WORDS: Gary Budden
ONE – On why you are at Staples Corner
In the weak and watery November light of a Monday afternoon, you sit with your nose pressed against the cold glass of the 266 bus. You think on what awful chain of events led you here, the end of your known world.
Dimly, you are aware you have lost something and that you must replace it. As penance, perhaps, you travel to Staples Corner.
As Cricklewood fades and concrete begins to colonise the landscape, you know you are headed to a divine meeting of arteries. Repeat their names… M1. A406. North Circular.
You exit the 266 and wonder how this web of underpasses and roundabouts can function. You are here. Your destination stands temple-like over there. And as the lorries force fumes into your lungs, you panic and wonder how to cross. Slowly, the Escher-like scene assumes some logic. A zebra crossing, an underpass. All is well. You feel a pleasant nostalgia for boundary-pushing ’70s English novels as you cross.
TWO – On how Staples Corner got its name
Not from the Staples stationery store that sits there now. Too easy.
Staples Corner, against all odds, has history.
For sixty years Staples was a mattress factory. Then an upstart B&Q took over, but not for long. Come 1992, the Provisional IRA, perhaps acting secretly on the wishes of North West Londoners, detonate a device below the A406 flyover. B&Q, damaged, was demolished, and replaced by Staples; pens and pencils now, not mattresses and their illusions of comfort.
THREE – Concerning the emotional state induced by Currys car park, Staples Corner
You stand insignificant in front of the hangar size stores. Here you thought it would be simple at least. But your eyes dart nervously from PC World to Currys, PC World to Currys, heart racing. You are, once again, blinded by choice.
You notice that here, in the car park outside Currys, Staples Corner, no people come in or out of the doors. No customers return to their parked cars. You are alone. A flock of diseased pigeons pepper the sky over the North Circular. It is cold, and you shiver.
Panicking, you head into Currys, drops of sweat beading your brow, whispering to yourself: M1. A406. North Circular.
FOUR – Inside Currys, Staples Corner
Inside there are many shoppers, assistants who lean on white counters and follow buggy-pushing families imparting wisdom. They wear dark blue fleeces and smile. Customers enter the store straight after you, but you know there was only you and you alone in that car park. These other customers form on entry. The carpet is a womb-red. The air is artificial and warm. The atmosphere flickers.
After half an hour of talking, misunderstandings, boredom and a final decision, your elderly male sales assistant informs you that the model is not in stock. You see a leering impish face grin at you from the screen of every tablet and laptop. You fight the bile that rises, try to ignore the malevolent spirit of this place, Staples Corner.
The sales assistant continues:
But go next door to PC World. We are the same company. They have five.
FIVE – PC World, Staples Corner
You find your model quickly. You recognise it, even obscured amongst the other screens with the grinning face that mocks and sneers.
You didn’t see her arrive or remember instigating conversation, but the short and acne scarred woman who is now your sales assistant is in full flow. She has watery blue eyes, or perhaps they are contacts, or something else entirely.
At least this will be over soon, you think.
Twenty minutes pass. You are still fending off add-ons and extras that she flings at you with the remorseless energy of an algorithm. Some stone-tape recording of a PC World, Staples Corner, sales assistant, stuck on loop. You realise that the only way you can break this endless cycle, give this fretful ghost some peace, is through gritted teeth and complaint. It works but you have no satisfaction. At Staples Corner there is no comfort in being right.
Sir, I regret to inform you we have no bags.
The watery blue eyes betray no emotion and the leering imp in the screens laughs. The checkout beeps and a man speaks into a walkie-talkie somewhere in the distance.
SIX – Staples Corner and how we can know it
Your replacement model, boxed up but not bagged, is tucked uncomfortably under your right arm. You stand shivering, waiting for the 266, and look at the monolithic mass of Staples rising high over the other side. You think of stationery and mattresses, bombs and watery blue eyes.
Repeat your mantra. M1. A406. North Circular.
You think on what you have learned at Staples Corner as you head home, re-entering the world. You have been handed a question mark formed in concrete, and you know you must return.
Gary Budden is co-founder of independent publisher Influx Press and assistant fiction editor at Ambit magazine. He lives in London. This is his blog.