“Don’t examine your feelings.  Never examine your feelings — they’re no help at all.”

Patricia Campbell Hearst

“All rituals are destined to become obsolete sooner or later when they become mere empty shells which have lost their transformative powers. They can persist, of course, through a kind of cultural inertia which sustains their dynamic. Their enjoyment then does not proceed from the fresh meanings they produce but from the nostalgic
pleasure of reenacting some anachronistic behavior.”

Paul Bouissac, Circus as Multimodal Discourse (Bloomsbury, forthcoming)

“Suffice it to say. Don’t examine your feelings, they’re no help at all. Never take no cutoffs and hurry along as fast as you can. We need a goddamn South American revolutionary mixed up in this thing like a hole in the head. This was a California girl, and she was raised on a history that placed not much emphasis on why.”

Joan Didion, “Girl of the Golden West” from After Henry

“She fell asleep then, on her belly, one leg draped over my thigh, her all-American ass classic and twinkling, campus-worthy as ever.”

Don DeLillo, Americana

Union Jack Leaving

— And we talk over pitchers, of Grolsch, in Carling 4 pint jugs, plastic, at Rowans, about the class system, but really, it’s the Union Jack in my pocket that means the most to me, the faded dreams of the Commonwealth, the travesty of Zimbabwe, the fact a knighthood had to be rescinded in the first place, the turning away (cue ‘On The Turning Away, Pink Floyd, ‘Signs of Life’, over four minutes long) and my own travesty of soundbite politics buried in a Midlands apathy that has never really left me.  Give a fuck? Why pay £12 for a pork chop – well, that’s what it is.  And although we pour much needed cash into a Desolate Thursdays Rowans in Finsbury Park, they still pack us in at £5 a head into their tiny karaoke room and you wonder who broke Britain and you realise that ultimately, it was Blair, the liar, who sold a nation into war with the US, over oil and Halliburton contracts, and an endless conviction that despite the social welfare state and free education ALL YOU NEED TO SUCCEED IS FAME.  X Factor and TOWIE has literally broken an already weak-minded nation. Blair: a permatanned ghost that wavers between Palestine, Africa and the US, with his staff of dozens, it was he who led us all down a path, early 2000s, where Labour is Conservative and we are all ALL BOURGEOUIS NOW. Who do we vote for?  Ed? Hmm.  So — I can buy Tallegio while the fabric of my community, if it ever existed, falls apart, and the flats near the Boleyn are still unfinished, two years on (private venture) while any other private venture (LOCOG approved) two miles in, closer to Stratford, has had public money spunked on it until it resembles a bukkake.  Abbey Mills Pumping Station surrounded by barbed wire fences.  Cleaned and now inaccessible. Greenway to Abbey Mills closed off by a lack of gardening until it is impassable. Greenway itself, diverted for over a year. Boris??  Can you hear over your desire for ‘ultimate power’.  So: ‘This is England’, as the Clash sang, and now those miserable ex-Punks are advertising British Airways.  Note: Joe Strummer is dead, Rest In Peace.  His memory ill served by those that survive him,  and an England on its knees begging the IOC to travel first class from Zurich, stay in Park Lane, travel down the closed off A406, and spunk its meagre, aged load on its carefully bunched tits.

‘It is a Friday’


I’m in the Jack Horner with some of Academic Editorial drinking a Guinness and it tastes bad and costs me £4.  I should have gotten a London Pride like Andrew ordered.  Poland score a goal.  We take a table that’s not meant for us and are moved.  Two more people arrive but I have to leave.  It’s 6pm and I’m in Jerusalem Bar and Tavern and I’ve paid £8 for these two Kronenbourgs and they taste bad.  My date likes the 1664 and continues to drink it.  “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think I’m going to have to get drunk,” she says.  I laugh, unsure as to how I’m supposed to respond.

