Category: Uncategorized

Leee Nite – Rest in Space

photo by Mark Pilkington
photo by Mark Pilkington

It’s sometime in the mid-noughties in a basement venue in Dalston. Not the Dalston we know now but a more down-at-heel Dalston that acts as a counterbalance to its more popular cousin, Stoke Newington.

A man and a woman are on the stage. The woman is slight and addresses the ungainly form of an old Korg synthesizer, the man is wearing a cherry red SG and towers over a shanty town of effects boxes. The armada of pedals annexes half of the stage. If he switches all of them on at once we fear that the power in the venue might fail or perhaps the block might become a singularity where gravity brunches heartily upon space and time.

The idea, he explains earlier at the bar, is to keep the signal moving around the maze; transforming, expanding and contracting like an electric genie for as long as possible. It’s like ten million years down in there.

At the end of the set after the applause has died down and the next band start to set up I wonder if the signal is still in there somewhere.

https://soundcloud.com/noise-immemorial/morgen-nite-star-in-a-jar

Raagnagrok Album in September

26337_179742548839729_2047863471_n“In July 2005, in the immediate wake of the explosions that ruptured the London transport network, a small package was delivered to a Stamford Hill address for the attention of Mr Otto Amon and Mr Solomon Kirchner. The gentlemen who recieved the package have never revealed who sent it to them or what was inside it but a body of urban myth has grown up around the Lapis or Ovoid that was rumoured to have been seen in various locations from Frognal to Fitzrovia.

“We are told that Amon and Kirchner subjected the Lapis to broad and narrow range frequencies in Pythagorean clusters which caused the object to “sing” or “recite”. We are also told that for five or six years, in spite of their efforts, the lustreless surface of the Ovoid could not be broken.

“The object, whatever it was, has never surfaced in the collectors’ market, and its recipients have maintained their silence. Whether their newly released collaboration, Man Woman Birth Death Infinity, affords any clues, we cannot honestly say.”

http://lotushouserecords.com/

R.I.P. Jack Vance

As a society matures, the struggle for survival imperceptibly graduates and changes emphasis, and becomes what can only be termed the quest for pleasure.

(From Baron Bodissey, Life, Volume III; Jack Vance -The Star King, Chapter 6)

Disinterest

Why cannot the banks be as disinterested in money as I?

Their avarice I find I despise and their investments are so often unwise.

The guys who gamble and carousel on our hard-earned cash are like scamsters,

I would much prefer that hamsters should eat their way through my pies.

In Japan when an investor fails he is like to commit suicide,

While the Wall Street investor shall take no interest if my fortunes cannot be revived.

Vilified: here is a word that to them is too rarely applied,

And snide critiques of their failings will alter not bonus nor pride.

So please advise: Why cannot the banks be as disinterested in money as I?

(inspired by a dull letter from Lloyds TSB) 

At Sun Dairy

149168627_aa2f91388fI spent a few weeks in Quatre Fours about five years ago after my father died. I’d already had enough of the dusty converted farmhouse where he’d lived with his third wife for a decade. She was a generous maternal French woman who liked dogs. The dogs drove me mad with their sniffing and pawing so after a couple of days I made an excuse to move into a guesthouse.

Summer in Quatre Fours was unbearable at noon. The sun would bleach everything alike with its buttery light and the blazing oven of heat would force everyone into shuttered rooms to take a natural siesta.

The Wednesday of the funeral was mercifully cooler with a modicum of cloud and a westerly breeze. After the service at the crematorium chapel the celebrants decamped to a nearby Chinese restaurant. I wasn’t going to stay long. That side of the family made me irritable and nervous, and besides I had hired a car so I couldn’t drink as much as would be necessary to make the wake bearable.

After the main course I stepped outside onto the veranda to have a cigarette. A young man who seemed to be from the funeral party stepped over briskly to offer me a light.

“I’m terribly sorry about your father,” he offered, “I knew his writing very well. He had a devastating critical intelligence.”

I nodded, not quite knowing how to answer this. He shifted his hands uneasily in the pockets of his baggy suit.

“Luther Blissett,” he explained, “your father may have mentioned me. We had a correspondence going back twenty years,” he laughed, “back to when I was studying for my first degree at the Institute.”

“You really don’t look old enough,” I finished up my cigarette.

“Yes,” he admitted, “it’s strange watching your contemporaries become bald and grey. Fat too. I’m sure it’ll come to me sooner or later. Well, it was nice to finally meet you. Your father often spoke about you in his letters.”

I left after the dessert course. It was late afternoon. I felt unsettled from eating a big meal so early so I took the car out of the business park and onto the autostrada where the sun flattened everything into perspectiveless arcs and curves. I took the exit for Isigny, the nearest village to the guesthouse, easing my way through the gear changes. It was a country lane surrounded by orchards and irrigation ditches.

As if a switch had be flipped somewhere further back in the structure of things, everything suddenly died in the car. All the indicators went out and the motor died leaving me rolling along with the sound of the wheels on the road scudding around me. A sign came up on the right: Sun Dairy. I let the car roll into the turning for the dairy. Behind the row of cyprusses it opened out into a gravel path which abraded the car to a standstill.

The dairy itself was a three storey barn; old, dark and cool. I reached into my bag for my mobile phone. After digging around for a few minutes I remembered that I had left it on the bedside table at the guesthouse. I could almost see it there in the empty room waiting patiently. I locked up the car and crunched over the gravel towards the barn.

I walked all the way around it to the back end where it was open. Goats wandered around the yard, strange eyed and deferential. Inside a girl sat on a stool milking a goat.

“Hi, hello,” I said, “I’m sorry, my car has broken down, just outside.”

She nodded. I thought for a moment that maybe she didn’t understand English but from the expression in her eyes it was obvious that she did. She wore an old fashioned pale cotton dress. Long red hair and a face burned pleasantly leathery by the sun and air. She was sitting on a little stool with three fat little legs. It rocked as if about to topple as she milked the goat.

“I’m sorry, I’m afraid I forgot my mobile. Would it be possible to borrow your phone?” I asked, “please?”

She indicated a big black device on a desk at the end of the room. It was a heavy bakelite telephone, possibly from the beginning of the last century. It was cold in my hand and against my ear. I found the number of the guesthouse on the receipt in my bag. The dial purred back as I dialed each digit. I explained my situation and asked them to send a taxi to Sun Dairy as soon as possible.

“So sorry to disturb you. I should give you some money for the call.”

“No need,” she shook her head, “sit down and tell me where you are from.” She smiled as the sun peered through a dusty window obscuring her face with a spray of light motes. I could still see the goat and her legs on the milking stool, rocking the three stubby legs unsteadily.

