Unbounders Away 2
Cable Street Studios weren’t as grandiose inside the building as to the exterior would suggest. We trekked up the three flights of stairs. Every room was numbered with what looked like a handwritten scrawl and had two doors. The outer door was a steel cage which protected the inner door which was made of cheap composite wood. As an added security measure an external Yale lock had been fitted on the communal toilet on the landing we passed, but a hole had been punched in the lock suggesting that someone really needed to get into the toilet or the landlord took protection of toilet roll very seriously. This more than anything else showed how great the population density was in London when toilets had to be protected from potential squatters. Messages like Colin likes cock and an appended phone number etched in marker pen made me think of the public toilets that used to exist in the 1980s.
The metal cage wasn’t pulled over or locked and Luke pushed open the door we were looking for. Laurie and me followed him inside.
Our studio space was a room with high ceilings and plenty of light from the small-paned-picture windows. There was an old-fashioned tub with hot and cold taps wedged in at the window, a sink, hotplate and microwave. At the centre of the room was a wooden table and six rickety wooden chairs. With space at a premium a canopy had been constructed in the corner of the room with a bed above our heads. Laurie was much taken with a painting of a woman on one of the high shelves full of bric-a- brac, an English flavoured copy of Chinese Girl print that haunted student flats in the 1970s, but this framed picture had been slashed and torn. He thought it might have been a good prop for filming.
Luke introduced us to Tim our cameraman, soundman, director and editor. He was much the same age as Luke, kinda trendy in his cut-off hotpants and they bickered like husband and wife about itineraries and shooting schedules.
Tim didn’t think taking the picture with us would be a good idea, but he offered it to Laurie. ‘You can take it if you want,’ he said. ‘I got it out of a skip.’
Laurie wasn’t sure. He liked it, but thought his wife might think it was junk.
My way of thinking was everything in the room had come from a skip, with the exception of the Apple computer for editing films and his camera and tripod.
Ewan Lawrie was sitting at the table waiting on us. He was the only one of us formally dressed with dark-suit jacket and trousers. I shook his hand and slapped him on the shoulder and explained although I didn’t know him I felt as if I did. I didn’t explain that I kinda looked up to him as a writer when I was younger, because I was never younger. Ewan with his long grey hair looked a bit like Buffalo Bill, without the stetson, without the gun and without the buffalo shit. He commented on my broad accent. ‘I want one of those Scottish accents,’ he said, mimicking the burr, ‘like Jack,’ with the emphasis on my name. But, of course, it was only an accent in a foreign country that occupied our nation, but as an ex-serviceman I’m sure he understood.
Ewan, Laurie and me sat waiting for Luke and Tim to decide on an itinerary, but there wasn’t any of those awkward silences that sometimes happen amongst strangers and family. Luke offered us a glass of London tap water, which is a bit like drinking out of a puddle, better than nothing. It had been a long time since I’d worked on the building sites that my drinking cup had been a jam-jar. That’s when I admitted to my smuggling racket.
‘I’ve got cheese sandwiches in my bag. Does anybody want one?’
That was when there was an awkward silence. At London airport prices they were worth more than a suitcase full of cocaine. Nobody admitted to wanting one, although Tim said, ‘I might take you up on that offer later’.
We’d settled on a loose shooting schedule. First up was Laurie, me, then Ewan. I took my rucksack and carried the tripod. Tim had his camera and Luke folded a circular moon into his rucksack, backed with silver foil. It was used to reflect light back onto the person being filmed.
We crowded into the lift. Like everything else in the building it had steel shutters. Tim had to bang both of them shut and lock us inside. He didn’t have much faith that the lift would work, but it did, taking us to the ground floor - although later it didn’t, remaining as a potential non-mobile home on the ground floor.
Tim used his fob to get us through the gate. Earlier he’d discussed tidal flows with Luke He took the lead and the walkways around the Thames was a five-minute walk. I fell into step with Ewan and Laurie.
‘You came all the way from Spain?’ I asked Ewan.
