Twenty-first century London: fun, violence and serendipity

        Twenty first century London: fun, violence and serendipity
        First edition, 2013.

A Psychological death in Abercrombie & Fitch

Abercombie & Fitch, 2008, Ravish London

The Abercrombie & Fitch store on Savile Row, London, offers a disconcerting experience, a psychological death. The store is located in a Georgian mansion on a street corner in Mayfair, a stone's throw from the Royal Academy of Arts, across the road from the tailors of Savile Row. As you approach the entrance, although you may not realize it, you make a pact with the Devil, deigning to play a game you are destined to loose. The mansion has no signage or shop front, so the two young men stationed outside, employed to open the front doors for customers, look, on first sight, as if they were doing security for a private party. A sense of insignificance takes root as you approach the threshold. Dressed in blue hooded tops and jeans, the two men gaze at each other and chat. They open the doors as you approach but make no eye contact with you, looking through or above as you pass between them. Inside the double doors, at the back of a large cloakroom, a fresh-faced young man, possibly in his teens, is looking awkward and abashed in equal measures. Dressed in an unzipped jacket, he bares a ripped stomach and sculpted pecs. Stricken but also affronted by this pornography you recoil but not wanting to appear affected you steady yourself and observe the man inserting himself amongst several girlfriends, all of whom pose for a photo taken by a female employee with a polaroid camera. Aware that you have neither the genes nor the gym membership to attain such a figure, nor the quality of meat hanging from your frame to be invited into such a gathering, you begin to feel unwelcomed. Nevertheless, a competing need not to be defeated and a perverse sense of adventure propels you onwards. Into the shop proper and your eyes experience a blackout; no natural light is let in, the windows boarded up. Clothes shop is conflated with nightclub. Your ears are gratuitously assaulted with pounding dance music. Low-level lighting illuminates the clothes, focusing your attention.

Queues for the changing rooms snake across the floor. It can take up to forty-five minutes to try your garment on. On the first floor, which overlooks the ground floor, two employees are stood against a balcony, engaged in faux dancing, smiling and having fun. One of them, as instructed, flashes you a smile. The staff are so beautiful, that if you too are stood by the balcony when receiving such a smile, you might well fall off it. Beautiful people attract beautiful people, angel faced customers step slowly in this low light environment, peering softly and searchingly into the reflections provided by large mirrors. Idling your way around, you are consistently arrested by the sexual appeal of each of the numerous shop assistants, referred to as models by A&F. No sooner do you stop to furtively contemplate a model, than you find she has pre-empted your behaviour, and is flashing you a warm but pitiful smile, which causes you to scurry away like a dormouse. The preppy self-assuredness of the models means they seem untouchable, invulnerable. You notice how they sidle up to one another, smile sweetly at each other, share a few words, and part with elegant touches. You imagine they are confirming attendance at some Kensington town house party that they've all been invited to. You think of the few friends you have, of the decidedly dogged looks of those in your social circle, and recall that you have, up to now, been invited to a grand total of no parties for the evening. Suffering, you try to protect yourself by denigrating physical appearance as a superficial phenomenon, but the sickening laughter, which hangs in the air of Abercrombie & Fitch, like a mist, reminds you of your Faustian pact. Until the mist clears, until you breathe the cold air of Burlington Gardens once again, you will remain wrestling with the Devil.

Talking Kabul and the worst smoothie bar in Southall

Tobacco Leaf, Southall, 2010, Ravish London

One snowy Saturday we sat in a train, trundling along from Paddington, stressing and straining under the weight of suprising snows, which engulfed, caked and delighted us during our stop-starting voyage to another world called Southall. With train departing, we crunched through the freshly laid snows, and exited the station to see young men, Asians, shoveling and pushing, huffing and puffing, helping families, saloons and vans slither there way up slopes that did their best to inhibit ascent. Venturing on in the crisp air, flattening the settlement, we came across a shop selling bites, teas and tobacco leaves. Curiosity called for a Masala Chai, very Christmassy with its cinnamon aroma. We procured a tobacco leave. The assistant sprinkled several sauces on to the leaf, as if he were gilding a Big Mac. Over zealous with the condiments he was, we wondered when it might stop, we chuckled, the magnitude of our chuckling growing exponentially with each squirt of new flavour. Later we entered a Gurdwara, and with socks and shoes off, a Sikh carefully mounts an orange kaftan on my head, smiling broadly when he sees my appreciation. I pat him on the back. An old man with a fine moustache talked in broken English about how Kabul was not doing well, mujahedeen, he said.

We walked across cold floors, peered into the dining hall, where men sit crossed legged on long carpet and ate and then worked our way up to the prayer hall. A beautiful, huge room, with a sea of white carpet, and men, and women, sitting in small groups or on their own, backs to the wall and columns, contemplating the melodic liturgy of the wisened and beard distinguished scholar teacher , who sat in a box lit up by the orange and yellow hues, given life by the light filtered by the beautiful stain glass window which sits imperiously behind. The man waved a white-feathered stick across something that took the shape of a very small coffin, all covered in white. Either side scholars took their position in booths, which lit up when they entered. We saw learning and wisdom accreted, pages of large books turned and inspected. Learning al publico. I closed my eyes and let the melodies of an old scholar's song fill my mind, my brain trying to make sense of the grammar of this strange language, I felt welcome and yet unwelcome; toleration and anxiety, both within and beyond.

We ventured onward and around. The Tabaco leaf was chewed, the effect powerful. We found ourselves drawn to football results flashing out at us from a large flat screen TV situated in a Somali shop seeming to specialize in fruit juice smoothies. The colourful garlands, borrowed from Sikh brothers, and the array of fruit in the glass desk at the back of the shop spoke of beautiful thirst quenching juices, full of the bounty of Mother Nature. And yet our arrival, in what was quite clearly a Somali establishment, caused consternation, masked by a polite welcome. We asked for a fruit juice; three or four Somali men went into conference.

Juice?' asked one of them. After some discussion the group finally concluded the object of our desire. It took ten minutes for the first juice to arrive, during which time we gazed into the TV and soaked up the results. Beforehand an impromptu lesson in smoothie making was given, in Somali. It took six minutes for the blender to do the job of cutting up pineapple and melon. The drink served was disgusting. By the time it had arrived, Phil Thompson and Charlie Nicholas had digested every last movement in the footbally contours of the Championship, and we had tallied, out of the eight corners of our eyes, how the noticeable volume of Somali men who had rolled into the shop, wisely eschewed the opportunity to procure a smoothie, negated to join us in contemplating the musings of Thompson and Nicholas, and piled, without explicit request or permission, past the counter, through a doorway in the backroom and down some stairs, into the nether regions of the establishment.

