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1987: Wonderful Life

The morning after the hurricane I wandered across London,

photographing the carnage and enjoying the way my adopted

city licked its wounds. The more I wandered, the more I

wondered: why, how, who?

Then I took the train to Brighton, occasionally pointing my

new camera to the window to record the storm damage, trying

to capture each moment like a mosquito in onyx, or maybe

seal it in amber. The train’s motion played tricks, looking out

at the shattered trees and torn-up fields as if each moment was

frozen, then a sickening lurch as time caught up.

At the side of the track beyond Wivelsfield some youths

waved, not in the approved Agutter fashion, then threw bricks

and ran: The Railway Children Part II. I wondered when it

had all changed, when children became youths, stopped

waving hankies and started waving fingers, piling sleepers on

rusting tracks.

As the train pulled into Brighton I looked through my

viewfinder for the sea but all that I could see were houses and

flats, barely visible through the raindots and dirty streaks.

Odd how I could see my own reflection and yet, with a mental

readjustment, see the world outside in the same physical


Upon disembarking I felt my legs march me to the barrier

like a press-ganged pirate. Becky waited, motionless. She

was wrapped in a long coat and scarf, blonde hair wild from

the elements, autumn brown eyes shining with excitement; as

tall as me, great hips, and an intoxicated smile. Despite her

brazen promises neither Tony nor Hermione were there. A

part of me wanted to turn round and get back on the train, but

then Becky waved and I waved back; I was stranded. Up high

in the girders, the one long hand of the station clock spun out

of control.

“So,” I said, imagining cheap student pubs, “what do you

want to do?”

“I know – the pictures!” said Becky, excitedly. Inwardly, I


Mickey Rourke in Rumblefish was probably my all-time

hero, but with the exception of the sticky blood scene, Angel

Heart was something of a disappointment. From the cinema

we walked down to the sea, but it was darkening to an empty

grey and wind chopped the water into hard fragments. Neither

of us had much to say, so we turned right and walked out past

the Grand, where I insisted on snapping her against this

historic backdrop, and then the ruined west pier where

starlings nested and swooped like a burst pillow. Becky

pleaded with me to let her take my photo and begged me to

take off my hat. I refused on both counts.

“I wish you would,” said Becky softly, reproachingly. “I

like it.”

“What, my head?”

“All of you silly! Shall we stop for a drink?”

There was a low, concrete pub that looked inviting in the

rain. We went to peek through the windows but it was closed

for the afternoon, stools arse-up on tables like hands raised in


“Probably just as well,” I told Becky as we walked on. “I

don’t drink in pubs with car parks.”

“Why ever not?”

“I just don’t.”

Pub car parks are where bad things happen, where people

get hurt. I didn’t bother attempting to explain this to Becky,

she’d only have laughed – what did she know?


*This is an extract of “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here


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