I’ve made it to the top deck. Heart thumping from the dark walk; rushing under Tom Thumb Passage, with its jolly coloured up-lights that strive to dissuade opportune muggers. Whitechapel Station. REM plays on someone’s phone, an unexpected shard of familiarity. That’s me in the corner, that’s me on a bus in 1997, crawling through suburbia.
Aldgate East Station. My page is already full of crossings, dashes, scribbles, re-workings. St Mary Axe. Axe? Jagged spider legs of ink, teardrop mascara smudges. Gucci, Tateossian, Imperial City. Bank Station Corn Hill. The Ward of Longborn. N551 to Galleons Reach approaching.
25 to Oxford Circus. There are only men on this bus, a fistful, about 7. All young enough to do a day’s (or night’s) hard work. Are they going home or starting off? Are they cleaners, security, builders, working on the cross rail?
Clear passage through the City tonight, over the Holborn Viaduct, one of my favourite places in London, the streets of Farringdon unexpectedly falling away to reveal a medieval underbelly. Saffron Hill, Bleeding Heart Lane, The Fleet.
Fleet of foot. I am sitting at the front on the top deck. I look up at the reflection. I see three people behind me. Two are asleep, slumped over at complementary angles, one is behind me staring straight back. High Holborn.
I love One New Oxford Street. A fork in the path. An art deco ship carving the tidal traffic; either straight across the central artery, or peeling down towards the disarray of Covent Garden and China Town. Tottenham Court Road, I’m off.
02:47. Downstairs this time. 24… pause… to Pimlico. Talk about Art Deco, this bus glides as a dream in safety glass and powder coated steel. Deep red and mid grey op-art upholstery. The direct bright light of a jeweller’s shop window. Back stairs curving like a seaside pavilion. I’ve not been paying attention and don’t know where I am. Unlike the 25 (my first ever bus from my flat to college at age 19) I’m unfamiliar with this route. I realise I’m gazing at Trafalgar Square from some oblique angle. Horse Guard’s Parade. The buildings are bold and proud. The company is awake, well dressed, both male and female, in pumps and jackets, loafers and crisp white collars. I go past Westminster Abbey, dark void of unlit park, Great Smith Street, no people.
02:59. Safe. Straight on the coach. There’s a distinction between the connected species of bus and coach. National Express – deep dark grey, cocoon, sleep inducing, blue strip lights on the floor, the gauche, overweight sister of airline travel.
03:04. We’re heading out onto Buckingham Palace Road. There’s a screen at the front of the coach relaying our journey in real time; the view is bird’s eye and over saturated. Like experience but faster and more real.
It took no time at all to get from Tottenham Court Road to Victoria. When I arrived I was disorientated. Never made that journey before. I now pass the elaborate gates of Hyde Park and the car show rooms of Marble Arch. I spin around a sculpture of a giant horse’s head. At Victoria I grabbed my luggage and leapt off, notebook in hand, evidence of an inappropriate activity for public, nocturnal transit. Navigating the Crossrail works that have destroyed the front of the station, I march to Buckingham Palace Road, where I hit a confluence of wheelie case walkers. I recall the exhausting bike journeys to Battersea during my MA. It is a route layered with emotional paths into adulthood. Victoria Coach station, a tumultuous terminus. Offering regional connections for poor young hearts, first embraces and parting kisses. I remember reading in Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes that there used to be an airport here. The book’s protagonist tries to leave London from it during the riots of ‘58.
03:16. I return to looking out of the window. Blocks upon blocks of flats in sweet yellow brick. Hillgrove Road. The wide panelled windows of North London. Waitrose occupying the ground floor of one block. Finchley Road and Frognal. Mandeville Court. Fur thrown over modern sofa in brightly lit furniture show room. An estate agent called RENT. Temple Fortune Mansions. Secured by VPS. For some unspecific reason, I know I will never live in North London. Too domestic, settled, expensive? Further out, the houses take on suburban scale, swollen with mock Tudor.
We pause at Golders Green. I feel I should stop writing. I am tired now, after the adrenaline from night walking has subsided. I have a comfy seat and dim lighting. I am not sure if it is yesterday or tomorrow.
KisharonMi Dentist Del’mio Waitrose Liebergs Temptation Chemists New Goldlite Kosher Paradise Salt Beef Bar Holiday Inn Express.
We’re going fast and I can’t focus. Descend into reflections. I am really cold.
Mill Hill Broadway. Bus brain. Tripping from instant to instant. Atmosphere and recollection. Familiar feelings, always forward, into the next situation and moment, circling on loose themes, fragility, forgetting, fantasy, passing, trespassing.
