Monday, 26 July 2010

"Defenders of the neighbourhood…"

My sister, her flatmate Lisa and I bore witness to a disturbing altercation last night. A man – drunk - and a woman - not drunk, dressed stunningly, were alone in the darkness.

He was ranting. She was saying “get in the car.”

“F*ing c*, f*ing c*”

She shrieked. There was the sound of smashed glass. When he came into view again he was swinging himself around lamp-posts. He heaved a picnic table up above his head and dropped it on the pavement.

“Stop!” she shrieked.

“GRRRR.” he returned.

“He’s like a gorilla,” my sister said. “I think he’s all talk, though.”

“Look at what you’re doing. Look at what you’re doing to ----“ the woman appeared to be showing him a picture on her mobile phone.

“F*** off!” he said and began walking away, the woman followed him, all the time talking on the phone.

“Leave me alone! Get off that f***ing phone. I don’t want to hurt anybody. You think I wouldn’t!” he said.

“You’re already hurting people,” she said.

“Hurting people… F***.”

“Yes, you’re hurting yourself,”

“I’m hurting myself!”

“Why doesn’t she just walk away?” Lisa said.

“I think we might need to call the police again,” my sister said. She’d already phoned them once to deal with what sounded like an assault in her block of flats this week.

He turned on the woman.

“I’m going to f***ing kill you” he said.

“She’s by herself down there,” Lisa said. “We should take a phone with us.”

All three of us grabbed our shoes and I rammed my hat on my head, because a face in shadow feels braver. We ran down the stairs.

The man was walking towards the woman, who just stood staring at him. We were on the other side of the park shouting.

“Mate, if you don’t calm down I’m going to call the police!” Becky said.

“I’ve already called them,” the woman called back, standing before him with astonishing placidity as he swaggered up to her, his hands rising to her throat.

“Leave her alone!” I was on the verge of tears suddenly. They looked around. I put my hand in my pocket, tilted my head on one side and stuck out my chin.

He backed away from her then and carried on ranting.

“Come on, Alex. She’s already called the police,” my sister said. We retreated to watch from the window of her flat. Part of me was itching to go outside and stand next to the woman – but they could both see us watching from the window at least.

“Why doesn’t she walk away?” Lisa murmured again.

The police arrived and began talking to him. “Nice to see you again.”

The man was suddenly humble in his explanations.

“I went off my rocker, that’s what happened. I’m very sorry.”

“Yes I understand everybody needs to blow off steam once in a while. Is there anything in particular that has happened recently that has made you feel this way?”

The woman walked away with the other policeman. They continued their murmured conversation.

“What I’m concerned about, sir, is there may be some underlying issues, here…”

“And that’s why you shouldn’t drink Stella,” Lisa sighed.

“Look at us. Defenders of the neighbourhood.” Becky said. “Can everybody just CALM DOWN, please.”

I find it odd that we three girls were ready to run outside and speak out for the sake of a woman alone in the dark, but other passers by just looked at the ground, hurried the hell on their way.

Your own safety first, right? I know that’s sensible – little good comes of detachment though.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

"My love's my own."

I've just come back from a couple of days visiting a friend in Wales. She trains horses with a traveller in a trailer. Giving me a lift to the train, he told me a little of his life story - a constellation of pain and resilience with so much depth, I hope he won't mind me sharing.

He smiled when he spoke about his daughter.

"She’s mint, actually. She’s absolutely mint.

The thing is, she always adored me, ever since she was a baby. She wouldn't even go to sleep until I got home, though I’d be out working ‘till one in the morning sometimes.

I haven’t seen my daughter for two years now. I’ve got court orders saying I should see her, but her mum doesn’t want me in her life. She wants to be single mum with a tragic story living on the dole. So she tells terrible tales about me – she told these gypsies that I’d kicked her teeth in and left her in a pool of blood. She got them in such a state that they wanted to come find me and sort me out.

Luckily for me, they knew somebody that knows me – not only knows me but has drunk with me, been in trouble alongside me. So I got a phone call from this guy and he says “Are you a different person to who you used to be?" He knows I’m not a violent person. I never have been.

The good thing that came of it is that now, these gypsies are keeping an eye on my daughter for me. I know that if there’s any trouble, they’ll let me know.

I was so well-behaved in court and represented myself as my own solicitor. I got commended by two separate judges for my good behaviour. All I did for that was I imagined my father were sitting behind me.

I didn’t drop a single vowel, then, because you can’t. Not when he’s around.

When I was growing up you were allowed to beat your children. You were even allowed to beat your wife. That’s what he did. You weren’t supposed to take it too far – but he did that, too.

Violence was all he’d ever known. His mother died when he was twelve. One day my grandad grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, literally, and marched him down to the army station and signed him up. My dad didn’t want to go into the army, but he didn’t have a choice.

My mum? All she ever wanted was a girl. Instead, she had three boys in space of two years, and she was all by herself. She had hard times dragging all three of us boys through airports. Life was hard for her. We were moving every six months to a different country. I was born in Northern Ireland but I can't remember it. Back in the 1970s that was a real war zone, so what were they doing sending her there? It was good that we left.

Fourth time she got pregnant, it was a girl. But, she lost the baby. When she lost it, she didn’t just lose the baby, she lost everything. That was the end of that.

She's a good mum. She cooked well for us. We never wanted for anything, but there was no love. She never had any love for us. Even now, if somebody comes to hug me – just a friendly hug – I find that difficult. My love’s my own. I didn’t get that from anybody else."

"I remember one time we moved…" [laughs] "She made one mistake. She told us to go to school but the house she chose was a mile three quarters away and we had to walk. Between home and school, there was a forest…”

We'd arrived at the train station now and he trailed off with an owlish look.

Next time I visit he said he’ll teach me to ride.

Friday, 16 July 2010

"It's rude not to say hello."

In London, so many strangers can see your face, but that's no bad thing. Recently, I was on the overground as night fell, crying discretely.


A direct smile makes a world of difference. Instantly, I dried up.


His friends started laughing.

"I just told them, it's rude not to say hello," he said. "Where've you come from?"

"Nowhere in particular. I'm going to my sister's in Acton."

He asked me what I do, so I told him about Salon D'Été, trying to paint this picture for him.

"It's pop-up," I said. "The whole place might be going under soon."

We never exchanged names, but were solid friends for 30 seconds and I forgot what I was sad about.

"You're getting off?" he said. "I thought you'd be coming back to mine."

The whole thing could just have been an extended chat-up line - but life's better when it's riskily open than routinely alienating.

Worries come and go. The important thing is completely removed, and this video seems to capture it. Oh… Andrew Bird

On further musical notes - last night the Salon was alive with joy. Regulars The Dixie Ticklers got the place jumping and I'm not sure how 'ambience' is created, but credit design by my friend Ed Saperia, who appears to have a talent.