:: Article


By Will Ashon.

In retrospect Tim Billington couldn’t be sure when it had all started. Though he knew exactly when it had all stopped.

He had been going to work by the same route for well over a year. Out of his flat, left at the off licence, cross over, right and then along the scruffy drag to the tube. After a few months he had begun walking down the stairs at the station instead of taking the lift – for the exercise, to sweat off some of the drink, as the rest of his life was spent sitting at a desk or in the pub.

He wasn’t sure how long it took him to spot it, but he thinks of himself as observant, so it can’t have been too long. There it was, every day, as he spiralled down those steps in a rhythmic, skidding run. The camera.

Tim still has no idea why that camera in particular should have caught his attention. Yes, the ceiling of the stairwell was quite low and the camera was positioned right in the middle so that he was half-concerned he could hit his head on it. But he must have passed hundreds of cameras on his way to and from work, many even more conspicuous than this one, and he never seemed to focus on any of the others.

The truth was, when he passed this one, he felt watched. He actually felt watched. As if he could almost see the human eye behind the lens.

Tim didn’t feel freaked out by this revelation. At first he wasn’t even aware of it. To begin with he just smiled at the camera every time he walked down past it without even thinking. And then, eventually, he noticed this smiling and asked himself why he was doing it. And that was when he realised he felt like this camera, this camera in particular, was watching him. Not observing him. Not recording his actions. Watching him.

Even then, he didn’t mind. He’d always liked 1984 but maybe not in the way his teacher had intended. He’d found it a great comfort read, reassuring. Sexy, almost. He couldn’t believe he was the only person who felt like that.

And, it had to be said, no one took much notice of Tim anywhere else. No one seemed desperate to acknowledge his unique talents, his incomparable skill sets. Whatever he did, no matter how hard he tried, no one seemed to be watching.

He began by waving as well as smiling. Every morning as he descended. The notes followed. He would copy motivational quotations from his favourite books last thing at night, in big block capitals on A4 sheets of card stolen from work. He would have liked to have written something original but what with the job and going out with colleagues after, he never seemed to have time. As he walked past his camera, smiling and waving, he would hold up the card so that the watcher could read it.

As the months passed, the quotations started to get longer and he would have to stop and stand on the stairs flipping through three or four and then five or six cards as his fellow commuters pushed past him. He had always wanted to do something arty, had ended up making tea for wankers in an obscure sector of the creative industries. This became his installation, his personal masterpiece, this daily meeting with his camera.

He knew someone was watching, was waiting for him every morning between 8.50 and 9am. A girl, probably only his age, a girl in a security uniform. One day he left a flower on the step for her. When he came home it was gone. The next day he left her another flower. The day after a small teddy bear with a note explaining that it was his own from when he was a baby. That wasn’t strictly true but he liked it as a gesture. After that it was home-baked cookies bought from a shop near work. Poems (copied out in his own hand). Photographs of the Brecon Beacons. Blades of grass. He knew she was watching. He imagined the morning she would be standing there waiting for him to come down, so that he would see her just as he hitched his bag off his shoulder.

And then one day it all ended. He still has no idea what came over him. It hadn’t been planned. It certainly hadn’t been planned. And he had really meant no harm or offence. He still can’t understand it. But at 8.52am on Wednesday May 7th, whilst descending the stairs at the tube station he had passed through over a thousand times before, Tim Billington got out his dick.


Will Ashon is the author of two novels, Clear Water and The Heritage. He also runs the record label Big Dada Recordings. More here and there.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, September 16th, 2008.