“I’m up from the city. My father used to live here for many years. I was just coming back from his funeral.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Thank you. He was a…” I stopped, my head suddenly vacant, “It’s the strangest thing, you know I can’t remember what he looked like. Not a thing. Whether he was short or tall. Whether he was fat or thin. I think he was kind but he might have been cruel. I’m really not sure.”

“That’s not unusual,” she smiled, “it’s probably some sort of anxiety reaction.”

“I don’t feel anxious though.”

There was the sound of a car horn out at the front of the dairy. I thanked her and took my taxi back to the guesthouse. It was a shorter drive than I had imagined but the early evening had become very humid and listless. I hoped there might be thunder.

That night I didn’t sleep well. I slept fitfully in episodes of a half hour or fifteen minutes. In my dreams I would be running along the high street, across car parks, onto the gravel and into the darkness of the barn at Sun Dairy to witness the girl toppling off her stool. Every time I would be hurrying to get there, to see this event. She would fall off the little three legged stool. Sitting dazed on the floor with one of the fat little legs up her dress, between her legs.

It went on and on into the night reeling itself out again and again. Running across unknown backdrops towards this destination, this catastrophe. Her falling off the stool. The stubby leg of the stool pushing up into her dress. The dazed expression on her face. The strange eyed goats surrounding her, nibbling at her clothes.

The next day was hot again. The sun whiting out into midday, I found myself in a cool church just outside Quatre Fours. The dark interior flanked with blazing stained glass. My mobile vibrated in my pocket and I answered.

“Hello, sorry to disturb you, my name is Luther Blissett. We met at the wake, at the restaurant.”

“Yes, hello, yes, I remember. How are you?”

“I’m fine. I’m fine. I just spoke to your stepmother. She said you might have possession of a file of your father’s papers. I would be interested in looking at them with a view to publication. If that is alright by you.”

I remembered the file he was talking about. It was a battered old blue cardboard file in a supermarket carrier bag. I could see it sitting under the table in my kitchen at home, sitting there patiently waiting for me.

“I’m not sure if I have it,” I said, “I could have a look for it if you like?”

“Your stepmother seemed to think you’d have it.”

“I’m not sure. Look, I’m a little busy now. Can I call you back?”

I spent the rest of the afternoon idling around town cafes, sitting under the parasols drinking Ricard with icy water. The dream was still with me. The girl. The stool. The stubby leg. The goats. Maybe, I thought, I should go and see her. Maybe that would resolve it.

I picked at an expensive, over-rich dinner at a riverside cafe that evening. I was indulging myself. I deserved whatever I wanted. I was mourning after all. Although I still couldn’t remember what my father looked like, his voice, anything he’d said. All I could see was the carrier bag under my kitchen table at home, sitting there silently and patiently, bearing witness to my father’s intellectual legacy.

I looked at the call log on my mobile and found the young man’s number. I didn’t ring it. I drove back to the guesthouse and another night’s disturbed sleep.

That night I fell to sleep immediately. The dream was back but this time it was different. I was driving over the sun bleached autostrada. The car eating up the kilometres. The wheels humming on the road. Gliding into the turning for the country lane I was aware of myself dreaming, I saw myself gunning the engine towards myself asleep at the guesthouse. At the last minute I turned to car into the gravel drive of Sun Dairy.

In a jump cut I am striding towards the darkness of the barn, towards the girl on the stool milking the goat. The goats, strange eyed, part like a sea around me. The phone on the desk is ringing. The stool is unsteady under the girl but she maintains her balance. I bear down on her urgently pushing her off the stool. She falls to the ground startled, her legs apart. I take the stool by one of the stubby legs, pushing her skirt up over her belly.

A bark of thunder outside wakes me from the dream. I feel like I have been thrown off the edge of a cliff. The room at the guesthouse is dark and calm but for the ticking of the bedside clock. Rain starts to splash the windows in big ripe tears. More thunder but further out over the mountains receding. I get out of bed and open the window to air the room. Behind my eyes I can still see the girl lying fallen with her legs wide. I smoke a cigarette and go back to sleep.

I dream again but it is different this time. I am in a darkened church at midday. The windows are luminous with stained glass, the air is rank with incense. The doors open admitting a man and a flood of intolerant sunlight into the narthex. He paces up the aisle slowly towards me.

“Hello, my name is Luther Blissett, we met at the wake.”

“I can’t help you with my father’s manuscripts. They are,” I pause, “unavailable.”

“I see, I see. But you know she hasn’t fallen off the stool, don’t you?”

“Sorry, what are we talking about?”

“The girl at Sun Dairy has neither fallen off the stool neither is she sitting on the stool. She is like the cat in the box in the experiment: neither alive nor dead.”

“I still don’t understand.”

With the end of the week arriving I booked a train ticket out of Quatre Fours and went back to the city. People, meetings, agendas, care and disinterest descended back upon me like a comfortable old shawl. A week later the young man phoned again. I didn’t answer the phone. He left messages on most days which I deleted immediately.

A year later I came back to Quatre Fours for my stepmother’s funeral. She had followed her husband out of this world. I stayed at a different hotel this time but before I left town I drove down the country lane towards Sun Dairy. Turning into the gravel path I saw a delivery van parked outside the front of the barn. Noises were coming from the building: mechanical noises. I walked around to the back of the building. There were no goats milling in the yard and the doors were closed at the back. A man in white overalls came out of the barn.

“Excuse me. Is there a girl who works here? She has red hair.”

He shook his head.

Peering into the barn it was filled with processing machinery.

“Is this still Sun Dairy?”

He nodded, “yes, it is.”

Ten Miles North of Asciibridge

Where the crossroads at the Star Inn bends left at Mombassastrasse, the green and gold confections of the St Riel proper turn grey with the dust of diesel fumes, and the old weed-infested railway tracks run lonely twenty miles along anonymous light manufacturing until they reach the Sacred Precinct at Asciibridge. It’s a back route, a short cut for lorry drivers avoiding the byzantine turns of the Royal Borough. No one walks along the narrow cracked pavements, and no one sees the fabric of the place.

It was with this injunction in mind that Soma Jones took me mile by mile along that abandoned trunk route, his carrier bag full of fun cameras and cheap chocolate bars. I took a low-resolution 320×240 pixel mini-DV and a litre of Vanilla Coke. (“Do you believe this stuff? It tastes like the ice cream you get in cinemas!”) We wore stout raincoats in case of bad weather but for much of our journey we cursed them for their dead weightiness.

We started out in good spirits in spite of the muggy weather. Soma grinning about himself, and at the juggernauts, and at the bitumened wooden fence sagging under the weight of lush vegetation. No trains had run along this line in fifty years. At the service area ten miles north of Asciibridge old haulage drivers would swear blind that they had seen lights moving along the railway late at night. Clutching rosaries in their aged fingers they would pray to Our Lady of the Autostrada to intercede on their behalf. They would light sweet incense in their cabs at night for protection.