Between entering the shop and the first horrid taste of that drink, we laughed at how our request for a smoothie had caused such confusion. We chuckled at how the blender, in taking several minutes to cut through a pineapple was perhaps the most pathetic of its kind in London. But the most mirth was had at our own naivety, that a group of Somali men might think to open up a juice bar. The last laugh was aimed at an onion, buried amongst the fruit in the glass desk. What kind of smoothie would have an onion in it? We enjoyed our time in the shop and I believe the men, who worked there, if a little anxious, were similarly humoured, and most likely, with shop shut and once retired to the cellar, they savoured and digested the anxieties and awkwardness of the situation with much gusto, and together, of course with the rivulets of khat flavoured saliva, the habitual accompaniment of an evening's reflection. Perhaps we were their first ever 'customers'. We left with a foul taste in our mouth, and Norwich drawing 1 all at Coventry.

Still we wandered through the sleet and snow, and came across the mother of all Indian supermarkets; the Himalaya Palace, plus a succession of gold and Indian music shops and a shop advertising the fact that it sells 'western food'. The night ended with a curry at The Brilliant. But the sweetest taste was the friendliness and openness with which the inhabitants of this place greeted us.

Ladies and gentlemen forget Narnia. The magic is all in Southall.

King a de road: A Little Bit of Kingston Town in South London

I'm in deepest Lewisham, somewhere, a little lost in the suburbs, waiting for a bus to take me to Lewisham station. After a while my bus arrives, a single deck, packed. I get on. The bus driver is a Jamaican, late twenties, elegantly muscular in body, debonair in face, with braided hair stuck tight to his head, sporting a sleeveless blue jumper overlying a long sleeved shirt. As we wind through the streets of Lewisham, it's as if he's winding through the hills and country roads surrounding Kingston Town. 'Whaddya tink dis is? A smart car?' he says at every meeting with a car where there seems to be an intractable battle for space. 'Get out ma way, am king a de road' he says, and then aggressively battles his bus through the smallest of gaps left by the reluctantly retreating motorist. Two young black girls, around fourteen years of age, are walking across the street. The bus judders to a halt. The driver opens the window of the driver cabinet, and speaks to them, neither with smiles or aggression, but with confidence and nonchalance, with soft seductive cooing and wooing. Both girls smile back, sweetly. One of them raises her hand to say hello; almost to gesture see you around. The bus moves on. A BT repair van squares up to the bus. Both drivers wind down their windows. Our driver calls out, 'Whadya tink am driving? A bloody smart car? Na, get out a ma way, am king a de road'. Comes the exceedingly aggressive reply, following a dirty growl, which in turn grew out of the gurgling sound of flem boiling with anger, 'Why, fack orf you facking cant', the emphatic invective in the last and third to last words felt as knives in the chest. The BT van starts to reverse.

Intimidation in Mayfair, photographing the embassies

American Embassy, Mayfair, 2008, Ravish London

They can watch you but you cannot watch them in this so-called 'freedom loving' society. The Saudi Embassy in London has two policemen guarding it. One is stationed at the front on busy Curzon Street. He walks back and forth outside the embassy gates on an elevated gravel surface. The other stands solemnly outside the backdoor. One cold January morning, whilst taking photographs of Mayfair, I found myself on Curzon Street. Noticing the policeman strolling back and fourth outside the Saudi Embassy, I crouched down and zoomed in. The officer, clocking my presence, scuttled behind a tree. Trying in vain to hone in on the officer through the viewfinder, all I ended up with was a photo of a tree, behind which the officer was hiding, and behind both of which the embassy stood. I then approached the tree, and took a second photograph, during which time the officer appeared and clearing his throat, asked me to make it my last photograph. Naturally, confused by this communication, I asked for clarification on whether an order was being issued or a request being made. The office, showing some degree of irritation, sidestepped my request for clarification and advised it would be better if I walked away. I talked about rights and he told me about the need for caution in the present climate. Perplexed I stood rooted to the spot, which he responded to by situating his not inconsiderable frame between the embassy and myself.

I told him I was taking photographs for a guide to London. He said 'don't you think there are already too many guides to London?' Taking on the role of unpaid media consultant, he reminded me there were other buildings I could take photographs of. Widening his remit much further, he warned that if I were to take another photograph I could be detained under suspicion of terrorism. I put it to him that if I were a jihadi terrorist I would not approach the Saudi embassy with a huge camera, debating civil liberties. He begged to differ. He called me idiotic. I called him dishonest. I asked him how many days he and his police friends could detain me. 'Don't you read the papers?' he said. No I said. Well try 72.

He looked into my eyes. I reflected that if I was in Brazil he'd probably have pistol-whipped me. My brain then started to download stories of the Metropolitan Police beating the shit out of innocents, and I developed a cold sweat. Where was my stubbornness going to take me?

The officer reminded me that I was boring him. And yet you seem to enjoy talking to me I told him. He gave me a withering glance, looked away and shook his head.

You're creating a scene' he told me, referring to the female security guard from the Saudi Embassy, stood behind the gates, the spot she had been in since before I had arrived. As she watched our spectacle unfold, she chatted into her walky-talky. 'Have you got your cameras on him?' asked the officer.

An interregnum then followed, a standoff, an awkward silence, like two lovers out on a first date run out of things to say. A kiss was out of the question. He stared at me. I stared at him back, albeit nervously, vaguely formulated fantasies of gangs of officers arresting me, prompting frequent surges of adrenaline.

I asked the officer if I could stand on the elevated ground he was standing on. He pointed out he was standing on private property and affected a great deal of enthusiasm at the prospect of being able to arrest me for trespassing. I moved towards the elevated area, he took in a sharp intake of air. He was just about to grab hold of me when I pointed out that whilst close, millimeters of air separated my shoe from the private property, on which I had no intention of trespassing.

