Monday, 23 March 2009

Men and Boys

It was very nice weather on Saturday so Uncle Ian and his friend Jim took me and my cousin Matthew to the park to play football, and it was me and Jim against Matthew and his dad, and we were winning 10-4 but then Matthew sliced the ball into the middle of the pond by accident. He's really clever but he can't kick a ball to save his life.

Jim said that Uncle Ian should get the ball because his team lost it and Uncle Ian joked that he was gonna swim in and he took his t-shirt off and then they started laughing and wrestling and both of them fell in nearly.

Matthew was like, 'Shall we hide?' and I was like, 'They probably won't even notice. I'll go in the toilets and you go in the woods.'

Uncle Ian and Jim were still rolling in the grass and laughing and now both of them had their t-shirts off and Uncle Ian was daring to throw Jim's t-shirt in the pond. For a second I thought Jim was actually strangling Uncle Ian properly because they stopped laughing and were grunting and screaming but then they started laughing again.

So Matthew ran away to the woods which are big and quite dark and I ran around the pond and past the park where the swings and slide are and went to the toilets, which I thought were a really good place to hide because not many people would think I would hide in them. They were dirty and smelly and I went into one but the toilet seat was broken and covered in wee and full of loads and loads of tissue and wee and it was disgusting, so I tried the next one which wasn't as bad, but there was a big puddle of water or something on the floor, and I got my pumps and my jeans bottoms wet, but it was too late because I could hear footsteps coming in. I locked the door.

I needed a poo. I thought Uncle Ian and Jim had found me already. That would mean that Matthew was the winner because he still hadn't been found, and I don't like losing to Matthew because he's just rubbish at everything except reading, writing, spelling, and Maths, and he says he knows the capital city of every country in the world. He probably does. He reads books all the time. Nobody reads books. I'd get bullied at school forever.

But anyway, I was pretending to be a statue and not even breathing. Then I noticed a small hole in the wall, which was made of wood. I mean, the wall was made of wood. I looked in very quietly and carefully and all I could see was the back of someone's head, kind of nodding in a funny way, and he didn't have a top on. And there was a funny noise, like someone out of breath. I crouched down, trying not to get my jeans wet even more, and there were things all over the floor like burst balloons, floating in the water, and they looked really disgusting, so I tried not to touch them, but I wanted to see if there was something else in the toilet next door, and I was really surprised because it was actually Jim. Jim had no top on either and was making the funny noises like he was out of breath. I was really shocked so I moved right into the corner so they couldn't see me through the hole, but I stepped on one of the balloons which made a sound like a little fart which was funny but disgusting and I was scared that they would hear me laughing and having a poo nearly.

And they must have because then someone put their finger through the hole and started wiggling it around. I thought I was going to be sick, and poo and wee myself all together. I wanted to run away but just as I unlocked the door the other door opened too. I started running but I was caught as soon as we got outside. I started screaming but it was Uncle Ian and he covered my mouth with his very big hand.

And he was like, 'Seek!'

Uncle Ian was bright red in the face and laughing. He looked like one of the boys at school who had done something naughty and was laughing when the teacher asked him what he'd been doing, like he'd been caught in the girls toilets, which is not allowed. He picked me up and swung me around and upside down but his t-shirt fell on the grass so he put me down and picked it back up and tucked it in his jeans. His chest was really big and hairy and I was a bit dizzy.

I was like, 'Was that you in there with Jim?' and he was like, 'Ah! You got me', and so I was like, 'What were you doing in there?' and he said, 'Waiting for you, silly! We saw you run into the toilets! Duh! Duh!' He tickled me knees and I started screaming. I'm really ticklish and sometimes when Uncle Ian tickles me with his long fingers I think I'm going to die. 'Jim and I were playing but we still knew where you were. That's what being grown up's about. You can be silly but you still have to keep your eyes open, you never know who's about, do you? Ah. Here comes Mr. Jim now with Matthew, hey, and the football! How did you get that?'

'There's a fisherman there who went in with his waders,' Jim said, as he swung Matthew around too.

Thursday, 19 March 2009


I am sitting here with my computer at a table in the basement of Costa Coffee, in Old Compton Street, sipping a cappuccino with chocolate on top and waving clumsily at a persistent fruit fly, that hovers lazy and insolently but is impossible to catch and kill.  There are three sweet-looking Oriental girls knitting on the sofa next to me.  On one of the other sofas is a guy in his mid-late thirties who looks like "Where's Wally?" with an open book on his lap, perhaps an art book.  However, he is more interested in the general movements of the room, which is ostensibly a cruising ground, and seems to be giggling to himself about something every other minute, somewhat disconcertingly.

A boy has sat down so that his profile faces me.  He is sipping a latte from a glass and reading the London Lite while listening to his purple iPod Nano, blocking the world out.  He has sat at the table underneath the stairs where he can comfortably hide, and where there is no danger of anyone coming to talk to him, which would quite terrify him, unless it were an unthreatening female, or the most gorgeous man in the world.

