An Invite to Eternity. Tales of Nature Disrupted, takes its cue from John Clare to address the most pressing issue humanity is facing: anthropogenic climate change. Edited by Marian Womack and myself, and with a foreword by Helen Marshall.Read More
I will be reading from my story ‘We Rip Holes in Their Paper Faces to Give Them Sight’ at the second London event organised by The Lonely Crowd at The Music Room, 49 Great Ormond Street. Featuring readings from Bernard O’Donoghue, Angela T. Carr, John Freeman, Lucie McKnight Hardy, Grahame Williams and myself.
Venue: The Music Room, 49 Great Ormond Street, WC1N 3JL.
Tickets are priced at £5.00. The ticket price includes £5.00 off a copy of Issue 10 of The Lonely Crowd and complimentary drinks & snacks.
Here is a reading of my story 'A Constellation of Wondrous Places', filmed in Morden Library as part of my City of Stories residency. I am running workshops in Merton on the 12th and 19th of June – all the info here!
I had a nice write up in The Contemporary Small Press, reviewing the launch night of the Diisonance anthology in Bethnal Green. I read my story (from the forthcoming Hollow Shores) 'The Wrecking Days' at the night:
Gary Budden read from his new story collection The Wrecking Days [NOTE: it's called Hollow Shores] which explores themes of nature and narcotics, writing from the margins of society ‘where reality thinned a little.’ His piece suggested that the artificial and the natural are not opposing at all, instead they are transcendent. Budden writes about youthful and reckless days spent on the London marshes. In such places of in-between, on the fringes of London, Budden writes about notions of being and belonging: the idea that ‘memory is a marsh’ as the world diffuses in mist and nostalgia. The marshes act as a psychogeographical jettison between two places, between city and country, between artifice and nature. Such spaces, as Budden presents in his collection, allowed them to explore their minds, without ‘shutting parts of yourself down.’ It was ‘a way of seeing the world for what it really is,’ to find their own version of what it means to be free: to be and belong on their own terms. But Budden acknowledged, through his tales of the wrecking days, that being able to see the world as it is can also pull you apart.
Read the whole review here
Andrew sips his beer below the pylons, thinking of mad creators as he watches a cormorant skim low over the water. He wishes he understood more and had the patience to read the books he’s earmarked online about the kabbalah, Gnostics, Wiccans and Sufis. Sometimes he marvels at the early monks committing slow suicide on Skellig Michael, the bloody mess made of the backs of Iranian dervishes. It occurs to him all transcendence requires some sort of death, of pain, and he wonders if he could ever truly commit to anything.Read More
- Alexander Baron, ‘The Lowlife’
Those places a different universe from these phantom bars, alcohol nights where I tried to convince myself I belonged, no result, just anger and frustration, cognitive dissonance, hundreds of human beings with nothing to say dislocated from time and place. A line of coke on glass, a sad handjob in an alleyway, a Catch 22. Maybe, as some had told me, it didn’t matter.
A doppelganger who shared my face and name but little else. He had tried to change himself for someone who neither deserved nor desired it. Lives swam in and out of focus here, multi-national but rootless, transitory, paper thin. You could push your finger through their skins. He had to run, regretting his failure. Leave your brain at the door. Enthusiasm was passé.
I thought of a picture of the 4-Skins leaning against The Bricklayers Arms, I thought of Stewart Home, and I thought of Cockney prostitutes ripped apart to give us the modern media, the serial killer and an unending conspiracy theory. Morbid tourism. I thought of the Hawksmoor, I thought of those plague bodies under the market, the Jewish Anarchists, a Banglatown unseen by women protected in sunglasses and dyed hair. If you asked me, I could never fully articulate why I cared. Overpriced warehouse flats full of Europe’s privileged, unknowing elites, yes it did piss me off but... no anger, now, just a fading frustration and a sense that this was not where things happened. A sadness that they didn’t care.
I unlearnt. Escaped.
