Thursday 20 September 2012

London Diary #One

They aren’t there yet and the Great Road rumbles grey on towards a single house in the distance and a figure waving madly amongst aromatic scent and brightly coloured pillows. 

It isn’t yet here but a whooshing cry and the tunnel is filled as out of a black mouth a great dirty serpentine tongue slips. A little hub of smart-suit-bright-ties stumbles on with him; silent, serious, calm, he despised them, before he realised that he too was wearing a smart suit and bright tie and beginning to hate them a little less and like himself a little less he stuck his nose into his Metro and sneezed.

One hot hand was grasping at the sweating pole leaving a grimy stain on his palm while the other held the pages closer to his dripping nose.

At Baker Street they moved fast. He dropped the paper on to a bench and picked up another on the next line.

David Cameron was to be holidaying in Catalonia.

He was beginning to enjoy the silly Metro whereas he was finding the Standard a nuisance, whining and whimpering each day for a conclusion to the ‘aviation crisis’ and expressing shock at the little effect its own forum had.

‘The Standard isn’t about London; the Standard is about the Standard’ he thought to himself.

The other day, with a thrill and a thumping heart, in Fulham, he thought he was looking at Nick Clegg passing leaflets through doors, like in Love Actually. On second glance he thought it might be Jeremy Hunt. But it wasn’t either, just another well-fed, pointlessly good looking smart-suit-bright-tie. The man simply looked like he should be in government, though he was quite far away. He was reminded of Notting Hill and thought that he still hasn’t yet been to the blue door; or the market for that matter. Indeed, he’s not completely sure he’s been to Notting Hill.

He had been to Trafalgar Square though. His heart beat loudly when he walked into it and he looked at the waving flags blowing strong in the wind and saw how the lions looked yet more magnificent for the children scrambling over their noble noses. Nelson’s column stretched proud above him and he saw characters everywhere, even where there were none.

He was now pulling out from Piccadilly Circus. A grim couple looking just like us have just got on and pull out little devices and say ‘tickets and passes please!’ He jumps out with them at Leicester Square. They get on the next carriage. He looks for the exit before realising this is Leicester Square. A booming voice begins to thunder overhead warning of travel disruptions to come.

Hot breath over flushed faces drags hair back along with it. Tinkling and warbling silences with the whoosh of the wind enveloping ears and wrapping shuffling bodies. Outside his station he had found a little independent coffee stall. The man tending the stall is grizzly and abrupt and when he goes to reach for what he thought was his coffee he is accosted with a fierce ‘Does that look like a Tall Filter Drip?’

On the second day, he didn’t want to order another Tall Filter Drip for it had been tepid by the time the coffee had dropped. He also hated it when people said to him ‘The usual?’  But if he didn’t order it again he feared that the grumbling barista would think he objected to the wait. So he ordered the Tall Filter Drip. 
After that the grizzly would grumble to him ‘The usual?’ and not wanting to aggravate he assented, and waited, his shoulders hunched against the wind.

He was able to take the Jubilee Line to work- panting like an excitable child or dog as it tingles into each station – and avoid the sinister Northern Line with its sombre creaking tones and the woman’s voice at Belsize Park sounding as if she had just come from announcing the death of Edward VII.

‘We weren’t really excited about London at all,’ the Canadian said to him, watching him pick up the dog poo. ‘But you know we thought, we’re travellers, so we should probably look around, as we were flying here. Y’know, the history.

‘My grandmother’s corpse is also here.’

Forty years younger than Christ; blooded heads at Traitors Gate, vampyric clerks skulking about Lincoln Field Inns and in the domed gloom of Baker Street station frightened faces fly frantically down the steps to the sound of the air raid under the black figures ‘1911’.  He sees shadowed characters scuttling down narrow, cobbled alleyways, as he gets lost attempting to find the pub, trampling over little girls. He peers into the dark expecting to see ashen cherubic features skipping towards him – ‘one for the evening guv’nor?’ He avoided the park.

‘Yes, as you should have,’ they said to him in the pub. ‘Just this month a man was stabbed in there and another had his arm chopped off with an axe – just walking along he was, and then they just grabbed his arm and – whoosh!’

He had told them about the people who lived above him.

‘O yes I have that where I am. Can hear everything from her charging her iPhone to her bum sliding along the bottom of the bath. I have stopped making a fuss though, ever since I stormed out once, raging about the rumble outside, only to find the ol' boy from upstairs being taken away on a stretcher.’

This makes him feel better; he sips again and ignores suppressed dreams of gardens.

At midnight they were ushered off and he sloshed home in the rain that had been there all month. Miserable wet faces appeared in the crowd out of the black. Maybe it’s the effect of the city, he thinks. A friend had warned him of this.

‘It has been worse up North,’ he commented.

‘They are miserable anyway,’ the friend responded. ‘Just for being up North.’

Then, quite suddenly, the sun came.

Bertie Digby Alexander

Liverpool 2012

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