Humour, Racism, Thoughtful

Thames Wash — The Boris Effect?

I am sitting on a slippery leather seat which is angled inappropriately for my personal posterior; it requires more weight and breadth for stability; it has been moulded by myriad larger arses than mine – smokers probably, sitting near the door, not for ease of escape in case of calamity (like me — one eye on the unrolling ribbon of tarmac ahead and one on the little red hammer to smash the escape windows when called upon by cruel fate to do so). No, the usual passenger in this warn National Express coach seat, though placed (like me) for ease of escape, nips out at each stop for a quick drag – a cigarette, one at Shrewsbury, one at Telford, one at Birmingham and a real gasper outside the Coach Station at Victoria.

I have now had a satisfactory and free, unisex wee, or perhaps it was a pee, with a bewildered old lady up from the country and a number of large foreign gentlemen, and now I wait in this sunny travel hubbub to be collected by my daughter, who worries about me getting lost in the metropolis. Secretly I know she thinks that, if left alone to wander the streets, I will provoke personal attack or arrest because of my uncontrollable urge to engage strangers in conversation and to make unwanted eye-contact.

She hugs me then takes me firmly by the arm and steers me into a newsagent’s to top up my oyster card – which I have remembered this time!

I wonder where the poor have gone – the street vendors, the alcoholics, the dog shit, the End-of-the-world-placard-man? London is eerily clean these days (what has Boris done with them all?)  I sniff the strangely pleasant air and we decide to walk by the river, through Battersea Park and to sit on pristine, plumped-up cushions on the steps of a modern pub. Frances goes in to get the drinks and a man in a well ironed shirt (and trousers) comes out to have a look at the front elevation of my pretty daughter’s obscured and un-categorised associate — me.  He realizes instantly that I must be her Mum, he says “Lovely weather,” and goes back in, and we sip local micro-brewery summer ale and watch the gulls, the cormorant, the geese and the helicopter flying up and down the Thames.  A lanky, middle aged man with a shaved head and yellow roller- boots wobbles past and a beautiful girl on a bicycle feeds treats to a little dog in her bicycle-basket.

Phoenix rising in Battersea

Phoenix rising in Battersea

That evening we, my two daughters and I, sit at a pavement table outside a restaurant in Clapham replete with Eritrean food and chat to the staff and I remember… I remember travelling this same road, let me see…

Forty years ago, I was in the back of a maroon Jaguar (the sort John Thaw drove in Morse), tired by two weeks on-duty and nauseated by the smell of leather and spent lighter fuel (everyone smoked everywhere then).  It was a dismal grey dusk with the traffic lights too bright and splintering into the dingy, sooty, half-light. Young black men were standing in groups on the pavement next to the junction when suddenly my, soon to be, father-in-law wound down his window and shouted racial abuse at what he believed to be the indolent unemployed. I cringe as I write this – as I did then; the lights changed and we sped off towards leafy Surrey. As I look back I catch the sad eye of a boy accustomed but still surprised by such unprovoked and vitriolic hatred.

Times have changed.

Thames Wash

Thames Wash

Standard
Communication, lifestyle

‘I’ve never been to London —

–but I went to Birmingham once and I didn’t like it,’ warned Aled before I left, ‘Too many people!’

The Rotunda in the Bullring, Birmingham -- reflection on 1960's 'iconic'.

The Rotunda in the Bullring, Birmingham — reflection on 1960’s ‘iconic’.

Birmingham is quiet when I change trains — not quite what it seems.

I am bound to join the World War One remembrance pilgrims to the Tower of London on a suitably wet November day.

People in the rain

People in the rain

The trouble with cities is the constant state of flux where everything is changed each time you visit.

Today, at Euston, they have hidden all the bus ticket machines and amongst all the psychedelic signage the Mayor of London proclaims that contactless debit cards now operate the buses  (they may well do, but they haven’t reached Mid-Wales yet) — and Oyster cards — I have forgotten the one my daughter gave me.

‘Excuse me!’ I say to a passing commuter who spins round, wide eyed.  The young woman with strings falling from her ears has been dragged from a parallel universe into mine and is terrified.  She does not speak, she does not stop.

My daughters have warned me of the danger of my country ways — you have to walk in a bubble, Mum, it’s the only way to survive.  You mustn’t keep invading people’s personal space.

I’m not stupid, I do not ask the two policemen with machine guns and I resist the temptation to point my camera at them — sometimes it flashes automatically.

Okay, I think.  I can do careful.   I approach the next person from the front with my arms close to my body but in full view, I smile but do not show my teeth, ‘Excuse me!  Where can I buy an Oyster card?’

The nice young man directs me to the Underground and down the steps I go — like those on a harbour wall down into a sea of people, swirling about as flows from different directions meet in a turbulent confluence.  I join a current and am carried along.  I am a strong swimmer but I can feel the power and I know that I am not in a bubble.  Crossing the flow, ‘I’m sorry!’ ‘Excuse me!’ ‘So sorry!’ I join an eddy that buffets me back to the steps and up to safety.

Looks like I’ll have to walk — I’m quite good at that.

By the time I get to St Pancras reason has prevailed and it’s quieter.  There are only about two hundred people in the Underground ticket hall and the ways to the exits are clearly visible — I am not phobic — just a normal human being — with instinct.

Here, something strange happens — like an hallucination…   Fireman Sam helps me — really, in his high-vis suit, helmet and visor — he helps me with the machine, the queue behind was getting restive.  I thank him and climb back into the air brandishing my Oyster card and am able to share my local knowledge with several Geordie pensioners who are trying to get on a bus.  They are explaining to the bus driver that they have money — he cannot understand what they are saying and stares nervously from his glass cage.

?????????????????????????????

At the Tower, 800,000 ceramic poppies commemorate our fallen in WW1.  Everywhere I look, their descendants, their grand children, great grandchildren, great nieces and nephews, move slowly and politely, stopping to take photographs and waiting for someone to let them into a place by the railings to get their shot or their selfie — strange.  It’s raining and the poppies seem to miss their mark today but the snake of people, come to see them and be moved,  does not.

In London even the trees are grey, muted by urban substances and the Thames smells, as it did when I was a child, like no other river I know, but at dusk something strange happens.

At night there is magic in the city.

At night there is magic in the city.

?????????????????????????????

?????????????????????????????

Standard