I told the policeman I wanted to look at the embassy unimpeded. Earlier on he had told me he would not impede my view if I wanted to look at the embassy. But now he was staring me in the eyes, he was going to protect the embassy from my desirous advances. I took a step to the right. The chaperone took a step to his left. We moved like this, in what a passer-by might have misconstrued for an elaborate mating ritual, until we reached that tree. I stepped to my right, he followed suit, I stepped to the right, but he couldn't go any further because the tree was in the way, so he had to go behind. Now I could look at the embassy impeded by the tree, but unimpeded by the policeman. I lingered, inwardly smiling at this stalemate. A further step to the right and I was reunited. I then took him out to the far right, into his comfort zone, which paradoxically left me with a good view of the embassy. I took an unusual interest in the fine detail of the building, using its white surface as an object of meditation. Then I wandered off, ultimately beaten, intimidated and scared, to take photographs of the next building.

Later on that same day, at around lunchtime, I found myself walking past the back entrance to the embassy, where another officer was stationed. I am pretty sure my physical appearance had been communicated and that he had been psyching himself up for my possible appearance, because when he saw me the faintest of smiles straightened out his lips and a few twinges of anxiety rippled through his physiognomy. He looked at me with an air of all knowing all-powerful smugness. I didn't care to look at him much, but I felt eyes following me down the street, after I had walked past him.

Still later I came across the American Embassy, a fortress with barriers, overlooking the squared acre of Grosvenor Square Garden, set within the plush Georgian environ of Grosvenor Square. Stationed within the embassy's barriers, a mean looking police officer, toting an enormous machine gun, which more than compensated for whichever department he was lacking in, followed me around the perimeter of the Embassy. So hard was the adrenaline pumping that even I, with all my stubbornness, couldn't bear to think of the consequences of pointing my camera at a mercenary, whose raison d'etre was to convert human beings into heaps of flesh resembling oversized discarded Big Macs. However, stood some fifty yards away, stood on one of the many street corners of Grosvenor Square, I summoned up the courage to take a photograph. Whilst doing so, I saw a plain clothed American embassy security man, modestly built, 55 years of age, dressed in casuals, with a small bag slung over his shoulder, affecting to be a meandering, slightly lost looking tourist, checking me out. I stopped on the corner, as he had stopped on the corner, and looked over to him looking over to me.

I then walked into Grosvenor Square Garden, which sits in front of the Embassy, sat on a park bench and from one hundred yards took another snap, discerning a guard from the embassy watching me. Eventually I decided to get up and leave. Having existed the garden and walking along the road, which bordered the park, a police car approached slowly from the opposite direction. It stopped, let out an officer five meters in front of me, and then drove up to my side. The officer on the street approached me and asked me to take my hands out of my pockets. I did. Two more officers pulled up on motorbikes in haste. The driver of the car got out, and clarified with a colleague on a police radio that he didn't need any further assistance. I was armed, but only with a semi-automatic camera, and for that four officers were judged sufficient. For taking photographs I was apprehended under some section of an Act to do with terrorism, had my camera removed and much personal information, including identifying scars, noted down, apparently all for my own benefit. The officer checking my photos looked taxed by the job of flicking through several hundred humdrum photos of Mayfair's back streets. He sighed and commented wistfully on the incredible storage capacity of digital cameras. At the same time he engaged me in light conversation about the architectural wonders of London, a tactic, which he seemed to be deploying to keep me relaxed. He flicked through my photos, all 400 odd, one after the other, and then handed back the camera. Offering my hand, which he accepted reluctantly, and feeling sick with nerves, I returned home. The officer hadn't found any photos of the American embassy on my camera because I'd taken them all with my mobile phone.

Delighted by the flash-BMX scene in Kingsland Road

BMX flash scene, Kingsland Road, 2010, Ravish London

Wrapped in a mugginess of the mind, suffering from cold and depressed by the dankness of late night Regent's Canal, I made slow progress on Dunston Road, heading towards the bowstring bridge, which conveyed Kingsland Road traffic over the water. It was one hour before midnight, and from a way back I spotted an extraordinarily large gang of local kids, larking about on bikes, under the bridge. Facing the prospect of a gang beating and ruminating on the risks inherent in my nocturnal stroll produced a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, but stubbornness and pride, supported with optimistic delusions, propelled me on.

The relief was sweet though, when on closer inspection, the territorial thugs were revealed to be skinny Hoxtonites, regaled in hooded tops, jeans sagging de riguerly from their posteriors, facial hair good for grazing. As I reached the crowd I stopped to observe these fashionable ghosts, traipsing here and there, dragging bits of plywood around, some with hammers in hand. The additional presence of a dozen BMXers presaged the establishment of two enormous ramps, constructed on opposite sides of the underpass. Ramps finished, one or two went into action, at first rolling gently up and down the ramps.

Meanwhile, a generous crowd of Hoxtonites swilled bottles of beer, chewed fat and showed a half-baked interest in proceedings. A girl shriek with laughter, in response to a guy pointing out how one of the bikers, an average sized fellow, with a nondescript rounded face lightly coated in facial hair and stoicism, looked 'so generic'. The girl, in fits, mocked 'You're so cruel!' The BMXers for the most part mingled with the crowd, slouched on their bikes, chatted, preferring to look into the murky distance of Regent's Canal than to make eye contact. Every now and then one of the bikers would spontaneously leave his compadres, as if the wild had called, and nonchalantly swing bike into action. The police turned up, at first two officers, and then a big van, illogical it seemed given the van then reversed back into obscurity, as if the whole thing was some ill thought out bit of action in a badly programmed computer game.

As the night drew on the numbers engaged on the ramps and the intensity of action grew. A sense of wonder began to fizzle inside of me each time an attempt to defy gravity was pulled off; each time two spots of rubber were imprinted on the vertical browning brickwork; each time the back of a hoodie came within centimeters of caressing the underside of the bridge. I felt invigorated; the mugginess in my mind displaced by the sensation of goose pimples, prompted by the cold and the excitement. This show was like street art, something, somewhere and some time all unexpected. Two young children from the flats across the canal, still up at half past eleven, were let into their front garden to watch. Overcome with emotion; they jumped up and down and screamed with excitement. I felt the same way.