But that wasn’t why we were here.

We were here because Soma Jones had found a map, a photocopy of an OS Landranger folded into the back of an old book of photographs: pictures of Macedonia at the beginning of previous century. One hungover Sunday in Hastings while we were browsing through Mr Mouji’s cluttered junk shop Soma had found a stack of old books in a carrier bag under a table. Mr Mouji told him  that they were not for sale but Soma had insisted that he should be allowed to buy them. Mr Mouji complained that they were his own books and that he had lost them under the table. “I am very pleased that you found my books for me but…”

Soma cut him off, “Finders keepers!”

The books mouldered in a pile in the corner of my living room for weeks. Sometimes we’d see Mr Mouji in pubs on the seafront. He would smile broadly, “Can I buy either of you gentlemen a drink?” he would say. I would always take him up on his offer but Soma would give him a stony “no”. Soma would normally knock over my drink or drop something into it at some point in the evening: a lighter, a salt cellar, or most often – my specs.

So it was strangely apt that clumsiness, or perhaps a spiteful spirit brought the map to our attention. One night when Ana and her husband came over for a drunken session of djinn rummy Ana accidentally trod a stray glass of wine into the carrier bag containing the books. Soma saved what he could of the contents and while he was brushing glass of the wine sodden cover of one of the book, a map dropped onto the kitchen floor.

There are easier ways to find the lost metro station at Pica. The location, as it was marked on the map, lies some three miles southwest of Asciibridge. It would have been easiest to have taken the tram as far as the Petit Fours Shopping Centre, and walked half a mile across a housing estate, where we could have taken a public footbridge over the old railway line, and fetched up a hundred yards from where we wanted to be. But Soma insisted on walking from the Royal Borough “in the footsteps of St Riel”.

“I’ve never come across a legend that states that St Riel walked this route.”

“Have you ever seen any clear evidence that he didn’t?”

“Well, no but…”

“So run along and buy another pint, there’s a good lad!”

But after ten miles of diesel fumes and Starbars even Soma Jones had lost his enthusiasm. He had used up five fun cameras exercising his aesthetic of “pictures of fuck-all” and couldn’t remember which ones he had used and which ones he hadn’t. His feet were aching and he was getting a headache and he intent on giving me one too. The Vanilla Coke had become warm and the novelty of walking on uneven pavements had palled many miles ago. And more than this, much more than this, there was nowhere to stop.

“I can’t go on, you can’t make me go on!”

“You can stay here if you like?”

“I can’t stay here, I want to go home but there’s no public transport.”

“You could hitch a lift with a lorry driver?”

“I don’t want to hitch a lift with a lorry driver.”

“Well, what do you want, then?”

“I want you to carry me home! Please carry me home!”

“Sort it out, Jones!”

“I can’t sort it out, this was a terrible mistake, what are we going to do?”

“Give me the map!”

I took the map and triangulated from some prominent landmarks: two gas towers, a scrap metal yard, and over on the other side of the old railway; Lunley Point, Graveney Point and Aveny Point were undergoing recladding. Judging by the progress we had made along the Corridor it seemed like there should be a bridge across the railway another mile or so ahead, which would bring us into the back end of an old industrial estate. There was supposed to be a go-karting track there, or at least there had been when the map was new, and a children’s playground. “There might even be a pub there!” I suggested hopefully.

We set off again with a new sense of purpose. Soma cracked open a fresh fun camera and we toasted the expedition with warm, flat Vanilla Coke. The bridge was soon in view and we discovered a sign advertising a “Cafe 500 yards ahead”? We decided against it and continued on our present course, crossing the road during a momentary gap in the traffic. The sun even tried to shine in a hazy indistinct fashion. The bridge, when we reached it, was black where the paint remained and rusty where it didn’t. The stairs were blocked by a low metal fence that we negotiated easily, as had many before us who had sprayed the metal walls with tags and drawings of oversized phalluses and inscriptions like “Gaz loves lesbians for real”. Soma took a picture of that and the bridge – he took a lot of pictures there. The top of the bridge was covered with a cage of latticed iron, the sides were too high to see along the railway line, but from the other side of the bridge we could see the triple tracks behind a wire fence.

We followed an access road around behind a dry cleaners and a bread factory, the air became yeasty and warm as we had stepped into a local microclimate. We found the playground easily. There was an old roundabout of the sort that are normally been removed in the interests of safety, and there was one of those modular plastic climbing constructions and a tube tunnel under a weed infested concrete hill. A  rumble of thunder stirred the distance and heavy spots of rain began to darken the pavement. We sat under the tunnel and smoked a roll-up until it cleared up. Soma kicked gleefully at the sides. It made a hollow boom.

“Don’t like the tunnel?”

“Nah, I like the tunnel fine. I’m just testing it.”

“For structural integrity? You want to bring the tunnel down?”

“No, you stupid prawn! I’m testing it for secret doors. Did you never read any Enid Blyton?”

“No, I didn’t. I thought Enid Blyton was for prawns.”

“See how wrong you can be!”

The rain was short-lived. Soma never found any secret doors, niches or hidden compartments. But he didn’t stay disappointed for long. It was clear and cool when we stepped out of the tube. From the top of the concrete hill we could see the mock-gothic of the Sacred Precinct at Asciibridge entangled in a mess of multistorey car parks, and there before it and to the south the ramparts of the Octagon Shopping Centre lit up brilliantly in the afternoon sun. Turning east, the industrial estate lost itself in suburban housing, flyovers and a procession of spires travelling on a north-easterly trajectory back towards the Wassgotterspeck Viaduct and the Royal Borough of St Riel. We compared the view to the map. A lonely road called Dashanka Parkway followed the same curve as the spires, but the map ran into a blackness of toner before it reached the first of them.

“We have to go look at them. You know that, don’t you?”

“It takes us exactly the opposite direction from where we are supposed to be going.”

“I know that.” Soma took pictures of the view and finished up another camera.

“It’ll be at least as far as we’ve already come and there’s no easy way back. At least if we keep going up this Corridor we can take the tram back home.”

Soma shook his head and pointed, “I want to know what those are.”

Something close to two hours later we threaded our way out through another housing estate. The broken open garages filled with rotten mattresses, smashed glass and other less describable things. Shaven-headed kids and their dogs watched our progress without interest. We came out onto Dashanka Parkway behind a late night grocers and video rental shop. This stretch of Dashanka Parkway was inhabited by tyre refitters, a turf accountants and a restaurant called Ali Akbar that served “Indian food in the name of Allah!” There were a few blocks of red brick houses, windows fogged up with traffic dust and the meagre front gardens glutted with chip packets, beer cans and tabloid centrefolds. The road developed after a few minutes into secondhand car dealerships fronted with grimy silver bunting that snapped in the wind and flicked back the orangey light from the first streetlights of the evening. We had reached civilisation of a sort, and what was more there were still buses running.

