By: Rob Hakimian
Diversions in the Heath?! It’s bad enough they seize up our streets with their relentless road works, and now their tyrannical time wasting has overflowed into our sacred green spaces! ‘Improvements to the ponds’ – how can you improve a pool of water?
And all I wanted was to get up to the hill for a quick smoke and a gaze at the skyline. It’s the only redeeming feature I’ve found to being shipped out to the Hampstead branch for a week. Hopefully it’ll provide some inspiration for my next short story but if not at least a nice buzz will soften the burden of my extended trip home. This ridiculous diversion away from the ponds is going to stress me right out, though.
Where the bloody hell is this path taking me anyway? They’re truly taking me round the houses on this one. There’s got to be some kind of alternate agenda here; some gardener must have slipped some money to the right person who fixed it so all visitors are made to walk straight past his prize topiary.
Actually, that can’t be right, there’s barely anything to be seen here. On the right a few bog standard trees and on the left a fenced-off patch of land that leads back down towards the ponds. I’m genuinely starting to perspire right now; trust London to have a random sunny day in the middle of October.
It’s so quiet here it’s unnerving. Better stick some music on before I get spooked. Dead battery? What the -? This thing’s been plugged in all day! I swear it was full when I left work. Must be fucked; the lifespan on these things is just getting shorter, it’s a farce.
Well, great, now all I’ve got to listen to is the grass brushing against the underside of my boots. I suppose I’d better spend some time thinking about my short story assignment for uni to distract me. ‘Out of place’? What can I write about that? Oh shit, I won’t even be able to make notes in my phone for when I come up with a pearl. Do I have a pen on me? Not in my coat pockets. Nope, not in my trousers either. Shit. I don’t even have a notepad anyway, come to think of it. Guess I’ll have to keep it all up top.
I can’t stand this quiet – give me some sirens any day. I don’t know how country bumpkins do it; how can you even hang on to any thoughts without some noise to stick them to..?
The fuck is that?
“Afternoon sir, lovely day isn’t it?”
Where the fuck did this guy come from?! I almost walked straight past his little hidey hole under the branches. Not sure how though, his blanket is aggressively colourful and that is one furry-as-fuck face. How did this beggar end up here? Probably wandered here pissed one day and never found his way out. Better break it to him. “You’re in the wrong place, mate. You won’t get much change here.”
“You’re asking for money, right? You wanna go back to the streets, to the centre, that’s where all the people are.” I think I’m pointing towards the city, honestly no clue though. Anyway, this coot is none the wiser.
“I’m not asking for money.”
Tricky bugger. “I just heard you jingling the coins in your cup.”
“No coins, sir. Just bracelets.”
Bloody hell, that is a lot of bracelets rattling around on that bony wrist. He must be trying to flog them. “Not interested, mate.” What, why’s he standing up? “I’ve got nothing to give you.” Better keep walking. I’m afraid he might start chanting some gibberish incantation and cover me in stinking spittle.
“Hold on just one moment, sir. It is not you who is to give me something, but rather the other way around.”
Hmmm, I should keep walking but this could be interesting. “What has a lost beggar got to give me then? And how much is it going to cost?”
“No cost. What I give is free.”
Wow, he’s standing awfully close. He actually smells surprisingly nice, like sandalwood. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much hair on a face before. If this guy’s not careful someone will phone the police and report seeing an orangutan on the heath. Now he’s putting his hand on my shoulder. I don’t know why but I don’t actually mind. I keep losing myself in the glittering of his earrings – they must be fake gold, but then again… “Alright then, what do you have for me?”
“Slow down. Look around you. Use your senses.”
He’s going to hand me some poorly spelt handwritten prayer or – “Wait, is that it?”
“Yes sir. Slow down. Look around you. Use your senses.”
Oh I get it now! This is some OAP hippy that slipped his carers, got stoned and couldn’t find his way back to his nursing home. Better get out of here before it becomes my responsibility to see him home safe. “Ok, thanks for the life lesson man. Peace out duuuuuude.”