My book-brides had failed me, made me a cuckold. What good had any of them done? Cut me off from the world around me. My enthusing over Arthur Machen’s ‘The Hill of Dreams’ withered in the face of cheap sex and cocaine, the Void that stripped the world of it’s colour and passion and replaced it with the bars on Curtain Road; maybe I had seen the Great God Pan, but no one else gave a fuck. I could talk until my lungs gave out about Moorcock, Moore, Sinclair, Ballard, Home, Keiller, Jarman, and on and on and on but it would not make anything better, I would still sink in swampy alcohol, obliterate myself, dying in a self-reflexive mess, pinioned by the past, uncertainty spreading with plague-virulence. The knowledge that no one makes it out alive.
That had been so hard to learn, that so many people did not care, I knew that they could not see the city burning and their lives would continue unchanged as I, The Poet, Cerise, Maria, Jerome, everyone I cared for were buried under the rubble of ages and indifference. But things do happen. “I might be dying, but I’m not dead yet.” Maybe, maybe, there was a chance. Things do happen.
Out of the foliage, something appeared. A monstrosity. Across his woody torso, scrawled in a bloody font were the letters N S M, that sat proudly atop the slogan “Post-modernism is dying, we are killing it”. An oracle tattoo.
I stood there, faced it, Leaside brambles scouring my flesh, hot summer air weighing on my shoulders. Armpits a swamp. The dull stink of rotting vegetation palpable, tangible. A shambling mockery of a being in front of me, once so proud, his degeneration a reflection of my failure, our failure, your failure. A sense of ending. A string of images, untethered from time, a life of moments that were now happening all at once, concurrently, as reality crumbled, irony died and the city blazed around me. A sad slideshow of my mother as she was as a young woman, saddled with two young boys; a bloodied nose and ripped shirt at a hardcore show; an aborted attempt to read Halldor Laxness; Abney Cemetery the site of a bleeding scalp and twisted collarbone; Icelandic smiles; the Colombian coastline, air full of pelicans and frigate birds; drunken fumbles, bloodied sheets, a sense of home that I threw away; the impact of a policeman’s baton, hate in the air; dad talking about the Bible; cities only visible in the corner of my eye or in a river’s reflection; biking down the Limehouse Cut; a death-bloated fox bobbing for weeks in the river, flies camping on it’s sodden fur, children poking it, becoming aware of mortality; a list that could go on forever, the unedited narrative of image and feeling.
He looked at me. I looked at him. Fell into his arms. We embraced.
- Stewart Home, 'Memphis Underground'
Odd things had started to seep into even our media-deprived consciousness. On the front cover of the London Lite was a blurry, grey-green image of an anthropoid figure, caught on cheap camera-phone somewhere, apparently, on the Hackney Marshes. Emerging from a small crop of overgrown nettles and bracken, the figure stared directly into the camera, pixellated eyes making contact with my own as I gripped the paper in my hands, the bus crawling through Tuesday traffic toward Old Street. The image was jostled by large, obnoxious print; some new declaration regarding the actions of minor, surgically altered celebrities. A cultural detritus soon to be swept away by what I could feel was coming. Olympian folly and the disruption that had come with it had destabilised something, the world now felt less steady underfoot. Instability infected the air. Vision flickered. The London Lite image fixated me, my mind afloat on a tidal wave of imagery that ran from Jack-in-the-Green to Cerunnos the Horned God, the Green Knight, woodwose, sprite, Sheela-na-gig, a whole pantheon of dank, woody gods and spirits that only existed in my old books of mythology; books I had pored over as a child, mixing the mythologies with that of bad fantasy novels.
A child had been found dead in the River Lea, barely one hundred metres from the beginning of the Olympic Site, the tiny body desecrated, the child’s name trotted out as grief-pornography in the national press for months after the event. No killer, no evidence, nothing. I dismissed with over-enthusiastic rationalism the enthusing of various friends, heavily into psycho-geography and theories of occult capitalism, who became drunk on theories that the land itself was revolting against the new capitalist temples being built upon it, that this was a warning. Grindylow really did swim in the Lea, if only one looked for them. So they said. Bullshit, I said again and again.
Jerome laughed off the image when I showed it to him.
