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Dickens on Hanway Street

One of our exercises on the OU Creative Writing course I did was to choose a character in a murder case and focus on point of view, writing in either past or present tense.

I really enjoyed playing with a Dickensian omniscient point of view, and focusing mainly on my Spanish witness.  I went for present tense to make it more immediate.

I found I was using old-fashioned vocab and probably fell between two stools in wanting a contemporary setting but using an archaic tone.

It was prompted by Hanway Street, behind Oxford Street: a tiny, hidden road with lots of Spanish bars and restaurants, which is packed with Londoners and Spanish people after dark.

Some streets away from where white-collared workers swagger and late night shoppers slowly shuffle, a blue and white polythene crime tape shimmies in the chill breeze. An impatient gust points one loose end of this tape like an accusing finger at two figures eschewing the slippery pavement and walking unsteadily down the middle of the icy but gritted road.

Such movement in this, the city’s louche Spanish quarter that calls unceasingly to the free spirits and the freaks, is unremarkable. Indeed, it is not to this duo – which, as it approaches, we now see comprises two hunched and shivering policemen – that I wish to draw the reader’s attention. Rather, we travel back along the tape to the watcher of the scene – an old man of 70, or 80, perhaps. It is his concentrated stare at the couple which is singular to this setting.

The Spanish quarter is his home and by day he sleeps and by night he sits outside the Tapas and Flamenco bars, tolerated by most, liked by fewer. His gaze ordinarily is languid and wide-ranging, alcohol curbing the desire or ability to focus. On waking or on stumbling upon the anomalies or allurements of his terrain, his eyes – as now – will stop their idle sweep and fix on the object of his interest. Then he stares out unsparingly from his wrinkled face, its once Mediterranean tinge now ruddy and decayed from the rawness of the wind and the excess of beer.

‘Uh, buenas noches, senor!’ Jesus Martinez  – now addressed only as hombre or Viejo in Spanish, mate or old man in English – can tell that the younger and clearly stupider of the two English policemen is proud of his bold linguistic adventure. Jesus feels random emotions of gratitude, contempt and anger when the English try to speak his native tongue. But a miniscule twitch of his raggedy grey beard reveals nothing of his thoughts on this occasion. What’s more, he knows the policemen are here to ask if he saw anything yesterday, and will be revealing nothing about that, too.

He observes the slightest of twitches of the second policeman’s nose as he glances along the street. There is satisfaction in the sensibilities of this lanky culo being offended by the rank, stale smell of urine, booze and debauchery. He lets out a quiet fart.

‘Ahem! Well, you must know why we’re here, Mr, er… Senor. You speak English, am I right?’


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