The Sky Might Fall On Your Head
By Fernando Sdrigotti.
Every year — for the past 9 years — I have spent January 16 down Pimlico and Victoria. Walking, drinking at this or that pub; getting lost. I am not completely sure why I have found myself enacting this little ritual on my birthday. I guess it has to do with a panic attack I suffered back in 2003.
It was cold like death that day. I had just got off the bus at Victoria. I was on my way to meet this girl I didn’t really like and who didn’t like me either. I started to think that I was living in a city far from everything and everyone known, and that I was celebrating my birthday all but alone. Suddenly this uncanny idea crossed my mind: if I had died there and then, just like that, it was very likely that nobody who knew me would have found out about it; there was no link between London in 2003 and my previous life — one learns about self-exile in these unexpected ways. I started to get dizzy; I started to choke; and I ended up in St Thomas’ Hospital thanks to a cabbie who picked me up from the floor and took me to A&E. They thought I was on drugs; they were — I think — wrong. I was actually having my first London-inflicted panic attack. My view is that I keep coming back to Pimlico to exorcise my fears. You could say it works for I have never suffered another one of these episodes.
This year’s January 16 was peculiar. During the small hours a helicopter had crashed against a crane at the top of The Tower, One St George Wharf, killing its pilot and a passer-by. This tower is visible from Pimlico, almost from every corner; I didn’t like this omen. I first thought of calling things off, but then I went ahead anyway. Nevertheless I kept repeating to myself: “keep your eyes up: the sky might fall on your head”. Well, if not the sky at least a helicopter. I know this fear didn’t have a statistical basis, but fear doesn’t care about facts and figures.
I was contemplative on the tube on my way to Pimlico. To die like that, like that poor guy, walking past the crash site, minding his own business. I didn’t feel much pity for the pilot; he had very likely died doing what he loved (air-people are like that); and he had had some agency over his death. It was the other guy who became the epicentre of all my sympathy: to be going to work, half asleep, when a helicopter crushes you to death. BAM, just like that. Terrible luck. Dying is no small thing, especially in this city. In London you die and you are forgotten almost at the same moment. Do you remember this guy’s name? He is already forgotten; he was being deleted while the helicopter was still falling from the sky. In London tragedies obliterate the victims; the spotlight goes solely to the catastrophe and people play a supporting role and nobody remembers supporting actors. Any victim, then, becomes just one more body trodden down and excreted by London. It happens every day, every hour, every minute. The anonymous dead get fished from the railway tracks, from the Thames. They are found under a van, frozen in a park. They get pulled from a bombed bus or train, and nobody thinks twice about them. Do you remember the names of those who died in July 7, 2005? Nobody does. The bombs happened to London. It works like that.
So I was there, sitting in an empty train, thinking, looking for something to distract me, when I saw an ad of a dating site — the place where “busy people click”, it said. I connected the ad with the accident. It took me a while to realise the connection, but then it was obvious. The accident, after all, was a foreseeable calamity in a city increasingly obsessed with the exclusivity that comes with high living and high flying. Dating, coupling, fucking and shacking up with someone, are not so much determined by love in London but by the necessity to divide bills and rents, and to have someone to share one’s loneliness. We are alone against this city; and when not alone we are alone together: associates, co-tenants, housemates, bed-mates, co-lunatics. Yes, London determines the way we love, and many times it determines the way we die, and what happens to our memories, and to the memories of whoever we were. We are constantly facing erasure. Constantly being shat by London. Excreted, if you prefer.
These realisations filled me with an infinite sadness. It was a similar feeling to that one that hit me in January 2003. There must be something around Pimlico that makes me feel like this: an urban nerve connecting London with my psyche or maybe it is just my psyche or January’s cold. But I didn’t run away; I didn’t go back home to tuck myself into bed. And soon I was there once more. Pimlico at 16:15, cold January Pimlico. Dark Pimlico. Me, alone, walking down Vauxhall Bridge Road. Very thirsty.
I went to this and that bar. Talked to this and that other drunk. Launderettes and backpacker pubs everywhere in Pimlico. Launderettes: my mind imagines these round every corner. In my mind, Pimlico is the launderette capital of the world. Launderettes and rail tracks and Battersea Power Station in the background — a monument to unsuccessful property developers, the joy of watching those chimneys, those wasted millions. There are strange rhythms in Pimlico that I haven’t been able to figure out yet; there are strange people around; strange things happen down there. It’s a strange place. An assemblage of many oddities.
I kept drinking my birthday away, jumping from one pub to the next, and soon I started to enter thoughtlessness. Slowly. Staggering into thoughtlessness and happiness and forgetting. Thinking not thinking — not Zen, just drunk. I remember vaguely, a moment of tension when I threatened a Maoist student I had just met with death (over some minor intellectual matter). And the emptiness of Pimlico, cold Pimlico. All the houses with the curtains drawn and the lights on. And a tower-block named De Quincey House (but the Northwest Passage is nowhere to be found). And this Turkish homeless guy who was facing deportation and who gave me a cigarette and told me about his girlfriend in Istanbul who wouldn’t be happy to see him return. And a drunken teenage boy dressed like a cowboy vomiting by an old Mini Cooper. And some girls, who sounded Australian, off their heads, wearing skirts too short for January. And Victoria Station. And then, somehow, home. Cold and snotty, but I managed to get home, to my epicentre of existence, to my spot of anonymity in this inhumane city.
I never raised my eyes to spot the killer crane that night; I just forgot to do it. It’s good to get used to forgetting. It should come handy when it is finally one’s turn to be forgotten. Shat by London. Excreted, if you prefer.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fernando Sdrigotti lives in London.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, September 19th, 2013.