Small talk at the cuckoo’s nest

Carlito gets up around midday and spends most afternoons curled up in his hoodie watching Shakira videos on his phone. I often wonder what he does for a living or why he moved here. While he lies on the living room sofa nursing a diabetic coma from excess coca cola consumption, I suspect he expends most of his energy at the in-drawn breath of dark somewhere in Soho or Vauxhall.

I barely spoke to him during my brief tenure at Bow Towers. Having made the wrong move on returning from Lisbon, I made little effort to ingratiate myself into the flat dynamic.

At times it felt sectioned inside an old folks’ home such were the prudish rituals of Carlito’s live-in-uncle. With my resentment brewing, I made a vow of silence to get me through the remaining weeks.

Living in his mouse box drenched in cheap aftershave and wires, I never got a chance to say goodbye to Carlito. But before I set off for pastures new, I bumped into him in the lift as we floated towards the asylum. It’s been hot recently, its been very hot indeed and after lamely bringing up my inability to sleep, we began chatting as our lives overlapped in this babel of frustrated wills.

Carrying my second large water bottle of the day, I enthusiastically approved of his fitness routine, and with the sun acting like an inferno, we chirped like finches on a telephone wire; discussing free weights, crunches, running and health-related neuroses.

But for all our friendly fitness talk, he seemed somewhat lost to me, like a child hidden in a cupboard in a far away land. I still have no idea what he does for a living or why he moved here to be with his uncle. As like a finch on a wire, it’s all the better to be seen and heard, and fly away as fast as you can.

 

 

Detritus

I’m moving again.

Ten plastic crates are neatly stacked against the wall.

It’s a retrospective bank of words. I have read most of them, but many take up space awaiting their turn.

I wonder what trans-humans would think if they were to uncover my possessions in 300 years time.

Locked away in a forgotten concrete basement.

Crushed by layers, layers and layers of time.

cof

 

 

Roman Road

‘You see that? She accused me of overcharging her by 50p’, said the portly kebab owner to the diamond geezer behind the counter. ‘What do you expect mate? Her son was riding a stolen bike.’ Cue laughter as we drifted into the night, walking home in the midst of a tropical heatwave. One that only becomes bearable after dark, where teenagers not much older than the artful dodger loiter around outside; pulling wheelies and grinding onto kerbs.

There’s a wild and jagged energy around here. You can feel something stirring in the air for everyone is scavenging for scraps, as the night clouds form like white whales swimming across the sea.

Buffering in Bow

Watching the city turning on a light bulb at a time, I got lost on a bus diversion in a blue spectral wasteland. Some grungy Italian boy was dragging his body weight in a suitcase. Are you stopping at Bow Road? Are you stopping at Bow at all? Judging by his muted response, lost boys weren’t the driver’s concern.

As the passengers drifted one-by-one into the night, I arrived back at my latest residence, a baby boomer investment tower in Bow Quarter. Where I desperately find myself wanting to leave, but unwilling to pay for a deposit elsewhere. Make the wrong move in the London renting market, and you can find yourself boxed in at times. In my case quite literally.

When you share a place with randoms, there are lots of dynamics in place, and they only come to the surface once it’s too late. Superficially the flat is plush and modern, but that’s where the attraction ends. There is a corporate sadness from the moment you step inside, whether it’s the generic showroom decor, untouched cooking utensils to the complete absence of human love and sentimentality.

No photos, no books, no records, and certainly no magnets on the fridge.

The landlord stockpiles vitamin tablets and fake tan in the kitchen. The fridge has virtually no food beyond a few eggs, and the dishwasher is stuffed full of plastic bags. He doesn’t adhere to any recycling principles, and no visitors are allowed without his consent. Also sharing the apartment is his Portuguese nephew, who daily consumes protein milkshakes and microwaved paellas for breakfast.

They watch Sky News and Hollywood movies without paying the faintest attention to events or the storyline. Like the pills and fitness supplements they consume, the television is a substitute void to help them get through the day.

