We buy smoked cheese and ham to have with pancakes. With blueberry jam and peach and cashews, red pepper and goats cheese also.
I ask Vesi if it’s true what Nick’s students said, that there are 3,000 herbs on the mountain. She doesn’t think so – a lot, but not 3,000. Some of them have good names: ‘the blood of St. John’ and ‘priest’s little spoon’.
Mira drives us home. She tells us of the shoe industry and the prime minister selling the best factory for one euro. She tells us of the textile industry and the world demand for polyester being unsuitable for the Bulgarian machines designed for high-quality cotton. She tells us of the rose growers saved because of the rose oil NASA buys to make their machines stronger, to stand the temperature in space. ‘You cannot imagine Bulgarian machines using polyester.’
Over rose cordial from her mother’s garden (with only certain roses) Nick and Vesi argue about whether snakes on the mountain are poisonous. Maybe the fat one is (fat like a sausage).
There is a long discussion about where to go. The lake would take four hours to get to, so how about walking from the monastery to the peak? The walk would take twelve hours, so how about rafting on the lake? We can’t go rafting in the state we’re in, so how about the place with the bells? The fish restaurant? Vesi calls her mother to check, and to reassure her: we have eggs.
Jenny Pengilly and David Rule, 2015
That’s good we saw the inside of his mouth.
The black mouth.
Remember we went on that boat? Not that small one. The small ones bounce and I’d throw up. The one we went on was like an airplane. With a coffee shop on it. It had black smoke coming out the back at every stop. I can’t swim but I know I would have saved you.
Jamie used to skate – that Jamie. You see on the ceiling ↑ ? I don’t know if that’s a trace of it, but one day someone covered this whole place with silver diamonds. It’s true. Remember jumping off that sculpture? I’ve got a video of it. Remember feeding seagulls chips with Jason? These aren’t so big; maybe they get bigger towards the sea.
← That’s called a dazzle ship because it dazzles us, like: aargh! They used to paint war boats like that, 100 years ago. That’s the First World War. Not the one with Hitler. The idea was we’d be confused by them, whether they were moving or not. Like: oop, moving left; oop, moving right. They could’ve just had me driving. I never know where I’m going.
I don’t think that guy’s crazy, I think maybe he just likes playing his keyboard to the river. Remember those ‘votive offerings’? In those drawers, in the museum, all the legs and noses and ears and things? People sometimes like giving things to the river. You want to go out on that jetty?
We’ve been in there before; there was a painting that had witches in it if you looked hard enough. I’ve got friends working in there but I don’t think you’ve met them yet. That chimney is just a bit shorter than St Paul’s. I suppose they’d have liked it taller but you’ve got to be careful around St Paul’s.
This is a really old theatre. I mean, it’s pretending to be old. There’s a play on about King Henry – but not the eighth. See: no hands on hips. And there, we had pizza there one time. We watched them make it underneath us, which seemed like a bad idea because you could have fallen on someone’s pizza. I could have dropped you on someone’s pizza. A special topping.
We’re near to where they use to hang pirates. Would you like to live on one of these luxury boats? I’m not really sure. I can’t swim so I’d feel nervous. Do they come with kettles? Maybe if they come with kettles.
You hear those waves? They sound like they’re coming from the buildings. This is where they predict the tide – it’s special because of that. They know how high the river will come at this exact point. It’s complicated but remember how we talked about the moon? With Jason on the beach? And you watched the waves from his shoulders cover up the mud, the samphire, the rocks we’d thrown.
We’re close to where we cut your fingernails, balanced on that wall above the river. I did a good job of not being afraid of falling in, right? We let the nails fall into the water so the witches wouldn’t get them. That reminds me of those votive offerings. Maybe that’s why they grow so quick on you. It’s quiet around here. Perfect for adventures.
I’m finding a lot of peace in drawing nasturtiums. Sometimes I’m even late leaving the house because I stop to draw them.
