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The Paris Edition 1
ILLUSTRATIONS Showcasing fresh and innovative talent in illustration.
WRITING Poetry and prose from students, bloggers, visual artists and published authors.
A selection of carefully chosen images from young and emerging photographers.
Cover photograph by Kate Vanhinsbergh. Model is Kate Waldron of Boss models. Make-up by Samantha Mercer. Dress by Catherine Tomlinson.
Editor: Kate Vanhinsbergh email@example.com Illustrations editor: Owen Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org Layout designer: Gethin Jones email@example.com
Editorial contributors: Louise Richardson, Christophe Riesco, Igor Kropotov, Carol Huston, Mia Hague, Alice Coombe, Alexandra Harford, Rebecca Audra-Smith, Matthew Hull, Jess Ghost, Clementine Logan, Owen Michael Johnson, Alwyn Marriage, Rodge Glass. Photographic contributors: Claire Huish, Steven Read, Kerry Lytwyn, Igor Kropotov, Julia Trotti, Katie Eleanor, Kate Vanhinsbergh, Jonathan Stead. Marketing: firstname.lastname@example.org Advertise in Shoestring: email@example.com General enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org Subscriptions (including international): email@example.com Circulation and distribution: firstname.lastname@example.org Work experience and internships If you are interested in getting work experience with Shoestring, email us at email@example.com with your CV, why you want work experience, what you hope to get out of it, and why you love magazines.
shoestring magazine is proudly published by Affogato press Affogato press is an imprint of Vanhinsbergh Media Shoestring is published twice a year by Vanhinsbergh Media. Views expressed by authors are not necessarily those of the publisher. Copyright is reserved, which means you can't scan our pages and put them up on your website or anywhere else. Reproduction in whole or part is strictly prohibited. Email addresses are published for professional communications only.
Paris, oh Paris:
that beautiful and confusing city of love, sophistication and art. We've all either been there or wanted to go, and we all have different feelings about it. To some it's old, cold, and settled in its ways. To others, it's the centre of history and the anchor that keeps them seeing the world with new eyes. Here at Shoestring, we think you should get to celebrate the things you love. We've all got roaming eyes and hearts and the Paris edition pays homage to that: we have space dedicated to the beauty of the tattooed man (page 32), the incredible symmetry of les jardins des Tuileries (page 52), stories visiting love and frustration (pages 19, 26, 28 and 64), an interview with a photographer trying to bring back the inconvenient (page 60), a whole smattering of poetry, and some of the best photography by young artists that we managed to find.
Allez lire beaux gosses! 6
CONTENTS 8 10 14 18 19 22
something stranger awaits how i see things
ecole des beaux-arts poetry by rebecca audra-mith
fiction by carol huston
the legacy of the independent bookshop
26 28 30 32 40 44 49 52 60 64
fiction by matthew hull fiction by jess ghost
a look at life-drawing the tattooed man
future of publishing
our favourite books poetry by alwyn marriage fashion in paris
interview with jonathan stead
fiction by rodge glass
For many English readers the word poetry and the word Paris are synonymous with each other, even if both are dirty words. We know that many poets escaped to Paris - Yeats, and later Pound - though we are less aware that many French
ST MET R AW ANG HING A ER
poets wanted to escape from
Every flower exhales perfume like a censer; The violin quivers like a tormented heart;
Paris. Today, much that was private, secret, or
modernist poets like Baudelaire, Rimbaud,
illicit for important
Apollinaire is available to
everyone whenever they want
- not only that their books sit on
shelves, neither banned nor hard to
find, but that their experiences and thoughts, in a degraded form, have become public property. And yet it is quite a jolt to find that often these poets are not saying what we expect them to be saying:
christophe riesco 8
Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo! The sky is sad and beautiful like an immense altar of rest.
claire huish 9
IGOR KROPOTOV HOW I SEE THINGS
As a professional c i n e m a t o g r a p h e r, I h ave always seen photography as an extension of my craft that allows me to break free from the conventions and limitations imposed by cinema. The freedom of photography is captivating. The demands of headroom and composition restrict and confine the cinematographer; but the photographer, in contrast, has the liberty to act on instinct, to release the shutter based on artistic intuition. The lack of guidelines is an intoxicating freedom and perhaps the most gratifying one. A single still frame can tell as much of a story as ninety thousand feet of projected 35mm film. A still does not need to fit into the context of a film in order to have a beginning and an end. One has the ability and the time to nurture a photograph, to understand it holistically and to see its details instead of having one fly by at 24 frames a second. Looking at photography is much like reading a book; the audience dictates and interprets the context being presented in a subjective way. It enables the
audience to fill in the gaps on their own, in a creative way, without being forced to observe a whole sequence of events that tell a complete story (as movies do).
it when it is happening and capturing it is where the craft really shines. In those instants of creative transcendence, you are in complete control. While the control in cinematography is calculated, in photography, My interest in photography it is organic and fleeting. Most developed as an extension of the time, when I go out to of my early videography of take photos, I go alone. I let skateboarding and my passions myself be fully conscious of for the culture surrounding this the environment around me. lifestyle. After a short while of When that moment comes, it is filming skateboarding videos, precious and exhilarating, and I began to understand that that is what keeps you going. I was headed for something bigger than simply recording P h o t o g r a p h y, j u s t l i k e skateboarding tricks. Beyond cinematography and cinema, participating in the sport, I is a mixture of arts that have began searching for a way to existed for thousands of years document its underground but are now evolving through a culture and this transformative relatively new medium. I have period of my life. My dad agreed always seen my photographs to lend me his treasured Nikon and my approach as trying camera, on the grounds that I to maximize the interactive eventually give it back. That did aspect of the art. Rather than not happen. I started obsessively directly displaying an otherwise photographing everything lost moment in a photograph, in front of me, the mundane I aim to share the people, and the remarkable, as well as places, and aesthetics that occasionally staging shots that I have experienced in a new I thought might look appealing. way that might provoke and enthrall a viewer. My intention My primary approach has is to open the door for endless always been patience. Looking interpretation of this subjective for a beautiful moment is a form. waste of time, but noticing
The famous art school in Paris was originally built for the purpose of educating the most talented students around. Think drawing, painting, sculpture, engraving, architecture...less Banksy, more Michelangelo. The school split into the two divisions of 'painting and sculpture' and 'architecture', though students from both camps had to prove their salt as artists in figure-drawing classes. Students of architecture at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts are more than just logical thinkers and designers: they are artists, and are required to think like artists in order to impress their teachers. No wonder Paris is so freakin' beautiful. Edouard Vessiere, a second-year architecture student, said that he found 'a lot more depth and scope to architecture than just design or art'. The students are taught to consider their socio-political role as an artist with everything they do and every piece they produce. Asked why they had come to study at the university, Edouard and Mayeul, pictured, said they found Paris more pictureperfect than a more contemporary city like Berlin. But Paris has its downsides, too. It is not very advanced in terms of innovation and presents lots of regulations, not just in the field of architecture but also regarding social conduct. Which means that in Paris, at least, you still can't shag in public.
