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.
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