Crumbling Lintels

wonky window
image courtesy

The lintel is wonky and every time we stick our heads out, it threatens to crash down on us. Those on the other side gaze up from under the sun with wary pause, afraid to look in and suffer a blow, the wall tumbling down with billowing dust and red brick.

The lintel is wonky and cracked. The pressure on the frame below became too much, cracking and sagging and crumbling. Hairline fractures turn to splinters and give way to cracking glass which held its place but not for long.

The lintel is wonky and chipping away with plasterwork meeting the ground below. Gaping holes begin to form in the surrounding walls, wide enough for a small finger; for daylight. The cracks spread upwards, outwards, with masonry disappearing, weeds assuming its place.

The lintel is wonky and giving way. The glass is now gone, giving way to birds and breeze. Floor boards warp ‘neath the puddles as clouds reflect their migration. The new air fills our lungs and outside voices dance in our ears.

The lintel is wonky and descending quicker, as children’s’ bouncing balls shudder the wall like a joyful jack-hammer fuelled by laughter. The tree sprouting from between crumbling floor boards stretches towards widening gaps in bricks, hungry for light and sky.

The lintel is falling and we all stand watching, aware that all that’s kept us from one another is history.

Crumbling Lintels

The Concourse

IMG_20150316_102910899_HDRTo read along with an audio file, visit my site at Cowbird

An uneven beat of pat, pat, pat,
people rushing alone with briefcases
or together, arm in arm, suitcases rolling lazily.
Workmen rushing to repairs or to replenish,
Their carts thudding rhythmically along floor tiles.
Dressed in their best or in their most comfortable:
The attire of tourists in I *heart* London hoodies;
Sensible layers en garde against shifty weather;
Scarves, the souvenirs of travels past-
Scottish highland wools, delicate Asian motifs,
And that simple grey one from a sudden cold spell
one Portuguese afternoon;
Traveling musicians with metallic cases plastered in stickers,
sheathing beloved stringed instruments carried on their backs.
Leaning shoulders lumber with sacks full of clothing,
books, tools of their respective trades.
Some dreaming of time away, their journeys to begin.
Others wishing they didn’t have to go- not yet. Or never.
Children, eagerly peppering parents with questions.
Confused faces searching other faces out for one familiar.
Bustling waiters make easy conversation in native tongues
over deep brown cups of coffee and smooth paper headlines.
A crescendo of sound and movement,
an engine’s low hum and the squeak of tired wheels.
The floor teems suddenly with coats and tickets at the ready.
Near the end of the concourse, the pianist strikes, tink, tink, tink,
with a bright and chirpy tune rising above the receding bustle.

The Concourse

Compost and Weather Girls

“If you were to keel over and die tomorrow would Carmen know what your wishes were?”

Grateful for her mouthful of food, the woman’s friend continued chewing as she mulled over the question and the manner in which it was asked. “Yes,” came her eventual response.

The woman across the table was still wearing her black furry earmuffs to shield against the winter wind that would assault them on the walk through Queens Wood. She waited for the response to unfold as she slurped her curry soup, looking up over her spoon. “I mean, really, would she know what you wanted to happen with your body?” She persisted.

“I want to be composted,” and the friend took another bite of her meal, not long looking up. The woman on the sofa next to the table was awkwardly sitting, feeding her young baby, waiting on her friend to return from the toilet with her son. She was oblivious to the nearby conversation that advanced at stop and go pace through mouthfuls of food, or she pretended to be so. The woman behind the counter stood with her back arched to balance the growing weight of her pregnant belly. She took advantage of a moment of quiet in the café to retreat into the kitchen.

“Is that a thing?!” said the woman with the black earmuffs.

“Yeah, well, I suppose I’d have to be cremated first” came the friend with the American accent and the Full English breakfast.

“Sure, that makes sense,” paused the woman, “I’m glad you’ve got family to take care of such arrangements on your behalf. It’s rather different when one only has friends. A rather different process I’d think. I know I’d be missed by my dear friends, still it’s not quite the same.”

They chewed on in silence, the ear-muffed woman reading the paper in front of her as she slurped her soup and the American friend ate her toast.

“How did your parents meet?” the woman asked.

“Well, she was in her twenties and she was involved in a car accident. It took her a long while to recover, so by the time they met and married about ten years later, in those days, she was considered rather old, “explained the friend.

“Yes, that would have been considered old, wouldn’t it have? What did your father do?” the woman asked before the story of the parents’ meeting could continue further.

“Well, he was good looking, but he didn’t have any real prospects. So my mother encouraged him that he should get into radio and television,” she explained, gesturing with her fork as she spoke. “I was born in San Francisco, but we moved around a lot as a result of his work. Eventually we ended up in Idaho. Then one day we saw him on the TV, flirting with the weather girl.”

“Your mother was there watching the news and saw your father flirting with another woman?” the woman with the earmuffs asked in astonishment, to which the friend nodded and continued.

“He eventually had an affair with the weather girl, then my parents got a divorce. He had a son with the weather girl, and they went on to divorce a few years later,” she added matter-of-factly.

“Is your father still alive?” queried the woman.

“No, he’s not,” as she took a hasty sip of tea.

“Was that ‘I’m not sure?’ I’m sorry, I didn’t hear,” the woman prodded, folding her newspaper away.

“No, he’s no longer living,” and the friend set down her cup, making a loud, nervous clank as it landed on the saucer.

“I’m sorry. Were you in touch?” the woman followed.

“No, He hadn’t bothered. I tried getting in touch but he wasn’t interested,” she explained as if trying to bring the conversation to a quick close. “Are you taking that home?” she asked, gesturing at the woman’s leftovers.

“I’d like to but I doubt they have any boxes in a place like this. I’ll go ask,” the woman said as she got up and walked to the counter. The friend put on her hat and awaited the woman’s return.