Cerise and The Poet took it more seriously. Cerise had been recording the graffiti and the actions of the NSM, attempting to order the chaos, lock it down in a sensible pattern, an art project, an installation maybe. I saw fear in her actions. The Poet, he had hinted, was involved to some extent. I never knew whether to believe him. Maria, I felt, must have got involved somewhere along the line. As the reality we thought so stable began to buck and shudder my rational mind retreated, assaulted by barbarians of myth and terror, our lives becoming allegory for people to read and extrapolate meaning from.
Sometimes I tried to lose focus and see the city I knew was buried beneath what my eyes could register, the world as it could be, a shining urban Arcadia, a beacon of hope to inspire the world and the world’s dispossessed would flock here not through desperation and fear but with hope, welcomed with arms outstretched. Multiculturalism as it should be. No fear, hatred, division. I could see this city I hope for in the reflection on the water of the Regents Canal, the Hertford Union, the River Lea, the Thames itself. It was forever out of reach, inhabited only by the fauna of mirrors. My doppelganger would smile at me through a distorted, flickering barrier, and I would envy him with murderous hatred.
But this was where I was, and I had to deal with that. Murderous reality was pressing in.
The NSM were on the move, and I had to make a choice to make a difference and fight for something better, sense the seachange or be buried under history’s rubble. It was sink or swim. Time to make that great leap forward, to create a new lexicon that we could call our own or be bound forever to the past by the language of our ancestors.
Beermat over my pint, marking my territory, I stepped outside. Took obsessive care over the rollup that I made, not a single shred lost, proving that I could at least do one thing right, perfectly, with no problems, that I could function as a normal human being. I stood looking out at Stoke Newington Road just before it segued into Kingsland Road. Remembered how, during the last World Cup, the Turkish flag burnt outside a shop that sold my favourite gozleme and borek, Kurdish young men inciting altercation, with success. All I had done was stare as the police sirens screamed up the road, standing amongst old arguments I didn’t understand. Maria was gone. I smoked, watched people enter the 24 hour bagel shop opposite, wondered where she had gone, who she was, what anything meant. An elderly West Indian man stood by me, smoking a Marlboro Red. “Cheer up, son” he said, followed by a hacking cough. Despite myself, I smiled, and said “Nah mate, I’m fine”. I realised how intense and angry my expression had been. He laughed, finished his cigarette and shuffled back into the pub.
I briefly remembered a conversation I had had recently about ‘Ladder Theory’. Pseudo-science, males only able to think in sexual terms whilst relating to the opposite sex, now and forever. Unbearably depressing to think in such terms.
I stood there alone, pedestrians floating by, unfocused. What to do. I dragged my mobile from my jeans, briefly thought of phoning her saying I’m sorry I didn’t mean it we can work it out. I had meant it, however, and we couldn’t. Instead I dialled Jerome’s number and prayed he would be in the area. He had mentioned something about meeting friends in the pubs round here, whispers of a warehouse party in Hackney Wick (or maybe Tottenham?), MDMA or maybe pills, male company, the promise of a never ending night. The phone rang three times. He picked up, pub bustle in the background slightly obscuring his words as he said “Alright geez what you up to?” We made arrangements. I smiled and knew, tonight, I could fend off what was coming, prolong the inevitable, escape.
I noticed some fresh graffiti on the wall to my right. In big bold white lettering, the initials ‘NSM’. The New Sincerity Movement. I had heard the name mentioned by The Poet, I think, or I may have seen similar graffiti along the banks of the Lea. Couldn’t remember. I put these thoughts away as I re-entered to finish my drink, before joining Jerome down the road, to achieve oblivion.
