Features First-Person Accounts

London Haunts

How to put up with tech talk from handsome Californians.

The Old Blue Last

It was during my AS-mocks that I met a famous rockstar. Not a great famous rockstar by any stretch, but a famous rockstar all the same. Let’s call him Billy. Billy Moral. It happened like this.

It was 1am on a Wednesday and all I wanted was another double-vodka-diet-coke, but the barmaid was serving everyone except me. I mounted the footrail and leaned further forward. My forearms were sticky and I could smell the scalp of the guy next to me. I stared again at Faris and Peaches kissing in the corner. The guy on the door had stamped my hand with some sort of crest, which I knew I had to scrub off before school tomorrow.

Someone yanked my hair. ‘Hurry up.’ It was Alice, my partner-in-crime. We’d done the thing where both our mums thought we were staying at the other one’s house.

‘They’re here. Billy’s just finding somewhere safe to put the bike’, she said. Billy had a vintage Triumph. Last time he’d brought it out, someone worked out it was his and pissed all over the seat.

In the bathroom, Alice and I admired ourselves. We always matched, in black tights and balding fur coats. We passed conjunctivitis back and forth with eyeliner pencils. We backcombed our hair, formed accidental dreadlocks, reeked of cigarettes and Agent Provocateur Eau de Parfum.

Alice met Billy two weeks ago. Everyone else pretended not to know who he was, but she told him his last album, Landings, was really shit, and that seemed to turn him on for some reason.

‘What’s his friend called again?’ I asked.

‘He’s called Harry. Don’t worry you’ll really like him. He lives on a canal boat! He does comedy I think. Let’s go. Be cool.’

‘There were nights when I could taste the Pole in the wind, that big wind, come all the way down from the North. Boreas.’

We sat round a table, and Billy was telling us about the Hebridean island he’d taken refuge upon two years previously.

I was trying to be cool, but all I could think was: that’s Billy Moral. His jumble of teeth, shire-folk hair, and improbably blue hangdog eyes. I scanned the room to see who was looking at me sitting with him.

‘After three months you can sort of make out the different voices. Lots of them made it into Landings,’ he pulled on an earlobe, smiled downward beatifically, ‘yeah’.

I shuffled through the album mentally, trying to work out which of the wind’s voices had made it in. Billy’s much-loathed third effort was mainly about his ex-girlfriend:

Oh, oh, oh, oh it’s a
poisoned chalice,
You’re running out of luck,
Dirty tricks, fellatrix
I just don’t give a fuck
Oh, there’s nothing in there baby,
In that sweet, sweet little head,
I read your texts, when we had sex
I wish that you were dead.
Oh, oh, oh, oh!

I was aware of Harry’s body heat. His arm was resting behind me on the back of the sofa, and I could smell the tang of his armpit, could still feel his cheek on my cheek from when he had kissed me hello, greasy as the handrail of a night bus. I looked up and noticed the frontman of Wild Beasts walk in.

The expression slid from Billy’s face. ‘Let’s get out of here, yeah?’

As we made our way to door, someone shouted ‘Ha ha look! It’s that Moral cunt!’

‘Why does he hate that Wild Beasts guy so much?’ I whispered to Harry.

‘You know what it is?’ he said. ‘Billy was adored once, too.’

The Triumph was faster than the Addison Lee, and Alice and I waited outside the north London address we’d been given. The ground was alight with frost. An owl called from the nearby Heath.

The hallway light came on and Billy walked down the corridor, a swaying spindle in the distortion of the mottled glass. The front door opened. ‘Hey, hey. In you come, in you come. Actually, could you take those off?’

Upstairs, Harry poured us both a whiskey and Billy fiddled with his record player. I sipped and gagged, taking in mandalas, Mexican prayer candles, a taxidermised Scottish wildcat in a glass coffin. Chuck Berry’s voice shocked the room.

‘Yow!’ Billy muttered.

Alice picked up a gun from a side-table. ‘Pow! Is this real?’

Billy looked up: ‘Yeah, it’s a Derringer. Actually, wait! I’ve got an idea.’ He disappeared from the room, returning with an old-looking camera and tripod.

‘Girls, girls.’ He handed me a second tiny pistol, placed a Balmoral bonnet on my head and began to rearrange our limbs like mannequins.

‘Look at me’ Click.

‘Now look down.’ Click.

Click click.

‘Both kneel.’ Harry lit a joint and passed it to me.

Time became elastic. I felt like autumn, I felt submarine, my hands were videogame hands. ‘Is this forever?’ I asked Harry.

He tenderly removed the hat from my head and pulled me onto his lap. I watched an alphabet in the air. Somewhere downstream, Billy put on his first album.

‘How old are you?’ Harry whispered, a bony hand creeping between my thighs.

Billy was wasted now, singing along to lyrics his drummer wrote. Alice peeled an orange. Outside, two planes stitched pinks seams into the sky. Someone had farted horribly.

‘Billy,’ Alice said. ‘We need to use your shower. If we don’t leave soon, we’ll be late for school.’

Shoreditch House

When I accepted an invitation to dinner with Zachariah, the 39-year old Californian CEO of a tech company, I had no idea what to expect. I’d never been on a Tinder date before and this man was far from my usual type. I scrolled through his photos again while I was getting ready. Zachariah in crampons, halfway up a frozen waterfall. Zachariah with two dogs. Zachariah in a tux.

