We’ve been working over the last year on a book of weird stories told in verse for kids. A welcome collaboration with an old friend – Nick Kulynycz (instagram – @nickkulynycz) who has been doing some fantastic illustrations for the 12 stories written, each a tale of a different child.
At the bottom, through the arched doorway, the first person in line steps out into three inches of piss, lifts up the end of his trouser legs, and wades over to a urinal. Reams of sodden toilet paper decorate the floor, pulping under the onslaught of feet where no one will pick it up, swimming its way around and sticking to the bottom of shoes.
The way these things normally work is you wait for your turn until an empty receptacle becomes available, then you sidle up to it standing shoulder to shoulder with two other men, and try to remove yourself from the reality by staring blankly at the wall ahead, willing yourself to perform the deed which had seemed so urgent only moments before. The more you wish to speed things along, the less able your body feels. A queue of the willing stand behind, staring at the back of your head, waiting for their chance for relief. And then slowly the panic creeps in. Why am I not going? I needed to go so badly a minute ago. Why not now? Have they noticed? They must have noticed. I’ve been standing here for ages. Alright just relax. What, with a wall of other men waiting behind me? Just piss. I can’t. Well try. I am. Well you better do something. Like what? Here we go. No. Right just do your flies up and walk away. And don’t forget to wash your hands.
The assembled crowd do their best to ignore each other while they dance around between the urinals, the sink and the hand dryer; and once finished, make their way back up the stairs, avoiding eye contact with the waiting line of hopefuls. As each one exits he eyes his hands with suspicion holding them out in front, not convinced by the credibility of the soap.
It’s only a matter of time before the Pleasance turn this into another venue.
In contrast the ladies toilets are upstairs and exist in the imagination as a powdered and fragrant spa, with pristine floors, shining taps and, above all, breathable air. The unheard of luxury of going to the toilet without the acrid bite of urine stinging your taste buds and sitting in the back of the throat remains a mystery.
It’s with these thoughts that I join the back of this queue, descending into that foggy hell, with heavy air, flickering lights and gorillas in the mist. The man stood in front looks nervous. Like the first signs of madness he’s scratching and biting his wrist. Someone ought to be looking over these people.
I look across trying to think of my options before someone joins behind me and I’m hemmed in. And then I notice the disabled toilet sitting quietly across the hall and an inner part of me rejoices at its salvation. I am on holiday, why not indulge.
Joining a queue behind another woman I try to look casual so as not to alert anyone else of my discovery, and patiently await my turn. That is the rule after all; women and children first. Patience.
The woman in front of me takes her turn and leaves me stood looking very laid back against a wall outside the disabled door. After a minute or two a man in an electric wheelchair positions himself behind me in the queue. An awkward moment ensues. But hang on a minute, I have my place in the queue. Just because it’s a facility designed for the ease of less able-bodied patrons, why shouldn’t he wait his turn. That’s the rule after all, women and children, then me, then the person behind me in the queue.
Another well-dressed woman walks up to me from in front and says something barely intelligible above the din of the public place. She looks as if she’s trying to muscle her way into the queue so I make clear my intentions. “The queue to the gents is massive. I’ve been here for ages. The women’s is upstairs.” She replies with something again I can’t quite hear and so I repeat and reiterate that this is the queue she sees in front of her now so to perhaps take up her place at the back. This time through the noise and heat I hear her more clearly. “It’s my spine, I can’t make it upstairs. It really annoys me when people use this toilet.”
That’s it. I’m outnumbered and have to concede. Overruled by guilt I join the back of a queue that leads down some steps into a damp underground toilet, and hold up the bottom of my trousers so that they don’t drag along the flooded floor.
We're delighted to present to the market this compact 1 bedroom property. Sleeps 4. Ideal for two couples, or 4 single people looking for companionship. Cosy and self-contained. Newly refurbished kitchen/bathroom proudly boasts kettle and microwave. Ample freezer space in form of box on windowsill (winter only). Cosy yet well ventilated living room leads out onto the roof via (permanently) open window for spectacular views of the city. Currently unfurnished so a blank canvas. Huge potential. Easy access to the city in just under an hour via bus in next borough. Indifferent millionaire landlords live conveniently just downstairs - any problems just bang on the walls. Asking rent does not include; letting fees, admin fees, reference fees, top up fees, extortion fees, more fees, London fees, poor fees, check-in fees, check-out fees, pets disclaimer fees/additional pet deposit. Everything (including happiness) non-refundable. Our guarantee: if you're not happy, it's nothing to do with us. Early viewing highly recommended. This hole will get snapped up.
The London housing market is desperately adorned with beamingly optimistic euphemisms inspired, surely, by nothing less than the altruistic motive of shielding us from the bare cold brutal facts; to spare us the anguish and horror of the reality; a landscape of sub-par homes, competition and desperation. It wouldn’t do anyone any good, neither the estate agent nor prospective tenants pride, to announce “splendid shithole newly arrived on the market boasting roof and running water. Take it before someone else does” – though some properties in London don’t amount to much more.
