England day one

I don’t remember jet lag feeling this hard before. Then again, I was a much younger person the last time I crossed the Atlantic. I was 21. Twenty years ago, so long before middle age set in. My flight from the states arrived yesterday morning. I worked all day the day before, raced home, grabbed my bags, and took a cab to the airport. Asheville Regional to Philadelphia International. A red eye to London. I couldn’t sleep on the plane. I spent most of the flight trying to stretch my neck so it stopped hurting, and watching terrible movies.

I guess they needed to make another Top Gun film? The movie felt like a series of scenes formed around corny lines and multi-million-dollar action sequences. It was like Tom Cruise went to the studio and told them what action sequences he wanted, what schmaltzy lines he wanted to say, and said “make a movie around them.” Not a lot going on story or coherent plot-wise, but hey… Planes go zoom!

I met Xy at our hotel. We walked around Camden for a few hours, got curry. During dinner, I felt so tired that it was like my soul wanted to leave my body and sleep somewhere else. So we went back to the hotel, and I fell asleep at five. At one point in the night, Xy went out for a walk. When they came back into the room, it must have startled me. I have a faint memory of sitting up, rearing my fist back, and baring my teeth, snarling.

“Sascha, chill, babe. It’s just me.”

“Oh.”

And I fell back into the pillow.

The next morning, walking to breakfast, I asked if that really happened.

“It did. I kinda stood there by the door for a minute, wondering if I was going to have to fight you in your sleep.”

“Woah.”

So, my actual first day in London. We woke up. Walked to a café to get breakfast. I got an omelet with chips. Drank a few cups of tea and woke up. We walked to Camden Market. I couldn’t help but notice how loud London is, compared to where I spend most of my time. Going from living alone in the middle of nowhere to a bustling metropolis in another country is an adjustment. At every crosswalk, the city painted the words “Look Left” and “Look Right”. I think to keep foreigners like us from getting decimated by cars every five minutes.

We walked around Camden Market for a while, trying to find Oi Oi the Shop. We went to the Doc Marten shop first. The Doc shop felt kind of glitzy and contrived. Sterile, like the space was designed in a boardroom somewhere. I snapped a few pictures of a pair of boots signed by Siouxsie and the Banshees, and pictures of a few of the original Docs from the 60s.

We left. Stopped at Modfather. Looked around. Got directions to Oi Oi, and left. Oi Oi was packed with punks and skins in town from all over for the Cock Sparrer 50th anniversary gig. I bought two shirts and a Blitz pin and a Robert Smith pin. The woman behind the register told me she was glad I bought The Cure pin.

“I know this is an Oi shop, but fuck it. They’re a great band.”

“My favorite band of all time, actually. Are y’all doing a lot of business this week?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t believe it, mate. We’ve been slammed since Wednesday. All Canadian and American accents. Everyone’s in town for Cock Sparrer.”

“That’s why my friend and I are here.”

“You going tonight?”

“No, tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow night, then.”

The interior of Oi Oi the Shop.

I smiled behind my mask, paid for my stuff and left, eager to be out of the packed shop. Xy bought a sharp as hell green Harrington Jacket. We wandered out of the market and around Camden. We happened, by accident, across the British Boot Company. “Oh shit,” I thought to myself when I saw the storefront, claiming to be England’s oldest seller of Doc Martens and British-made boots.

Without so much as a word to one another, Xy and I walked into the shop. I wondered if we were both about to part ways with a lot of money. I even texted Maria just to say, “Help me. I think I’m about to part ways with all of my cash.” I sent Frances a picture of the storefront. They replied with “That is the most Sascha store I could imagine.”

I’m really surprised either one of us made it out of here with any money left.

We walked into the shop, which looked what I thought a proper boot shop should look like. The scent of leather permeated throughout the store, so thick that it made it through my mask. The shop was stacked to the rafters with vintage Docs, and British made Solovair and Grinder boots. The owner of the shop was in the middle of lecturing a young German punk and skin couple about the quality of their made in China Docs.

If there is a Heaven, it looks like this. Interior of The British Boot Company.

“See mate, we sell the real deal here, not some shite made by a 12-year-old handcuffed to a sewing machine. These are from when Doc Marten used real quality rubber for the soles, too.”

He then made the skin take off his boots so he could compare the soles of the boots. Xy and I sat there watching, transfixed. Part of me wondered if this was a hustle, but the dude seemed to know what he was talking about. I have a bad habit of taking people at their word, though. The owner of the shop, Nick, told us that the shop had been in his family for generations. He inherited it from his father and started working there with his grandfather when he was 12. He shot out facts about the quality of leather used in Solovair boots and tidbits about the various eras of Doc Martens at a rapid pace. It was almost dizzying trying to keep up with.