When I cut myself shaving it gave me enough time to draw nasturtiums before I left to meet Rachael. I was a good half an hour late. We walked around Nunhead Cemetery and thought about names for Jessie’s baby. Rita?
Oil painting lemons
There would have been lemons on our kitchen counter for us to paint. My parents gave us the paint for them. I’m sure there was always a yellow just for lemons, a watercolour and an oil. So our good flat lemons always looked the same.
Banana jam, in the cupboard, 26 Elthorne Road, London, N19 4AG
We drink bubble tea; we regret bubble tea; we look for a way through (in Whole Foods); and forget bubble tea.
Jack’s fingers work to lever the lid
off the tin of syrup; on buttons and
buttonholes; around coins; and to
express precision or looseness.
Jack’s fingers explain the Great Fire
I was at a dinner party last night and they were talking about dividing up a dead woman’s things. I tucked my napkin in my collar and pulled out the corners to make it look like a kite. I am Poirot. Today I am hungry because I didn’t get to eat anything.
Today I came to breakfast already wearing a napkin that covered my whole body. I looked like a ghost. I held a saucer and teacup for a bit and watched everyone talk about who faked the will. I am Poirot and I am thirsty because I forgot to drink my tea.
Last night Zoë Wanamaker put some feathers on her head. I could see them across the dinner table but I couldn’t see her because there were waterlilies and candles in the way. I am Poirot.
I like wine when it comes from a bottle wrapped in a napkin. I was wrapped in a napkin last night. I am Poirot. I made a joke about how nobody is cleverer than me and everybody laughed!
Do you know what goes well with a napkin? A tiny fan! I used one at dinner. In Mesopotamia the tables are quite small, even for a big party. I smiled at a lot of people. Sometimes a kind little smile and sometimes a just screwing my face up smile. I am Poirot. There was a fish and someone said ‘Arabs don’t understand fish’ but I don’t think he was the murderer.
At lunch today I became very jealous of my friend’s meal. I am on a special diet where I can only eat rice and jelly? He had a whole roast chicken and chips. I had a dark green drink the waiter said was nettle water. I am Poirot. My friend did not even wear a napkin.
Today I ate with my best friend. I made little jokes about his love life which I think he liked. We ate surrounded by bowls of grapes. I had some white wine but could not drink it because the porter told me a young lady was asking to see me. I am Poirot and when the weather is nice I wear sand-coloured clothes. They match my napkins.
Tonight I enjoyed my first toast! It was ‘to freedom’. I was at a round table with my new friends. We did not celebrate for long because an emotional woman came in. She picked up one of our glasses and threw it at a man and said he was no son of hers. I was so shocked that I pulled off my napkin and stood up. I am Poirot. I had some deep thoughts. I am told you can tell by my eyes.
I ate breakfast this morning with a man who had lost his pearls. I talked about myself in the third person and looked out of the window. We each had a boiled egg but most of the table was for the spray carnations. I am Poirot and I am here on ‘vacances’. I know where his pearls are.
The restaurant I had lunch in was very modern. They provided me with a pale blue napkin. I said that there is no such thing as an accident and the rest of the meal was a flashback. I am Poirot. When I was younger I had more hair and a woman gave me a nice brooch.
The HMS Scissormouth is a kind of utopian vessel. Nothing can go wrong and we all work together. We have a motto that always sees us through. It goes: ‘Well, there’s always starboard!’ One time Dan forgot to steer and nearly killed us, but then he said ‘there’s always starboard!’ and we all laughed and we made it.
One time a dragon attacked us by flicking water at us. Dragons are bullies. The HMS Scissormouth is an elegant vessel. We thought about defending ourselves against the dragon by throwing some bread at it, but that’s not very elegant. That’s not very us. We thought about f—ing that dragon up, but swearing is not allowed on the HMS Scissormouth. For a while we were worried that we didn’t have life-jackets, but because the HMS Scissormouth is a utopian vessel there’s never really any risk. We are a professional crew and we all work together. We decided it was better if Dan didn’t steer.
