Saturday, 28 March 2015

A Cat Called Michelle - by Sarah Kunz

by Amita Murray

Let me introduce myself. I am called Michelle. I am rather beautiful, rather big cat, a male cat, although my owners hadn’t realized that yet when they named me Michelle. Humans… I love to stroll around the neighborhood, enjoy the sun and pick up a bit of chit chat on the way. And I hear all sorts of things, sitting on our neighbor’s windowsill, watching all those petty and not so petty scenes going on in these peoples’ homes. And all those poor humans think I don’t understand any of what is going on. Little do they know. Its amazing really, much better than that reality TV that my people watch at home. And sometimes I’m even fed some tuna sitting on those window sills. Those are lucky days.

The other day I observed this scene while enjoying the first spring sun. I was just doing a bit of stretching and relaxing on the windowsill of our neighbor’s kitchen and let me tell you I felt rather sorry for this poor chap Ben. Actually, I have been watching those people for some time now. It used to be such fun, such a happy home always someone in the kitchen, chatting and laughing, oh I really picked up some juicy gossip on that windowsill. But lately, none of that. Some of the people must have moved out, I never see them anymore…Ah, things really have changed. The only one that’s left of the old crew is this poor fellow Ben. He is always such an enthusiastic guy, smiling, friendly chap, gives me a bite of tuna sometimes. Generous man really. Though lately he is always alone in that kitchen, no more smiling and hatting….and no more tuna if I think about it. And that day this new girl, she always looks so broody, rarely a word, just flitting in an out of the kitchen, never any tuna, never and stroking of my lovely grey fur. And oh I could see my friend Ben got annoyed that day. When I arrived they were chatting, I was surprised, it seemed to be going well, almost like one of those friendly chats like they used to be but then… Ben had turned around, stirring the stew he was preparing, telling what I thought was a rather funny anecdote of the class he had taught that day, but then…. he turned around in mid-sentence and could see what I had seen all along. Michelle had taken a phone call in the middle of their conversation (I didn’t want to tell you but yes she is called Michelle, just like me) and by now she was absent-mindedly discussing with her mum what they should have for tea. No ‘sorry, let me just answer that phone call’ or ‘excuse me but I need to answer this’. Oh I could see poor Ben, irked annoyed, in shock really. Locked in an internal battle, I could see it all on his face, the battle between empathy (‘this poor girl is new in London, lonely and really misses her mum) and offence (‘what a rude behavior’). I felt sad really, I don’t think I’ll go back relax on that windowsill anytime soon. Too depressing all of it.

The Arrest - by Caroline Bressey

by Amita Murray

Caroline looked at the table as Philips recorded the items in his packet book: “1 pipe, 1 pouch of tobacco, one handkerchief – blue, I Bible.”  He looked up at Downing.  “No watch, nothing else of value.”  It was an observation not a question.  Caroline lifted her chin, meeting the policeman’s scrutiny while she folded her hands into her pocket.

“Wait here.”

Caroline leant back against the cold bricks of the wall and closed her eyes at the slam of the door, breathing in and out deeply as Philips’ steps echoed away.  She reached out, fumbling for the handkerchief and used it to wipe the salt water from her cheeks.  She kept her eyes closed focusing on her breathing until it settled.

She opened her eyes then and refocused on the table.  He seemed convinced they were all she had to declare and he didn’t seem that interested in getting her to reveal any more of herself.  She’d heard stories, but it was late and maybe Philips just wanted to head home, maybe getting into an argument with a six foot black man wasn’t something he cared to do; maybe the cape would still be enough.  She tipped the white felt brim further down her forehead.

As the door opened she rolled her back off the wall . 

“Well Mr Downing nothing to here to keep you.”  She smiled with relief at the floor, but her brow knitted as she noticed the second pair of black laced boots.  She looked up and met his eyes.   They were more questioning than Philips’.  Sceptical?  She settled hopefully for concerned.  “This is Dr Stern, he’s one of the doctor’s at Bow Infirmary – you ever been there?”  Caroline shook her head slowly. “Well, given …” Philips paused trying to find the most appropriate word, “given the incident, it’s been decided that the infirmary rather than the cells would be a better place for you and.”  “As you’re not feeling well” Stern interrupted “better to be somewhere with medical professionals where we can take care of you.” 

Caroline felt bile rising at the back of her throat and she focused once again on the breath in and the breath out.

New Year's Eve - by Caroline Bressey

by Amita Murray

New Year’s Eve is always pretty shit, really.  It is.  The nightmare of finding somewhere half decent to go, navigating the transport options,  finding a taxi home even if you can afford it.  And after six years in London it doesn’t get any easier.  Laura can hold her own, drink along with the best of them, but there comes a point when not taking recreational drugs becomes a serious problem on a night out.  People love you but they can’t have a conversation with you – even wasted it’s nice to know you can still talk to someone.  New Year’s Eve is always shit, but this one is more painful than most.

