My grandfather once told me that he heard the word ‘Paki’ at work so often he thought it was the name of a co-worker. This was in his first job, as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport, and he told me as passing comment, made while flicking through the channels on Sky TV – it landed deep.
Ever since I found the group’s ASMR YouTube channel in 2013, I had felt I should be one of them. I wanted to know what they looked like. I wanted to have it confirmed that they were just like me, and normal.
Do you know there are stories you can tell without making anybody angry? And most of the bones in your body will never need setting. Almost all of them will be okay.
The Stoodley Pike monument has stood on the ridge of the Pennines above the Calder Valley towns of Todmorden and Hebden Bridge since 1856, a thick finger of gritstone pushed from the moorland into the wind like a finger dipped into a cooling stream.
I am looking at the chickens. The darkness contains a reclaimed allotment, some artsy plant boxes, and a chicken coop. If I am looking at the reclaimed allotment where the chickens live then I am not on Somerville Avenue and I am not going to go past Market Basket. I took the wrong road. Again.
So, there we were, tearing round bends, wind clawing at our hair, shrieking like cats in heat, and after each turn we’d look at each other and laugh, like – that was a good one, right? Only then, after one of those turns, somebody’s gone. Just, gone.
I spend my days on the roof of this fort. Looking for you. It’s how I fill time, in a sagging beach chair so low my backside rubs coarse ground. I did think of leaving, in our boat that I would fix. But I can’t ditch these forts – these stilts – that stand proud in the mist. Jagged metal and bird-waste stain. Weird, like a distant planet. Scarred by wear and wave.
A few years ago, I briefly dated a man whose recent ex-girlfriend was the stuff of nightmares: an ethereal giantess and beauty, an artist and musician. He was telling me about one of their arguments. “And then came the baby voice,” he finished. Wait. What? What?
As 1951 surrenders to the first breath of 1952, Albert Burton sits hunched at his kitchen table, spelling truths for his wife with a near-invisible hand. How he is able to grip the pen, to touch it to the paper, he does not understand ... Because Albert has been dead for exactly seven days.
At the edge of a ploughed field sits a burned-out Smart car. Its squat dimensions make it appear as if compacted in a Thames Estuary wrecker’s yard, prior to being set alight. The carcinogenic hulk against a pastoral backdrop is a particularly Essexian sight, as is the detritus scattered around it: a chalky, transparent baggie and a discarded Durex packet — Es and sex.