The drawings on this page have only ever been exhibited once before, as A3 sized flyposters on a wooden fence surrounding the site of a demolished pub (The Lea Valley) on White Post Lane in the Hackney Wick district of London in 2009, just a few feet away from the big blue fence which cordoned off the London Olympics building site. This was as part of Trash Vortex, an outdoor group show spread over various sites in the area to coincide with the weekend long Hackney Wicked arts festival. The show was curated by Steve Smith who not only helped me to paste up the posters, provided the wallpaper paste, sponge, paintbrush and squeezy bottle, but also let me stay at his and his girlfriends house over the weekend. When I returned home with this new body of work my first thought was to try and get it published in book form. With this in mind I asked a friend of mine Duncan McLaren who’s writing style I find highly entertaining if he would be interested in looking at the work and writing an essay to go along with it, which he kindly did. Nothing ever materialised in book form and the whole lot sat in a drawer for years and in the corner of a hard drive. Now finally I’ve got it all together along with some photos from Hackney Wick taken by a friend Richard Mckean, and some of my own photos taken that weekend. So, reading on you will find the series of drawings entitled LONDON, Ducan McLaren’s essay In And Out Of The Comfort Zone, and the set of photos. In the drawings and in the essay the price of booze in London is mentioned a couple of times, bear in mind both were drawn/written in 2009…
IN AND OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
By Duncan MacLaren
It was the summer of 2009 when Stuart Murray travelled from his native Glasgow to spend a week in the East End of London. Since then he’s produced a set of drawings commemorating the week and he’s made a second journey to London to present them as fly-posters at a rundown site in Hackney Wick as part of a group show, ‘Trash Vortex’. He’s also sent me a copy of the drawings through the post. I’ve seen what I imagine the reader of this text has seen. And now, at the end of December of the same 2009, I’m travelling to Glasgow to talk about this artist’s London.
‘Tickets there…’ says a railway employee when I get to Queen Street station. So I show him the appropriate half of my day return. ‘That’s fine pal,’ he tells me. Actually, it’s a machine that deals with the ticket and Stuart is the first human being I encounter in Glasgow. As usual, he’s dressed distinctively, from winklepickers to fifties quiff. We have already established by email that our conversation should take place in a pub, so Stuart leads the way out of the station with one or two potential destinations in mind.
Stuart works five days a week as a postman. That means an early start in the morning but it also means an early finish, leaving time for a bit of life and art. Not such a bad base for an art practice in this era of impending cuts to contemporary art funding. Though he informs me that the changes that the Royal Mail are imposing on the workforce are making his working life more irksome by the month. I can hardly keep up with Stuart as we swerve our way around pedestrians, scything through the centre of the city. Perhaps this is to do with him trying to keep up with the latest time-and-motion initiatives that the Royal Mail is pushing through. That’s fine, but there’s no need for me to be rushed. OK, it looks like I’m striding along with Stuart, shoulder to shoulder. But really I’m following behind at my own pace.
Three years ago, Stuart took part in the Bucharest Young Artists’ Biennial, invited there by Jenny Brownrigg, the then Dundee-based curator. I ask if there have been any foreign invites and excursions since for Stuart Murray. There haven’t been. Does his work not travel well, then? I ask myself. I would like to think it would. Aspects of Glasgow life both fascinate and appal much of the rest of the developed world. Stuart Murray lives and works in a part of Glasgow that’s been brutalised by a century of its people either working in no-frills industries, or not working at all. And, it seems to me, he is not afraid to look full-square upon the results and record what he sees. In Pubs, People I’ve Met While Working, On the Street, are all books which attest to this. So if the art itself has general interest, does the artist himself not travel well? Are these Cuban heels unclubbable outside the place that Archie Hind lovingly – if half-facetiously – called The Dear Green Place? Perhaps I’ll find out over the next couple of hours.