Got to speed up now. Lost so much time already thanks to the fucking diversion, and now this hippy nonsense… It’s bloody hot though, feels as though my shirt is soaked through. I’d better take my coat off. Wait, hold on – there is a pen in here after all! I knew there must be – a real writer is never without a pen! No paper, though. I guess I can scribble on my hand if needs be. No ideas yet though, it’s so hard to think without any music and all these things distracting me.
At least we’re back on track now. Just got to head up this path and we’ll be at Parliament Hill. Then I can light up, unwind, and the ideas will surely flow. Blimey, this incline only seems to be getting sharper. My calf muscles are starting to ache. And this low autumn sun is blinding me. Will this view even be worth it? I should have just stayed on low ground and smoked, but now I’ve been sent to hither and yon I feel like I have to complete this mission.
Finally, here we go: the wide-angle cityscape of the most glorious and important place in the world. So many recognisable landmarks. I don’t need to look at the board to tell me which ones are which – I’ve lived here longer than many of them have even existed. They’re all just monuments to capitalism anyway, so why should I care?
Nobody else around. What luck! Got my pick of the benches. Maybe everyone else refused to take the diversion just like I should have done. But I guess I have the last laugh. Who dares wins, as they say.
Right, where’s that joint? And the lighter. Here we go. Ah, just the taste is making me feel better. All that nonsense is sliding away.
Wait a second, there was a point to coming up here… Oh yeah! To come up with ideas for my ‘out of place’ story… Bloody hell, it’s not that easy is it? Out of place, out of place… So tempting to just write a story about a fish restaurant that is literally ‘out of plaice’ and be done with it.
“That cloud looks like a fish!”
“FUUUUUUUUUUU-!” Scared the fucking piss out of -! Where the fuck did this person appear from?! “What are you doing?!”
“Just looking at the clouds.”
“But… why? Why did you sneak up on me like that!?” I need to stop cringing away from this… woman? Otherwise she’ll think I’m giving her the bench. “There’s a billion other benches you could sit on!”
“But this one’s got the best view. Besides, I wanted some company.”
This woman-ish creature is hideous. I’ve never seen a female with such a mass of fur on her cheeks and chin, and the way her snot is dribbling down the hairs is making my skin crawl. She’s probably got some birds nesting in there, using her dried snot for structural stability. I need to not focus on her, but I can barely look away. What’s going on up here today? Is there a circus happening nearby? I really want to get away from her, but I’m too tired to move after that climb and the smoke. And besides, I was here first.
“Can you see the fish? Oh and look, that one is a monster truck – do you see?”
I’m not going to look where you’re pointing, you crafty beast. You’ll pick my pocket at the slightest opportunity, I know it. “Look, I’m sorry you don’t have any company, but I came up here to be alone and I was sitting on this bench first so…”
Now she’s turning to face me. I can’t help but look back. I’m going to see the full extent of this facial atrocity.
“Don’t you like to talk?”
Wow. Look at those eyes. So brown. So deep… Wait a second – what did she say? “No!! I mean, yes! I like to talk.” Don’t get distracted by her eyes. Think about that mangy mass festering on the bottom half of her head. “But I don’t want to talk right now. Please go away.”
“Alright then. I’ll go. But do you have a tissue? My hayfever’s playing up.”
“No I don’t have a tissue!”
Now what is she doing? Pulling out her journal? Oh she’s going to tear out a page and use it for – oh fuck, that’s disgusting. I’ve never heard such a loud nose blowing! Jee-zus, now I really miss the quiet.
At last, she’s finally going. But she’s dropped her – “excuse me!” She didn’t hear me. “Excuse -!” Actually, if I call her back then she’ll turn around and I’ll have to look at that rotten hay bale on her face again. Best just leave it. If it were any other piece of litter I would of course pick it up and throw it away, like the model citizen I am – but not after what I just witnessed. There are probably untold amounts of germs on that scrap of paper.
