A Year in North Hackney


Brauer and Spitzer was the shop above which

our hours were filled and our patience was drained

by a shower that trickled like a chinchilla’s penis,

towers of china chores, a backfiring toilet

and cowering mice behind the toaster.

Outside lay a hive whose bees all wore black.

With fuzzy boxes on their heads

they buzzed between baker and butcher and synagogue,

fixed-eyed, long-jacketed, beards of every hue,

but the door to that shop stood bolted and shuttered.

You saw its keeper once, shifting and yearning

to withdraw to his mystery-shrouded cocoon

as he mumbled “cash and carry” and shuffled off.

Our crumbled abode with its cakelike window-frames

had languished unpaid-for for a coke-dealer’s sentence.

No grumble-gobbed lint-pocketed landlord

brandished eviction orders on our front porch

or tumbled from Canary Wharf clutching summonses

to vanquish his vassals into London-smacked lives

of anguish and eating baked beans from a trilby.

Just the jumbled receipts of a fishy subletter,

an outlandish gay Northern Irish pianist.


“Come back home!” you’d beckoned, my new

best chum and the worthiest man I had met

in the basin of puke that is mankind,

trumpeting the temptations of London,

“Slum it with me! Everything’ll be kosher!”

Jason, you electric-quiffed, torn-trousered,

rum-soaked, guitar-torturing pigeon-hater

emblazoned with crucifixes, you sofa-surfing

bum who smokes like an industrial estate,

Asian Cockney, Tamil Ian Dury

whose drummer deserted you for Jesus

on the occasion of your record contract.

The Wombats hit the red carpet instead of you.

Ho-hum, old boy. Jazz drummers aren’t pigeons.

Tomcats don’t chase them. The church does, it seems.

You succumbed to a lemming-race vegan café

to combat the cash-squeeze of moderniocrity,

serving fake bacon in a pinafore

to fervent believers in cosmic energy,

swerving from table to table round and round

like a dervish with a tray full of carrot-juice.


Your ex, who hosted a histrionic disorder

and poured chilli sauce in her flatmate’s thrush ointment,

had sex these days with women in their fifties

and adored the lusty craft of taxidermy.

Perplexing every wanderer into your bedroom,

an embalmed badger stood guard by your sock drawer,

Madame’s birthday present she still had no space for,

stuffed as a transvestite’s brassiere

and suffocated in a translucent sarcophagus

like Lenin’s pet, his nights of uprooting

truffles buried in a moustache-rich century,

his den today a jumble of jumpers and gin bottles,

tufts of fading fur along a snout

whose snuffling breath was shortened by a shotgun.

This penned-in monochrome bassist-startler

followed you every uprooting occasion

you shuffled from sofa to mattress to garret

with sorrow lapping at your heart

and hollow employment needling your brain

in borrowed underwear and time,

tomorrow a forking question mark.


One afternoon I was jolted awake

by a shaft of megaphoned syllables gargled

like mouthwash and sounding something like

“Der baumfrosch frass die zwiebelkuchen

und straft mich mit dem eisenspachtel!”

but couldn’t have been, beaming out of

a craft marked with a strange alphabet

and staffed by a man with a hedge for a hat.

The good-natured rabbi was doing his rounds,

grafting away like a carpenter with

a wooden leg, through the summer blaze.

In Clissold Park, tanned boys in shorts poured

laughter and bottles of water over

glistening barefoot moist-breasted girls

while, scarfed in fur and Russian cloth,

their distant eyes on another realm,

our neighbours trudged in leather boots

through history’s burger-grilling end.

No way back home was beckoning them

and Abraham smiled down from heaven.


Here we scrabbled through our lives,

two steppenwolves on society’s prairie.

Careering down onto it landed a third,

peppered with pills and scissor-scars.

They sneered at Bobbie as though she were

a leper, your lesser friends. But I

had sat with her outside King’s Cross station

as fat skateboarders, Portuguese tourists

and cravatted stock-exchange oligarchs

had splattered signatures, doodles and slogans

over the blank canvas she’d propped by the wall and,

as Jehovah is my witness, the tears

had clattered down her befuddled face for 

the tatty-trousered Tamil she’d sliced

when November’s creeping, slinking darkness

had battered her into the random arms

of a concert-goer she’d met on a coach,

ensconced in her room and assented to marry, what

response can one give to that? She was sick

in the bonce, dear Jason. Poor kitten. She was sick!


During one of your and Bobbie’s 

incurably opulent shouting-banquets,

as fury hit its gin-washed zenith,

the badger’s coffin was shattered, his stripy-nosed

majesty exposed to the elements,

his furred posterior open to attack.

A pile of shards lay on the carpet.

Silence hung in the air like the smell of

curdled milk in a student’s sink.


After that came the landlord. He washed up

out of the black, in the red, a castaway

on a raft, at the door he’d not sighted for years,

a stout, rent-thirsty, pinstriped goy.

The holes in my T-shirts were wider than the sleeves,

the soles of my trainers hung like mongrels’ tongues,

I fished cigarette butts out of the ashtray,

stole ketchup from discount pubs and often

wished I hadn’t studied English Literature,

I hardly had a sock to wank in

or a pair of pants to keep my head warm.

But there he stood like Doctor Livingstone,

our tardy landlord, waving a contract with

a blank space where the rent price should’ve been.

Outflanked, just one option was left, old boy.


Escape! Escape! Abandon ship!

We scraped together Doc Marten boots,

papers with lyrics octopussed over them,

Morrissey albums, Prince, The Cure,

the Prophecies of Nostradamus,

Orwell, Huxley and David Icke,

drawerfuls of jeans and daft-sloganed T-shirts,

the clay piglet ornament Bobbie had bought you,

sombreros and a Soviet general’s hat

all draped in cigarette-burnt quilts,

glared in the face of gentrification’s 

turfing out of London’s non-millionaires

and surfed, afloat, to our next harbouring sofas.









© Gammon 2023
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2 years ago

My first job – Goldsmiths Row library – filching the fines – under the counter ‘hot’ books for the local laddoes and my grandad used to live around the corner in Moye Street before the Dagenham diaspora 🙂

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