The stories of all the object lost in one person’s life. The writings below form only a small part of the wider project ‘LOST’ which was commissioned for 2006 Whistable Bienale.
Thing no.47: Passport
Entering the terminal I realise that my passport is missing. Walking against the flow of passengers I find the gate and walk back down the sloping corridor to the plane. As I emerge into the aisle the hostesses and cleaners react like beetles in the light – I explain I have lost something and go back to my seat.
I check the pouch in front, the space beneath the seats, the locker above. The hostess is getting nervous but I reason with her that my passport has to be on the plane or I wouldn’t be here. The thought of a life in Stanstead overcomes my pride, so the cleaners patiently wait as I pick through half-eaten sandwiches in their clear plastic bags. I find my magazine, my sushi rapper, the Easyjet printout but not my passport. What happens when a passenger arrives without papers? – the hostesses don’t know but their smiles are slipping. There is a hint of a frown as I go back to my seat once more. Squeezing my hand between the grey PVC cushions my fingers touch the top of something. I prise the burgundy booklet out of its hole and I feel like singing.
Leaving the plane once more the world seems different – like a theatre after the audience has gone. I walk empty corridors and escalators and travel in my own personal shuttle – as we glide down the concrete tunnels a woman’s soothing voice breathes in my ear ‘please hold tight’.
Thing no.46: Bank card
Sunday morning in Ramsgate and a woman is standing by the cash point looking slightly confused – but I’m in a hurry and I need cash. She doesn’t seem to be using the machine, so I put my card in the slot and its mouth sucks the plastic inside. I tap in my code, choose an amount and wait for the transaction. There is the diligent noise of notes being counted and then the murmur of wheels expelling my card. The card appears in the slot but instead of being offered to the world, the leading edge catches just inside its lips. I try to grasp the plastic but my fingers are too fat to reach it and it rests millimetres behind the opening. Seconds pass and the screen has the message ‘please remove your card’. I can feel its cogs waiting but all my efforts to prise out the plastic fail. I need a tool. I search for my keys but before I find them the screen changes ‘time has expired’. There is another faint murmur of cogs and the lips suck the card back in.
I look around – everything on the high street is closed including the bank. I’m at the seaside with no money and no card. The woman is still standing nearby, she looks and me and says ‘that just happened to me’.
Thing no.45: Mobile phone
A barman in Helsinki calls the only Finnish number in a mobile phone that was found in the toilet. A Finnish curator is the only person I know in Helsinki and she gives me my phone.
Thing no.44: GPS tracker
Eating fish and chips outside an ugly bungalow café in the flat and windswept Falklands. I take a reading of my position from the unseen satellites passing somewhere over my head. My GPS receiver, a small grey plastic box, communicates with three lumps of silvery circuitry hovering 22,223 miles above the sky in their geostationary orbits
I walk back through the low houses and jeeps of Port Stanley and leave the small plastic device sitting on a stone knowing exactly where it is to within three meters.
Thing no.43: Palm-Pilot
8.05pm: I’m giving a talk in Glasgow. I’m tired from too many parallel jobs, so to make my life easy I’ve decided to fly. I arrive at the train station with my wheelie just as the train pulls in. I board the Stansted Express and find a seat. Lost in the kinds of thought that train travel brings, I stare out at the English landscape unraveling through the window. Places I will never visit blur past me.
8.30pm: The train doesn’t seem to be stopping – I’m on the wrong line. Instead of Stansted Airport I find myself in Harlow. I walk into the dead centre of early evening – running down empty streets, pulling my suitcase behind me, trying to find a taxi. The cabbie drives fast and I check the plane times on my palm-pilot.
