An ABC of Relativity - A
In the first of a three-part series for the Journal of Wild Culture, artist and writer Hestia Peppe opens the door to a shared world of stuff and stories.
"Mu-um, does anyone actually live in that house?" Before the mother can answer, a girl, (A), crossing the road in clothes that look suspiciously like pajamas, says, "I do, actually." She is smiling wildly. The mother shushes her son and speeds up, taking a firm hold of her child’s scooter and propelling him up the pavement out of range of eye contact. (A) makes a face roughly equivalent to the wonky-eyes emoticon and rummages in a large bag for a minute or so, locates her keys and unlocks the door – recently painted to appease the landlady's neurotic demands that the front of the house remain "in keeping with the street". It isn’t really; the paint is peeling from window ledges and the front garden is perma-littered with aged plastic and mouldering paper, fliers for the local nightclub and end-of-the-night Red Bull cans. Several aggressive weeds – ground elder and buddleja – have taken hold in the drains. (A)’s own mother suggests, without judgement, that it does look “a little like a crack-den”. Six people in fact live here, and a cat, and – much of the time – at least three Significant Others.
(A) steps inside and pulls the door shut behind her, negotiating her way past red, purple and silver bicycles in the hallway, and commences unlacing her boots. The cat who has come to greet her sits on the stairs under the best part of some obscure book’s-worth of pictures of flowers stuck to the wall, and next to a pile of post for at least ten different people who no longer live here. From where (A) is sitting she can see lights in the kitchen, the living room and the downstairs front bedroom. Her hand brushes the pile of post as she tugs off her boots and an Ipsos Mori poll, an office stationery catalogue and something addressed to ‘The Occupier’ slide down the last three stairs to the floor. Every month or so (D) hoovers the stairs and they’re clear for about a week, but at the moment there are dust bunnies of hair in all the corners which get stuck to (A)’s hand as she retrieves the post. Recorded sounds emanate from several different sources and a cello is being practiced upstairs by (E). Someone is cooking bacon too hot. Boots in hand, (A) puts her head round the slightly open door of the living room where (E) is engrossed in a glowing screen. She says “Hi”, and he jumps, very startled; she laughs and offers him tea, and instantly a third voice, (C), behind her echoes, “Tea!” She puts her boots on the floor. It is about six pm but it could easily be midday or one in the morning, and the tea ceremony is all-hours.
(A) has to hang up her coat and bag on an already overloaded hook on the back of the downstairs loo door so that she won’t smash things on the way into the kitchen. The downstairs loo smells of some kind of constant damp decay and (A) is reminded of its existence briefly, shamefully, before such thoughts are dismissed for the thousandth time as insoluble. Inside, the tiny room is decorated with ambivalence: glitched-out National Rail ticket cards that just read ‘VOID’ repeatedly; a newspaper cutting of Bono in a clip frame, his face overlaid with a biro lizard grin and a forked tongue. One of the orange National Rail ticket cards is upside down. More hopefully, a tour poster from a post-hardcore band proclaims from the back of the (broken and unlockable) door, ‘We Still Believe’, and a small faded and spotted print-out of a young, achingly beautiful Nina Simone looks out from the wall behind the wobbly toilet.
The kitchen might once have been adequate for the presumably nuclear families the house was intended for and inhabited by, but it must have always felt small. Estate agents call such rooms ‘galley-style’ as if people prefer to cook in such tiny spaces out of some aesthetic sense, as if it makes them a pirate or a ship’s captain. (A) dodges the insistent cat and (B) who is bullying bacon in the pan. (B) doesn’t drink tea anymore and the other two are secreted away in their respective rooms – (E) with her cello and (D) in her beloved mysterious, meditative seclusion – so (A) only picks up three mugs from the washing up – Wonderwoman, Elvis, and something advertising a start-up. She cursorily rinses their tannin-stained interiors before lining them up next to the kettle, which is still warm and from someone else’s use, probably (C)’s. After topping it up and replacing it on the base (A) waits expectantly for the sound of the element heating up and when it doesn’t she sighs and notices that the power switch at the plug is off. She clicks it on. Since the kettle was last boiled it’s been switched off at the wall, suggesting the last person who used it was not (C) but (D), who is entirely rigorous in her energy consumption. (B)’s bacon is cooked and he exits after exchanging a few convivial and gently sarcastic words with both (A) and the cat. With a familiar screech of a latch in need of oil she hears his bedroom door upstairs open and then crash characteristically slowly shut.
The kettle element audibly clicks into electrical action as she takes a large container of milk from the fridge, pours a splash in the cat’s bowl on the floor and places the container on the side before mashing tea bags in mugs, ferrying them to the compost bin, adding honey to her own and milk to all of them until the requisite tawny brown colour is achieved. “Tea,” she announces, her voiced raised just to carry from the kitchen into the rest of the house.
An ABC of Relativity - B will be published on Wednesday 16th January, and C on Thursday, 17th 2012.