Upstairs at O’Henry’s on Drury Street, we’re finished our first pint (I’m drinking Foster’s, so-called amber nectar, while Stuart is drinking Kronenberg, truly a drink fit for kings), and it’s Stuart’s round. A chance for me to take stock, I realise. We’ve been through the first few drawings of London and I’m beginning to get my head round the set up. The artist stayed in a crappy hotel near the junction of Bethnal Green Road and Cambridge Heath Road in Bethnal Green. He’d become familiar with the area, especially a pub called the Salmon and Ball which is smack on the Bethnal Green/Cambridge Heath junction, because a mate of his used to have a bed-sit there. On Stuart’s occasional trips to London over the years, he would stay either with this friend or with another pal that lived in nearby Bow. Attachment to this part of the East End was consolidated in 2007, when Stuart was selected for the Jerwood Artists Platform. In this connection, there was a show of the his work at Cell Project Space, which is further north along Cambridge Heath Road. As it happens, I’m familiar with this area too. Or at least I was. When I use to go East London gallery-bashing in the late Nineties, I would travel from my own bed-sit in South London and emerge onto the London streets at Bethnal Green tube station. I’d visit Maureen Paley’s trend-setting and impeccable – if commercial – gallery to the south of the junction. Then I’d march north to the multi-layered obscurities of the Approach, The Showroom, Mobile Home and NYLON. The Anthony Wilkinson Gallery was at that time also located on the Cambridge Heath Road, and at the time Wilkinson represented Bob and Roberta Smith. Now Bob and Roberta may have gone on to become a prominent artist with Hales Gallery, but these early years, clowning around with faux-naive signage, concrete vegetables and The Ken Ardley Playboys, were surely glory days in their own right. Bob and Roberta’s sign ‘LEFT IS THE NEW RIGHT’ has a permanent place above the Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, bang in the sight-line of all the traffic crawling in an easterly direction along Hackney Road. Well, it has a permanent place there in my mind at least.
I dare say I had the odd drink in The Salmon and Ball in the late Nineties. I know that Stuart had more than the odd pint in there in the summer of 2009. A pint of Stella cost £2.95 in that bar, and Stuart has told me that by the end of the week there was quite a pile of 5 pence pieces, lying on top of the mantelpiece above the boarded-up fireplace of his hideous hotel room. He has recorded many of the room’s main features in drawing 7. Why did he stay in such a dump? Partly because his two mates had moved out of the East End so he couldn’t stay with them. Partly because he does not have a network of art world cronies that he can stay with in the supposedly more enlightened cities of Europe. And partly because the room only cost £29.50 per night. In short, the place was dirt cheap, and it was very close to a pub that he liked and which sold Stella at a good price. Ten times £2.95 equals £29.50. I hope Stuart wasn’t tempted to drink away the price of his bed every night of his stay!
I need to remind myself here that Stuart paid all the costs of his time in London. Steve Smith, who curated the group show where Stuart eventually showed his London drawings, had seen Stuart’s work at Cell Project Space, and had liked it a lot. But in asking, at relatively short notice, Stuart to be part of Trash Vortex at the Hackney Wicked Festival, Steve made it clear that the organisation of which he was a member, Tangent Projects, was artist-run and without any funding to speak of. Too bad. But sometimes it’s just nice to be asked to do stuff. Of course it is – this essay is proud to be unfunded at the time of writing. So Stuart took out a loan with Royal Mail Credit Union, and there he was with a return ticket to London, cheap digs and his pockets full of beer money.
‘Sorry, about that,’ says Stuart putting down a new pint of Foster’s in front of me. ‘The Foster’s was no problem but something was up with the Kronenburg. I had to wait.’
We go through the next batch of drawings. When I get to the one of a young woman in a pub telling Stuart that she’s been paid in dresses for cutting someone’s hair, which comes close to being charming despite all its rough edges, I ask who she is.
‘That’s Kim. She’s an artist friend I met through other friends when she lived in Glasgow for a while. It was she who suggested to the Embassy Gallery in Edinburgh that my work would work well alongside Alasdair Gray’s.’
‘Nice one. I hope you gave her a couple of nice dresses in return for that useful insight.’
In due course, I turn over to the next drawing and am told by Stuart that a woman called Katie – a friend from their time together at the Glasgow School of Art, who now teaches art at a secondary school – was with him when he was bitten by a dog on Brick Lane. I know this would have been a significant incident, because a few years ago Stuart was bitten while doing his postal round, sustaining a hand injury, complications in the healing of which meant he was off work for two or three months. Two or three months! – lovely to have the free time, but a bit stressful all the same in terms of job security. The drawing shows the reaction of the dog’s very defensive-seeming owner, but how did our artist respond to another dog biting him after the alarming consequences of the first bite?
‘I couldnae believe that I’d made the effort to bend down and clap this stupid wee Jack Russell. And I couldn’t believe that the yappy bastard had gone for me!’
