We sink and we rise: Happy New Year to those within the M25

Here are some facts about London: it is old, and it is new. It is disgusting, and it is powerful. These truths are interlinked; foul industries, dirty water, a shambling stream of corpses and fire-halted epidemics give rich foundation to the quasi-religious veneration of our one true God, the golden god, and our old and all-conquering vice: Avarice. Bawd and ideal may be plentiful but the muddy, bloody swamp of a city sinks or swims on its venal lawlessness and nearly two millennia of proof can be dredged up for it.

London creates cultures like a loaf of damp bread. It generates saints. In Camden Town the long, sorrowful face of Amy Winehouse appears in smeared black on buildings like the Madonna on American toast; sheer will supersedes finger-wagging press to create her a modern, Jewish saint; “Don’t venerate an addict” and dire warnings of her moral character fall short and miss the point – Amy is an icon because of her flaws, not in spite of them or in their ignorance. Like Marilyn and Billie Holiday before her, the locality bears witness to struggle and pain paired with eloquence and skill, and raises a broken woman to the status of a divinity. It is a black paint backlash against the madonna/whore dichotomy; let her be both, let her be both.

We have hopes for George Michael, but it’s early days yet.

London makes saints of the ordinary, too; not far from my home there is a shrine. A man, 22, whose name I know but won’t share, died violently in the street in November. In a turbulent time these things go unremarked, but the shop across the street remembers, and his loved ones replenish flowers, candles, photographs, empty whisky bottles. Offerings to somewhere or something, to keep him from fraying in their minds. Devoured by the city, he becomes part of it.

Do the rules of urban sainthood cover the man I saw die this week, his vast white belly unthinkingly exposed as he lay surrounded by green-clad paramedics

and stony-faced on-lookers, spread-eagled by an unsuccessful defibrillator on a cold station floor? If he is canonised by the fleck-marks among the grey, how long for?

But it is a morbid time; it is Dead Winter. The time of year when I am quite grateful to find mould growing on my sandwiches because it proves that something can still grow in this hellish twilight. Past the dimple of midwinter and the instinctive bonfires, this frozen endless coda between the solstice and spring equinox is the time I give real and visceral consideration to the possibility of human sacrifice. At 3pm, already dark, on a night-shift week, I drag myself to he gym to treadmill the black despair into aches via the media of glowing orange numbers and participation in a nationwide detoxification – purificiation – fast-and-atonement ritual as we try to apologise the spring into happening. And I think, yeah, I’d kill a child to bring the sun back right now. Why not? Shit, let’s kill ten and have a nice summer this year.

London is a ritual city. It has no pomp nor splendour, no matter how much gilt we pour on the remaining high traditions or crenellated and NeoGothic excesses we defer to – the rituals are modern in age and pre-Enlightenment in character, private or primal: the weird, carved fish of Guild processions, the prescient and personal libations to a Bacchus tossed in the Fleet in the fourth Century, the roadkill funerals, the furtive wishing coins, knuckles to the window of the London Stone and prayers to the known monsters travelling in the eternal dark beneath the city. From the dank earth we came and shall return; we are filth, stains lapping at the feet of our unsecured glass skyscrapers – we are ugly, and let us remain pox-disfigured grasping mollies, roaring over newsprint…

One could weep for all the histories lost in the foundations of raw progress – the temples destroyed by railways, the birthplaces by bombs, the memories by meretricious, mercantile greed, but London does not stand still and it does not stop – a fossil city is a dead city. Better to build on top of our own sinking rooftops, lay roads over

rivers, and let future archaeologists marvel at our litter as we now paw over the plague-pits Pepys and Defoe’s peers did their best to cover.

