Revival [4]

I imagine the woman sitting across a small plastic table from me, wearing clothes. I confess I have done the reverse thing before. Of course, who hasn’t? Or hasn’t anyone, ever? I don’t even know. It’s not something I talk about to my friends: have you ever sat on a tube train or on a bench in the park or in a cafe, or stood in a pub, and imagined the people there naked? All of them? Or even just some of them? And taken the thought further into their world and wondered: how do they make love? Do they ‘make love’, or do they have untrammelled, wild, passionate sex? (Why do we have to say ‘have sex?’ Why, in a language that verbs like no other, have we not adopted ‘to sex’ as a verb? As in ‘how do they sex?’) And with whom? What do they look like, and sound like, and feel like, during their sexing, and in the shower, afterwards? What will they have for breakfast, if anything? Who or what do they see when they cast a glance in the mirror, naked? Is it normal to ask yourself these questions? Or is it weird. What isn’t ‘weird’? What is?

Now, I’m sitting opposite a middle aged woman who has a certain amount of volume to her body—her breasts sag a little, her tummy folds over the patch of pubic hair that adorns her vagina, her arms wobble as she gestures, which she does a fair bit—and I wonder what does she wear, normally? She has spread towels over a half dozen plastic chairs on which we all sit. My small backpack leans against mine, and part of me feels tempted, still, to just reach down now and take out the shorts and the shirt, and put them back on. Part of me though feels relaxed. Quite remarkably so.

Her girlfriend, the woman’s, is pouring tea from a pot into half-size colourful mugs which have on them motifs of beach life in England. They’re handcrafted and pleasant and add to the general feeling of familiarity. There is nothing remiss with this world as I see it, it seems, and I wonder why do we call our partners, if we have them, which at this time I don’t, ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ when they are clearly way into their forties or fifties, and what, then, is a transgendered friend. Surely not my ‘transfriend’?

The ‘girlfriend’, who is certainly nearing her mid-forties if not in fact pushing fifty, and of a similar build to her partner/lover/otherhalf/technically-wife-though-they-be-not-married-even-though-now-of-course-they-could-if-they-wanted-to, while pouring tea into the mini mugs that are more sturdy than dainty, but lovable all the same (a bit like the couple themselves), recounts the story of their progeny—the mugs’—and how they—the couple—got them from a friend of theirs who in turn had made them herself especially for their beach hut here, outside which we are sitting, as a present.

But my mind isn’t on tea or on mugs or even on the extraordinarily large buttock that advances on me alarmingly as she bends down to pour the sixth mug. Instead, my mind briefly wanders into un- or only tangentially related territory, and I wonder can we not just call this, ourselves, the Rainbow Community. We’ve adopted the flag, we enjoy the concept, it’s served us well, it does the job and it’s friendly. LGBTTQQIAAP sounds, frankly, ridiculous. It may be inclusive, but as a word it’s unpronounceable, and as an acronym preposterous. And though it list everyone anyone can currently think of, it’s bound to be incomplete. There is certain to be someone out there somewhere who does not feel their gender or sexual identity adequately represented by either ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’, ‘transgender’, ‘transsexual’, ‘queer’, ‘questioning’, ‘intersex’, ‘asexual’, ‘ally’, or ‘pansexual’. Rainbow, let’s face it, does the trick, as in: ‘Brighton & Hove is a haven for the Rainbow Community, there is no real reason why Bournemouth & Boscombe shouldn’t be too.’

I have a feeling the idea can hardly be new, and I surmise it has probably been tried or at least aired before and for some reason or other rejected, or dismissed, by at least some. But, my mind goes: we need better than a string of letters that looks like an unsolved Enigma code and has no sound. ‘Rainbow’ is fine, seriously. It may have hippie connotations, and the peace movement of the 1990s may have a claim on it too, but so what. It’s embracing. It’s non-ethnicity specific, it’s even pretty. It’s natural. Rainbows happen all over the world. All the time. Like living, like loving. Like questioning, querying and doubting. Like being naked under the sun. For whatever reason, to whatever end.