On our first voyage we ran into these eye-eaters. Their mouths really clack. They wanted our eyes so badly. We thought about recruiting them and turning them on to the dragon’s eyes. We passed by Goose Island. Nobody wants to live on Goose Island. But Victoria did think about becoming Queen of the Geese. Then we spied the cage they’d built and cautioned her against it. They’d put her in the cage. The day’s turning out really well.
Part of our mission is to make people really jealous. We’re great at it. But we also want everyone to know that they are safe with the HMS Scissormouth around. A defining moment on the HMS Scissormouth came when we saw a sign telling us to stay away and we obeyed it. We are the good ones. That dragon will ruin it for everyone. We noticed that the eye-eaters love making nests out of supermarket newsletters. We risked hooking our vessel on a tree to make that discovery. Did you know that the difference between a boat and a vessel is teamwork?
We are the crew of the elegant and efficient HMS Scissormouth – no swearing at all. We could stay on our voyage forever. We are that committed. We are constantly looking for new things – we’re never bored. Victoria notices that the eye-eaters include a Doritos packet in each nest. They are a civilisation of warriors and the flavours show their allegiances. There goes Cool Original.
When we named our vessel we were torn. We already called the eye-eaters ‘scissor mouths’ so we were well aware of a kind of conflict. ‘They’re our sworn enemy,’ said Victoria. But we agreed that they’re also our inspiration. HMS Scissormouth is a good name and things were getting desperate. We’d had to go hard starboard a lot.
Part of our job is to set a good example. Another part of our job is to watch out for dragons. We’d do this job even if we weren’t getting paid.
You should see us park this thing.
Bit more in-between us... just be careful—
I spilt tea over Molly’s laptop!
Does she know?
She knows, she was using it. Let’s turn this...
I guess I should do this? Yeah, I don’t know how to do it... sorry, there’s a button there...
Yeah. I’ll take my glasses off.
No! We could do it around your glasses!
That’d be amazing!
What do you start with? The white?
Jenny, I’ve kind of forgotten why we’re doing make-up.
Oh, because, basically I had that story about the ICA where I pretended I was a make-up artist for the Birds Eye Film Festival. Well, I got a call from my friend saying: would you be interested in doing this make-up artist thing; and I was, like: well, I don’t really know how to do any make-up or face-painting or anything...
But the woman phoned me and was, like: so, you’re a make-up artist, right?; and I was, like: yeah, yeah I am. And then I was, like: do you have face-paints and stuff?; and she was, like: no, no; so I said: well, I haven’t done it for a while so I’m probably going to need some sort of money to get top ups—glitter—because if you want it to be—it was glam rock themed or whatever... I’m going to start.
Oh my god. I really don’t like this.
We can stop if you want. Do you want to stop?
No. It’s fine. This is... did people do this at the ICA?
No, I didn’t do this—they were all quite conservative, they wanted, like, hearts, proper—real make-up? And when I did it they were, like: oh, right, I look like a drag queen. But to be fair that is exactly what I thought they wanted. I would’ve been happy with that.
I think part of my face-paint phobia might be to do with— ‘It’?
—the Festival Hall!
Oh really? Why? Did you have your face painted at the Festival Hall?
No, but you know when they do it for kids. And when you have to control the queue—
Sorry! I’m quite scared of you!
I’m quite scared of me too—I’m so glad I can’t see it. Last time I was controlling the queue for the kids to get their face-painted this woman told me that I had no heart, that I had no human emotions.
Yeah. She was just, like: my daughter needs this!
You don’t have any human emotions!
Yeah. At that time I really did.
Now however... Shut your eyes.
Oh god. You’re just gluing my eyes together. I can see it in your glasses! I can see what it looks like!
You’ll be fine! You’ll look like David Bowie at the end!
No—I’m not though am I!
