by Richard Hillesley
The waters of the Thames run around the bridge-stays, firm and incessant, dirt-green and blue-grey. A sunset with gulls on the barge-prows. Sturdy tugs make waves on the river, blue rims like cracks in ice. This bridge of blue girders under the night trains reverberates, and the lights on the river, the river reflects. The city comes tumbling down.
Yuppies beware. There are no doctors on the Isle of Dogs
is daubed across a wall. The sky is ice-blue, blue-black, spectral. It’s cold up there. Temples to Mammon and mediocrity. The split stakes stick through the river mud. The pier-struts are tangled in seaweed. A wave blows it away. Glory be to God and Heaven help the poor. The city comes tumbling down.
Kill a Yuppie
is scratched across a window. Gulls scribble across the sky. The docks and cranes are gone. The streets blown into shape by history now fall apart. Parts of a staircase and a fireplace hang from an outside wall. The workshops of the past are recycled for the unemployed, places to go to between last week and the dole, to sit and cough in, to watch pigeons fuck in. A weed scratches its way up a wall and the bricked-up windows are covered in bills for obscure bands and political causes. Kids are playing in the dusk. A gull spins through the wind. The city comes tumbling down.
Eat the Rich
is written across a doorway. There’s a riot going on. We can hear the noise two or three streets away, sirens and shouts and whistles, Black Marias and newspaper delivery lorries. The picket line is broken. Polis and scabs and strikers are running through the streets. A lad is racing towards us with two cops on his tail. He wears Doc Martens and belted jeans. He has a wide open face, a cut down his cheek and a look in his eyes that says he has seen it all.
he shouts, and we follow him. He skids into an alley and we run after him, listening to our footsteps echo off the walls as we slide around a corner and skid to a halt, and he looks back along the alley for the cops with his hands on his knees, and says,
—Keep moving, or they’ll pick us off.
His name is Jack. He tells us what is going on. Murdoch has sacked the workforce. The scabs are taking all their jobs. Today there is a mass picket. The polis are out of control and we’ve walked into it.
—Come with me,
he says, and we follow him down.
The pub he takes us to is on its own, adrift between the lamp posts and the blue smoke of evening, awaiting notice of demolition. The pub doors are scored with heelmarks. A band is doing a sound check. They are loud and fast, a rusty hulk of throbbing sound, banging against the walls.
Jack pushes through the door and Arthur goes in behind him. His girlfriend has walked out on him and he’s feeling sorry for himself. I follow him like a carer follows a patient.
The band has three chords and a lot of attitude. The singer has the shakes and a mouth harp. The guitar slides through the air. They play two songs and stop. We clap and the sound echoes around the room like a tap dripping into a sink. The singer spits into the microphone,
—Hello. One. Two. One. Two,
and the band drifts away from the stage. The punters are coming in, one or two at a time, but the pub’s still empty. Jack wants to tell us his story. He was walking away from the picket line one day when the polis jumped him. They dragged him along the ground and kicked him, took him away and hit him some more, put him in a cell and charged him with GBH.
—All we want is our jobs,
—and they beat us up for that.
—I know how you feel,
—I’ve just split with my girlfriend,
and I stare into my beer.
—He’s lost his job, man,
—So? It’s not so different.
—Yes it is.
—It’s our jobs, our rights, the union, everything,
says Jack. The pub reeks of smoke and piss, spilt beer and twists of baccy. The punters are coming in, and the place is beginning to fill. Arthur is looking past the barmaid.
—Don’t look now,
—But someone over there is looking at us.
I look around.
he says, and I see a man built like a tide-torn tug boat with a wide mid-riff and a slow turning circle, staring at us. His shape is all wrong and he has muscles where his muscles shouldn’t be. His belly sags. His jacket is too small. He has an NF badge on his sleeve, and a tattoo on the side of his face. The winches turn and the hawsers hang across the widening gap between his T-shirt and his jeans. He looks angry and the spinning of his screws is churning up the waters. The gulls slide across the wind and shriek in his wake. Jack laughs and says,
—When he hits you the lights go out,
—So why’s he staring at us?
—Because you’re talking to me.
The door flies open, and a breath of wind blows across the pub. We are adrift at the bar and Arthur is still telling Jack about his girlfriend. I go to the loo for a piss while Jack gets in the beers.
The toilet is a tiled drain sloping towards a grate. The window opens into a kitchen yard, bins and crates and boxes. I am surprised to see Boom in the corner, pissing. I open my flies to pee and pretend he isn’t there. He turns round, hitches up his flies, and sees me as he looks across the room.
he says, and gives me an odd look as he heads towards the door.
I say, and he pushes open the door, and just at that moment Arthur walks in. He’s left Jack at the bar and has come to the loo for a piss. Boom bumps into him, spins around and throws his hands above his head and against the wall,
—You didn’t have to send two in,
he says to me, like he thinks we’re cops.
I say, and he looks over his shoulder at me.
—Get on with it. It’s in my jacket pocket,
he says, and we’re perplexed.
he says, and he wriggles, keeping his hand where we can see it, pointing towards his left pocket. Arthur laughs and says,
—What you on about?
he says. He pushes his hand into his pocket, and throws a lump wrapped in silver foil across the floor. He puts his hands back up against the wall and Arthur walks past him, shakes his shoulders and pulls down his zip.
—I need a piss,
he says, expecting Boom to move, but Boom stays as he is, hands against the wall.
—I know who you are,
—Who are we?
—Stoke Newington nick. You won’t get me.
He narrows his eyes and looks at Arthur.
he spits, and Arthur doesn’t like it. I know him. He may not be brave, but we’re not cops, and we’re not narks, and he doesn’t like Boom saying we are.
—Fuck off, fat boy,
he says, and I grab him by the neck and pull him away. I can see Boom would like to hit him, but he still thinks we’re cops so he spits on the floor and walks away.
We drift back towards our drinks and the end of the bar. Boom has gone towards the other side, looks at us, and goes towards the door. We’re glad to see him go. The punters are coming in, and the band are back on stage, driving like a train, hard as starlight and fast as rain. Estuary rock against the tide. The singer bounces on his feet. His hair flies off his head like an angry gull. His mouth harp flashes through the air.
—I spit on you,
he shouts, and someone throws a glass into the air.
We make it to the door before the fight breaks out, but when we get to the door, Boom is waiting on the street outside for us.
he shouts, and we run for it, followed by Boom and three of his friends who look a lot like him. A bus comes down the road and we race after it, running as fast as we can. We run to the end of the street and round the corner. The bus pulls up at the bus stop. We catch the rail and leap onto the platform and look back as it pulls away.
We wave at Boom and he doesn’t like it. Everywhere we look there are buildings reaching towards the sky, cranes and scaffolds, temples to Mammon and mediocrity. Clouds stir. Dropped cans clatter. A door slams behind us. Lights shiver in an alley. A polis car races past us with its blue light flashing, a lorry full of newsprint running close behind. St. George in the East in a yellow fog. Our words are lost to silence. Our ideals are turned to violence. Glory be to God and Heaven help the poor. The city comes tumbling down.
Richard Hillesley grew up in Kenya, South Shields and North Wales. Curious and disaffected, he travelled widely through his twenties, across all parts of Britain and Southern Europe, the Sudan and Libya, working as a casual docker, book seller, railway guard, and yacht delivery crew. He became a computer programmer in his thirties before moving to Totnes in Devon as a feature writer and later editor of the first UK Linux magazine, and has since devoted himself to writing fiction and poetry. Unbanging the Nails, a collection of his stories, has just been released by Clochoderick Press.