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1991: Unfinished Sympathy

Out of work and keen to provide, I trudged streets that

became meaner each day. In a recession, you find people’s eyes

grow harder, faces more set, courses resolute. I ducked and

weaved the pavements like some demented slalom racer,

between job centre, employment agency and building site, but to

no avail; it had taken a while but O’Neill had spread the word

well and I became accustomed to the sight of yellow helmets

shaking from side-to-side, humourless smiles, jerking thumbs.

The more I walked the more wretched I felt, as if my legs

were being ground to stumps on the bitter concrete. Passers-by

seemed less inclined to step aside. It seemed the older I got and

the harder I looked, the more beat-up I felt inside; snipers

sniffed out my weaknesses, my phobias and fetishes, my

allergies and addictions and, above all, my fear – what if I met

the pool club boys?

My paranoia grew. As I crossed a side street between two

waiting cars I was convinced the one behind me would slip off

the clutch, crushing my legs beyond repair. Waiting at

Britannia Junction for the lights to change I expected to be

pushed to oblivion beneath the trucks that hurtled past. Sat atop

a bus in the dark I was sure some brick would at any moment

hurtle through the window, blinding me forever.

Nearly every day I rode buses, mainly the 43 from Angel to

Archway, and back again. The Archway was mostly grim and

poor, the Angel mostly trendy and bright. Sometimes I used the

camcorder, other times Tony’s camera and, in theory, the two

projects were distinct; the photos had no particular theme but

my film had a working title: Rule 43.

Peering through a lens from the bus’s top deck I recorded

black bin liners clogging the branches of the dismal trees of

Holloway Road like skewered crows. An old man I recognised

as being Irish sat on a mangled bench with his can of Tennants,

and I realised I was filming an endangered species: the Fifties’

émigré, rubble-dust streaking his grey hair, rollie on his lips,

one of the abused generation who had found austere post-war

London preferable to the auld sod but who were already dying

out, to be replaced by thousands of smart young chaps and

chapesses clutching doctorates in IT.

When a screeching crocodile of teenagers embarked at Jones

Brothers, I braced myself for their antics, their nudging and

giggling and piss-water bombs; I hid my camera like porn

beneath my coat. But after a few minutes in my solitary haze I

noticed something, or the absence of something, and looked up

to see a grassland of hands dancing through the air as if

sculpting light, a party of deaf children signing a cacophony of

invisible words I would never hear.


*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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