You buy oysters, tongue and pigeon,
and you build shelves,
and you ask if there’s any mayonnaise, on Facebook,
and you make her shoes out of leather,
and you store his wine still under the sink,
and you hunch over the table,
and you buy a bread machine,
and you explain violet wands at dinner.
Yeah, I’ll housesit.
Basically, they’re in this forest looking for this girl and the cop, his son gets shot by a poacher. It’s an accident—the bullet goes through this deer he was looking at.
Basically, there’s been this outbreak and everyone’s zombies and they spend the first season getting to this centre where they’re making a cure but they get there and everyone’s gone and it’s just this one guy and he’s given up and just wants to kill himself.
Basically, there’s this thing where he took her handgun off her. She’s not allowed to carry one because he thinks she’s suicidal so there’s been multiple instances of her not being able to defend herself.
Basically, her daughter goes missing—they’re looking for her daughter. The one with the crossbow—he’s getting better but he’s kind of pissed with everyone for leaving his brother chained-up by his wrist on this rooftop. They felt bad and went back but he’d cut his hand off.
Renée makes Ivan real
He sold petrol illegally during the war
to support his family
He’s a manager now
something with computers
Eilidh tells about going to her local supermarket to buy some sparkling wine, getting to the checkout and the cashier saying: “oh, it’s you again, buying alcohol.” Peter tells the story told him by Katherine of Ros’s trousers splitting during a briefing and her telling Katherine afterwards “I’ve got too much junk in my trunk!” Anniwaa says how she’s been seeing this guy for a while but they’re both busy and she can’t tell if he’s serious. He rang yesterday and she asked if he rang by accident because her name’s at the top of the register.
Jessie tells about a friend who got attacked by a pie in a pub, a piece sticking in his throat and an ambulance taking him to hospital where he had to stay for three days—unable to swallow—until, just as they were about to operate and informing him of the high likelihood he’d never swallow again, he coughed out the crust.
Paul tells about seeing two boys working in a shop, one with a pricing gun and the other up a stepladder with a price sticker stuck on his arse. Paul kept nudging Claire’s arm and whispering “look at his arse!” Renée explains the cut on her hand from ‘Isle of Dogs chavs’ arriving in the café demanding Coke as she frothed milk until she turned to tell them she didn’t have any and a glass fell from the top shelf, slicing her on the way down. John tells of visiting Chicago in the same way that visiting Heathrow is visiting London but the meetings there being good and getting a tour of a factory extruding complex Pampers boxes.
Peter tells about the man whose face was bitten off by a bear and the mask he wears, attached by a ball joint to what was left of his nose. Gareth tells that when a boy at his school died on the playing field sniffing glue, the headteacher left his body out there for a day and made the rest of the school walk past as a lesson.
Peter tells about getting the angle of his surfboard wrong in Newquay and watching the lifeguard as he rolled under, the lifeguard watching back, while he rescued himself. Jenny tells about making chocolate crispie cakes, shoving chocolate in the microwave for three minutes, smelling burning and finding it thick with a hole burnt through the Tupperware. Peter tells the story of going into his local Wetherspoons and asking for a Johnnie Walker, the barman walking away, coming back and going “What d’ya want?” “Johnnie Walker.” “Stella?” Katherine tells about having a coffee in the café last night and watching a man pretending to swallow a long balloon. Jenny tells how a friend’s house got raided after he wrote something dodgy on a chatroom as a joke. Peter explains how Chinese vampires have to be buried standing on their heads because they travel by hopping around. Gareth tells the story of Johnny Cash getting drunk in the desert, falling asleep by the side of his campfire and van, which caught fire and burned down the nests of half of America’s condor population.
Olga tells of Pancake Day in Russia with straw figures of Winter being burnt and phoning friends and family to offer apologies. Xan explains the slow understanding of radioactive orange glaze in Fiestaware. Josh tells the story of the friend who, looking to buy live mice for his python, had to buy a rabbit instead. When the rabbit was introduced to the tank it paused, fixed on the snake, charged and bit it on the neck, killing it dead.