We could call ourselves the Turing Community, with a reference to the unsolved enigma that is being LGBTTQQIAAP, and to honour a human who has done more for humanity than most others and suffered terrible injustice as his reward. I resolve to try it out on my new friends here, at the next opportunity and say something like: ‘The Turing Community has really made great strides this century, but the struggle is by no means over.’ Upon which they are bound to ask: ‘What’s the Turing Community,’ to which I’ll reply: ‘Us, the Rainbow Community,’ and there’ll no doubt be a long discussion about what we should call ourselves, and whether we can even think of ourselves in any way as a ‘community’. And that could be fun, or at least diverting. Or conversationally stimulating, who knows…

Before I can do so, we are joined by another friendly couple who are participating in the Bournemouth & Boscombe Nude Beach Stroll together with their little dog. The dog is panting a bit in the heat now, so he gets a bowl of water as a priority. Everybody gets up, that is my big burly new friend, who’s effectively adopted me as a Nude Beach Stroll newbie, his somewhat demur friend who has not been saying much since I tagged along with them, and their sunny woman friend whose welcome it was that had convinced me and won me over so quickly.

The British ritual of kissing friends and close-enough friends of friends, even if you have never met them before, on the cheek, once—or twice? you can never be entirely sure which—here takes on an additional layer of ‘slightly awkward’, because parts of peoples’ bodies that are usually unnoticeable enough, wrapped in some clothing, now dangle and wriggle, and you just have to get used to the odd nipple or tip of a cock brushing against you, and make nothing of it. As do these kind folk, whom to be with I feel happier and more comfortable about all the time.

There is now a veritable plethora of people represented around this little impromptu tea party, and instead of toying with gender nomenclature, I imagine them going about their ordinary business during the day naked. That’s just as entertaining, I quickly realise, as imagining them clothed. The host couple, it transpires, are both social workers of some sort, though one, it appears, in the statutory, the other in the voluntary sector. The mixed couple who have just arrived are semi-retired, it seems, but I can’t quite disentangle their various community involvements and interests from their part time professional activities, which lie broadly in the region of ‘consultation’.

My burly new friend is a carpenter, and his friend who turns out to be his partner—the one who strikes me as a little suspicious, or possibly simply wary of me—a lawyer. Their woman friend works for a big company on the outskirts of town. In personnel. I imagine being employed by her big company on the outskirts of town and needing to see her about my annual leave or my P45, and wandering through a large open plan office full of naked people sitting at computers doing things that to me are incomprehensible in the way, say, cricket is, but not quite as fascinating or soothing, and knocking on Jane’s door and hearing her friendly, warm, sunny voice call, ‘come in!’ and finding her sitting there at her own desk with her big broad smile, and her very red lips and her quite strawberry hair and her freckled nose and her large-nippled breasts, and her necklace that has a Buddhist, I reckon, symbol on it, or maybe it’s just generically spiritual, and her interesting silver green-shade coloured nails. And I imagine her offering me a seat.

There are many things inherently impractical indeed about being naked. You don’t want to, for example, sit down in a leather chair where you know someone else has just sat, for maybe half an hour or longer, talking to their Human Resources manager about a recurring health issue. What exactly is the issue, you wonder, and is it contagious?… Or the carpenter. Now, in some respects that makes a little more sense: making furniture is proper physical exertion, and why should he not do so free from textiles, but perhaps, for reasons of personal safety, no more than topless…

I like his chest, Paul’s, as it bounces when he laughs at a joke I wasn’t quite listening to and therefore didn’t quite get, and I like his magnificent belly which doesn’t seem fat so much as voluptuous. He is wholly, and wholesomely, attractive, though not in a classical, or traditional, or obvious way. His personality beams and bestows on the people around him reassurance. I like that. His living partner (of many years, it transpires) is the exact opposite. Dry and wry and analytical. They obviously complement each other, and although he, the boyfriend—yes, you see, it really doesn’t work for him, ‘boyfriend’—hasn’t warmed to me yet, I sense his underlying suspicion, if that’s what it is, slowly ceding. It’s maybe the tea, maybe the realisation that I am not going to be a threat to him or his relationship, ever; or perhaps it’s the cookies. I wonder could it possibly have happened that we’ve been served hash cookies, without being told, but then dismiss that idea as absurd. I would have fallen asleep by now, because my tolerance of dope is practically zero.

I suddenly long for a prosecco and wonder is that an option, when I’m pulled out of my disjointed but pleasurable reverie (in the nude) by hearing my name spoken, loud and a little provocative: ‘and what is it you do, Sebastian?’ Clare asks me with a look of frank expectation. She’s the girlfriend of the host couple and the one, I believe, whose social work is more statutory. I’m momentarily startled, and before I can prevent myself from thinking the thought, I wonder, but for a fraction of a second, what happens when nudists get involuntary erections, but I gather my senses and I reply: ‘I am a writer.’


