south london, 1991

Dark green wainscot, poster red walls. A longhaired cat sleeps on the floor in front of the gas fire. Everything looks old but new. There are mint-looking tins of baked beans and black treacle stacked artfully on the shelves behind the counter. A whole fruit cake and pork pies under the glass. A postcard rack (clipper ships against a tinted sky), a chessboard with a game in process. Studiedly retro, yet believable. The tall middleclass girl behind the counter is addressed as “Lewis” by her boyfriend, a man in a black leather jacket & round wire-framed spectacles, who arrives at 7:00pm. The cat rearranges itself round his feet while he drinks a glass of rum. Then he & Lewis exit briefly for a smoke, banging the door behind them and leaving the rest of us–the cat, two customers & me–with the radio jazz, the warm air and faint smell of spirits. None of us looks out of place, although I wonder what I’m doing here waiting for someone I don’t know & probably never will. Lewis returns alone, cigarette half smoked, looking slightly less middleclass. We’re all middleclass now; we all aren’t. “I”ve got my love to keep me warm,” sings the radio. We’ve got Calor gas, which works quite well if the cat is anything to go by. Examining my reflection in the mirror behind the counter I decide that I look neither as old nor as unhealthy as I feel. What am I up to here ? Granted, my life fell apart earlier this year: but now I’ve been offered at least the appearance of stability. Why am I risking it like this ? Jazz & crockery, piano & cutlery. Old-fashioned sounds for a book I’ll never write.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “south london, 1991

  1. I covet this moment less than the ability to express it so coherently.

  2. uzwi

    Hi Brendan. Most of that was written as I sat there. I buffed it up a little the next day & a little more when I disinterred it. I’m interested when you say “covet”. Could you unpack that ?

  3. Brendan

    Hi Mike. “Covet” is another sickly, sticky word lodged in my psyche from a ten year Catholic hangover. Like most of its kind, it invades a feeling and chews its inside into guilt-mash. As such, it was poorly chosen. What I suppose I meant was: I wish I currently had the patience of observation and expression to write the above. Gaining it is an ongoing project.

  4. uzwi

    You just have to sit in a lot of cafes & write stuff down. It doesn’t work to start with, then it does.

  5. Enjoyed this a lot. The photo with the Light audiobook link is nice too.
    “It doesn’t work to start with, then it does.” Yes. Anytime now :) All best.