Tag Archives: Phil the Elf

Kilburn High Road

He clicks the side button of his phone and its screen turns black. His carriage is empty, save for a couple of  IT goons who he vaguely recognizes. They carry the regulation rucksack: the type people use for mountaineering; for carrying laptops, and sandwiches and crap fantasy novels.

They wear North Face jackets and number two haircuts. One has grown a beard; it makes him look like a homeless man. Both wear dark synthetic looking ties; both stare mutely at mobile devices. It’s a static scene until the bearded one presses his handset, and the other reacts.

Penrith, Cumbria. Says the one without the beard as they pull into South Hampstead.

More people board. School kids and a second set of goons in anoraks. Three women occupy two seats of four. A lone blue-collar dumps a heavy bag, which rattles. The school kids hang close to the door. They are oversized and uncoordinated. Potentially rowdy; but subdued. Because its morning he supposes.

As they pull out of South Hampstead, they pass a deserted office building. The words chaos and disorder have been daubed across two of its windows. Blessed are you who are poor, fills a third.

They are moving slowly, shunting towards a red signal. He catches sight of something gold and sparkling; it’s draped around one of the windows.  The remainder of the building is boarded-up. An official sign reads twenty four hour security; it’s accompanied by a stencil of a uniformed security man and a tethered, vicious looking dog.

Red becomes green. The train accelerates and the building disappears. Outside pass well maintained gardens, and back-yard extensions. Sloped, slate-grey, roofs and a naked human washing. Then more featureless building, Edwardian High Streets, and narrow traffic choked roads.

The carriage is a-buzz with conversation. One of the school kids leans out of an imaginary punch. While another casts sly glances in a women’s direction. Blue-collar is sleeping. Sleeping off the night-shift, or a night of carousing, or night he’d prefer to forget.  And goon one and goon two are at play.

At Kilburn High Road: he thinks of Kilburn and the High Roads; Ian Drury’s old band.  He sees that strange procession of people lurching onto the small stage at The Tally Ho. He sees the Saturday morning pantomime of glass, scattered outside on Fortess Road. He sees the group of seven or eight young lads who chased him half the way to Tufnell Park.

He looks at his mobile phone again; nothing.

The Story Begins

The story begins, because it has to begin somewhere . We have the man; he’s not Phil the Elf at the beginning, just the man.

In the beginning there is an exchange of texts:

 Hi areU getting my texts ? x

 Well this is the first text I have gotten x

 I’ve sent you quite a few. Don’t know where they’ve been going to. So how are you ?

He’s on a bus, it’s early morning. Summer. England. London. North London. Euston.

The bus takes him past Transformations, where men become women. It stops a few feet away from the zebra crossing that takes him into the stations side entrance.

A thin trickle of commuters are already spilling out on the expanse of concrete and food stalls outside.

Bleary eyed pass bleary eyed commuters. Heads down checking mobile phones for signs of life. His last text hangs there unanswered. He agonises for a second over the missing kiss. It should have ended with one of those, not a question mark.

But there’s no time for agony, not right now. He lifts his head and sees that the eight fifteen to Watford is on time. All he needs to do now is get to the last carriage before the automatic doors shut fast.

The man has done this one hundred times before; he knows he can make it by quickening his step. Other less experienced travellers sprint past him. They waste unnecessary energy. Ruining reasonably ironed shirts with unnecessary sweat. Risking corns, blisters and coronaries; for a train that will depart in exactly three minutes twelve seconds. Three twelve, ten, nine, eight, seven….

An announcement tells him the train on platform two is the eight fifteen to Watford Junction. He’s quickened his pace now; that echoing, distorted voice, always makes him do that. But then the announcer looses interest in his journey and starts rambling on about a landslide somewhere south of Penrith, Cumbria. He, she, it; doesn’t actually mention Cumbria, but the man’s brain does. He was there once, for an afternoon. Grey stone walls, rain, rucksacks, walking boots, compass, anorak, map. Anorak, map. Misery.

The man sidles up the first door of the last carriage; he steps on board and begins walking through the train. He’s relaxed, glancing occasionally at the sprinters outside, who think it’s important to board halfway along the train. Each connecting door opens stiffly, and slams with a broken metallic crack.

And then he has found a place, a seat in a half deserted carriage. A seat on the left side of the train. His green rucksack sits beside him, and the early edition of a free newspaper is spread across his knees. The door zooms closed, and the guards whistle sounds. He looks down, and the question mark looks back.

Phil the Elf

Sometime before the end of 2013 I saw the following request on Freecycle: a network of e-mail groups dedicated to recycling everything from furniture to foodstuffs to beauty products.


 Meat Mincer, Bag of Jump leads, Portable CD Player

 Any condition – but only working products considered.

 Phil the Elf.

Its easy to pigeonhole the users of the Freecycle network as tree-hugging new-agers; the type of people who try and distance themselves from the waste and excesses of  consumerism. Picture bicycle riding, hobbit-like people. Picture hemp shirts and fair-trade harem pants. Picture people who are a little too nice for the ugly world we inhabit.

Then Phil the Elf comes along with a name that’s a mash-up of Tolkein and old-school English geezer. Was he for real, or someone’s idea of festive humor?  after all it was close to Christmas when his unusual request joined the list of sofa beds and Billy bookcases.

I say unusual, because individually the items are perfectly innocuous;  but if you group them together, and assume a common purpose – then you end-up with something a little more sinister.

Anyway this merry prankster or serial killer or innocent freecycler caught my attention. I noted down the details of his wanted ad in a moleskine book; and let it ferment for a couple of months.

Now all I have to do is finish  the story of  Phil; his Meat Mincer, Bag of Jump leads and Portable CD Player.