I find Alice at the bar, or rather Alice finds me, her with kohl eyeliner and she’s watching the football.  I sit down and the dude from the postroom is on our bench with a friend called Marco.  Last Friday, hungover, at the Soho Theatre Bar, I’d bid them goodbye outside at 8pm and walked past The Nellie Dean and The Toucan as the rain started to fall. “We went on”, he says.  “From bar to bar.  Yeah.  It was good.”

Alice is sat with Pete on the big table and as I go over and ask her why she didn’t come to my 30th birthday party her chips arrive in a square bowl.   Artisan-trimmed and cooked just right.  They smell good.  I haven’t eaten.  “I was actually out of the country but I thought I’d keep you guessing being as you didn’t come to mine,” she says.  I smile, go to the toilet, go to the bar.  I ask for a red wine.  I’m buying Deuchars IPA for my date as it comes in bottles and she claims it ‘tastes of Christmas’.  That’s new to me, although perhaps that’s how Christmas should taste.  Of ale.  In bottles.

We move on, to The Bricklayers, she lights a cigarette and we play 501 on the dartboard with hilariously bad mental arithmetic.  “I did Maths at A-Level” I say.

“What went wrong?” she replies.  Comedy and dart flights and some of my throws don’t even reach the board.  She wins despite not finishing on a double.  We mercifully put the game to bed and it dawns on me I’ve had a fair few drinks.

We go to Bradley’s on Hanway Street and it’s shutting and the toilets are predictably foul, I did warn you, and they make us pour our drinks into plastic glasses and drink and smoke on the street in the warm June night air, cloud cover keeping the heat in.  I’ve seen taxis run over people’s toes on this road.  This is what I say.

We move on: restless and in motion, to Point 101, and I pay to get in, and she’s had enough booze, but I order a particularly bland lager and we go upstairs where I see some escorts descend on some men and the toilet guy is cheerful but I don’t stop by and it’s pretty much time to leave but not before I find out why she is wearing a ring on a necklace around her neck —

The night bus is the ordeal.  I drop her off at hers and wait for the bus to come, and only then walk down Charing Cross Road after a hasty Subway Oriental Chicken Teriyaki, as if there’s any other fucking kind of teriyaki, that the guy fucks up because there’s a policeman behind me in the queue demanding a foot long with a bit of everything.  The stale bread falls apart in my hands.  I pay, I eat, I am disappointed and I leave.  This is a theme.  I walk past the chicken place and get some wings and walk past Trafalgar Square and roll into the shop and get a litre of Perrier in a glass bottle that crushes the apricots I bought that morning for a pound, an entire, fragrant, overripe punnet and my headphones get detached, Koss Pro Portas, and I clip them back in, and the wings were freakishly large, which bird has wings like that?  I don’t think too hard about that one and I think I might have found some Tic Tacs at that point, but eventually the bus comes and I go upstairs and sit next to a massive black guy who is spark out asleep and I feel safe and comforted by his massive presence and I too drift in and out of sleep and predictably I miss my stop and I buy a crate of fries from Dixy on the Barking Road and eat them on the way back down Central Park Road and get in and it’s basically dawn, and I take some water with me to bed and read a bit of William Carlos Williams before I go to bed —


Your hair is as black
As a raven’s dream.
This dark compliment
Thrills you.

It thrills me to make it,
To take it, to shape it, because
                I love you.
I love everything about you.

It thrills me to be this
Thrilled by you.
Your gimlet eyes fix
               Mine, and I know
You feel it too.


‘Michael and the phone: 1’

Michael was staring at the phone in front of him. Michael stared at the phone that lay on the table in front of him. He’d been looking at it for a while. He remained unsure of what to do. He put the box of matches he’d been toying with down on the armrest. For the last twenty minutes he’d been thinking about calling Karen. For the last ten, he had been thinking about how he shouldn’t. The box of matches was nearly full. He didn’t smoke any more and didn’t have too many candles. Michael didn’t smoke any more and didn’t have too many candles. Michael didn’t smoke and didn’t have too many candles in the house at all and was clearly about to call Karen, his ex-wife, because he was lonely, and felt sad. He was in Beijing in front of a mobile phone. He picked it up and dialled. It started to ring.

