Category Archives: Places

Red Brick

The brick in the top right hand corner of the building opposite caught my attention. The window of my third floor office frames an architecturally fraught scene of new and old, domestic and industrial. Red brick competes with concrete completes with a jumble of overflow pipes, gutters, grey sheet cladding and fluted chimney pots. Families live in the office style apartments and small business have been set up in reclaimed homes. Somewhere behind this Escher type construct the rest of London lies, low and grey in the early morning light, but I cannot see it from my window.

I can see that the cement that holds the brick in place has receded slightly over time and that the exposed edges of this brick are crumbling and eroded. The surface is also covered in a fine patina of soot and dirt. I am too far away to see in detail but I imagine the surface of the brick is pocked and marked from acid rain and freeze thaw. Placed where it is the brick is out of reach of humans, birds, animals. Apart from perhaps the delicate feet of an insect or two, the brick has not been touched or examined in any way, by anyone, since it was cemented in to place.

The builder who placed the brick there would have been standing on rough wooden scaffold planks. He was more an artist than the average brick layer. The tall arches of the windows are mirrored in five rows of brick, the first row recessed, and the bricks have been turned on end to create a different pattern. His hands would have been rough and dry from handling the clay, perhaps grazed from scraping the brick, or nicked from cuts made when shaping and sizing the adjoining bricks.

Decades after they were first laid the red of the clay and the fire of the kiln remain in the brick. When the sun shines, the buildings glows.

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Redstone Press – Pop-up bookshop

Redstone Press have got themselves a pop-up shop on Portobello Road. Details as follows:

Popping up:

12‐24
 December 
2011

Open:

Seven days a week (10am‐
8pm)

Address:

201
 Portobello 
Road,
 W11
 1LU
 (Map here)

Telephone:

0203 
601 
467 


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Strongrooms to Moorgate

I left Strongrooms after being there all afternoon, stumbled a bit as I walked out from under the trailing ivy, and turned down Curtain Road. The pavement was dark from rain but the brief downpour that had rolled across London hadn’t cleared the air of the dirty humidity that furred the air.

As the rain had stopped so people had started to move outside of the bars and gather together in twos and threes. I hugged the edge of the pavement to avoid the small groups and rough lines of smokers and thought to myself that I should have gone the other way, up along Rivington Street and out.

There was a man ahead of me walking, slowly, in the same direction. I gained on him a quarter-stride at a time. Two angel wings of sweat stained the grey fabric of his t-shirt and in his left hand he held a white plastic bag, low down by his side. I slowed my pace as I drew close then, unable to pass, timed my walk to his, mimicking his steps as I waited. The angel wings lost their definition at this distance. The plastic bag had a blue and red Chicken Cottage logo printed on it. There was a roll of fat at the back of his neck, visible above the line of his t-shirt. When I did move past I walked too quickly and my leg knocked the bag he held. It bounced and swung in his hand. I said ‘sorry’, but with my earphones in I couldn’t hear myself speak, and I didn’t look across at him.

Ahead of me the pavement ended and cars drifted along the road like cut logs floating down a river. I waited at the bank and watched the logs as they passed, my eyes following their slow unceasing jostle for space. A crowd gathered and I could feel the presence of Angle Wings behind me, close among the mass of assembled bodies. My back was tensed slightly; in my mind Angel Wings had become an avenging angel. I craned my neck upwards and concentrated on the traffic light.

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Dante

We had been in Naples for only a few days when my father sent the telegram telling me that he had procured me a job in the city. My ticket home was already bought and I was to return immediately.  David was sympathetic, understanding, but would not cut his own Grand Trip short, and I didn’t blame him for that.

Naples is, famously, a dirty place, and as we walked about the cobbled streets discussing what could be done, we threaded our way through scattered rubbish and honking traffic and thought the reputation of the city was not unearned.

I spent the following morning at a tourist office arranging a train ticket to Milan. The reservation my father had made was a plane ticket, held for me at the Milan Malpensa Airport, and I was due to fly at the end of the week. We had a few days left in Naples but I knew already that these would pass quickly, and that nothing really would happen within them; the relentlessly oncoming end of the trip stole  from me the enjoyment of these last days and made me instead listless and depressed.

