Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Just Another Friday Night

So, there we were again. A Friday night with all of London at our fingertips yet we still ended up back in this joint. I’m not entirely sure how it happened. I seem to recall being resolute that I wouldn’t return, but, you know, I’m trying. I’m trying to fit in, I’m trying to be sociable. I’m trying to be normal rather than the short-tempered, foul-mouthed, caffeine-dependant grouch I occasionally get mistaken for.

Someone must actually like this place, I guess.

The evening was going okay. The music was still dire and the beer was still fizzy, overpriced and regretfully not from the West Midlands, but I was still enjoying myself. I was at all the right points. Most of the time.

Most of the group had shuffled off to dance which was, apparently, the whole point. I thought the point was to get the guy whose last day it was drunk, but no, it transpired that the point was to shake some booty.

The thing is I don’t dance.

Well, okay, I do dance under certain circumstances, such as actually enjoying the music. I strutted some sort of stuff enthusiastically to a soul band at a wedding a couple of years ago, but there was a reason Hannah had to say “Dave, I love your dancing,” behind a fit of giggles. It’s because when I dance I tend to do the shoulder sinking, hip twitching, hand flicking relatively sedate movements until I remember that I’m supposed to be dancing, then it’s like someone’s jabbed me with a particularly potent cattle prod for fifteen seconds before I become self-conscious again.

There are exceptions. On the evening of the soul band I think the cattle prod was completely drained dry.

So, I’m not a great dancer. I can live with that. At least I’m not deluded and there are people with whom I’m sufficiently comfortable to make that the much of a tit of myself around.

Fortunately I wasn’t the only one on Friday to feel like this, so a couple of us were sitting, drinking, talking and generally not having a problem with erratic tempos. Suddenly a girl who had disappeared about half an hour earlier with a glass of pinot grigo reappeared with two pint bottles of Bulmers cider and straddled my knee.

This was particularly shocking as – well, how to put this? – she wasn’t exactly petit.

She then proceeded to two-handed thump me in the chest before sliding her hands to my shoulders and forcing me to shrug off my jacket.

“Um...” I said, possibly over-confused, “what are you doing?”

“Come on,” she said.

“What do you want me to do?”

“Come ON!” She squawked and yanked me out of my seat and in the direction of the dance floor.

Perhaps, I wondered, this apparent mis-understanding had been my fault. I’d been sub-consciously wondering whether I ought to practise flirting, to get used to doing it, before I met someone I actually like, but, surely, I hadn’t been flirting with her. Had I?

I mean, does this sound flirtatious to you? Someone else had bought us both a drink in the other bar and I’d half-arsedly tapped the tip of my beer bottle against her proffered wine glass.


“No, no, no,” she said animatedly, “you’ve got to look someone in the eye when you chink glasses.”

I dutifully did as instructed.

“Otherwise it’s seven years of bad sex,” she’d smiled, “or so someone once told me.”

“Huh,” I’d snorted slightly grumpily, “better than seven years of no sex, mind.”

Or, what are the rules in this situation? You’re in some stupid place which doesn’t have proper tables or chairs and everyone’s forced to sit on what are essentially either oversized yet squidgy foot stools or overstuffed beanbags and I keep wondering what we’re doing there when the Lamb or the Princess Louise or the Ship or even that odd Polish place Ben and I ended up in one random night are so nearby.

Anyway, so we were sitting on these odd balls of foam and the person next to me gesticulates with her hands a lot (an awful lot) whilst talking and consequently keeps brushing my knee. Do I leave the knee where it is, because it was there first and besides I don’t really want to draw attention to the fact that she keeps almost caressing it? Probably not, but it quickly became too late to do anything about it, because that would just look indecisive.

And I supposed it could be interpreted as flirtatious (in a seedy, yet non-deliberate way) if, when walking between two by two to the next bar, she asked: “Is this going to some crazy-wild late night? Am I going to be able to get home okay?”