The talk of ladder theory held my mind, thoughts of the game-playing that now seemed to dominate the relationships of my generation, a supermarket syndrome that was destroying the chance of anything sincere, genuine. Everywhere I looked I could see a combination of terror and selfishness; we all now thought that we could do, deserved, better. Crowded and jostled by potential partners on the dirty pavements, in bars, pubs, clubs, parks, the fucking tube. The endless permutations of what could be squeezing the life from what we actually had, right here, right now, fucking everything up, making us view those we genuinely desired and connected with suspicion and mistrust. Of course, playing the field (or whatever people wanted to call it) was OK, it really was, we all have a right not to settle for things that were not right, that didn’t work. The thoughts of the countless miserable relationships that must have existed as long as mankind itself was enough to make a person run terrified from the idea of happy monogamous endings. I was not even sure if I believed in them myself, but part of me really wanted to believe, even as I had ended things with Maria. As the years rolled on would I always be fretting over text-messages, Facebook chat, a misinterpreted digital post that made the mind spin and the gut ache even as that drowning rational voice said ‘Don’t be so fucking stupid’. The thought was unbearable. The liberation of modern sexuality had so many positives that the hidden complications became hard to face. I genuinely wondered if people, even my closest friends, wanted something simpler than what they felt they had to do to be seen as a functioning, independent individual. I wished I had the ability to shrug these things off, wished I never became attached, that I felt OK with the way things were, that I could not care. I was guilty as anyone, though, was never happy with what I had. Fantasy was obliterating reality, diminishing self-confidence and promoting individualism over anything else. There had to be more than this, another way.
As I walked back into the pub, I noticed the couple had nearly finished their burgers. The woman sipped her glass of house white. Her partner swigged from a half-empty pint of real ale. They looked bored. I hoped they were happy.
This red flare now drew looks from bespectacled men and their grey wives, as they chewed sadly on pub lunches and gulped down house white. Saturday afternoon, the end of the world. I wished we'd never stepped out of Hackney, we had walked into negative space, culture-death scribbled on a chalkboard sporting the price of a full-roast with all the trimmings. Foamy bitter, tasteful décor, a gaping void in the middle of the room that no one could ever fill and blank hopeless faces pointed at us accusingly, pleadingly. Please, they said to me, let something happen.
It was pissing down outside. Here, this place, was where the gig was supposed to be happening, some contact of The Poet (who no one had seen in months) displaced from a squatted social centre had hastily rearranged. It couldn't be here. Even if it was, fuck it, we were gone, back into the cold rain and onto a Samuel Smith's for sanctuary, to plan the next move.
“You’re just pissing it off, man!” said Jerome, laughing. The bee departed, Cerise slumped to the grass with her cheeks matching her hair, burning red. “Bastards” she said but then burst out laughing, her face split by a grin, dappled in summer light. I caught myself indulging in sexist thoughts of female perfection, pedestal-bound beings that lived in a shady netherworld with dryads, nymphs, Madonnas, Sheila-na-gig, undines, whores, harpies, banshees, gorgons and succubi. Aphrodite did not stand in front of me. I almost had to shake my head to rid myself of these thoughts. I wanted to apologise to someone.
Two nights ago, buoyed by whisky, Cerise and I had shared a bed. No sex. It made me happy, gave me stupid thoughts of what life could be if only...and other such clichés. I felt pathetic, embarrassed at having indulged in such thinking, stamped on the thoughts and feelings that threatened to rust my rationality and denature my good sense. But still. Still.
The two small girls ran close to our semicircle, screaming as they chased each other. Stopped short when they saw us, fascinated and wary of our beer cans, our cigarettes, Jerome’s piercings, my shaven head. Adults from another world. Cerise’s hair fascinated them. I smiled at them. Their parents called them back, I felt a twinge of something inside, indefinable, grub-like as it squirmed inside my gut. I cracked open another can, rolled a cigarette and lit it, inhaling deeply, neglecting the novel I had brought with me. My eyes focused on the sluggish river, as coots darted over its surface, agitated by passing canoeists who cut through the green-brown water, against the backdrop of Walthamstow Marsh. A group of people stood on a dingy houseboat, that bobbed slightly on the water, obscured by wood-smoke as they began a barbecue. Jerome and Cerise were talking of something, laughing, but I did not listen. I let the day carry me. Thoughts of everything worth living for, why I do the things I do, what all my personal politics are really for. A random jumble of images flooded into me: cloud-shrouded at the top of Mount Snowdon aged ten with my younger brother beside, a memory of a photograph that must have been taken by my father. The first time I saw the brontosaurus bones at the National History Museum, sometime in the 1980’s, awe and wonder that such beings ever existed, an awe that never left me. My grandmother’s veined hands as she related tales of The Blitz. Every tiny embrace and gesture of affection I ever shared with another, lovers present and those long gone. Kicking around a football on the Hackney Marshes with Jerome, summers ago. Puking my guts out into a squat toilet in Whitechapel, dancing to retro-ska and rocksteady, the first time punk rock took my breath away and quickened my pulse. So much that meant either the world, or nothing at all, I could never figure it out. Maybe both. The thought was vaguely depressing.
