top of page
  • _

1994: Cigarettes and alcohol

Leaving the pub, where Tony attempted to console the

inconsolable, I bought a badge of blue from an offie, then

walked back up Amwell Street just as the rickshaw man came

freewheelin’ down, looking for fares and trying to act


Blankly I drifted along Pentonville Road to Baron Street,

through Chapel Market onto Upper Street, which I hardly

recognised any longer: the Fox had gone, and so had the Pied

Bull. Even the portrait of that old bespoke tailor smiling

kindly as he sewed trousers had been replaced by a shop

selling irredeemable tat. Why does no-one make anything


Mixed with the drugs they still prescribed to make me feel

better, the absinthe was making me delirious. Colours were

coming back into my life, into my world-view, except too

vividly to focus, to separate their subtleties. Further along

Upper Street two little girls waited outside a shop. The

smallest, about five, was in a wheelchair and laughing as she

span around. The older one, who already had it all worked

out, looked as sad as an ancient. A businessman flashed past

on a unicycle; by the fire station doors a man leaned in

towards a window and a woman leaned out like a death row

scene, their hands separated by glass or adultery, or some

other barrier to happiness.

Outside Islington Town Hall I began to howl, causing

pedestrians to race for cover and pigeons to scatter. The

Tennants Super was reacting to the cold onion bhaji I’d had

for lunch, and I vomited into a bin outside a restaurant I’d

never heard of, then lay down in a comfortable pile of

vegetables, old news.

As I lay there, listening to the sounds of the streets, the

pulse of this city that had nurtured and ravaged me – and

seemed inclined to take me now anytime it wished – two men

ate Italian rabbit and polenta in the restaurant and debated the

future of our glorious nation. Now and then I’d catch one of

them look up at me where I slumped, lying in the gutter,

looking at the scars, and sometimes in whimsical and

preposterous moments I fancy that I helped shape their plans

for the future.

I knew, lying there watched over by these two men, that

political ideology is both prison and prismatic: it refracts and

it imprisons the truth. Maybe it was Presbyterian Brown, eyes

averted from his beloved, doing that odd thing with his mouth

as he nodded out of the window at the forlorn young man

adrift on the pavement; utilitarian Brown, reflecting on the

curse of booze, vowing then and there that he would do all in

his power to get the drifters and the dreamers back into work.

And then Messer Blair, his socialist principles – like

everything he said and did – warped out of any recognisable

shape by his faith, as black holes corrupt light from a

collapsing star. I sometimes like to think that when he saw me

lying there, as he discussed carve-ups and careers and wolfed

swan canapés, Tony resolved to do whatever it took to change

this unacceptable face of the country he loved.

And sometimes I wonder if either of those bastards loved

me, even just a little.


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

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here

0 views0 comments
bottom of page