1-2-3 viva Algerie

Algeria fans celebrating on Blackstock Road, 2009, Ravish London

One damp night, whilst stepping softly towards Finsbury Park station, a distant primal roar pierced the depressing solitude of Blackstock Road. Aggressive shouting followed. Although difficult to locate, the roar inspired Baconesque images of sadistic violence contrasting with the darkness and calmitude of my immediate surrounds. I surmised Arsenal fans, hooligans, beer and muscle, located at some distance. It was instead clans packed into terraced shells, into Blackstock Road's insalubrious coffee houses. Through shop windows could be seen black leather, broad shoulders supporting cranes necks and heads of black curly hair facing TV screens suspended from ceilings.

As I progressed past one such cafe, five or six men quickly exited, three in front and two behind. I shared a smile with a passer-by, who like me, was suspecting ambush, stunned by the suddenness with which he had become the filling in an Algerian sandwich. I maintained my walk, affecting to be unaffected, expecting to be jumped at any second. But that second never came. I looked behind me to see more men coming out on to the street, milling around the bottleneck, formed by a traffic island at the point Blackstock Road merged with Rock Road.

By this time my inner anthropological policeman was demanding an ethnographic stop and search; I leant against a wall watching proceedings develop from afar. A car drove past from the station end, and stopped amongst the growing crowds. The crowds poured good spirits over the driver and passengers. Seconds later another car came past, horns beeping, outstretched arms protruding from the window. Within minutes and as I slowly sauntered back towards the traffic island the street was teeming with Algerian men, athletic, young, dressed in greys, blacks and murky colours mirroring the dirty darkened mess of Blackstock Road. They spilled on to the road, halting each car at this celebratory checkpoint, whether Algerian or otherwise. Traffic jams, disgruntlement amongst bus drivers setting out from Finsbury Park station and a small army of Metropolitan ushers were the natural consequence.

1-2-3, viva Algerie! The congregation shouted, half English, half French. As one Algerian clambered up on to a lamp post from where he waved an Algerian flag, another turned to me, laughed and said "Please forgive us. Algerians, we are crazy". Another guy seeing I had a camera struck a pose. Yet another guy hugged me, and still another clenched fists with me and we clashed chests in salute. I felt great.

A Mayfair Art Squat

Mayfair Art Squat, 2008,Ravish London

One chilly night in 2008, just fifty yards from the heavily guarded American Embassy in Grosvenor Square, directly opposite the Michelin starred Corrigan's, a young man climbed a ladder leant against the wall of a six-storey Georgian mansion. Clambering on to the balcony he was pretty sure this property was empty. His associates, stood below had, for the last six months, been putting tape over the keyhole of the front door and peeking through the letterbox to make sure. A push on the window frame gave way to a freedom of movement, which caused joy in the congregation of hearts below. This was not a robbery, but the first step in the realization of a collective dream, the establishment of an art squat, which would come to be known as MADA!, the MA standing for Mayfair and DA! standing for the name of the collective. On gaining entry to the property the DA! Collective found a large lobby, an old spiral staircase and thirty rooms, largely unfurnished, though many possessed chandeliers and luxuriantly thick curtains hanging from ten-foot windows. Once inside the collective maintained permanent occupancy and re-enacted the life of our mammalian friend, the rat, by adopting freeganism a strategy of surviving without paying, by scavenging fresh vegetables discarded in bins at New Covent Garden market and various supermarkets.

The squatting of 18 Upper Grosvenor Street was quickly discovered by and stirred the emotions of tabloid editors, who featured this development on the front cover of their newspapers. The squat's first art show, presented in early November, thus received the kind of marketing that one could normally only achieve with a multi-million pound budget. Tentatively, and with the added confidence given by the company of two friends, I decided to venture down to the squat the night of the show, having read about in the Guardian. Walking through the darkened and quiet streets of Mayfair, past the American Embassy with its machine gun toting security men, the street on which the squat was located, Upper Grosvenor Street, felt eerily quite. There was no activity outside the house and knocking on the front door, I was concerned that there had been some misunderstanding somewhere, that I was about to disturb a dowager's night cap, or be dragged into those house by two bemused Russian mafia men with sadistic intent. The door opened painfully slowly and stopped ajar. Two guys in their early thirties poked their head around sizing up my small party. 'Hello?' they inquired. I explained what I knew, who we were and our intentions. 'This is not a party' they emphasized. They were wary of who might be attending given several newspapers had misrepresented the event as a house party. Receptionists in the lobby told us the exhibition would finish at eleven. There was a sign saying 'no drugs'.

Once over the threshold an enchanting world of delight and surprise opened up. The beautiful wooden interior of this Georgian town house was laid bare. You could walk up the beautiful spiral staircase, explore the maze of rooms on several different floors and be wowed by the property's spacious dimensions. There was an old musty smell to the house, as dust, which had lain dormant for some time, was now whipped up by the footfall. Art students and designers with Gucci handbags wondered around the building in a state of grace. It was like the ultimate Open House experience.

A variety of musical events took place. A guitar and violin duet was played in one room covered in autumnal leaves; a drumming session was given in another. On the ground floor two old pianos in the lobby were being played simultaneously, releasing a beautiful melody, rather like rain falling.

In other areas video images were projected on to the walls. The art installations, presumably put on by art students still finding their feet, were often far from breath taking. One artist approached me and spoke to me with the speed of that the machine guns owned by the police guarding the American Embassy round the corner, fires bullets. Eventually his endless drawl culminated in a request for one of the cans of beer on my person. I gave him half the can I had in my hand.

The most amusing and interactive exhibit was a Theremin with a plastic banana mounted on to it, placed on a small plinth in the middle of one of the rooms. It made children of us all.

Punters, many of whom drew from the crusty end of the human spectrum, were in groups chatting, supping, sat down in various darkened rooms. Occasionally cans of beer that had been rested on the floor would spring a leak. The metal tacks in the floorboards had sufficient gumption to burst through the thin metal surface of any can put to rest on the floor. The effect would be beery fireworks, unseen in the darkened room, the noise of which was masked by a guitar and violin ensemble. The consequence of this affair being that several people got up throughout the evening, to find that they appeared to have developed a serious lack of control over their own bladder.

All in all the people at the event were really relaxed. The whole thing reminded me of an episode of Heimat.