An inability to sleep casually, or anywhere other than a bed. Bloody consciousness.
Fields of oil seed rape. The over saturated screen gives the road a bruised purple hue and the hedgerows are acrid. We are turning off.
04:00. In the cyan light my yellow notebook is rusty.
04:33. I’d forgotten how shit Luton Airport is. Or perhaps I never knew. You have to pay £1 for the pleasure of putting your skin cream in a clear plastic bag. There were 2 armed policeman patrolling the entrance like droogs. This ham and cheese croissant is good though. There is an abnormally high proportion of white blond women in the airport. Peroxides in every party; some young, some mothers, some seasoned. I look up at the screen to guess where they’re going:
6:00 Palma de Mallorca?
My top 3 guesses.
Is this racial profiling?
I only had dinner a few hours ago – is it wise to begin breakfast? I’m very early for my flight. Will I have to consume two breakfasts just to remain conscious?
“Listen through your bloody ears!”
No-one else talks – everyone stuffs their faces with egg and bacon muffins, fuelling up.
This place is inherently uncomfortable; the cool air-conditioned breeze tightening around my neck. The hard seats, lack of softness, no walls, no privacy. No cosy corners to dose in.
When entering an airport waiting area I always employ the same strategic approach. As spaces they are new and exciting, yet full of familiar things. I need to know what is there, where the limits are. The shop fronts and cafes nod to the high street, borrowing from urban town centres. Yet, airport spaces don’t carry on the way streets do. They have defined/discrete edges. A commercial sprawl that comes to an abrupt end. I always circle before I sit anywhere. I need to know my terrain, understand what’s at stake, what’s possible during this purgatorial period. There’s much to discover; clandestine views of the runway, idiosyncratic notches at the back of Wetherspoons. But is there anything truly idiosyncratic in these places? Or is quirkiness built in from the beginning to appease a few fastidious trailblazers?
“You put that back!”
“I remember because I buy these things for you”
At least I don’t have to travel with children, or parents for that matter.
04:52. Sullen soggy gobs full of cobs – munching and mashing. Gawping and silence. Mothers doubly annoyed at their lack of sleep and their toddlers’ uncontrollable excitement. Smart man eating breakfast with purpose, surveying the scene from a high bar top. Swollen teenadult with i-phone, treading the threshold of legitimate cap wearing age. He tentatively rubs his stubble, ruminating on the inevitable. The Benugos is now full. Still an hour and 15 minutes until my gate opens.
I am also aware of how ridiculous I look, wearing faux snake skin monk strap doc martins and denim cut offs, choosing to sit at the café with reclaimed wooden school chairs coz it looks the most like East London. Scribbling away. Writing! With a fountain pen, of all things! Is that better or worse than tapping away at a mac? There is a distinct lack of macs here. Who the fuck chooses to pen a novel at the airport? Who the hell do I think I am? Martha Rosler? Alain de Botton? Iain Sinclair? If you walk the periphery of the airport waiting area you trace the path of an ellipse, a gnarled arc that when marked on the map resembles a giant turd.
I discover why the couple next to me are silent. The woman is quietly crying, slowly, painfully. I feel bad for looking around.
The editing process is going to be important – the re-reading and typing onto a computer. Shifts in grammar and small substitutions are bound to happen. Eloquent revisions. Forever erudite in past tense. It’s not so easy scribing on the spot, on demand. It´s work, a work-out, a performance. I haven’t done this for about 8 years. I think back to all of those essays painstakingly constructed on reams of A4. How did I manage? Writing by hand and typing straight to computer are two different processes, odd looking twins who grow up adopting opposing lifestyles.
Typing lends itself to structure; to collage, montage, flexibility, modularity, fast editing, Ctrl+F, copy, paste, send, delete. Writing connects sound to movement to line – form and gesture – similar but unique – imbedded –curved and connected – a thread – marks and scars and scribbles – a palimpsest – evidence – a face full of hard earned lines and wrinkles.
05:25. That’s 8 pages! I’ll definitely need to do some editing. Although, perhaps Hugh can do that. He’s pretty good at editing. This exercise in writing (or recording) in relation to thinking about Hugh reminds me of an idea we had at college about age 17. I’m sure we discussed an experiment that involved locking people in room (ourselves included) and staying awake for as long as possible with the whole process documented, (probably through writing, drawing, photography and video). This desire to push ourselves (our capabilities, sanity and consciousness) to the limits excited us. Today, this idea sounds terrible. 12 years on and creativity has revealed itself as a service, just like everything else. Producing, performing and the ability to do both is of paramount importance. Sleep is a fundamental part of the deal. Avant Garde is the name of a new housing development on Bethnal Green Road.