He is wearing a black flat-cap and t-shirt with an orange and yellow graphic.  I am kept guessing as to what sort of life he might lead, and imagine it to be that of a student, with an older boyfriend, such that he doesn't have to work.  He is a sort of mousy dark blond and has a little paunch.  He could be English, or Slovakian.  Almost in slow-motion, through fear of dislodging his ear phones or spilling his latte as he raises the full glass to his lips, he looks up, and towards me, finally sensing my long-held attention, but I look away and pretend to be in mid-flow on my computer before our eyes can meet, and the iPod Nano slips off his jean thigh and down to the floor.

Ten minutes later, while I am watching someone else, he puts on his grey pea coat and leaves, a little remaining froth from his latte sliding down the inside of its glass, the London Lite left folded on the table.

The boy who had sat down at the table in front of him, having apparently moved from somewhere less comfortable, appears to be French, and of Moroccan or Algerian descent.  We made eye contact twice, as he came out of the toilet and walked past my table, and as he moved seats.  He has on a wedding ring, but looks very young to be married, unless to a male partner.  He is wearing a black skinny-suit with white shirt and black skinny tie, with pointy black shoes which, as he sits down and his trouser legs ride up, are revealed to be ankle boots, with an ugly grey embroidery of a dragon on the ankle.

Over the suit, which fits him nicely, for he is a skinny boy, he puts on a beige trench coat cropped sexily to just below his arse, in the manner of a short skirt, even though he has barely started his coffee, and even on the wintriest days the basement is snug.  Out of his magnolia-coloured, faux-leather holdall, which looks like a handbag from one of those cheap-shops on Oxford Street, he takes out a smart-looking file containing an assortment of papers.  On closer inspection, the papers are headed "Wagamama", so either he is a junior manager there, or applying for a job.  His appearance certainly won't let him down.

In profile, he is very handsome, with a fine Greek nose and slim but shapely lips.  His black hair is closely cropped and there is a typically North African shadow of beard growth.  His hands are delicate and slim.  He finishes his latte, and with his trench coat on, I expect him to get up and go, but he seems to be hanging around a little longer than necessary, as one does in places such as this, just in case someone of interest walks in.  He takes out a pen from the inside pocket of his suit jacket, one of those fancy-looking but cheap pens that break or run out after three days, probably acquired second-handedly from a hotel.  It appears he is filling out an application form.  What a time to come over to London from France, or even Algeria, when there are at least five candidates for every vacancy, even in the minimum-wage sector!

"Oriental" is an unfortunate umbrella term used to save me from speculating as to whether the three girls knitting on the sofa are Japanese, Chinese, Korean or Singaporean, very un-PC, but in ignorance of my ignorance, they chat and giggle sweetly, stitching without paying undue attention to their work.  They don't quite look fashionable enough for the Royal College or St. Martin's (so probably aren't Japanese).  Casey Spooner, in one of the sleeve images of Fischerspooner's debut album (in my opinion the most influential of this decade), wears a black t-shirt on which is printed the statement: "ARTISTS HAVE MORE FUN".  Perhaps I should have gone to art school.  I spent the early part of this afternoon at the National Gallery, where I specifically went to see Leonardo da Vinci's Virgin and Christ with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist, before spending silly money at the on-site cafĂ©.  Whilst there I decided to sketch the white milk jug on my table, noting light and shade, and discovering, when I really looked, that not much of it was actually white at all.  Maybe if I had gone to art school I would now be snuggled under the wing of a Charles Saatchi or a Jay Jopling, selling my works "democratically" at auction for millions of pounds, like Damien Hirst.

It is a lamentable aspect of human nature to be judgmental, and we love people-watching, so as to pin our own insecurities onto the actions, even the subtlest movements, of others, for instance all these boys and men, alone, pretending they're cool and don't want anyone to talk to them because they're just here for a quiet coffee, and the fact that I am one of them.  Perhaps in a less stiff culture, someone would initiate a sort of impromptu, rotating speed-dating game, digging our faces out from our mobiles, papers, books and laptops, for a bit of light fun, maybe more.  We are all secretly hoping to meet the man of our dreams, that is why we are here, in Old Compton Street, rather than some other coffee house round the corner.  "Where's Wally?" who is even wearing a red-and-white striped jumper and black-rimmed glasses, has got up, put on his coat and bag, and is leaving.  He is much taller than he appeared when slumped sloppily in the soft sofa, and is in fact, suddenly sexy - a missed opportunity then, as he'd been glancing shyly at me now and then, averting his gaze the moment I looked up.  His place is immediately taken by some other guy who, on sight of the three Oriental girls knitting, screws up his face in horror, the sort of face a right-wing white might have pulled from behind their net curtains in 1950s Notting Hill, on first sight of the new West Indian family moving in next door.

The Algerian boy puts his file away and quickly departs.  Perhaps he and "Where's Wally?" liked the look of one another, and have secretly agreed to meet in the toilets of Compton's.