We stopped at a mini market and off licence. The shop was fronted with traffic-greyed fruit and vegetable, sacks of potatoes and bags of charcoal briquettes. Soma waited outside while I went in to buy crisps and cans of drink. It was one of those long shops where the aisles are barely wide enough for one person. At the end there were large glass-fronted refrigerators full of beer and fizzy drinks. In front of them there was a group of six young Asian and Greek men. I pushed past them to get to the fridge containing cans of Vanilla Coke and Idris Ginger Beer. I looked in my wallet to check that I had enough money for the drinks. There were the shapes of a few pound coins in there. A hand reached into my wallet and took one. I looked up. A dark-haired Greek man grinned at me. I snatched the coin back from him and he grabbed my hand.

The two of us stood there like that for over a minute. He wouldn’t loosen his grasp. I looked around at the other men in the back of the shop hoping to find one who wasn’t such a prat and who might call him off. But they all looked away or at the floor – thinking back on it there was something unusual about their blank expressions. I called up the shop to the old Sikh who was rearranging the cigarette packets behind the counter. The Greek man relented and let go of my hand with a triumphant expression.

He smiled, “I can take anything I want from you!”

I considered pushing him into the freezer that he stood in front of. But decided to walk back out of the shop instead. Soma was still out there taking pictures of the road.

“Didn’t you get any drinks?”

“I’ll explain later, let’s try another shop.”

The six men walked out. The Greek man stopped to stare at me and then continued up the road.

“Weird fucker!” Soma Jones laughed.

We went back into the shop and got some cans of Vanilla Coke and a pack of blue Superkings.

 

We waited about for five minutes before the bus arrived. Paid our fares and climbed up to the empty upper deck. Up there at the front we had a panoramic view of the road. The sky was starting to darken with clouds and the air became heavy and stormy once more. As the bus progressed further up the road human habitation thinned out. Out to the left there was a Carpet World and an anonymous trading estate. A river ran under the road and small factories and industrial plants ran along the valley pumping effluent into the river. Out ahead we could see in the grey-yellow glow of the horizon the clustered spires of our goal describing the parabola of Dashanka Parkway.

The bus stopped at an ice rink that crouched beside the road like an enormous white wood louse illuminated green by spotlights. A bunch of kids and their parents got on. Soma tapped my shoulder, “Let’s get off here and walk the rest!” We elbowed past the children and their parents with their oversized sports bags who were starting to fill up the bottom deck.

Outside the air was freshening with stormy winds, the air was electric and invigorating. We lit up cigarettes with difficulty and set off up the road. Mere minutes later we saw the first one. They looked less ecclesiastic close up, there was a fluted, elaborate alien-ness to them, and they were built to an enormous scale. One after another in an interminable sequence, each of them slightly different – windowless, doorless, insect-like, often connected by what appeared to be overhead walkways. We crossed the road, which was mostly empty of traffic along this stretch, to see them closer up. We came up with a number of theories:

“They’re some sort of caravanserai, or mega-juggernaut?”

“A temple of some sort, a place of worship left behind by a civilisation that destroyed itself through its own folly?”

“The reproductive organ and/or tongue of some primeval demiurge, torn out in a ritual sacrifice, or perhaps a war in heaven?”

We laughed. As the air became brisk around us our senses became intensely aware in the accumulating dark. It was impossible to smoke in the high winds, you couldn’t get a taste of tobacco into your mouth. Soma Jones looked at me with an implacable authority and said:

“We have found the vehicle of the Gipt.”

“The fucking what?”

“The fucking Gipt. It came here millennia ago it and lives amongst us. Imagine this: there are people who look like us, talk like us, eat like us, fuck like us, but if you could see them as they really are you would see a knotted mass of tendrils in the shape of a human being. Those tendrils go down into the ground connecting every one of them to every other one. Like a group nervous system. Some savants argue that somewhere deep in the earth there is a Master Brain that commands them all, but others see their intelligence as a distributed system present and complete in every part. But the Gipt, like any other intelligence, is at war with the world but also at war with itself. It is one but it is also divided. It cannot be said that it is malign or benign, or that it is neither of these. It is just the Gipt.”

“But how can they move. I mean, if they’re all connected through the ground via tendrils?”

Soma Jones made a spastic face at me, “There aren’t really any tendrils. That’s just an image, a picture of what the thing is like. What it is really like is incomprehensible, constantly shifting, constantly avoiding any interpretation we might put on it. But I’ll tell you this: it is other than us. You can see them every day of the week in the street, or on trains, or driving cars. One might work in your office; your office might be entirely filled with them. But, of course, it is wrong to speak of it as “them” because there is only the one but it is in constant conflict within itself and against the world.”

“And this was the way they came to this world?”

Soma Jones gazed up at the bizarre structures that continued forever on up the road. He nodded.

We walked on in silence. The segments of the vehicle turned black against a violent sky that split open with thunder and lightning. We walked on dumb-struck into the rain as it turned inevitably into hail. There was no shelter from the downpour. There was nothing but the road and the rain and the segments of that alien thing. I don’t remember much of the rest of that journey.

Dashanka Parkway curves gradually back towards the Royal Borough. We returned to familiar territory late in the night soaked to the skin. Soma Jones went back to his rooms in a townhouse within sight of the Wassgotterspeck viaduct and I went back to the house I was sharing on Mombassastrasse. We parted without a word. We didn’t see each other for a number of weeks and neither of us mentioned that place ever again.

 

Six months later I moved to an apartment above a bookmakers on Dashanka Parkway. It was the first flat I lived in on my own. I still recall my first few months of independence there with a sentimental fondness. From the bathroom window at the back you could see Carpet World and the river, which I later discovered was called the Vulga. And across the field of vision you could see the electricity pylons that mark the river’s passage across the landscape.

I lived there for two years, or at least I lived there in the weekends and evenings when I wasn’t working all the overtime I could get. I worked at Lynneys in Asciibridge, a firm that fabricated rebuilds. I worked in the basement in the ordering department. I had my own desk and if my life wasn’t perfect at least I had my privacy. I jogged up to the Giptic vehicle once or twice on Sundays that summer. It looked completely different on a sunny day. Sometimes you’d see other people there walking their dogs or riding bicycles or, like me, taking a morning jog.