05:35. Everyone at Benugo has changed. They are older, more sombre.
I’m going to go and buy some edible presents and then head to WH Smiths to see what novels they have.
Orange refreshment. Try our great range of organic drinks on board today. £2.50 or €3.00.
Circa 07:00. A bright morning. From my plane window I can see:
– Pre-castconcrete laid in squares, jammed together with tar. Some are lined with stripes of colour, like a playground.
– 4 different types of air hanger, the biggest with ‘Gulfstream’ emblazoned across the top.
– A small WW2 looking air control tower. Square and squat in brown brick.
The heat of the engine causes shadows to ripple across the ground. The clouds are like layers of sheer fabric shifting over each other. The passengers on this flight are not very glamorous. There is an atmosphere of domestic utility.
At WH Smith I bought a novel by Ian McEwen called On Chesil Beach, more for its svelte form than its title. I have avoided McEwen since my AS levels, when we were forced to write about Enduring Love for our English Lit coursework. I hated this novel. We called it Maturing Muff. It lacked the revolutionary and transgressive spirit a teenager craves and instead was riddled with middle class middle-age anxiety. Which is perhaps why our tutor loved it. Maybe I am opening a new chapter on anxious middle things.
There are 8 Emergency Exits.
Little Miracles 330ml
For your safety, Ladies and Gen…
The recorded sound fails and cuts out.
The distant car park glisters.
I see a wrecked plane fuselage on a nearby bank.
The sun glares through the window.
The grass looks perfect. The breeze sends shivers through its skin.
I always say goodbye to the world just before I fly.
I am a little scared of flying. Not in any outwardly visible way,
Its just that I don’t take the act for granted – a lump of metal
Inconceivably heavy – flying through the air.
We’re off – we pass a floppy wind sock.
Tire marks on white rectangles.
Shit – we’re rushing, I’m pushed back in my seat. Being thrown
Back and forth – dragged up – ground shrinking – I’m exhilarated
Quickly – bye world – if it all ends now – it’s been good – I’ve enjoyed it
If this is my last view. It’s quite a good one!
A kilometre from the fields.
Corn rows of corn rows.
Conifers as moss
Tractor tracks around a tree, forming a giant ’Q’
Tennis court postage stamp
Patchwork quilt of warm textures
A 70’s bed spread
Golf course puzzle, littered with cashew nut bunkers
Woods – erupting like clumps of public hair across a scarred body
Crescents, lanes and main roads, industrial zone, quarry. Ears pop poppop.
Real distance between me and the ground, full of mist.
Hedgerows like broken veins
I can see an estuary and a long bridge, another estuary with boats.
And now the coast, like pause in the black vinyl between tracks. A thin lip of beach.
I am on 12 pages now. This is unexpected. Easier than I thought. Perhaps the reason why it’s more difficult to write a text digitally is that it conflates both the generative and editorial processes. They fight against each other to beget a well formed and succinct child, post produced at birth, to the expense of charm and character. The screen distances your text before your every eyes. You are aware of shovelling out clichés. You know what your words look like as if they are not your own. Like looking in the mirror and seeing a frozen selfie, a selfie that wears a mask of your face, with the features all converted into Arial point 10.
But NOW, well, I just don’t care! Clouds! The clouds are a scatter of equally spaced blotches, close to the sea’s surface, casting dark shadows, inverted echoes, a misaligned print. Colossal chunks of the stuff float above; a space palace, sky liner, architectural vapour. Expanded foam vista. Atomic explosion in stasis.
And now, the second track begins, we approach the complementary coast. Fields are gridded, Easyjet Boogie Woogie, not a blanket but a matrix, of dirt, labour, sustenance. Forests deeper and more vast. I’m told we’re passing over the Netherlands. Flat clouds drift like sting-rays.
Landing. Gliding down to sunny brown fields identical to Luton. Fields, forests, villages, homes. Looks warm and welcoming. Familiar despite never being here before. 3 wind turbines, canals, train lines, below the clouds into haze, an unspectacular landscape. Rows of poplars, turbulence, juddering, halting, dropping, hesitation, down, dip, stomach tips. Church spire and factory chimney. Zurbruggen. Caravan sales yard. Gravel pit. Pond.
The man next to me is looking at my notepad like I’m mad.
Finally, I am stationary. I stretch and rub my neck, reading the bad skin like braille.