Tightrope Walker

An excerpt from my novel “Tightrope Walker” …

‘Hello, miss Rue.’

This was really something. Hetta had seen people thrust their heads into rubbish bins to avoid their eyes meeting hers, and this person had just spoken to her.

‘Oh, er … hello?’ said Hetta, as if she had forgotten what a proper greeting between two civilised people actually sounded like.

The man was indeed quite short, a fully grown watermelon shorter than her; and Hetta wasn’t considered that tall for her age either. He had upon his shoulders a deeply plum coloured jacket that was fastened with little silver buttons in the shape of some sort of creature that looked a little bit like a bird. Just showing underneath this jacket was a blood red waistcoat, it too festooned with similar bird-like buttons, except these ones were gold. His trousers were deathly black and his shoes the same, although more polished than his trousers. His hat was quite tall and had in fact fooled Hetta, as without it he would certainly be even shorter. His face was bristly and cunning and lined.

‘Are you a gnome?’ said Hetta, not rudely but as a question of general clarification. There were said to be an ancient race of tunnel dwelling gnomes living underneath the city, but Hetta had never seen one.

‘My mother says I’m just small for my age.’

‘And how old are you?’

‘Fifty three.’

‘Oh.’

Hetta looked around a little awkwardly, expecting the man to now run away.

‘I come to you here today on behalf of my employer, miss Rue.’

‘And you’re not scared of me?’ said Hetta, still at a loss as to the origins of her newfound friend.

‘Is that what you would suppose of all of those that would look upon you, miss Rue?’ he asked.

‘Uh … I suppose not … really.’

‘Very well, miss. As I was saying, I have been sent to deliver to you a message, dictated but not written, from my employer,’ the man went on, a carelessness in his words. He didn’t sound pushy, but his manner was clearly designed to get the point across, no matter what.

Hetta’s father had told her stories about lone sharks, animals that roamed around on their own in the sea on some other sea creature’s behalf, collecting things the animal they were working for didn’t necessarily want to get themselves, things that the animals they were trying to get it from didn’t normally want to give up. Hetta had never been to the seaside, but she was pretty sure that sharks couldn’t walk on land. Or for that matter, talk either. Hetta peered back at the short man, and then though to herself that if sharks did walk around on the land, this is what they would probably look like.

‘Miss?’

‘Oh, yes – you were saying?’

‘I work for a gentleman by the name of Threadbare Quickly,’ said the man, then pausing in a theatrical kind of way, peering back at Hetta with his own kind of emphasis, as if the mere mention of such a name should inspire a reaction worthy of such a pause so as to give all those present time to gather their wits before continuing on with their lives.

The name meant nothing to Hetta.

‘Yes?’ she said, eyebrows wandering towards their kin on the top of Hetta’s head. The little man looked a shade perturbed, but only for a moment. He gathered himself again by way of a pronounced ruffling of his waistcoat.

‘Mr Quickly owns a number of interests in This’lldo, and has asked me to put forward a proposal to you.’

That was about as much as Hetta was prepared to hear.

She had begun to pick up an odorous note of burnt Oak Leaf and thirteen day old Beadle Juice wafting up from the little man’s person. It was the sort of smell that didn’t so much drift but elbowed its way up your nostrils when you were unfortunate enough to be walking down the back alleys and side streets of Tinsel Town (a smallish district located in the south eastern part of This’lldo).

Tinsel Town was a wonder to behold in the month of December, when the winter festivals were at their highest and most wonderful peak. Cheery lights and warming glows ebbed out from every orifice available during the month, and there was seldom a citizen of This’lldo not present at the 31 day long celebration for at least an afternoon or a cheeky lunch break. However, for the other eleven months of the year Tinsel Town was a haven for dodgy dealings, smugglers, penny-wheelers, swindlers and all manner of people of variously more exotic persuasions. And the worst of them all, those who worked for the council.

The distinctive smell, which lingered around in the early morning air like a fart in the fog, was a smell that could not be mistaken. Such things smelt of Trouble. And usually Trouble’s older sister Mayhem, as well as their younger brother Mischief too. Hetta had once met Trouble and his other siblings by chance encounter, and they were certainly a family that had a particular odour you never forgot.

