April fish and other hoaxes

Michael Smith's first novel, The Giro Playboy, is published by Faber & Faber.


How much for two?

I've been making music with a friend of mine recently, so one day I went round his new place to work on it. When he said he'd moved into a loft I was expecting an airy, minimalist expanse with tasteful furniture and art, but once I got there I realized he meant the smelly old attic kind. I climbed up the rope ladder through the hole in the roof into a musky, dusty, cave-like space with no windows or natural light. I could vaguely make out the mattress of the Spanish drummer he shared the place with through the shadows; my mate's mattress was at the other end of the roof, and to get there you had to crawl under various wooden beams and slats that you kept banging your head really hard on, and then make yourself comfortable amongst the bicycle spokes, dartboards, tennis rackets, broken 80s IBM desktops and other domestic detritous that had successively accumulated, out of sight and out of mind, over the last twenty years; the ceiling was too low for you to stand up straight, and fell off sharply with the angle of the roof, and what with all the beams and slats in the way, to get around the place we were reduced to crawling about like rats on our hands and knees. It was one of those freakishly hot September days, and being in an attic with no ventilation, it got so sweltering my mate stripped down to his undies, and shortly afterwards I did the same, the beads of sweat rolling down my temples as I tried to get comfy on a huge roll of coarse carpet underlay. I felt like we were the cabin boys on a slave galley from 200 years ago; after hours of sweating and smoking fags it began to stink like a slave galley too, while we huddled round the Apple Mac, which seemed to be my mate's one possession in the world, and toiled over maddening loops of music that just went round and round like the mind of a man driven insane by years in solitary confinement.

By the time we left I felt like I'd always been in there, and I had no idea whether it was going to be night or day outside, but I got out there and it was pitch black, with light autumnal drizzle in the air. We had to make our way into town for an appointment at the restaurant that first put Soho on the culinary map when Napoleon's chef set up shop there after Waterloo. I realized on the way down I might look a bit out of place in my crinkled sweaty shirt and flip flops, but what could I do? The drizzle turned into a torrential downpour and by the time we got there we were soaked. I dried off on a luxurious leather sofa underneath a huge oil painting of Edwardian society belles with waiters pouring flutes of Veuve Clicquot out of silver buckets for me left right and centre while I explained to people why I stank and what a strange day I'd been having.

I was steaming drunk by closing time and wanted to keep the party going, and ended up sat in a doorway smoking crack with a tramp through a miniature Malibu bottle with the bottom knocked off, while my friend got chatting to a woman with a gnarled-up face about getting the brasses in. She had one round the corner for him, she said. "How much for me to fuck two?" he asked, "Sixty pounds, my lovely," she said. He gave her the money and she told him to wait there. After a couple of minutes it dawned on him she wasn't coming back. Last thing I saw of him he stormed off looking for her, swearing he was going to smack her in the face. I went off laughing to myself what a clown he was, until I realized I'd been stung too: when I opened up my little goody bag on the bus, the drugs the tramp had pretended to give me turned out to be nothing more than a lump of melted bin bag. I wanted to murder him too at first, but I milled it over and couldn't help but start laughing again. What a day, I thought: a day that pretty much summed up this funny kind of life I looked for and found in London.



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