Short Story: In these latitudes…

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It’s the ankle. It’s always the ankle. It can be the left or the right, but one of them HAS to twist in the worst moment, when I’m in a big hurry and can’t lose any more time. Because, as Biffy Clyro once said, time’s what we don’t have.

I hate walking this big stretch of land. This barren tarmac nightmare. The problem of living in this medium sized city is that there are a lot of gaps in public transportation and I for one can’t believe that a first world country would have several major roads separated by a mile of unkempt sidewalk, were both cyclists and us filthy pedestrians have to co-exist in a symbiotic relationship.

Oh, well, that’s England for you. No wonder they are way thinner than the people from my country. My country, such a shithole right now, but, when you think about it, it’s been that way since it became independent. I guess it comes with the territory.

Somewhere around the second identikit bunch of council states, my ankle starts to throb in a ¾ beat, which doesn’t mix well with the 2-step grime blasting from one of the lower apartments. A guy in a hoodie does that ol’ handshake motion to either receive a baggy or payment from another hooded guy. We all are pond scum but there’s always a pecking order.

Works for drug dealers, works for reviewers. It’s all business. I wait for the traffic light to bless my crossing of the road, another of those silly A-numbered things they have here that are either fully jammed or completely deserted. This one is the latter, because it’s 6 pm and people in this country evaporate after 5 pm.

Still, I wait for the green light for pedestrian crossing. I can see the supermarket is already closed and I tut disapprovingly. What if I need food after 5 pm? Heck, what if I need a cup of that thing that passes as coffee that sells at Starbucks? If I could own a place here, I’d make it a late night coffee joint and make millions. MILLIONS.

I jog a little and use both hands to vault over the railing, as someone decided that steps were too dangerous and they needed to build a long-ass ramp that takes about 3 minutes to use, only to descend 50 centimeters.

The more advanced the country, the more health and safety becomes daft, you know? Ah, sure, I complain, but I make a point to walk all the way to the white lines painted on the pavement that indicate it’s okay for me to cross an empty car park. There’s a little path that I can take between the main building and the car park that gets me to the other main road quicker than walking around. So I do that, careful not to disturb the yobs and neddies still drunk from the empty bottles of White Lightning surrounding their stupid bodies. Another zebra crossing, another 2 minute wait for the proverbial beep-beep-BEEP of the pelican crossing, that noise that sometimes wakes me up at night. No wonder the faces in this place are so gray and morose, no one can sleep without getting violently shaken by beeping.

Zebra Crossing. Source http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-12059385

Zebra Crossing. Source: BBC.

I cross another mostly empty avenue. It still sunny and the only place that has activity is a nearby pub and a swarm of takeaway places that sell dog kebab and fried vermin. Pretty delicious after you’ve had a few pints, I guess.

This street, closely book-ended by a discount supermarket and a small, pricey supermarket, is now littered with student accommodation. It’s summer, so most of them are ghastly over-priced husks with not a soul inside. Well, there might be the odd post-graduate here and there, but, like I said, not a single soul.

I wonder about the industrial past of this town and how in a time span shorter than my life, the whole place has transformed into a whole different beast. No longer are metal parts forged and vases glazed on this road, now overseas students get filed into small hutches that stink of grease, alcohol and the curious absence of soap.

Speaking of hutches, I finally arrive to my destination. In better times, it was a series of forges and small workhouses where artisans and tinkers made their trade. Little mesters? Something like that. Some idiom the local still enjoy dropping in conversation to see if you flinch or not. The rooms are now leased by a plethora of bands, all of them wishing they could afford some sort of insulation to keep from freezing their tootsies off with the chilly weather that has this city on a stranglehold.

Ha! Look at me, wearing a jacket in the summer. I never wore one back home, but here it seems like a necessity. I call George, one of the “handlers” of my interviewee. By all means he is a producer and good friend of hers, but they like to be silly and call themselves “handlers” and “wranglers.” I play along with this because I grew up watching Monty Python. Rafe takes the call. He’s the other “handler” and gives me pretty straight directions to get to the place where the interview will take place. Just a couple of former industrial units and I’m there.

The sign hanging in the brick wall reads “Geodesic Studios”. It’s on the second floor (or “first floor”, if you plan to blend in) of a building that hosts a café, a white goods repair shop and a place that’s always leased and empty. Rafe opens the door and a small gang of kids run through, like an avalanche of rabid poodles.

“There’s a child’s birthday party at the café” says Rafe, then he deadpans “Does wonder for the mixing.” I walk into Geodesic Studios and George is looking at a computer with a thousand dubs piled in a screen that looks like an iterative rainbow. Without looking, he grabs a can of cider and lobs it my way. I manage to catch it and open it.

“Hey…”

“Your fave, innit?”