Although, on this occasion, the teeth of the animal did not break the skin, just leaving a ring of teeth marks and a blood blister, Stuart did have a verbal go at the dog’s owner. The relative restraint exhibited by the drawing is not the full story, then. Stuart tells me he was pulled away from the scene by Katie and they took refuge in a bar in Shoreditch, where the barman tried to add insult to injury by charging the pair £10.80 for their round of drinks. ‘Woah, woah! Sorry!’ as the barman says in the relevant drawing. Stuart was not at all happy with the eight-pound eighty that was actually on the bill. Again, the drawing does not tell the full story. I’m taken aback when Stuart discloses that, when leaving the pub, on the back of the bill that was presented to them on a silver dish, he wrote ‘Cunt of a shop’. He then squeezed the blood blister until it burst, enabling him to underline what he had written in his own blood. Our artist then finished off his piece with the word ‘AIDS’ and an arrow pointing to the bloody line.
‘You shouldn’t be telling me this, Stuart. I won’t be able to resist using it in the text.’
‘Write what you like! It’s all fair game.’
I shrug. I’m thinking ‘You can take the boy out of Glasgow. But you can’t take Glasgow out of the boy.’ But immediately I realise I can’t just shrug this off. ‘Hang on, Stuart. Isn’t it kind of, you know, ridiculous, to wish a serious disease on anyone, never mind someone who’s only crime is to have extorted a few quid from you?’
‘Christ, it was a joke. You have to remember I had Katie to shock or impress.’
‘Well, I know it was a joke, but I’m just not…’
‘Bear in mind, it wasn’t my first drink of the day. And I did draw a small flower on the receipt as well, mibby to even things out.’
‘OK, but leaving aside the AIDS reference, didn’t Katie cringe to see the word ‘cunt’ used in this way? I mean, I don’t suppose there’s a woman on the planet who wouldn’t squirm when hearing the word for what she’s got between her legs used in such a context.’
Stuart takes a sip of his drink before replying: ‘I’ve definitely heard Katie refer to somebody as a cunt in a derogatory way. Along with a lot of nice girls I know.’
I take another look at the Shoreditch drawing to see what Stuart has recorded Katie as saying:
‘What a cheek. I mean look at the place. If it wasn’t so dimly lit you’d see how manky it is, and how badly put together. You can see its just shitty MDF nailed to the walls and given a lick of paint. No wonder it was completely empty.’
I look up. ‘Are you sure Katie didn’t say “nailed to the cunting walls”?
Stuart smiles, then tells me: ‘I have a pretty good memory for conversation. She didn’t say that.’ Stuart takes another swallow, then adds: ‘Look, my last girlfriend called herself a feminist and she would use the term in a derogatory context. Not all the time, of course, it was just another swear word that fitted the bill on some occasions. A pleasant pub with alright people was a “cunt-free zone”, according to her.’
We’re sitting in the gallery with twenty-odd other people, all men except for two women and the barmaid. ‘Would your ex-girlfriend say this was a cunt-free zone?’
‘Apart from me, aye, she probably would.’
Ah, self-deprecation, it’s a wonderful thing and it brings a smile to my face. But, Jesus, my bladder is screaming for attention, so I have to cut short the smiling business and make a move downstairs. In the loo a drawing from In Pubs comes to mind. The one where there is a chap having a pee at a urinal, and while he’s doing so, he’s saying to the implied Stuart. ‘I’ll tell ye something pal. That barmaid is an extremely attractive wummin. Very attractive…Ye no hink? A very, very attractive wummin…’ver attractive…’ I’m inflicted with no such conversational gambits today. I guess because, at least for the moment, the gents’ loo happens to be a cunt-free zone. Christ, I really will have to get that phrase out of my mind.
On the way back to the gallery, I get in our third round and soon we’re back into London, once removed. There’s a sequence of three drawings that tell another story, I realise. It was back at Stuart’s London base – back at the trusty Salmon and Ball – that the barmaid asked Stuart if he’d been putting money in someone else’s till. He had, of course, because after the ridiculously expensive drink in Shoreditch, Stuart and Katie had moved on to The Owl and the Pussycat, a decent enough pub, though Stuart tells me that he snagged his new drainpipe denims on nails sticking up out of the upholstery. Anyway, back in his comfort zone, in the quaint old S.& B., Stuart got talking to the bald chap who crops up in the next drawing, the guy remarking that he didn’t know Dalston, though he had owned a clothing company there fifteen years earlier. The remark stuck in Stuart’s mind, not so much because of the pace of change in London over recent decades that it suggested, but because Dalston is only a few hundred yards north of where he and Stuart stood chatting. I suppose it suggests just how local the East End of London is. Shoreditch, Hoxton, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green, Mile End, Bow, Kingsland, Hackney, Hackney Wick, Stratford Marsh: they’re all located within the same few square miles. But they’re all different worlds as far as thousands of working class Eastenders are concerned. ‘DALSTON IS THE NEW BETHNAL GREEN’ is what Bob and Roberta Smith might have written on his sign at the end of Hackney Road if he’d wanted to really put the cockney cat amongst the pigeons.