And I instantly thought how the levels of excess were extremely unlikely to reach the self-destructive real-ale fuelled semi-madness that would sometimes result in being found in random North London Irish pubs at three on a Wednesday morning that I was used to and so I replied: “Nah, this lot are pretty safe. It’s me you want to be wary of.”

What was I thinking?

“Oh,” she laughed, “so I’m not safe with you then?”

This was followed by a few hand-wringing, cringe-inducing sentences whereupon I tried to explain what I’d really meant and probably made it all a whole lot worse.

Still, I mused as my mind returned to the dance-floor hell and reminded my body to twitch a bit, it was several massive leaps of logic from there to this. For she was, but of course, gyrating her arse rather vigorously and uncomfortably close to my crotch in tune to Beyonce’s Crazy In Love.

As she forced my hands around her mid-rift, I wondered why, if this was supposedly a
trendy place, were they still playing that god-damned song?

Okay, that’s not entirely true. For a second there was a slight stirring, an automatic physical response accompanied by the voice in my head whispering ‘go on, you’ve never had a one night stand. Why not? What’s stopping you?’

But then she spun away, turned to face me and a quick glance at the glazed eyes and lolling tongue in her slightly ajar mouth quietened the voice down.

Fortunately someone else, someone far more comfortable in these kinds of situations, shimmied his way across and allowed me to escape to the toilet. On the way back to the table, I grabbed another beer from the bar and again, for second, wondered ‘should I?’

I sat down on the long wooden bench opposite someone who had missed the jacket shedding manoeuvre so I, rather tactlessly, told them all about it, liberally dropping the word “help” in.

“Do you not think you’re over-reading things? No-one’s that blatant, are they?”

With impeccable timing she appeared and slid up the bench approaching my right hand side, two fresh pint cider bottles both gripped in her right hand.

“If you want me,” she breathed, “I’ll be over there.” The ‘there’ in question was somewhere to my left which she pointed out by wrapping an arm around my shoulder and panting sticky sweet appleness against my earlobe.

So, she went over there and I ran away. Obviously. She went over there and I went to Charing Cross, even though there wasn’t a train for twenty minutes, because I didn’t trust myself.

In the end, I sat alone at quarter to one drinking a glass of neat dark rum, which I’d inexplicably acquired at some point, a part of me wondering if I did the right thing.


Rapidly approaching thirty and all the emotional sophistication of a thirteen year old.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


The man slipped out of his front door amongst the first shimmers of summer light glinting off the parked cars. He paused in front of the tree and looked furtively about before a cigarette appeared guiltily between his lips. A slight of hand trick, a feint and the flicker of a flame from a match was shaken dry. His movements were of broken promises as he walked down the road with a final glance over his shoulder and a cloud of dispersed grey in his wake.


Outside the monolithic library of crumbling beige concrete dusting the sky, a woman stepped off the bus. She seemed to move like an image on a stuttering record, stilted and repeated – as though stepping forwards and backwards between fourth and fifth dimensions. She was off kilter, out of focus, in-between the frames. But she paused, turned, her eyes narrowed and she stared directly outwards. She appeared unaware of those who looked in, but still troubled by a presence.


The blonde man with the sunglasses and the younger woman both leant across the railings high above the sludgey river. She tittered as silt crept past, her fingers raised towards her lips in the meekest stifle. He stepped back and slapped the base of one hand against the palm of the other. His teeth reflected artificially. His movements were painfully exaggerated as though this was the last chance. She flicked dark hair behind her ear, smiled, tilted her head to one side and bumped her shoulder against his. He slapped a splayed hand against his chest, in mock-indignation before reaching out and letting his thumb brush her wine flushed cheek. She glanced away, just for a moment or perhaps forever.