Emmanuelle tells the story of being told the story of the two fishermen and one, in a storm, letting the cutlery slip overboard and to the bottom of the sea, asking the other “is something lost if you know where it is?” Lee tells about going to Guildford once a week to complete an online course on how to type, so far learning a, s, d, f, j, k, l and semi-colon. Ian mentions not knowing it was Pancake Day until hearing so on The Archers. Josh tells the story of being on the school swim team, showering one time and looking up to see a man walking toward him with a scrotum that looked like a satellite dish.
Alessia confesses asking a visitor not to touch an artefact and, when he scowled back, saying “Don’t give me that look!” without thinking. Steph remembers her graduation ceremony and the marquee where there was no savoury food, just mince pies. It was in early November. Jenny tells about her tutor connecting to Chatroulette in a lecture, connecting a sixteen-year-old boy with a theatre of grinning students.
Jamie tells the story of a man in Nottingham called Shelf because, when he was young and taken to see bands, a shelf behind the bar was cleared for him to sit on. Lee tells the story of winning the Christmas raffle and a weekend at the Guildford Holiday Inn with a TV that showed your name when you turned it on. Alessia reminisces about buying her first Olivetti computer with savings—choosing for it to have a floppy disk drive over a CD. Emma laughs about a ballet teacher telling her she should have five dimples: one in each cheek, one in the chin and one in each buttock.
Jessie tells the story of the engineering student at Cambridge who invented the cox box and went on to found a University in Pakistan. She also reminisces about working at Harrods and being made to dye her hair, wear a suit and greet customers within a minute.
Martin remembers starting as a technician and mixing fix, dipping his hands in a tub of sulphite crystals at eight in the morning and it itching for a few hours until, that afternoon, all his skin came off and the head technician hit the roof. Ivor tells the story of replenishing the chemicals in the C41 machine and his glove splitting right where he had a cut. White spots started appearing then spread over his whole hand, taking two years to clear. Alison tells how her father, a book designer, used photographs of her and her brother in a book on how to raise children—she must have been six or seven—and there’s a picture of her on the toilet. Nicholas tells that the Japanese tried to hold humpback whales in captivity, they tried with six whales and each died of depression.
You made pancakes
Holding your fingers to your ears after lifting them
And we shared a joke
And looked to the ceiling
This is Serbian honey
Ana’s family make it
They fill Coke bottles with it
It tastes like each tree in the forest
Alright guys—guys! Why is that door open? I told you! You have to keep that door closed, you’re going to piss people off if it stays open, the light’ll get in and it’ll just ruin everything. Okay? The second years, they’re not going to react too well to that. Okay? Be really mindful of that.
Why have you got duct tape over your mouth? Why has he got duct tape over his mouth? Did you put duct tape over his mouth? What? Okay.
Look, I want to talk to you about this recipe I found on the New York Times website for bread. I know I said there’s no eating in here, yeah, no drinking either—I know, I said that. No you’re not supposed to drink the chemicals—a straw? Why is there a drinking straw? Is that yours? For a photogram? Okay.
Why are you hitting each other? Don’t hit each other! Come on guys! Come on. So I want to talk about this bread you can make without kneading it.
So you usually have to work the dough and it’s messy and takes a lot of time. But there’s this recipe where you don’t have to knead it at all: no knead bread. Yeah? Yeah, I like my hat too, thanks. No, no I don’t have blue eyes. Well, brown or green or something. I think. Thank you. Anyway. Yeah, I know what ‘swagger’ means. But I want to talk to you about no knead bread. So it’s normal bread stuff: flour, yeast, water. That’s it, that’s all there is in it—the thing is you have to leave it for a really long time. Guys! Guys please! Yeah, come on, huddle, a bit closer— just so I can talk you through this. Okay.