Had I even met a Californian before?

I dressed carefully, in what I hoped Stevie Nicks might have chosen from my wardrobe. Straight away, I could tell that the opera coat had been a mistake.

‘Huh. Spooky,’ he said, as he bent to kiss my cheek at the front desk, wearing a grey T-shirt, jeans and – I could hardly believe it – leather sandals. In November.

We rode the lift silently to the sixth floor, and as we made our way through the dining room, every head turned. It wasn’t difficult to see why. I took him in as he read the wine list, tilting it towards the candelabra overhead. Zachariah was 6’5″, boulder-shouldered, Olympian. He wore a breastplate of pectoral muscle. Blonde curls gave the impression of a vastly overgrown cherub.

On each bicep, just below the sleeves of his T-shirt, I saw the hint of a tattoo. He caught me looking and obliged, lifting up one sleeve, ἀγών, and then the other, ἀρετή. I sifted through the remains of my Ancient Greek GCSE.

‘Competition. And ἀρετή is – ’

‘Excellence. ἀρετή is excellence. Or prowess. A bunch of us at M.I.T got them.’

‘Gosh,’ I managed.

He inclined his chin, and a grey-aproned attendant arrived.

‘We want a red. A lotta depth, spice – not too much fruit. Barolo.’ He handed the menu to the waiter without meeting his eye. ‘Bring the Barolo.’

Under the table Zachariah hooked a naked toe behind my ankle, pulling my leg towards him, and squeezing my thigh between his knees.

‘So, Spooky.’

‘So,’ I said.

The boys I’ve loved are gym-shirkers. Commitment-philes. They cry at Terrence Malick films. They wear my dressing gown. They’re sport-agnostics. Lose fights, lose their debit cards. Cook peach galettes. Plant sweet peas. Scrawl cursively. The boys I’ve loved are nervous. They are kind.

‘You smoke?’

‘I do. Thank god, I was dying – shall we?’

‘No, no. I wasn’t asking. I can tell.’ He bared wet white incisors and tapped one. ‘Your teeth.’

The light caught his hand, and I spotted a pale marking on his finger. His tan had betrayed him.

‘Are you – married?’

‘Separated. Recently separated. Can you handle that?’

The main courses arrived before I could answer. Zachariah appraised his supper. Ham hock broth. Lamb shank. Chopped salad. He unfurled his napkin.

‘I fast daytimes,’ he explained. ‘Productivity bio-hack – better focus, more energy. Plus – empty stomach optimises the Psilo.’

‘Psilo. Psilocy… you mean shrooms?’ He swirled his wine, sipped, swallowed.

‘I microdose. It’s subperceptual.’ I’d heard about this. Vanishing amounts of psychedelics – tenths of a gram, twelfths of a tab, half a stalk. This attitude to drugtaking differed from my own.

‘So… you never feel it?’

‘Never feel it. See the results though. Enhances creativity and flow. Makes me a better CEO.’ I excused myself. In the bathroom, I texted my housemate:

He’s an arsehole but also sort
Of godlike
A titan!!!
So hot
So big

I checked my nostril and then my teeth in the oval mirror above the sink. He was right, they were quite stained. I watched a video my sister sent of our dog trying to bury a piece of pasta in the sofa. I was too hot, I could smell my fake tan. I opened Google Chrome and typed:

If he is married but says he is separated how ba…

My phone vibrated:

what does that mean?
are you ok?
are you coming home?

I put my phone away and looked into my eyes. ‘Bio-hack,’ I drawled.

‘You’re smart, Spooky. I can tell by your reaction times.’

We had retired to the poolside, and Zachariah lay beside me on a red and white striped cushion. He smelled like vetiver.

‘Tell me about your job.’

I told him about my temperamental boss, difficult clients, social media fuckups, organising poetry readings no one attended. He reached up and pulled off a piece of the fern that hung overhead, rolling it between thumb and forefinger. The wine had softened him.

‘Sometimes I feel like coding can be poetry. Emotional. No, no! Hear me out.’

He pushed himself upright, searched skyward, bit his lip. He told me that coders are makers, shaping language. Each one a master with a unique voice, who strived for perfection, the mot juste.

He told me about the tropes and the flourishes. The multifoliate beauty in a line of Javascript. With his hands, he drew shapes in the air and said that code, like poetry, was more than the sum of its parts – it approached consciousness then went beyond it, corporealising logic. He told me about esoteric languages, Turing tarpits. Ruby’s sugary syntax. The deftness of Python. The eddying sands of Malebolge: an inferno where machines speak only to themselves. Software as fine art, Wozniak as Shakespeare. At the end of this soliloquy he kissed me.

‘…besides. Grammar’s just an algorithm? So, Spooky, do you wanna meet Deleuze?’


‘No, Deleuze. The dog. My place is close.’

I lit a cigarette. Could I do it? Could I go home with this Transhuman, this Alpha++, with his Apple Watch, his biometrics, his colossal wingspan? A man so cocksure he frightened me. A millionaire, a married man who didn’t seem to laugh.

‘Whaddya think?’

Reader, I fucked him.

You've reached the end. Boo!

Don't panic. You can get full digital access for as little as £1.66 per month.

Get Offer

Register for free to continue reading.

Or get full access for as little as £1.66 per month.

Register Free Subscribe

Already a member? Sign In.