On the dull street corner underneath the mottled spotlight on the corner of the British Museum the older man tugged his dressing gown closer across his besuited shoulders. A younger man walked close enough to be stopped by frantic brandishing of an A-Z book. They talked animatedly, all hands aloft and screwed facial expressions. The elder repeatedly jabbed the pages showing the Hammersmith flyover. Again and again: How? The younger man shrugged his shoulders, scratched his head in bafflement, but it was no use. Where? Which way? Help. Eventually he gesticulated towards eight miles west.


The possible couple sat on the step of the bland Baptist church next to the plainly glassed office styled doors. Yellowing stone winked in the headlights of passing buses as their destinations reflected above the couple’s heads. Clapton. Archway. Trafalgar Square. Kentish Town. Names within identities seemingly smudged or blurred by some higher power. He talked rapidly into his mobile phone, the flipped out arm covering the chin of his cowed head. She sat with both arms around him. One stretched across the width of his broad shoulders, the other stroking his forearm in time to his words. He talked and she whispered something into his free ear. Reassurance? Motivation? Love? Spite? Perhaps nothing, but moist air from her lips?


The woman in the pure white wedding gown leant against a sapling protected from the drudge of the city by a red plastic cage. Between her lips hung an unlit cigarette, in her free hand was a sloshing bottle of San Miguel. Her make-up was smudged, dredged into piles at the edges. Her bare shoulders were blotched with patches of scarlet. Behind her a horseshoe of similarly aged yet casually attired men and woman appeared to jeer, or perhaps applaud.


Within the first floor window, near where the double deckers rolled past, a too-old woman wore just a red g-string and stockings whilst gyrating slowly to an inaudible tune. A dark-haired man slumped deep into the sofa by the yucca; a look of stupor dribbled from his lips. They seemed oblivious even to each other, let alone the world quietly creeping past.


The middle-aged man with the long-receded hairline sat at the bus stop. His eyes were tightly closed as his temple and cheek pressed firmly against the plexiglass of the advertising hoarding. Behind his slumber smiled Brad Pitt in a film been and gone three years ago yet still ‘coming soon’. The man’s feet were splayed wide apart, keeping more than his balance upright, but his dignity too. His hands gripped the case on his lap tight until the white bone threatened to pierce his knuckles. Was he asleep, unconscious or dead? Yet another bus pulled up, opened its doors with a swoosh and a bloop and he still didn’t stir. What was he waiting for? Was this just another story of the city or just a frozen heartbeat moment? A time irrelevant to everyone involved, yet saved forever by the click of a mouse?

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

The Man With Only One Glove 2.

For those of you who weren’t paying attention: A voice like ice cracking under the weight of a child had just said: “Hey, Marston.”

I turned to look the voice’s owner hard in the eye. It was little Gordie Macmillan, a small-time bruiser with a hair-lip, one dog chewed ear and a bad habit of ending up on the wrong end of my fist. Whilst Gordie’s choice of employers may have been as dubious as my tax return he was fundamentally an okay guy. He was just a man trying to make his way in the world with a talent so small it made a standard measure of scotch look generous. Still, whatever bruises there may have been between us it had never been personal. Purely business.

“Hey, Marston,” he melted slightly, “word is you’re looking for that Bourbon fella?”

“Word must be taking enough steroids to run the hundred in four point eight to get around that quick.”

“Well let’s just say, for the sake of argument,” he blustered onwards, “you was looking for him. Under those circumstances a smart guy might want to try his luck down by the docks. A cousin of mine reckons they seen someone who could be a photo Bourbon acting all suspicious like.”

“Now, let’s pretend that this sort of information raised my interest even to sea level, Gordie, why would you want to tell me?” Hell, I hate these games. Why schmucks who’ve managed to forget their own mothers’ names always insist of trying to play it smart, I’ll never know.

“Well, Marston,” he tipped his hat down low, shielding his eyes, “perhaps I feel like I owe you a favour or something. You could’ve turned me over to the cops after that whole Greenwich roulette deal, but you didn’t. A man appreciates things like that.”