Alright now I can get back to business. Story ideas, okay here we go…! Out of place… Out… of… place…
God she was repellent. I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s ruined my whole vibe. I’ll never think of anything now. If you have hayfever like that why the fuck would you come here? Literally of all the places in London, The Heath is the last you should be in. I know, I’ll get as far away from the street as possible and go walk among all the pollen in The Heath! Idiot.
Wait a second, that’s something. The Heath! It’s so ‘out of place’ in London. I mean, just look at that sprawling concrete jungle in the distance and then look at this verdant scenery surrounding me. How can they even be the same place? The Heath is totally ‘out of place’! Alright, this is something I can work with. Let’s see… maybe I can anthropomorphise the different areas of London, like posho Kensington and punky Camden, but they all make fun of Hampstead Heath for being green instead of grey… Yeah, then it could be an allegory for race and class and all that other hot-button stuff. Genius! I knew I would come up with something great if I just thought for a second.
Shit, I wish I could write it down though. I’m too sweaty to write it on my hand after all, it’s just going to rub off. Dammit, I’m definitely going to forget this idea after I have my stoned nap on the train. Fuck, why is my fucking phone fucking dead?!
I’m not going to have to… I think I might. It’s the only option. That snotty scrap might be the only way to preserve my thoughts… I hardly even want to get near it. But I have to. Okay. I’m going to wrap my coat around my hand and just lift it up to the bench where I can write on it.
Carefuuuuuuuul. Carefuuuuuuuuuuuul! Alright, it’s up. Shit, this side is covered in green goo. Gotta flip it. This coat-glove is worse than an oven mit. Delicately so I don’t push it back to the ground agaaaaaaaaiiiin. There we go. OK, where’s that pen? Aha! Alright, just a couple of sentences to capture the essence of the idea. That’ll do. Now I need to take this scrap with me. I’ll fold the snotty side in on itself so it’s more manageable. There we go. I’ll have to risk getting my coat pocket snotty… well it’s waterproof so it should be snot-proof too. Just shove it in quick and be done with it.
That’s it. Mission accomplished! I can set off home with a feather in my cap. One last good look at the skyline before I go. Thank you London for inspiring me once again, you beautiful bitch!
Right, now which way’s the station? I’m not following their diversion maps again – follow the purple blob around the green blob to the dark green blob – yeah right. It’s obviously meant for children and simpletons. I can find my own way. The station’s at the bottom of the hill, so if I just walk straight down through those trees I should get there.
Better get a move on, already running late. No need to follow the path, it’s just a matter of orienting myself through what I know. The skyline was roughly in that direction so the station’s got to be just a little to the left of that. Obviously cutting through the trees is not advised for people of a less adventurous nature, but for me it’s the perfect way. Best of all I’ll be alone, no more weirdos, so maybe I can continue to develop my Racist London Boroughs Story idea.
The canopy of these trees is much thicker than it seemed from the outside; hardly any light’s getting through here. In fact, I can’t quite see any sunlight coming from the end of the little wooded area either. The other side must be further away than I thought. It’s got a twilight kind of feel to it now, strange considering how sunny it was at the top of the hill. I’m sure the opening will come into sight soon though, as long as I keep walking in a straight line.
I need to take a wee though. Well, nobody else is around so I’ll just park up next to this tree trunk.
Ahhhhh, that feels better. Whoa, where did that cold wind come from? How did it make its way into the woods like that? Wow, that really sent a chill through me. My little guy has crawled back inside all by himself after that, hardly need to tuck him in.
It’s really chilly in here. Wait a second, where the fuck is my coat?!? Did I forget it? Really?! HOW????? My story idea!!? Hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooow?
It was that bearded woman; she must have put some kind of hex on me.
SHIT. I’m going to have to go back up to the top of the hill and get it – if one of the freaks or beggars hasn’t already snatched it. Quick, better run back. But which way? Oh no, I completely lost my bearings going for that wazz, and it’s so dim and full of trees in here I can’t tell one way from another. Shit, shit, shit…
“Looking for this?”
NNNNNNNNNNNGG. “Who’s that?!” How do people keep appearing out of thin air?
“I think this is yours.”