Laura can hear kids from the estate shouting at each other in the street below, friendly taunts roaring  into excited cheers as their fireworks light up the sky above them all.  Laura turns up the bottle of red into the stew, it mixes with the smokiness of the chorizo as she pours what’s left of the bottle into her glass.  She stirs and watches the chicken turn an intoxicated ruby under the yellow glow of the cooker light.

The bell rings.  “I’ll get it” and Laura can hear Carrie tripping in the hall, “fuck!”, and then the catch lifting on the door, “Hi!!” The girls chatter in the hall while Emma takes off her coat and then she appears in the doorway, another bottle of prosecco in hand.  Laura smiles and takes it before being wrapped in Emma’s arms.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay.”

A New Life in London - by Tariq Jazeel

by Amita Murray

She’s staring at the reflection of herself in those large glass panes. This sleek, postmodern architectural edifice, the fittingly imposing headquarters of Fraser & Partners here in the middle of Battersea, a building she worked in for so many years. She can see herself, now so different from who she was then. 

It was all so different when she rocked up to their offices on Great Portland street back in 1991, straight off the plane, jet-lagged weary, but so eager to start her new life here in London. You could shower straight off the plane back then, those showers at Heathrow airport offering the promise of fresh new starts for countless new arrivals. She had checked her luggage at Victoria station, carefully removing her pristine A4 sized portfolio, her ticket she hoped to a career in architecture in London.

Standing here now, staring at her reflection in those glass panes, she caught a glimpse of herself approaching the sliding glass doors of the old Great Portland Street office 24 years ago, Fraser Associates as it was back then. She was perhaps naïve, perhaps too innocent, but she somehow had a firm belief, a conviction, that rocking up at the Fraser Associates studio, clutching the one existing hard copy of her architect’s portfolio would be her ticket to a new life here in London. She remembers vividly, even today, that split second 24 years ago just before those glass doors opened when she saw herself reflected. Exuberant, hopeful enthusiasm tinted by a concealed tiredness faintly visible to only those who knew her intimately. But no one here did. The glass doors opened. Her new life began.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Kicking Off in São Paulo - by Tariq Jazeel

I can hear the hum of a multitude, the sound of thousands of people somewhere as I approach. Helicopters overhead, São Paulo’s signature sound amplified, the burst of a police siren close by, but not within sight, at least I don’t think so. It’s confusing. There are people, everywhere. Some with banners, some with anonymous masks incongruously balancing atop their heads, groups of three or four, individuals like me, some laughing, all in high spirits. All heading in one direction. To the square. To Praça da Sé. It’s the perfect place for public demonstrations of this magnitude, its wide open spaces and grubby street furniture, rusty benches, wraught iron railings, and overflowing dustbins, all offset the imposing turn of the century neo-gothic cathedral occupying one whole side. Then as I round the corner, as my eyes expectantly set sight on the Praça, there’s an eruption of singing, chanting, a chorus of a thousand voices, rising, then fading, then a new chant, like a well orchestrated football crowd, only more urgent somehow, more vital. “Hey FIFA, pagar a tarifa”  There’s a buzz of electricity, of energy, enveloping the square, and there are people, people everywhere. Thousands of them, clustered, but the clusters have merged, and there’s just a swathe of bodies covering what seems like the whole of the square, punctuated by banners, banners written in Portuguese, only some of which I can read, Brazilian flags, some cheekily annotated, waving, fluttering above this seething mass of politically charged bodies. I’m on the outskirts, mouth open, stunned, scared, excited, energized, confused. What next?

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Why We're Confused and Fascinated with African Beauty - by Amita Murray

Self-Portrait in Mirror, by Armet Francis

Call me stupid, but it took a passionate discussion of the relevance and place of hair and hairstyles as cultural markers from my black students, to bring it home to me just how complicated African hairstyles are. Actually, I still don't completely get it. But my students explained to me and an open-mouthed, very diverse undergraduate classroom, that if they let their hair grow unfettered, it would simply grow out and up. That it takes taming, straightening, weaves, relaxers, braiding, hair extensions, and many, many hours to create the beautiful, complex confections that they wear to class. It reminded me, too, of how normative ideals of white beauty impact people of non-white heritage - the hair straightening, the face bleaching, the tucking in, epilating, waxing, narrowing, tweezing, anorexia, liposuctioning, lip-pulling in, that happen behind the scenes to conform to mainstream, capitalism-prescribed aesthetic and performative norms. As market research firm Mintel suggests, black hair could be a $500 billion dollar industry.

Read full article on

Why Scarves - by Nazneen Ahmed

by Amita Murray

To the woman who growled at my headscarf on the train.

During our shared journey you repeatedly tried to catch my eye in order to start what, I don’t really know. You glared, you grimaced, you pulled grotesque faces. Would you have leapt across the seats and worn out commuters to punch me if I had risen to your jibes? Would you have ripped off my scarf?