“Gordie,” I turned to make my merry way, “the only reason you’re not doing a twenty stretch is that all the evidence went down with the god-damned barge.”

I popped the lock on the old Ford and slid behind the wheel leaving Gordie to scratch his behind in wonder. I pulled away and headed for the river. Sure, Gordie was about as subtle as a train wreck at a gospel picnic, but as otherwise I had squat I decided to check it out.

When people talk about London’s docks they usually mean penthouse apartments with TVs that swear back to you and all the charm of an arrivals lounge in Lithuania’s third biggest city – whatever the hell that may be called. Either that or they mean the lingering glamour of penis-enlargement architecture over shadowing soulless pseudo-Mediterranean riverside cafe culture that closes up at the weekends because no-one really keeps their heart there.

But there are still places along the Thames where boats unload into haunted warehouses, where dogs gnaw at suspiciously sized bones and men wake up in the mornings with blood in their eyes and there are sufficient dark. Down here there’s always enough murky corners to find an illegal solutions to most problems. Places down near the sugar refinery at the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel or further up towards the concrete works near Woolwich. These are the last real docks. This was where Gordie meant.

The old Ford bounced down an untreated road, slumping drunkenly into a pot-hole. Two weeks worth of rain water turned shit-brown by the silt slopped over the bonnet. I didn’t care. I couldn’t even remember what colour the damn car was supposed to be.

I got out and lit a cigarette, buying myself a few seconds to scope the area. Most of the buildings had steel grates over the doors to keep the squatters out and the secrets in. The remains of smack works littered the floor and in the corner there lay a puke stained blanket still steaming. It reminded me of my apartment the other Sunday morning only without the discarded panties that I couldn’t remember stealing.
From the distance there was a howl like someone finding their wife’s credit card bill. I headed towards it, trying to use the shadows for cover.

Around the corner I saw a foot jutting out of an open door, twisted at a painful angle. The rest of the leg stretched inside. I squatted down to get a closer look and out the corner of my eye I saw something shimmer. A glove. A leather glove. I picked it up. Something like dried paint flaked under my fingers nails. Like dried paint, but not. Then something that felt like a sock full of wet sand slugged me around the back of the head. A flash bulb exploded behind my eyes followed by every light in the world being simultaneously extinguished.


“Sit down,” the tiny pistol flicked towards the chair as just a writer I did as I was threatened. I perched nervously on the edge of my seat, moist palms gripping his knees. The gun’s owner sat down opposite, he appeared to instantly relax into the chair and folded his legs high to reveal no socks. His suit shrugged like it didn’t give damn. All the while I was mesmerised by the tip of the pistol, like a moth burning in a candle, yet its aim never wavered, never even flinched.

“Bet you’re wondering why I’m here?”

I nodded. I wanted to say something. But my mouth was too dry to speak. The words died in my throat. I wanted to act, to do something, anything, but my heart felt as though it might rupture. Tension and fear scratched at my eyes. I wanted words to be the only things that died.

“You see, things is: I need a favour. I need your help.”

“You’ve a bloody funny way of asking for it,” I finally gasped.
The man looked at his gun as though he’d forgotten all about it. “Yeah, well,” he placed it on the table between us. The table appeared to flinch as the chilled metal touched down. “I’m a simple man. I go with what I know. What I’m used to.”

I splayed my hands onto the table and for a second wondered who would reach the gun first. I looked the man in the eye and a glint seemed to say ‘don’t even try it.’

“Why do you need my help?”

The man leaned closer and growled. “I need you to tell me a story.”

Tuesday, 10 March 2009


I’ve been lurking around certain sorts of websites recently. Two in particular. Both are a means of replacing missing elements from my life, but there’s a slightly disturbing crossover in the nature of them. I keep getting confused over which page I’m looking at.