The Ecole des Beaux-Arts is the kind of place where genius is born. I'm not sure that we could handle schools like this in England: for a start, most students would just shag in public, and you certainly couldn't leave them alone with life models on a regular basis. Paris, you old goat, you've done it again.
'Architecture is artistic expression that uses design and is challenging. It's a very concrete, respectable practice, but it also has an element of abstraction that is fascinating' 14
THE LAST GIRL ON EAR
Shell Collector My child self rummages the tide line, Fa r f r o m m y f a m i l y ’ s p i l e o f t owe l s a n d s h o e s . Sort through the jumble of seaweed, surf and shellThat one, still intact, and gleaming. Take home the sodden masses Of plastic bags, loaded with damp sand, And the clink of those cast –off, Fresh found fossils. Arrival, tumble out of the car, Arrange my salty treasure trove On my single window sill, watch, The light begins its slow bleach of the sea. II The light began its slow bleach of the sea The day the shells washed up, e m p t y, perfect For the housing of my soul. I was told P r e s s i t t o yo u r e a r, yo u w i l l h e a r a n o c e a n . Certain of my echoes, I kept them B u t t h e y f a d e d , t a ke n from their coast. They didn’t retain the slick beauty Of their salt licked shapes. They became trash to throw, fling Their weightless p e b b l e s i n t o t h e w ave s , The tide lays its claim on the beach, The one, lost shoe afloat on its pull.
Magritteâ€™s Apple My cheeks bulge and swell Become an apple, the rock of my thoughts Floating above my stalk, my rounded globes. I am not something to eat, I am not a snack, no matter what you want to believe The tree that flowers from my throat Bears the fruit of my face. Crisp as the taste of a bookâ€™s binding; Hear the rustle, my stalk heavy with leaves. Th e tales I have to tell are tall and easy to carry Shove, swallow and digest I grow back. Large as a pumpkinMy forehead rosy, almost orange, ripened Then left to stale, grow soft. The rock of my thoughts drops. Watch as my pulp filled brain slides out: The seeds, the core, the green skin.
It is your birthday. You are 84 years old today. You are tired and tired of life. You complain your sleep is lost. ‘I cannot sleep!’ you cry. But you are sleeping now. ‘The end is near’ you say. ‘Not long now’. I have come all the way from Manchester to visit you for your birthday. I’m hungry and it is the middle of the night. My stomach is growling. The kitchen is next to your bedroom and I don’t know where the switch is for the little light. You have of course left the adjoining door to your bedroom open. Not that I have permission to scrounge through your fridge.
ARDRES my face as you said this. My help but make generalisations heartbeat quickened. Did you about groups of people, in line see my face turn red? with the government, in line with the French government, ‘Don’t worry, I don’t want a baby in line with Sarkozy, whom you now.’ detest.
What is wrong with wanting You live along the main road and a baby one day? I thought to the passing trade is loud. You The day before at lunch at the myself. say the immigrants walk down restaurant across the street your road to get to the jungle, or we ate with the parents of the You never had a child of your woods, only the jungle has been waitress. You forced me to admit own and the one you adopted shut down now by the police. that I was manic depressive. doesn’t speak to you anymore. I have not seen anyone except white people. I am the closest ‘Alors, you were ill last October? Did your godmother have thing to an immigrant in this With what?’ you asked me children? Did you model your village, as far as I can tell. casually as though inquiring life after your mother’s lover? about the weather. You never married because your Where are the immigrants in father was a playboy; you think a this village? The Afghan, the I opened my eyes wide and woman should be free of a man. Pakistani, the Eritrean, the looked directly at you, doing my Moroccan, the Iraqi? best attempt at a glare, hoping You think Muslims treat women you would change the subject. badly. You think Muslim men get Where? ‘I was ill,’ I replied. what they want. You have never been treated by anybody like Where are those knocking You whispered my ailment under that. at your door, asking for food your breath to the man sitting and money, who you say aren’t next to you, your acquaintance. Are you talking about me? allowed to enter your home or I was cornered. In slow, awkward you will surely be arrested for French, I explained how I used Staying here? serving tea? to take meds, then stopped, then relapsed, and am now on pills In your home? We both know. again. That was the beginning of an afternoon of wind-up The grandfather clock always They are in your mind, your attempts. rings one o’clock. You said your memories, in your taste for Muslim son broke it when he was the past. They are in black You told me you knew that I must trying to stop it from ringing. He and white photographs on the be waiting for a baby because broke it because he was trying to walls in your corridor. They are your medium told you. get his night’s rest at four in the in colour photographs in your front room and dining room. afternoon. ‘Now is not the time for a baby’ They are in England. They will you warned. The struggles of immigrants not return. worry you and yet you cannot I could feel the blood rush to CAROL HUSTON 20
THE LEGACY OF THE INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOP
Not many can remember learning how to read, but do you remember realising that there is a place you can go to that is all yours? That magical place between the pages of a book where you could forget about being told off by your mum and dad, not having enough money for the tuck shop, and being teased by your siblings? I remember the moment when I figured this out. It was in a doctor's waiting room with a book corner for children, and I sat in there for what felt like hours, reading a story about people that lived in houses made out of lemons. Reading, literacy and story-telling is a crucial part of our lives and, for many, is an essential crutch against the maelstrom of problems that life brings. At the centre of our early reading experiences are parents, teachers, schools, and bookshops. Bookshops, those emporiums of fantasy, with swathes of books embossed and colourful. But it's not just the books. It's the wooden shelves, the lamps, the tables, the comfortable sofas, the lovely couple running the place, the afternoon storytelling. It's the coffee corner where the tired parents sit talking quietly, leafing through glossy cookbooks; it's the students reading for hours without paying for anything. Those nooks of comfort that come from the pure, unadulterated love of reading. Skip forward twenty years and it's not so much of this that you see. We now have enormous bookshops with a clean, clinical finish, mountains of celebrity biographies being sold for an outrageous price, and three floors of titles closely framed by black, unremarkable shelves. Don't get me wrong, I like the convenience of these places as much as the next person: if I want a title that isn't too niche, I can usually find it within minutes and, should I want to, I can be in and out without being distracted by pretty covers. But, come on. You want to be distracted. You want to come across something you've never seen before and would never dream of buying, should you be presented with just the title and the author's name. Some of my favourite and dearest books are the completely spontaneous, guilty pick-ups that you keep fingering in your bag until you get a chance to gorge on it in the train, tram, bus, whatever. So here's the deal. Full-time staff in bookshops have a passion for hand-selling and promoting books. They craft events around their local trade, looking for ways to fill the appetite of story-hungry kids and teenagers. They create a bespoke reading
experience that the big chains so frequently fail to do. They understand the gaps in the stock of the big players, and often sell an eclectic range of titles to draw people in—and the more reflexive they are to people's needs, the less they need to rely on a big Delia Smith title at Christmas to keep their heads above water. The dedication of the staff also stretches to late opening hours. 7 pm finishes in the week and being open all day Sunday often means that they provide a sanctuary, somewhere to escape, and something to rely on. Events such as signings and book groups can boost the local communities interest in reading dramatically. They support festivals and new or local writers, thereby creating a lasting interest in certain artists and giving a chance for meaningful interaction. For the lazy reader, they provide a slice of heaven: escapism on a spoon. All one has to do is turn up.