The gig was closed at eleven, as advertised. Punters were reluctant to go, but most did so with civility. A small guy came round, the antithesis of a Mayfair bouncer, and asked people, politely, if they would care to leave. Some were disgruntled, 'I've been asked to ask politely' stressed the young man. In a neighbouring room a bearded man with a beer can in his hand was stood up, singing and swaying with his eyes closed, jamming with a guy strumming a guitar in a jester's hat sat hunched against the wall. 'We don't want to go, we don't want to go,' they sang. The exasperated diminutive bouncer remonstrated. The bearded man, determined not to hear this cajoler, closed his eyes and continued 'Go home. No drugs' (in relation to the sign put up on the ground floor: 'no drugs'). I decided to play by the book 'Fair enough' I replied to the young'un 'we all knew we had to leave at eleven when we came in here didn't we?' and the guy shook my hand. I felt a sense of respect gained, which had all but disappeared one hour later, at which point I was still in the building, on the second floor, playing with the banana Theremin.

Three weeks later a second exhibition was put on, bigger and better, and better attended, thanks to the publicity the first show and constant media coverage had generated. This was the pinnacle of the MADA! experience.

One room had been converted into a nightclub, in which it was impossible to move around for cardboard tubes the size of tree trunks invading the space. The room next door had nothing but a big curtain hanging in the middle of it, which, when drawn back revealed a chair, lit up, with several knives dangling from pieces of string from the ceiling, before it. A maze constructed out of doors was put together, forming various ramps and low ceilings that you had to walk over and under. It was quite fun, though a health and safety type would have swallowed his tongue. Elsewhere, one room was devoted to tights, which were stretched between walls, ceilings and floor, creating dendritic shapes. One female performer had carved out a niche in one space, daubed herself in pale blue and green pain, and danced seductively, to an audience of bearded and non-bearded perves. In the basement a series of mannequins with interesting postures.

We also got a behind the scenes look at the kitchen, which looked a dump with food strewn all over it, and unwashed pots and pans. An irate note reminding people to clean up after themselves was pinned to the wall.

Outside, towards the end of the night, a police van pulled up. Across the street, outside Corrigans' restaurant, bouncers and super rich looked across with a mixture of incomprehension and disgust. All the time, the same small guy, who had been ushering people out of the building weeks previous, was asking us to move on, still politely. He stressed the need for us to go quickly, so the neighbours wouldn't be disturbed, so DA! 'could continue putting on nights like this' he said. We moved away briskly. The guy tried to shuffle a bin bag full of rubbish that DA's neighbours had left outside, closer to their own fence. He ended up disturbing it, some of its contents spilling on to the street.

Lightness to dark, begging on the London Underground

The Northern Line train pulled into Old Street underground station, where a handful of people got on and a handful off. The carriage seats were mostly occupied and two black lads, of cheerful disposition and medium build, dressed in casual clothes, were sat on the seats nearest to the door at the back of the carriage. Playfully they exchanged jokes and conversation, but this dried up, momentarily, at the sight of a thin pair of legs, covered in tatty looking jeans, supported by two unsteady feet entombed in battered white trainers.

See you later' said the new arrival, whose body was twisted so he was facing the platform, as the train alarm pulsed to signify the doors closing. As the man's torso straightened, swinging his face in the direction of the front of the carriage, passengers looked up to see the state of the trainers were reflected in the man's, gaunt, skewwhiff, grazed and dentally problematic physiognomy.

Finding an unusual interest in their own feet, commuters knew what was coming, a piece of theatre, a monologue, a plea, skillfully crafted, clearly delivered, pitched with the kind of professionalism that you might expect in an interview for a city job. They knew they'd be recipients of a political speech which gives the sense of a man on the mend, a man who is looking to make a new start, a healthy start, "Hello everyone, sorry for interrupting you, I know it's the end of the working day and you don't really need this especially on a winter's day like today, I wont take up too much of your time. I'm looking to collect enough money to get a hostel for the end of the night, I don't mean to intimidate or annoy anyone, but anything you could spare, if its food or any small amount of money, would be greatly appreciated, if you could imagine if everyone gave just a few coppers or a five pence piece, thank-you very much."

By the time the man had gotten to the end of his speech everyone was looking into their newspapers or were sat like zombies penetrating the walls of the underground tunnel with a thousand yard stare, their eyes, relaxed, buoyed by the undulations of the train on the underground track. The commuters, affecting nonchalance, knew the man would shuffle his way through the isle, with a cap in hand, collecting whatever people might find in their hearts and minds to give him, a couple of quid, some food, for which he would earnestly say, 'Thank-you madam', 'Bless you'. Failing any charitable act, he would, having worked his way to the end of the isle empty-handed, stop in the space next to the double doors, separating one set of seats from another, and compose himself to deliver the speech once more.

Only this didn't happen.

Instead, there was no shuffling down the isle. Instead, after a brief silence, a different tone of voice could be heard, a deeply vengeful aggressive tone, filtered through deep-seated phlegm, 'You think I'm scum, you think we're scum!' This turn of events raised a few eyebrows. Eyes and heads cautiously looked upwards, to ascertain the object of his diatribe, to see who could have provoked this invective. It quickly became apparent that it was the general apathy of the passengers, which had piqued him. This man who had moments before beseeched people not to feel intimidated, launched into a tirade, threatening to 'fuck up' someone in the carriage if they didn't give him something. He threatened the body collective that he would find out where we lived and smash our children.

Eyes quickly turned to newspapers and laps, darting nervously every now and then just to see where the man was stood, just to monitor as to whether a bit of flight or fight might be called for. A needlessly an unwitting comical touch was added by the fact that whilst he was spewing vitriol at the greed and selfishness of the congregation, he was also trying to eat a piece of shortcake, bits of which seemed to be flying off into the air, like the shrapnel of a grenade, powered by the momentum of his invective. I wiped a piece off my trousers as his venom spewed forth.

The train eased to a stop for a breather at Moorgate. The rumble of the engine came to a stop, allowing the man's words to be heard more clearly, his rant and threats continued, 'You wait, I'll fucking find you on the street, I'll fucking get one of you, I'll come at you and fuck you up, and take your coat off you, this is the fourth Christmas that I've had to do this, you selfish fucking dirty cunts' at which he stepped off the tube. A collective sigh of relief could be felt if not heard.

As the tube had come to a stop, one of the black lads, had, rather provocatively, started sniggering, as the man delivered his parting lines, and once the man had vanished, he and his friend broke out into a fit of giggling. 'He's your man' said his friend 'he's coming for you, he's going to take your coat'. The guy chuckled, recounting how he had initially felt a little sorry for the man and had, moments before the man had broken off into a rant, been routing around in his pockets for a bit of loose change.

