Short Stories

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Exhibition ©

We stood in front of a large plastic man. The bag over his head was chained around his neck, the remaining chain hanging down his back. His belly hung almost to the floor balanced nicely by his rump.

He was a majestic but hideous sight, flabby in a loose and engorged way. He reached for the sky with a slim and translucent hand; strangely out of sync with the rest of him. The artist must have cast the hand from his own and sculpted the rest.

This plastic man was hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling sized four page version of a traditional bawdy comic. The kind of thing you find when you are thirteen in a scrap yard in the boot of a brown eighties ford with a smashed in passenger side door. The paper crinkled from being dampened by rain and steamed in the sun; readable but faded and brittle.

Around the walls hung a collection of cartoons, old and new from the obscure satirical to the plain old dirty.

By the final exit point, after the most modern section, we had become wearied of satire and just wanted lunch.

"Shall we get a taxi?"

"No, lets walk. I don't think it is far to the pub."

"Alright."

It was agreed like that until we got outside. The sun was further up and there was no wind. There isn't anything interesting in Pimlico; we had discovered on the walk to the Exhibition.

"I think we should get a taxi."

The car we got drove off in the wrong direction at first and pulled a u-turn to get pointed in the right direction. Eight pounds later we were right outside the pub.

"I don't like close up pictures of me."

"You can delete it later." We were taking pictures of the pub dining room and each other as we waited for our food. Around us were various smooth old-advertising-style pictures of plump oranges and proud reminders of the age of the pub.

"Take a picture of me where I am out of focus."

"Alright. I will make the bottle in focus."

Click.

A family sat at one end with two young children. One young enough to cry a few times, the other old enough to run up and down informing his mum that he needed a wee and pulling up his t-shirt to flash his belly.

The food was a disappointment. It wasn't bad, but could have been so much better. We decided not to stay for desert. The pub itself was light and airy and would have suited a couple of pints and sausage and mash in the winter, rather than a pie or roast chicken in the summer. The staff, Hispanic, Australian and some kind of European were friendly enough and the service was prompt.

I couldn't help but feel, however, that as a Gastro pub it was a weak sketch; atmosphere and good service without the food to satisfy its Gastro. It could have been a reasonably good normal pub, but then, we probably wouldn't have been there if it was. The bill came and went, and then we left.

The toilets had been pretty good.

The sun shone down on us as we left. My bag was pulling on my shoulder and giving me an ache in my back. In the morning we had left the house earlier than we normally would at the weekend; lunch was earlier and we were in an unusual part of London for us.

"Where next?"

"I want to go to that shop."

Points.

I recognised it as an off shoot from a larger organic place we had been to in the Cotswolds.

"Then where?"

"Are you complaining?"

"No. Just wondering."

"Sloan square. We can get a bus from there."

The shop was giving away free jam. So we pocketed a couple on our way out. Walking through a market that was packing down and past a restaurant, branded the same as the shop where we had taken the jam, we got to a corner.

There was a distinct change just a few paces on. Nothing sinister, we had just walked out of the sun and out of a square onto a built up road. The square with the pub, the organic shop and restaurant and the morning market had been like a small town. We were now back on a London road.

At the exhibition we had seen, again, Gin Lane and Beer Alley by Hogarth from the 18th century. Pictures contrasting the acceptable with the unacceptable debauchery associated with two different drinks. The reverse of more modern times.

The previous Thursday I had been drunk, on beer. Not horribly so, but enough that I had felt it on Friday. I had avoided drinking on Friday and so this Saturday could start as early as it did.

Walking through Slone Square and on through the crowds we saw the Shoppers. The people who had come out to see and be seen. We would see them again later between Green Park and Regent Street. They were dressed to be looked at. Probably expensively.

I don't normally like busses. The motion is uncomfortable and the progress is usually slower than walking. From bus stop A, however, we got on a number 19 headed for Green Park. The bus was practically empty and we could sit upstairs.

"It feels like a holiday" and it did. The feeling had been building as we had left the pub. No plans to go home, no more directly planned events. We had started to enjoy ourselves and forget pending responsibilities. Everything could be put off until tomorrow.

"It's nor particularly busy today."

The bus had stopped well short of where we wanted to be.

"It is, look over there."

Points.

"The bus terminates here." The bus driver had come up stairs. "Because of the parade."

We got off and walked the rest of the way to Green Park. There was browsing needed doing, apparently, so I set up camp in a cafe and waited. 'A Parade', I didn't know which it was, but I had seen that it was pretty big. The number of road closures was extensive.

"Did you find what you wanted?"

"No. There wasn't a sale on either."

So we left.

"It's Gay Pride today."

"Oh is that what it is?"

We were walking towards regent street and could already hear the whistles. Passing the Shoppers and the dreamers. Passing all the people who were spending money, or wishing they could, just to maintain the image and a feeling that they were worth something. I was told off for finding them sad and talking about it too loudly.

We stopped to watch the parade on Regent Street.

"They aren't all gay."

Disappointment.

"They don't have to be."

We watched various groups go past and walked further up the road. Regent Street was completely closed and walking up the middle of the road was very easy. Plenty of space for everyone. We reached a traffic light that was still cycling as the parade and spectators moved past. An odd sight, the red, amber and green changing gently in the middle of the crowd for no purpose.

We stopped again when a more flamboyant group were going past. Men dressed as women, women dressed down and proud. The asexual group with hand drawn signs on cardboard, mostly beardy men and a few loose t-shirts.

Several red London busses were filled with painted people on the top deck. Loud music and whistles. Everyone posing for our pictures and the pictures taken by the other people standing around us. We looked at them, comic in their exuberance, out and proud. The largest group of people I have ever seen who have joined together, men and women, to celebrate the fact that they don't want to sleep with each other, only themselves.

We stopped a few more times for a few more pictures and then other ideas kicked in.

"Can we cross the road?"

"No."

"Oh, how do we get over there?"

Points.

"We will have to keep going up to the end I think."

"That's annoying." the parade was no longer interesting.

Our holiday feeling continued until we got home. We stopped off to rest when we had made it across the road. We took busses and trains again. The sun staying strong the whole time. The days colours had been bright, the bright pink of the plastic fat man, the cartoon colours and the cartoon people who shopped to feel whole. The pride parade had been bright and loud, but only in a temporary and superficial way. It left nothing behind.

We had played our part in the day, been a cog in the wheel that makes the images work. Without us to see them and without us to care, the pages would be blank. But we matter to none of them, they all have a bag over their head.

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