Fear in the doorway

We are moving house in a couple of weeks time to a place just around the corner.  I was looking through an old notebook today (actually my current notebook, which pitifully has taken almost five years to fill) and found a short story I started writing in January 2005 inspired by the front door of our new flat.

It is somehow ironic that what inspired me about the door was that it, and the doors of the flats around it, all have large metal bars in front of them.  One day while walking past these, it struck me as awful that people living in a house should feel it necessary to protect themselves by building a cage around the entrance to their home.

It actually made me angry.  I’m not sure if this is because I felt that people had an exagerated fear of modern life in London (which I still feel), or because perhaps the city is so messed up that people have to protect themselves in this way.  I’m still not sure how I feel about that, but we had a look at the flat, and it is actually pretty nice.  And the cage means we will be able to store a few things of small value outside the front of our house, with a reasonable barrier to prevent people making off with them.

So here is the fragment of the story:

She walked down the street with speed, keys in her hands all the way from the office, ready to unlock the steel cage then each of the locks and deadbolts on the door.  Were she stopped by a miscreant, the keys would double as an improvised but effective weapon, stabbing at they eyes and face.  Her other hand wrapped around a cigarette lighter in her pocket, loading her fist.  She had stuck coins between her fingeers in that fist, forming an efffective knuckleduste, although she had no idea if she could punch someone if it actually came to that.

At this time of year the days ended early – she hated the darkness and the cold.  So hard to see people, so many more shadows for lurking in.  The cold brought hoods and hats, concealers of facial expressions and intent.  Large coats hiding weapons more formidable than her own.  Steam rising from mouths like dragon’s caves.  The one solace of winter was that the young men didn’t congregate as much as in summer.  The cold discouraged the threat from lingering outside.

The broad street was well lit with a soulless yellow glow that gave a papery sheen to the skin.  Cars passed regularly.  Shops provided refuge, although they were the most frequent starting points for being followed.

Were those steps behind her getting faster? Closer?

Her route was carefully selected not for speed but for defense.  A faster route would have taken her through the housing estate.  She had heard the police considered some estates “no go” areas.  Drug dealers often fought there and it was only a matter of time before an innicent was caught in the cross-fire.  She longed for the promotion that could take her far from the cul-de-sacs, broken front gates, motor cycles with rotting flat tyres, children of broken marriages.

For now she skirted the edges, for ever heading outwards, but with an eye to what might lie within.  Worst of all were the underpasses, a network of tunnels linked to the centre of a roundabout, which the traffic whizzed around unaware of the no mans land within.  Pedestrians were herded in by barriers at every point where crossing the road would be the path of least resistance.  At each entry point were two paths leading down to the tunnels – one with steps, the other a long hairpinned ramp for wheelchairs and prams, and those who couldn’t handle the steps.  This offered a choice, and she had often selected the least efficient on in order to establish if the person behind was tailing her.

That these tunnels were dangerous, threatening places was self evident.  The architects and included fish eye mirrors at each bend so walkers could see if anyone was lurking around the corner.

Someone had somehow burnt the mirrors to a rusty brown colour.  They no longer shed light on who was lying in wait.

Best to just walk calmly and confidently, with speed and certainty, past anyone that might be in there.  They were cowards really unwilling to take a risk on those who seemed sure of themselves.

“He is so fucking sure of himself he deserves to be knocked down a notch or two” he thought to himself, standing under the lamp surveying the street.  He nodded to a large shaven headed man taking his straining beast dog for a walk around the estate.  More realistically out for a shit than a walk, marking territory and reenforcing the knowledge of his presence among other inhabitants. “Always important to be seen.”


The Pen was mightier than the sword

The pen was mightier than the sword once. The pen was a metaphor for power. Those who wielded the pen wielded not just now but forever. The cuts it made had an immortality, or at least longevity as long as the paper remained. The pen represented the flow of will from the writer to his audience in the same way as the sword represented the flow of will from wielder to enemy. Both served as ways to try and change the behaviour of another person.

From the brain to the arm to the hand to the business edge, delivering ink onto writing surface. The pen and paper offer us endless possibilities. A pen can be used to write in any language, using any script. We can use it to draw.

Using a pen is simple, almost as intuitive as using a knife. We can forget about the technology and just watch the ink slide onto the paper leaving behind the result of our efforts.

After thousands of years of using writing implements, the demand for distributing many copies of the same piece of writing created a more industrial tool – the printing press begat the typewriter, the photocopier and ultimately the personal computer with desktop publishing software.
With each development came an increased burden of technological knowledge. In order to use the communication device technical knowledge and skill had to be acquired. With each extra technical skill and piece of knowledge came an opportunity for distraction. This did exist with pens – quills needed cutting, fountain pens needed filling and cleaning and blotting. Typewriters jam, photocopiers need refilling with toner. And computers connected to the internet offer so many possibilities to do anything but write.

I feel the need to return to the pen, even though I can write, sorry, type more quickly and neatly. It is easier to store things neatly on a hard drive than in folders which open suddenly spilling out un-numbered pages…

What if the best is past?

Leonard Osborne woke with a start. The last words in his head, rapidly fading as most dreams do: What if the best is now past?

The sheets beneath him felt clammy, sticking slightly and abrasing his back as he rolled over onto his side. Tired as he was, the bed was no longer comfortable and he would have to get up whatever the time was. Dawnish light broke through the gap between plain curtains. He hadn’t woken at dawn for many weeks. There had been no need to. He rolled his tongue around inside his mouth. The disturbing and unpleasant taste like wallpaper paste again. The displacing feeling of yet another tiny ulcer formed at the back of his throat. He manoeuvred his body to the edge of the bed and tried to swivel himself around into a sitting position, but got no further than getting his calves out over the edge of the bed before the temptation to lie in the damp greasy sheets started tugging him back.
What if the best is now past? Could he have tipped over the top of the mountain, from the crawl to the top, a pinnacle that may have been reached while he slept, and now was heading down the steep slope back to the sea level of oblivion? No. He had felt pretty much like this the week before. If he had reached the peak of his physical condition it had happened some time ago. Perhaps he had reached a wide gently sloping plateau of mild ill health and gradual deterioration.

