1. Extract from 'Blonde BOY, Red LIPSTICK':
At one point on that long slow journey, I looked out of the window at the dark, industrial Saltley Viaduct. Old houses stood empty all around it. Waiting to be demolished. Old factories too. Remnants of a world order that seemed to be neat and tidy; a world where men had been men and women had done as they were told. Of course it hadn't really been like that. But it somehow shouted at me "Look how we were. What are you doing? Where do you think you're going?"
Finally the city centre. Town. I went into one of the first pubs I came to and had a pint. I told myself I didn't need a drink and that I was only in there to ask someone for directions. And, after a second drink, I did ask someone.
It turned out that I was going to Digbeth, more or less. A gloomy area on the edge of the city.
The Aussie Bar was hard to miss, apparently.
And the wine bar? It was just a few doors further up from the Aussie.
That walk over, through town, in a cool dusk, felt awfully long and I felt ever more nervous the closer I got. No, I felt much more than nervous. Again. The same thing. This wasn't a date with a girl. This was a date with a boy. Or a meeting anyway, if not exactly a date. Was it a date? What the fuck was I doing? I had never looked at any boy twice before. Was I being teased or laughed at by life?
I even asked myself some half-arsed questions, such as did I hold doors open for him? I swore at myself for asking them. Nevertheless all sorts of similarly dumb and naive questions still came into my mind. I realised I had no idea what I was doing. I stopped. Should I just go home? Go to an ordinary pub and maybe chat up a girl? I didn't know what to do. I was out of my depth.
Yet despite all that, something was making me do it.
There was a pull. And I couldn't resist it.
And I remembered those words from the train. "Isn't life strange?"
And I wanted to do it too, I wanted to.
Then, suddenly, there it was.
A wine bar called the Hostaria.
The sky overhead was just beginning to darken as I went in...
2. Extract from 'SKINHEAD GIRL - an Urban Love Story':
Neither of us were really sure what to do next. We sat on the railings in the bus station for a little while and talked about tower blocks. The lifts which never worked when you needed them most. The smell of detergent on the stairwell and, sometimes, the smell of other things. Days where the sun shone and Louise felt trapped. Days where the sun shone and the world was quiet and still and how she felt "kind of happy... almost privileged" to be up there, living life high up in the sky.
Then we climbed off the railings and sat on a bench instead. A hard and cheerless concrete thing.
We talked about school. That we both missed it. Both of us had been popular. Both of us had fucked it up for different reasons and got no exam passes.
Then we talked about music and childhood, all sorts, and more. And the conversation just flowed. It was as if we had known each other for years. There were no gaps now. None. And, as there had been from the outset, there was lots of laughter, lots of smiling.
Louise felt like someone who simply moved into your world. And if you accepted her, good and bad - because there had to be bad - she would just go right on sharing your space. No questions would be asked. She obviously loved to talk, and laugh, and somewhere, I knew, she loved to show off too. To challenge, to dance, to dress the way she did, to have her hair like that. She was strong. And confident. And above all, I felt, she was honest. Genuine. And all that was right there. In your space. Take it or leave it. Her heart was on her sleeve.
Finally, however, the chilly grey afternoon threatened to turn into a cold purple skied night. One of those evenings lit by those awful orange lamps that alienate people ever further from one another on estates like these. And it was time, sadly, to go our separate ways...