Monday, July 18, 2005

So one night I get really, really drunk at the pub

So one night I get really, really drunk at the pub. Barry and Liam (names changed to protect their identities, ahem!) are playing a game of pool and I'm gliding my chin lower and lower down the side of the pint glass, ready to fall asleep with my head on top of a postmodern blotch of ash and sticky beer and crisp crumbs. I've seen it a million times - Barry lets Liam believe he can beat him, and just near the end Barry makes a stunning comeback. Liam is such a sucker for punishment. If I'm not mistaken they were actually trying to impress two hotties sitting near the door and looking available. But I'm assuming all of this because, as I was saying, another tune from Keane or Coldplay and I would have been snoring on wood.

Unfortunately I was not to be rescued in this way. A guy whose name I may never remember stops next to me to rest the two beer-filled glasses he is carrying, and decides to stick around. He is verily the ugliest bloke I've seen all night, but to his credit he has a female companion - the soon-to-be-consumer of the other beer. His comment as he looks at me is funny and polite, because I joke back and he laughs. I think he was saying something about me being short of beer, in an ironic way obviously. I'm not in the mood but I muster the strength to start a slurring conversation and he says something about Arsenal and Vieira. Who cares, I'm not a big fan of Arsenal.

I digress, his companion matches his absence of physical charms but I can see they are not really in love or too frisky with each other. They are together tonight because they couldn't find other people to be with on a Friday night, and have that vague everpresent hope that something will come off between them but neither have the courage to make it happen. I'm starting to wish I'd fallen asleep. She's so overweight that her shirt has lifted all the way to her breasts, and although her face has some grace in it her heaving movements distract you from the feelings they may ignite.

But here's the moral of a beer story: when you are drunk, better to stay drunk than to suddenly sober up; it's dangerous like that sickness you get while diving and you come back up to the surface too quickly. A rush of air to the head or something. I go take a leak - one of those long leaks that never seem to end, although you somehow never tire of watching that little ray of liquid meeting the deeper surface - and when I come back I have this funny thought. This poor, friendly idiot has a companion, I'm feeling a bit lonely and this disgustingly overweight woman has suddenly got me very excited with the bulges of fatty flesh billowing around her way small body harness. I suddenly feel stone cold sober, but wisely decide not to let it show too much.

Well folks, I'm sad and sorry to say that I lowered myself to the level of a sleazebag and promptly proceeded to beat the fella to his evening's prize. In a nice way obviously, although to him it must have seemed intolerably cruel. I started chatting to her and she was actually really sweet. When she smiled she had lovely white teeth, and I imagined kissing them while I smiled back at her, and then she smiled back and I could feel the heat going on between us. I learned that she is a nurse and pretended that I am a medical doctor. Incredible since I was so drunk, but I think I pulled it off, although she started talking about muscle wounds and I realised no Latin words were coming to mind and I started improvising procedure, like Frank in "Catch Me If You can".

She didn't doubt me one second, and I made as if I noticed something on her arm - it was just a little scar - and inspected it commenting on certain dangers about old scars. Now my touch was slow - I could tell she wasn't used to being touched and felt a bit uncomfortable, but also somewhat thrilled. She was sweating a bit more in her face and got that funny glow that dawns when embarrassment and desire meet. I knew I was in. Now realise that companion number one was still there, but I had successfully taken the conversation out of his reach. He was confused and fuming a little, but in an impotent way. But get this, in a coup I got him to laugh at my expense, and promptly offered us a toast. Burt and Liam had been watching me with some amusement but were bickering and playing pool against a team now, so I was free to proceed with my conniving aims.

I went to the bar and returned with double shots of tequila. No getting out of our little acquaintance now, was my message. Schmuigi Companioni (or whatever his real name was) suddenly decided, after infinitely delaying his bottoms up, that it was time to relieve himself and I seized my chance prompting [sic] Sally to the tabled area outside at the back. I touched her softly on the shoulder as if to hold her back, at which she looked at me - and I said: "I want to kiss you", and leaned into her and kissed her. A long kiss, even longer than Luigi's leak (if that's what he was doing) took. She liked it - we both liked it - and there was a good feeling going on.

But when he returned and saw us outside, something in the atmosphere changed. I think she spotted him and was afraid or felt guilty - I'm not sure. He didn't do anything, he just stood there looking at us for a bit and then minded his own business, but for some reason I drew back, noticed her near-graceful face and decided that is how I wanted to remember her. I abandoned her there, simply saying: "You are beautiful", then went back in and begged Liam to take us home.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A London pilgrimage

I am sitting here in Caffe Nero in Piccadilly across from Waterstones ("Europe's largest book store") doing what any spirited coffeeshop visitor does - drinking coffee or a smoothie - in my case both.