That looks like my jacket, can’t really tell in this light, but grab it just in case. “Yeah it’s mine; get your filthy hands off it.” Phew, glad to have it back. Is my note still in the pocket? Indeed. Eurgh, got a little snot on my hand for checking though.
“I thought you’d need that.”
“Well of course I need it! It’s my coat and it’s freezing!” Wait a second; I think I recognise that voice. “You’re that foul woman that wouldn’t leave me alone at the top of the Hill aren’t you? I knew you’d played some kind of trick on me.”
“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about you hag witch thief!” I need some more light – quick, the lighter. “Try to deny it, you – oh.” It’s not the bearded woman at all. In fact, this woman is of a completely different order of being entirely. Maybe it’s just the warm glow of the lighter flame but she’s really rather gorgeous. The way her dark hair pours from her head down over her shoulders is just mesmerising.
“I was just trying to help. I thought you’d be cold. The chill comes on quite suddenly in here.”
Oh dear, I’ve completely put her off. Calm down. “I’m awfully sorry; I thought you were someone else.” Gotta turn on the charm. “Thank you so much for bringing my coat… It’s just, I keep running into some weirdos today… You’re not one of them I should say though!” Smooth.
“Are you lost?”
She seems genuinely concerned. And goodness that concern looks marvellous on her soft features. Maybe I’ll make out like I don’t know the way just so that she’ll accompany me. “I’m afraid so. Can you please show me the way to the station?”
“Just keep heading in that direction.”
She’s pointing in the complete wrong direction, I’m pretty sure. Her elegance is sublime though; even though most of her body is obscured by that bulky coat and the shadowy light I can tell she’s got it going on. “Are you sure?”
“Are you heading towards the station too? Do you want to come with me? I’m afraid I might get lost again.” That’s it, play on her sympathies, buy more time to show her your debonair side.
“I’ll come with you a little way. Let’s go.”
OK, she actually agreed. Stay cool. Don’t walk too fast. “Do you come to the Heath often?”
“I wouldn’t say that, exactly.”
How cryptic. “No, me neither, I just came here for inspiration. I’m a writer, you see.”
No response from her, just the sound of the breeze in the trees. I guess she’s a little intimidated. “Yeah I’m gonna write a story about race relations in London, using Hampstead Heath as a character…”
“It certainly has plenty of that. And many interesting people in it.”
“Yeah…” She doesn’t get it. “But what I mean is I’m actually going to make the Heath itself a character that talks to the other parts of London like Camden or Shoreditch or whatever.”
Wow the rustling of the leaves as we walk might as well be literal tumbleweed; such is the harshness of her silence. “You see because most parts of London are grey but the Heath is green so-“
“Here you go.”
What? How – we’re at the edge of the woods, how did that happen!? I swear there was no end in sight just a moment ago. I must have gotten too lost in the sway of her gait and the train of my own thoughts. “Won’t you show me to the station?”
“It’s just there.”
She’ll think I’m an absolute hopeless case if I tell her I need her to show me the rest of the way.
“Alright then, well thanks.” I don’t want this to be over. She may be a little dense on literary understanding, but there’s something so other-worldly and warming about her presence. “Which way are you heading then?”
“Back that way.”
“I see. Where do you live?”
“That way.” She waved into the forest, she must mean in Hampstead. Of course, some rich banker has already claimed her as his trophy wife. Well maybe she’s looking for some fun on the side. “Oh yeah, in Hampstead? Well I’m working here at the moment, maybe we could-“
My phone’s buzzing. I thought it was dead?? Mum calling, probably wondering why I’m not home yet. I’ll call her back on the train. “Anyway, I was just thinking that-“
Where’d she go?
Rob Hakimian has been enamoured with London since a young age, when he would come up on the train from Whitstable at weekends to go skateboarding or watch his beloved Arsenal. He moved to London at the first opportunity, for university, and despite stints living in Los Angeles and South Korea, he has always found the British capital’s lure too great and returned to the city where his mind feels most alive. He hopes to channel that inspiration into his endeavours on the Creative Writing course. You can read more of his various writings at savedbyoldtimes.com.