I am a: Man.
Looking for a: Woman.
Aged: 26-35.
Less than: 50,000 miles.
Transmission: Manual.

No, no. Hold on. Let’s try that again.
Under: £5,000
Age: 2004 +
GSOH: Oh, yeah.
Likes: Outdoors, theatres, books.

Okay, so finding a car is just irritating – although being without one has reminded me quite how much I love driving and, interestingly, shown how incredibly difficult it is to acquire a car without actually having one. Not only are garages rarely conveniently located adjacent to railway stations, but they tend to only open until lunchtime on a Saturday, effectively giving a four hour weekly window to assess my options.

Even so, it’s not really in the same league as finding myself a new girlfriend. I find these dating websites completely bizarre. You input your specification and browse through photos and descriptions that can’t help be anything other than a bit naff. How can you possibly compress a whole person in one-hundred-and-forty characters? Do you want to meet someone who doesn’t have an attention space longer than eight seconds?

The problem is: I don’t really want to date anyone. I’m not exactly emotionally ready to embark on a new relationship, but having been tied up from the age of seventeen until twenty-nine, I don’t actually know how to date. So, given that I expect the first few to completely disastrous (not that writing about this in the public domain is going to help) I thought I’d get them out of the way before I actually gave a toss.

How does dating actually work? I mean, obviously I understand the basic mechanics of it. You meet somewhere, perhaps go for dinner or the theatre or, I don’t know, the cinema? If I actually put some thought into it I should be able to come up with something a little more tantalising. Hopefully, we’d go for a drink afterwards, but it’s what happens next I’m a bit confused about.

Do men actually escort women home? I can see that you’d do this partially to ensure her safety, partially to continue the I-hope-to-god- scintillating conversations you’re having and (let’s be honest) because there might be the opportunity of a “night cap.” Does anyone do this? Even in London where she might live an hour in the opposite direction and should no “night cap” be forthcoming you’ve got a two shlep home on a week night and the last train just left?

I’ve never had to worry about this sort of thing. The last first date I went on she got picked up by her Dad from the pub at last orders.

“Perhaps I’m worrying about this too much?”

“Maybe,” Michael nodded in agreement probably wishing we were having a different conversation. “Things just happen. You meet people at random parties.”

“Yeah,” I said, lacking conviction. That had been my initial opinion as well, but as we sat in the kitchen of my fourth random party that month I wasn’t holding my breath. There was only one woman in the building who wasn’t married and/or either futilely pursuing an over-excited child or looking as though she could give birth to one any minute and that was Michael’s fiancĂ©e.

“I don’t believe people actually date,” one of the Steves mused in the pub last year. “Don’t you just end up with someone from your social group?”

Well, that’s what happened last time, but as I ran though everyone I even vaguely knew I came up with seven people who were single. Four of those people were women.
One was my sister, one was my ex’s sister, one too old and one too young.

“It isn’t looking good,” I muttered.

“Speed dating?” suggested the other Steve.

Now, I know speed dating has worked for this Steve, but to me it seems... I don’t know... Fake? We’re back to the compression of souls into two minute spools? Aren’t you left, in the end, just ticking the boxes of those you fancy and don’t have helium fuelled voices or have managed to express disturbingly right wing views instantly? Or maybe them too, if they’re the only ones you fancy. And this, kind of, makes it like a nightclub with better lighting, less booze and dancing and a strange layer of middle management facilitating the whole mess.

