Prospects as peachy as Hamlet’s <—> Civil war of chemicals clot the cruiseways of bad blood <—> Red viscous waves engulf the drop-locks of your neck <—> and violate the caverns of your skull <—> An arsenal of glands jump to the jack of your heart <—> injecting juice into the jam-thick soup <—> to join the jamboree <—> Whirlpools of madness coughed from Hell <—> Bob and surface the flotsam of a thousand shipwrecked thoughts <—> and from the burning well of your soul sweeps a stormtide of sickness along the sluiceways and alleyways of your body <—>
Faintly from as far as Denmark afflicts the ears a rumble <—> Aha! <—> You stamp upon it underground <—> Harrowed with fright and wonder, sulphurous and tormenting flames licking your soul, you feel the invasion via your sole something more than fantasy <—> When boding some strange eruption to your state, a bubble of sanity blows your troubled mind <—> Below these stone floors and battlements, why man, this is the cannon of a London Underground train — a wee honest merry mole under London.
A laxative to the heart as one gunning to meet a ghost <—> Get a grip for you wax desperate with imagination <—>
Another rumble <—> Your heart leaps in fear and wonder at a scrunching of boots outside your door and what must be a legion of soldiers is coming <—> Aspect of a blowfly from the spyhole: you catch a blue face <—> black protracting bully-sticks <—> Lunch is served!
Off with another poor English lamb to the slaughter <—> Dish of the Day: rump of condemned prisoner carved rare with gentleman’s relish <—>
Sit you down. Ha ha. You have much to learn, oh pretty young green thing. Yesterday. All your troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they’re here to stay.
Twist and shout. Smuggle a note in a bottle and blow your whistle to the gutter-rag-red-tops — very likely the victim of the vilest conspiracy.
A cold porridge of truth stirs the stomach for no-one gives a flying pot about prisoners’ rights. Not in these enlightened days of capitalist cat eat frog. A few hours back and you were one of those people. You will pen a sizzling novel of complaint pepped with the corruption you hope to discover. Or a ledger in the style of Samuel Pipsqueak. How loud this angry mouse roars! We turn to the old-country rake Horace,
Jesting decides great things
Stonglier and better oft than earnest can
But who in their right minds writes about penal rubbish these days!
The slow slog down the cobbled lanes of London accords like a trip on the Styx. Stick around! A guest of Her Majesty at her bog-standardest hotel: HMP Springwood. The meatwagon as it poodles the puddled streets of London proffers a surprisingly good view of the grey dogged people. But the blackened windows deny these poor people a good view of you.
Your escort (but not of a kind that may be booked through shady London agencies) barks too close for comfort. Eight ’umble and downcast orphans linked by steel umbilical cords to guardians. No Mary Poppins will ride to the rescue. So abandon hope. Enter! Welcome to the Underworld. A shared room awaits at no extra charge.
(Think of the YMCA only better.)
Smoke lowering from the chimney pots of Lower Springwood’s nuclear-rubbish-incineration-plant, making a soft black drizzle with flakes of soot in it as big as worming pills — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Gone into mourning for Springwood’s favourite son, Charlie-boy Dickens, after whom this imposing landmark is named. A man reputed to have stayed within the confines of this backward London borough for a full twenty minutes. A man revered in his day for having done so much for the Victorian London tourist industry.
London. A land plagued with scandal. ’Tis the sport to pick over the best of British sex disseminated in the soiled sheets of the press. Littering and brightening the 1960s no end, scandal of a sexual tack makes a welcome comeback in the apocalyptic decade of the twenty-first century.
Smog everywhere. Smog up the river where it rolls among canny mutant fish; smog down the river where it rolls defiled among the up-turned shopping trolleys and the waterside poll of a great (and dirty) city. Smog on Hackney Marshes, smog on Edmonton Green. Smog creeping into the cabins of barges on the Lee, smog lying out in breakers’ yards. Smog lingering in the bells and riggings of great ships. Smog in the lungs and throats of London prisoners withering from lack of sun. Smog (and puff) in the stem and bowl of the first afternoon pipe of Professor Jason Knees tucked snug in a prison cell.
