Monday, 20 July 2009


The city is 609 miles square. For two strangers to coincide in space and time is a precarious undertaking. One of us is slated to arrive first. My wont means it’s me. Leicester Square Tube, 6.15pm. My watch tells me that I’m correctly triangulated. You however remain an abscission.

To my right, the “Hippodrome” pleasure palace. Eastern Europeans with aristocratic cheekbones betrayed by squamous skin, peer through the venue’s port-hole glazing. Trying to pierce the darkness beyond, this liminal soul-gate between night and day. They slope off, seamlessly replaced by wildly gesticulating Latins with shredded jean legs. Maybe a mark that some night previously, they were scooped up in the mechanical digger-like jaws of the serrated canopy and precipitated inside. And here they were happily seeking another such immolation. Or perhaps they just need to ventilate the flesh of their tanned thighs. Yet there is no circulating breeze to oblige.

Now peering yonder into the heart of the Square. Catherine wheels of pyrotechnic neon. Flashing nectar coated husks. I remain unseduced by these shimmering mirages. For even churches these days illuminate their crosses and pick out Jesus’ name in flickering lights, in order to flytrap tormented human moths. The birdsong in the trees drowns out the love chatter of couples filing three-legged through the concrete esplanade. Duped by the permanent light of this gaudy firmament, the plumed are condemned to soundtrack a perpetual dawn chorus. Chronometry has failed them too.

I revolve my gaze left. Charing Cross Road with its soot covered literary patina. Now colonized by the press of flimsy free newsprint. London’s evening traffickers, myriad copies perched as a multi-limbed Hindu deity. Striking like fanged vipers, snapping a copy at any exposed flesh. Commuters meekly accept them to unfurl against not rain, but further dealers down the road. Til they reach the sanctuary of the Tube interior where they jettison their flags of convenience. Flotsam swept up in the artificial currents periodically unleashed from the underground tunnels as trains displace beneath my feet. Free sheets to the wind billow past my face. Rather than gold, these throwaways pave London’s streets with tissue paper and unfixed ink.

There is a brief lull in the eddying motion of people in and out of the Tube exit. Just as well since I'm developing motion sickness merely from standing still. I peruse the matrix of the Underground network on a map. Coloured vermicules, a jumble of vermicelli. The bowel ducts of London’s sainted pancreas. I know where I am and where I originated from. I follow the thread with my finger. But how to connect with you, somewhere deep within the labyrinth? Where was your starting point again? Couldn’t place it exactly, but I remembered it had ‘Grove’ in its place-name. I scanned the topography for a clue, for a dab of lush verdancy. But only the angular wavy blue lines of the Thames were granted charter on this map. The Capital a cat’s cradle of historic burghs, yet otherwise rendered flat and featureless. This London without end, tendrils extending to ensnare further satellite communities in its greedy maw.

Up West I likely fancied. Somewhere around London’s transplanted lung of Kew, since Hyde Park had contracted emphysema from all the exhaust fumes and spent carbon. Kew, a giant’s lunge from my own full home at Fulham according to the Tube network. When in reality they were but a short cross pollination ride away from one another. Here’s another candidate, Ladbroke Grove. But I knew full well there wasn’t a lick of greenery in that asphalt jungle, having attended the full vibrancy of the Carnival picked out against its drab stage flats. No ‘Grove’ suggested something on the fringes. On the margins of London’s teeming plexus. Here we go, Arnos Grove. Way up in the Northern outreaches of the Piccadilly Line. Or should that perhaps be the Piccadillian outreaches of the Northern Line? You had mentioned you lived with an Antipodean barman. A co-worker. So you’re unlikely to opt for the busman’s (tube driver’s?) holiday of a night sat drinking in a bar. Pleasure dome neon renew their come hither smiles and roll up the hem of their skirts. Jacob’s laddered tights. I shake clear the fantasia.

How long before allowing that you have stood me up? I’ll voucher you one more trainload I think. Here they come, emerging from the belly of the whale. Punishingly slowly, enabling me to get a good look at the exhausted faces of office workers who have laboured late and yet are still committed to a prescribed dose of social pleasure. Their steadfast endeavour mocks my own present redundancy. You're not among them, given that not one tarries at the exit. The pathways of this city are illusory. Maybe somewhere else, another "Hippodrome" flanks a station exit and she stands forlornly there waiting for me. Of course that cannot be the case. But wait a tick, there is more than one exit out of Leicester Square station. I pelt across the road through stalled traffic. No one loitering there. Then I espy a further portal up Shaftesbury Avenue. I make my beeline through the honeycomb of people. Still no one lost in thought, bound in space.

I take up station next to a green City of Westminster bin, crammed to its gills with cast off pleasure wrappings. I surmise she too might have junked a futile vigil. I hear the hollow metallic jingle of a can missing the bin and cascading to the ground. I am too trussed up in despairing thoughts to process the sound of unzippering. The dawning realisation of urine bouncing off the green plastic and on to my trousers only arises from the slow-witted transmission of dampness doffing at my leg. A wino has come to reclaim his locus from me, the temporary squatter. I look at my watch.

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