A favourite bookshop of ours is Shakespeare and Co, the English bookshop based in Paris (just across from the Notre Dame). Their ethos is both grand and admirable: to house the struggling writer and provide a sanctuary for them during their time there. George Whitman opened the bookshop in 1951 and since then, an estimated 50,000 writers have placed their heads on those famous pillows. It is a system that helps to keep the business afloat: the writers are provided with lodging in return for their labour. During our time in Paris, the Shoestring team interviewed one of the in-house writers, PAUL KRAUS. Paul is an academic from Michigan, and is finishing a thesis rather than writing a novel—but he still writes creatively around his daily quota of disciplined reading and writing. (He is arguing that American Psycho is an allegory for themes of signification, in case you're interested.) He had been living at the bookshop for a month when we spoke to him. When asked why he had come to Shakespeare and Co, he told us that he 'needed a haven.' He had come to Paris to write and was finding it so tough that he pestered the owner until she gave him a bed.
Another crucial and priceless facet of the independent bookshop is the way they sell not only books, but authors. They generally stock the things they love, and are a powerful tool for the writers on their shelves. Publishers need to remember this and take the time to get to know 'I needed access to English books and English their local bookshops. people, because I can't speak French. There was no way I could write in hostels, they're just too For the new and young readers, books can distracting. This way, I get around 2-3 hours of sometimes be a bit boring. They are tried and reading done a day, and the same for writing. I tested, and sometimes, they need livening up. write really, really early in the morning—like, 5 Children need something slightly challenging am—and then help open up at 8 am, along with but still interesting and accessible, and indie everyone else. I have access to writing all the time bookshops reflect that with a wider range of titles. and I can read whatever I want. It's incredibly They also need paraphernalia like stationary, helpful for inspiration but, on the flipside, there cards and other non-book products. This is an is a lot going on here. I do get distracted from area where the publishers need to step up: they're my writing at times, and I don't get out into the ones who provide the goodies, and they need Paris that much. I feel very tied and indebted to do so at a reasonable price. to the place and there's always work to do, but I wouldn't have it any other way right now.' The domination of big chains in the book-selling market is so concerning that the CEO of The Bookshops are crucial to creative hubs. People Bookseller Association called on the government will never stop being creative and will never stop to protect independent bookshops. He suggested needing a support network. The work of bookrate relief for businesses with a cultural and sellers is a subtle and powerful tool for writers, educational value to 'protect the well-being of and so this is what we need to remember: if society'. Literacy is an important issue and at there's something that you love, support it. Give a time when the government is making cuts, it Waterstones a miss next time and go to the tilted, is imperative for publishers, the government wooden place on the corner. I promise that you and customers to band together and nurture won't regret it. opportunities for creative entrepreneurs running bookshops.
The first time I met El was at the graveyard. She had taken the emergency money left for her by her parents while they were away in Cyprus and got her nipple pierced and, brave on apricot brandy, she lifted her shirt to the boys, one by one, so that they could see the tender scab. When everyone else had gone home we were sat together on the low wall by the memorial and laughing. I can’t remember why we were so happy, only that El’s laugh was long and high like the sick-hungry cawing of a crow. I usually don’t get along with girls, she had told me, but I feel like I can say things to you.
she thought he was in love with her. He brings me presents, she said. She pulled her camouflage jacket around her and pointed to the Metallica “Kill ‘Em All” patch sewn on just above the hem. And he gave me one of his wife’s bracelets. Among her black plastic bands and wooden beads was a thin string of discoloured pearls. It looked very old. I asked if she was going to say hello to him but she said that they had to keep things quiet because of his wife. I said that he sounded like a real dick. I said that she shouldn’t let that dick just be such a dick to her. And to his wife.
It was a few months later, while we were sharing headphones and a strawberry milkshake on the brown steps of the old bank, when El said that she was seeing someone. I made a small noise from the back of my throat as El pointed to a man leaving the office block opposite. That’s him. He was a lot older than we were. He was wearing a blue suit and a thick tie and his shoes were wet-looking and pointed. His back was broad at the shoulders but collapsed into a small waist. From behind he looked like a kite in the wind.
How would you even know? El said. Nobody has ever been in love with you. She picked a crumpled deck of superkings from her pocket and pushed one between her loose lips. People fuck each other. That’s the way it works in the real world. I watched her watch him walk across the road and through the brushed steel door of the wine bar on the corner. Her mouth moved around the white stalk of the cigarette crayoning the filter with lipstick. I went back to McDonalds and bought a happy meal.
I said that he didn’t look like someone she would be interested in. She said that he did and that she should know because she had seen him naked. She talked about how under his clothes he had a tattoo of a snake which wound from his left ankle and around the trunk of his torso running to where his neck met his collarbone. The scales were coloured in purple and green, the open mouth and fangs in red and gold. She told me that he had a wife but that he didn’t love her. She said that
That night, while we held on to each other under the bedspread printed with little birds, she whispered to me again about how we would go to Paris together and about how we would wander around the catacombs. I fell asleep thinking of her walking, uncertainly but with a swinging step, through those dark corridors, drinking from a dusty bottle. I was following behind with my camera. When she turned around I snapped her against the rows and rows of ancient
bones. Her eyes as black and sunken as those of the skulls, her mouth ringed purple with wine. I woke and couldn’t make myself sleep again and spent the next two hours breathing slow and watching El’s face, lit green in noxious glow of the timer on the video player. The next day when were we hanging around near the precinct we saw him again, this time he was wearing a checked jumper. El said that he looked so sexy in that sweater that she just wanted to go and put her hands all over him. I want my tongue in and around his face, she said and made her crow laugh. He was staring into the window of the discount bookshop and she said Look at him; he’s so intelligent. The window display in the shop had a selection of children’s books about dinosaurs. In the centre was an oversized hardback, open to the middle page with a pop up of a stegosaurus. He touched his hand to his face and pulled it away and then looked at it. I could feel my heartbeat in the side of my head. It felt like it was pulsing so hard that everyone must be able to see. Just go and do it then, I told her. Fucking go and tell him you love him. El looked at me and her eyes were like hot marbles. A wave of nausea passed from my knees to the lid of my skull. She stood up and walked towards him. I wanted very much to stop her and to hold her hand very much but I didn’t know how to. As she got closer to him and he turned around to face her I tried to catch the corner, or the shadow of the corner, of a snake’s head creeping from under his collar.
