John Simmons

Where are you from?

A tale of two bottles

Memories triggered: smell of malt vinegar, taste of fruit gums, black swirling as you stare into a glass of Guinness. Filling glass bottles at Fred Field’s the hardware shop; Fred’s shadowy presence sold vinegar from wooden barrels — better than the fish shop’s ‘non-brewed condiment’. Most of my week was spent a bus ride away, in my nan’s country, Covent Garden, where I went to school. Dad worked nights on the printing presses so Saturday evenings were special, all of us together, celebrated with treats. Don’t forget the fruit gums, mum, went the slogan, but dad bought the sweets I chose in Ben’s paper shop. Through the week, mum and I were a team. I’d be sent down the off-license to buy her Guinness. Take a pile of newspapers to trade at the fish shop for a bag of chips. Mum drank her Guinness, I ate my chips. Malt vinegar.

creation story

I’d sketched a rough map when I first heard about the project. It just happened that I’ve written a lot recently about the place where I’m from — and had used it for the setting of a novel. Weeks later I did a better version of the map and started writing about people and places in it. It came to more than 250 words so I had editing to do. I could have written at length but 150 words was tougher. I enjoy the process of taking out words and the satisfaction of hitting the exact number. It’s a creative constraint.

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