9pm: I arrive at the check-in five minutes after the flight has closed. I plead with the people behind the desk but their answers are carefully scripted. There is one more flight that night but going to Edinburgh not Glasgow. I decide I have to take this and they transfer me. As I am waiting to board at the departure gate there is announcement. The room is watching me as I walk past the random group of people that will comprise flight 245 to Edinburgh. The stewardess hands me a piece of paper with the Taxi driver’s mobile number scrawled across it. He has returned to the airport with my Palm Pilot. The plane is boarding but I need the location and name of my hotel – which is stored on my Palm Pilot – and so I ring the number on the slip. My flight has nearly boarded but I’m still trying to talk the patient driver through the menus of my organizer. He doesn’t know how to work it and I can’t remember my filing – I give up and board the plane.
11.00pm: The flight was short and tense – populated by silent anxieties. How I will get from Edinburgh to Glasgow? Where I will stay?
11.15pm: In the airport I find an Internet terminal and retrace my Google search until I find the hotel that I am pretty certain is mine. I rush out of the terminal into the night with directions for the main road. The Edinburgh to Glasgow coach passes near the airport. Dragging my wheelie, I run along an empty pavement. Before I reach the stop, though, the lit-up coach sails past me. I’m standing alone in the hopeless night. Another coach appears but its lights are out. In desperation I put out my arm – the coach stops. He isn’t actually working but the fat driver tells me he can catch up the coach at its next stop. We drive through the night. In a thick Glasgow accent the driver tells me things. I nod and laugh where I guess it is expected but I understand almost nothing.
11.30pm: The coach driver ahead skips his scheduled stop. My driver swears and abuses his colleague. Silent miles pass with the unknown Scottish expletives hanging in the air. Finally he turns to me and seems to have decided – he can take me to the depot on the edge of town but he isn’t allowed to take me in. The driver tells me he will drop off the coach and return in a quarter of an hour with his car. We turn off the main road and drive through a deserted industrial estate. He shows me where to wait beneath the one working streetlight. The doors hiss closed. The coach disappears round a corner and for a few moments I can hear its engine receding in the silence.
12.05am: I am alone again with my wheelie – this time between a scrap yard and cement works somewhere on the outskirts of Glasgow.
12.15am: It is a still night.
12.30am: The orange lights of Glasgow glow behind the silhouetted stacks of broken cars.
12.40: A pair of lights drives up the desolate road. A fat friendly face looks out. We drive into the city and his stories resume. Half listening and nodding I watch the landscape go past. At every stage of the journey I have been orchestrating chaos, trying to lose myself but the universe doesn’t seem to except this. The driver waits outside the hotel to make sure I have found the right one. I wave from the window and the coach driver salutes as he drives into the night.
Thing no.42: Sunglasses
Sunglasses never suit me, probably because I buy them cheap but my girlfriend has a pair of black Pradas that I love. They make me look like an insect, but an insect with taste and influence – a black accessorised wasp. On holiday in Greece I find that they make anything else I wear look like an intentionally casual gesture – as if I’ve left my Prada suit at home.
The beach is long and hot and the water feels like an escape. My girlfriend’s smiling face is bleached out by the sun, her body wavering beneath the surface of the transparent sea. My head still being baked by the sun, I plunge through the surface and the world changes to a silent, out of focus blue. As my head breaks the surface the lapping waves come back into focus with my girlfriend’s now scowling face.
Oblivious to the Prada glasses perched on my head as I dived, they are now somewhere at the bottom of the sea. Treading water at the surface I can see various shapes wavering beneath me but as soon as I dive the image blurs – I can just touch the bottom but I can see nothing. After a few attempts I realise it’s hopeless. My girlfriend borrows some goggles from a man on the beach but I must have drifted. Eventually I have to donate the Pradas to the fish.
Thing no.41: Palm-Pilot
With new friends in a bar near the World Trade Centre, playing pool till the morning against the locals, the music is loud and the beer is strong. Next day, with a heavy head, I realise that my bag (left by the bar when I was playing pool) is lighter than it should be. I find the bar but the solid steel door is padlocked.
Thing no.40: Mobile phone
Leaning out of a boat I forget that my mobile phone is in my top pocket. The angle of the phone’s fall changes as it breaks the surface of the canal – its vertical plunge flattening to become a shallow dive away from the boat. As it enters the oily water, the backlit display illuminates and I watch the glowing buttons getting dimmer as they glide deeper into the green.