< Revival [3]       Revival [5] >

 

Venus

Venus troubles me. I come here reluctantly; so bright. So mystifying, so inscrutable. So tenebrous, as well, beneath that gleaming skin. Moist. Overwhelming, warm; so uninhabitable, at least for me.

And still I feel I ought to spend some time here. Wherefore, I know not. For the experience? For the completion of my being? For the expansion, yet, of my horizon? These planets travel far and yet not wide, except they do. They are—we all are—on a forward motion we don’t notice.

Venus knows. This is a body that’s imbued with universal wisdom, which it can’t express. We move in spirals, not ellipses, our sun drags us with her, and whenever we feel we’ve been here before, we have, but we’re a little further down our path: it’s not the direction of our nose that we travel in, it is the direction of our pate. We have no eyes there, at the top of our head, we have only a string that pulls us, and still we resist.

Here on Venus, everything feels strange; the smells, the flavours, the embrace. The fuzzinesses and the softness, they unsettle me. Long before I become comfortable I become complacent, and that will not do. I start to fidget, restless. I think I am getting ready to settle in some sort of way, but settledness entails a great deal of immobility. I like the rest of motion. I need to be alone. Not all the time, but enough. Venus asks me too many questions. It’s not that I can’t find any answers, these answers can mostly be found, but the effort is out of proportion. The thinking that normally invigorates me tires me out here. The obviousnesses, the courtship; the irrationalities, repetitions.

At the time there was no myth and no meaning. The time being the beginning, the beginning being the origin, the origin being unknown. I suddenly feel alert, a little, and happier to exist, mainly because of this old realisation that I can’t, I just can’t expect myself to make sense of it all. Any of it, really, it’s just there. Annoying as it may be. I take a step back, and I look at my thoughts as they spread out before me, and find them unsatisfactory. The thinking I’m doing is inelegant, crude; it will not suffice. Nor is it poetic. And thinking without poetry is like love without mathematics. It has no substance, no structure, no special tingle of satisfaction, no meaning. It is like sex in a haze of drunkenness with someone you don’t fancy. I’m becoming self-referential and it irks me.

Womanhood. Much like aliens, women don’t so much scare me as baffle. I’ve hardly ever thought this through, but there comes a time. And a place. I seriously doubt that now is that time or this that place, but when or where will it ever be, and does it matter? I contend myself mostly with knowing that there are things I can’t know, and go where my curiosity takes me, which is not normally here. Nor abnormally. I’m out of my depth, out of my comfort, out of my pond. The mountains, the seas and the rivers, the streams. The landscape and the disorientation. There are too many things happening all at once to get a handle on any of them, and there is also the new mix the new blend the new fusion. That both excites and frightens me, a little. Not because I dread the loss of myself, but because I really like my delineations as much as I like my inbetweennesses and my blurrage; the overlappedisation of our existence, I like it. Entropy.

I hear a warm soothing voice that is not in my head and it is not in my memory; it is not my mother, my sister, my wife. The voice comes from the ground and from the cloud that envelops the ground and from the all about the sphere that I have wrapped my body around, and it says that there are no mysteries and there must be no sorrow. She’s trying to reassure me, I’m not sure she succeeds, but her sentiment is kind. I feel her hand on my back on my neck on my thigh, and the touch is tender and real. I recall once upon a time being deeply at ease in this presence and as deeply afraid of it too. What embraces you may ensnare you, what holds you can crush you, what loves you kill you, what desires you own you. What owns you is you. And you thought you knew who you were.

Did I? Maybe a couple of aeons ago; it is possible, then, when I did not yet exist, that I was really quite sure of myself. I had an arrogant streak, not mean, not cocky, but aloof. My journey humbles me. I sense I’m getting closer to the truth, and like everyone else I know that there is no such thing, though deep down I want there to be, and maybe there is. If not a truth, then a value, perhaps, to hold on to.