Hetta turned to move on.

‘I must be heading off, I have … things to do,’ said she.

‘Oh, yes,’ said the man, and now his voice had changed. His tone had dropped to a hiss, his words seeming to slither across the ground before they slinked their way slowly into Hetta’s ears.

‘We all know what things you do, communicating with the dark powers, reaching out to those from beyond to fuel your strength – but don’t worry,’ tacked on the man, noticing a tightness in Hetta’s expression, ‘my employer values such great attributes, he is most interested in … fostering your skills.’ Hetta took a step back, her body doing its bit towards snapping her mind back into action.

‘I’m afraid you are going to have to tell Mr. Quiggly – ’

‘Quickly,’ corrected the little man.

‘Yes, him. You’ll have to say thank you very much for his … well, thank you, but I need to be going.’ Hetta then took a step sideways and did not look back. The short and well dressed man did not follow her.

‘What a weirdo,’ Hetta said to herself, her small but quickening steps eating up the cobblestones under her feet with ferocious pace. ‘And they say I’m strange.’ SH

Tomoko Azumi

Article I wrote on designer Tomoko Azumi, for the Eiger Gallery website …

The ‘Queen of Chairs’ (as we like to think of her), Tomoko Azumi was born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1966. Initially she studied architecture at Kyoto City University of Arts, and then worked for a few years in an architectural practice in Tokyo, before later moving to London and graduating with an MA in Furniture Design from The Royal College of Art in 1995. After that, she and her partner formed the AZUMI design studio. In 2005 Tomoko established the T.N.A Design Studio in Hackney, north-east London, where she has been working ever since. At T.N.A she is the head of a multi-cultural design team that operate a furniture, product, exhibition and retail interior design consultancy for multinational clients.

The idea for building up our collective of great people at Eiger is simple – we consider the designers we like and admire, creative minds who haven’t necessarily worked with our materials and manufacturing processes before, and invite them to challenge themselves by bringing the skills and knowledge from their native fields into jewellery. With Tomoko this idea was no different, and she was promptly invited to take part by Eiger designer Terence Woodgate. Happily for us, Tomoko accepted

An image I had at the beginning of this project was from the title of the brand, Eiger,’ said Tomoko, when speaking about what first sparked her interest in joining Eiger. ‘It was an illustrated Finsteraarhorn on a Swiss postage stamp, which represents a simplified visual interpretation of “upheaval”, a disturbance that is created by the movement of the earth’s crust and also by the carving by the glacier. Then we started to look at folding paper techniques to repeat this idea of “when you press both ends of material and the middle goes higher” phenomenon. The transition from paper to silver worked so well.’

One of Tomoko’s more iconic pieces is the‘Table=Chest’ for Röthlisberger in 1995, which exhibited in the new Furniture Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This not being her only such recognised piece, Tomoko has works displayed in other UK collections, as well as at the Stedelijk Museum in Holland.

In 2004 she extended her prowess even further, designing for the prestigious Italian brand La Palma with the chair Avia. Although she has designed many chairs, all of her works of seating art meld perfectly with each of the brands they are produced for. And as well as more than meeting their purpose, they all maintain a distinct uniqueness from one another when considered individually.

Tomoko’s work has a creative knack for using the visual aesthetic of an object to enhance everyday life for its owner. But it is her ability to combine beautifully formed pieces with flawless functionality which really gets our juices flowing when thinking about her work, and how pleased we are to have her as a part of our team. SH

Just Another Day

I couldn’t open the door so instead climbed out the window, it was two floors up from the city street, must have been at least fifteen feet. I dangled there for a little while, I did my best to hitch a smile, onto my face, what a disgrace, I must have looked so out of place. To all the lovely people there walking by, my eyes couldn’t help but point towards the sky. Then I let go, all to and fro, I hit the ground like kneaded dough. A little limp was all I carried, stupidity and I should just get married, it’d be much easier to know the truth, after knocking back a sweet vermouth. Through bleary eyes I stumbled on, which side of the street the bus stop was on, became a Hawking worthy conundrum, until I struck it headlong with my face, and threw off completely my walking pace. The people looked and wondered why, this messed up long haired black jeaned guy, was wearing a Harry Potter tie, so that it covered just one eye. A pirate from another time, I had sworn I didn’t know the crime, of fashion, style I was committing, on the bus I was then soon sitting. Funny looks followed me like multicoloured flies, scrunched up faces, narrowed eyes, all acting like a big surprise, was now ridding with them along their way, for me it’s just another day … SH

Every F#cking Airport

Don’t all airports look the same?