FRITES The couple in the flat above have been shagging noisily for the past quarter of an hour, making bizarre sounds that unleash a torrent of images. I try to close my eyes, but it’s too light to get back to sleep. There’s this inconsistent slapping sound that can only be him slapping her arse. Can’t it? I become paranoid that my mental pictures are too unimaginative, but I can’t think what else the noise can be except the satisfying thwack of hand on flesh. If it was more rhythmic, I could tune out. Instead I stare at the small tangle of cobwebs near the ceiling, fluttering on invisible currents. The yelps get higher and higher pitched and the last cry is accompanied by what sounds like someone falling off a bed. Startled, the guy next to me props himself up and asks, ‘Did someone just drop a bag of apples?’ He rubs his face and looks at me, at first confused, and then with an intent expression. My smile drains away. He isn’t bad looking, but I can’t remember his name. Mike? Something monosyllabic. I’m fairly sure he’s here because he’s the only person who could converse with me in French. Pretentious dick. He turns to lie on his side, facing me. I glimpse the hairiness of his chest and recollect being surprised by it last night. He grins at me and I feel sick and naked. He likes me. He told me this repeatedly during the night. Under the duvet I pull on the over-sized T-shirt that serves as my nightie and mutter that I’m going to have a shower. I shut the door on him and feel able to breathe. My eyes are smeared with yesterday’s make-up and lines of eye-shadow sit in the creases of my eyelids. I can’t wait to douse myself, but when I turn on the water the pressure is so low that I feel like I’m in slow motion. I direct my face at the showerhead, wanting to be pummelled but there’s no sensation of being cleansed. I look down for what seems a long time, hair blackened by water, hanging like soft stalactites, my belly protruding too far, my pubic hair sprouting and unkempt, the mottled cellulite texture of my thighs. The sound of water hitting plastic turns into white noise and mixes with the ringing in my ears. It’s the puckering of my fingers that tells me I need to get out. There’s an assemblage of
toiletries on the plastic shelf and I can’t remember using any of them, yet my hair squeaks clean and my armpits are smooth. I pull on the T-shirt over my towel turban and borrow my housemate’s dressing gown from the back of the bathroom door. Feeling trapped outside my own room, I slope downstairs to the kitchen, make myself a coffee and try to think. For a few minutes I pretend I can’t feel the blear of alcohol, then I reach for the painkillers. Two paracetamols, two ibuprofens. His wallet’s on the kitchen table and I stare at it for about five minutes before I check it, then I look in my own purse and groan. At least fifteen quid in pound coins and fifty pence pieces. If I’d been too drunk to find the correct change, then it’s certain that I committed numerous other acts of idiocy besides the one in my bedroom. I’m not looking forward to finding out what they are. There’s the distant sound of a phone bleeping and I hope it’s not mine. Fuck it, I say to myself, and go upstairs and barge into my bedroom. Luke’s sitting in bed, propped up by two pillows, his pants still on the floor, broadcasting his triumph and my embarrassment. I get my rucksack from the wardrobe and throw it on the bed, not caring whether or not I bruise his legs. There’s a drowsy, contented smile on his face. He says something banal about late nights obliterating the weekend, but I find myself unable to respond. I focus on rolling clothes into soft, tight cylinders and fitting them into the rucksack. Everything is a shade of black, grey or navy. He complains about his head being fuggy from last night’s weed. I don’t understand why he’s trying. ‘Mmm,’ I say. It’s ten minutes since I took the painkillers and I’m wondering when they’ll kick in. He sits up and hugs his knees, the duvet still offering some semblance of propriety. He watches me take a few more trips between wardrobe and rucksack. ‘You’re going somewhere?’ he asks. I try not to cringe, nod my head, cram more things into the pack. ‘Where to? When?’ I look at him as he pushes a hand through
his brown hair – styled yesterday, and now bushy – and feel a wave of sympathy. He thought I was sweet and funny. Half-French – a bit exotic, as if there’s a gene for sophistication. ‘A funeral,’ I say. ‘Oh.’ He nods, sucks his lips inwards. He says he’s sorry and reaches down, fumbling for his plaid shirt. I don’t do anything while he puts it on and buttons it. I wonder if he’s finally going. Then he stops and looks at me again, arms back round his knees. ‘Whose funeral?’ he asks. He’s doing that concerned head-tilt. ‘My dad’s,’ I say, and look at the clock. It’s Sunday and it’s already two. Fuck. France. I’ve never lived here and I’ve never wanted to. The word evokes memories of slopping on warm Factor 35 and getting sunstroke anyway. Today could be another one of those excursions into Caen, where I put all my effort into not feeling embarrassed by my pallor. Instead I sit on the toilet seat for twenty minutes, applying and wiping off lipstick, unsure of the protocol, aware even as I’m doing it that the deliberations are pointless. He lived here fifteen fucking years and only two of the bastards bother to turn up. Everyone else is in some way or other a relation. During the service I try so hard not to focus on anything sentimental that I almost begin laughing at the sitcom reruns I play in my mind. I choke a little, hope my screwed-up face looks like emotion and grip my right hand with the left. I can feel it in my stomach, but I know I won’t be sick. The gathering at my dad’s house is as excruciating. I stare at a grubby mark on the kitchen tiles while the glass of grapefruit juice in my hand chills the veins all the way up to my elbow. Eddie – my step-cousin or something: there’s definitely no blood there – says something sarcastic to me. He catches my eye and winks, and I’m not sure how I’m meant to respond. I go to the toilet and investigate the remnants lingering on my driving licence. Then I go into my dad’s bedroom where I’ve left my rucksack. Instead of rifling through it, I lie down on his bed, sure that I can smell his scent on the
pillows. Pretty soon I can’t smell it any more, as if I’ve used all of it up, and I begin to cry because it’s gone. I must stay there for another half hour before I do my make up again and get changed. But when I re-emerge in front of the guests in different clothes, it’s obvious that they didn’t realise I’d ever been gone. I walk outside, lean against the fence and wish I still smoked. One of the locals ambles past on the lane, without bothering to wave. His odious toy poodle trots alongside his gigantic bellied form. He’s familiar from all my visits and I know he does a large circuit twice a day, so how the fuck does he stay so huge? I imagine a giant fridge stocked up with gateaux. Eddie wanders out and stands next to me, mirroring my pose as I scrape my nails along the wood. I don’t bother looking at him. ‘Normandy,’ I hear myself say. ‘The flatness. I hate it. Every day it’s as if I’m being disappointed for the first time.’ ‘Ah, you’re just hankering after your northern hills.’ I shake my head. ‘Look at it. There’s nothing to inspire anyone. Just fields and fields of fucking sunflowers and flax.” There’s nothing he can do except stare with me at the expanse of tediousness. Then he nods and says, ‘True.’ ‘I even remember being bored as a sixyear-old. You can see further than six metres in every direction simultaneously – what a novelty! And the French version of a service station – Jesus. It’s like the third world. A hole to squat over and a van selling frites.’ Eddie guffaws. ‘It’s true!’ I say. ‘My abiding memories of those first holidays are of heat and shit.’ I laugh, and then I can’t stop laughing. He puts his arm around me, and it’s that which makes me cry. I’m not going to shag him. I don’t think I can bring myself to. Maybe I’m changing.
