Redcliffe subway wins award

Redcliffe Street underpass has won Most Intimidating Subway of the Year.
Judges visiting Bristol for this year’s National Urban Decay Awards, noted how the subway’s darkened entrance, blind corners and sunken ceiling all contributed to a sense of ‘dread and uncertainty’, making it the favourite of the category.
Local residents were thrilled with the award. Rosary Farce said ‘it’s the last place on earth I’d ever want to go, except maybe with a hatchet and chainsaw. There’s not many places you can say that about in Bristol. Well, maybe a few.”
Councillor, Tim Reid, said the community had a love- hate relationship with the subway, as in they love to hate it. “It’s long been a talking point for the local community as a place that contributes to personal safety fears and general uneasiness within the neighbourhood. It’s fantastic that this is now being recognised as something to be proud of.”
Swindon was the overall winner, however, receiving the Gritty City award for being “generally bleak all round.”

The burning path

I’ve been tinkering away on this for a long while now and have decided its probably as finished as its ever going to be. I would like to submit it to some competitions so any  feedback is appreciated.

“Come on, out you get,” said a voice as torchlight spilled beneath the trailer. Khalid looked across at Amal, his bodyshape wedged in the gutts of the lorry.

“Move, then,” he muttered.

They dragged their bodies across the greasy tarmac to find the guards waiting beneath a floodlight, caps casting shadows across their faces. 

“I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” said one of them, jabbing Khalid in the stomach with a baton. Meanwhile, Amal squirmed nervously next to him. “What’s the matter?” said the guard, shifting his attention. “Thought we’d let you off?” The baton thudded against Amal’s ear with a muted slap. Another blow landed on his shoulder and he cried out. He lifted his arms up and the guard kicked him in the leg. Amal staggered, but stayed upright. That’s something, thought Khalid.

The guards marched them away from the quayside, past the line of lorries until they were outside the main gates. Khalid looked back and caught sight of the cranes and their blinking lights towering above the dock. They used to seem a lot brighter, thought Khalid.

“I want to go home,” mumbled Amal, dabbing at a bloody nose with his sleeve. Then his little body began to shake as the tears came.

“Well, you can’t,” replied Khalid. “You know what happens if you do.”

Amal sniffed hard and looked about, defiantly. “Where are we going then?” They started down the road towards the seafront, past groups of people huddled on the parched bank, eyeing up vehicles. Khalid looked for a familiar face, but their gazes travelled through him, seeking out a rattling lock or a nod from a sympathetic driver. Then a voice called. Khalid looked and saw Fadel squatted over a tree root. A cigarette burned between his fingers.

“When did you get back?”

“Yesterday.”

“What’s with the hair?”

Khalid shrugged. “People look different over there.”

“Who you with?”

“My brother, Amal.” Amal wiped furiously at his eyes.

“This is Hasan,” said Fadel, tilting his head to a scrawny kid in a grey tracksuit next to him. “He’s from my village.” Fadel passed round the cigarette and Khalid took it, observing the smouldering end like it was the tip of a sharp knife. “You’re supposed to smoke it.” Khalid pretended to inhale before passing it back. “What did you do there?” asked Fadel, smoke drizzling from his mouth.

“Farmwork, mostly. Sold some things.”

Hasan leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “You should have done what my brother did and marry a Spanish woman, then you can get any job you want.”

“No, you can’t,” replied Khalid.

“I’m telling you. When we make it, you can come and stay with us. He’ll get us jobs.”

“Where does he live?”

“Madrid, I think.”

“How will you find him?”

Hasan stared back, resolutely. “God willing.”

“What about you, Khalid?” asked Fadel.

“I had an apartment for a while.”

Hasan nodded, eagerly. “I want a penthouse. And a garage for all my cars.”

Fadel flicked the butt to the ground and smiled. “I can live with that.”

The chatter of voices and ringing cutlery was the first thing to hit Khalid as they arrived on the promenade. The smells reached him soon afterwards and pangs of hunger jabbed at his stomach.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” said Amal, frowning.

“So?”

“Mum wouldn’t like it.”

“She’s not here, is she? So, you remember what I told you? If you forget what to say, just hold out your hands, like this.” Khalid made a bowl shape and Amal copied him. They were about to approach the first set of tables when Fadel shouted from down the street.

“Forget it. They don’t give us shit anymore. We’ve got a better way.”

Khalid and Amal followed him to a side road lined with refuse bins. Hasan was crouched amongst the rubbish. A piece of cloth hung from his hand.

“Want some?” he asked. “It makes you brave.” He pressed it to his face and drew in a breath before passing it to Fadel. Even in the shadows, Khalid thought their eyes looked larger.
“Get ready to run,” said Fadel, with a rubbery grin. He sauntered up the lane to a metal door that was ajar and slipped inside. Moments later there was a shout and he reappeared with a stick of bread and an armful of fruit. Then they were all running.