At the end of those two years I got out of Lynneys. I secured a minor post at the civil service in the Royal Borough itself and found some nice rooms not far from Soma Jones’s old townhouse near the Wassgotterspeck viaduct. Soma himself had vanished. No one knew where he had gone. Whether he had gone back to London or whether he had moved further into those uncharted realms that he had been starting to carve out for himself when I had known him.

The actual process of moving took me the better part of a week. The first weekend a removal firm moved most of my belongings to the new flat, but there was still a lot of stuff that I hadn’t packed around the old place. It had been difficult to find the time to do all of it while starting the new job, and of course enduring and the inevitable leaving celebrations from the old job. I’ll admit that it was mostly my own fault but the girls, two sisters who were moving into my old flat, didn’t seemed particularly concerned. Their own moving schedule seemed to be at least as haphazard as my own.

On the Friday evening after I had started moving I swore off drinking for a week and went to the old flat to try to gather the last of my belongings. Things were starting to go well for me. It was a bright evening in late summer. So it was with a pleasant mixture of nostalgia and optimism for the future I walked up the alley that runs behind the row of shops. A short flight of metal stairs leads up to the door. To one side there is a flat roof  where I had tried to grow a geraniums. The door was open and I could hear tinny pop music playing on a radio inside.

I pushed the door open. One of the sisters, Irene, was cooking spaghetti Bolognese on the stove and the other, Alia, was reading a magazine at the kitchen table. Both of them were dark haired with thick eyebrows that almost met in the middle. We said hello, exchanged pleasantries and Irene found me some mail that had arrived during the week. Alia made me a strong Turkish coffee that I took upstairs with me to collect together a few odds and ends from the box room: a desk lamp, an old photo album and a four-gang extension plug.

Coming back into the kitchen there was a man standing in the doorway. I recognised him immediately: it was the Greek who had hassled me in the mini market on Dashanka Parkway. I could see that he recognised me too, and there was still that look of arrogant malice in his eyes. The girls were eating at the kitchen table, paying him no attention. He came across the room at me in four big steps, his eyes fixed on mine.

“Shit,” he hissed over and over again. “Fucking shit!” he hissed. He grabbed hold of the extension lead I was carrying. “Fucking shithead!” and once again we were locked there in a tug of war. We pulled back and forth across the kitchen. The desk lamp and photo album fell out of my arms and onto the floor. I squeaked something like, “let go of it, you idiot!” All the time his eyes were fixed on mine. Whenever he made another tug he bit his tongue at me. I looked around at the sisters for help. Both of them were sitting there placidly looking at us. The man stopped as if he had noticed them for the first time.

“Let go of it, Stratos!” Alia said, “let go of it and leave him alone!”

He whined, his eyes downcast for a moment, “I can take anything I want from him!” he hissed but without the same conviction. But again the light awoke in his eyes and again he starting tugging at the lead.

“Let go of it!” Alia repeated. Again he stopped. She stood up, walked over to where we were standing, we both let go of the extension lead in unison and it fell to the floor. She pointed towards the door and he backed off towards it making a noise something between whining and humming.

He spat at me, glared, “I can take anything I want from you!” Then he looked down at our hands, Alia’s and mine. I hadn’t noticed when she had taken my hand, it was hot and sticky against my palm. Something like a snarl moved across his face.

Alia pointed at the door, “Go!” and he backed towards the stairs half-falling, half-stumbling down them.

 

Once I had moved the last of my things out of the flat I continued to visit the sisters. I never asked them about Stratos, the Greek man, and they never volunteered any information. I’d  go over there on a Friday night after work and Alia and me would go out to restaurants and piano bars on the Mombassastrasse. At first Irene would come along too but she’d normally go home early, and then she stopped coming out at all. I was always expecting to run into the Stratos or Soma Jones or even Mr Mouji in the Trattoria St Paul or at night on the Kirchner Bridge, but it never happened.

Alia started to stay at my rooms near Wassgotterspeck over the weekends. On a Saturday we might spend a lazy morning at the Oslo ice cream parlour reading the broadsheets and making small talk with Papa Gelato. Often on a Saturday evening there would be a dinner party with colleagues from the civil service or we might sometimes go and watch foreign movies at the Kinomat in Asciibridge. Sundays we would get up late, we might drive out to one of the villages beyond Petit Fours: Eux, Chilsey Kegmore, Daisywell or Malfen. Once we drove all the way up the Peninsula to the oil soaked mudflats at Chantryness. There where the Vulga meets the open sea, the afternoon sun catches in the stained glass of the ruined basilica and radiates in rainbow colours from the corrupted seafront. Out on the chocolate brown ocean the hulks of crippled tankers stand out dark against the sun like the broken teeth of Leviathan.

It was there that I told her that I loved her and she looked at me and said nothing. There was something in that straight look she gave me, that made me resolve never to look in there again.

Thinking back now I am starting to realise how little I knew about her, how little I ever discovered. After that momentary glance I think I avoided looking any closer for fear of what I might find. We were negotiating a narrow path around the rim of something unfathomable. The foundations of that something, or those intimations of its depths, brought me crippling migraines, nosebleeds and sudden panic attacks.

But the mundane veneer of my life at that time was more than sufficient consolation. My career was taking off, I was receiving regular promotions and my superiors were pleased with the work I was doing. I even liked my boss, Lance Packard, which was something that had never happened before. I was assigned to the Obfuscation Department with particular responsibility for ticket availability and immigration, especially from the London and South East area. In the first year of my assignment four immigrants acquired tickets to the Royal Borough. In succeeding years we brought that down to one or less per year. I took a pride in my work and from Monday to Thursday I rarely left the office before nine in the evening. But the weekends were for Alia.

 

On  Alia’s birthday, five years after we first met, I got a phone call from Soma Jones.

“Hi, it’s Soma. Have you still got the book? Tell me you have!”

“The book? Which book? Where are you? Where have you been? You vanished.”

“The book from Mr Mouji’s. Have you still got it?”

“I thought you had the map.”

“Fuck the map. Different question. I’m not interested in the map. I need the book. Go look for it!”

“Look, Soma, we’re just about to got out. I’ll have a look for the book during the week but you can’t just…”

“I’ll call you back in ten minutes.”

He rang off and I was left holding there the receiver feeling stupid, feeling like I had a headache coming on. It was actually true that we were getting ready to meet friends at the dog track so in my mind there was no real question of looking for the book on such short notice. I told Alia about the phone call. She knew about Soma Jones, or at least knew as much as I’d told her about him.

“Well, where is he?” she asked, “perhaps if you can find the book we could drop it off on the way to the dog track.”

“I’ve no idea where he is. He didn’t say, and besides, don’t you think he’s taking the piss a bit? Anyway, he said he’s phoning back.”