My relationship with them veers from bewildered diplomacy to barely concealed agitation. The landlord is a decent, caring man who would never harm anyone, but his innately condescending manner is sending me to the exit door.

One suspects I will be on the move again in July.

Mirrors

stoke-newington

Walking along Scandi wooden floors in my new living room, I see my reflection smoulder like an Instagram picture. Techno base lines reverberate from the upstairs landing and blonde ambition pours down from the skylight. Stoke Newington is my fourth home in less than six months.

With its Georgian ceilings and sash windows chilling my winter bones, I wake up in an Lennon-esque bedroom. My possessions fill up the white-cube shelving and black wires dangle unceremoniously from the wall. The bed looks better than it feels, but its only six weeks and you can’t win them all.

Sitting in the living room opposite a plasma television, I wonder how I would do it differently. How would I decorate a blank canvas? I wouldn’t know where to start. I still can’t even work out how to use the smart television. I’ve never had to use one until now. Isn’t it funny how you measure your life by your inability to keep up with a technology you no longer use.

 

 

 

God bless

A grungy heap of sorrow with doe eyes asked me for some money tonight. She needed somewhere to stay. The girl must have been in her late teens or early twenties; the night’s shadow made it impossible to discern.

When no is else is around, strangers become humans and harder to ignore. It’s funny how the pneumatic roar of traffic and pedestrians render the most vulnerable into a passing blur.

Frost was biting my cheeks and the girl looked desperate for warmth. I had been at the cinema and was walking home along an empty concrete aisle to my friend’s apartment in Stepney Green.

It’s cold and desolate here after Christmas, populated only by abandoned cars and stragglers in chicken shops. I can’t speak favourably of the area – it’s depressing and ugly even during the summer months.

I began shuffling in my pockets and found some loose change. I didn’t even know I was carrying any. Embarrassed by the meagre amount, I gave her about 37p and said that was all I had on me and she replied “I’ll take anything you have”, but I was lying to her. My wallet was burning with greed.

As she walked across the road, I felt a pang of self-disgust and put a tenner in her hand. Her eyes widened in astonishment and she said “God bless you” in a soft cockney accent and I felt horrible for not giving it to her earlier.

The cruelty of London hit me as I entered the landing. How many times do you just walk away like I did? Say nothing or pretend you have no money on you. I couldn’t stop crying as I stepped inside the kitchen. Switching the lights on, the artificial heat smothered my cheeks and my phone vibrated with an emoji smile.

Looking out the window towards the city, I realised I should do more for people. Kindness is all we have when God wrought to make this world so sad.

What you missed

City Road has a godlike spectacle after dark. Nothing ever stays still even at the strike of midnight. It has grown astronomically since I first arrived in 2008. You feel simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted just staring at the traffic.

Walking home amongst glass pyramids and pelican cranes, cycle couriers whistle past me to deliver restaurant food at breakneck speed. Food app riders fascinate me. The push, tug and hurry of modern on-demand consumerism. With their branded helmets and lime green cagoules, a new urban tribe has emerged – a brushstroke of ambition in a globalised world.

Before the skyscrapers were built, I remember Daniela and I moving here and feeling like we had both made it. Sure, the bathroom was a bit rough and the kitchen underwhelmingly small, but this could work. It was my first major foothold in London and after making a series of choices, I won’t be going back.

Freelancing in pre-hipster people pubs, you become convinced that London is the only place that matters. I’ve done this before you know and returned six months later with a thirst for knowledge. How I missed terrifying blitz of technology, roaring energy and the empty vortex of thousands upon thousands of wasted words.

Uneasy jitters are settling in now. I hope I’ve made the right decision. Shifting all my boxes next door and leaving home without a key.

Last days of the counter-culture precariat

With only three weeks left for me in Hoxton, I finally bought a studio desk in a textile factory. Arriving everyday like a laptop camel in my shorts, I love the counter-culture cliche of having my own office. Like the many regrets you have when time is running out, I wish I had done this years ago. To physically and cognitively separate my work, life and playtime into different components.