Could you turn the music down? Just turn it down a bit. Not really, it doesn’t sound like dubstep to me. It’s a bit light. I don’t know, anyway, so you mix together three cups of flour, a quarter teaspoon of yeast, one and a quarter teaspoon of salt and one and a half cups of water. I’ll print that out, okay? Yeah, I’ve got some paper for the printer—hold on though, wait a bit.
So. Meat and poultry is cheaper here.
So was the food we ate—and appreciated; set on a tray, set on our table and shared. And we realise how good it is to say goodbye to strangers and know we’ll see them all tomorrow. And each will have their own night to compare.
Look: all the cars are black. As visitors—as guests—this might be true.
And we felt like guests; the hospitality of the curry house where every chair turned for us, every table joined and every diner through the door after asked politely to come back later saw to that.
Even with the sun at its peak the street anticipates the end of the day. It’s to be a slow tailing off. Workmen know this, excavating the site of our goodnights.
They are careful to miss the distortion of the road, the sudden softness that fascinates the woman in the fireplace shop.
Pity anyone rushing out of News & Booze.
We were in no rush.
The road tells us the only way is forward (and any floating arrow otherwise is absurd).
So did Ioannis. Thanks Ioannis, goodnight Ioannis!
You checked maps on your phones. Before I could stop you you were tracking us. And before I could stop you you were checking hotel reviews.
We were promised threadbare towels! Grey pillows! Blood on the sheets! The decor was to be ‘shabby, shabby, shabby’! You made note of every other hotel we passed. Too late to turn back?
You’ve already lost the way! And all we care about is the warmth of tonight. It’s May and our bodies, full of mild spice, match the air. Finally (the winter’s been long)!
We all but skipped chanting “shabby, shabby, shabby!” and shaking our heads!
Josh’s message recorded on my alarm gets snoozed. Only sometimes I let him loop a bit. Melis knocks.
“Your alarm clock’s going off, so you must want to wake up.”
“Sh— you’re right. Thank you,” I say, sit up, lie down and sleep for three hours more.
When I walk down for breakfast Renée’s in the kitchen boiling water for cup noodles. She waves it at me and says it looks nineties. Modern noodles are sold with fresh ingredients, strange fancies and lifestyles. She asks if I’d check her visa application and I say that I’d like to. Because I would. She brings up her application folder and sits on my windowsill while I read it.
“Half of them are definitions of war crimes!” she says.
“And I’m not a terrorist! Unless you count kicking the wall when I got mad?”
“I do. I’ll put that down.”
She leaves for her room and I turn through each page. Some are good. Some pages are good. ‘Please select the applicant’s method of entry into the United Kingdom: Aeroplane, Sea, Channel tunnel, Other, If other, please specify.’ I turn a few more pages and see that maybe Renée got lost, or maybe I’m getting lost, around D31. Or D32: ‘Has the applicant ever engaged in any other activities which might indicate that he/she may not be considered to be a person of good character?’ Renée ticked ‘No’ and I agree. There’s a space provided for further details and encouragement to use a separate sheet if needed. I think she’s safe from charges of genocide. Safe enough that I go to her room and tell her she can stay.
I click through Carl’s Facebook photographs. With one click he runs into the sea and in another click he runs out of the sea. He puts on a bonnet or rests on a shoulder or stands on a hilltop with a dog leashed to his wrist. My undergraduate was just like this. It was alright after all. I put on the new Growing album.
I stand on a chair in the kitchen to clear my cupboard of old matzo crumbs. Josh comes in wearing a tie.
“It looks good on you! It’s really nice!”
“Sorry the kitchen’s a mess,” he says, distracted and opening the sink cupboard for the fridge.
“Huh?” I look to a slice of toast crisping on a matchbox.
“The toast? You’re saying sorry for the toast?”
“The dishes, sweetheart.”
“Oh, right. There’s not that much at all—no need.”
He fishes in the fridge for jam and I root in my cupboard for stock. I have every kind of stock. It’s autumn in Archway and someone, somewhere close, has lit a joss stick.