“Well maybe he is taking the piss, but I’d quite like to meet him. Perhaps we could invite him along to the dogs?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

The phone rang. It was him.

“Have you found it?” he said.

“Look this really isn’t convenient. Like I said we’re about to go out.”

“Be a mate!”

“What?”

“Be a mate and go take a quick look. Won’t take a minute. I’ll hold.”

I was starting to feel that there was only one way out of this situation: the book. I had some idea where it might be, I vaguely remembered seeing it while rooting through things in the spare room. “Okay, I’ll have a look,” I said, “where are you anyway?”

“The service area outside Asciibridge.”

I found it in a pile of old magazines. Its cover was dyed purple with spilled wine. I thumbed through the pages. There was a single page introduction in Greek and then the rest of the book was pictures: pictures of gypsies, dancing bears and rural villages in Macedonia at the hinge of the previous century. An old broken down car was being pulled across a stone bridge by a carthorse. A group of moustachioed men were dancing in the village square.

I told him that we’d get down to the service area in the next hour and rang off. Alia was slow to get ready. She was slow by inclination.

“Look,” I said, “I’ll go down on my own. I can be back in half an hour.”

“No, I want to come. I’ll only be a minute. I’ve just got to make a phone call.”

“Can’t you make it in the car?”

 

The sky was pink over the faux-Gothic arches of the Sacred Precinct. It turned the concrete faces of the Octagon Centre peach and rose where they caught the sun and a deep turquoise where they sloped away. Traffic was light at that time in the afternoon, there were few lorries on the ring road. The ring road led out onto an arterial route that ran straight and wide eight miles between low glass and steel fronted business parks. And there, under a convoluted junction that carried traffic to the four corners of the earth, crouched the service area.

We found the cafeteria at the still centre of a hundred parked juggernauts and framed by a dozen or so portakabins that housed the offices of the more prominent haulage firms. As we came through the doors all eyes turned on me. There they were: the drivers. Their rosary beads clicked with Ave Marias to Our Lady of the Autostrada. The rattle of cutlery on plates of greasy egg, sausage, fried slice and two bacon, the surly slurp of frothy coffee in chipped mugs. Fuck this, I thought, my skin crawling in the greasy air. Every instinct told me to back off out of that door. But Alia stood behind me in the doorway ushering me forwards. And there, hunched at a table in the middle of the café, sat Soma Jones.

He was in something of a state. He had grown a square beard from his inadequate chin and he wore a blue-grey raincoat over what appeared to be either jogging bottoms or pyjamas. On the floor he kicked his moccasins around while his hands rolled a thin cigarette with exaggerated care. He looked up at us for the first time and stood up.

“Did you bring the merchandise?” he looked from side to side with a mock-furtiveness.

“I managed to find the book, if that’s what you mean.”

“Good, good,” he pointed at Alia with the unlit roll-up, “who’s she?”

“Alia, it’s her birthday.”

“Oh,” he lit the roll-up, “do you think she’s one of them?”

“One of them?”

“You do remember, don’t you?”

I sat down on the chair opposite. Alia stood beside the table. I couldn’t be bothered with this right now. I was starting to get little visual tics and the fatty air was making me feel sick. I pushed the carrier containing the book across the table. Soma fished inside the bag and pulled the book out.

There was a hiss of pneumatic brakes outside.

I didn’t see how he had entered or how he had managed to clear the distance from the door without me seeing him, but the next thing I knew Soma Jones was wrestling with Mr Mouji. They had seized hold of either end of the book and the two of them were pulling and twisting, hissing and grinning with an unwholesome lethargy that barely held them together in the ponderous gravity of their grotesque embrace. An oppressive weight pressed down on my forehead and the sounds in my ears were being filtered through a foggy tinnitus. Greasy sweat rose on my brow. Through the hyper-real smog I could make out row upon row of haulage drivers converging on our table. My head tolled with doleful nausea.

Alia took centre stage in the conflict. By now the haulage drivers were pulling the two combatants away from each other. Soma grinned with a lot of teeth; he had won the book from Mr Mouji. Alia stepped forward, her head surrounded by a corona of yellow light. She took the book from him easily. His face turned to dismay and Mr Mouji’s split into ecstatic joy as his property was restored to him. The mob released him and raised the kicking and screaming Soma Jones onto their massed shoulders. At Alia’s signal they followed her to the door.

My vision strobed in and out of the negative. My cheek was sticking to the formica table top which turned alternately hot and then cold. A peppermill rose tower-like above me. Before she left Alia looked back at me one last time, her halo and her eyes pulsing like a bundle of fibre optic cables. I was vaguely aware that Soma Jones was ululating and thrashing on top of the mob and periodically Mr Mouji would dance into view waving his torn and tattered prize in the air. Alia blinked at me like a cat and my consciousness went out.

 

I never saw her or Soma Jones again.

Jubilee

5510752676_4e5ea64be9_zWhere an eyebrow of cloud shaded the Isle of Sheppey from the white indifference of the sky, halfway between the grey oblong of estuary and the twin lines of the railway, we were caught by silly gusts of wet wind from the west. The late morning had the cast of bleak afternoon: the day was uncertain. Clide’s cigarette wouldn’t light (“Zippo’s were designed for these weather conditions, you wouldn’t believe it though would you…”) and Augustus had long since given up on his efforts with matches. Burnt fingers had left an echo of his father’s voice ringing in his ears (“Don’t want to be playing with matches, young August.”) and I, for myself, was getting tired of the whole endeavour.

I shielded the photocopied map with my body and tried to make sense of it again, “So that’s the Caravan Park.”

“It might be that one over there?” Augustus indicated another cluster of rectangular boxes back east towards Whitstable. I moved my finger back along the coast to indicate the caravan park that he had suggested – a spot of rain landed on the paper, just below the blue biro cross that Wassgotterspeck had inscribed. (“It’s right here, piece’o'piss, can’t miss it!”)

“Well, I’m pretty keen on giving up on this. I don’t think there really is a hidden railway station along this line.” I screwed the map up and put it back into my pocket.

“I don’t reckon anyone had any reason to lie,” Clide picked bits of tobacco out of his mouth, “What I reckon’s happened is that we’ve got ourselves into a muddle.”

“But the track’s right here! We’ve followed it backwards and forwards eight hundred times and there is fuck-all at the point specified by the cross: as there is fuck-all anywhere else!”

“I think you’re just being tetchy,” said Augustus, “you’re not reading the map right, are you?”

“Oh fuck off!” I pushed the map deeper into an inadequate pocket. A triangular corner stuck out. Augustus picked at it with his big mittens. I turned round and round trying to avoid him.