Must move my body – he thought to himself. He twitched one foot and then the other. Get the blood cells pumping. Get my brains working. The cold was starting to penetrate his calf muscles, the hairs now raised on drumlins of flesh. A slight motion ground his body over something gritty. Disgust lurched him into the sitting position he had failed to attain minutes before. Lowering his feet to the permafrost concrete floor that sucked all heat from his feet, a feeling greatly relieved by reaching into his boxer shorts and giving his pubis a good scratch, he settled forward for the final burst of contemplation that might actually move him out of the bed and into some form of action in the bleak room. Five minutes of deep bollock scratching later and the light from outside was beginning to look more like day light, less orange tinged by the sulphurous street lights. Perfect timing – he thought. The lights are out. The council has deemed it truly daytime.

With that he pushed himself up to a standing position, and stepped forwards towards the open suitcase across the floor by the wall. His pants and socks were bundled in a turdish pile, turned in on themselves like discarded moebius strips, on top of his casually folded trousers. It is cold enough to wear these for another day – he decided. I am not sweating like in summer – he justified, comfortably avoiding the sensation of slipping his feet into biscuit like fresh socks, but ignoring the slight crust on the sole of one, where he must have stepped in something dropped on the kitchen floor the night before. He briefly contemplated turning the pants inside out, but something of its rebelliousness dissuaded him, and he slipped off his sleeping boxer shorts with their gaping fly and slid up the underpants which would cradle him gently for the rest of the day. More gently, for they had lost some of their springiness through the previous day’s exertions. Now for trousers, to stem the rapid flow of dwindling warmth from his bristling legs into the heat death of the bedroom. Fibres tugging at hairs they were up. The pockets, containing his wallet and mobile phone had flipped around his thighs. Lenny had to take the seat down again and readjust the pockets so they were accessible and didn’t make his hips bulge.

The light was growing with such force it might almost open the curtains on its own, desperate to enter the room and rampage over anyone who dared to ignore the days fearsome birth. I must not stop – Lenny thought to himself reaching over to the shirt wrapped over a coat hanger hooked onto a nail that had protruded from the wall since he moved in to the room. The cold sleeves sheathed his arms. He un-tucked the once stiff collar and buttoned the shirt down from the second to top button downwards. Tucking the shirt into trousers required once again undoing the belt, button and fly giving enough room to half smooth the shirt tails between his legs and the inside of the trousers. Doing the belt back up he tucked the free end into the loops with a finality that said, I am dressed now. All I need is shoes.

Read my notes on a park bench

On the way to a job interview I saw that I had some time before the start, so I decided to spend some time working on questions I wanted to ask in a local park.

The park had a few benches scattered around the edges. At one end stood a fenced basketball court with a few pairs of people playing one on one. At the end where I selected the bench I would work on a black man played against a strong looking blonde white woman. I turned my back to the court to concentrate on the information I had on the job interview.
Suddenly, over my shoulder I heard a voice. “Oi, Mister”, it said. I turned to see a beige skin boy, about 15 years old, the other side of the fence, who had been watching the couple play ball. “Oi Mister. Are you from round here?” he asked.

“Not originally. I do live in London.” I replied.

“Do you smoke dope?” the lad said. I noticed the rather large spliff he held in one hand, scorched at one end, but not yet lit again.

“Sometimes.” I said, trying to be straight and cool.

“Would you like to buy some?” he asked more gently than one expects of a fledgling drug dealer.

“I’ve got a job interview in a minute. I don’t think it’s the right time for me to do that.” I answered.

“Alright.” He said and we both turned away, me to my papers, and he to the bouncing breasts of the basketball girl.

I started to read my preparatory material. The voice returned. “Do you live around here then?” he went on.

“Not any more. I used to live over on Sandwich Street,” he looked blankly at me, “over near Marchmont Street – do you know that?” I continued.

“Is that Brunswick?” he said.

“I think so. Do you live around here?” He replied that he did, and said the name of some estate that I don’t recall.

“Where do you live now?” he asked.

“The east end.” I offered vaguely.

“Oh. The east end.” he accepted and turned away once again.

I read the rest of my material. I small group of older boys walked over, and I grasped my bag between my knees until they passed.

This would have been the most interesting event of the day if something else had not happened at the job interview.

But I won’t go into that now.


I woke up in a panic a couple of morning ago, due to the following rather grim dream:

Yuki and I were diving off Zanzibar. We were swimming between reefs along the sandy bottom, possibly stunned by the weird beauty of garden eels snaking out of the sand, but I digress. I turned on one side to look back at Yuki, and my right arm sank into the sea bed. I drifted along for a few metres with my arm under the surface. When I lifted it out, there was a long, deep gash down the centre of my forearm. The skin was white along the edges of the cut, like a cut goes in the bath. I looked closer to see that there were a series of pink lips deep within the wound. Lips with small tendrils waving between them. I signalled to our dive master. She looked at the wound, and looked concerned. Some kind of barnacles had got into my arm. She motioned me to squeeze the wound. I pinched either side of one of the sets of lips, and out popped what looked like a mussel you might eat at the pub. It popped out with some force, like an edamame pea from its pod. I continued down my arm until all the invaders had been popped out. The wound was still open but didn’t hurt any more.

At this point I woke up with a “fizzy” arm. I think I had been lying on it…