Sorry I've not been posting. I've developed a sideline. A specialist market, and a way of putting my insomnia, and addiction to nocturnal photography, to some use.
A tiny, laser-cut aperture plate that enables ultra-long exposures; down to barely a handful of photons at a time. Couple that with ultra-slow wet-film processing and a large format camera, and I can take exposures at high detail lasting over a fortnight or more.
In an exposure that long, people and moving vehicles lose their edges, becoming just a flow, a stain, capilliaries and arteries picked out in shadow. Only buildings are sharp. Once developed, the pictures can be scanned in at high-resolution and analysed. They give information about traffic, footfall densities, pinch-points and blockages, like an x-ray after a barium meal.
I take commissions from urban planners, retail developers and Transport for London.
To avoid theft, or tampering, the camera has to be incognito - I've settled on mounting the kit inside those fake security camera housings you can buy - rendering it invisible to the casual London observer. And within that, the lens and film themselves are suspended in an elasticated harness that dampens any vibration. That's the biggest problem - over such long exposures, the smallest movement, the slightest knock - even from the slow unwinding of a screw - produces a blurred image that's next to useless.
I have them screwed them against walls all over the capital, me collecting the negatives at night, like a beekeeper doing his rounds. This one, for example, from St Pancras Railway station.
That's where I suggested she and I meet; St Pancras. St Pancras International they call it, now the Eurostar stops there. The huge, bluepainted span of the roof like an iron sky.
The station concourse was cold and blowy, adding to the impression of being under cover but not quite inside.
We met by txt and walked together through the newly-finished station. The central statue of Betjeman - holding one hand to the back of his head - had an unshakeable flavour of Morecambe and Wise about it. The undercroft, built the Victorians to raise the level of the platforms, had been opened up and given over to retail. The effect was of trains and platforms hanging disapprovingly above what is now, essentially, a shopping mall. Plenty of room; this one cold hold everything.
She looked lovely, christmas scarf and wool coat with giant, Paddington buttons.
But there was a problem - I'd already turned her down.
We got drunk after work a few months ago, ended with her begging me to get into the cab back to hers. Idiotically, I said no. No. Stupid reasons that made sense at the time - we work together, I'm the senior partner, it could get complicated. Flattered but let's not.
She didn't forgive me. Frosty mornings. Found out that, while I was off over Christmas, she'd left the firm. Better offer elsewhere. No leaving party - wound her goodbyes into the Christmas do.
I don't have a darkroom. I have a bathroom and wait. Dark costs money; night is free.
Developing my most recent batch, A4 mono prints ready for the scanner. The air aches with the smell of fixer fluid. Batch of new stuff from China. Been getting headaches during the day recently, but I've found that a quick sniff of the fixer tends to clear them up.
The ultra-long exposure I've collected from my camera at St Pancras is slowly fading into view - looking down the corridor of shops along the undercroft. After fixing I take it out in the light and check it. Now here's an interesting effect - where the columns have forced the flow of people through two slits, they've coalesced into not two, but three patches of footfall on the other side.
The much-hyped champagne bar was a long row of people sat facing each other in fours, lampshades in between, like a cutaway train.
There was a queue, so we headed over to the gastro pub in the corner.
Here was the thing; we didn't work together anymore. I think, now she's moved, I'll tell her. Tell her I was stupid. Tell how I've been waiting for her, Tell her I want to start again.
We order, and she goes to the toilet.
When she safely is out of sight I take a surrepticious sniff of fixer. In my lap, blotting the end of the small plastic bottle onto a tissue, then pretending to blow my nose. Perhaps I should choose - be in a relationship, or not, rather than trying to maintain this complex superposition of states. Can't have it both ways.
This next photograph was taken from north east of the city, looking south over the 2012 Olympics site at Stratford, with the skyline of the square mile in the distance.
I rather like the idea of the London Limpics. It just seems like such a *blag* - London didn't really win the olympics, it stole them from Paris at the last minute. And that was what made it so delicious. Better still, London would now rub in it, by deliberately putting on a really shoddy games.
And St Pancras's enormous lazy arch the final, most direct insult; a great stale yawn right in Gare Du Nord's face.
I check the print using my cheap lupe. Damn - clearly visible, some small blurring along the edges of the building they call the Gherkin.
The camera must have moved, smearing away the fine detail in the image. Two week's worth of exposure wasted.