Later I discover that I can still call my number and imagine the phone ringing amongst the detritus in the night time of the mud. I change my message. ‘You’ve reached my mobile phone, currently sitting at the bottom of the Regents Canal – please don’t leave a message here’.
Thing no.39: Palm-Pilot
Hurrying because I’m late, I rush out of my door and down the few steps onto Sotheby Road. Believing too easily in Einstein’s equations that prove space and time are mutable, I set out for the meeting at the time I should I arrive. I’ve picked up various things on my exit from the house that now surround me in a quantum cloud of probability. I find the ugly white car, pull out of the parking place and turn the corner whilst fastening my seat belt. I take back routes. I decide upon options as they arise, I save seconds here and minutes there and fully believe that I can go backwards in time.
I pull up to the destination late – but not so late that it’s a crime. I pick up the things from the passenger seat but something is missing. Winding time backwards till I leave the house I can see myself with keys in right hand, bag on shoulder, and Palm-Pilot in left. Wind forward to the car – keys in hand, bag on shoulder and Palm-Pilot on the roof.
After a distracted meeting I retrace my route – trying to drive slowly enough to scan the gutters and corners. By picturing the black case sitting on the tarmac I am willing it to exist. I arrive back in Sotheby Road and the parking space is gone.
Thing no.38: Camera
My digital camera is missing.
Thing no.37: Ctlr key
Against my will and better judgement I have borrowed a friend’s laptop. It has been a long day of solving, fixing, worrying, teas going cold and a mobile lunch from corner-shop fridge. Finished for the night I turn the corner onto the bleak hackney road and the last 55 bus comes into sight. I run for the stop but behind me I hear an inexplicable crash. Having climbed out of my backpack with the steps of my sprint, the IBM Thinkpad now lies on the sodium lit pavement. As it glides by, the fluorescent tubes from the passing bus floodlight the scene as I tenderly pick up the half open notebook. A small scratch, a tiny crack in the plastic, a slightly dented corner with a grain of embedded grit – but at a glance the laptop would seem fine. Minutes later I hail a taxi and like a businessman from the city I open the Thinkpad and its blue glow lights up the curves in the back of the cab. I justify the pounds clicking by on the meter against my luck with the unharmed computer.
Early the next day, I check the laptop again and like a friend’s mouth with a missing tooth I clock the gap in the keyboard – the control key is missing. Through the hole you can see the green of the mother-board with its twisting silver veins. With limbs like sandbags I return for another days fixing and reluctantly pass the scene of the fall. Sitting on the concrete paving slab is a small black plastic cube with ‘CTRL’ picked out in white.
With a click the button slots back into its row
Thing no.36: Two wallets, mobiles, Palm-Pilots
I take two friends mushrooming. We drive out to the countryside where I grew up. I park the car at the beginning of the track that runs through the beech woods behind my old house. We begin to look in all the places that I remember the chocolate coloured Parasols growing but all we find are leaves.
A red car comes towards us through the woods. The beat-up Escort lurches slowly through the potholes and mud. As it passes, two nervous and stressed faces snatch a furtive look at us through the dirty windscreen. One man is balding with a few long strands of hair hanging over his face, the other has dark eyes.
When we get back to the car the door opens without a key. In total there are six items missing – two mobile phones, two Palm Pilots and two wallets all belonging to me and my girlfriend. The other friend doesn’t trust even sleepiest country lanes.
Thing no.35: Two dog leads
Mouse is built for speed. Sinews, pulleys and bones gliding across the sand – the grace of a sine wave unfurling through space. Carter is slower but stronger. Chasing an empty plastic bottle he times his run precisely to jump the six-foot waves, his paws ploughing through the collapsing white crests. As the wave subsides Carter’s head reappears, slicing the smooth grey water behind. As they run, speed, time and distance collapse. It’s hard to imagine being able to become a grey dot in the distance in so little time. The two dogs weave patterns across sand – the joy of speed sparkling in their eyes.