Part of me wanted to look up, defiantly, and ask you what you wanted. A fierce pride boiled in me when I saw that hate in your eyes. But then. Part of me thought of my tiny son waiting at home for me, how if you got off at my station, you could easily find out where we lived. So I kept my eyes down.

I noticed you drawling to your companion and saw you were drunk. Did alcohol dissolve the barriers of politeness that might have kept that hate locked within you, for no one to know? What is it about my scarf that enraged you so much?

Because my scarf denotes my Muslimness. You hate me because I am Muslim. I smiled wryly on the train. Because I have a secret, one that you will never know.

I am Muslim. I wear a headscarf. But the secret I wouldn’t want you to know is that I do not wear my headscarf because I’m Muslim. I wear it because I have alopecia. I have no hair to conceal. I conceal the fact that I have no hair.

My sisters who wear the hijab wear it as a shield, as a crown. My scarf is a shield also, from cruelty, from ignorance. My scarf is a crown to what I have lost, to what I have survived.

But I also have grown to love my scarf because now I am seen as a sister. My scarf marks me out, as it did to you, as a member of the fold and family of Islam I once drifted away from but found again during my darkest times. You hate my scarf, and you hate what it stands for. But I love my scarf, and I love Islam.

So I would never want you to know that I don’t wear my scarf to cover my hair in a “Muslim” way. I am proud of my scarf and I am proud of being Muslim. They give me a strength that no amount of whispering, under-your-breath hatred could ever break. You do not understand it. In the spirit of sisterhood, I pray that one day you might.

Rucksacks and Awkward Bodies - by Nazneen Ahmed

by Amita Murray

The lobby is a faded olive green with chilled terracotta coloured linoleum on the floor. Stacks of shoes – including my DMs – line the shelves on the walls and lie scattered about. Some pairs look like they’re about to make off in different directions where they’ve been knocked or kicked around. I’m the last one into the main hall because as usual I’m fumbling with my laces. I really don’t know why Velcro is seen as an unacceptable footwear fastening choice for adults.

I catch up with the others, overtaking families and spindly elderly women, careful not to step on the hems of the flower-bright saris. Entering the main hall, I’m hit by a heavy, almost-familiar scent of Indian food. Not the sharp, onion-heavy cooking of the North, but a softer, rounder smell. Steam from huge vats wafts across the doorway. A long queue awaits patiently, very British-like, as food is served on bendy paper plates by men and women standing in a military line behind tables.

We’re here to find Mr Samaddar. Apparently he’s here… somewhere. I don’t even know what he looks like, but I find myself searching nevertheless. Maybe he’ll have something specifically Samaddar-y about him that’ll single him out from all the other South Indian elderly menfolk here, dressed in their thick woolly jumpers and chinos and sport socks.

It’s us who really stick out here, in our sombre academic tones of blue and black and grey, with our rucksacks and awkward bodies. My feet, benumbed from walking about stone cold stone churches all morning, begin to tingle back to life because this place has the miracle of underfloor heating. I reflect that churches could learn a thing or two about design from mandirs. We make a space on the floor and sit down, creaking our legs crossed, and await the appearance of Mr Samaddar.

One, Burgundy. Two, Plum - by Nazneen Ahmed

by Amita Murray

She walks up and down Whitechapel High Street going from stall to stall with her list. She settles on one. The scarf seller eyes her up with the predatory interest that comes with brand new, lost-looking customers. But her stiffness, her concentration upon her list, don’t make her seem lost. He continues to observe her, biding his time to intervene with the “sell”, but curious too. She’s different.

She pulls out scarves, one by one, inspecting the colours and patterns. She carefully pushes them back, not quite satisfied, sometimes glancing back down at the list. She pulls out a couple more and he decides it’s time. “6 for 10, sister, 6 for 10” he encourages. She nods dismissively, going back to inspecting the scarves.

He wonders briefly if he should try some Sylheti on her, on the offchance it might bring down that wall and he could begin what he did best, selling those things no one really needs but buys and wonders about afterwards. But maybe not Sylheti… Somali? Should he whip out some Arabic? She’s hard to place. Facially, there’s something different about her that he can’t quite identify. Her scarf is different to his regular Bangladeshi customers’ hijabs. She wears it high, two layers, with a thick braid to one side, like hair. How strange, to cover hair with something that looks like hair.

She begins to collect scarves that meet her approval, checking them against her list. One, burgundy. Two, plum. A couple of patterned ones. She pauses between a deep blue and a slighter greener shade, opting for the greener one. A final one, black with a multi-coloured pattern. She looks up and speaks in a stumbling posh Bangla, clipped with British edges, as she hands over a crisp £10 note, folded into three.

Yeah, not from here. He turns to put her scarves in a bag, feeling strangely vindicated.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Of Bikinis and Spiced Chai - by Amita Murray

Detail of a photo by Ray Moller

Bollywood dance video director Rohit Roy is sitting in his Mumbai office, chain-smoking his way through a medium-sized Guatemalan tobacco plantation, alternating between yelling into his shiny iPhone, and answering my carefully non-threatening research questions. 