An Indecent Proposal on the N43

The N43 takes Shoreditch party people home towards the salubrious environs of Highgate, Muswell Hill and Friern Barnet. As such, on a Friday or Saturday night, the top deck is full of comedian wanabee white guys, who buoyed by alcoholic excess feel the need to bathe everyone in their soon to be televised wit. Some of it is funny, some, as was the case on this particular night, with the two boys in question, is scornful and nasty. The boys were taking potshots at everything and everyone, feeling safe, comforted and stimulated in their bubble of mutual masturbatory ridicule. At one point a girl with a big nose, who was sat to their right talking to an overweight friend, was the subject of their brutal verbal assault. The boys weren't so brash as to direct their ridicule directly at the girl, they didn't demand a response from her, but they did talk amongst themselves with sufficient volume, to make it clear to both the girl and everyone on the bus, that she, unlike everyone else had a nose to be ashamed of, to warrant attack. After a few stops the girl, either oblivious or affecting oblivion, bid farewell to her overweight friend, and left.

With her friend departed, the overweight girl, turned to her left to talk to the guys. The guys, whose volume had ruled the bus up until that point, on being entreated to conversation by the girl, took a deep breath in, and then looked at each other with sadistic glee. Easy prey was walking into their lair. Or so they thought. The girl was sharp, within seconds her alacrity, intelligence and wit was spinning them into a ball, she the spider to them the folded up and dumbfounded flies. In their toing and froing before the boys had had the time to clear their public schoolboy throats, she'd taken the conversation to another place. The sum effect was that the boys were taken on a rollercoaster ride, the direction of which they had no possibility of controlling. The knockout blow came when she invited the two back to her house for a blowjob. Choking with shock, they asked her if she was serious. She sighed and said it had been a long day. The two guys were stunned. The girl rang the bell, to signify a knockout. She got off at the next stop, the boys shouting at her as she walked down the stairs, and off into the night.

Here comes the egg man!

One summer's evening, hopping on a bus at West Green Road, direction Kingsland Road, I was joined by several small black boys, ranging from eight to ten years of age. We all make our way to the top deck where a few tough looking Turkish guys are sat next to each other, an outrageous looking punk is sat looking out the left hand side of the bus, and a small and scruffy looking foreign guy, dressed in a black jacket and slacks, is sat behind the punk. At the front of the bus is a black guy, dressed in sports casuals and a cap, also looking a little tatty, with a pair of crutches.

Of the boys who accompanied me on to the top deck, one in particular, the smallest, could not keep still. No sooner had he gotten on to the top deck, than he started to jump from seat to seat, poking his head out of the window, shouting obscenities, running here and there. His showmanship was fuelled by the fact that wherever he went, his two older acquaintances would find themselves sucked into the vacuum that he left in his wake.

Pretty soon the boy had eyed the punk, and sensing vulnerability, mocked him, repeating the word 'punky' in an affected Jamaican twang. The punk, two and a half times the size ignored him.

The bus pulled past a barber's on the corner of West Green Road and Black Boy Lane. The boy seeing several Black guys sat outside the barbers poked his head out the window of bus and shouted a whimba whey, a whimba whey and other racist abuse. One of his friends advised restraint adding that the guys weren't African but Caribbean.

But the child would not have his energies harnessed. He was like a verbal machine gun, quick and witty, insulting and nasty. He clocked some girls he seemed to know, in their early teens, walking down the street. He rushed over to the seat behind the foreign looking guy, to shout at the girls, but in so doing disturbed the guy, who in a flash stood up and swore at the boy.

Mayhem looked like it was about to break out but then the Black man, who had been sitting at the front on the top deck, hobbled his way to the middle of the bus and started remonstrating with the kid. He took him to one side and said 'Look I know we're both black and we've got to take care of each other but have some respect, you're going to get yourself hurt behaving like that.'

The eight year old, on another planet, looked through his Black brother, he wasn't answerable to anyone.

Even his friends were just flotsam caught in the whirlwind of his energy.

The older guy limped back to his seat.

By this time the girls, who the boy had been shouting at, had joined him on the top deck. They talked a short while, and the boy tried to pinch one of the girl's behinds, after which the girls made their way off the bus, to insults.

Then finally much to the relief of everyone, the young boy and his colleagues rang the bell to get off. We all thought we'd seen the last of the young boy as he went down the steps, but suddenly, no sooner had he disappeared, than his head popped back up, and in the flash of a second a raw egg was whizzing its way across the bus, in the direction of the punk.

Neglect in Soho

A ground floor room replete with treatises on architecture and art provides a socially acceptable entrance into a shop whose cellar is packed with pornography and erotica.

Whilst the covers of the basement books curl eyebrows, a stranger sight is being had by the few customers milling around above, for there is, close to the entrance, a push chair, in which a three year old, a black boy, is slumped.

The slothful boy has just enough energy to direct his arms, lethargically, to a book positioned on a nearby table. His eyes are glazed over, his fingers gently touch the outside cover of the book, the boy seems not to know how long he is going to be left sitting in the pushchair, nor does he seem to care a great deal about not knowing.

The peculiarity of this situation is added to by the context, none of the customers in the shop pay the boy the slightest attention, none are black, none are within three metres of the boy, and the shop assistant, sat behind the till, in clear sight of the boy, is in a monotony induced trance.

The boy takes his fingers off the book, so slowly, as if to suggest every sensation and change is sensation is worth savouring, such is his deprivation

He stares at the wall, at his colours, and then softens his gaze as if to acknowledge that processing visual stimuli is of no use to him.

Time ticks, minutes go by, and then out of the blue, one quirky moment pierces the emptiness of this weekday morning.

A small scrawny man, a black man with dreads, appears from below the ground like a jack-in-the-box.

Having taken the basement staircase in two or three bounds, he gives a quick nod to the shop assistant, and hurries the pushchair, with its lifeless contents, out of the shop, down the street.

Checking for traffic, he quickly crosses the road after which he levers his load over the doorstep of an establishment, which sells publications, most of which, if the advertisements on the front of the shop window are anything to go by, of a sexually exhibitive nature.

The rat race to the tube

Commuters hoping to get on a train, London Underground, 2011, Ravish London

Approaching the station, its hustle and bustle, its people coming, going, pushing against the flow, lost, still, waiting, looking and checking their watches, talking. Sometimes visitors or tourists stand, confused, lost in their own world of timetables, watches and maps, unwittingly becoming little islands of resistance, around which rivers of people, who have to forge new paths, flow, tutting, frowning, glaring and staring in disapproval.