Buddleia reaches for the sky, whole trees hanging out of brick cracks the size of a thumb; black mould marches over my bedroom ceiling; five mice quarrel in hypersonic territorial fury between the rails of the train to Cockfosters and somewhere in those miles of 19°C subterranean veins, rippling through clay like bands of a new composite mineral, we are evolving a new species of mosquito at light speed. The Tube Parasite. Our very own blood-sucker —

— London is a ritual city. We revisit our haunts. We pay our respects. We set our habits like heartbeats, not clockwork. Environment rules apply: the same man who moved me gently out of his path in a crowded, convivial nightclub in Vauxhall by placing the tips of his fingers on the angel tattooed on my neck kept to the etiquette of the Night Tube afterward, hunched up at the far end of a carriage with his eyes locked to his phone, a dozen empty, newspapered seats between us. Courtesy in both worlds: in the sweat and strobes the pressure of his cock on the waistband of my jeans is simple and unimpeachable neutral manners, too.

Condensed, London is a highly-charged space. Widely-spread souls mistake this hyperreal interaction for hostility instead of the hallucinogenic endgame of compressed human interaction. In the countryside I grew up in, friendliness is a two-hour chat with a grinning death’s head stranger; in this hive it is the quick smile to a bus driver from a passenger who has been on this route a decade. It is the small rituals with speed-ravaged 4am shopkeepers. It is catching the eye of the tired passenger who is watching the same pigeon fight that you are. In each of these seconds a week of intimacies unfolds in its own sweet time.

Do not be so quick to hate the ‘bubbles’ in which we dwell. They are beautiful and we have chosen them for a good reason.


Recipe/Mocktail: I’m calling this the Luke Cage

Because it tastes of “Sweet Christmas”.

No, you’re a nerd.

(Please don’t spoil me I’m only halfway through Jessica Jones and it’s been long enough since I read Alias that can’t remember what happens so please don’t spoil me, my friends are already doing a terrible job at not spoiling me).

Also let’s not bother asking where I’ve been for the whole of November. I’ve been writing a book. I have now finished the book. [170,000 words, thank you for asking]. Also let’s not ask how I think that went because at the end of any given manuscript all I can think is “thank God that’s over, please let me die in peace now”. I also … I’m pretty sure this is actually the longest manuscript I’ve ever produced in a sub-thirty day period so my brain is soup.

The Luke Cage

This makes two servings.

You will need:

  • 1/2 a lemon with the peel off, chopped in four
  • 1/2 an orange with the peel off, chopped in six
  • 2 tsp of gingerbread spice mix *
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • Handful of mixed dried fruit/peel like you can buy for making Christmas pudding.

You will also need:

  • Blender
  • Teapot insert/tea-strainer/muslin type thing
  • Mug
  • Kettle

(I used one of those cheapo versions of a NutriBullet, that worked pretty well. You need to add water for that).

Anyway, whizz all of that around in your blender until it is sludge.

Put half of the sludge in a tea strainer or a muslin or whatever and put that in a mug. Boil some water, pour that through it and let it stew a minute. Drain it, add more honey to taste, boom, hot mocktail.

Also if you want to enbooze it, I did the second serving with a shot of Writers’ Tears (appropriate) and spiced rum. Great stuff for an evening where the wind decided to throw buckets of water at the front of my house for some reason…


* Gingerbread spice premix, I have a jar of this knocking around at all times:

  • 1 tbsp ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom (for some reason this is often hard to find, but you can buy it on Amazon, and if you’re in Europe ubiquitous cheapo chain store Tiger often sell it)
  • 1 tsp ground cloves (again often tricky but keep trying, it’s worth it)
  • Optional: a pinch of black pepper, a pinch of wattleseed

Sewing: Bottle Pyjamas and tweed breeks

One upside of the godawful recent weather has been the somewhat contrarian desire to head out and then to promptly dive into the nearest shop in order to shelter from the downpour, which has led to interesting discoveries, like the presence of a tweed-a-like blanket for sale in a local charity shop for under three quid – immediately seized upon with a cry of “TROUSERS”. “Trousers” for me does generally mean that the item of clothing does not extend much below the knee (I wear knee boots most of the time and long socks all the time and thus deemed it pointless to waste fabric on the extra inches of leg), but in the case of some light pyjama pants made with £1-a-metre cotton from the end-of-roll shop which also supplied me with this wool, I made an exception.


Wrinkles were not originally included.
Wrinkles were not originally included.

Those are not my trainers.

