Wednesday, 23 September 2009

So, Recently...

Lulworth House in the London borough of Lambeth. A five-storey, brown-brick structure comprising ex-council flats, which they’re now calling "ex-authority" or something—one of those periodic lexical switcheroos that keeps things from sounding too grim, like "Sellafield" for "Windscale".* This grubby top-floor apartment is now the base of operations for my conquest of London, or it will be, just as soon as it has electricity and an Internet connection. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.

To be frank, I’m not feeling all that imperious right now. The latest session with the letting agents has sapped away the little energy I can bring to bear on a Monday morning; I’ve just signed more documents than it takes to condemn a man to death in some countries—that’s how it is when property is involved. Moreover, I’ve arrived at the flat to find that it’s in exactly the same condition as it was when I looked at it three weeks ago, and since I just signed a form to confirm that the property has been professionally cleaned that makes me what they call a "sucker". The landlord hasn’t even installed a shower unit, which was the one and only stipulation that I could think of when I first put in an offer, even though most of the locks are broken, the wallpaper is coming off in foot-long strips and there’s a hole in the bathroom sink. On the plus side, the lounge boasts a mirror that’s at least six feet across, and someone’s left a complimentary umbrella on the coat stand.

I claim the solitary bedroom with a working lock, not because it provides an additional layer of security—it’s only one of those miniature sliding bolts you get in bathrooms, a modesty lock—but because I want to know that I have a place to masturbate without fear of interruption. Or, who knows, maybe even have sex. I then set about scavenging the best furniture from the rest of the house, as per SOP; I find a small desk and a rickety office chair with wheels. By the time I’m finished, my room is looking damn near palatial. I’m so overcome by the sight of it that I have to lie down on the flabby mattress for about two hours, which doesn’t quite fit in with my programme of rigorous self-improvement. Still, there’ll be plenty of time to build Rome later.

It’s about one-thirty in the afternoon when I finally rouse myself, and I decide that it’s time to get moving. It doesn’t even matter where; the important thing is to establish some momentum. I can figure out what to do with it afterwards. On the way down the stairwell I run into the perfect stereotype of an Afro Caribbean man: dreadlocks, unkempt beard, bloodshot eyes. He politely gives way, allowing me to pass. This is necessary because he’s carrying a small canoe. The car park is full of Audis and BMWs, which I find reassuring: if people who are richer than me live here, then I won’t be an obvious target for burglary. I count about half-a-dozen luxury cars, maybe a quarter of the total vehicles. They can’t all belong to drug dealers, surely?


I go north—that’s where the action is. An anonymous driver does his best to mow me down outside Vauxhall Tube, deliberately accelerating when he sees me stepping out, but I manage to leap clear. After crossing the river at Vauxhall Bridge I stop and turn around to check out the scenery I’ve left behind: on one side lies the MI6 building, which is a fantastic, nonsensical edifice straight out of a sci-fi comic; it looks like the imperial palace of some extra-terrestrial despot, or perhaps an inter-galactic colonial headquarters—the sort of thing that appears on the covers of Ayn Rand books. It also reminds me of the anthropomorphic cities from the Transformers cartoon.** On the other side of the road is a collection of glass-and-steel structures know as St. George’s Wharf. By day these buildings appear to be typical examples of the sort of futuristic corporate architecture that’s recently been metastasizing throughout major cities the world over, but at night, illuminated by points of coloured light and the reflections of the shimmering Thames, they take on the quality of gigantic exposed circuit boards, slotted into the protesting earth by some divine computer engineer.

Rather than heading north to Victoria, I turn right and make my way along the river bank. I walk straight past the Tate, then double back, feeling guilty about my philistine indifference. During the nine months I spent in Bloomsbury in 2004/5 I failed to visit a single gallery or museum; this time it’ll be different, or so I tell myself. Unfortunately, it turns out that I’m still as nonplussed by the visual arts as ever. After wandering around for twenty minutes I head for the gift shop, where I realise that I am capable of enjoying paintings, but only when they’re reproduced as 4x6 postcards. It’s just like browsing record sleeves.

There’s an ice cream van in the park next to the Houses of Parliament, but it seems to be unoccupied, and the man standing in front of it is being questioned by two police officers. I hang around for a while, holding out hope for a mid-afternoon breakfast of Mr Whippy, but the interrogation continues for at least fifteen minutes, after which I move on. By way of compensation, I treat myself to a meal at a subterranean McDonald’s, which is populated entirely by foreign tourists and guys with muscles and tribal tattoos. I sample the new M, a ciabatta sandwich with Emmental cheese that somehow conspires to be more flavourless than the average white-bun burger. I’m genuinely surprised by how poor it is, even considering the low expectations attendant to any McDonald’s purchase; all the same, I enjoy it immensely.

I see a man wearing a PayPal T-shirt. I hear another man, plump and middle-aged, telling his pre-pubescent son what to do if someone makes trouble for him. "Take them out",*** he says, to which the boy sensibly replies that he’s too small and weak to incapacitate an adult. His dad tells him to use his knees, or maybe he tells him to go for their knees; I can’t say for sure, but I’m reminded of my own father’s perennial advice to "go for the eyes", which I tried once with mixed success. In HMV I find an espionage novel written by Hugh Laurie and an unauthorised biography of Danny Dyer, "Britain’s toughest star". Later, I witness a young Asian guy doing a walk that I've never seen before. It demands a name, so I christen it the "Macho-Man Mince". It’s probably a pretty good reproduction of the way tough guys move around in prison the day after they’ve been sodomised.

*Clear evidence for the unsung optimism of British culture; would Chernobyl have retained its name to this day if it had been situated in Cumbria?
**Viewed from the north side of the river, the head is clearly visible: a recessed, semi-circular chamber in the centre of the building, flanked by two stratospheric towers that evoke hideously protruding shoulder blades. Decorative crenulations run along its top, giving the impression of a crown.
*** The gender-neutral pronoun evinces a pleasingly progressive attitude towards violence.

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