The energy that we are. The quantum states. The potentialities. The particles and the waves. Of course I am Venus as much as Venus is me: we share the constituent parts, and yet: I don’t belong here. It’s sometimes good to know where you belong, and also good to know where you don’t. There’s nothing definite, ever, and anything can and does change, and you never say never and all that goes with it, and in any case there is only so much existing you can expect to be doing at any one time, but by the time your energy dissolves and changes its form, time ceases too, and you are quite literally reborn, only not in the way that you thought you didn’t want to think about, or were taught, or wanted to believe to be nonsense. From one state to another. These states are all within us contained. The energy that you are is your matter your body your molecules your thoughts your emotion your wants and your needs (always, they come as a pair: you knew that already), your shades and your textures, and when they go they don’t go, they are simply reconfigured, because energy cannot be destroyed, it can only, and will, be transformed.

I shall not miss myself when I’m gone, for I am always around. So are you, so is Venus. So are the superclusters of our sistergods.

I am much happier now than I was before I came here. I knew I would be, I doubted it not. But now, much as I sense the draw of the earth that is so near and so familiar and so welcoming too, I must surely go on a detour and find me a distant adventure. Home beckons, but I have to explore…


< Mercury       Uranus >


Read The Planet Walk in Paperback or as eBook

 

Entreatment

I see my Science Communicator Friend next at a party I drag him along to, where we have a long and involved conversation, and where I introduce him to the hosts and to some other people.

It is so easy to talk to him and so comfortable, and he’s so easy and comfortable with talking to other people, while I’m distracted talking to other people still, that I begin to formulate in my mind a fantasy that features him and me together. This, I think, is what I would want in a ‘boyfriend’: somebody I could be so comfortable, so perfectly at ease with, who could hold his own, but, when he didn’t need to, would find me interesting enough to converse with me, and who would be interesting enough in his own right to be conversed with, and who had enough going on in his life and thoughts to think and friendships to maintain to be effectively self-sufficient, most of the time, while affectionate and appreciative enough to enjoy some time with me, sometimes.

In retrospect this fantasy grows stronger, not weaker. For a good long while I forget about it, not least because Christmas comes around, and I go to Switzerland, while he has his brother staying over from Greece. Then we see each other once or twice briefly and then not again because he’s off to Greece himself. This may or may not have been Easter.

By the time he comes back he has brought me a tea that he has made himself. It’s a jar of leaves, and it’s my favourite infusion straight away, not just because it’s from him, but because it has sage in it, and I love sage. It has one or two other ingredients, maybe three, but I don’t now remember what they were. I am touched that he thought of me while away, not least because we’re not actually ‘together’ in any way, we don’t even really have sex. One of the first things he’d said, after a bit of what could easily have turned into sex, was: ‘let’s not get onto sex, it just ruins everything.’ And that was all right with me: I found it interesting, but also perhaps true.

Although sex does not, in my experience, have to ruin everything, it certainly can be or become a complicating factor, and several people I’m still excellent friends with I don’t think I would still be excellent friends with if we were still having sex, even though I personally tend to think of sex as not much more than a particularly emphatic way of saying ‘hello’. I accept that this perception is perhaps not strictly conventional, and I allow for the possibility that I might change it quite drastically too, if I were to actually find myself in a relationship. 

We then don’t see each other again for a while, this time because I’m away from London for two months while my flat is being renovated, and he’s traipsing around Europe, I believe.

By the time we’re both back in London, he is enrolled for his MA, whilst I’m not, because I had failed to sufficiently toe the line or impress the course convenor at King’s College, London, or both. I am not unhappy about this, though I am of course a bit peeved; but I’ve since been told, by my Philosopher Friend, that this is not in the least bit surprising since what interests me in philosophy does not, apparently, interest philosophical academia, in fact ‘they resent it,’ she tells me. I feel reassured by this.

The branch of philosophy that interests me does not yet really exist as a field of academic study, and although I made that clear in my ‘submission’ to King’s (I don’t so much like the idea of ‘submitting’ my work or my thinking to start with, I would consider it more a ‘putting it forward’, or ‘out there’), they still did not think that either they could offer me anything, or I them. This jarred with me, just a tad, absolutely, not least because I believe that a university course should be open to anyone who wants to take it and fulfils some standard, agreed-upon entry requirements, not to a hand-picked group who already fit an existing institutional mould, but it did not really, in all seriousness, irk me. It would be frivolous to suggest that I had applied for an MA at King’s on a whim, but it’s also fair to say that I hadn’t thought through the implications of studying philosophy at master’s level thoroughly.