“Hullo? Michael?” said Karen. Perhaps she was drunk. Was he stored on her phone anymore?

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“Why are you calling me? What time is it there?”

“Nearly midnight.”

“Oh. Well, I was about to meet some friends at the pub.”

“It’s early to be at the pub, no?”

“Did you call half-way around the world to tell me that?”


“Then why?”

“I just wanted to talk to you.” He stopped talking and there was silence on the line for a long time. “I just felt like we might have some things to say to each other, after all this time.”

“Discuss the past, you mean?”

“No, discuss – the here and now.”

“Oh. I see. Well, how is Beijing?”

“It’s – hectic. And not really in a good way.”

“That’s too bad. Blubs.”

Her word. She used it as a glib end to sentences where the other person was expressing displeasure. It had infuriated him but she had never quite lost the habit. Here it was, again. He felt his anger rising, despite himself. Blubs, Michael, he said to himself.

“Do you – remember,” he began. “Do you remember that time we drove to Mount Park and you nearly lost your shoe in the mud near the Fish Pond. I was thinking about it today.”

“That’s discussing the past, Michael. And, no,” said Karen.

‘Ermina and Richard: 2’

 “If we walk, um, due North, we go past Williams Woods and end up at a picnic area,” said Richard, stopping to take a drag of his cigarette. “There’s a hill, too. And a cute cottage.”

“You’ve been here before?” asked Ermina, a little too quickly. She had snatched at the words.

“With my mother,” he said, smiling. There was a pause while things were recalibrated. “Will you need me to hold your hand as we walk through the wood?” he asked, smiling.

“I hope so,” she said, flirting.

“Well, now. We’ll see,” he said. “When we get there.”

She looked down at the path and carefully put one foot in front of the other.

“Careful of the mud,” he said.


‘Michael and the phone: 2’

“Surely you do? Your shoe came off and I had to get it for you?” He been careful not to raise his voice.

She paused. “I … really – don’t, Mikey. Sorry.”

“We went to Trout Park and the next day we took the train into London to go to the National Gallery and you got that beer you liked, the chocolate stout, at the pub.”

“You have an excellent memory, Michael. Better than mine.” The line crackled and Michael moved his mobile phone a little, instinctively.

“Well, okay. I guess it was a long time ago.”

“It was a huge amount of time ago.”

“I mean, what year was it? The year your parents bought that boat that sank?”

“It was one year before that. And I was wearing purple flat shoes.”

Michael took a while to absorb what he was hearing. “So you do remember?”

“You wore a blue shirt and a plaid scarf that you took off because you got too hot.”

“Ah, yes.”



“Don’t confuse remembering with caring.”

Ballet Pumps

Luxurious, these leather seats, and that clear, contoured glass. As fresh as this mint, as tacticle as the gears through the mid-30s and 40s. Around a tight bend, Ermina felt her chest strain against the seatbelt and became conscious of her top, lower than she’d normally wear, and her bra, more supportive and ostentatious than she’d normally choose. As tightly-tensioned as this bra. Richard pressed down on the accelerator.

“So, what do you want to do?” he asked, looked ahead as New Order started playing on the stereo.

“What, now? When we get there?” Ermina replied.


“That’s not helpful,” she said, smiling.

“When we get there.”

“Just walk, I guess. It’s sunny.” Richard scoped out her flat shoes and realised she was serious. He shifted up a gear and the car laboured a little. It was too early.

“We can walk. It is a very nice day.”

“It’s so sunny,” said Ermina with a dreamy vagueness. She looked out of the passenger window and saw green fields and hedgerow rush by in a blur. In the distance, a bank of wind turbines. On the horizon, the pregnant swell of some neighbouring hills.