To search for houses in London is to sign up to war. To fight tooth and nail, ignoring such trivial considerations as to whether you’re actually interested, just to have a chance of snapping somewhere up before someone else beats you to the punch. And the estate agents know it, it’s the nature of the market we find ourselves in. Just as job ads get away with not mentioning how much it actually pays, as if it’s of no importance, because they know people will take the job without even needing to know, so the estate agents can practically bully you into taking what’s available, as if you have no higher dream or aspiration.
“Gorgeous little property”, they’ll say. “So endearingly small and self-contained”. “So conveniently located just above this chicken shop. You like chicken don’t you? I love chicken.”
“Yeah, DO you? So you’d live here would you? It’s a box with a sink. And where’s the bathroom anyway, or am I supposed to wash, shit and cook in the same place?”
There’s almost no point even looking at properties online as they seem to ubiquitously employ the tactic that I recently heard named ‘the old bait and switch’. A property that was already taken off the market weeks ago is repeatedly re-advertised just to hook people in. They string you along, refusing to make clear whether the place is still on the market or not while they can garner as many details as they can and try to fob you off with an entirely different rat hole they’ve been unable to shift.
It boasts this. It boasts that. I can promise that after you’ve moved in you’re not going to be boasting to anyone.
“What’s wrong with it? Don’t you want somewhere to live?”
And the way estate agents talk as if they’re really gunning for you, providing a tailor made service just perfect for your needs. They’re going to learn all your details by heart, familiarise themselves with your wants and desires, intimately understand your innermost hopes and scour the market like Samaritans for your dream home.
“Can I take your name please, sir?”
“Yeah it’s Sam.”
“Not a problem, sir. Not a problem”.
I know it’s not a problem! It’s my name. As if I somehow need you and your company to provide validation of my existence.
And the photos for these properties are terrible, exhibiting the same arrogant belief that anyone will jump at the chance to rent a place no matter what it looks like. Sometimes the only photo attached to an ad is a wonky shot of a front door, as if simply the sight of a letter box might make your heart leap just at the prospect of a slither of fresh air creeping its way in. Sometimes you get 3 shots of the toilet from different angles and nothing else, or a shot of a kitchen sink stacked high with plates, or just a wall, with nothing remotely interesting on it, just a wall.
The photos of the inside of the property are taken on extreme wide angle lenses making the place look palatial, until you step in and realise that the TV would actually be about a foot in front of the sofa. You can imagine the estate agent pressed up as far as they can go into the corner, up on tip toes, trying to aggrandise the apartment for every spare centimetre it’s got.
The shots they use are so wide they verge on fish eye, which is ironic given the fact that the new tenants would be, to borrow the American idiom, living in a goldfish bowl. Particularly if you were sharing a ‘cosy self-contained one bedroom flat for 4 people.’
Still, it’s probably worth a look. We wouldn’t want to miss our chance. So long as we can find another couple to share the rent.
This article in the Independent recently highlights the point nicely: http://www.independent.co.uk/
I bought a Kindle. Another purchase that ought to be questioned since its function could in theory be performed by a number of other things already in my possession – not least of all a book. But I’m thinking that while travelling across the world it doesn’t quite seem feasible to cart around a few heavily-laden bookshelves, what with baggage weight allowances being as restrictive as they are nowadays.
It is however a fairly pleasing purchase that thanks to its novelty has encouraged me to read more regularly. You look forward to picking it up. It’s almost the equivalent of turning Shakespeare or Dickens into a computer game.
But it has occurred to me that I no longer read in paragraphs, or pages, or chapters. We have moved, or some might appear to think ‘progressed’, into an age of percentages. We have witnessed the decimalisation of literature. My books are now read in uniform blocks of 10%, irrespective of their actual length or previous demarcation. The previous structuring of the work is ignored.
No longer do I peek forward to see how many pages are left before the next chapter, the point at which I am legitimately allowed to stop. I no longer inspect the front cover each time I pick up to read. There’s no longer the unravelling narrative of it’s illustration which only begins to make sense the further you progress through the story; symbols becoming relevant, characters becoming identifiable, in that epiphanous moment when you realise, “oh, that’s who that is”, or “oh, that’s what the title means”.
Apparently there’s no longer any need to care how many chapters are held within, what they have been titled, and what movements of the narrative they denote. Half the time I can’t even remember the title of the book I’m reading.
As I hit the point of 50% the moment has lost some of it’s previous joy; its sense of achievement. I can no longer hold the book up between my fingers, comparing the portion I have on the left with the portion I have on the right, trying to estimate when I have reached the all important and infinitely more profound point of ‘half-way’.
There is now just the percentage sign at the bottom of the page which changes with irritating irregularity – this page a point, that page nothing – so that almost compulsively at the end of every turn (especially if the book isn’t holding my attention) I peer down to see if it has affected my overall progress. If the marker doesn’t increase then it’s almost as if that page counted for nothing.