When I told a good friend from my school days in Switzerland about all this, he looked at me and said, without hesitation: ‘Academia is not for you. You’re much better off out of it.’ I reluctantly concurred, and told him I didn’t want to do an MA in philosophy to go into academia but to gain a better grounded understanding of where philosophy stands today. He counselled other avenues to obtain this. I heed his counsel, at least for the time-being…

The fact that my Greek Science Communicator Friend is now doing his MA is neither good news nor bad news as far as I am concerned, it just means he’s now back in London, and so am I. I am reminded of him, partly because he gets back in touch and proposes a catchup, and partly because of the book I am reading in the bath at the moment, which my first ex and still very good friend has given to me, Becoming a Londoner – a Diary. It’s written in an easy-going, relaxed, near conversational prose by a man who had come to London from the United States in his twenties during the early 1960s and quickly started a live-in relationship with a sophisticated Greek man of a similar age, whom he nevertheless appeared to rather revere, if nothing else intellectually.

The diary is rich in anecdotes about the London literary and art world of the day, and although I came to London nearly twenty years later, much of what he writes about, and much of the way he writes about it, resonates with me strongly. Also, he visits places that I have been to, in some cases frequently, such as Lucca, or Paris. But most enjoyable for me are the insights into the lives of people like Francis Bacon and, most particularly, Stephen Spender, with whom both he and his Greek partner had a close friendship. Each time I read in this book, I am a little reminded of my Greek Science Communicator Friend and of my fantasy of being together with him, which I know full well is all it ever was and ever will be, which is partly what makes it so enjoyable, so safe.

Today, I was hoping to see him for an event at Lights of Soho, which I’ve recently become a ‘member’ of. I’d suggested to him that we go there and he’d said, in his usual, non-committal way, that ‘this sounds interesting,’ but already flagged up the fact that he normally had a seminar at college on a Tuesday and didn’t know when this would end. I’d parked the idea, more or less assuming he wouldn’t come out with me Tuesday, and indeed, when I sent him a message earlier today, he declined, saying he couldn’t get away. I was a little deflated but also quite relieved, since by then I had decided that unless he were to come along, I myself wouldn’t go either and had started to hope, almost, that my assumption would prove correct and he wouldn’t come out, so I didn’t have to go.

Instead, I had a bath and read in my book, which reminded me of him, and then sat down in my white towelling dressing gown, which I hardly ever wear, and when I do then only ever after I’ve had a bath, and poured myself a glass of white wine and put on an old vinyl record with Eugen Bochum conducting Mozart, and realised that I am very content, almost happy.

I discover a message from him, in response to mine saying not to worry as I was getting too comfortable on my sofa and might not go out myself, in which he says: “Yeah, you should be one with the sofa.” And I agree. I am fairly much one with the sofa, right now.

The funniest line so far that I’ve read in David Plante’s book is about Auden, staying with the Spenders: “Stephen said that once, when Auden was staying at Loudon Road, Natasha rang him up to say she would be late, and would he put the chicken in the oven? Auden did – he simply put it in the oven, didn’t put it in a pan, didn’t put the heat on.” I so relate to Auden.


< {Closure}       {Thoughts That Can’t Be Unthunk} >

 

Indiscretion

The man who runs the studio in East London where we’re filming has everything he needs to be happy today. A smoothie, the sun, and a freshly cleaned lounger. His is an oasis of rare and extraordinary freedom, and encroaching on it, from all sides, are the capital, the development, the oppressive tentacles of material wealth, and he reckons the days of his haven of creativity are certainly numbered.

‘Do you live here?’ I ask him.

‘Yes,’ he says. And then, after a moment’s reflection: ‘You know, if you’re an artist, you have to live differently; otherwise I’d be working for some client now in some graphic design studio.’

He reminds me of me when I was young, just as young as I was when I was sitting across from me at the Limonlu Bahçe in Istanbul. Except he’s nowhere near as young. He’s maybe in his late thirties? The studio at the back of which he has made his home looks and feels like—and most likely is—the kind of place that is about to fall victim to the machine that is stirring right outside the ramshackle rust-eaten gate: the ever-encroaching, cold-commercial boomtown that is spreading out from the City of London, past Liverpool Street now, into Shoreditch and beyond.