David and I had been staying at a small bed and breakfast in the centre of the city; slightly east of the magnificent Orto Botanico gardens and following my father message we spoke to the owner of the hotel of our need to leave earlier than planned. The man crossed his arms and demanded payment for the entire week’s booking and in our school boy Italian we agreed, after a while, but a bad blood grew between us in the exchange and he no longer called out ‘Buongiorno! Buongiorno!’ each morning when he saw us. We for our part began to run down the marble stairs in the morning and disappear through the heavy door without stopping. We no longer waited for a salutation, nor gave one in return.

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Heathrow – Geneva

The planes lined up one after the other on the tarmac parallel to the runway. The lights of the strip spread out ahead of the plane like glittering threads of cotton. Sitting, waiting, the air conditioning pumped cold air up through the body of the plane, the taste and smell of antiseptic stuck at the back of your throat. Then acceleration.

Later, as the plane descended in its final gravity’s rainbow rush towards the airport, the sun shone from the opposite side of the aircraft and through the oval cabin window I watched the shadow of the plane flying across the earth below. It grew larger as it chased us, gaining in weight and mass until finally it dragged the plane back to the earth with a bump and a squeal and a roar of deceleration.

Billboards advertising wristwatches lined the corridor that led to passport control. A different dark-haired male model stared out from each; a aboard a white wood yacht, hauling tight a rope, laughing at the wheel, lent back against the rudder. Foam tipped waves yaw in the swell, a deep blue ocean.

The next morning, this morning, I walked past an old man. White hair, damp, combed back. A moustache. He shuffled from the doorway of his block to the bins that lined the wall and the only thing he held in his hand was an empty bottle of whiskey.

Stage Five of the Tour today. Cavendish will place first. The cyclists make me think of this. Lycra team vests, carbon fiber road bikes. The hills of Geneva are not the passes and climbs of the Tour, but they’re not London either.

Lake Geneva glimmers though gaps in buildings as I pass by, the mountains, half shrouded in a haze, rise above.  The lake laps calmly against the muddy sand. No fast flowing water, no speeding river, no waves crashing on the shore. The lake just sits there. Neutral.

I think of the billboards. Swiss clockwork, American advertising.

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Beach and the Sea

I don’t like your brother.

My brother? said the boy scrunching up his face.

Yeah that’s right, your brother. I don’t like him.

What do you mean?

I saw him this morning.

Oh yeah?

Walking down to the sea. I thought he was you to begin with.

He grinned, We’re pretty similar.

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This is Brick Lane. This is Shoreditch.

I walk past a fifteen year old couple huddled in the lee of All Saints, sitting on the pavement, arms wrapped around each other and hands dug in to each other’s back pockets. They don’t look up as I pass.

Further down the road a man is standing leant against the side of a shop. Tall, skinny. Black jeans teamed with faded pale blue denim shirt, the collar buttoned and the shirt sleeves roughly rolled up. Tattoos of 40s style of pin up girls and pink scaled Japanese Koy poke out from his neck line and wind down his arms.

Three men walk past me with jarhead hair cuts and stubble. They split apart to let a group of German tourists pass. I turn to the right, down a side street of cobbled stones. Half torn posters are pasted to the walls, the paper torn and weathered.

I walk past a girl with two antique pistols inked on her hip bones, and past another with a pirate ship etched down the side of her body, the tattoo visible through the loose American Apparel vest she wears. The wind blowing hard in its sails of the ship and I imagine her getting it done, talking with the tattoo artist and telling him that it represents her free spirit and that once she settles down she’ll get an anchor added to it, to represent her life.

On Brick Lane I see a boy crouched on the ground taking a photo of a chewed white lolly stick that’s lying by the side of the bin. Two girls stand next to him, back tights and black angle boots, check shirts and fur coats. ‘What are you going to do with it?’ ‘Put it on my website, probably’. The camera is an old silver Kodak, model NP23-5.

. . . Unfinished . . .

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