I now have to read to nice round numbers, in the same way one might patiently lie in bed until the clock reads exactly 08:10 and not a second less. Putting the book down at 17% would seem unholy. Putting the book down at 20% seems logical and just. If I finish the current chapter prematurely it becomes still necessary to read a further 5 pages in order to round the experience off. Or for that matter disrupt the building tension of a piece by abruptly cutting it off at 30% just a few pages before its dramatic denouement – for that is surely the correct thing to do. I mean who reads to 31%? Come on!
It makes me wonder what other areas of life will soon fall victim to this principle, this new world order, imposed upon us by some dominant and hegemonic global power. Will the concept of time itself be ‘upgraded’ by Apple, new and improved and re-branded as ITime? They’ll deftly carve up the day into logical blocks of 10, abolishing seconds, minutes and hours in favour of the much more logical Chrono (named after an ancient Greek god as is the practise to lend gravitas and a sense of bridging old and new). It would weigh in at a hearty 2.4 hours or 144 minutes of old time, a far more logical and useful unit, allowing us to lie in bed until the alarm reads 30%, and not a percentile more or less.
This would no doubt be followed by a decline in civil liberties, free speech and the degeneration of society as we know it. That, my friends, is the way the future is heading. I have foreseen it…
Sorry. I’ve just read 1984. On my new kindle. It’s black by the way and has a nice blue cover.
Previously: My fight to the death – About to Snap
Or way back: This Train Will Be Temporarily Held At This Station
Got any thoughts?…
I think I’m going out of my mind. The heat is not dropping – inside or out – and warm air sits heavily on everything in the room. The bed sticks to me, I stick to the bed, and every time I turn over there’s a distinct feeling like I’ve been there before. The double doors of the bedroom are open wide, but not even the faintest hint of breeze whispers in. It’s 2am. Is that all? Did I fall asleep only an hour ago?
The low din of traffic in the distant outside; the frustrated rhythm of my own breathing; the persistent questioning thought of ‘why am I unable to sleep’ that inevitably keeps me awake. And then amidst it all the sudden, horrible, high-pitched sound of a mosquito, invisible in the darkness, circling around my ear.
A couple of nights of this has significantly compromised my mental state. Like tinnitus, the sound seems to reside in my psyche. It’s playing with my head. Paranoid, I’m perpetually convinced there’s a mosquito within inches of me –close enough that I think I can hear it – and I can’t sleep.
It’s reached the point that I actually don’t mind the thought of waking up with dead mosquitos squashed to various parts of my head, so have taken to slapping myself in the dark in a vain attempt at retaliation. So far they have evaded my manoeuvres. Just as soon as I’ve taken a swipe, another one goes whining past my ear – and my god I can’t sleep.
My girlfriend suddenly wakes up at 3am, startled by the blinding light that just filled the room from the bulb on the ceiling, and desperately trying to peer through half-closed eyes finds me stalking around the perimeter of the room with a magazine in my hand, telling her to ‘sshhh’ as if the slightest noise might frighten them away and alert them to my intent. Babbling something about the importance of training your eyes to move slowly when scanning the room if you’re to have any hope of spotting their erratic path through the air, and shaking items of clothing like some sort of rustler trying to scare them out of hiding.
I killed 5 that night. A night I am unlikely to forget. The way they looked back at me just in time to see a magazine descend upon them, and in that moment knew their folly. I left each one squashed against the wall – as a sign – a warning against others. I’m thinking of having a few of them stuffed.
The next day, with 5 scalps hanging from my belt, we headed into town, where I came across Arthur Daley’s tat emporium on Swanston Street, and followed the stairs that led down below street level into some sort of illicit den of cheap deals. And it was there that I found quite an amazing device. A device shaped in the likeness of a tennis racket, and with a button on the side which when pressed emitted its very own retaliatory high-pitched sound as a current of electricity shot through it’s interwoven lattice, zapping any bug, fly, spider, beetle or mosquito that happened to get in its path.
It was only $4. A price that invites you to buy several – spares – two at the very least so that you have a pair and can play with a friend.
On the back of the packet is a score sheet which suggests a point structure according to your ability – but spiders, flies, bugs – they’re all free to go about as they will. I have no beef with them. The only things that concern me are mosquitos – since it was they who chose this vendetta.
But one thing at the bottom of the score sheet caught my attention – a cockroach – worth, incidentally, just 5 points. So what they were saying was that this electric racket could kill a cockroach – quite a claim considering they’re supposed to be able to survive nuclear war. They say a cockroach will crawl out of the remains left by an atom bomb and go about like nothing had happened. So the thought strikes me that maybe these rackets ought to be monitored by the UN, since if they really are capable of that, then it makes events like the bombing of Nagasaki seem a little over the top – if perhaps the thought hadn’t occurred to you already.
In any case it saved me having to take such measures myself. I can now relax at night. Relax in a chair in the corner of the room, with the lights off, and wait for any sign of movement.