Creaking back to the mid-twentieth century, the factory will probably be demolished in 18 months time. Hackney Road is prime real estate location for developers. A debilitated aisle of pre-war housing and cheap grocery stories that connects Shoreditch with Bethnal Green.

The Hackney factory is owned by a picture frame business that no longer makes anything. They import all their goods from China. By virtue of abandoning manufacturing, Studio X was born and I bought my desk space from two Spanish artists with dark chocolate beards and floral shirts.

Like everyone else in the studio, the Spaniards make entertainment for a living. They produce a boutique fashion magazine that has an initial distribution run of 4,000 copies. To boost their income, they sub-let their remaining studio space to freelancers such as myself. I paid £140 a month for a small desk and sit next to a Hackney fashion stylist and her three interns. They include:

  • a ginger anorexic doll
  • dim-witted posh girl
  • a blonde street urchin in a baseball cap

Jackie sources expensive clothes for a Radio 1 DJ with a glorious 1970s afro. Attending photo shoots for most of the day, she delegates the hard graft to her gophers, who scurry around London collecting wares on behalf of a minor celebrity. When I compare it to the soul destroying office jobs I did at a similar age, I actually feel relieved they are going down a non-conformist path.

For none of us have come out right in the wash, but we make do and mend in style.

 

 

Double room for rent near Old Street

One of the benefits of working independently is the freedom to have absurd flat viewings. Like this morning when a muscly tattooed Polish chef, who couldn’t speak a distinguishable word of English, and his Irish brother-in-law came round to see my flat.

Standing together in Greg’s old bedsit, an austere collection of second-hand furniture and sunlight, I politely explained my role and responsibilities. My lips were parroting the same old lines, a puffing collection of melancholy sighs and amusing asides.

Has it really come to this?

With his industrial strength tattoos and rock warrior attire, I instinctively felt Marius’s future lay elsewhere. A skittish energy filled the room as he sat down, like a naughty child entering a doctor’s waiting room without any toys.

Immediately detecting my unease, the Irish chaperone gave bizarre assurances on how ‘sweet and clean’ his brother-in-law was. That he would be a great flatmate and I would barely notice him at all.

‘You seem like a good bloke Daniel, we just need to get him settled for a month before we find something more permanent.’

Marius’s painted biceps became more pervasive as he nodded along with his mentor’s sermon. At this point I began to feel sorry for the guy, like he was being auctioned off to anyone desperate enough to take him.

‘What a great place Daniel’s place has here…wouldn’t it be great to live so close to the canal?’

We then all shook hands at the front door and promised to get in touch the following morning to confirm. Of course, none of us did. Flat viewings oscillate from white lies to abject desperation in my experience. A mini-series of half-truths and lips sharpened from making judgements.

Wandering muse

As I walked down to Brick Lane with my portfolio on my back, heavy with words and responsibilities. I arrived at the Kahalia Cafe and made eyes with a wandering muse. Sitting underneath the skylight with her laptop, I remembered writing about her in 2012, how she sang so beautifully alongside a bearded minstrel in London Fields.

She became a passing bohemian fancy of mine back then, with her rose petal clippings and strung bow guitar. I’ve noticed her sing a few times in local flower markets, and looking back what made her so attractive was the serene purity of her voice.

After spotting her in the coffee shop, I recalled watching her at Broadway Market with her cello partner one lazy autumnal morning. There was something tangible in the air that day, the weight and tenderness of her voice was beautifully controlled.

Her spirit was free and she appeared (maybe somewhat naively) to live an innately gifted life, one far removed from the bearded entrepreneurs and fat posh mummies sitting next to me. Someone free from the ugly necessities and masks we must wear just to survive.

Alas, I kept on tapping away in the distance, knowing that someone – someone wonderfully talented can survive and prosper by making beautiful things.