A darkening mood now. I imagined grindylow in the Lea, dragging children under, rending, ripping and tearing. The myth was punctured, a fractured idyll, the sad truth of impossible futures and the clouded past. I idly peeled the sticker from an apple and bit, chewed, swallowed. Jerome now lay on his back looking skyward, searching the heavens. Cerise sat with her knees pressing against her chest, dragging slowly on a cigarette, sipping at cider. She looked at me, smiled gently, leaked smoke. I met her gaze. Things, I thought, can be OK sometimes.
The two young girls had disappeared. The afternoon continued.
"My sisters and I will show you the forgotten cities built of old, where a hundred trapped generations of your kin bred and died when they had been forgotten by you above..."
- Gene Wolfe, 'Book of the New Sun'
Finishing my cigarette, I wandered into the bathroom where Maria lay, half submerged in the steaming bath, an undine in soapy water. She held a novel, a piece of feminist sci-fi, but seemed to be spending more time keeping it dry than actually reading it.
“Can I have a fag?” she asked, with a yawn.
“Sure.” I sat on the side of the bath and silently rolled her cigarette. I took acute pleasure in this action, as I always did at times like this. I handed it to her, she put it to her mouth and I lit it for her in a classic symbol of Hollywood chivalry. We all like to play these bullshit roles, from time to time. She smiled her half-Venezuelan smile at me, a fleck of bath-foam adhering to her neck, beads of sweat dropping to the hot water, blue cigarette smoke dancing with the steam.
This was two months after we had entered the house. The hot water, the gas, the electrics, all had been sorted out with a combination of favours, fumbling and luck. Scowls from neighbours, but little more. Knocks from the police, ineffectual yet threatening, sweating bullyboys and female bulldogs in tight uniform, itching for a fight.
At times of lumpen awkwardness, I imagined myself as a golem, a creation of my old neighbours in Stamford Hill, as if Rabbi Loew had been reincarnated in N16. A clay-made automaton bearing my features, my tongue a scrap of paper, ‘Emet’ scribbled upon it. Truth. My undine, damp and childless, beautiful beside me, neither of us human yet parodying their ways with sad and futile movements. I, a jerky figure in a German Expressionist Film, Maria a pan-cultural water nymph. All this, I thought as I sat by the bath and watched her smoke, reading feminist sci-fi, steam floating by her ears. Thoughts of how Maria and I had met, six weeks before; a fund-raising gig for a London based Colombian group aiming to set up a social centre somewhere near Cali, in the hot south-west of a misunderstood country. It had been in conjunction with an anti-sweatshop charity that The Poet and I were occasionally involved with, London based and a big factor in reuniting the London punks with radical politics and worthwhile causes. The show had felt like the future, mohawks dancing to Latin rhythms, South Americans dancing to South London ska-punk, some small attempt at creating unity through ideas and common goals rather than fashion or taste in music. Dangerously, recklessly, I hoped.
Rumblings and knockings filtered through to us from upstairs, as Cerise or Jerome rose for the day. The Poet was away, Brighton I remembered him saying. Others were in the house who I had only met the previous evening, but no, nothing, it was a blank. We’d have to resurrect the introductions over muddy morning coffee and innumerable rollups. I left Maria in the bath, her skin now wrinkling as she read of women’s ultimate emancipation in off-world colonies, heading back into the living room, where I had spent the night on an ancient fold out bed. Arab Strap still told tales of infidelity mixed with drug and alcohol abuse; I replaced it with Nick Cave, a song reinterpreting the Odyssey for a modern age. I resumed my own reading, the words sparkling and effervescing in the comedown light. One of Iain Sinclair’s many tomes concerning the area we lived, hyper-real fictions in a blasted landscape, a landscape apparently lost before we even arrived. Some said that he was partly responsible for this vigorous regenerative interest in the borough, fuelling the very fires he sought to extinguish. Maybe. Change is inevitable, but never forget. (and never forget everyone's a fucking artist round here).