Now the next drawing – the one with the bloke sitting at the bar claiming that, as far as he’s concerned, a woman has got to be completely bald down below – connects to the previous two drawings. Which is to say that the offensive remark was addressed to the barmaid from two drawings before, who, Stuart tells me, didn’t blink an eyelid. A bloke standing to one side of the man that made the comment, caught Stuart’s eye, and they registered their shared disapproval of the lewdity with a mutual raising of eyebrows and rolling of eyes. Stuart then remarked, facetiously, that he himself preferred a woman with a good thatch. To which the bald man who was standing on the other side of the sexist idiot remarked, ‘Well, given that quiff of yours, you would, wouldn’t you?’
I’m aware that I’ve drawn all these extra characters onto my copy of the original drawing that Stuart has given me. That’s to say, I’ve drawn four circles around the sole character that Stuart has chosen to depict. And I’ve drawn two-way arrows between the circle representing Stuart and the circles on either side of the sketched character. I have to say, I much prefer the concision of Stuart Murray’s drawing. But I’m hoping that the annotations I’ve made are going to help when it comes to writing up this meeting.
Stuart’s turn to go to the loo. He’s asked if I want the same again, but I don’t. I’m making this third pint see me out. No mistaking what this is though. It’s a liquid lunch. When I worked as an accountant in London in my twenties, there was nothing I liked better. Most men, especially young men, like a few pints on an empty stomach so that alcohol goes straight into the blood stream, kicking the brain into gear. It’s not just a Glasgow working man thing, then. It’s a British thing. Indulged in by students at Cambridge, trainee lawyers in High Holborn and, of course, increasingly these days, parties of young women up and down the country.
The imbibing of alcohol certainly features a lot in Stuart Murray’s work. There’s a story written by James Kelman that prefaces In Pubs, a copy of which happens to be in my bag. ‘Man To Man’ is the interior monologue of an older guy who’s witnessing a man berating his wife in the middle of a Glasgow pub. The largely male clientele of the pub are doing nothing about the hateful act, and the protagonist is ashamed of them all, himself included. Kelman’s not talking about a cunt-free zone, then. Actually, the word ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’ is used several times, but ‘cunt’ doesn’t crop up, until the old guy steps out of the pub in order to get away from the scene that’s distressing him. He breathes deeply of the fresh air and hears the sound of boys in the distance ‘…teenage little cunts. That hee haw voice they have, gon up and down. But cheery.’ The story is a very effective preface to Stuart’s drawings, because it humanises the observing male eye. Kelman’s male protagonist is part of the scene he is observing, not separated from it. And the implication is that the same is true of Murray’s male observer.
For his last night in ‘London’, Stuart got the train to Basildon in Essex, where an old friend from secondary school days, Marc, lives with his partner, Kristine. It’s she that asks Stuart about his walk to the Tate. Stuart tells me that it was to Tate Britain to see a recreation of William Blake’s 1809 exhibition that he had been heading one London morning. By the time he’d walked all the way west to Trafalgar Square, he felt in need of some refreshment before tackling the southern leg of the journey. But he was out of luck, as it was only 10.30am and the pub wasn’t licensed to serve alcohol until noon. So Stuart forged on, arriving at the Tate drenched in sweat and in no fit state to view the exhibition he’d so looked forward to seeing. But never mind, because on taking another route back to Bethnal Green, he’d ended up at the Coal Hole on the Strand, where he did manage to sit down and sink a few Stellas. Later he found out that the pub used to be called The Fountain, and that Blake had lived in the street behind it. So that at least he was able to feel that he’d supped in the same pub as the old master. Picture the scene then: William Blake and Stuart Murray, drinking in the same boozer. The barmaid saying to Blake: ‘Sorry, I aint allowed to serve you any more, you aint wearin’ no shoes or socks.’ And the poet, painter and printmaker, the composer and illustrator of Poems of Innocence and Experience, replying with the same kind of spirit that shines through in his work: ‘I got blistas on me feet’.