He keeps the gate locked with a fat chain and a padlock, ‘because it’s market today,’ and all manner of people might be wandering in, some simply curious, some with ill intent. At lunchtime, as we’re having a break, he unlocks it so those of us who want to can leave; and in fact the others all do, while I’m enjoying my moment of peace and quiet in the little courtyard, in the shade. The gate now is shut, but not locked.

A young man with an oddly styled haircut confidently opens the gate, closes it behind himself, and confidently crosses the yard. He has the knack: he has done this before. Confidently, a little cocky, perhaps, he strides to the staircase that’s right next to the door that we use for our studio, leading up to the first floor.

Earlier on, our host had shown us a picture of the series he was in the process of taking this afternoon, in his part of the building, at the back. It presented a man completely encased in light beige latex. Not wearing some latex suit or fetish costume, but enclosed in a frame that was covered in latex, from underneath which all the air had been drawn. The man was at the mercy of our host and photographer, completely.

‘I could kill him,’ he’d said, signalling no intention of doing so. ‘It’s incredible, the amount of trust.’ And it is incredible, the amount of trust that had been placed in his hands by a man who was willing to be trapped in a wrap that could kill him. We’d chatted for quite a while about this and that and the other, when he’d said, ‘I better get back, I’ve left him in there, he’s waiting now.’ 

That was earlier on. Right now, nobody is waiting, but the noticeably confident young man has stridden past me, and our host looks troubled. ‘That’s not a good sign,’ he says, this time only to me, because everybody else has gone out to lunch.

We’d already been made aware that we needed to treat the ‘issue’ of ‘upstairs’ with some degree of diligence. ‘If there’s any issue,’ we’d been instructed, ‘tell me, and I will go and talk to him,’ not specifying who the ‘him’ in question was.

By that time, I’d only met one person, briefly, and he was sweetness personified: I had just arrived and was not quite yet in the process of setting up, when the door at the top of a short flight of steps inside the building opened, and down came a young man who looked not unlike how you’d imagine Harry Potter, aged 23, minus the scar.

‘Do you have a safety pin?’ he asked me, which I counted as one of the less conventional opening gambits, but absolutely not without charm. He then proceeded to explain to me in terms almost apologetic that the top button of his shorts had come off, though I didn’t quite catch the actual circumstance of this minor calamity. I could not, regrettably, help him with his request, but suggested that our host might have a safety pin for him, with which the young man concurred wholeheartedly, before he disappeared.

The next thing I heard from our host was that there was always the possibility of something of an ‘issue’ with ‘upstairs’, and I naturally assumed that this must entail some ogre, some burly old man, some exceptionally unreasonable or borderline violent landlord; and so I was not a little surprised to learn that the ‘issue upstairs’ concerned none other than this young, tall and a little gawky guy.

By now I had met him a second time and enquired after his shorts, which he was pleased to inform me had since been mended. Again, I somehow did not quite catch everything that he said; so just how or by whom or when precisely the button had been decalamitised I still didn’t know, but I had other things on my mind—such as our impending shoot—and I fancied the delightful chap’s shorts were not a matter of sufficient import as to warrant my further attention.

Now, with the arrival of confident lad who had crossed my metaphorical path in a striding fashion, a new layer of possible meanings settled on the situation. He had responded to my ‘hello’ with a curiously curtailed, so as not to say curt, ‘hello’, in which I’d detected neither curiosity nor friendliness, but a perfunctory and, it seemed to me, utilitarian tone that suggested the greeting was there purely because by convention it needed to be, while he, in his stride, cared neither for me nor for the convention. I’d thought not much more of it at that particular moment, because there is only so much significance you assign to a greeting, the greeter’s stride not so withstanding, but it had registered as slightly odd—slightly off, to be more precise—and so now it did perturb me just a little that our host so quickly assumed an expression of quite so much concern. ‘That is not a good sign,’ he said, and I could tell from the way his eyes glanced t’ward the windows upstairs that he meant it. Still I envisioned the ogre, a hideous mountain troll, not the gentle creature with his loose-buttoned shorts, and fully assumed there must therefore be somebody else up there to contend with.

‘Why,’ I asked, doing my best to sound light of heart, ‘is this not a good sign?’

‘He’s a pusher,’ our host explained unequivocally. This meant nothing to me, which must have shown on my expression, as it stayed involuntarily blank.

‘Do you know what a pusher is?’

‘No.’

‘He sells drugs.’