“What does it say?” asked Amal, looking at the dim shapes scrawled on the wall.

“It’s just people’s names.”

“The ones who made it, you mean?”

Khalid nodded.

“Does that mean yours is there too?” Khalid ignored him and took another bite of bread, but his mouth was too dry to chew it. Along the beach, fires were starting to come to life and silhouettes of men gravitated towards them like nightly spirits. Amal stared wide eyed at the flames.

“It’s not safe to be with the older ones,” said Khalid.

“Why?”

Khalid looked across at the driftwood shacks next to the seawall, their polythene sheets flapping in the breeze. Shame prickled at his skin.

“It’s just not.”

“So, how long did it take you to find work?” asked Hasan, tossing an apple core towards the breakers. Khalid tried to think back, but already it was a blur. Buses, fields, faces with no names all melded together in a patchwork of moments. Only the part where they came to take him away was still vivid as a photograph.

Amal sprawled next to him, eyes almost shut. “I don’t like it here,” he murmured. “How long do we have to stay?” But Khalid didn’t answer. All he could do was stare at the blackwashed sky and dig his fingers into the sand, hoping for the memory to pass.

 

Thanks for picking me up

I feel drunk, except I’ve had no alcohol, only short, bittersweet glasses of tea; ubiquitous refreshment on the streets of Istanbul. It doesn’t help, however, that I’m stood up in a Dolmus, the taxi-cum-buses that chug about the city, picking up anyone anywhere who flags them down en route. My friend, Colin and I, clutch at the handrails and grin at the madness of it all as the driver bumps and jerks his way through the traffic. It’s just one more moment in a sea of experiences that have happened today and, thinking back, it’s no surprise that I feel the way I do.

First off, it was Carsamba market, with its never ending tunnels of clothes and groceries that filled up my eyes and ears with colour and chatter. Then there were the crumbling buildings of Balat that caught my imagination, an old Jewish neighbourhood, where washing lines are strung out across the streets and children roam as free as the stray cats that call the area their home. And I’m frankly still a bit fazed by the shoe-shiner who reeled us in with his thank-you-for-picking-up-my-brush routine and offered to polish our shoes out of gratitude only to snatch a 20 note from my wallet after asking for a donation. In hindsight, however, it simply added a little extra adrenalin to the mix as well as reminding me that not only am I tourist here, but a very fortunate one too.

The sheer variety of experience has been a constant as we’ve explored the ever-changing quarters of the city and by the end of each day my head has been left spinning with a heady mix of information overload and travel-inspired glee. It’s this combination that has led to such a feeling of intoxication and it’s something I know will only continue as we are dropped off at a gondola station where we await a carriage up to the Pierre Loti café overlooking the Golden Horn and the cityscape at dusk.

Tomorrow, the hangover will surely kick in as I board the plane back to England. But I’m hoping that I can take home at least some of the sense of adventure that has characterised this trip, so that I might better appreciate the colours, sights and sounds that are everywhere in my own city, albeit in a less exotic fashion. That way the trip never really ends.

(Written for the Telegraph’s ‘Just Back’ travel writing competition)

Bridges project at Trinity Arts Centre

I entered a writing competition back in December, as part of the Bridges project, run by the Trinity Arts Centre in Bristol (see Crossing a Bridge for details). Sadly, no prizes were won for my efforts, but my piece is now available to read on the Trinity website along with the rest of the entries.     

Despite being unsuccessful, I really liked the idea that I came up with and rather than letting it go to waste, I have decided to improve upon it and make the new version my next submission to Ether Books as I feel it deserves to be out there!

Crossing a bridge

Last month, I found out about a short story competition that was asking for submissions under the theme of ‘bridges.’ This was open to interpretation, including physical, mental or symbloic bridges and I quickly realised that I already had an exisiting idea that could be reworked to include a bridge in the storyline. However, there was something disingenuous about this way of writing and I felt that I it would be more satisfying to try and come up with a new concept.

It was at a new exhibition at Bristol Museum that this happened. I was looking at photos from a project around ‘Harraga’; immigrants from Morocco and Africa who try to cross the Strait of Gibraltar to get to Spain. It was eye-opening to read about the situation and I realised that they were trying to cross a type of bridge.
I read up more about it, including first hand reports of children who live at the port of Tangiers, trying to make it across by hiding under lorries. I also discovered an insightful photo essay by Jan Sochor that helped to form a picture in my mind of the kind of environment these people are living in. From this, I forged a narrative about two boys who try to board a boat by hiding underneath a frieight lorry.

It’s been a satisfying process of creation and I thought it was worthy of noting down. Up until now, I have often relied on my imagination to conjure up storylines, often with much difficulty, but believing that the most interesting or unusual scenarios would ultimately come from there. However, basing my idea on real events, especially on a current social issue, is not only fulfilling, but ultimately connects my efforts with the wider world as opposed to just my own thoughts. It’s something I’ll be considering when it comes to future ideas.