I came to find a girl, p.1

I Came to Find a Girl, page 1


I Came to Find a Girl

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I Came to Find a Girl


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  About the Author


  Jaq Hazell

  Copyright © 2015 Jaq Hazell

  All rights reserved.


  I was happy to hear Flood was dead. I wasn’t as happy as I thought I’d be, but I was happy all the same. His demise was both painful and premature which was only fair and things were as they should be. Only it didn’t last, it couldn’t, because Flood stories sell newspapers.

  The initial news reports and obituaries quickly dissipated to virtual Flood hysteria as art critics, columnists, and even business correspondents had their say and that’s when I thought, enough.

  You can take two or three hours or whatever it was, but you can’t take my life. I never wanted to be an artist’s model – never agreed to anything – I was young, stupid even, it hurts to admit that but that’s how it was. And now this, Flood’s video diaries or whatever it is.

  I kick off the shoes Marcus Hedley had admired. That’s Marcus Hedley, art dealer, always in Art Review’s Power 100 list of movers and shakers in the international art world. “Stunning shoes – girls get to wear such wonderful footwear,” he said, and I just shrugged because it wasn’t my shoes that mattered.

  I spread my toes; rubbed raw from walking too far, too fast in heels I’m not used to – and for what? Days before I’d told my flatmate Tamzin that Drake Gallery wanted to see me. “No way,” she said and she was right.

  I sigh and reach for my bag. The DVD is on top with a red sticker saying ‘Limited edition’. While the black and white cover photograph shows a woman’s naked torso – model-thin and translucently pale with Celtic-style lettering like a tattoo round her navel. ‘The More I Search the Less I Find’ it says, and at the bottom: ‘The Jack Flood Video Diaries’.

  I pick at the cellophane wrapping, my hands shaky. Get a knife. I cross the Kermit-green carpet to the kitchenette where our one sharp knife is half submerged in the greasy bowl. Bloody Tamzin. I knock on her door. “Tam, you there?”

  The double duvet is plumped and smoothed with the Zippy toy her boyfriend bought resting between the pillows – funny how she makes her bed but never washes up. We are not students any more.

  I go to the desk in my room and sieve through my sketchbooks, pens and paints. I have a Stanley knife somewhere. A blunt Stanley knife, there beneath a folder marked ‘NEW IDEAS’. I force the blade downwards and slice into the cellophane that envelopes the DVD’s plastic casing.

  Back in the living room, I insert the disc and press ‘play’. The blue-blank screen turns black: no copyright warning, no trailers for forthcoming releases. It’s not like an ordinary DVD. I should’ve known that. “Do watch this, if you can,” Marcus Hedley had said. “You’re an artist yourself, yes?” I nodded, and he said, “Well then, you’ll understand.”

  Words in white typescript move across the screen: ‘The More I Search the Less I Find – The Jack Flood Video Diaries’. And in the bottom right hand corner, the date and place: ‘Thursday 26 May 2005, the Merchant’s House Hotel, Nottingham’.

  Immediately, I burn up and have to change out of my interview clothes. I press ‘pause’ and glance up as legs pass the barred window – an old man in khakis with a skanky dog. No one notices me down here. I like that. My first London flat, down a curl of slimy, uneven steps. Too hot in summer, cold and dark all day in winter, but it’s private and the area’s not bad.

  I rush down the corridor to my room where I lay my trousers and shirt on the bed. They don’t look so smart any more. They didn’t work. I pull on an old Santa Cruz surf T-shirt and shorts then head back to the TV. The disc resumes. I feel sick and clench my fists as I watch a figure emerge from the gloom of the low-lit room.

  It’s Jack Flood, of course, and as he walks towards the camera my stomach tightens and I have to grip the edge of the sofa to force myself to stay and watch.

  Jack Flood’s dark hair frames an intense, inscrutable expression. He’s dressed in a black shirt open to his navel – whippet thin, wasted even. And he’s in a hotel room, that hotel room, the one with the bronze satin bedspread and crystal chandelier amongst other empty trappings of a boutique hotel. To think I was so impressed by that place, by its look – its obvious statement of nowness.

  Movement in the window above catches my eye – another pair of old, slow stranger’s legs, but no Tamzin. When’s she due back? I try to remember what shift she’s on but all I can recall is her wishing me luck. We had assumed Drake Gallery were interested in my work. How stupid was that.

  Jack Flood looks directly at me. He’s contained within the box of the chunky old TV but still it makes me shaky to see him like that, looking out, blatantly staring. “I never stop looking,” he says. “Got to keep looking and seeing – it’s a lost art.” He walks round the hotel room as if he’s searching for something, then pauses and slowly turns to face the camera. “My name is Jack Flood and I am an artist.”

  “Yeah, a fucking shit one,” I say, even though he won awards and made heaps of money, and still does.

  What do I ever make? Call yourself an artist, Mia; you’re having a laugh. I remember that day, the morning-after, when I arrived at college, in my studio space, took one look at the sketches pinned to my white boards and immediately pulled them down in a silent frenzy before seeking out the large black bin to dump them in. But that was then and this is now, and still I’m getting nowhere fast.