Standing in one place like a ruminating cow I am transfixed by canine velocity. The spell is broken by the rising water. The beach has disappeared and the two dog leads are nowhere to be seen.
Thing no.34: Sun-cream
It’s hot, too hot. I’ve hurt my foot on rocks when swimming and now my sandals hurt when I walk. Everyone seems to be annoyed with me including myself and now I have to walk across half of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer to find my girlfriend’s expensive suntan-oil that I apparently left outside the tourist information bureau. Even though it looks like nothing, my foot really hurts. I get to the office and there is nothing to be seen – as I knew there wouldn’t be.
Thing no.33: Dog toy
We have a dog-tennis club on Highbury fields. Carter is a greyhound-cross and lives to run. The only way that I’ve found to satiate his lust for the chase is by taking a junk shop racket and whacking a tennis ball as far as I can. After twenty or so hits he begins to return more slowly and eventually lies on the grass and pants. His pink tongue flaps out of the side of his mouth like a cheap salesman’s tie. Eyed at first with suspicion by the other dog owners, dog-tennis seems to be catching on and there are now three other owners with rackets who stand with me each morning, taking turns to smash the tennis ball for the three mutts to chase. I don’t know the men’s names only their dogs – Wichite and Toby.
Wichite’s owner arrives with a new toy. A ball on a length of cord that you can spin above your head and release to go soaring through the sky – three hounds bounding after it into the distance, straining for speed in the fierce competition for the prey. I ask to try it. I spin the ball as hard as I can and let go but my timing is wrong. The ball flies off at 45 degrees, high into the air and snags on the top branches of a tree. The three dogs stop, look up at the branches, bark and eventually turn to look at me with questioning eyes.
Thing no.32: Laptop
A curator rings to say she has my laptop. Lost without my knowledge, solved before I have worried. The perfect crime – a teenager leaving by the window, taking drugs, kissing men but returning before daybreak to eat muesli with her parents.
Thing no.31: Book
The cover has a picture of a planet made entirely of water. The Polish science-fiction writer describes a mission to discover what has happened to the crew of a spaceship that has been investigating this liquid world. It transpires that the entire mass of the planet Solaris is a sentient ocean – a massive unfathomable mind that seems to react to the presence of the scientists but with which they unable to communicate. I have just got to the point when the protagonist has discovered the two survivors from the previous mission still orbiting the planet but seemingly driven mad with hallucinations. The book disappears.
Eventually I find another copy but the cover is entirely different. Although I am still gripped by the unfolding story, the book seems to have changed. The bright cover occupies a different space and vibrates with a different note as it waits beside my bed. The main protagonist is now also visited by solid apparitions from deep within his mind. An old lost love torments him with her physical presence. A failing relationship plays out its disastrous suicidal ending over and over again. The dumb ocean-mind, pulsating beneath the space ship, is bathing the vessel in waves of solid empathy, destroying the souls of the scientists by making flesh their imaginings, their memories and the silent longings of their tiny watery minds.
The original copy reappears and now both books sit next to each other on my bookshelf. Two entirely different experiences, from two entirely different objects.
Thing no.30: Wallet
As I’m cycling I see a dark shape in the gutter. I go back to investigate and pick up a black leather wallet. There is no money inside but lots of cards and receipts. The wallet seems to belong to a bus conductor – his smiling face peers back at me from his London transport identity card. I put the wallet in my bag and continue on my way, resolving to hand the wallet in the next time I use the bus.
Months go past and the wallet waits in my draw.
Thing no.29: Many sticks
The days begin by taking the dog out. As soon as we enter the park my job is to find a stick. Although there are lots of trees, demand for throw-able objects outstrips supply. Sometimes it takes me 10 mins of looking before I find one heavy enough – beneath a certain size Carter looks at the object and refuses to pick it up. The game begins. I lean back to throw the stick as far as I can and Carter chases off in the direction he thinks I will throw it. Sometimes I can fool him but he has become very astute to the small differences between a false build up and a real one.