"Fuck man! People want to see a girl in a bikini, I'll show them a girl in a bikini! What's the big deal, man? I'm liberated. We're all fucking liberated. It's modern day India, man. When is the last time you had a hair cut?"

I hit the pause button on my cassette player and clear my throat. "I, uh..." I splutter.

"You're doing a PhD in California? You can make so much more dancing in my music videos. Why are you doing a fucking PhD?"

This is an excellent question, one I ask myself nearly every morning, at lunch time, and then again before bed. I think it is a rhetorical one, but I try to compose a suitably cheery answer in my head. His phone interrupts again, and he loses interest in the question. His hand apologizes to me. I beam reassuringly. My smile says that I don't mind that he's kept me waiting for three hours for this interview, that this is the seventh call he's taken in the last twenty minutes, and that his second-hand smoke is reducing my life span, as we speak. 

I stare at the peeling paint on the lower third of the office walls, from when the monsoon floods hit Mumbai in the summer, at Rahul's ray-bans branded on to his forehead, his Lacoste t-shirt and the cardamom-spiced chai in his hands. His phone conversation finally comes to an end. 

"So," I say, "tell me more about this woman in a bikini."

Friday, 27 February 2015

Journal Beauty Pageant - by RCJ

Bus Meet, by Amita Murray

The journals sit side by side, each separate from the others, with covers facing outwards. There’s something oddly vulnerable about them, as if the fully visible front of each says ‘I’m here! This is what I have to offer - take me or leave me!’. On the left there is ‘CITY’, title in all caps, with black and pink, a bold look. The covers of some are peeling outwards a little, whether because of use, or condensation, or just cheap material I’m not sure. It gives this journal a trashy vibe - as if it’s the good time gal wearing high heels and slightly too much make up on a night out. This is especially true compared to the ‘Transactions’ and ‘Area’ next door: staid and sober Transactions with its classy green on white, and Area channelling a severe hipster monochrome look. ‘Talk of the Thames’’ look is just all over the place, multiple fonts, clashing colours and overlaid panels crammed together, jostling for attention. This one certainly needs a makeover before any prizes will be won.

At the Traffic Light - by RCJ

by RCJ

It’s a lovely sunny day, crisp air and blue skies. Not much traffic either. There’s a faint rattle in the distance, getting louder, and louder still, then screechy brakes, and then the noise stops. She is breathing hard, but perhaps trying to hide it a little from the guy next to her, who has a fixed wheel, a beard, and wears a beanie hat rather than a helmet. Her own helmet is a garish fluorescent yellow number. She drags the right pedal upwards with her scruffy trainer and steps her foot down onto it with a determined little clunk. She stares straight ahead at the lights, jaw set, steely-eyed. Though just for a fraction of a second her eyes dart to the woman in front, clad in head to toe lycra, and her eyes narrow just a tiny bit. There’s that strange quiet now, silent but full, where several people have kept their bodies still all at once, poised on the edge of movement for just a bit too long. 

Frictions/Pace - by RCJ

Detail of 'M however measured', Sister Corita, Kent 1968, by RCJ

I was almost late. Checking and re-checking the time as I disembarked the train, then nervously scanning the street names as the bus puttered down the road, pausing for what seemed like an age at each of the traffic lights. Then I hopped off, staring down at my smartphone as I walked. On the corner there was a Ladbrokes with a couple of middle aged blokes outside. Next door a jumble of mismatched furniture and a bargain bin sat on the pavement outside a charity shop. The sight of the glaring green and yellow of Subway competed with the guilty pleasure of the smell of sausage rolls wafting out from Greggs. An older lady shuffled along the pavement and I stepped out into the road to pass her. As I walked along, the blocks seemed to loom taller on each side, grey and tall and faceless. I really was almost late now. Two minutes until the meeting, and it still looked like it was a way down the road. I was breezing down the pavement in a real power walk when I saw the blockage ahead. A lady pushing a pram loaded with shopping bags, and two policemen strolling with that slow, confident gait a few yards ahead of her. There was a railing to her right, and so I took a few jogging steps squeezing past to the left, bumping very her slightly with my handbag as I passed. ‘OI! Fuckin’ well look where you’re GOIN!’ - I jumped, slightly shocked. The policemen immediately rounded and barked out a deep voiced ‘alright, now’. Red faced, I continued along without looking back.  

Telling the Truth/Making Stories

by Amita Murray

In the third workshop, the group practiced writing the "truth", using elements of storytelling. The idea was to draw an experience like a scene, instead of a summary. Some fabulous, moving, mesmerizing, evocative, tasty pieces of writing came out of this workshop. It was thrilling and humbling to hear the experiences that people had had in their travels, relationships, research explorations, and forays into the past. The pieces were at once dramatic and easy to relate to. 