Gas looming through the smog in divers places. Dig the deformed streets of Springwood! What the dickens were they thinking of when they put up her tumbledown housing estates? The raw afternoon is rawest and the muddy streets are muddiest and the dense smog is densest near that leaden-headed old obstruction, the nuclear-rubbish-incineration-plant. A mad English prince opening a new wing in 2010 and calling it, ‘A monstrous anal carbuncle festering on the pox-ridden butt-cheeks of a much loathed and leaking friend.’ Springwood is more accident than man-made scheme, a discarded abortion at the intersection of the North Circular Road, the M25 and the New Road. England’s poorest borough. England’s most rotten borough. England’s most radioactive borough. Boasting a high street with proper shops and a luminescent prison.
So all aboard the good ship Springwood! A third-class cabin groomed for your pleasure. You have done the crime and may now enjoy the time. A guest of Her Majesty measure for measure.
Her Majesty’s Prison Springwood is nowhere near as appealing as her bigger sisters — the famous five-star prisons of Scrubville and Wormhill. The beautified Scrubville offers free wall-to-wall electricity (for a courageous programme of correction). Wormhill conducts chemical research under the charge of a Doctor Mengele from the Home Office. But the ugly sibling Springwood made up of the one prison Block, Victorian barracks of black brick and soot, not built in the strict neo-Gothic style as the Chthonic. A crack’d glass dome its crowning glory. A squadron of dickies plunder a wonderland of mutant insect wildlife.
A magic forest of mushrooms and pot plants thicket the cell of that misty stargazer Professor Jason Knees high on the Fours, Room 102. We soirée to this oasis of puff and poetry in two shakes of a Gerbil’s tail, when the moon is high, around the witching hour, and our birdie friends are fast-nested on the Destroyer-grey rafters of the good ship Springwood.
The prison Block slumbers not much like a brick of cadmium sulphate in the afternoon smog.
We sniff a shallow shack of dirt and glass festering in an unexplored corner of the empty exercise yard. A rusty crucifix riveted to the red swinging door advertises the trade within to the lost sheep without: † a House of the Lard wavering on stony ground.
What to our untrained eyes resembles a potting shed nestling in the bruiséd shadows. A butcher’s within and we uncover six beds of a hospital wing. No prisoner is allowed to lick wounds around this neck of the woods as the Governor has decreed this would likely breach security.
The beam of the eye is hooked to the carpet rolls of barbed-wire <—> the razor-snakes gladdening the heart and littering Her Majesty’s Estate at Springwood <—> Would Her Majesty be game for a decent spot at shooting — a welcome change from potting rotting peasants — perhaps Her Majesty swings her sights at the swollen rooks and ravens on the boughs of the Main Gate and prison walls. Benches of Beaks reserve judgment on the weedy specimens below. ‘Haw-haw! Haw-haw!’ They can check out any time they like but they can never leave. These darkling beasts reign from the dreary skies of Springwood in like manner to their cousin vultures who deliver justice from the death skies over the plains of London Fields.
Beware the slumbering Leviathan nesting the Main Gate — the mighty Admin Block! A parasite army of shirker ants bivouac unseen within these palatial chambers of the species humanicus clericus.
For many a blue moon Governor Archibald Hornblower James (free from the fire of the Beast) and his flock of bagmen when they are touring their fiefdom find their wishes fleeting to their favourite watering hole. To a clipping of the beaks. To a wetting of the tonsils. To the George W Bush Management Bar. Demented neon signs pump their lumens and illuminate the snakes of razor-wire without (waiting to entrap the nocturnal wanderings of any frothing Screw) like the streams of tinsel on a Christmas tree.
One naturally wonders what that rascal Horace would make of the Killing Fields of Eschaton Street, Lower Springwood. Nil desperandum his motto on the Main Gate. Si possis recte, si non, quocumque modo rem on the portals of workshops, where workers are rehabilitated, whether they like it or not, with a prisoner’s living wage of £4.40 for a 60-hour week to provide luxuries like sheets and food.
If possible honestly, if not, somehow, make money
Why man, we spot Governor Archibald Hornblower James boldly bestriding the hard exercise yard the brave Gerbil. Scampering for cruel Life from the sickening expanse of concrete, each pigeon-shuffle one dram closer to the sanctuary of a private den, to the filing cabinet, to the bottle of golden medicinal firewater waiting for a rainy day filed within.
Run, Gerbil, Run!
The taste tricks the brain, tantalises, trips the toe, tips the buds of the tongue into termite hills. Inexorably the bladder leaks, the brain blows off Mount St Helens, chin dribbles a waterfall.