Although I try to stop him, Carter can’t resist crunching the stick a few times between his powerful teeth. As the game progresses the stick gradually grows smaller. Carter looks mystified when the stick has joined the ranks of the ‘too-small-to-throw’ and the game is over.
Thing no.28: Keys
I have a set of keys to my girlfriend’s home. I leave the house after her in the morning and cycle off into town. After half an hour of peddling a thought enters my head. There is nothing that has prompted this image to arrive but as i am cycling I can see the front door with a set of keys left in the lock. I cycle furiously back through the traffic imagining the open door swinging in the wind.
When i get there the bunch of keys are still hanging from the lock.
Thing no.27: Pebble
Walking along a North Sea beach, a new lover finds a small stone and hands it to me with a smile. I look at the stone carefully but fail to see the white veins on its surface that for her spell out the message ‘10’. I hold the stone for a while till it annoys me and I throw it back onto the beach.
Thing no.26: Filofax
Travelling on an exchange from Reading University, I reach the terminal at Charles De Gaulle airport and try to call the student I am meeting in Paris. There is no answer and I leave the circular building to catch the bus. As the doors close I realise I have left my address book in the payphone. Barging down the aisle, I persuade the driver to stop and I run back into the space-age terminal. I reach the first payphone hoping to see the black Filofax containing the address and number I need to reach my rendezvous. The phone is empty. Moving around the circle I run to the next identical arrangement of chairs, tables and public phone – again the phone-box is empty. I move onto the next, and the next, and the next. Completing a full circuit of the building I see my black leather book waiting for me on top of the phone still propped open at the page.
Thing no.25: Bicycle seat
I leave the pub to see someone across the street next to my bicycle. I realise that he is doing something to my wheel. I shout and run. He jumps on his bicycle and begins to peddle. At first I’m gaining on him but as he moves up through his gears he starts to pull away. I stop running and between breaths shout pointless swear words after him. His red blinking backlight grows smaller and smaller as he disappears into the darkness of the street.
I return to my bike. The wheel is ok but where the seat used to be there is now an open tube sticking up in the air. I have no choice but to ride my bicycle home remembering not to sit down.
Thing no.24: Mobile Phone
It isn’t obvious where, how or when but my mobile seems to be missing. The landline rings and it’s the police. The patient policeman gives me a number and tells me to bring ID to the Poplar police station – another mystery solved.
Another mystery begins – how did he know it was mine and how did he get my number? The landline rings again but this time it’s a friend – did you lose your phone the voice smirks. Later there is another call also gleefully enquiring about the status of my mobile, followed by a third and a fourth – all of them sharing a secret policeman’s joke. How many abbreviations did the PC ring before he could establish a connection – a cross-reference to a name that didn’t appear amongst my numbers? I go to police station but the man behind the desk remains as straight faced as me.
Thing no.23: Dog’s leg
My girlfriend’s dog Jonah is old but still fit. Half Greyhound, half Staffordshire-Bull-Terrier he is fast but solid. He has three loves – running, demolishing things and food. He has a quick mind and a bloody-minded determination. When we leave the house in the morning there is a growing list of chores to be completed as he sits on the bottom step and stares at us with his black unfathomable eyes. The fridge has a bungee to keep it closed because he has taught himself to open it. The chairs must be arranged on the sofa. The rubbish must be put outside. The shopping bags must never be left on the floor even if they only contain cans.
If we have erred there is a scene of chaos when we open the door. The shopping is spread across the entire kitchen, the tins of tomatoes are left intact but the cans that pictured a lovable, innocent mutt are now only mangled and twisted remains. Over the hours Jonah has sunk his canine teeth through the metal containers hundreds and hundreds of times until he is able to suck out the sloppy brown contents. I don’t actually think he can read but his powers of problem solving and smell are impressive.