The fading light, that amber glow, the happy workers seeming content when it’s slow at 1am. You wonder where they go, what they do, how is their life when they’re out in a real world you won’t be able to see.

The steps, the elevators the long and silent rows of luggage trolleys, looking like expectant soldiers, all at attention and waiting, eager to please their new commanding officer. The wheels rolling, scraping, cases bumping and lumping …

Walls and walls of glass and steel, paint and floors, shiny and scraped. Each terminal the inside of a travelers prison, of which you wish to get in, and wait with hundreds upon thousands of others for that slow coming privilege.

And tiredness, oh how I associate sleep deprecation with these foe polished hubs. Uniform wearers, coffee servers, the bored sales assistants at 1am. They look tired too. For the same reasons as I or for wider, more having to do with occupational choice reasons, who really knows.

Airports take you places you really want to go. But to get there, you have to spend time in a place you would rather not be. Airports are what make the actual reality of traveling boring, and being in the places you go to, amazing. All the more amazing because when you get finally there, when you properly get to where you are traveling to, you’re finally no longer in the f#cking airport … S.H.

Event City

How to Eat, Drink and Educate Your Way Around London for Free

Tower Bridge

Know anything about JavaScript? Expert on financial planning? Well versed in coding? Me neither. But hey, why let that stop you from dining out and glugging one or two or three or four or more beverages for free in our fair London Town?

Truth is, your lack of tech or business or creative knowledge won’t stop you. There is a wealth of events and talks and meetups in this wide city of ours, and all you need to be good at is finding them.

But opportunities don’t just drop into your lap. It’s a craft, I’ve discovered, but not one that can’t be easily picked up by the dedicated of body and mind. In one particular week, used here for pure example, I was participant at evening events for seven days straight, where you were able to consume all the booze you could drink, all for no more than having your name ticked off on a list. Now, this isn’t to say I took part in a seven day drinking spree, far from it, but the point is that the opportunity is there. If you want to get a little tippled every day of the week, you can. And for nothing. Nix. Naught. Nada.

Food too, although in my brief experience not in as large quantities as alcohol, was still in plentiful enough supply that you could forget cooking for at least a couple of days a week, and fulfil your snacking needs at just about every place you enter.

What’s the secret? You have to own it … It’s not exactly the same as being dressed up in your best suit, ambling into a function room alongside Vince Vaughn in a scene from “Wedding Crashers”, but sometimes it feels pretty close. You have to walk enough walk so you can at least manage a little talk. Be genuine. Meet people and enjoy it. As long as you never forget to be open, you’ll never lose. Even a free glass of Tesco bought wine and a handful of Kettle crisps is still a win, in anyone’s books.

However, as much as the idea of free drink and munch has no doubt got you all in a thrifty frenzy, the true wealth on offer here is the enlightenment and education you have before your hopefully open eyes. Since I prised my own squinted eyelids open and embraced the positive experiences on offer, I’ve learned more about new ideas, inspirations, products, opportunity and endless other subjects of knowledge in the last month than I had done in the year previous. Once you cut away the brambles of habit and expose your spongy brain to what is out there, and how your access to it all is no more than a tube journey away, your mind opens innumerably.

So here I am, on a chilly Tuesday night, and on the menu today lays not fine wine, nibbles or craft beer, but access … Free access, into somewhere that you otherwise need to cough up towards the pointy side of eighteen pounds to gain entry into.

