naked triumph of greed and entitlement, where as a pawn without a voice, I watched Oddo and his wife deliver their demands to my boss.

Sitting opposite them at their family table, I felt the full weight of powerlessness. They were inadvertently stripping away my salary by making me responsible for their communal property debts.

Once I realised what they were doing and deducted from the paperwork that I was being charged for more than just an electricity bill. I sat silently like my boss’s errant son on remand for a crime I did not commit.

I felt enraged by their shameless greed, but I couldn’t let my boss down. Not in front of him because unlike in past I know the power of words. When to speak and in this instance when to say nothing. I am pragmatic, savvy and calculating in these situations. You play the game.

It’s important to always pick the right words, and refuse to shake hands with Oddo when I finally depart my apartment’s front door.

Slim Pickings

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Come nightfall in Venice, there is a Bolshevik disco taking place far away from the centre. Half sunk and with a beatnik charm, this underground club is gunning for billionaire yachts in Venezia.

Earlier I had been following a Lido local, an enormously handsome Chilean man and a floppy haired indie boy from Torino. It costs three euros to get in, and I will never be able to come back without a guide. Anti-navy posters are peeling in the cloakroom and dandy bohemians are loitering outside smoking cigarettes.

Pushing our way to the bar #NOFUTURE and anti-Bush posters fill up every permissible space. Vino bianco is served in lethal shot glasses, and bottles of red wine are funnelled into curvy glass caskets. That’s my abiding memory of the night.

A vintage jazz band perform Roxy Music singles and Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). The shuffling audience could be their grandchildren, but age doesn’t seem to matter here. Alongside the wide-eyed misfits and ageing lotharios looking for one last kiss, I find myself drifting between moods. Alcohol is no longer the electric force it used to be.

Watching smoke rise and body temperatures soar, I drift between rooms nursing cheap wine and it’s slim pickings for someone like myself. It’s not the same anymore. Also I have no language skills and my time here is fast running out. But for now I’m grateful for jazz music and that there isn’t a Trip Advisor sticker in sight.

Lanterns by the Sea

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Come nightfall I race past Venetian sail boats, angling my body towards the Lido. I don’t want to run after work, but for vanity reasons alone I persist on doing so. Endless daydreams seep like the waves, as I rise and fall down every beautiful crossing. A bridge for each year I am unable to match. All because someone captured my imagination during a particular moment in time.

Elderly couples in minx coats look upon me like I’m a different species. Dumbfounded afresh at that scaling leaping figurine skipping over bridges by the sea. My journey is now complete and I’m walking through St Mark’s Square with sweat glistening down my heaving chest.

Back home I switch on the heating, shower and prepare something to eat and still don’t feel complete. I eat more until I feel uncomfortable. It’s getting late now. I have no idea why I do this. This blocking urge to feel nothing and full simultaneously.

Partly Cloudy

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Rialto Bridge Nightfall

I had my photo taken again this morning. My blurry silhouette is probably filling up pixels on Instagram as I write this story. It happens every day, observing untold love stories walking over Rialto Bridge. Europe’s most famous crossing is forever swelling with tourists wanting their Facebook cover of the Grand Canal.

Every day I cross over Rialto Bridge on my way to work. I love watching little men scurry off their boats exchanging ropes for boxes; frantically unpacking wine and chocolates. Occasionally an ambulance dashes underneath like a Bond villain under siege and even the waste disposal boat is fascinating as it churns out steam.

Church bells are crashing around me every hour, but I need to make myself eligible to live in London. Make a leap back towards metropolitan life. Nurse glittering bruises on even broader shoulders. I told my new Lolita-esque flatmate before I left that I have a lot of love to give. It’s a source of comfort to dream and care about someone, like asking a shadow to dance.

Strange how you travel so far only to daydream about the same thing. Silly I know, but January has always been a reflective time of year.

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