  “What is art? How can you tell? Is it all rubbish?” Jack Flood says to camera. “These questions will probably go unanswered but what I can provide is an insight into the life of an artist: where I find my inspiration, what motivates me, how I make art. What do artists do all day? Is it, as many suspect, a piece of piss?”

  He retrieves a piece of paper from his pocket. “Rough guide to Nottingham – literally,” he says. “I asked the concierge, where’s best avoided? Forest Fields, St Ann’s, Mapperley, the Meadows – they may sound all right, but Forest Fields is the red light area and the Meadows and St Ann’s are notorious for gun crime – they’ve got territorial issues. It’s the drugs – it’s gang warfare. Then there’s the binge-drinking in the city centre – the fighting, the puking and fucking in alleyways.” At a side table piled with photographic equipment he selects a small camcorder, turns, and approaches the camera that’s filming.

  I move back from the TV, to the furthest corner of the sofa, as if he could come out and get me.

  The film cuts to Flood’s handheld camera as he films his exit ro
ute out of the suite and down a narrow corridor. He opens a fire door and makes his way down the hotel’s winding backstairs and through the circular reception – decorated in Schiaparelli-pink, paisley-print wallpaper. He spins round the revolving glass door and out onto the cobbled street.

  Daylight: his camera does a 360-degree scan taking in the museum across the road, the pub next door and a nearby church. It’s the Lace Market area – streets I know well, streets I loved until Flood ruined it all. Again, I force myself to unclench my fists in an attempt to feel less tense.

  “Taxi!” Flood shouts in that assertive, arrogant way of his.

  A white saloon car draws up alongside, and Flood points his camera lens through the open passenger window towards the driver – a youngish man with sandy hair and pitted skin. My stomach twists. I recognise him.

  “I want to see Nottingham,” Flood says.

  “Why you film?” The driver’s accent is deep and guttural – Eastern European.

  “I film everything – a sort of cultural record, if you like. Are you free or what?”

  The driver nods and Flood enters the cab’s spotless black vinyl interior.

  “Show me the real Nottingham,” Flood says.

  “I am not clear what you ask of me?”

  “The real Nottingham – not the castle or the Robin Hood Experience – I want to see where people live. I have a shortlist.” Flood passes him a piece of paper.

  The driver shakes his head. “These places – they are no good.”

  Through the side window Flood films blue sky and the church’s honey-coloured stonework. An empty street – he cuts back to the cab’s interior with its black vinyl seats and the back of the cabbie’s sandy-coloured head. “I need a driver for a few hours,” he says. “I’m sure we can come to some sort of arrangement?”

  The driver’s frown is visible in the rear-view mirror. “These places you want to go – there are shootings.”

  “It’s hardly Jamaica.”

  “A girl – she was killed after Goose Fair. She was I think thirteen, and a few months back a boy was shot in Radford. It is crazy place.”

  Flood films the silent street. Sunlight on sandblasted stone contrasts with adjacent dark Georgian brickwork. The restored period buildings are immaculate and on the road pristine cobblestones remain intact.

  “Drive me around; I’ll make it worth your while – an extra twenty, say.”

  The driver looks in the rear-view mirror. “Okay. Where you want to go?”

  Jack Flood consults his list. “Meadows, St Ann’s, Forest Fields – actually, my friend, let’s start in Forest Fields.”

  The driver checks his mirrors and pulls out.

  “Where you from?” Flood asks, as he films a blue, bejewelled elephant hanging from the rear-view mirror.


  “What’s your name?”


  “Magic.” Flood laughs.

  “To English it sound like magic, but say like ma-check.”

  “You like art, Maciek?”

  The driver shrugs. “Old paintings I can appreciate.”

  The camera moves outwards shooting: shops, bars and restaurants as the cab loops round the one-way system and stops at traffic lights where Flood focuses on a couple of teenage girls with long, straightened hair and matching black and white polka dot skirts. As if he’s talking to himself Flood says, “It’s all art.”

  Back at the suite, Flood takes a call. “Hello – yes – okay – okay, if I must. Tell him five minutes.” He changes into black jeans, a T-shirt, trainers and jacket, and from the bedside table he lifts a glossy white card that he reads aloud: “Now That You’ve Gone Were You Ever There?” He half-smiles and goes to a side table, where he selects a small, compact camcorder and exits.

  Did he film everything? A sickly feeling rises in my throat and I pause the disc, aware of what’s coming next.

  The glossy white card was the invite to the private view for Flood’s show. ‘Now That You’ve Gone Were You Ever There?’ it said, with a close-up of a pubic hair like a question mark, and there was small print on the back that I read aloud to my housemates. “‘Future Factory is proud to present work that engages with the more pressing issues in contemporary society. As a result, some work in our programme may cause offence’ – that has to be worth a look, don’t you think?”

  My housemates were sitting on the collapsed green sofa and two rest-home-type chairs in the living room of our three-storey Victorian terrace in Forest Fields, Nottingham. There were five of us back then, all students, and I was standing in the doorway, having rushed back, excited that I’d managed to secure enough invites for everyone.