The steady concreting-over of the past and the collective amnesia that came with it was damaging us all, stripping away history and culture like bark from a sapling, replacing it with commemorative statues, plaques that tell us what was here, what this used to be. As Chelsea tractors ploughed roads fresh with tarmac, franchise chicken outlets sprang up on Church Street on the sight of a jazz bar turned squat, memory died with the pubs we loved but didn’t frequent enough (Wetherspoons was just that little bit cheaper, right?), and we consumed ourselves with every purchase at Tesco, Svankmajer’s ‘Food’ made depressingly prophetic. Last night, buoyed up on chemical-love for humanity, I had loudly described (as I often did), to a friend-of-a-friend, the Battle of Cable Street. “Mosley preached on Shacklewell Lane!” I had half-shouted. And she had said “I never knew that”.
I paused and considered this sudden riot in my head. Sinclair had indeed fuelled my interest in East London, and Hackney specifically. Distasteful as it was, the place did have a perverse element of bohemia to it that we all relished whether we admitted it or not. But no, fuck that, I thought, we weren't the enemy. We were not the poisonous leeches, the parasites, the remoras that held on as this beast-borough swam it's way through history with it's ally Tower Hamlets, desperate for the echoes of 1888 and the city of dreadful night. We knew all about Yiddish anarchists, Mosley bashers, Hawksmoor, and yeah, the Battle of Cable Street made my heart swell a little with emotion when I thought of it and I didn't fucking care if anyone wanted to sneer at that.
I, we, are not the problem – we were creating our own history, adding new stories to the area, sowing new seeds and irrigating parched soil, making culture out of nothing. The one fault of those desperate to preserve the past and to save those vanishing voices was that they forgot about the present, couldn't see it happening about them even as they decried the Croydonisation of the East End. I had read Bill Fishman, Rachel Lichtenstein, Iain Sinclair, they had done so much for me it was impossible to articulate, yet the story isn't finished and things do happen. Every day. For every cafe that charged four pounds for a grilled cheese sandwich, there were people like us sweating in basements across the whole of Mother London, braving the grey elements to watch poets, punks, writers, artists stand on makeshift stages as they created the present, future and past. I had seen the revenants that crowded the streets; hopelessly outnumbered by the dead, some tried to join them. All we could do was carry on. The battles of the 1960's and 70's, 80's had been fought and lost, yet their influence dogged us as we fought to shake off the dead languages and form our own lexicon. It was working, too, but the cultural commentators could not see that, yet. By the time we were mentioned in The Guradian, it was all over.
I put the book down, Nick Cave soft in the background, and made a mental list of my criteria for being where I was, and doing what I was doing:
1. Family from London. Notting Hill Gate to be precise, before and during the war. “Before all the blacks moved in” as my older relatives were fond of saying. I was born near Wembley.
2. Squatting. Conscious reaction against the tyranny of the housing market. An act of self-determination that Hackney’s artistic spirit would support, no?
3. Artistic endeavours and being part of the lifeblood of the underground scene. Well, The Poet, Jerome and I did indeed run shows all across Hackney, punk, reggae, folk, hip-hop, poetry, spoken word. Not for profit, DIY, conscious, we took an active role in where we were, creating culture rather than just consuming it.
4. Being vegetarian. Though that was very common round here, these days.
1. Schooled in Canterbury, Kent. Conservative, middle-class connotations that were hard to shake off, even if no one but myself cared.
2. Not from East London. I had lived here for a long time, though.
I decided I was doing okay and could make a good argument for myself, in case the topic ever arose. I noticed my cigarette had burnt down to the filter. Another, I thought. Then Maria was in the doorway, olive skin and a white towel with floral patterning covering her. Bleary eyed, we made eye contact as if through frosted glass. I blinked, focused. An undine from Latin America, a golem who had never seen a ghetto.