“Yeah, come on! Give us a look at the map!” Clide paced around me with his nicotine-stained fingers held out like some over-ripe bunch of sausages. I kicked at Augustus who backed away to avoid the boot and started walking fast, head first into the damp wind, “Oh, come on, man. Be reasonable!” said Clide, “We paid our share for the map.”

Augustus caught up with me and pulled at my arm trying to tug out the map with it. I turned abruptly to swing at him and the tattered paper burst in the air. Not as paper but as feathers. Three doves glowing with a soft golden light that had no place here on a wet bank holiday weekend. The doves circled each other like the coils of a DNA helix: their upward ascent held in check by a slowing of the natural order.

Sometime after that we found ourselves in a Shepherd Neame pub up Faversham Creek. I don’t remember exactly when the manifestation stopped happening or how we had got there. In fact, I viewed the three of us entering the pub from outside, as if I was hovering above the road looking down on the three hooded pilgrims – fuzzy and indistinct and apparently invisible to the local kids in their puffer jackets and the red faced seadogs of the dried-up creek.

“They are carried on wings of angels,” an old voice told me, “the boats are lifted by the hosts of heaven and placed into the estuary.”

“They bob like corks, don’t they?” my voice said.

“Pretty things aren’t they? They’re under the protection,” the old voice said.

My head didn’t adjust for the duration of that afternoon and neither Clide nor Augustus mentioned the map again. We were quite happy to sit there at our table; our coats drying on the big, round, iron radiators; drinking slow pints of a local brew and eating peanuts. An unrecognisable news programme showed us quick-cut images of darkened city streets, where the brick was deep green and the golden mozaics of a grand Basilica cut into the night air. A procession of cowled and masked hierarchs paced, stately and ancient, out into the cobbelled streets.

My memories of the conversations in the pub are fragmentary and fractured. Sometimes there was jeering applause as Clide scored another goal in the shove ha’penny tournament. And I heard my voice recite a poem to one of the barmaids: the recitation seemed to be in hebrew and although I do not speak hebrew I somehow knew that it had originally been the composition of a king, perhaps Solomon.

And then there was that airy laughter that I will never forget. A hilarity edging on madness, like one might feel under the influence of butane or solvents. Augustus banging his fist on the table, “We can’t get through to it! We’re being held at one remove!” he would insist, gesturing obscenely at the small television screen. And then he was sitting on the floor with one of the sailors who was talking to him in hushed tones. Again Clide scored a goal and raced around the bar, “I’m the winner, I’m the winner!” And then we were back again in that strange phased laughter: Augustus’s head was next to the television screen. The lines of the picture bowed around the corners of the tube, “I can see inside!” he revealed.

Experimentally, he put his head inside the picture. His face flickered with the coloured interference of the screen. The barman sat cross-legged upon the bar in a profound state of meditation:They’re cultist, occultists, satanists, I thought. And then I saw the soles of Augustus’s shoes sticking out of the screen – his elated head being helped through on the other side by a uniformed halbardier.

Star of the Sea

golders“How much longer have I got, Doc?” Soma Jones said, putting his shirt back on over his spare and awkward frame.

“Well, as far as I can tell, Mr Jones, there’s nothing much wrong with you. At worst I’d give you another four decades.”

“That bad, doc?” Soma Jones nodded to the doctor and staggered from the surgery. Another four decades! He’d be scraping the four score years and ten – it seemed unjust. As he Crossed the road in a daze the traffic squealed to a halt. An articulated lorry jack-knifed and a BMW mounted the pavement and hit a tree. He checked his watch – the sands of his life were running away grain by grain.

He climbed the steps between the black railings and entered the Sacred Precinct. The age-old cold stone all around him projected an atmosphere of permanence and antiquity. A pair of masked hierarchs robed in deep amber spoke in hushed tones in one of the side chapels. This part of the Sacred Precinct was a fifteenth century reproduction of the Basilica of Santa Reale. The plaster-casts of the original had been carried along the Wasgotterspeck Viaduct by pilgrim penitents. Many had died under the weight of their great burdens, tottering and falling from the narrow overhead walkways. And so the casts would have to be remade and carried and finally reassembled near Asciibridge on the Vulga.

Upon reaching the end of the great nave Soma Jones’ eyes were carried upwards into the lofty gloom of the major dome. A lofty stone canopy above the heavy marble altar was dwarfed by the high ceiling: Dimly from the paperwhite light that caught in the arched windows the golden tesserae of the mosaic stars caught and winked down on Soma Jones.

A birdmasked ecclesiastic whispered over his shoulder, “Ave Stella Maris, intercede for us Lady of the Noctural Sea.” Soma Jones turned to catch the cowled figure retreating, making admonitory gestures with his red gloved hands. Behind him, where there had originally stood a chapel to the Archangel Michael, the yellowish lights of a gift shop and the flat modern lines of the conveniences and baby changing room imposed themselves like incongrous elements of an ill concieved collage.

Beyond the ladies and gents the corridor turned left and widened in an ill-lit tiled trolley park. A long sign on the wall read “A million thanks for shopping with us!” and the Kwiksave logo. A bow-backed boy pushed a train of trolleys into the supermarket. Soma Jones staggered, listless and vacant through the aisles of tinned processed peas and oversized boxes of washing powder and nappies. Some of the larger branches of Kwiksave were selling white goods these days but this seemed to be some insignificant corner of the Empire decaying under the mismanagement of a tired disappointed graduate.

Out through the front entrance of the supermarket the shopping centre remained dim and shabby. Where the ceiling opened on the grey clouded sky the tiled floor was speckled with pigeon guano and litter. What sort of future this arcade had, if it had any future, was uncertain. Real estate in Asciibridge was too expensive for new projects and the Sacred Precinct caused certain difficulties with planning permission. Unless the government was willing to subsidise new initiatives the place would fall prey to the processes of nature.

The bird-masked ecclesiastic whispered in his ear, “Some four decades hence the keepers of the Shrine and the inheritors of the Pilgrims of Santa Reale shall stalk the broken piss-stained car parks by night. There upon the roof, where the rotors of the dead air-vents turn in the stale wind, we shall crouch and listen to the Song of the Stars: The Shivering Ancient Galaxies and the weeping lament of the Lady of the Star of the Sea.”

The Defeat of Night

nightIt all started like so many nights: Buying a ticket from a tout outside the tramshed at the top end of Mombassastrasse, realising that he’d sold me a kid’s four zone pass, catching up with the fucker as he fast-walked up the street, and extracting a two zone hopper from him instead. The hopper would be fine for my purposes, all that I really needed was to get into the network and then the inspectors of the stress-blinded graveyard shift wouldn’t notice if I was waving a beermat in their faces.