Sweet Home Ayapua - by Tula Maxted

by Tula Maxted

All my ambitions, aspirations finally drawn together here. Everything  complete. Standing on the shore, stepping from the shore – over the gangway onto this incredible boat, on the most iconic river in the world. The dark turbid Amazon water rolled past – never ending. The boat ‘Ayapua’, Peace, restored with love, care, borrowed and cobbled parts. A resurrection of the spirit of those  ‘Rubber Boom’ days way back. I would live here for the next few weeks with all the gentle creaks and shifts as the full slow water ran beneath.  The hum of the engines, the smell of mud, plants and all the scent of the forest mingled here alongside the background of damp dust and moist air inside the cabin. My cabin, tiny, oddly shaped, home. Looking out over the rail I saw pink river dolphins playing, and playing to the crowd. Cavorting and diving. Their smiling jaws hoping for fish waste thrown out from the galley. I looked back inside the room. The captain’s desk, small trunk, and the walls… The walls! I realised with a quick jerk from reverie, the walls were ‘papered’, not with paper but with very old lace. Obvious really, silk lace, far more lasting in the tropics. Paper would just be reduced to a smear of mould in a few days. I could see then that the Amazon and all its component life forms were not the only important things I would be learning about . The Ayapua also had a history, and a mystery. All its contact-polished wood, black ironwork and burnished brass, all ready to explore. This trip was going to be rich in discovery on all levels.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Closer - by Linda Fuller

‘We’ll try up Bracks first,’ he says as they pull out of the yard, dawn breaking across the frosted earth, the sky wide streaks of pink and violet, like a child gone crazy with the crayons.  He leans over slightly to see past his daughter and across the mere.

‘Magga saw a whole family down there a few mornings ago, down near Hundred Foot,’ he says, sweeping his arm out in front of her.  He looks over at her, her long hair obscuring her face, and wonders if she’s bored.  It was easier when she was a child, running around the farm in her red wellies, sitting on his lap in the tractor, pointing out the cows, the trees, the birds, pointing at everything.  The glee of it she felt.  He felt.

He let his eyes return to the fields, the familiar.  A map of crops and hedgerows he could draw with his eyes shut.  Black fen peat that will soon turn emerald and gold as winter recedes.  He lives this land, he’s made of it, every bone, every ache.  He scans the horizon, searching, every so often slowing down  where he’d seen some recently.

‘Look, rabbits!’ she shouts.

He smiles as they watch two rabbits bounce along the grass verge, before disappearing into the ditch in a flurry of white.   He takes a left off the main road and down a dirt drove.

‘There!’ he says, breaking hard and pointing to his right.  ‘Do you see them?’

‘No, where?’

‘Three of them!  Do you see, look, you see the gate in the far corner of that field, look a bit to the left, the other side of the ditch.’

‘Oh yeah!  I see them!  I see two, bit I don’t…’

‘The other one’s just gone behind those brambles, look you can see his head, hang on I’ll get us closer.’

They bump across the field, and he stops as near as he dares.

‘Look Dad, they are looking right at us,’ she whispers, eyes fixed ahead.

They sit and watch in silence.  The doe bends her head, pulling at the long grass, then raises it and starts to lick the fawn’s back.  The younger deer nuzzles against its mother.  The stag emerges and takes a few steps towards their vehicle, the stops, statuesque, looming large against the endless flat of the land.

After a while, the stag turns and leads his family away.  Long thin legs slow and graceful, the follow the ditch in single file before disappearing into a thicket.

‘I can’t believe how close we got!’ she says, grinning, turning towards him.

‘We’ll have a look at Hundred Foot before home, we might see some more,’ he says, switching the engine back to life.

Much later, long after she has returned to London, he thinks about that morning they shared with the deer, and he feels like something has shifted.  That something lost had been, for a moment restored.  Though he could never have explained this to his wife or daughter, or even to himself. 

"A wonderfully evocative picture, drawn by Linda, of the yearning of a parent to keep their child from disappearing into adulthood. Lovely phrases like 'a map of crows' and 'the frosted earth'." 
Amita Murray

Monday, 23 February 2015

Eclipse: An Unexpected Conversation - by Tula Maxted

Memories, by Amita Murray

I sat on a yoga mat, making a barrier against the red-hot sand. A camper-van nearby had stalled in a deep rut, leaning over a little to the left and forward. There were thousands of people here at this featureless spot in the Libyan Sahara. Europeans with cameras, telescopes, and baggage, Libyans and Egyptians crammed into rickety vehicles. There had been many falling by the wayside, broken down, engulfed by sand, all along the route from Benghazi. People collected up by other, already overfilled coaches, cars even motorbikes, and wheeled carts. Here we all were now though, waiting for the eclipse totality. 

The boys from inside the van had gone off to make their midday prayers. The two girls, no longer confined to waving at us foreigners from within the van, now crept outside. They huddled together, nodding silently to each other then made their way over to me. They stood smiling, one of them carrying a small book, held tightly in her hand.

‘Hello’ I said, pointing to myself I added ‘my name is Tula’. I stood up and pressed their hands in turn.