When Stuart woke up on his inflatable mattress in Basildon, his last day ‘in London’, he was keen to get back to the Bethnal Green hotel and check out before noon, so as not to have to pay for another night. On consulting his work schedule, Marc realised he had a day off, so he went into London with his old friend. Now Stuart’s train back to Glasgow wasn’t until 7.30pm, so he checked in his suitcase at Euston’s left-luggage facility. Stuart described this suitcase to me at the start of today’s meeting, and it’s good to finally see it in a drawing. I was told the case was coral red, made of some kind of plastic, expandable, and a product of the Sixties. To stop me from thinking that he had bought some weird retro suitcase in order to make some ironic point, Stuart tells me that the case had belonged to his gran. When he’d looked in his mother’s cupboard for an item of luggage suitable for a week’s stay in London, his gran’s case turned out to be the only one he deemed big enough. Stuart’s mother thought it was a ludicrous idea to plump for the great red plastic thing when there was a decent-sized modern case with a pull handle on offer. Stuart, however, sided with the memory of his dad’s mum rather than with his mum, on this occasion. Indeed, he greatly prefers the obsolete monstrosity to the neat black bags with pull handles that seasoned travellers saunter around with these days. Stuart has what I might describe as a traditional postman’s contempt for such luggage. Quite funny really. In any case, we’re both laughing.
It’s pretty obvious what my next question has to be:
‘What was in the suitcase?’
‘Pointy boots in a carrier bag (I had my pointy shoes on to travel in)… Leather jacket… Suit jacket (I was also wearing a suit jacket in the train.)… A new, charcoal crombie with a black velvet collar…’
‘For London in summer?’
‘Aye, I only got to wear it one evening at the Salmon and Ball. Basically, it was fucking sweltering the whole time I was down there.’
‘I wish that sexist guy had been sitting in the bar that night when you walked in wearing the coat. I like to imagine him saying: “As far as I’m concerned a professional escort of either gender simply has to be wearing a charcoal crombie with a black velvet collar.”’
Stuart seems to appreciate the joke. I have to say that the afternoon is going swimmingly. But I mustn’t take my eye off the case: ‘What else had you packed, if you don’t mind my asking?’
‘White shirts, several neckties, pants and socks, a few towels, carrier bag with soap, toothbrush, shaving foam, razors and pomade.’
‘Is that a drink?’
‘Well, Duncan, you could melt it down and drink it. But I use it on my hair. I also had a black hold-all with shoulder strap (not a ‘man bag’, I hasten to add), in which were my CD player, and a few CDS, by the Associates, the Fall and Johnny Cash. Also a book, Hackney That Rose Red Empire by Iain Sinclair. I’d read most of it before I travelled south. I thought I’d finish it when I was down there, but I didn’t in the end.’
‘Nevertheless, the influence of the book might explain the long walk from your Bethnal Green base to Tate Britain. I don’t suppose Iain Sinclair visits a central London gallery without starting off on foot from somewhere significant in his sacred borough of Hackney, and travelling exclusively via lay lines.’
‘You don’t like his writing? I’d have thought it would have been right up your street.’
‘What else was in your bag?’
‘Well, there were pens and Tippex pens, A4 paper and a sketchbook. None of which was used, as I did all the drawings when I got back home. And there were several copies of various publications of mine, which I intended to give away, but ended up taking home with me.’
‘I think that was wise. There’s a copy of In Pubs for sale on abebooks right now, and the bookseller is asking 40 quid for it. Giving away those books on the streets of London instead of putting them up for sale on ebay would have been like burning £20 notes!’
We banter on about the art-cum-lit in Stuart’s suitcase. I have to physically turn over – onto its back – the drawing of the left-luggage facility in Euston before I can get myself to move on. But finally I manage to do just that. Stuart spent his final afternoon in London in the Bricklayers Arms near Goodge Street. I now realise that it’s his old pal from Glasgow, Marc, who is portrayed in a subsequent drawing, number 29. He’s sitting with a pint, talking about the price of beer and bemoaning the fact that ‘a lotta cunts in London’ prefer to pay more for their drink because the ‘daft cunts’ think it’s cool. So what do I make of the work now I’ve been given this privileged information? You can take the boy out of Glasgow but you can’t… Stuart interrupts my conclusion, telling me that Marc didn’t drink when he was a teenager. It was only when he got a job as a drummer aboard a cruise ship that he got into the habit of drinking every night. Oh, the boredom of passing through international waters!