I knew from online posts and his stories he’d been staying there and taught English as a foreign language. He told me that Spanish was a see-as-you-speak language. Phonetically, we agreed English was a bastardin language to learn.
‘What part of Spain, you in? Laurie asked Ewan.
He nodded and knew what region of Spain Ewan was talking about.
‘I’ve got a holiday home out there,’ he said.
‘Oh, you’re rich!’ I said.
‘No. I’m not rich,’ he said, twice.
Tim stopped ahead of us. Then he sloped down a set of stairs that led down to a sliver of sand on the Thames, a waterfront beach away from the multimillion- pound waterfront properties above him. ‘Watch your step.’ He warned us about the algae on the stone slabs which showed how far the Thames had crept up. I didn’t slip and had no plans to sue him if I did.
Ewan and me hung back near the stairs as they got set up for filming near the edge of the water. A microphone was fed up under Laurie’s shirt and the tripod with the camera set up about three-feet away from his face. The silver moon was propped up against the legs of the tripod and Laurie joked that the sun would be bouncing off his bald head, something I was sympathetic with. On the walkways above a man and woman walked their dog.
‘It’s just like the Clyde,’ said Ewan.
‘I was just going to say that,’ I replied. The view was different but the tang and taste of river air was the same.
‘I’d an auntie that I used to stay with during the school holidays in Bearsden,’ he said, with a Scottish burr.
We watched them getting set up and boats powering along the river. I wondered with the waves and the wash how they’d be able to make out what Laurie was saying. He was told to look at the camera as he spoke. To my eyes and ears he sounded quite practiced as he went through his spiel, selling his book about a deranged father and a thirty-stone psychotic son that…
‘When you going home?’ I asked Ewan.
‘I’ve got a few days,’ he said. ‘I’m staying with a friend.’
He talked about her having having a penthouse and being a banker and that her friends were pissed off because their bonuses had been withheld that year. She agreed with that. They’d fucked up. Ironically, we were looking over at the skyline of square-mile of the Chard and the City which housed these Mordor like banking monstrosities that had bankrupted nations. The equivalent of eighteenth-century sugar barons defending slavery in Parliament, but in this case propagating the lie that poor people are poor because they didn’t work hard enough to be rich. His banker friend was no longer in the business. She’d terminal cancer.
‘What age is she?’ I asked.
‘Ah, well, if you get to that age you’re doin’ no bad.’
I offered Ewan a cheese sandwich, but he said his friend had made him an old-fashioned bacon buttie. They’d been in the army together.
Filming had moved closer to the wall as the tide was splashing in. I went to sit on the parapet above the beach and above their heads. For maximum publicity it would have been better if one of them drowned, but that didn’t look likely. With the heat and the sound of the river I could have laid down and went to sleep.
I stowed what was left of my cheese sandwiches safely in my rucksack for later. We had a take, or whatever the film parlance was for Laurie finishing his hard sell. But Luke wanted Tim to film a few shots of the authors walking about, as if they were real people.
As they filmed we slowly walked back to the studio ahead of them. Luke told Ewan and me that he hoped to get the project up and running before the end of July, because he was getting married then. Not to Tim, but an English girl. They were going on honeymoon to America. I made a joke about it, which nobody understood, myself included. Ewan had been in Toronto and they talked about the merits of Luke’s home city. We were soon back at the studio.
‘Who wants a cheese sandwich?’
I expected a rush. People to abseil down the building, spring through the windows like the SAS storming the Iranian embassy. The response was lackadaisical. Only Luke was willing to try one, but he was Canadian and didn’t know about the dangers of blue-molded white bread that had been lying in the fridge for a few days. I was used to it. Another jam jar full of London water and that was me banqueted. I had to push another sandwich into Luke’s hand.
The camera was set up so that Laurie, Ewan and me, were in the frame. Ewan joshed Luke about all the would-be authors on ABC being over fifty. I think Tim expected reticence when we were discussing our relationships as writers to ABC. None of us could remember why we’d joined that particular writing site.
‘It begun with an A,’ said Laurie.
‘And a BC helps you along the way,’ I offered.
We discussed being editors on the site and the whys and hows of who gets a cherry.
