I would like to start this piece by saying, “I will always remember this one time at Camden Lock…” but that would most likely turn out to be a lie. I will probably not always remember this time, I will probably forget it quite quickly because my brain is broken and I forget most things nowadays. But I think I’d like to start with, “I will always remember this one time at Camden Lock” because even though it is not necessarily true, it seems like the right sentence to start with because that’s the way that stories go, that’s how anecdotes begin. I think it was Hemingway that said, “Start by writing one true sentence.” Then apparently the rest will follow but I don’t know, I’m going to ignore Hemingway’s advice and do the opposite, just to see what happens, because I can.
I will always remember this one time at Camden Lock, which in the long-run I almost certainly won’t remember at all, where I was sitting down by the water, early Thursday evening (although actually now I think about it it was a Monday night), having a glass of wine and a smoke and a think, imagining things and creating things in my head, as I do, and absent-mindedly shaking my head in disbelief at what my life has become, as I also do.
There were lots of people around because the Lock is always busy, crawling with tourists, day or night, rain or shine. I like to go there because I don’t know anyone there, because so many people come and go, it would be extremely rare for me to meet the same person twice there. It’s nice to be unknown, sometimes. So there I was, thinking about Milan Kundera and listening to all the languages around me and trying not to draw attention to myself and feeling nervous about so many foreign men perving on me, when two young British guys stumbled over to ask to borrow my lighter.
I offered my fire, and they thanked me and sat on the floor next to me to smoke. They were having their own conversation and I was staring into the water and listening, because I can. It transpired that they were partners, in the early stages of their first “out” gay relationship and they were talking about how grateful they were that both of their parents accepted their “situation.” They had met each other’s parents during the week and everything had gone swimmingly and so they were sharing a bottle of Prosecco and toasting their families and their future together, and this was really nice to hear and so it made me smile to myself.
Suddenly, one of them turned around to me and said, “Scuse me, babe, sorry, I have to ask, are you a writer?” and I smiled inside on my heart, but I didn’t know what to say and then he said, “I knew it! I fucking knew it, you are, aren’t you? You look like a writer. Wow, I’ve never met a real writer before!” And then my smile evaporated up my throat and onto my face and then it could not be hidden. And then I noticed that he was wearing a cock ring on a shoelace around his neck and I pointed it out and he said, “Yes, that is a cock ring! I just felt like my outfit needed a little something, you know? Like, a pendant. Sooo, cock ring, shoelace, et voila!” And I said, “Well, I’ve never seen anyone wearing a cock ring on a shoelace before, that’s very innovative, I’ll have to write that one down,” and he replied, “Oh my God, have I sort of inspired you?! Like, maybe in one of your books one of the characters could wear a cock ring necklace?” and I said, “Sure, why not? Inspiration is absolutely everywhere, people are either blind or ignorant, or both,” and they both nodded and one said, “I couldn’t agree more.”
He said I have his permission to write whatever I want about him (should I wish to do so in future) and I said thanks even though I was not at all planning to write about him, ever, and then he asked for my autograph so I signed a beer mat, and then his boyfriend wanted one too so I signed a receipt, and I never actually said I am a writer, I never confirmed it, I never said so, only with a smile I didn’t know I had, but he just knew and trusted me as a writer and had faith in me to always be inspired by everything and to make him exist in words on paper if I wanted to because I could, because I can, because I can do anything and now I’m writing about him and his cock-ring-shoelace necklace and my genuine smile have been forever immortalised in this piece. And I never found out his name and you’re reading about him now, a real person, you have just listened to a real conversation, and I will never see him again and here he is on paper, in words, in sound, in reality. And now that I’ve written it down, I will probably remember this one time after all, as I’ll read this page in future and remember this one time, and so my first sentence is not a lie after all, it is effectively true.