Sat comfortably so in the centre of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the bowels of London awash all around me, the ambling chatter gradually rises to its now rumbling murmur. What was upon my arrival a sea of empty brown seats, is now full of people. It indeed costs a pretty penny or two to get this close to the fine stone work and elaborately painted ceilings, on a normal day. However, all of us are in here for free. We’re awaiting a talk on Postcapitalisim by someone or some such who has written a rather long book about it all. I must admit I am intrigued, and enthusiastic to learn yet something more that a day before my knowledge was close to bankrupt in. But in truth, with total bleak honesty now spilling from my mind and off of your computer, table or iPhone screens, right now they could be in the revealing climax of a wet t-shirt contest, and my attention would still be locked to the immense nature of the innards of the grand structure I now sit in. This place is vast. And as they say about sensible cars and single share rooms on spareroom.com, it really does look a lot bigger from the inside that you would have first imagined. The far end of the ceiling ahead of me, in the ‘pointy top-of-the-cross bit’ of the cathedral has become my favourite feature within this great structure. It is the most colourful, and sparkles now like a Jeweller’s bazaar, in predominantly darker shades of green and crimson. With my vision all a flutter, small polite applause spurt into life, and the speaker begins to talk. The words sink into my head, but the echoes of his voice wash over me. In the distance a bell tower chimes. The place, the building, the setting steals the show.

Because that is what it’s all about. When you live in a city such as London, you must grab it firmly in both hands and turn that bugger upside down, like a freshly prised open piggy bank, shaking every last rattling penny out of the guts of it, until the spoils clatter onto the kitchen table in front of you. The opportunity is there. The opportunity for experience. And here I am telling you it’s there to be spent, right down to the last ten pence piece. Because after all that’s what London is, a city to be plundered, however you see fit, but plundered it must be. And as long as you do it in a nice way, you might even be able to do it for free. Sometimes at least … It is London after all. SH

A Sunny Afternoon in SW6

BBBLLLLLEEEEEGGGGGRRRRRRRHHHHHAAAAAAA!

“What the bloody hell was that?!” I thought to myself with fury, startled a little and nearly losing grip of my camera.

It turns out it was a middle aged woman, walking down the street towards me. She’d made the demonic grunt before then muttering something about hating pictures being taken. I was in the midst of taking a shot of a building site, nowhere near the Mediterranean looking lass, so wondered what her bother was. She passed me, staring with an ill tempered look about her lightly tanned face, but said nothing more.

“Chill out. It’s a sunny day,” I offered politely in her wake.

No reply.

Well it was. Quite sunny in fact. But this was Fulham in its many splendid nutshell – the beauty with the beastliness.

I continued on, unperturbed, and soaked in the sunny disposition of the day. And it was there to lapped up, after lunch and in between commitments, the river was sparkling in a gentle way that left me warm, despite the one degree air temperature.

But it wasn’t only the river, low and kissing the edge of Putney, Fulham’s riverside neighbour. The streets were lulling me too. The clean scent of cold stone mingled peacefully with the calm sunlight, and barely another person did I pass as I wend through the small inner houses of the area and south towards the Thames. From rooftops orange bathed vistas gazed down upon me, small gardens and hidden perches calling, a little away from the bustle. Dancing lights from shiny window panes did their best to entice me too, like gentle fires, giving south facing homes a polished look of burnished gold.

The fifty something crow and her grumpy groans did little if anything to spoil the moment. But London does that to you, I find. Britain in general. It puts you in a readier mood to make the most of what the winds can bring. If it’s sunny in the UK, you’re much more likely to tell yourself to get out and make the most of it … You don’t know when you’ll get another chance to look upon a sky that isn’t grey!

All in all, the interlude in my day was short, but it brought before me a curious array of characters, all doing as I was, and taking a little time out of the day to enjoy the day …

A regally dressed businessman, casting his thoughts out into the water.

A group of gulls bathing in the shallows.

A lost looking girl plotting her next move.

A dog and its owner beaming like lost lovers.

A man sat by a deserted playground, as if keeping watch to make sure that no fun was had by any child, of any age.

And then there was me, taking my share of vitamin D, and glancing over my shoulder every now and then, keeping an eye out for the grunting woman, paranoid she was the president of some ant-photographer league.

Well, you never know.