Category: photos

‘Don’t become a writer. ❤ Dad’

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I’m walking past the shop-fronts; some alive and vibrant with clothes and jewellery and knickknacks, some dissolving into the blur of grimy windows and melancholy. And in that blur, one window jumps out of the dinginess. It has a message.

I can’t see anything inside the store; it’s dark and dusty, and only a few metres of worn floorboards catch the light. Nothing has called this place home in a while.

And stuck to the inside of filthy window is a short note (supposedly) from father to child: HAVE A GREAT DAY AT SCHOOL! AND DON’T BECOME A WRITER. ❤ DAD

This makes me stop, and within seconds I’ve invented his story. There is a man — who knows if he is a father. He’s a tired and rumpled guy who looks ten years older than he is. Lined, unshaven. A little anxious. He has has penned a few unread novels that sit somewhere in these shadows. He tried to hide from writing and make a living from running a takeaway shop. Which was also unsuccessful. Failure haunts him and he’s had enough. Leaves his books and his shop and his warning behind.

His message, sarcastic and pathetic, is meant to be funny. And it is funny. Few would argue that it is probably sound advice to little writer wannabes. A message that perhaps people would have remembered him for.

The air in Liverpool

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The chill, the smell of the air:
it stays with you. It doesn’t smell like this
anywhere else in the world, but here.
And it clings to your clothes, your hair.
If you’re here long enough, it seeps
into your skin, pools in the blood,
climbs into your bones and settles in.

It never leaves: this pungent scent
of seawater and salt. It mixes with the mud
and blood-red of brick and iron,
dissolves with the damp and heavy exhalations
of dock workers, their corrugated hands betraying
an eternity of work and worry.
— Their skin and sweat is here, too;
it paints this sombre city’s walls.
The rain washes them into puddles,
drains them into uneven streets,
Pulls them back into a mighty river
that holds them, that won’t let them go.
Keeps their scent close.

Two kinds of ink (Writing in a tattoo shop)

I’m drinking coffee in a tattoo parlour. It’s also a coffee shop. It serves really good coffee.

It’s a long and narrow space, like most storefronts along these streets. In the front an old door functions as a table, and a bench quilted with rainbow colours and skulls stretches along its length. An old tin ceiling, painted white, floats above dark purple walls covered in indie art and hanging skulls threaded with heavy twine. There are skulls on my chair, too: an almost cartoonish print that seems suited to pajama bottoms. Festive heads and crossbones.

The woman making my coffee is laid back and nice. Like a friend that you would sit up with all night, drinking wine and waxing reflective about the 80s. I wonder if she’s the one who wields the needles in the back.

Old and new rock music drifts out from a lone speaker. It’s just the right decibel level. It warms the bones of the place.

It’s so bright in the front that I can’t quite see the colour of my coffee as I pour in the milk. A little dizzied by the holographic skulls flashing upwards from the coffee mat. Winking.

Into the dark back room, there are plush armchairs in deep reds and purples, embroidered with rich and gothic designs. And skulls, of course. All decadence and comfort. This is presumably where the inking happens.

I resist taking out my camera, as much as my fingers beg me. But I don’t want to feel like a tourist here. Because here I can be a writer.

But I’m also thinking of something more permanent.

Disappearing act

The crack in his skin falls down to the bones
a split that starts here at your feet
and stretches upward. As far as you can see.
Cleaving the plain in two.

Which side are you on? Are you hiding
in the bumps and fissures of old wounds,
waiting to crawl from the the scars when darkness
blurs the edges of here and now?

Or will you travel this fresh path
straight and chiseled, to its unseen end?

It isn’t this place

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The email said to meet her at a small Caribbean place in the west end. “It’s been years since I’ve been there, but it’s a decent place. Discrete.”

The wind is cold, and I didn’t wear a warm enough coat. Wished I had worn that red scarf. But that may have been too much. Too bright. Trying too hard.

Shaking. Could be the cold or the anticipation. Or both.

I’m early. The missive indicated 12:30. For days I planned the bus route, checking timetables on my phone, planning fifteen minutes’ buffer time in case of delays or missed transfers. But the trip moved precisely, each connection clicking into place. And I’m here at 12:15. Ready.

What isn’t perfect is the location. The pages and pages of newsprint covering the inside of the window is browned and losing its stick, revealing a dark dusty gloom within. I don’t bother trying to find dates or read the stories. It’s obviously been closed for a long time.

Until now I hadn’t questioned why she wanted to meet me, what made her finally change her mind after all of these months. But being chosen at last was delicious enough. Was the best thing that could ever happen.

But now, the questions come. Why this day? Why me? Why this place, papered-up and abandoned?

I don’t even know what she looks like. Not really. But I have pictured her a thousand times: dark hair, dark eyes, a scare smile tugging the right corner of her mouth upward.

The plan was for me to arrive first and wait for her text message. “Instructions to follow.”

It’s 12:35. Panic sits in my throat. I have no way to contact her: just an anonymous email address. No phone number. And she has my everything.

I’m leaning against the grimy window, hand clenched around my phone. 12:40. 12:45.

And then, the vibration shakes my fingers loose.

I can’t wrench the phone out of my pocket fast enough. And it drops to the sidewalk. My cold fingers scape the pavement in a mad fumble to bring the screen to my face to read her message.

“I’m here. Where are you?”

‘Tell everyone there is hope in your heart’

When you and I spend Christmas in London, it will be perfect. The realest holiday experience. Not the shiny, tinseltastic, calendar cut-out kind of Christmas. It will mean something.

Wet backstreets quiet, a few flakes threatening to make it intact to the pavement. Windowglow and warm light beating back the chill, but not quite. Through the windows, so many people packed into front rooms around card tables and on couches, flashing tree lights competing with the glow of flatscreens.

In the outside silence, the street feels familiar, but isn’t. Ice fog clings to the outline of houses, breathes along ice-slicked trees. But your hand is warm in mine. And for a moment we allow the thought maybe today everyone can all just get along and begin to be better people to flash and hold for a moment, suspended, then fade. That childish hope returning. Like waiting for white-bearded men who deliver presents.

But we shake free of the glitter, and suck in deep lungfuls of damp, chilled air. And hear the raucous chatter of the pub and want to go outside but don’t. Instead, we head toward the Thames. Keeping our mouths open so we can taste it and smell it at the same time. Wide, lonely, unfrozen river.
There is a melancholy to it: but it feels like home. Like hope.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=644U-jMpDUw&w=560&h=315]

When writing was violence

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They feel foreign beneath my fingers: smooth and hard. The cool indentations cradle my fingertips. And I pause a few moments before before pushing downward.

But I don’t press hard enough, and the lever barely lifts. Falls quickly backward in failure.

The next press is sheer violence. The lever whips upward with vicious ferocity, and the type hammer strikes the ribbon with brute force: the blood of it left in the lines of the “t” now scarred onto the face of the white page.

Many letters followed, heartbeat racing with the staccato smack of hard metal against the soft surface. Pounding the words into the paper.

Breathless

The hard, rough, rasp of it:
that’s the worst part. The struggle of
air to venture in and to escape.
Whistling in, wheezing out.
A tough and tiring journey:
this labour to live.

Too many times we’ve heard this sound
and wondered Is this the last time?
This rattle that rattles us.
Desperately willing the sound to
stop stop stop, but knowing
the gravity of what an end means.