JESS GHOST 29
A look at
If we can firstly overcome our prudish aversion to public nudity, life drawing can be a beautifully creative outlet for anyone. Whether you are looking to develop an eye for detail, become more experienced with a range of medium, or like many of us, you just marvel at the human body, attending regular sessions can provide inspiration, help to nurture some great transferable skills and provide some stunning interpretations of a pose. Here’s my advice on how to avoid the ‘Starbucks’ of life drawing. This is what you should expect from a well-facilitated, professional session and how to get the most out of it: For a short time I hosted a casual figure drawing class, with open arms to artists of all areas and abilities. Of course there’s never a shortage of classes available in any city, but after searching and trialling and much frustration, I realised that from Manchester to Melbourne, the world of life drawing seems to have adopted a rather awkward and regimented approach. It also seems to have the added rigidity of ‘show and tell’...
No thanks. I really dread the menacing echo of the teacher’s heels approaching as she paces the deadly silence of the room, peering over shoulders and saying things like “loosen up!” and “good depth, Jodie!”. I shudder and remember college days when most of us were just too immature to stop giggling at the poor model’s armpit hair. In my opinion, a life drawing session should be simple and adaptable. It’s about creating a relaxed, friendly and most importantly warm space, with enough room for the model’s sprawled limbs and enough intimacy for suggestions. Good music and careful lighting is a no brainer, as are comfy seats and some basic materials. I’d also recommend alcohol as a good creative relaxant. Some more structured groups will encourage a warm-up introduction to start, including more experimental approaches to poses of varying lengths; drawing without looking or with your opposite hand for example. These more chaotic exercises can help us reach out of our comfort zone and
become less precious with our work. They have been used for decades, inspired by the work of Nobel Prize winning neurobiologist Roger Sperry, whose published research showed how the two halves of the brain have very separate functions. The theory suggests that if we can draw with a more open mind, we tap into more creativity than we even knew we had. With practicality and order perception functioning in the left brain, and imagination and fantasy in the right, just imagine what it would all look like on paper. It’s still important, however, to choose a class which is structured in a way that suits you, and allows you to interpret the form in a way that you like. A variance in the lengths of poses, regular breaks and the freedom to move around the model can all ensure you really get the most from attending a group. If you find one that you like, make a habit of it. As well as supporting a locally grown organisation and artists/models alike, you will notice your drawing skills improve quickly.
In the meantime, don’t think the ancient art of life drawing isn’t available to you. We are surrounded by figures. Get your partner to strip down in exchange for a happy ending. They don’t have to be undressed, draw fellow commuters on the train, your mates, or yourself. We have been studying the human body since prehistoric times. Let’s keep it alive. ALICE COOMBE, class leader It turns out that I’d happened to casually mention to my boyfriend that I wouldn’t mind doing life modelling. The only reason I can be pretty sure of this is because some months later, out of the blue whilst enjoying a pint of ale, a friend of his (a girl I’d never met before that pint), popped the question, as it were. Probably without enough thought, I said yes. The event was to take place at the bar in which my boyfriend was a manager. I’m not sure whether the consideration that the class was, therefore, likely to include several of my boyfriend’s colleagues would have persuaded me against the idea but as I failed to think the matter through to any meaningful extent, we shall never know. I had only recently started a new job at the time and I found the most difficult thing in the run up to ‘kit-off night’ (rather than dealing with any nerves or anxiety) was having to contain my excitement and NOT tell all of my brand spanking new colleagues all about it! Had I known them at that time as well as I do now, I wouldn’t have worried about it, but I was still firmly in the ‘trying to make a good impression’ stage so thought it best to keep my nudey shenanigans to myself. So the night arrived. With no ceremony, I proceeded to the venue.
Taking a dressing gown was a blessed relief, for when I got there, the room was pretty chilly. If it hadn’t been for four ancient heaters which were hastily deployed there would not have been any shortage of places to hang the coats once the participants arrived. Thankfully that situation was averted. At first what surprised me was how unaffected I was by being naked in front of a room full of strangers. I didn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable, embarrassed or nervous, and I wasn’t even drunk! Maybe that’s unusual, especially for a first timer, but I can honestly say that it didn’t feel like it was any sort of big deal. I’d decided to do it, I’d agreed to do it, and I just did it. As the night went on, I began to feel something else. It’s rare to have just one person’s attention trained on you for such a long time let alone a whole group of people and there was something quite moving about being studied with so much focus and in so much detail. Everyone looking at me with so much intent gave rise to an unexpected feeling: it made me feel like I was worth looking at. Perhaps it was the intimacy of the setting or the care that had been taken of me that prompted the rise of emotion, but I began to feel a very warm happiness. The more intense the gaze, the less unhappy I felt about all my flabby bits and wonky bits because it was all on show, but they were all still looking at me, and it was...it was okay. It was okay. ALEXANDRA HARFORD, model
I like how relaxed a life drawing class can be, and how relaxed I can feel when I’ve just left one. The ones I go to anyway. I’ve heard they can be quite strict, and that some woman marches
round the class looking at what you’ve done and points out things that are wrong with your drawing. Sounds awful. I guess it depends which one you go to. You may have to have a shop around. A class usually has music on which eases any awkwardness that people may have. And if there ever is any awkwardness, it’s usually only the first ten seconds when the model whips off their robe. But then you realise the model doesn’t care, and nor does anyone else, so you can just relax and start drawing. With some of the classes I’ve been in, who ever is in charge throws a few suggestions out there to ease everybody into the class. For example, she might say: 10, 20, 30 second poses and quick one-minute poses from the model. We’re often encouraged to use different media, and perhaps trying different hands, and sketches with your eyes closed (although, this has always been optional and you can choose whether you’d like to join in or not.) I think this helps the class get into the swing of it, and also gets your eyes and hands used to drawing again, in preparation for some longer poses later, where you may choose to use more detail. You need to try and see the model as a 3d shape rather than an outline, or a man or a woman. I think this is the hardest bit but I think drawing quickly and doing the quick pose technique at the beginning can help you understand the form, making your representation of the subject much more life like, if that’s what you’re going for. Mostly though, the whole experience is supposed to be fun, and if it isn’t, you need to find another class. You should feel comfortable and relaxed, and left with the impression that you can draw whatever you want, however you want. MIA HAGUE, artist 31
models (in order of appearance): patrick, gethin, jon, joe, and dan. photography by kate vanhinsbergh.
THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING LOUISE RICHARDSON
Digital books aren’t going away, no matter how you feel about them. The face of the book trade is undergoing drastic changes and it’s not yet certain what the end result will be. As a bookseller I have a fairly obvious affiliation with the sensory nature of print and the beauty of a well-stocked bookshelf, but I don’t want to stick my head in the sand and miss some of the most exciting changes to ever take place in this much-loved industry. The fact is, eReaders are here, and they work. On commuter trains it’s unusual to not see one being used and I can (begrudgingly) understand why. Being able to browse and buy new books on the move and not having your shoulder dislocated if you decide on Bleak House is an attractive prospect. However, it’s also easy to see eBooks as an enemy. A fifth of interviewees said that they would not bother to try and recover their eReader if they lost it because of the embarrassing library they had saved. The ease of self-publishing also means that online bookshops are filling up with poorly-written works and self-help style moneyspinners produced by the literary equivalent of factory farms. These are cheaply priced, while their professionally edited rivals are only just cheaper than the bound version.
wouldn’t exist if we relied on print alone. The Kindle Single is a piece of fiction or non-fiction writing “as long as it needs to be” – essentially a short story or an article. These can offer an introduction to other works by the same author and are selling well, whereas collections of short stories or essays rarely see the light of day in print because people just don’t buy them. Book apps, another exciting new form, seem to be quality instead of price dependant. While the market is dominated by animated books for children, there have been some welldesigned apps for adults that people are prepared to pay a bit more for. The Waste Land is an in-depth look at T.S. Eliot’s poem of the same name. You can listen to the poem being read by different narrators (including Eliot himself), watch it being performed, hear academics discussing different sections of the poem and compare the final piece with a handwritten draft. While other apps costing £0.99 are disappearing in the crush, customers are happily shelling out £9.99 for The Waste Land.
When it comes to print, publishers have an iron grip on what gets produced and what we are likely to see. Customers are led by book covers and synopses, many of which are designed with current trends in mind. These trends also heavily influence what titles the It’s not all bad, though. eReaders publishers choose to buy and are giving rise to forms that what remains in the slush pile. 40
However, the amount of time it takes to turn a manuscript into a finished product means that publishers rely on these trends lasting, or else dictating that they will by saturating the shelves with titles of that ilk. With eReading, the power gets handed back to the reader. eBooks don’t have to rely on the results of a marketing spreadsheet being relayed through a publishing house, and as a result, eBook customers can dictate their new tastes in their own time. This could well put the focus back on the content of a book, rather than the genre it belongs to. eReading also means that books that don’t make it through a publisher’s highly selective nets still have a chance of getting read and becoming bestsellers. I think part of the difficulty with accepting eBooks is the possibility that they might eclipse their print ancestors. I don’t think I’m being overly optimistic when I say that I don’t see this happening. eBooks and print books are, for the most part, different products. It’s not always a case of pitting one directly against the other because people don’t always buy one exclusively. They outperform each other in different ways. Where eBooks are easy for use on the go, print books are meaningful and beautiful gifts. Where eBooks are easy to search within, print books are accurately printed far more of the time and easier
to reference in academic articles. Where eBooks don’t have to worry about number of colour illustrations or number of pages, print books display photographs and illustrations at their best and can be pored over without your eyes getting sore. I hope that the rise of the eBook is going to force print publishers to look at what their product can do that eBooks can’t. In his acceptance speech at the Man Booker Prize last year, Julian Barnes pointed out that books need to be beautiful, desirable objects if they are to hold their own. Physical books can’t compare on price, there are just too many overheads, but they can stomp all over digital books in terms of lush production and being covetable objects. I hope this new era will be one of even more attractive and tactile book production.
the inexorable rise, I don’t think the prospects are dark for print. I have met plenty of die-hard print fans and people buying physical books to complement their digital ones. The power is ultimately in the hands of the people that buy books, so if you feel strongly one way or the other, it’s down to you to help support that form. If you, like me, dream of having a house with a beautiful bookshelf, then help support the trade that can make sure that will still be possible in twenty years time.
"When it comes to print, publishers have an iron grip on what gets produced and what we are likely to see"
I am never going to stop buying print books, but I am excited by the changes happening within the digital sector. I love the idea of hearing poetry read aloud by the person that penned it, or perhaps watching videos of the author talking about their inspiration or recommending books they found inspiring. I can imagine online forums attached to eBooks so that by buying it you have access to a kind of online book group where you can discuss the work. I’m for the idea of books becoming communal territory (for those that want them to be). While eBooks are on 41
julia trotti 43
the yiddish policemen's union
Chabon is the only writer who can have me bellowing with laughter on one page and crumpling with tears on the next. His 2007 novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union is not my usual fare: it is a detective story set in an alternative history version of the present day. The premise is that during World War II, a temporary settlement with a sixty-year expiry date was assigned for Jewish refugees in Sitka, Alaska, and that the fledgling state of Israel was destroyed in 1948. The book opens with the murder of the messiah, who is, incidentally, a heroin-addict-chessbeast-genius. The task is set for detective Meyer Landsman to unearth the identity of the assassin, and therein lies my favourite part: Chabon has taken an age-old story line and turned it into something freakishly unique.
It is both hilarious and deeply emotional, and its observations are like a slap on the neck. Let's face it, you can't beat great writing-Chabon could write a story about a bald dog on his holidays and make it life-changing. But this novel has something extra. It's succinct and complicated at the same time, which is my perfect kind of book. I need instant gratification and baffling puzzles all at once, and this is the only time that I've ever really had that, without the writer resorting to cheesy hooks and curveballs. It is also, conversely, the only book that has ever made me cry. If you like complex, 3-D characters and a gripping story, you need to read it. We have no choice about the books that we call our 'favourite', and I am compelled to tell everyone I know about this book. Chabon, you are a fucking genius.
'I need instant gratification and baffling puzzles all at once, and this is the only time that I've ever really had that without the writer resorting to cheesy hooks and curveballs'
looking on darkness andre p. brink
My favourite book has a mysterious line sawed the back of my mind, of the hazy feelings which stir inside when I think of it. into the top, just a few millimetres deep, cutting through the tops of all the pages. I have no idea why. I remember rifling through a few musty cardboard boxes and seeing its bold, retro cover. My mum, who was there at the time, said you must read this. It really moved me. So I did. I was about fifteen at the time. I knew that the way I was moved was the way my mother had been moved. I felt that this book made us share something unspoken and secret. The book and I developed an intimate relationship. For several weeks it would fill my teenage mind at night after I’d finished my homework and before I drifted into slumber.
the back of my mind, of the hazy feelings which stir inside when I think of it. I think this is what makes a book your favourite. I spent my childhood in Zimbabwe and dormant memories from my time in Africa came to life as I turned the pages; colours, smells, heat. I was enamoured with the idea of the English female character moving to South Africa and falling in love with this eloquent black man. In my mind, the protagonist was strong, handsome and so perceptive, someone I wanted to fall in love with too, one day.