  But Tamzin rolled her eyes and Kelly groaned. I didn’t get it. This was just the sort of happening event I’d been looking for, but then perhaps I was more easily impressed than the others having come from ‘Bumblefuck’, as my friend back home calls it.

  Stowe-on-Sea is a bland, sprawling suburb next to a pebbly stretch of grey water on the South Coast: one curry house, one amusement arcade, a couple of caffs left over from the Fifties and endless retirement flats with sea view. ‘Stowe’ actually means ‘place’, so it’s Place-on-Sea, like it may as well be Nothing-on-Sea. The sort of living hell you have to escape to such an extent that I dared not live while I was there. Boyfriends were out of the question. No one was going to get under my skin; nothing would bind me to that place. So, once I got out I needed to catch up. I’d missed out and that made me desperate for glamour and excitement and to have a good time. So it didn’t take much to impress me back then. Even so, we were all into art, apart from Slug who was the only non-art student among us, having filled the small, dark room no one wanted. (We’d had to advertise it on the Student Union notice board and Slug was the only respondent. I had wanted to hold out for someone more interesting, but it would have meant we’d incur more rent and none of us could afford that.)

  “Jack Flood’s been shortlisted for the Prospect Prize. He’s only doing the Nottingham show as a favour to Mike Manners. Then it all moves to London.”

  Mike Manners, head of fine art, was also known as the Golden Turd thanks to his first lecture when he placed a plastic ‘joke’ dog-turd on a desk and told us we had three years to find a way to turn it into gold. He had previously been a lecturer at Goldsmith’s in London and it was there that he had taught Jack Flood.

  “I managed to get enough tickets for all of us,” I said.

  Kelly, a Londoner who was pretty cynical at the best of times, scraped back her dark hair. “Shock art is too Sixties, like shit in a can.”

  “You what?” Slug curled his lip. He was a Scouser, called Slug on account of his bed linen – a brown polyester sleeping bag (never washed).

  “There was this artist, Manzoni, who canned his own shit,” Kelly said. “He even called it Artist’s Shit.”

  Slug stopped eating his fried chicken. “People bought cans of shit?”

  Spencer nodded. “It was limited edition.”

  “Didn’t some explode?” I added.

  “Gross,” Tamzin said.

  “Yeah, but nothing shocks any more,” Kelly said.

  “What about the news?” I said.

  Slug discarded his plate by the side of his chair, ignoring the chicken bones as they slid onto the carpet. “It shocks me the stuff you lot call art. When is this so-called art show anyhow?”


  “It’ll be full of pricks.”

  “There’s free wine,” I said, knowing full well that none of them could argue with that.

  And there it is on film – a moment from my life. It makes me think of the Nepalese, I think it’s them who believe being photographed captures your soul. He certainly took something from me. I bite my lip and sit forward as the film cuts to the college gallery: all white walls and a complicated glass roof, and the chatty, stylish crowd stand in cliques sipping wine, talking, and occasionally viewing the art.

  The ca
mera sweeps over Flood’s work – more concerned with recording who is there than the art. A sparrow-like woman in a bird of paradise hat beams at the camera. There’s a man with a white bouffant, my tutors Mike Manners – ageing hipster – and Mike Cherry in a crisp floral shirt, and briefly, I see myself: talking, laughing. I look young, pale and I hate to say it vulnerable. I’m wearing a simple charcoal dress, my hair is casually pinned up and my eyeliner is thick, and flicked upwards at the corners. Laughing with Kelly as we knock back free Chardonnay, I am carefree and unaware of being filmed. It is my ‘before’ before the ‘after’. My stomach knots at that thought and I have to wipe my eyes.

  Meanwhile, the camera moves in: a man in a wheelchair gives a nod, while an older guy in a red shirt studies a painting up close, and there’s Marcus Hedley, art dealer. How did he get to be so special? Rich kid of course: Eton, Oxford, the universe. It must be more of a challenge to fail for some people. He’s wearing his signature heavy-framed specs. He runs a hand through his shock of white hair and beckons to the camera. “Jack, over here, there’s someone you really must meet.”

  That ‘someone’ Flood ‘really must meet’ is in his late forties, dressed in a well-cut dark suit. It’s Nicholas Drake, balding hedge funder turned art collector.

  “Jack, put that thing away now,” Marcus Hedley says. “I’ve hired someone else to film tonight.”

  The film cuts to Flood’s hotel suite, some time after the private view. I guess the whole event didn’t mean much to him, while I still have the invite. “Can I keep it?” I had asked the sharp-faced woman on the door making her look me up and down as if I’d never been out before.

  My heart raced as I entered. The gallery was buzzing. There was sparrow-woman, the tiny man in high heels with a white bouffant, middle-aged people in black talking art, a Barbie lookalike (there’s always one), other students and the tutors. We accepted wine and canapés, and hung out: looking, viewing, considering, taking it in. We stopped at the title piece – Now That You’ve Gone Were You Ever There? – a single pearl earring on a small velvet cushion, placed high on a plinth, surrounded by the outline of a body with prominent breasts marked out in yellow tape on the floor. It looked like a weird crime scene.

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