EPISODE 3: Marcus

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marcus With local press decimated nationwide – local everything, pretty much – London’s lifestyle mags were an indulgence. They were free but that offered no consolation to anyone priced out of their home by the regeneration celebrated between the glossy covers.

Marcus and Deni’s own publication stood apart, he liked to think, in showcasing aspects of style that celebrated preservation over demolition. Repurposed dwellings and retrieved objects were their thing – it’s how he met Bree, his new girlfriend, after a panel event. Marcus had had to learn to love an advertorial, for the mag’s livelihood. So he pimped products and services as instructed, highlighting aspects that shared a modicum of sympathy with his own concerns.

His work defined him. Deni usually introduced them as “Deni and Marcus from The London Idea,” with the emphasis on the magazine’s name. People misheard it as ‘ideal’ or ‘Idyll’ or even ‘Lidl’ – not that Marcus would have minded working for the supermarket chain which was about to start paying the living wage. He doubted he earned much more. Occasionally she’d rephrase it as, “This is my business partner, Marcus,” claiming to have omitted the fourth word when challenged, as if ‘business partner’ and ‘partner’ were interchangeable. Was that where they’d gone wrong?

Not that you always got to choose your handle. “I’m Bree from Islington” could elicit a narrowed gaze as the listener thought, “No, you’re not – you’re from Australia,” but of course those things don’t get said; in case it turns out offensive. Marcus understood that with the badge of N1 proudly put forward, Bree simply wanted to sound more committed, which delighted him.

Last night, he’d been out with a crowd, to one of those achingly cool Shoreditch bars. (Achingly? Who suffered? Its patrons the morning after, or onlookers seething from the pavement outside.) It was late morning now, and Marcus was in Al’s Café, Bermondsey Street, so at least he’d moved on from the scene of his crime. He hoped the breakfast he’d just consumed might perk him up.

At any rate he’d made the effort to get dressed and come to the office, which was still a novelty, after years of working from home. It’d been decent of Scott to arrange it – mates’ rates – and Marcus knew he should take full advantage. It felt good to belong somewhere, even for one or two days a week. Besides, if he didn’t use it he’d lose the privilege. Space was a premium commodity. There was talk of shifting the pool table to shove in a crèche so parents could bring their toddlers into work.

There’d been parents last night. How did they do it? Or pet owners? Or students? They went home and did stuff and got up early to do more. Marcus just did the magazine. He’d been chatting to one guy, matching him drink for drink, only realising when the chap produced a folding bike and said he was heading home to Fulham did Marcus realise he’d been on sparkling water, while Marcus was knocking back lager. After cycling home – at eleven thirty?! To West London?!! – the guy had sent an email at half one in the morning, saying ‘great to meet, keep in touch, drop by’. He ran a business that bought and sold vintage fabrics.

Bree would be interested for sure. But on reflection, he seemed pretty full-on. It mightn’t be fair to unleash him on Bree, since he was just an acquaintance … probably more of a contact than a friend? She’d met plenty of Marcus’s friends over the months and some she’d gelled with, others not. He’d met her friends, too, though not so many. Bree preferred entertaining at home, which suited Marcus from a financial perspective. Maybe it was time to distance himself from the profligate clubbers and diners-out. He could have whole weeks of sobriety.

They didn’t really have a routine yet but that would happen. Meantime, he had this routine to adjust to, if he applied himself. Not the hangovers, hopefully. He’d thought Bree might curb his freelance carousing and she probably would when she moved in. It had been easier with Deni because they’d networked together, weathering breakthroughs and failures in unison. Now they operated independently it was harder.

How much effort to put into this new arrangement? He embellished commuter tales, though his journey was straightforward. He chatted in the kitchen. But nobody seemed interested in the history of the building which had once been a warehouse. (Was it for tanning? Or cotton?) The top three local attractions seemed to be the new London Bridge Station, the Shard, and Tesco on Tooley Street. Not the White Cube Gallery or the crumbly churches or the green spaces. (Were these for residents only? Maybe not everyone complained about their neighbourhood being taken over.)

Marcus longed to be at home in Brixton, on the sofa, watching Netflix. But he was just a bit flat today – he wasn’t lazy by nature, although to be honest, everything seemed like an effort a lot of the time. Marcus made no essential contribution to the city; nor did the magazine, for its virtuous ambitions; he didn’t even see it as his entry point to publishing. Last night left him feeling bloated and superfluous which was why he’d abandoned his desk in the soulless, efficient office. He stabbed at the last of his chips, and considered his phone. There was just so much choice that sometimes he postponed making decisions and commitments. Even if one move, one change, might make a difference, would it be enough to keep pace with everything else that was going on?

He stared at his phone, thinking again of Bree. It made him smile to imagine her stepping into an emporium of reclaimed fabric, immersing herself in the folds, maybe even trying on dresses and cloaks. If her delight at a Saturday on the Portobello Road was any indication, she’d be enthralled. He could make that happen – it felt like a good thing to do. Simple and achievable. He hit reply and began to compose a message.

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