The older girl spoke, ‘Fatima,’ she said indicating herself. The made a gesture towards the younger girl, ‘Lula.’ 

Lula grinned widely, ‘Same like you – Lula, Tula’. 

‘Yes’ I agreed, ‘Hello Lula, hello Fatima’.

Fatima opened up the book she was carrying and held it out towards me. I glanced at the page, it was a book of English phrases. Fatima put her free hand to her chest and then spread her hand out towards me. She marked a page line with her finger, and carefully read it out to me. 

It said ‘I love you’.

The Falls - by Regan Koch

by Regan Koch

A tap on the shoulder. ‘Please, do you mind?’ A young woman, eighteen maybe nineteen, in a radiant blue dress gestures with her camera. The water roars beside us, kicking up foam on the wooden planks. The falls are impressive; easily worth the ten-minute walk from the main road. But maybe not worth the 8,000 won. The whole place feels more theme park than nature preserve, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were somehow fake. This place is weird like that. “I’d be happy to, I reply, reaching for her camera. “No, with you’ she replies. Her smile is sheepish. She is embarrassed and I am confused. I then realise there are three of her. Ok, not three of her, but they all look alike to me. Long brown hair, hoops and heels. Except one’s dress is pink, the other’s is green. They look like they’ve dressed up to shoot a pop-video, or maybe go to the prom.  ‘What, me with you, in front of the falls?’ I want to laugh, but I don’t. I can tell she’s serious and I don’t want to offend. ‘Avoid doing anything that might cause offense’ is the one rule I remember from the guidebook. 

Matthias's Bliss - by Will Wright

by Will Wright

This morning I wake up and I’m like “whoa, Matthias, what am I gonna do today?” I could hear the sea from my bed, and I’m like, “yes Mattie, I’m gonna hit the Point”. I love this. It’s not like ‘can I surf today?’ but the question is always ‘shall I surf today?’ So, I’m like, “yes, I wake up to paradise, I live in paradise”. I leave my place, and walk into the morning sun, hitting my face, hitting my face, oh man. So good man! And I’m walking to the beach, onto 
the beach. And I’m like:

Beautiful sun.

Beautiful flower.

Beautiful sea.

Beautiful place.

I remember to give thanks for this.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Beaming Shaggy Man - by Joe Thorogood

Diary of a Victorian Dandy, by Yinka Shonibare, Black Britain at the V and A

He frowned. Neil Smith appears to be the only one who got a look in, or, looked at. The journal with the beaming shaggy man portrayed on the front was the only one with a dog eared tip, the rest stood stoic on the shelf, indifferent to the indifference they themselves are subject to. He sat drumming the table top in a manner not too loud, lest the chatty undergrads collected around a laptop in the corner were department informants, sent to do reconnaissance on him before the formal interrogation. Perhaps he should too give Neil a quick once over, to show just how academic and fit for this job he was. His reverie ended. No, he chided himself, they're here for me, not you Neil!

Richmond Park - by Caroline Bressey

Not the Park, by Amita Murray

She walks slowly through the ferns, pushing them aside from the overgrown path.  She pauses to watch the plane passing overhead, turns to count those stacking up behind, 1 , 2, 3.  She pushes on, her hands trailing behind, as she pulls at the fern leaves crushing them between her fingers, but they do not crumble and she lifts them to her face breathing them in before wrapping them around her hand. As the ferns open out she is able to walk more quickly towards the ponds, her fingers brushing along the top of the blankets of soft grasses, golden in the light that dances on the water. At the edge of the pond she stops.  A dog barks, but it’s a distant sounds and she does not turn around.  She kneels and chooses a stone, rubbing her thumb over its smooth surface before flicking it across the water.  It skims once, twice.  She tries again.  The third time she simply pulls back her arm and throws the stone up high, towards the centre of the pond.  It sinks with ripples and she smiles.  She looks back up the path the way she has come but then turns on her heel towards the setting sun and the shadow of the oak trees.

Baileys and Hot Chocolate - by Joe Thorogood

And Some Cake or Ions Patisserie in Borough Market, by Amita Murray

'Hey Guys, you thirsty, perhaps something to drink?' I wearily turned my head as far as the precariously balanced skis would allow. It wasn't even noon, I hadn't got on the slopes yet! But my indignation softened as as I looked ahead at the icy piste snaking off into the heavy cloud that refused to bless the slopes with the much needed powder. At this rate they'd be closing the entire mountain, and their would be no more skiers, and no money for Ivan, as he had now happily introduced himself as. He needed me to be thirsty, since that was how he eeked out a living, subsisting of the drunken whims of passing tourists. I could definately spare the 8 leve it would cost me, and the lift queue to the sparsely covered piste was already formidable, as punters desperatly sought refufe on the upper slopes in spite of the ailing snowcover. I looked at the hopefully named,"Red Lion" that Ivan was no enthusiatically babbling about. "I hope you have baileys and hot chocolate Ivan!"

