I took the overground to Hackney Central. I asked a regulating policeman the way to Hackney Downs. He said there was trouble with trains there. I was going to a magazine launch on platform 1 and not for a train. In doubt I threaded through the station and found a little shop displaying living in the future, issue two, Apocalypses. I was the first to buy a copy at 7:09 though this took some time because the woman behind the counter took her time removing herself for another woman to be installed and do the business while the editor, Rebecca, who’d asked me what the time was, was attending to a flattered young man who as a contributor received his copy for free. The price of £7 came out on the card receipt as £7.50 (and the time as 19:08) I was willing to accept as needs must because “what’re you going to do?” Give me 50p from the till. The readings I’d come for weren’t till eight. I wandered out.
Coming up the stairs were Quentin and Joe, two of the three contributors I was there for. We waved. Joe’s contribution was a plate in black and white of a hand pinching the sun between thumb and forefinger while two supine bare legs with shod feet protruded from under boards, providing a handy plinth for Joe to sign his colophon on if he would. Joe was demurring so I let that go. You don’t get much of Joe out of Joe, who was recording with a fuzzy mic. The third contributor, Ben, wasn’t coming.
Wine was being dispensed for a £ a paper cup. Quentin wanted red and I wanted to pay for it. My change was on my palm where Quentin put two £s together, to my mind as if he were paying for the wine. Confusion resulted, resolved by Quentin’s saying he was paying for mine and I for his. I had to accept that. I did manage to buy him another wine later. He was lubricating himself for the reading.
I wasn’t being particularly attentive. I didn’t go with the intention of blogging the occasion. Drinking wouldn’t help, though, even with drink, Quentin has picked up more than I dd. I’ve also just taken Methotrexate as prescribed, wanting to see how I do under it. I can’t remember at which point Vaughan came onto the scene is what I’m saying.
The readings started with a video, various images on a screen with a voice-over telling of the end of a girl. Joe was by me at that point. The video was unintelligible. The problem was there was no rationale given by it how, after her end, there could be a narration of it and by a man, using the past tense at that. I might’ve been getting it wrong since I wasn’t getting it at all and, realising I wasn’t, gave up trying. I also found the subsequent readings indecipherable. A girl in pink kept brushing back her hair and on the word, chains, turned her bangle but her words were as verbal froth signifying nothing other. At the break Joe went off for a juice. Quentin from the other side of the room didn’t come to me but headed for the wine and Joe. I may have been a little put out but I think that’s when Vaughan wandered in and came to me. He was old, with a paunch, many rings and a walking stick with a goat’s head he would bend carefully down to lay on the floor. He told me he had Parkinson’s in a soft Scottish voice though apparently from Berwick on Tweed. He introduced himself as I think Gerald Vaughan, spelling out the Vaughan, and wanted both my name, John, and surname, Cairns, which I spelt out. He said it was a good Irish name. “And Scottish,” I insisted, “my stepfather’s.” If Quentin had come to me, he would’ve known I didn’t know Vaughan and made inquiries who he was. Since Quentin thought I knew him, maybe I did unconsciously and had brought him there, in which case I’m also responsible for what followed, the coup de théâtre.
It was Quentin’s turn. He took out a notepad from his bag, the wrong one. He took out another, also wrong. A third one, with four months’ work in it on the novella his reading was an extract from, he’d had out in a lubricating bar beforehand and must have left there. He and Joe went off to retrieve it. Rebecca stepped in efficiently with a stopgap reading that she thought easier than Quentin’s. It was unintelligible, and wasn’t being recorded either.
At its end Quentin returned to give his, intelligible from start to finish, about two old friends meeting up on her engagement, he needling her with readings from books he keeps secreted in a drawer. She doesn’t say much. Quentin’s right hand accompanies his words with orchestration.
And that should’ve been that since no comments were called for after any reading. Vaughan asked if he could give his story. James, the co-editor Joe had said I must’ve met, wasn’t keen but graciously conceded he could, Rebecca making it all right with her, “An intervention!” Vaughan was intelligible though very soft. He used the historic present, making the story more vivid; and I won’t jib at his repeated use of ‘In any case’. It wasn’t a reading but a telling I couldn’t be sure was true to life but which had that authenticity whether it was or not, of a man seeing a woman on a train and feeling there was something to it that impelled him to pursue her from Waverley and – I was reducing it to what it basically was, divesting it of the significance Vaughan was imbuing it with – pick her up, take her to dinner and a hotel. He found out she had boys at home and where that home was but she didn’t want him visiting her there because the boys wouldn’t like it and they came first. One of them Vaughan seemed to be implying was related to the man, his son perhaps though that was impossible. In any case, without being able to see her, the man was becoming irrational as his family thought, seeing her face in the sky like an obsessed man in a Justin Isis story but the photographic evidence he had a psychiatrist agreed was as he interpreted it, all of which led up, Dan Brown-like, to the holy grail which wasn’t a grail but a bowl. I was afraid he’d fail to reach a conclusion but Vaughan had.
On the platform I told Quentin, “You were trumped.” I assured Vaughan, “It’s not important unless you believe in the Holy Grail,” which during the story he’d indicated he didn’t. “I do,” he said. He wanted to go to Euston and would have to go to Liverpool St Stn first and was already on the platform for that, “I’m already here!”
I left Quentin to Joe, who signed the plinth, and went home the way I’d come. A young man was begging at Hackney Central. He was a poet he said. “You should’ve been at the reading,” I gave him what change I had left, “It’s only coppers.” He thanked me. “Thank you for thanking me.”
On the train I read Quentin’s essay from the book on antinatalism, chuckling throughout, until lifting my eyes I was looking into the look at me of a good-looking young sportsman I’d already appraised, whose eyes I didn’t hold but went back to my book, not exiting with him at Acton Central for what would have been in accord with antinatalist philosophy. I went on to reading Ben’s story.