As we approach the exits from the train station on a work day morning, foreigners, diminutive types with plans, Asians, battered looking people, hand out fliers and papers, mobile phones, Lebara, City AM, some enthusiastically, some tired, some silently, some whilst experiencing an inner hell, I imagine.

Back into the station, again people back and forth, people lost, not knowing which direction to turn, coming back, reversing decisions, thinking again, wondering, worrying, have I got it right, meanwhile a small queue of people forms for the ticket office, time ticking, impatient, fucking hell, come on, what are they discussing, what are they talking about, what can be that complicated, oh shit.

Pass through the barriers, time it, time it, smaller steps, then bump, whumph, the beep, and then a millisecond split second decision about when to lunge, spare a second to let it go, or anticipate it, but not too soon, bumping into the barrier looks clumsy, unsophisticated, rushed, desperate. The point is you need to move in a continuous movement, not breaking or hesitating, but timing the walk up to the gate perfectly, timing your oyster card positioning perfectly, so that you can swan through at the same speed, as if the doors were not there, as if you didn't notice their presence, and yet this has to belie a willingness to apply the breaks within milliseconds, to avoid the embarrassment of smashing into or being squashed by the barriers, were some kind of mechanical error to occur, like the reader not recognising your card. You have to time your step, judge the distance so your next step can be a short one to try your card on the reader again, or a long one to ensure that you can swan through, but you cant step too closely because you will crash into the barriers if it doesn't read your card, its an embarrassment, so be careful, and be ready to apply the breaks, at a split seconds notice, when you lunge, so you can stop yourself sharpish if the doors don't seem to open, but be prepared to surge through the gates, like no machine could have stopped you, and when you enter, seemingly timing it to perfection you can separate yourself out from all the others, a true Londoner, against all the pretenders.

Your audience, the minions and their Transport for London Underground coats, blue, red, and white, these cave dwellers, also stand and watch, and dip into help, dip into guide, dip into discipline and tell you 'you can't do that' they are your audience, they've seen people dipping in and dipping out for years, they watch you, attentively, as if you're wildlife, like you're reaffirming the rules of nature for them.

They've seen it all before, they're connoisseurs of a fine underground tube entrance. They can also spot the ones who care from the ones who don't, the self-conscious ones from the ones that are hardly aware of their environment or of what other people think of them.

Bustle your way through or take it easy, let people pass, move along slowly, take the initiative, bully, scurry, dive for the gaps, get in there, bump, a meeting of two paths, they cede, you cede, you feel bully, you feel inhibited, on to the escalator, success, its moving, and its a groovin, do I stand with the masses, on the right, do I just wait for fete to take me to the bottom, or am I a mover and a shaker, do I want to move, I move, I move, I walk, on the tips of my toes, feeling fitter than all those to my right, I am moving, thinking about how much time I am saving, that they are not. I get down to the bottom, feeling energised, feeling like I am going somewhere, and get caught in the cross-flows of people, anticipating, stalling, we both stall, we both move, trying to figure each and everyone out, diving for the gap, just getting in there, catching someone, bumping someone, apologising, silent response, silent acceptance of apology, begrudging acceptance of apology, move on, move on, down the steps, everyone seems to be in a hurry.

Clip clop clip clop. The train is about to leave, clipperty clop, clipperty clop, people running to get into those open but soon to be closing tube doors, shit, run, shit run for your life, it will be a life threatening experience waiting for the next train, it might never come, it might never come. So run, run, run, a real Indiana Jones moment, those doors are going to fucking close and crush my tiny mind, I don't want to get sandwiched. This train is about to leave, shit, run like the fucking wind, and a huge leap of faith, a huge leap, as if I have wings, and I take off, and its now out of my control, I no longer know my future, I feel the wind rushing past me, a beep, an engagement of machinery, and God knows what the outcome will be.... And, fuck, I am in there. Hero.

Others get body checked, a lady has her arm trapped in the door, only her hand and handbag make it into the carriage. One guy, small, pretty relaxed, with a bag slung over his shoulder, gets on as the beeps sound, one door smashes him to the left, into another door, which smashes him back to the right, and into the compartment. That's a Transport for London bodycheck! He falls into the train compartment, composes himself, and turns around, a little disorientated, to watch the train doors as they make a second attempt to close, contemplating how lucky he was to have survived with just superficial bruising.

Once inside I encounter so many scenarios.... Victoria Line ram packed jam packed.... adults behave like rats... black man dressed like jazz musician at half past eight in the morning travelling from Finsbury Park to Highbury and Islington delivers short sharp toe poke into my heel.... I look down and he kicks me again... I feel fear and anger in equal doses... my rational mind says just leave it, just a mole hill moment, wrestles with my emotional side, speaking of so many mole hills in my life, that have amounted to a mountain of abuse, and that if I don't smash this this guy in the face its just another straw on my camelian back.. he growls something at me.. self-conscious I look around to see if everyone else is looking at me... confronted by this angry man... I look around for emotional support and sustenance and validation at my predicament... but the carriages' eyes are looking everywhere and anywhere other than in each others' eyes and mine... and I tell the man 'You didn't have to do that' but he growls and tells me to get out of his fucking way.... As the train pushes through the tunnel I am seething... deliberating between panic and calm... the train comes to a stop and the man gets up and pushes me, get out of my way, he says again, this guy has mental health problems, I console myself that one day he is gong to kick and push someone like him but bigger (although I have a feeling bullies like him are also cowards by nature and would never try it with someone bigger than themselves) who will mash his face into the floor

Or you are in the standing up bit, near the doors, and you are with a colleague from work, closely pressed to her body, crammed on, you feel her curves, and the shadowy softness of her breasts, and pretending not to notice anything, you both stare in different directions at different points in the ceiling, amazed at this enforced and acceptable physical intimacy, which never speaks its name, and acts as if it doesn't exist, and whilst wanting to end it as soon as possible, to ease the slightly 'wrong' nature of being so close to a married woman's body, something physical and carnal in you, doesn't want it to end, wants it to be an everlasting moment, wants as much information as possible, to inspire these deeply subconscious fantasies that you don't want to speak about too much