Through the book, I was introduced to the ugliness of apartheid, of racism. I had to stop reading during descriptions of his torture in I’m not a big reader. I don’t plough my way prison, so detailed in its maniacal precision, through books in a way that I often envy others because the tears kept blurring the yellowed for. I’m one of those people who has to fully take pages. in the lines that jolt something inside of you, that express something you feel you knew deep down I was introduced to sex in a way that linked it to but could never put so lucidly, so beautifully, so the beauty of nature, it was natural and beautiful perfectly. I’m one of those who, much to my own that their black and white bodies should touch. frustration, will re-read the same damn paragraph One passage describes the ecstasy they feel when two or three times to savour and understand it, skinny-dipping deep in the countryside, safe from their ugly reality. Then as night begins to fall, smiling reverently at the author’s intellect. the cold feeling of dread that comes over them Looking on Darkness was banned under apartheid when they realise they must go back, separately. in Brink’s native South Africa. The story of a sophisticated black actor awaiting execution for The book seemed to speak to my nascent the murder of his white lover broke every taboo perception of who I wanted to become, which was mirrored in a small way by the female character. in the warped book. It’s strange how a book can seem to know I decided not to read it again before I wrote this, something about us that we will only discover later. so I’d write only of the essence that remains in
The story of a sophisticated black actor awaiting execution for the murder of his white lover broke every taboo in the warped book. 46
‘ T h e Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier & Clay’
follows two young New York Jews and their creation of the comic book character The Escapist in order to metaphorically and physically free Prague from the menace of the Nazis. It’s a book about magic both spectacular and ordinary, and having faith in art to change the world. My reasons for selecting Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer-prize winning third novel as my favourite book are many. The most apparent of these is that the subject matter concerns a great love of mine: comic books. The bulk of the narrative is set in New York during the Golden Age of comics in the 1930s and 40s. The eponymous central characters are inspired by real-life comic creators like Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (themselves Jews and creators of Superman) and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, pioneers of the medium in its infancy and one many at the time believed to be total crap. But that is the geeky shit over with. I include these details only to illustrate that a part of the novel’s appeal lies in this paradox:
a critically acclaimed literary novel which, in its marrow, is a full-blooded love letter to the miracle and worth of trash art-forms – the connective power of pop culture. Chabon is an unapologetic champion of genre fiction; more specifically, a blurring of the boundary between genre fiction and literary fiction. Plot and style are sworn enemies. Often one must suffer for the other to blossom. K&C is a rare book with prose so sparkling it makes you green with envy, while remaining an entertaining plot-driven story. There’s wit, honesty and (perhaps most importantly for a modern novel) humanity in Michael Chabon’s book. The big, beating heart of the thing is what sustains it. I fell so hard in love with this novel that I mounted a trip to Prague, the setting for a portion of the story. Although it was not the sole reason for travelling, I secretly prayed for an unexpected encounter with the Kavalier twins upon the atmospheric Charles Bridge, a collision with cantankerous magic mage Bernard Kornblum in the old Jewish quarter. Favourite books are hopelessly subjective. Kavalier & Clay is not a perfect book (the war section drags and the female characters are roughly sketched), but it touches on so many subjects, locations, philosophies and themes that fascinate me (comic creators, Prague and New York, art and its effect, Escapism) that it felt crafted solely for myself. Isn’t that how all our favourite books feel?
"Favourite books are hopelessly subjective" OWEN MICHAEL JOHNSON
Photography by Julia Trotti Model - Coraline Bradbery at Chadwick Models Designer - Age of Intimacy Makeup artist - Lidija Jevremovic Hair Stylist - Linh Nguyen Jewelry - Museum of Small Things
Model - Erica East Hair & Makeup - Abbey Love Hair & Makeup assistant - Tina Tran Location stylist - Sheree Gaulke Stylist - Frolic Wollongong
La Matelote the restaurant was called la Matelote, -- the same word as le matelot but ending in an ‘e’ and therefore feminine. We debated what a female sailor would be called in English other than, of course, a sailor – ‘fish wife’ hasn’t quite the same éclat: shore-bound and down-to-earth, she scolds her husband wipes scale-covered hands on bloodied apron; ‘sailor girl’ sounds far more jaunty, even saucy, a jolly sea shanty of a lass who’s good at knots, but lacks maturity; a ‘woman of the waves’, though cumbersome, has a more romantic ring, laid-back and offering her ebb and flow, her undulating curves. In our minds these women all transmogrified into a mermaid, sea-born and always breaking free like words for which there’s no equivalent. Consulting a dictionary to check the latest addition to our French vocabulary we found ‘la matelote’ simply means ‘fish stew’.
First published in the French Literary Review, 2010
JARDINS DES TUILERIES
JARDINS des TUILERIES
(PREVIOUS PAGE) DRESS BY H N M. SHOES: MODEL'S OWN.
THIS PAGE: DRESS BY H N M. SHOES: MODEL'S OWN.
ARDINS s S
playsuit by tallia rodney shoes: model's own
top and skirt by tallia rodney necklace by prada 56
top and skirt by tallia rodney skirt by prada sunglasses: model's own model: oksana cherevko photography by kate vanhinsbergh
Tell us about what drives your personal projects. The subjects seem to shift and change with your mood, can you tell us anything about the process that gets you from an idea to a result? Looking back at my earlier work, it was more about creating images that ‘felt’ like my experience of a place, or sometimes how I wished to remember a place. Increasingly, however, I have become driven by things that affect me or those around me; documenting my grandmothers dementia has on its own changed the way I work, and I love that the medium reflects the condition. My most recent project, Fragile Mind, came from a very personal place. I had seen my grandmother affected by dementia over a number of years and I found the whole concept of losing your mind fascinating. I initially just started working around the subject – the house clearance when she was moved to a home was engrossing : the idea of leaving everything that you have collected behind. I started to work with objects from her house but increasingly it became much more important to document the real tragedy – which was my Grandmother and her new life… one of confusion, a sense of being lost and losing her identity. Its so strange when someone loses their personality and they become just a body. They look like the person you know but they as a personality are not really there. How have you translated your emotive approach to photography into a bread-winning career? I'm not afraid to turn away work, and always seek the kind of work I like to do. I’ve tried many things over the last few years and done some wellpaid boring jobs, money is money of course but happiness and contentment come first. It’s taken me a few years, but now I have a very unusual mix of teaching analogue and historic photographic techniques through my workshops, and then I also shoot weddings. I love both, but it has taken me years of working (and not necessarily paid work) 61
to define my vision and shoot the way I like. I shoot super shallow depth of field and work in manual pretty much all the time so I have little if any post processing to do. I don’t mess around with images – in ten years I don’t want people saying ‘look how 2012 his images were – when photoshop was all the rage’. Workshop wise, I’ve spent the past 10 years investigating, understanding and playing with every process going. I love the hand crafted images created that way – it goes against what photography is supposed to be – infinitely repeatable. There seems to be an increasing appreciation for the type of processes I teach and the workshops are increasingly booked up; I've attracted the sponsorship of companies such as Ilford, and I'm very positive about the future of analogue photography. Analogue sets people apart. You have a very personal approach to your photography. There is a lot of emotion and inference in your work, which is a winning formula for film photography, by its very nature. The possibilities for provoking a response in your viewer are endless. Why do you think you haven't narrowed down your style into one simple, easily recognisable visual signature? It all comes with age. I feel like I have only just started to understand my work, and it has been a long slow process. Each time I do something I learn, some things work, something don’t, but it always leads somewhere. Sometimes I see no links through much of my work but other people do, and sometimes I make something and think – this came from the work I made a year ago. I'm always thinking about my work and it is becoming more and more personal. How have you promoted and marketed yourself as a photographer? The workshops sell themselves—I'm the worlds worst marketer / promoter but as soon as someone sees theW workshops I get an email. Often they have a project in mind, or want to make work that is unique. In a world dominated with throw away images and millions of images being created per second, to hold a glass plate or a salt print in your hand makes people realise just how special photography in its real sense is. For the geeks, can you tell us about the photographers whose work you look at regularly? Your inspiration, for example, and the people from whom you have learnt how not to do things? For weddings: A guy called Jose Villa. His sense of light and capturing emotion and beauty at a wedding is unprecedeted. If I won the lottery I would fly over and ask to be best friends and dress like him. For alternative processes: The people I like are the Parkeharrisons, Ambrose and Wether and Adam Fuss. They all have a clear voice and produce work that takes it away from being a printable ‘million copy’ piece of paper with ink on it. They all make physical photography – photography as an object.