There is a lump on his back leg. The vet tells us that it is malignant and that we have a choice. If we leave it he might live another six months. The lump is attached to the bone and the only other course is to remove the leg.
As the vet takes the confused hound through the door at the back of the surgery he look at us.
When we return the nurse opens the door and a three legged creature hops madly towards us pulling the vet behind him. His breathing is furious and fast and his two black eyes are huge and staring, set within a ring of white terror and confusion.
Thing no.22: Print
I’ve spent an incredible three weeks in Namibia making art in the desert with twenty other artists from the southern African states. Coming back I stay in Johannesburg for 4 days with Dumisani, a gentle man who makes exquisite prints and music from anything he touches. As I take my leave I discover that someone else from the time in Namibia has secretly bought me one of Dumisani’s works. She has wrapped the print and handed it back to Dumisani who now gives me a delicate package.
I’m tired and confused when I reach London after 18 hours flying. The world seems strange an alien as I walk up my street and kiss my girlfriend. When I unpack I realise that the print is still negotiating the circle line.
Thing no.21: Bicycle
My first new bicycle was a green Dawes hybrid. I lean it against the window of the corner shop. I can see it from everywhere inside the store. I buy what I need and go to the counter. Somewhere in the middle of paying I hear a faint sound against the glass. I run out of the shop to see my bicycle being ridden off into an estate.
Thing no.20: Two frames of celluloid
Studying the films of Tarkovsky, I have the chance to view the celluloid print of Andrei Rublev at the British Film Institute. The film arrives in the editing suit as a stack of nine pizza sized metal tins. The film has become a physical object. Millions of tiny 35mm slides slipping through my fingers as I spool the ribbon through the cogs and gears of the Steinbeck. I’m fascinated by a scene where a medieval madman has made a hot air balloon out of animal skins. The bulbous craft briefly flies above the Bruegel-like Russian village only to plunge into the lake below. The balloon deflates like a dieing animal – its breath bubbling through the water – and as it does a horse in the field behind rolls itself over on the grass. I play the scene backwards and forwards. The horse’s shining body rolls over and stands up again and then rolls backwards in time till it stands once more. I do it again and again wanting to fix the moment in my head.
The tape snaps – but its ok. The technician comes and shows me how to join the broken ends with the splicer and leaves me alone once more. Left with the this cutting device and the thousands of perfect frames of the rolling horse I am unable to resist snipping off two extra frames and slipping them into my wallet. My own private Tarkovsky.
Moving house, years later the two frames disappear.
Thing no.19: Cycle pannier
My cycle pannier is second hand and defective but with a special knot it seems to work. It contains nothing of value except my sketchbook. Cycling around the Whitechapel one-way system between four lanes of lorries and cars I feel it un-attach itself but I can’t stop or even look over my shoulder. I make my way around the complex traffic system.
When I get back to where I think it fell there is nothing to be seen.
Thing no.18: Hand-knitted jumper
Always too hot or too cold.
Thing no.17: 2secs of Tarkovsky film
David Healey is a fanatic. The air is thick with his enthusiasm and intellect – his love of film has spread to me like a rash. I followed him through Philip Marlow, Woody Allen, Close Encounters and Breathless but it is the strangeness of Tarkovsky that has intoxicated me. Silver birch forests, horses in the night and space stations like wombs – I am mesmerised by dreams, fall in love with cheekbones and mouth the sound of Russian vowels.
David Healey’s collection has been captured in the night – years of waiting to press record when the sleepy announcer pauses.
David offers to lend me his VHS of ‘Mirror’ and I take it to London. I watch it on my own and when the film closes I rewind it to the moment when, unexplained, rain begins to fall from the ceiling. I press the button but instead of Tarkovsky, an image of a soap opera diva fills the screen. For a second I am static but then dive for the ‘pause’. Entropy is shocking, I am stunned at what I cannot undo – the magnetic tape now slices from a Russian interior to the Rover’s Return.