Sunday, 15 February 2015

7.14 - by Tariq Jazeel

Reflections on Trains, by Amita Murray

It’s the 7.14 to Ely, via Cambridge. Filling up steadily, with work weary folk, tired, hungry, smelly, eager to get home. There aren't that many seats left, but there’s still a full 7 minutes before the train leaves.
There he is, I’ve seen him before on this train. Sitting in a bay of 4 seats, studiously avoiding eye contact with anyone, but looking quite expansive. Well, his slightly tatty, misshapen blue workbag is placed on the seat beside him, scarf and gloves balancing on top of them. His legs crossed, and the points of weird green shoes nearly touching the seat in front of him. How is it possible for this bloke to effectively take three seats all to himself? Every bloody evening. He’s pretending to be engrossed in that poxy work thing he’s reading, must be an academic, this train’s full of ‘em.

But I know he’s seen me, I know he’s doing everything in his power to avoid acknowledging me right now, to avoid having to move his bag for me to sit down, or to uncross his legs, pull them in, create some space for others. Come on dude, look at me, I want you to move. I could, I suppose, sit elsewhere. But no, I want this selfish fucker to move for me. I bet he doesn't even use this train every day, during rush hour, like the rest of us. Like all those work-shy academics, I bet he works at home when he bloody wants to. There! I knew if I stood here long enough, he’d have to acknowledge me. Yes, I do want to sit there mate. Haha, unfold your legs and move your bag sucker.

A Whaling Ship! - by Tula Maxted

A Day in the Life of Tula

A whaling ship!

We lay side by side in the long grass, smoking flat foreign cigs, spent all afternoon talking and snogging. I was very young. Geir, a few years older, was a lot more life experienced. A merchant seaman, Norwegian, tall, strongly built, with a gaze that travelled miles.

He talked about himself, half in mixed English and French, half in mime and pencil pictures on the fag packet. “My father worked the whalers, I followed when I was old enough. The ship was the biggest thing I’d seen, a whole city on the sea. We caught whales and cut them up and everything of the whales could be sold, used or eaten.” Geir paused, looked at the sky, squinting… “There’s mist coming up river, it’ll get cooler.”

How would you start to cut up a whale? “Everyone does their bit – sharp hooks to rip through backbone, then knives, saws, machetes, anything. A dangerous time, all is covered with blood and slime, everything washed down below deck. It takes time, we tire, there are injuries. But this first trip was good, successful.” He lit a cigarette, inhaled, exhaled, brushed a kiss across my mouth.

“Next trip was big, Antarctica. Weather bad, seas heavy. There were accidents. “Geir drew on the cigarette – holding the smoke a while then exhaling slowly. “As I said, I followed my father. We were in the catcher, chasing the whale. High waves and winds tipping us this way and that. We lost our bearings in a trough, a harpoon line snagged under the boat.” He took a last drag on the cigarette and handed it to me, “Finish it,” he said, “I don’t want any more.”

He lifted my hand to his cheek. “So, there we were – towed along by the whale. Very fast! The whale turned and made a great wash with his tail. The boat tipped and three of us rolled into the sea, Lars – the Swede, me, and my Father.” Geir patted my hand. “Lars just vanished, Father was swimming, shouting to me. I was shocked with cold, stiff with fear, I couldn’t get his words. Then I heard 'Swim – swim!' "

He squeezed my fingers tight, I bit my lip, said nothing. “I swam but with no progress, the current was too strong. Then Father was beside me, grabbed me close, hooked his arm under my shoulder, pulling me to the boat, slowly, so slowly. Other hands hauled me aboard. Then my father was not there.” Geir’s face was firmly set, bar a small tic in his cheek. He looked directly at me, repeated, “My Father was not there.” He shrugged, “Now I work the merchant ships.”

Geir kissed my fingertips, stood up, pulling me with him. “I smell salt from the river, the ship will leave soon. I must go.” He kissed me once more, “It was good to know you.” Then he was gone, and I felt a little older.

Euston Road - by Tariq Jazeel

Street View, by Amita Murray

I’m crossing the road, along with what seems like hundreds of others, walking in step with the flashing green man. I try not to catch his eye, he’s coming towards me. Homeless? Maybe. Down on his luck? It seems so. Knotted hair, grubby, long torn overcoat, dirty dark trousers. I think. And why, oh why, is he carrying a broom? Like some kind of 21st century witch, or wizard? No witch. I look away, hoping he hasn’t seen me looking.

Then, “ARGH!” He screams violently at me, not 2 metres from me as he passes my shoulder. I jump, startled. Embarrassed that I jumped. He scared me. He jolted me out of my voyeuristic conceit. Did anyone see me jump, did anyone see how petrified I was for that tiniest of nano-seconds, how my pupils widened, my body stiffened, and my stride was broken? Now I laugh, from relief, my body relaxes, my stride and composure regained, I’m at the other side of this interminably busy street, at last. So is he, I look back, he’s meandering across the road, holding his broom purposefully. Going to god knows where. God knows where, as I check my composure, and wonder about him. Where does he go? What does he do? How was it for him?