photography by julia trotti Model - Andrea Buckman 64
INTERVENTION Towards the end of the flight I think: when I get home tonight, I want to find our home ransacked. I want to find our stinking bins emptied out into the front garden and your dirty washing tipped into the snow by two fat men in balaclavas. I think: I’d like to stand on the street, hands streaking my cheeks, in front of neighbours who don’t yet know the news. I could run inside, followed by rubberneckers, and open my wardrobe. There I’d find my shirts shredded, my fingers buried in the damage as I held the stringy leftovers close. I could open your wardrobe. See what you’d left in there. The plane sinks downwards, swerves, and the headline is I’m still here. I don’t get sucked into the air vents above my head or down into the engines below. Even though right now I’m last night’s cheap wine, last night’s slip on the ice, and my head is a washing machine with a rock in it, they say I’ve been keeping to my schedule perfectly. Carrying out plans made when I was another man. In the circumstances, that sounds unlikely. But then, they say we’re flying here, and how likely is that? Hundreds of us, all easing so comfortably onwards, swimming through clouds, London to Glasgow in under an hour. Most of us have forgotten we’re not secure. We’re considering buying discounted aftershave. But when it comes round and it’s offered up, I can’t make my mind up about the Allure – I’ve not slept in a week and I’m leaking out through my pores. Maybe my skin is my only remaining organ – it’s the only one I can see – and if it is all I have then maybe I shouldn’t swamp it in chemicals.
man next to me is beyond wasted. The man says he’s coming home too. He’s singing Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think, bumping his head against the seat in front with every other slurred word. This song has only two lines so he has to just keep repeating them. Eventually he breaks off to ask if I’m taking the piss. If I’ve got a problem. To tell the air hostess that this miserable dickhead won’t sing along, and it’s a very easy song really, and we all have fucking problems you know. I can’t talk to him, or anyone. I’m about to ask the man to breathe on me, to get me drunk in one toxic stinking blast, but the air hostess cuts in. Stop bothering the nice man, she says. He’s not being unreasonable. I smile, cross my legs and look out of the window, hoping she’ll understand. It’s getting dark out there in space. Soon, we won’t be able to see anything.
I turn back, watching the air hostess slide through the aisle, talking behind her hand to a colleague as she moves. He glances my way and shakes his head as if to say, There’s always one. He gives me that aw mate smile I’ve had a lot this week, and he answers the air hostess in a whisper. Then he turns and refills his trolley while she whispers into the intercom. All this time she’s eyeing me as if I’m some bone-skinny cat with rescueme eyes and three legs and I’m thinking: I haven’t even done anything. I’ve been burgled in my sleep. I watch her lips move and fill in the sounds as if I know what they are. As if I’ve ordered her to make them. She’s saying: Whatever happens, Derek, remember to rip the radiators I’ve thought for too long. The duty free from the walls and hurl the computer floats past. through the window. But do it with love. He’s still in the forgiveness stage. The pilot is talking about speed. The They can arrange that you know, even 66
at short notice. Customer satisfaction is everything. They can find a specialist, be with you quicker than a plumber. And you don’t even have to be in when they call. The man is snoring now and I’m thinking that I’ll be on the floor tonight. Before this trip, I slept on the couch – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. The bed lay stripped, untouched. With any luck, neither will exist any more. The plane is making its final descent. Inside only the reading lights remain, little alien beams in the black, and outside those clouds have become thousands of laminated houses in the distance. The houses are surrounded by laminated fields with laminated hedges encasing them in neat laminated squares. Everything is in order. As we lurch downwards again, the air hostess comes round to check we have our seat belts on properly, our iPods and iPads turned off. There’s a shake somewhere in the belly of in our machine as she does walks by, but this woman has seen everything. She looks at me saying, You’re going to be just fine, and right then I want to pull her towards me and lick the make-up right off her face. She must know that’s what I’m thinking because she leans over and gives my hand a light squeeze, her warmth fizzing up my sleeve, down through the buttons of my shirt and into my jeans. I’m surprised I’m capable of feeling this, and wonder what else I’m capable of. It’s getting rockier now. The plane shudders and jolts, waking up my man who begins to sing again...IT’S LATER THAN YOU THINK! he spits, at no one. As he’s singing, beating the chair with his palm and trying to rouse a few supporters, I tidy my things away into my rucksack thinking: after this journey ends I will arrive at the airport, and no one will meet me. I will stride through the airport lounge to baggage reclaim. The assassins will work while I’m waiting for my suitcase to drop onto the belt. They’re professionals. As they shatter the light
bulbs we bought I’ll get health food in for dinner from the mini supermarket at the airport, maybe think about repairing the bike that’s been rusting in the hallway, all this as I choose between near-identical bundles of asparagus. While I wheel my suitcase round to the taxi pick up point they’ll be daubing our walls with graffiti, the filthy insults in big letters, primary colours, in thick block shapes. As the taxi heads out onto the motorway, our furniture will be chopped up and put through the grinder. They’ll be efficient, these men. Their stomachs will be straining to burst out of their skins. By the time the taxi pulls off the main road and onto our street they’ll already be half way to the next job, a warm glow in their chests and several piles of sawdust in every room. They’ll tell jokes as they leave, inflate as they walk, then at the end of their shift they’ll go home to get a hard-earned treat from their loyal wives. Everyone has a wife. I notice that now. And when I put the key in our lock I’ll find it smashed. The door will swing open, I’ll stand in the hallway and hold myself in. Maybe I’ll stand there for hours while friends queue up on the doorstep to touch my shoulders and tell me it’s not my fault. That there’s nothing I could have done. I’ll not scream or punch the floor. They’ll say my spine is still so straight, my gaze is like a lighthouse, they can’t believe it, and I’ll nod and tell them I know. I’ll be thinking: Thank God they burned our filing cabinets. Now I won’t have to divide the paperwork. Then I’ll pace through our hallway, coat still zipped up, clocking the dirty boot prints in our bedroom, the vomit in the sink, the globs of mud in the bath. I’ll notice the bed is gone, already broken up and sold on in parts, and I’ll birth a secret smile, letting it out through one of the broken windows. My friends will be looking elsewhere.
Rodge Glass 67