Thing no.16: King Kurt’s LP ‘Big Cock’
I lose an LP in the art-school cafeteria. Rosy who runs the franchise tells me to put up a sign. I live to regret this.
Thing no.15: Vertical hold
My beautiful 70’s black and white TV came from a junk shop on the Holloway road. One day the picture buzzes and fidgets before settling down permanently into a new orientation. The image is still clear and sharp but instead of horizontal, the picture now runs diagonally across the screen at 30 degrees. Nothing I do can persuade the TV to realign itself but I find that a hard-back book placed beneath one side of the set is just the right height to restore equilibrium. The cream TV set now rests at 30 degrees but the image is itself is flat and stable.
Thing no.14: Red shirt
We used to have geese in the field next to the terrace but they had to go. In the summer the guests who came at the weekend would sit on the low wall and whilst they were chatting, long grey necks slinked over the plates and stole their salad. When challenged they would hiss and flap and aim their necks with the righteous indignation of thieves. We ate the geese and now there is a donkey.
The donkey doesn’t do anything but look – standing still a few meters off.
I’m down from London for the weekend. When it is time to go I can’t find my new red shirt. Retracing my steps I remember the hot lunch on the terrace and my shirt lying on the wall. Glancing into the field I see a snatch of red fabric. As I explore I find more and more shreds of my new red shirt – none of them bigger than a handkerchief and none in the same location. The donkey is still standing in the field looking.
Thing no.13: Virginity
Lost to a girl called Nikki who refuses to believe this was the first time.
Thing no.12: Record
I buy a new LP by ‘Japan’. The slightly un-tuned sounds of David Sylvian’s voice seem so modern. I leave the record too near my gas fire and the vinyl warps. Now the needle slows down as it rises up over the two mountains, and speeds up as descends into the valleys. I try to like the further distortion in the sound and voice but eventually I throw the record away.
Thing no.11: Bus Fare
We take the Chiltern Queens bus into Reading. We spend the day in the shopping malls and parks of the exciting metropolis. On our way back to bus station we visit Mercury arcade. I love playing the computer games – I lose myself in the green glow of the wire-frame world that is Battle Zone. I’m driving an unseen tank across an endless plane, hiding behind delineated cubes and pyramids as other green line-drawn tanks try to destroy me. Eventually I die but I have one the highest scores.
Steve isn’t interested in computer games. He is captivated by the Silver Falls. The machine has two moving shelves covered in heaps of sparkling coins. If you put in a 10p it ricochets down onto the top ledge. If you time it just right, the new coin pushes the stack forward and the coins teetering on the edge are pushed over to cascade out into the tray at bottom. Steve has found a machine that has a bank of silver coins that all seem to be about to drop. Each new coin though only nudges the snowdrift only ever so slightly. He is getting more and more excited but has run out of money. His fever is infectious and he persuades me to give him my bus fair. I watch as my coins get added to the stack one after the next. Everything is gone but a huge amount of coins are just about to fall. We nudge the machine – nothing happens. We bang a little harder and an alarm rings out above the noise of the computer games – we are thrown out.
We walk across Reading to where we can try to hitchhike are way home.
Thing no.10: Magazine
Unlike my village, Woodcote has a bus-stop and a bench which is the centre of the local nightlife. As I’m walking the three miles back along the A4074, I find a damp, badly printed magazine in a lay-by. The images of men and women are so confusing and exciting that I’m unsure what to do with my find. Before I enter the gates of my lane – I remember the rabbit holes behind the uprooted tree and push the folded magazine down into the warm, dry earth.
When I return, I reach as far as I can into the hole but the magazine is gone.
Thing no.9: Red Mole
There is a strange, red mole on my left shoulder. My mother drives me from the village to the Royal Berks hospital. We walk down an endless corridor, at times we seem to be deep inside a building, at others the corridor becomes a translucent, scratched tube crossing open space. Always we are walking in a straight line. Ahead of us, fast walking nurses appear and disappear out of the vanishing point in the distance.