Side view

The blur is also not original but my other half left a load of forms on the floor.

I am enjoy this stitch and will be using it more.
I am enjoy this stitch and will be using it more.

The breeks were a slightly more involved prospect and involved lining up some patterned fabric (always a nightmare); they also go lined with some old army thermal pants because I was entirely too lazy to cut lining (and didn’t have enough material for that). Happily, no one can tell from the outside how snug they are on the inside.

back view stripes

Also I made them with an elasticated waist, because I have figured out how to do that in a way which allows me to skip the darts and zip/button stage of making trousers and I am all about the laziness both in making and in wearing. Pockets, of course, because pockets are important.

So what with these and the scarlet breeches, I’m a good deal closer to being ready for whatever a weak El Niño winter brings. Providing what it brings is “moderate cold”, because if it snows I’m going to bed and staying there.

How To Not Die Of Winter (Part 1 of however many).

Winter is inching closer and in anticipation of the cold I have a cold.

Not to worry, as I also have combination of ideas which will if not make me feel better then at least distract me from being an entity constructed entirely out of sore throat, earache, rogue mucus, and barking coughs:

The first part is from an idea I saw circulating on that pernicious time sink, Tumblr.com, and it is ideas like this and photographs of pretty crystals which have prevented me from flouncing away from that appalling lavatory of the internet in favour of slightly less time-wasting wastes of time.

ingredients part one

These are the principal ingredients of that first, cribbed part:

  • Fresh, peeled chunks of ginger
  • A sliced lemon
  • However many types of honey you like (I actually also used a tin of honey someone sent me from Norway as well, which was conveniently much runnier).

    like so
    like so

Put lemon slices and ginger bits in a jar. Fill up the remaining space with honey. Give it a shake.

The honey should engulf the lemon and ginger. The reason for this is that honey is a preservative; “sweet burial” used to refer to preserving a corpse in honey, and honey – edible honey – a few thousand years old has been found in pots in various places. It does not go off. If your honey has gone lumpy and has a weird slightly gritty texture, it has just crystalised or separated due to cold and will return to its previous character if you bung it in the microwave or heat it up in some other way. Naturally this is an excellent way to preserve the other ingredients, but it isn’t the only purpose of the honey: it’s also a natural topical antibiotic (as you will know if you read that link up there). This is pretty useful for horrible sore throats, and it has the bonus of tasting a lot nicer than most throat medicine. Lemon contains a mild quantity of vitamin C, which you almost certainly don’t get enough of, and ginger’s just generally good for you.

If you’re at work or don’t like booze you just stick with this part: plonk a tablespoon full in a mug of boiling water (make sure there’s some lemon and ginger bits in there too) and you have a lovely hot drink. Everyone knows this.

However, I don’t really believe in drinking things that don’t have alcohol in them if I can possibly avoid it, in part because we all know water is evil and teeming with microbes and only the sainted touch of spirits can cure that, and in part because being slightly fuzzy all the time is the only way to cope with the terrible echoing knowledge that we are alone in the universe and everyone apart from you (yes, you, just you) is an idiot and probably dangerous.

Part two is for drinking when you are not at work:

pictured empty with good reason
pictured empty with good reason

The alcohol mix goes in with the tea. My measurements are inexact, but it’s roughly equal parts Fireball (cinnamon whisky), ginger wine (do not use the non-alcoholic sort, that undermines the purpose), and Aberlour whisky (or other scotch) at about half the amount of the other two because it is more expensive and less sweet. I put between 25 and 50ml in with the tea and achieve blessed respite from the dreaded darkness of the dead days of the year.

I suggest keeping it pre-mixed in a bottle for days when you can’t be bothered to do anything much more complex than cry about the fact that it is -4C and there is freezing fog outside:

booze mix, in a water bottle of water that i bought from tesco specifically because i liked the bottle.
booze mix, in a water bottle of water that i bought from tesco specifically because i liked the bottle.

Future posts about the hideous death of summer and light may include advice on how to stuff yourself with carbs, where to buy full-spectrum lightbulbs, and why it is legal to kill anyone who says they’re looking forwards to the nights drawing in.