Yes, a can of ice-cold Woodpecker cider. They’ve been facebook-stalking me alright. Rafe offers a seat in the big couch and grabs a bag of trash leaning by the backdoor. “Bin collection tomorrow. Or so they say.” I can spy a thousand carcasses of coffee cups neatly piled inside the bag, which hasn’t burst at the seams by the sheer will of any God you believe in.

“She ringed a few minutes before you, she’ll be around in about fifteen or twenty minutes” says Rafe.

“Past the hour, I guess?” George deadpans. I guess the job of wrangler/handler/producer involves developing your sarcasm. Hey, it beats killing people.

It matters not. We have alcohol, a bag of cheese squares and two cans of olives I borrowed from a department’s lunch meeting today. George starts tapping and clicking, hard at work with what looks like the final mix of an EP. Rafe beckons me to come to another room and starts showing me the gear they have at the studio. This is not only a good tactic to distract from what will turn into a 2 hour wait, but also his way to connect to some stranger he’s only talked online. He knows I love gear and we start to geek out on pedals, humbuckers and Farfisas.

“Everything ok with the studio?” I ask nonchalant.

“Yes, we are mostly busy. When it’s not recording, it’s mixing or doing post. We’ve had some trouble with the white goods guy, because he says we are too loud and we reply ‘maybe, but we can listen to your shit techno when we are trying to record!’ so if you happen to hear a faint Gouryella mix in any song, blame the white goods guy!”

“That I will…”

George opens the door to the mixing room and yells:

“Listen to this shit, guys!”

George presses play. The band is a local grunge/indie combo that have been garnering free hyperbole from the fair-weather fan rags that pass as “reviewers” in this city. I for one can’t stand this band, but I don’t think George wants us to hear to another Carling-quality band.

“Can you hear it?”

“Faithless?” guesses Rafe.

“No, The Streets?” I say.

“Worse: Hadouken.” Saying that, George clicks a button and all channels except one go dead. You can barely hear it but the distinct grunts and puffs from Hadouken can be heard in the distance.

“Bollocks! First the mice and now that rubbish.” Rafe is understandably cross but sits down and smile. “I guess they got a free remix, after all. Skint gits.”

A free remix. I’ve heard about this, bands paying for recording and mixing and sometimes becoming a bit…demanding, wanting free stuff just because they are “artists.” Wankers, we all are in the same sinking ship, you don’t get a special seat in the lifeboat because you have floppy hair, Topshop clothes and know multiple iterations of the same 5 chords.

Rafe’s mobile goes off. It’s her. He leaves the room and I start feeling a knot in my stomach. I should be feeling butterflies too, but I think they were drowned out two cans of Woodpecker ago. She enters the room and I can feel my heart sink all the way to the white goods repair shop, probably landing between a Henry and a lead-lined freezer from the late 60s.

Henry. Source: http://www.henryvacuumcleaner.com/red-henry-hvr200a.php

Henry. Source: Henry Website.

She introduces herself and I shake her hand, hoping she doesn’t notice my natural fidgety ways. She gets a blunt out (“for unwinding”) and a bottle of wine (“for the interview”.) It actually goes smooth. I had to re-write a few of the questions I was given, since the original interviewer bailed this to “talk with someone more famous” (her words) and her questions were, well, shit. So I played it by ear, fumbling a few words, mispronouncing a few polysyllabic words that I use to sound ostentatious and after 40 minutes of chit chat, it’s time to finish

“Do you want to get some action shots?” she asks and I nod. I adjust the exposure and shutter speed and we take a few photos of her playing piano, strumming her guitar and looking generally “artistic”, a word that varies as much as people’s opinions of what constitutes “art” (“everything that I like”, really.)

We hang for another couple of hours, listening to mixes of other bands that have recorded there. Some are great, some probably won’t be around next year and some are shit. Those three kinds seldom exist in isolated circles and sometimes can be concentric circles. This makes sense if you believe my reasoning behind what constitutes “art” in the previous paragraph.

She sits closer and closer to me as the afternoon yields into night’s march. I can feel going “weird”, so I slide away slowly, but she keeps sitting closer. It goes dark fairly late in these latitudes so it’s close to midnight when I say goodbye to all three of them. They are going to go for a midnight recording, as they feel pretty inspired by now. I feel pretty tipsy, peckish and my body is buzzing from being near her. It’s me fanboying out, honest. Or maybe it’s a contact high. Or maybe the fact that a mouse bit me. It matters not, every step back home, on that steep hill, I can still feel “the buzz” from the place. The butterflies in my stomach wake up from their Lovecraftian sleep and start to duke it out in my stomach. I stop inside a takeaway place, order whatever they serve that has the less amount of rat droppings/cockroach legs (chips, now only with 20% rat hair!) and walk back home with wobbly knees and a confused head.

Words & main photo: Sam J. Valdes Lopez

All other photos credited to their rightful owners. No infringement intended.

 

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