Are they laughing? No, I think I’m OK.

punctum - by Tariq Jazeel

Why is there an issue of Granta, on contemporary Brazilian fiction, in this room? It sits there, incongruously, on the magazine stand that occupies half the length of one this dreary room’s walls. Next to old and recent copies of Area, Transactions, and City. But what is this particular issue of Granta doing there? A literature journal in a Geography department’s common room? And an issue that focuses specifically on contemporary Brazilian fiction. Its colours stand out, the bright yellow and green cover against the drab and very familiar black and white of Area, the cream and pale green of Transactions, and the black and pink of City.

I wonder, I always wonder, who on earth put it there. Did they put it there for me? Is it some kind of a sign, no probably a reminder, of how my worlds collide here? Geography and Brazil. Who put it there?

Author Profile - Tariq Jazeel

I teach Geography at UCL, having worked previously at the University of Sheffield and the Open University. I work at the intersections between human geography, postcolonial studies and South Asian studies, and as a ‘jobbing academic’, writing in various forms is a large part of what I do. Rarely have I stopped to think about, and work at, how to write more effectively, though often I have stopped to think about the fact that writing about places and people should not be undertaken lightly. 

Friday, 13 February 2015

Author Profile - Tula Maxted

I was born a ‘Georgian’ girl, 1951 in Whitechapel. My family was a little unconventional, being composed of what my son refers to as ‘a lot of very strong women’,  and amused menfolk who would let my tiny self  ‘help’ mix concrete, develop photos, paint and wallpaper rooms, dig the garden, or guide me through interesting books. True to form I was bossy, wilful and experimental. That ploy has served me very well through my life, self-reliance being preferable by half to disappointment in others. 

My mind is full of trash, obscure knowledge and inconsequential events. I was fired by the air of hope and discovery in my uncle’s collection of ‘tween-wars encyclopaedias, and the ‘modern’ explorations by Jacques Cousteau, Edmund Hillary and of course the views of Africa presented by Armand and Michaela Denis. I took it personally when I learned that the Quagga and the Thylacine in my fuzzy book-photos were no more. This may be why I love to write, to join things together, make a tale and make it all live again.

I have a grasshopper brain, which may account for my seemingly random career ladder from apprenticed hairdresser, through filing clerk, typist, to stay-at -home mum doing day-college, night school and C&G Operating Theatre Technician and then back to work. Ultimately, while studying for my OU Earth Sciences degree, I got a job which suited my style, University Lab Tech. 

I discovered travel. Volunteering in the Peruvian Amazon, a hair-raising trip into the Libyan Sahara for the 2006 eclipse, and a variety of other trips have all left me hungry for more. I sing, dance, paint and draw, walk garden, you name it I will try it. I have a love of all things that may teach me something about the world, or about myself. I am surprised to find I have not only two grown children, but now also their partners, and my four grandchildren, and they are all lovely people. 

Can’t say I ever had a plan… but it all worked out okay anyway. What could be better?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Road to Shimla - by Amita Murray

  Excerpt One
“The first time you saw me, you handed me a glass of bubbly and punched me in the face,” Alice says. She turns to study her husband – if he is still her husband.
Jacob pauses in the act of doing nothing at all. “Nostalgia? You? Shocking,” he says. “And anyway, I did not punch you in the face. You took one sip and only bloody choked on it. I was trying to give you a neighbourly thump.”
“More like a neighbourly hump, if I’d only known,” Alice says virtuously.
Jacob reaches out a hand to her, then stops, takes out his phone and starts doing heaven knows what on it. She clenches the steering wheel, and stares out at Kalka, the last town in the plains before the road climbs up to the Himalayas. Life presses in hungrily on both sides of the car. The rain has formed gullies, and there is garbage swimming its way down – onion peel, soggy cabbage, Band-aid, a plastic bag of Amul Milk, a half-dead lizard, hair scrunchies, a child’s pacifier, known locally and succinctly as a “nipple,” a dirty sock, assorted life debris. continued...

Excerpt Two
He stares at her for a second, and frowns. The road is dark as they head up out of Kalka, their headlights the only foggy beacons of life. Visibility is fifteen feet. Around the curve, Alice sees approaching headlights and creeps closer to the mountain. The approaching truckers skirt the edge of the road, a millimeter or two shy of the sheer, mile-long drop to the valley below.
There is a traffic jam, truckers lined up. An orange-turbaned trucker shouts to another driver who laughs into his beard. Alice catches that it is something about the bearded man’s mother. Beard-man responds with a comment about the turbaned man’s testicles. She inches forward, her foot aching on the brake. They pass a banner advertising hotel rooms at Mountain Dawn View, where the rooms come with a double-bed, clean towels, Star television, and tandoori chicken with Kingfisher beer in the bar, “For the Savvy Customer.” continued...

These are two short excerpts from a very 'place-based' short story. A slightly different version of it was published in Inkspill Magazine in 2011.