My pilgrimage started with a 17:32 WAGN service out of Hatfield, arriving at King's Cross around 18:10. It was the slow train, and I hadn't been to London since the bombings. But the first thing I noticed happened earlier at the ticket booth in Hatfield. In response to my question: "What sort of service is running between King's Cross and Hatfield today?" the guy behind the glass's answer was a curt "A normal Sunday service is operating sir." That in fact was one of the few normal things about my train ride today. For one, the waiting area on the platform was practically empty. Is it always this empty on a Sunday afternoon? It is funny how all of a sudden everything takes on a new significance. Soon after - I barely had time to read the first stanza of a poem in my Blake's Complete Writings - the same guy of the ticket booth comes and says hi. He chats a bit, smoking his cigarette. "You live in Hatfield?", I ask "Yea, yea" "Me too" "What was it like on Thursday, were the services affected" Turns out services from Finsbury Park still went on every half hour during the day. People wanting to travel to London got sent home though. No trains at all going in then on Thursday? I didn't ask, but I guess not.

As the train appeared on the furthest curve of the length of track he excused himself, stubbing the cigarette with his foot after it hopped once on the platform. Here was another novelty - he'd come outside with a purpose: he and another rail worker now positioned themselves on either side of the train as the passengers embarked and disembarked. Security has been stepped up! I felt comforted.

The notice board clearly stated that Underground services at King's Cross are closed, but that the Piccadilly Line is running from Finsbury Park. Lo and behold, not only is the train pretty empty but the bulk of people get off the carriage at Finsbury Park. This is almost eerie, but not as eerie as the emptiness at King's Cross. It's surreal. One of the busiest stations in London - busy even on a Sunday - still moving with people but with a distinct lack of something. I'm suddenly aware of the large white space above the doorway where, if you look, you would see platform 9 3/4 of Harry Potter. Indeed I do look back to see a few people striking a pose with a trolley, for a picture. But still, the usual activity at the edges of my awareness is subdued. I am aware of empty spaces. I persevere with a friendly face as I walk around and find a reciprocated sense of heightened awareness all around me. Here and there I sense a bit of tension as well. Later at the makeshift memorial I can see the deference in the eyes of the officials standing around. They've seen a lot of sadness today.

I make a quick stop at the memorial - a notice directs people to put their floral contributions in the "garden" next to the station. There's plenty of television crew and some reporters around. Determined to place my own bunch of flowers there my quest for a floral ode starts. Up Gray's Inn Road and then back and on down Euston Road , up and down a side road, eventually as far as Euston where at Marks & Spencer to my surprise I find a bunch of lilies in a glass vase, among others. I was almost convinced everything in the area was going to be sold out.

Armed with my prize I walk back all the way to King's Cross, still donning my friendly countenance. This time I draw a few looks, and it is as if people are wearing their emotions more thinly veiled than usual. I pick up a bit of friendliness, a bit of "oh I don't want to be reminded", and more tension. At regular intervals the pictures of missing people with their names and some details and a number to call are posted against the buildings and the portable walkway walls. They become familiar to me, ordinary people smiling at the camera. I've seen their faces on the web as well.

The memorial area is full of flowers, full of diverse messages of hope, support, condolence, and defiance. I place my vase toward one wall, then change its position as the slant bothers me. I am kindly asked not to take pictures inside the memorial. Fair enough, I should know better.

This picture shows King's Cross from Gray's Inn Road. The memorial is to the right of the building (slightly left of middle in the picture), where people are congregating.

Finally the last leg of my pilgrimage. I need to catch a tube train, and do something normal. That is why I'm here in the West End, now at Leicester Square across from The Hippodrome having dinner. The train definitely seems emptier than usual, and it's alsoas if some passengers are more aware than usual. But not all. The bloke opposite me hangs his head back and closes his eyes - out like a candle until he suddenly gets up two stops down. In the same isle another, younger chap simply looks morose. Intense, but typically gruff. You can get away with that at 21, the fallout of sheer physical energy can still get you to the next stage.

Here in the West End it is slightly quieter than usual, but it's not just that: there is something in the air. Many people act completely normally but I also notice a reflection of that tension I sensed elsewhere - a faint nervousness that would usually be disguised amidst idle chatter and more confident shop talk. There is too little depth in the bustle tonight. It is not the numbers, they are only somewhat less than I would expect - it is more like a playful presence has retreated behind a brave but slightly wary reserve. That startling awareness of empty space is the experience of an unexpected collective mental vacuum. Are people emotionally reaching out, seeking anonymous closeness when the usual habit is to ignore others? This is London, and that habit is a general trademark ... so the strangeness is perhaps only a lifting of the veil.

But maybe the point is moot, because they are here after all, and so am I. And around us at Haymarket Lillywhite's and Piccadilly, at Leicester Square and across Charing Cross Road up all the way to Covent Garden the ageing buildings rise in huge granite like silent guardians, reflecting the last light of day. They remember much more than I will ever know.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London bombings

Shocked by the London bombings - just terrible. So far 37 people reported dead at 4 blasts - 1 bus explosion and 3 on the Underground. All around central London.

Since I stay and work slightly outside of London it didn't affect me directly, but friends and people I know who were in London were. The lack of public transport was a major source of confusion and chaos, but by mid afternoon this problem seems to have subsided somehow. No Underground until further notice, and bus services only in partial operations by late afternoon.

Anyway, much better reports available here, here and here.

Love & blessings.