We talk. There's a theory that all the electrons in the Universe are in fact the same, single electron, whizzing backwards and forward in time and space so it appears in many places at once. Like the way the picture on a television is drawn by a single travelling point of light.
I've a similar theory - there is, in fact, only one woman. All the women a man encounters in his life - mother, lovers, daughters - are just different aspects of the same, eternal female, manifesting herself at different times, in different ways.
You better understand one, you better understand them all. Maybe I should make a start.
I could offer her a sniff of the fixer - maybe she'd start seeing things the way I do. Better not. These days I tend to travel alone on my chemical adventures. No more calculated risks with our health in return for a good time, like that night a girlfriend and I didn't have enough money to get pissed, so took eight paracetamol each before we went out drinking. Drowsy-drunk stomach-stumbling and screwed against a wall.
Wait; the foregound - Stratford station and the olympic site buildings - were still sharp. Likewise the other buildings. How could only the Gherkin be blurred? That's as if the Gherkin, not the camera, had moved.
Whoah. I dash from the bathroom with the sudden urge to check to check I'm still in the right London, London 020.
A tip: Here's a quick and easy way of working out which of the thousand Londons you are in. Find a landline. Dial 17070. The automated female voice will say "This circuit is defined as..." and then a number. If the first three digits she reads out are zero, two, zero, then congratulations - you are in the same London as me.
I know two other ways; one involving pigeons which is simple, but approximate and takes weeks. Another is more definitive but uses a lot of Noctilukre. If you find any more let me know.
But 020 it is. I know London's built environment is constantly shifting and changing... I suppose with the development of the docklands, and now the Olympics, the city's centre of gravity has been slowly moving east these past few years. But I didn't realise the buildings themselves could move.
The food arrives and she returns.
"Did I tell you my Facebook story?" She beams.
"No. Didn't know you were into it."
"Well, I went on Facebook for the first time, yeah, and got in touch with an old boyfriend, and then..."
She continues. A few years ago, before social networking really took off, I spent an evening tracking a girl who dumped me. Following her trail of breadcrumbs across the web. From university, post-grad student credits in scientific papers; then a PhD elsewhere. The attendance list for a conference in her subject at UCLA. A press release from a UK-based technology company - a photo, smiling and different hair, from about three years ago.
Then the trail went dead. Perhaps she got married - a change of surname severing the Googlestrand. I think wider: birth records might give me her parents' names, then I could look for "...are pleased to announce the marriage of their daughter..." No. I stopped, let that one go. Gone. Now, stop being a twat and tell this one how you feel about her.
Image after image shows the same. Don't ask me how, but London's buildings are moving, migrating - sliding and slotting like tiles in a plastic puzzle.
Here, some new flats in Brixton quietly inching north, hoping for that "Clapham Borders" label. Three-bedroom townhouses grinding slowly towards the better schools. Over to the west, multimillion mansions gathering at the river's edge, as if to drink.
Legal firms fighting for space at the bar, hospitals and other public buildings jostled rudely to the edges. Antiquarian bookshops clustering at the British Museum, like piglets crowding round a sow.
And everywhere, the inexorable march of the coffeeshops.
This information could be worth money; property developers, estate agents. Why did I never see this before? Might it be something to do with the new fixer?
I wasn't really listening. I thought, when she finishes her story, I'll say my piece.
"...And well - cutting it short, he and I are now going out."
Bewilderblur of the pub around me, every surface suddenly treacleslick with a caramel-coat of cockroaches. The walls boiled briefly with frantic, gnawing rats stripping everything bonewhite. The food in my mouth turned to steel wool and soap. I looked down - my clam and bacon linguine now tapeworm and smear-scrapings. Reflected on my fork, all the girls I've ever felt for, hadover backwards by my enemies. And loving it. And turning their heads to smile at me.
Oh, that's great, I choked. I'm really happy for you.
"My Mum's really pleased." she said. And turned her head to smile at me.
We parted friendly. I glanced at the arse I'm never going to grab, and felt for the male half of the giant bronze behind us.
An idea - I asked her to pose for a snap, holding my trusty 35mm at arm's length to get the pair of us in.
With all my ultra-long exposures done, but before tipping away the fluid trays, I decide to quickly develop the roll from my Nikon. The final frame is the snap of her and I, looking down at the camera with stiff smiles against the blue of the station roof. My face a funeral for a dream.
Everything in the picture is sharp, except for her. She is blurred, as if moving away from me.
That's the last of the fixer. Perhaps, I think. Perhaps I should go digital.