The woman returned with her boxes of packed food in hand, contained in a grocery bag. Both women stood up and put on their coats without any further word. The American woman who would someday be composted when dead like her father left wearing a shawl of sadness across her shoulders as she headed back into the cold wintery woods.

Compost and Weather Girls

The Undertakers

‘I think those must be the undertakers,’ I hear the man from behind me say grimly as four men intently cross the road formerly known as The Murder Mile, eyes dead set on the café where we sit. The men’s heads bear matching short- very nearly shorn- haircuts in varying shades of grey or balding.

The awning bounces violently up and down as they make their approach, each uniformed in pressed pin stripe black trousers and black wool overcoats on top of white shirts and ties clasped perfectly around their necks. The man with the black gloves steps in front of the others and looks into the window immediately to my left where I sit, now nervously typing.

Over his shoulder the noon sky continues to darken and the wind picks up, the tarpaulin on the building over the road flapping about the skeletal scaffolding surround. Cautiously I laugh in response, adding, ‘I was just thinking the same thing,’ trying to be nonchalant about discussing the four hovering, menacing men who are focussed on the general area where I sit.

They gather round the menu displayed in the window next to me, scanning the café inside. With resolve they suddenly turn on their black heels to cross the road back from where they came.

The Undertakers

A Blessing

IMG_20141119_141819096_HDRMay your life be peppered with more of the whimsical.
Background tracks that make you feel light as sunlight,
Like the clear sky is the only thing on your shoulders.

May you know more colourful moments,
The shades of laughter and newborn smiles.

May it feel as though your soul were being plucked,
String-by-string, well in tune,
By a gifted player making melodies graceful as a resting breath,
Notes to fall along your path as your feet touch the dusty ground.

May your grief and insecurities ascend like bubbles,
Bursting as they hit the surface of your consciousness
With a fizz that tickles your inmost being.

May your most beloved dreams meet paths with
and become a true companion to your wandering, curious, brave heart.

A Blessing

Excerpt- ‘The Mockingbird Memoirs: A fairy tale’

She is a small framed woman, about 80 years of age, mockingbird footprints cast over her shimmering eyes. Madness has roosted in her once onyx bob, now discoloured with smatterings of ash and mercury. Her distorted and bent pale face can be seen reflected back through the mirror as she straightens her hair and the collar of the brilliant white uniform bearing the logo of Apple Lodge Residential Hospital.

-An excerpt from my short story on Snow White, in progress.



A Short Story

In Harlem it was Hispanic and Caribbean kids, their faces smiling broadly on an unusually hot September afternoon spent playing in the spray of taxi-cab yellow fire hydrants. In Vancouver there were the prostitutes, tears streaming down their chins and breasts, clutching red roses, the gifts of young do-gooders. Prints from a never-sleeping city in the far east, like stones and glass blocks stacked high and wide, adorned with year-round festive lights, crowns and jewels advertising and flashing in the Hong Kong midnight. In Tehran, the eyes peering out into the lens of my Canon from blackened veiled faces, some content, some afraid, some defiant.

Film strips impregnated with moments, memories and faces. My world has become infinitely smaller recently, confined to the threadbare burgundy, lumpy and stained navy, new and firm brown sofas in the lives and comfort of the moments, memories and homes of friends.

It’s the catch-22 of being a freelance photojournalist: needing the funds to travel to make the money to do what you really love over and over again. It was all coming along so well when my means to travel hung a sign on its door – ‘Shop for Sale’. More boards would inevitably come to hide the vacated face of a once thriving local family food shop, and the only decent one around selling things made by the grandmotherly woman at the back rather than a factory machine in nameless Europe. Yet another victim of the economy-bites-the-dust on a nondescript East London street losing it’s identity and history.

And my own history and identity – my work, my own tangible scraps of memories, hopes, dreams and passions – boxed up and kept for a time we’re all hoping and praying for. Kept in a climate-controlled aluminium-clad box for as long as the royalties will keep on paying.

It’s been two months of shuffling around friends’ living rooms, always trying not to wear my welcome thin. I spend most of my days in libraries or wandering up those boarded-up streets snapping photos of my urban nightmare. But looking out the window here and seeing the flowers cropping up, I’m really thankful it’s spring. I can’t imagine hauling my one rucksack through the London winter.

I’ve never been in one place long but always had a place to return to. I use to get my sense of who I was from my freedom to keep moving. Now, that feeling has been obliterated by my inability to just stay in one place. I feel like the recently unemployed city businessman walking around the streets near Bank, suited and carrying a case but with no real destination or purpose. Just going through the motions of existing and trying not to forget what it means to be alive.

Coming here earlier today a homeless guy stopped me to ask for some change. He’d seen my camera and must’ve assumed I was a tourist or had money of some sort. He said that he’d worked for a local paper in his hometown up north taking photos until it went bust. I wonder if that’s how he ended up wearing mismatched and frayed gloves, wrapped in a dirty blanket, sitting on top of a tired sleeping bag pan-handling at Euston. Surely a guy like that could do some work for the Big Issue or something, right?

I’m clean, not begging, living on the edge but not on the street. The world doesn’t know that all I lay claim to is tucked away in storage or in my rucksack. I wonder if people looked into my eyes like those veiled eyes in Tehran, would they see what is otherwise hidden from plain sight? Would they give a shit? Or will I just end up moving from hostel to hostel for the rest of my life or as one of these nameless inconvenient tramps passed up by thousands of high and mighty Londoners? Turns out I’m the poster boy of homeless London after all.

For more info on the hidden homeless see BBC Three is currently recruiting for people to contribute towards a new documentary on the issue of sofa surfing so stay tuned for that to come out (