I caught a green and red liveried Liverman’s Harrisbus to the far eastern run of the Mombassastrasse and then hopped across the tracks to catch one of those old open-backed double-deckers for the Grands Boulevards. The chocolate-brown brick of the west turned to a red-speckled green and there the lights on the Broadway caught in the fountains and water sculptures of the Centro Plaza and refracted in the top deck windows of the autobus. The seats began to fill out with large wedding-cake ladies and dark-suited naratchiks splashed with eau-de-cologne. I jumped off at the Circus just before we hit Chinatown and took the back roads from Pomp-a-l’aix to the Windmill. My destination: The Trattoria Espagnol.

The bar behind the Trattoria was filled with bohemians from Petit Fours, a TV production team celebrating the end of a long running Welsh Gangster Soap and the rugby team from the Polyversity on the hill. I brushed through the throng in the darkened space past the coloured lights of the bar and found the old gang from the Wassgotterspeck viaduct. Tim and Manda and Ilya and Rooge were there, pissed or inhaling vapours. An acrid whiff of amol nitrate over the table. The two Mikes were fighting out old territorial ground as their spouses and ex-spouses discussed the price of eggs. But most of all the twins Rose and Tanzy were here. It was their birthday.

I could spend another two thousand words describing the carnage that night: The tears and recriminations; old stories revived like so many stagnant corpses. We drank toasts and we jostled the rugger lads and the bohos. Fights were narrowly avoided by Tanzy’s delicate diplomacy and we moved from bar to bar along the Windmill up to Sigmundbahn. What they call “walking the line” in the Malabar district. Somewhere we lost Rooge in a vapour-haze and picked up a pair of wedding-cake ladies in Jenny Ondioline’s. Rose and I fought, argued, spurned one another’s attention and played the double-act against beautiful outsiders. Nudging and scowling our way to the Grands Boulevards in an opium fug.

Rose was two years older than me. She could play professional to my degenerate, slattern to my puritan, and vice-versa. In other circumstances we were strangely uncomfortable with one another. Sometimes I’d wonder if there was any reason we knew each other at all. As if we only existed as a dynamic, not as a combined essence. Sympathy was almost more than I could take and my flippant barbs seemed capable of upsetting the fragile nervous structure that held back what could have been a real acrimony.

And I don’t know what happened that made me hide from her in the maze of compartments at Papa Gelato’s. She had picked up a sensitive poetic rugger lad at the Limpo-Po Swamp Cafe who I had liked very much. The three of us saw off a good deal of red wine and most of his Black Russian fags. Two or three of the Mike’s spouses were dancing in the parquet floorspace in the centre of Gelato’s while a gypsy troupe from Meopham played a lively two step. I was playing a hand of inscrutable masks, stopping at a number of tables to blag cigarettes and offering to find the bar. No mean feat in the labyrinth of Papa Gelato’s. With the accumulated dollars from a half hour of scrounging I felt a breeze coming from the next corner and took myself out into the street.

It was cold out there. The night had settled on the broadband autostrada that curved over the Northway. Hearing a familiar voice calling my name from behind I made haste, out into the street, pulling my hat over my eyes and feeling the mask deepen around me. The pong of a dozen kebabish fought the gas and ammonia of the buzzing road. The yellowish rectangles of a double-decker travelling in the Malabar direction loomed into the street and I hailed it as near the bus stand as I could reach. I hopped off near the southern end of the Windmill and ran after a night bus, really not much more than a converted transit, as far as the old supermarket on the Broadway.

After I’d spent an hour looking at my lengthening face is the shop windows of all-night stationary suppliers, I caught two or three night buses back and forwards along Mombassastrasse. Avoiding the end near the tramshed and curving my course closer to the Paperwhite parc to avoid the lights and water at the Plaza, I felt my melancholy lift. It was an honour and a privilege to be on one’s own in the night-time in the borough of St Real. The brown black brickwork of town houses near the park, lit here and there with the low lighting of formal drawing rooms, and the wind in the elms that border the beginnings of Nuthatch and Chessolp. My head began to clear in the sharp balmy air. Feeling myself in the mood for further adventures I caught the tram that runs through the Plaza towards Petits Fours.

Dazzled by the rainbow sparkling fountains I was taken by surprise as a ticket inspector, in his dark green cap with red trim, boarded the tram. Two hours earlier in the height of intoxication I would have slapped his face and tossed his notebook out of the window. He had the eyes of a zealot, a man who would know the difference between a two zone hopper and an central zone travel permit. The shame faced loser who was currently turning out his pockets in search of a spurious ticket-he-lost bought me some time. I brushed past both and leapt off the departing tram across the road from the Nova Basilica cathedral.

It must have been a madness or an abject perversity that carried me over the road. I was out of sorts, out of my zone. I made a point of keeping the Nova Basilica always at a remove, behind a block, behind my back. But at this moment I was seeking a sanctuary, I was shaken by the surprise that the night had thrown at me. I’d tackled the challenge badly, I was tame, lame, a sheep not a wolf. I was looking for the good shepherd. And besides the door was open. It was a tall arched portal with big wooden doors propped open. Halberdiers with polished breastplates and crested casques stood on either side of the entrance, a papal guard. Inside, through plate glass doors, the open entrance hall was lit with discrete uplighters. Behind a closed door marked with a big number two choirs could be heard singing and the whole place reeked of incense and age.

To the right, and on a raised dias stood the Popemobile: A baroque, arched carriage in burnished high gloss black, trimmed with too much gold. A quadrega of four mechanical greyhounds, also in gold, stood paused in mid motion before it. The halberdier behind the carriage noted my interest and began to pace towards me. I smiled at him and sized up the thick oily darkness of the gold framed painting that covered most of one wall. A suffering bearded man died with eyes rolled to heaven his supine tortured luxuriant body held by two women, one in blue – the other in red, but otherwise indistinguishable. Beneath the painting an old irish woman sat on some steps knitting.

“It is a beautiful carriage, no?” she asked from somewhere in that creased face. I looked first up at the painting and then over to the Popemobile, uncertain to which she was referring.

“A lot of gold.”

“It’s mostly gold leaf.”

“What does gold leaf cost per ounce these days?” I laughed, we both laughed.

“He’s a good lad,” she said. Again I looked from one to the other.

“You must be proud of him.”

“My son!” she smiled.

There was a call of clarions and bells and the big doors opened. A procession began to appear, behind them I could see the arched perspectives of the sanctuary, the great banners in their deep reds and blues rolling down from the high recesses of the roof. Cardinals, clerical, hierarchs and hierophants, the glorious and great of the papal host in slow procession, like the ghostly wild hunt of Paperwhite Parc but heavy with the solid rich glory of Mother Church. Heaven had come to earth to walk the night-touched strada of Kilburn Inreal and to see in the rising of the solar orb over a new day.