I suggested posting the same piece again and again until the editor gets so pissed off he just says: “give him a fuckin cherry” at least that was what I did when I was writing ‘Huts’ and Ewan did all the work as editor.
‘No,’ he disagreed. ‘I used to really look forward to the next episode of ‘Huts’.’
It was like a woman telling you she loved you. Even though you knew she was lying it was impossible to dislike somebody like that or disagree.
We had a laugh discussing ABC. In terms of writing I suggested there was a difference between us as Ewan and Laurie wrote poetry. I didn’t. I’d a more slapdash approach flinging words down on the computer and posting them onsite. Laurie said he never did that, wouldn’t post without a proper edit. Ewan took the middle-ground.
‘But I’ve got 250 000 readers,’ I said.
‘350 000,’ said Laurie.
‘500 000,' said Ewan, bidding it up.
Laurie left as he’d some work to do in the afternoon. We sat round the table and had another mug of water as we waited for Tim to load the takes onto the hardrive of his Mac.
‘Have you got time to script this later?’ he asked Luke.
‘Yeh,’ Luke agreed.
‘So Jack,’ said Luke, ‘you want to make some notes about what you’re going to say in front of the camera?’
‘Nah, I’ll just talk the usual shite.’
But he just laughed. He’d his notebook on the table and pen in his hand.
‘Maybe you could start with how it is a ghost story without a ghost?’
‘Aye, I said. ‘It’s difficult to put it into any one genre. It’s a thriller in that every 1000 words something happens...It’s a murder mystery that begun before the books opening scene and in a way it’s a love story.’
‘That’s good Jack,’ he said, noting it down.
‘And the thing is, one of the narrators, Janine, doesn’t appear until about a third of the way through the book. And I was goin’ to kill her off, but the readers loved her and I couldn’t do it. In fact, Janine gets the best lines.’
‘Just waiting for this to upload,’ said Tim. He sat side-saddle on a swivel chair in front of his computer. ‘It’s taking ages and failed a few times. I’ll probably need to go downstairs and get another card.’
‘Would that help?’ asked Luke.
‘Probably not.’ Tim left his desk. A packet of peanuts appeared in his hand. He spilled them onto a dish to share and scooped up a handful, returning to his seat.
I chewed on a few. They were hard and I wasn’t sure if I was chewing on the shell or the nut inside. Ewan didn’t want any.
‘What kind are they? asked Luke.
Tim mentioned some brand I’d never heard of.
‘I’m allergic to them,’ said Luke.
We watched the white line on the computer. ‘I think it’s moving,’ said Tim.
We stopped off at the corner shop for water and juice. I carried the tripod to the next shoot. It was a five-minute walk. There was a soot-stained church they planned to use for Ewan’s promotion.
I was first up. We used weather-stained sepulchres and a couple of mildewed gravestones. The line was fed up through my t-shirt and I faced the camera and the silver moon.
Tim waved his hand to the left or right, indicating which way I should shuffle into focus. ‘Don’t move about too much,’ he warned.
‘Clap your hands.’
I clapped. That was our sound check. Then I started babbling the first thing that came into my head.
‘That’s good Jack,’ said Luke, encouraging me and giving me prompts. ‘We’ve got some great one-liners.’ He looked at Tim to gauge his reaction.
For the last of my promotional shots I was made to walk around the antiquated graves. I was self-conscious with a camera stalking me, but there were ten or fifteen second burst where the sun and the trees and grass relaxed me.
‘Is that me?’ I asked.
Tim shrugged. ‘You know where you’re going?’
‘Not really. You just walk in a straight line?’
‘Phone me, if you’ve got any problems,’ said Luke.
I wished them well. I wished them all well.
Back at Stansted, I’d a few hours wait, lay outside in like a tourist with my shorts and top off in the sun and read ‘Wuthering Heights’.
Laughing Boy picked me up at Glasgow Airport. He said he’d tracked my flight on the internet. Technology, a wonderful thing.
Later, I couldn’t find the dongle with the story I was selling on it. If I was pessimistic I’d say that was a bad omen.