So much staring and looking goes on in the tube. That eye staring, domination and sex, attractiveness, connection, a real physical corporal connection, and sometimes the look lingers, and you think, oh and that's what people call eye sex, and you look, and you think, oh if only this was at a party, you would be mine. I once saw a guy sat a few seats away from a woman, they looked like they were both from the same country, he stared at her, she stared back and smiled, they were both smiling, he then moved up and sat next to her and they kissed, I never could tell whether it was the smoothest subterranean seduction. People who are inhibited, who have had too much of the day or of people, feign sleep, manufacture sleep, or just sleep to avoid the outside world; others play music, loud, pummelled into the ears, and stare at the adverts above everyone's heads, cleverly placed, conveniently placed, for people to look as if there's a really good reason for not looking at each other in the eyes. Others tap into their phones transported into a world of texts, photos, books and computer games. I see a Polish builder to one side of me, and a Bengali woman with headdress on the other side, both on the DLR heading towards Shadwell. They're playing the same game on their respective mobile phones, one involving brightly coloured shapes.

Fascinating bodies, impressive bodies, impressive male bodies, curvy female bodies, odd faces, odd shapes, smelly men, who sit next to you with stained trousers.

An Armani bag from Bangladesh

A lady, getting on, but with still enough life in her to work, with a big forehead, over which hangs straggles of hair, looked in equal parts, vacant, mesmerized, puzzled and sweaty. She had the brightest of red lipstick smeared over her thin lips, and she moved gently from one foot to another, anxiously, looking at the mess of papers and prescriptions in front of her.

A rather smooth, intelligent and nonchalant Bengali man, dressed in a grey suit, appeared from the back of the chemist and explained what needed doing. There was a pause whilst the lady comprehended the instruction, and the man, as if doubting the women's capacity for comprehension, first advised, 'other way round' and then qualified, 'put the leaflets the other way around'.

Once the cowed and silently spoken man disappeared, a conversation ensued at the back of the chemist, within sight of the customers, between a young lady, dressed in a single black robe, with hijab and a balding bespectacled man, bulky but small. They are packaging orders and processing papers, labels and invoices. The woman at the back of the shop lightheartedly reignites a conversation with the woman at the front, about a bag she was planning on buying. The woman launches into a narrative, a softly spoken, and very honest, slightly na•ve account, about how she has been looking at a range of bags, including one for ten pounds, one for twenty pounds and one for ninety, an Amani one, she stresses.

The mention of a designer brand fires the bespectacled man, a passionate, forthright and sincere fellow, into asking, as it the lady is being doubted again, 'Amani?' He laughs, and tells the woman, 'I was shock when you said Armani' and after some seconds thought, he heaves himself up off his stool, and goes to the front counter, where the woman is processing a customer's prescription. 'Listen he said, if you want to get something like Armani or any of those fashion brands tell me, and I'll get you it when I next go to Bangladesh'

He coughed, and changed tact, 'You know', he said, 'there are bags here for sale, like Armani, that cost £200, £300. You know how much it costs in Bangladesh, twenty pounds. It's because that's where they make these things. Its just a piece of leather really.' The lady stopped and pondered what she had been told, 'That's because its slave labour' she opined, grist to the man's argument, who becoming more rigid, lifted his chest half a centimeter further into the air, 'Because the rich, they don't care' he impassioned, 'they just charge what they bloody want' he said, turning to and beseeching a response from the customer, whose prescription the lady was seeing to. "That's right" added the Bengali man, said, answering for the nonplussed customer, "They just do what they bloody want."

He turned around, and started to walk back to his stool, whilst the lady, pondering both the mess of prescriptions in front of her, and the current conversation, started muttering something, which turned into another message to the customer, and said, "Its terrible, what they do in some of those countries". The Bengali man, back on his stool, in the packing room, returned to his original proposition, "But anyway, like I said, if you want, I can get you one of those bags, twenty pounds". "Well" said the lady, leaving the counter, waddling back to the backroom, "I could always do with a spare bag".

Seduction in a Hampstead lift

David Beckham, 2013,

One evening several commuters shuffle into one of the pokey lifts in Hampstead tube station. In the middle of the lift a young woman, sprite, nubile, with big hair is talking loudly to her male friend, a Black guy, of around the same height, big, compact, well kept, modest, but manly. Everyone else in the lift is staring softly into the space above peoples' heads and half-listening to the conversation between the girl and boy. As the lift starts to descend the girl explains how a friend had fallen out with her, but had the next day rung her up to say she was sorry. As she talks the boy focuses his eyes on the darkened walls of the lift shaft, seen whizzing past through the lift doors.

A small woman, facing the right hand corner at the back of the lift, holds out a newspaper with both arms. She turns the page revealing a black and white portrait of David Beckham, oiled and tanned. David is wearing nothing but white underpants, the tightness of which bears testimony to his manhood. David Beckham had just retired from professional football and the headline in the paper reads, 'Can someone find something for David Beckham to do before he becomes a knight?'

As I peered at David's perfect musculature, the elegance of his weight and tone, I could feel the first stirrings of a trance. Archangels began to sing; my mind started to drift through Florence and appeared visions of Michelangelo's sculpture of the man by the same name. My gaze began to soften once again, but this time the pronounced sinews of David's body and the handsomeness of his face were the object of my musing.

My trance was broken only when I noticed that an Indian guy, stood next to me, was also pouring over David. The woman who held the newspaper was also mesmerized and had become statuesque. The contagion spread, the vociferous girl, who was still speaking to her friend, seeing the three of us mesmerized, glanced over to the object of our attentions, and also fell silent. Her male friend followed suit. The lift fell saintly silent, its inhabitants enraptured for two, three, maybe four seconds.

The reverie came to an end when the woman holding the paper, sensing the lift approaching the bottom of the shaft, woke up from her spell and closed the paper. As she did she sighed and shook, as if snapping out of the trance required some superhuman effort.

The closure of the paper had a ripple effect, causing onlookers to also wake up. Looking dazed, as the euphoria induced by contemplating David competed with the quotidian demands of underground travel, the onlookers blinked their eyes, their vacant expressions indicating energies were being put into making sense of what had just happened. Having let their guard down, and as is often the case with the morning after the night before, the onlookers quickly affected nonchalance, stoicism, denial, readjusted their gazes to above the heads of the congregated masses, and as the lift doors opened, exaggerated shuffles of their bags and clothes, ready to make their way.