Gullshit & Flash


Nobody who has been shat on ever called the local paper to announce their luck, yet the first thing someone says when you have been shat on is—‘That’s lucky.’ A small comfort. There was a series of sounds in very quick succession, similar to a well-worn deck of cards being flicked against a baize-covered table. Each sound was a tap about my person and possessions. The bird—a sizeable bird, I imagine—was passing down Long Ln in the very direction I was walking and released its bowels, quite innocently—I imagine!—on to me, catching my (new) backpack, my back, my hair, my beard, my chest, my hand and my trousers. Years ago, my father, in a Werther’s moment of timeless wisdom, told me that if a bird had just shat on me, I should not look up to check. Keeping pace with the rest of the single file, against an opposite of schoolgirls & media types, I reached into my pocket for a tissue and bellowed—‘You cunt!’ The office was just around the corner and I was perspiring with rage and embarrassment; all around me could see I had been shat on because I was covered in shit. I wiped myself off as best I could in the WC, turned around and hurried a mile back to the train station. With twelve minutes until departure, I queued at a booth for coffee. Stationary, the smell—not more than eight inches from my nostrils—was intensely unpleasant. It must have been, I noted to myself, one of the gulls that lives off scraps from the meat market. I envisaged the animal and then the death, the butchering and the transport, the auction and sale, containers and packaging, the off-cuts in a binbag and the binbag left for collection; the gull picking its way in, scavenging and delighted, the ornithological digestive system and the alignment of its body in flight over mine. The shit would surely stain my white shirt. A man joined the queue behind me and thought—‘This guy’s been shat on.’ A woman at the front of the queue went to take her iced coffee and it exploded, which stood out to me because the clean-up delayed service and when she had gone the barista blamed the strength with which she had seized the cup. I took my cappuccino and found a seat in the carriages as far from everyone else as I could be. The smell of gullshit was familiar and yet impossible to ignore. Hot coffee, burned milk, I was so desperate I must raise it to my mouth slowly and sip carefully; so I did, and it tasted foul; when I took the cup away, I saw that the lid was not on properly and there was coffee in my lap. Luck, it was all luck. Lucky! A small comfort, yes, and when one looks to the heavens on occasion to see the sum of birds in flight, flocks & swarms, murders & gaggles, going hither & thither, it is, I suppose, a small wonder that one is not shat on more often, especially in the raucous months of spring.

—How are you doing? xx
    —not great. just about to start dinner. didn’t finish work until seven and still not done what I wanted to. just played with f——y though xx
    —Fancy a chat?
    Leaning against the work surface with a tea-towel slung over my shoulder, it was still light outside, light enough that everything had a hue, its colour as interpreted by the evening, when all earthly furniture is purple and orange. I told her about the gullshit. She wanted to know about the gullshit and when I told her she said—‘I’m sorry, darling, I admit I did laugh when you said that you spilled the coffee on yourself.’ I told her that I would probably laugh at it one day, too. She did not offer the topic but I sought it—‘How was Nan’s?’ She did not want to talk about it and yet, with the smallest nudge, she did. Every other Tuesday when she would run to do chores for her mother-in-law. ‘Fuckin hell, she’s so… depressing. I got home and had a right moan at your father.’ I asked her what was new, why she bothered. ‘Yeah, yeah, some visits I can get myself through it and others—I dunno—I am…’ ‘Just not in the mood for her?’ ‘Yeah.’ I bit my tongue. I love how strong the tongue is, how nimble and determined. I clamped down on my tongue, so broad, so thick. I thought to use the occasion, to tell her… but for your youngest son… no, not in this weak state of mind, this doomed outlook, this exhaustion, and I had to stomach his nonsense! I had so looked forward to spending the weekend away. A bank holiday’s chance to recover from the terrible mood I found myself in day after day, most notably on the train through Bethnal Green, when my thoughts had nowhere to go but reflected back off kite-marked glass. So much, almost too much! When twelve months earlier, I was preparing for my date with T——, cooking chicken adobo, juicing margarita limes and hopeful, now I am totally without, and the recognition of my failures weigh upon me like a lake. When the weight of a lake lands on unsuspecting shoulders, all the reeds wave, the birds scatter, daylight seems dimmer, it is hard to find reasons. But because of my brother, that whole weekend drained. What energy I tried to find alone in bed at night was gone within an hour of waking. Until then, there was no one I had told about it, but, in those sighs and silences, my mother put our sadnesses together until they were Siamese. ‘I went to Mum—Nan’s grave. It was her birthday today.’ I told my mother I knew, that she would have been ninety-nine. ‘The grave had sunk,’ she said—‘All the earth above sunk so I took some top-soil with me. Level it off. I tried to clean the headstone but there was a hole in the bottom of the watering can so every time I filled it up at the tap, it had emptied by the time I got to Mum’s grave. I ended up just laughing to myself in the middle of the graveyard.’