I’m not a man that likes to travel. When Luke emailed me and said we’d like to try and get funding to get your novel published my reaction was positive. I’m narcissistic as everyone else and want my writing to have a wider audience. But when he said you need to come down to London in order to make a promotional crowd-sourcing video I said, fuck that. You do it and tell me how it went.
So Laughing Boy, my best mate, came to pick me up at 4.45 a.m. ‘You ready,’ he asked.
I was still eating my porridge, but I’d Motherspride white bread and cheese sandwiches for later.
‘We need to go now,’ he said. ‘You need to check-in an hour early.'
He knows about that kind of thing because he works offshore. My breakfast was left uneaten.
Glasgow and Stansted airports were the same kind of architectural boxes, holding pens that try to sell consumers things they don’t need while the planes on the runway joins the dots between passengers from A to B. I’d a window seat. The last time I’d flown was about twenty years ago. Glasgow to Dublin. It was the same type of plane, about the size of a single-decker bus with wings. Not much has changed. I figured the staff must be bored going through the same pantomime four or five times a day showing how the seatbelt works and where the toggles on the lifejackets were and puffing into the valve to show how it inflates when it doesn’t inflate. Most passengers paid them little attention. I watched the plane taxiing to take off, felt the thrust of acceleration, watched the plane picking up speed and there was a moment when it wasn’t clear if the plane had left the ground. Then it was up. I didn’t want to be the guy that the four air stewards piled onto because the plane was higher than a ladder, then a house, then the clouds and although, logically, that was the way it was meant to be, I wasn’t quite sure where the reverse gear on a plane was.
The Captain did his chirpy chat. We were travelling at 420 miles an hour, we’d be taking a right at Liverpool and there’d be sunshine in London. Meanwhile the stewards patrolled the aisles trying to sell, hot and cold drinks, train tickets, hot or cold sausage rolls, sandwiches and one or two of them offered to read your palm if you crossed their palms with silver (they didn’t have much in-flight loose change). I was too busy reading ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener’ on my Kindle to notice if anybody took them up on that offer.
Stansted airport seemed bigger than Glasgow’s, but that impression may have been because it was in a foreign country. I’d been in London about thirty years ago, having hitched down from a spot outside Calderpark zoo. It took me two days. The plane took about an hour. Claudine had emailed me detailed directions about how to get from the airport to Liverpool Street and I was to get the 135 bus from there to Limehouse, but she hadn’t told me how to find my way out of the airport.
‘Where’s the bus station that take you into central London, mate?’ I asked a black guy pushing a trolley.
‘Over there.’ He pointed to a large sign.
Stansted is about forty miles outside Central London. The plane took an hour to get from Glasgow to London and the bus took slightly longer. I was still on track, still on time. Outside Liverpool Street I crossed the road. The bus stop for Limehouse was there. Claudine had even marked how long it would take (about fourteen minutes). We passed through an area populated by men dressed in traditional Islamic attire and rundown shopfronts with their wares advertised in Arabic script. It was that warm that some woman allowed an extra inch of flesh showing through their niqab. Almost everywhere is warmer than Glasgow. I’d came prepared for the heat in London and was wearing shorts. I was worried I’d be late, or not be able to make it at all, because there was roadworks and a Luton van and double-decked bus seemed locked together blocking the traffic behind them. I’d wondered if they’d bumped into each other. The roads in London, and some of the housing, were from before the Georgian period. Neither bus nor van seemed able to gear forward and the van couldn’t turn because the traffic flowing the other way didn’t allows such a thing. Cyclists made much of this snarl cutting across the road and continuing on their journey. When I’d last been in London, I didn’t see a cyclist. Now they were like bumble bees pollinating traffic at the height of summer.
The bus fare was £2.40, but the driver warned me and gave me a card with my ticket, informing me that from the following month I wouldn’t be able to pay cash and would need an Oyster card. I was glad the traffic had cleared but had no plans to stand at a bus stop for a month.
Claudine was right again. Luke had also gave me clear directions and told me the studio was easy to get to from the DLR. I’d emailed him back and asked him what DLR meant. I pounced on a passerby: ‘Where’s the Cable Street Studios, mate?' I asked him.
‘Over there.’ He pointed me in the right direction.
Cable Street Studios had an impressive arch, white-stone facade and an oculus with a flagpole above it. Three stories high, a warehouse of the arts, it ran the length of a street and had me thinking of the old BBC buildings. This impression was added to having a large steel gate with a concierge. A balding, grizzly-faced wee guy, stood outside. We eyed each other up.
‘You hear to meet Luke?’ he asked.
‘Aye,’ I said.
We shook hands. ‘I’ve phoned Luke, but he’s not answering his phone,’ he said. ‘Goes straight onto the answermachine.’
People shuffled past us, using the fob of their key, coming in and out of the gate.
‘Saves me phoning him,’ I said. If I was going to be locked out of a place I was glad of the company of a lawyer.
I told him I’d read some of his stuff. Poetry on ABC. ‘It was good,’ I said, but even if I didn’t think it was good, I’d have lied. I knew the other ABCer, Ewan, from when I’d first joined. He’d been incredible, helping my grammar and storyline. I’d remembered his story from them, a kind of Gormentghast type novel, that was almost published. I guessed that was what he trying to sell.
Laurie phoned Luke again. He shook his head. ‘Onto the answermachine,’ he said.
‘I’ll try.’ I’d Luke’s number from when I spoke to him about the project earlier in the week.
‘Is that you Jack?’ Luke said on the phone. ‘I’ll be right down to let you in.’
‘What number you got?’ Laurie asked.
I scrolled down and handed him my phone.
‘I’ve got a different number,’ he said.
‘Maybe it’s the number he put on his email?’ I searched through my rucksack and brought out the printed sheet with Luke’s details.
We compared them.
When Luke came down to the gatehouse he was apologetic. He was just as I imagined he would be, the little brother of Laura Ingall’s of ‘Little House on the Prairie’, fresh-faced with puppy-dog enthusiasm and the kind of work ethic that meant he did a paper round in the morning before starting work as Editor on ABC and working freelance for Unbound. He took us up the stairs to the studio.