My brain now was trying to process the to me causally unrelated facts that a) there is an ogre, a cataclysmic Beast of Doom, living upstairs, who, at any moment, might turn into an ‘issue’, and b) there is a ‘pusher’, somebody who sells drugs, with a strident gait, who has, for reasons of his own, now gone up there to that Thing of Terror and must somehow surely either overcome or appease it, or succumb to its wrath.

At the same time I was wondering why our host was calling him a ‘pusher’ and not simply a ‘dealer’. To me somebody who comes to your house, or your place of work or leisure, delivering drugs would be either a dealer, or somebody acting on behalf of the dealer, such as a courier or delivery person. I had no experience of anyone ever coming around to my house or place of work or leisure delivering drugs, and so I could not be entirely certain, but ‘pusher’ was a term I would have reserved for somebody who hangs around school yards, for example, and ‘pushes’ drugs on kids who would not otherwise want them.

But this—the fact that strident fellow was a ‘pusher’, whom I would have thought of more as a ‘dealer’, was as much of an explanation as was currently forthcoming for the perception, on the part of our host, that the circumstantiality of our shoot at his studio had just acquired an unwelcome layer of anticipated complication, and he said: ‘I’ll give them half an hour, until quarter past three, and if they’re still here then, I’ll go and have a word.’

More than anything, what struck me was the grave worry that was written on his face and the sincerity of his concern for our work being able to proceed at all. What there was that might be said to the ogre, who surely by then would have devoured stride-boy, high on the drugs he himself had just delivered, I could not imagine. Certainly, there was nothing I felt I could do, as I had vividly etched on my mind the serious counsel we had been given that we were not to—under any circumstances, as was implied—approach the upstairs den and who or whatever dwelt in it ourselves, but must leave it to our host to deal with any ‘issue’ that might thence materialise.

My job here today was to direct a delicate scene study, and I had no intention, in any case, to risk life and limb intervening in whatever potential horror might be unfolding upstairs, seeing that it clearly was a situation of its own making. Some people have themselves wrapped in latex and left at the mercy of their kindly and concerned photographer-cum-studio-landlord, others obviously deliver (push?) drugs to a mythical menace upstairs from said studio: that’s all just Shoreditch on a Sunday in June.

At one point a little later, newly-buttoned-shorts man and the unlikely though strideous ‘pusher’, together with somebody I hadn’t yet seen or met, but who also didn’t strike me as particularly threatening, left the building, the delivery boy—to my mind incongruously—holding two cardboard boxes of a smallish-to-medium size, one under each arm. He looked every bit now the delivery boy, and whatever was in those boxes, I thought, if that’s drugs, then you three are going to have yourselves one hell of an afternoon…

Next time I caught the attention of our host, I told him the good news that the ‘issue’ had, as it appeared, left the building:

‘I’ve seen three of them leave, I think they’ve locked up.’ They had taken pains to put the chain and the lock on the gate upon leaving, which I thought was conscientious and considerate of them. Our host was neither impressed nor convinced. With that ominous glance of his t’ward upstairs, worry weighing on his voice, he said:

‘They haven’t. They’ll have to come back.’

By now, I had me a regular mystery. Since mysteries, regular or not, can only be entertained for so long before curiosity gets the better of their recipient, I now asked him outright what the ‘issue’ was, with ‘upstairs’. Young shorts man, to me, I volunteered, seemed like a thoroughly harmless chap.

‘Oh he, is; he’s all right. The problem is just that he likes to get high and then get fucked over his desk.’ I now had an image in my mind that I was pretty sure didn’t belong there and felt that I’d been given more information than strictly I needed to know to continue with this afternoon’s proceedings. Then again, I had asked…

It still took me another moment or so to compute why a delightful young man with moderately problematic shorts and a predilection for sex on drugs at his office should be an ‘issue’ for us, even if it were to happen this afternoon, until the penny dropped, and I realised that the ‘issue’ in question was simply one of sound intrusion. And maybe a little bit of dust too, because the floor boards of the ‘upstairs’, which were old and creaky, were also our ceiling, and we were shooting a dialogue scene of quiet intensity.

They didn’t come back. Or maybe they came back later, after we’d already wrapped and gone home. Our sweet-shorted friend may or may not have had his desires met, but there was no ‘issue’, that Sunday, for us, from ‘upstairs’ or elsewhere.


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