I’m in the train on my return journey to Perth when I get round to wondering how the conversation developed that afternoon in the Goodge Street pub. Perhaps Marc would have asked if Stuart expected to see his own work hanging in Tate Britain any time soon. Well, why not. Quite a few artists educated at the Glasgow School of Art have found themselves exhibiting there in recent years.
On the back of the drawing of Marc in the Goodge Street pub, I write:
‘Cos when it happens, Stuart… you getting yer show at the Tate, I mean…, I’ll be there for ye, pal. Just make sure ye gae us a map showin a’ the pubs roond aboot the gallery. Cos by the time I get to walking doon the stairs of the Tate I’ll be fair gaspin’ for a pint, man. Aye right enuff. It would be a funny lookin’ cunt I wouldn’t accept a free drink offa that day!’
God, that’s patronising of me. Marc may be interested in contemporary art for all I know. Perhaps he even remembers the fuss made in the late nineties about Richard Billingham’s work. Billingham took colour photographs inside the family home he shared with his obese mother, alcoholic father and thuggish brother. The insider’s view into a working class urban environment – I think the Billinghams stayed in a house on a council estate in the West Midlands – were all the rage amongst middle class curators and collectors for a while. I saw one hanging in the London head office of Simmons and Simmons, the firm of lawyers that has a to-die-for collection of contemporary art. I saw a couple hanging up in Bill Drummond’s home, though I expect he’s cut them up into a thousand tiny pieces by now, and sold the pieces in such a way as to recoup the money he paid for them from a West End gallery.
Come to think of it, it wouldn’t have been far for Stuart and Marc to walk from The Bricklayers Arms to the Anthony Reynolds Gallery on Great Marlborough Street, just the other side of Oxford Street. Anthony Reynolds represented Richard Billingham at the time (still does, along with at least one artist with Glasgow links, Keith Farquar), and not only succeeded in finding a market for the photographs, but protected Billingham from the more voyeurish attention of the press. Only certain journalists and publications were given permission to reproduce the photographs, for example. Moreover, Anthony Reynolds funded the making of Ray’s A Laugh, a book comprising entirely of photographs of the Billingham household. Just as In Pubs consists entirely of Murray drawings inside working class pubs. So, yes, if they’d known about the link, Marc and Stuart might have walked over to the gallery on Great Marlborough Street and got a bit of networking done on behalf of Stuart’s career as a blue-chip fine artist in the making.
Just before my bus gets in to Blairgowrie, I turn again to the last London image. It shows Stuart the day after getting back to Glasgow. Coming out of his flat, a neighbour greets him from the balcony of her own flat, and makes reference to all the lovely restaurants that Stuart must have enjoyed during his sojourn in London. (Yeah right, just as I enjoyed the lovely restaurants of Glasgow today.) Stuart tells her that he’s off to see his mother. And the funny thing is, that’s where I’m headed as soon as I get off the bus. I’ll spend an hour with my mother in Stormont Lodge, trying to explain where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing, then it’ll be home to Kate.
The next day I get an email from Stuart. It goes like this:
Just remembered something. This didn’t happen during the initial week I was down, but during the weekend I was down for the Trash Vortex show and Hackney Wicked Festival. The Friday I got the flyposting done with Steve’s help while a mate, Richard McKean, took some great photos of us pasting up the show. The Friday night as I told you, I’d stayed in Lewisham with a friend. On Saturday morning I got the train to London Bridge, had a stroll over the Thames, got something to eat in Chinatown, then sipped a few pints in various pubs in Soho for a few hours before heading to Hackney Wick in the evening to meet up with the curator and a couple of his friends. It was while I sat at a table in the Coach and Horses in Soho that two gents came in, one with a familiar face. We automatically said hello to each other and then I said ‘How do I know you again?’ He said: ‘You deliver oor mail sometimes, don’t ye?’ They lived in Brigton on one of my deliveries and were down for a show. I thought they might sit with me, but they went to the bar then decided to leave. I said ‘Ye away?’ he said: ‘Ach, they don’t sell Fosters.’
I think that mention of Fosters is a friendly touch. Though I’m aware that Kronenbourg and Stella are the truly noble drinks. I drink the inferior brew these days for one reason, and one reason only. I intend to live to be a hundred years old, thereby single-handedly pushing Scotland’s longevity stats right up there with the UK norm. There, I’ve said it!
Ah well, one can dream of a better world. And, as Stuart Murray surely knows, one can use a heady combination of alcohol and reality to fuel that dream.