Defiantly worrying too much.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009


Orwell’s novel about a future that might just never have happened has given birth to numerous phases now integrated into the lexicon. This being the 101st edition of David Marston Writes it seemed like an apt time to consider the most terrible room deep within the Ministry of Love.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a list of all my pet peeves a la the possibly popular (or possibly not even still in existence) light-hearted BBC show of the same name. I mean, that would be a far too exhaustive task to undertake for a single column, after all in the past week I’ve felt irate at:

People who bellow into mobile phones on packed commuter trains recounting their recent sexual exploits; People who refuse to use the overhead rails on the previously mentioned packed commuter trains thus blocking the corridors and preventing the optimum number of commuters getting home at a reasonable hour (“But it’s dangerous,” he whined like a six year old girl); The chief executive of Ryan Air – that man makes me want to buy a rifle; Overpriced tea in university cafes – you do know that it is predominately hot water, don’t you?; The bastards who crashed into my car and ran away; Inexplicably successful and popular appallingly bad writers; Banks; Utility companies. All of them; The next person who suggests that I write a children’s book (“It’d be so easy and they sell stacks. You could draw the pictures too.” No, I couldn’t, even if I had the remotest ounce of interest, anything I try to draw looks like a line illustration of a cube being broadcast live from Mars and the reception’s gone a bit wonky.); The Daily Mail; The Daily Mail; And, again, the Daily Mail. (I once, actually, had the pleasure of wiping my bum on a copy of the Daily Mail. I must remember to tell you about it some time); News items that are really adverts for other TV shows; The fact that I occasionally really fancying a pint of cider; Microsoft; Any form of public seating on trains, planes, buses, in theatres that don’t have sufficient leg room and leaves me with cramp inside of eight minutes. (Come on, I’m not that tall.); My broken bladder; My own lack of focus; The fact that seem to either get irritated by inanimate things and equally people who should be forcibly made inanimate far too easily.

No, we’re not going to do that, because that’s not is kept in Room 101. No, instead Room 101 contains our greatest fears. Big Brother knows so much about the inhabitants of Orwell’s novel that even the deepest, nastiest, most disturbing fear is known in advance of them being incarcerated.

It isn’t about what you hate, but what you’re afraid of.

I’ve been researching phobias and fears recently for a piece I’m writing. It seems to be possible to be afraid of pretty much anything and to give it a label.

How easy would it be (and yes, I am writing the first draft of this at ten o’clock on Tuesday night, so indeedy, a blog that’s essentially two lists is a cop out, but it’s one that I’m going to take) for the ministers of 1984 to ensure compliance if they only had to subject those who veered from the party line to some of the following:

Ophidiophobia – fear of snakes: pretty straightforward, I definitely suffer from this one myself. Vile, vile creatures.

Claustrophobia – fear of enclosed spaces. Again pretty standard, but then I discovered:

Telephonaphobia – yup, fear of telephones, manifesting itself either as refusing to use one, or being frightened when one rings, apparently it comes either from a fear of claustrophobic telephone boxes or an expectation of bad news.

Peniaphobia – the fear of poverty.

Eremikophobia – the fear of sand. Sand! Who’s frightened of sand?

Tachnophobia – the fear of speed, of moving a high velocity without any control over it.

Motorphobia – the fear of cars (or possibly or mechanised vehicles), I swear I’m not making this up.

Sociophobia – the fear of social rejection.

Autophoba – the fear of being alone, of being lonely – or even, it can be used to mean, a fear of oneself. Being terrified of yourself. Now, that’s really going to make life in general difficult.

Aerophobia – no, not the fear of planes or airports (what I was actually looking for), but the fear of swallowing air. So the fear of living, basically.

Atomosphobia – the fear of atomic explosion. I think we’re all on side with this one.

Geniophobia – the fear of, wait for it, chins! Yes, people are afraid of other people’s (and possibly their own) chin.

Kakorrhaphiophobia – the fear of defeat, fairly standard, but what a great word. Look at it. It’s like a barrage of teeth snapping just written down. Almost as good as...

Athazagoraphobia – the fear of being ignored.

What I really wanted, but couldn’t find any existence of is a fear of liars or of lying. Which in itself is odd. I would have thought being afraid of people telling you untruths, of having to put your faith in information that was just invented on a whim by someone with a malevolent sense of humour would be quite a common phobia.

Unless the internet’s lying to me, of course.