“You’re in town for Cock Sparrer then? I promise after the gig Sunday, if they need a proper pair of Docs, they’re coming here.”

We hung around and talked about boots for a while. I got the feeling I could listen to Nick talk about the minute details of leather quality and sole stitching for hours. Xy bought a pair of Solovairs. I had my eye on a pair of cherry red steel toed Solovairs, but I restrained myself. I showed Nick a photo of a recent pair of vintage Docs I acquired, and he could date them by looking at the sole.

Xy getting new boots.

We said goodbye to Nick and went to a fish and chips shop. While we were waiting for our food, I did some googling on the British Boot company. It turns out the shop has been there since 1851. It has been in the same family all that time and was, in fact, the original shop to sell Doc Martens back in the 60s. In the 70s and 80s, it was a popular destination for punks and skins from all over Europe.

We ate our lunch, watched punks and skins congregate outside the pup across the street, pre-gaming for the first Cock Sparrer gig. We walked back to the hotel, slept for a bit, and then went back out for Indian food.

The food was some of the best food I’ve had in a long time. When I was paying our bill, the server asked me where I’m from.

“Oh, the states.”

“What part?”

“North Carolina.”

“Is that near California?”

“No, no. Clear on the other side of the country.”

“So near Florida and New York?”

“Yeah. Much closer to Florida.”

“What’s it like?”

I found myself stumped. Maybe it was self-consciousness, about being an American in constantly walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk and not knowing enough of the customs, or maybe it was just exhaustion creeping back in. But I couldn’t think of anything to say to this man about the state I call home.

“Uh. It’s hot in the summers, like really hot. Humid, too. Like walking through a swamp.”

I paid for our food. We walked back to our hotel. I marveled at how much older everything we feels. It makes sense. I live in a country where we are constantly tearing down anything older than 30 years old, and putting a shinier, cheaper building in its place.

I dozed off for a while. Woke up from a strange dream about living in my car with my dog in Colorado. I decided to type the details of the day out while they’re still somewhat fresh in my mind. Xy is asleep in the next room. I’m typing in the bathroom so as not to wake them. Tomorrow we go to Highgate Cemetery and see Cock Sparrer play.

There is a fetish night at London’s oldest Goth club, after the Sparrer gig, but the club has a strict dress code. No denim. Black leather and lace, only. Xy offered to buy me some fetish gear so we could get in, but alas… My scantily clad party queer, complete with affected, performative sexuality as identity days are long, long behind me.

There is no title, there are no answers.

All the sentimentality dripped out of me
Like the trickle from a slowly bleeding
Cut, standing in the sun somewhere off Montford Avenue
Just a stone’s throw from the site
Of so many sleepless and haunted nights

All the kudzu and ivy and moss
Creeping across the cracked concrete sidewalks
And streets we once called home could never recycle
The accumulated pains poisons of lives hard lived
Or breathe new life back into the fabric of threadbare souls

If you could start over
If you could start over
Live it all over again
How far back would you go?
How many years would it take?
To dissolve the scar tissue from
Liver, lungs, heart, and soul?

Brown glass glinting in the waning light
Concrete drunk on the sun’s heat
It’s just mountain and sky and you and I
Standing in the shadows of the world
That left us far behind

They say you can’t put your arms around a memory
Or put your fist through one either
But memory might be the only affordable place to live these days

The lights went out in every house
We called home long ago
Those elegant eyesores scattered through town
Windows open with the fan on
Whirring into the endless sweltering nights
Inhaling exhaust and ozone and industry
The lockstep march of progress into infinity

Humble streets full of beginnings and endings
I know you were there, in the rain
A funeral march down Courtland Avenue
A mourning barge burning and a slow rolling train
What did we fight for?

What did we live for?

This is, we are.

Saw a dead mouse in the driveway
Walking home from work
Not a mark on its tiny body
Just like it was lying there, asleep.

It seemed significant
Or like it should be
Like when we were young
And my friend
Came across dismembered
Bird wings lying on city streets
Every day for a week
She took it as a sign
That the world is ending

That’s when we started
Drinking cup after cup
Of black coffee
In the opening
Days of the anthropocene
Desperate to know
What it all means

Back then we wore
Our worries on our sleeves
We battered our hearts
Against every street
Like they were our shields
Drank through our nights
Into the morning

Now we wait
And watch
Powerless to stop
Unable to look away