The laser makes a strange noise and the doctor tells me not to look but it is the smell that makes me turn my head. Where the red blob had been bulging outwards there is now an equally deep hole. The thing that fixes me though is the wisps of curling smoke – what was me in now drifting weightlessly through the air.
Thing no.8: Drawing
For my art homework I have to draw the contents of the bathroom cabinet at home. I arrange the bottles, jars and plastic containers on a table and sketch their outlines. I’m good at shading. I enjoy spending half an hour rendering the crinkles in the metal toothpaste tube and carefully recreating the way the light plays within the curves and angles of the water glass. By the time I get to the antiperspirant I’m getting bored. A regular cylinder, it requires thousands of small strokes to make the shadow fall evenly as it fades in around the circular shape. I reach the tiny text running up the container and to relieve my boredom I start to insert random words – ‘cunt’, ‘fuck’, ‘dick’ etc.
My art-work gets a very high mark and is put on the classroom wall. Weeks later a small group of juniors starts to grow around the drawing. I am summoned to see my furious teacher. She holds the A4 piece of paper up so that the shiny graphite surface is facing me and asks me what I think she should do with it. I suggest that she gives it back but she disagrees. With her two hands in front of her, she tears the sheet slowly in half. She does this again with the two halves and then once more before handing the pieces back to me.
Thing no.7: Football
Playing football on a cold, windswept beach with my brother. I kick the too-light plastic red ball but the wind takes it and it flies off into to the surf. It is just out of reach. I roll up my trousers but the sea is cold. The ball floats further out over the waves. Blown by the wind it gets smaller and smaller until it is lost in the horizon – a tiny red setting sun.
Thing no.6: Mood Ring
Eleanor gives me a Mood Ring. When I am excited the magnifying bubble of glass saturates with a strange orangey-purple/green. I keep the ring with me but I only wear it when I’m on my own.
I find the ring in the pocket of my freshly washed jeans. I put it on but the reactive paper beneath the glass now remains a dull impassive grey.
Thing no.5: Tooth (front, top, right)
Cycling with a friend on a bicycle that’s too big, wearing new flared jeans. The bicycle has no chain guard.
Thing no.4: Brother’s budgie
We build a nest for Fred on the mantelpiece but he refuses to sit in our den. The blue bird flies up to the curtain rail and I am shocked that it remembers how to fly. I scramble on to the windowsill but Fred flies around the room, hitting the walls and posters, and then slips silently out of the open window into the sky.
Thing no.3: Frog’s leg
The ornamental pond fills with pillows of frogspawn. The black dots begin to wriggle in their capsules and the aliens emerge in black swarms of activity. Little buds appear at the rear of their body and become their two back legs. Their tails begin to shrink and as their front legs take shape the spacemen have mutated into proto-frogs – perfect but tiny.
I’m playing with some froglettes and I’ve found them a boat – a flat topped log that is heavy enough to glide through the water when I give it a push. Several frogs are sitting on the deck and there is one clinging onto the prow looking back at me – with his legs dangling in the water. The boat sails across the pond and hits the vertical stone side with a thud. The frog at the prow has lost a leg – there doesn’t seem to be any blood and the frog’s face looks the same as before, but where there was a leg there is now a tiny stump.
I run away.
Thing no.2: Sister’s red belt
I, or possibly my brother, see the belt from my sister’s red coat slip out of its loops and fall to the ground as we cross an insanely busy Italian street. Dragged by my hand I am unable to tell my parents what I have seen. Pulled along by worried hands, I watch over my shoulder as the belt writhes beneath the tyres of passing cars.
Thing no.1: Parents
Watching the monkeys in London Zoo, fascinated by the speed with which they swing through their cage, how one hand reaches into space for a rung as the other hand lets go behind and how they momentarily float through air – screeching with fear and excitement.
The chase stops and I realise that I’m alone – just cages and animals in a grey winter light. All I can do is stay here with the monkeys – hooting and laughing.