Vignettes – 15/01/2011

A friend’s birthday. Well, colleague really – who I now count as a general friend.

North London – Highgate. What transpired to be a packed pub. Packed to the rafters with white, braying, samey people all jostling for space. Why do I loathe it so. I don’t know. A DJ who is a household name, a novelist, and someone off the TV are all in the pub in various locations. It feels vacuous. People trying too hard. Too self-conscious.

A fire roars. We are in the midst of an unseasonal winter heatwave – the temperature is in double digits. So why is a large open fire burning? I feel the perspiration. I hate the crush. That feeling of bodies pushing against me. Elbows, bags, drinks. Serpents writhing.

At 11.15pm I’m ready to leave. Unlike everyone else there – I am heading ‘south’, though as I live in the centre it’s not really ‘south’ in the usual London context (which would mean ‘south of the river’). I live close to the river, but I’m north of it these days.

A short walk to Highgate. Deserted stairwells. I’ve never much liked travelling on my own by tube late at night. A couple of unpleasant experiences from my early years in London. A decade ago. But it’s too far to travel by taxi I decide.

It’s fine. The display indicates a tube is imminent. I turn some music on. And turn it up.

A last fire will rise behind those eyes

I sit on a corner seat. The tube is fairly empty. The man opposite me is wearing fingerless gloves. Listening to music. Our eyes meet. And move on.

Black house will rock, blind boys don’t lie

Russian women. Sitting on the seats down from me. Speaking very loudly. I can hear their voices over the music. Long, black leather boots. What look like fishnet tights. Pale skin. Red lips.

Immortal fear, that voice so clear

The man next to me – older. Middle aged. Wearing black gloves. Red boat shoes. Scribbling something into a small book. Another man standing not far from me and at one point leaning over to read the tube map. Large, frog-like eyes. What looks like a love-bite on his neck.

Through broken walls, that scream I hear

Looking through into the next carriage there is noticeable movement and noise. What I think is a group of Polish or other Eastern European men. Singing loudly, arms flailing, drunk – obviously. A whisper of violence carries on the dry wind that blows through the carriage. It’s getting late.

Cry, little sister – Thou shall not fall

I change at Warren Street, transiting from the Northern line to the Victoria line. It’s busier now. About 11.45pm on a Saturday night. Very early for lots of people – but lots of others on their way home. Still a lot of drunken people in motion. Staggering. I see one man who looks like he’s just come back from the Blitz Club – face painted, outrageous outfit. This is London.

Come to your brother – Thou shall not die

I board the Victoria line train, not getting a seat so instead I lean against an inner partition, near the door. At Green Park a striking 6ft 4 transvestite with a huge hairdo and 80s makeup, boards, surrounded by a coterie of gay men and their female hangers-on. He looks like Marilyn. They’ve very loud. Perhaps they too were at the Blitz Club. Some of the men are waving barbie dolls. At one point one starts laughing and they all do. Like hyenas on the savannah. Louder and louder. I see the contempt on the faces of some of the other passengers. Don’t judge them just because they look different to you – all groups of people, straight gay and other – are disruptive at times. I want to say.

Unchain me, sister – Thou shall not fear

Two stops later the tube arrives at Pimlico and I alight from the stuffiness of the tube into what is by now a cool London night, making the short walk home.

Love is with your brother – Thou shall not kill

6 thoughts on “Vignettes – 15/01/2011

Add yours

  1. Such a different life there in the capital. Here in the sticks the most haunting thing is the sound of the owl at night. I don’t envy you the crowds but I love reading the descriptions of the people.

  2. Many moons ago when I worked Down South in banking we had a client (very high up in the police) who was a transvestite. He had an account in the alternative name and used to come in as Her on his days off. Very old fashioned: tweeds, twinset, brogues, headscarf and wicker basket. He was also well over six foot. Couldn’t do it now of course… identity fraud and all that.
    Funny how we can people watch over here. On the Moscow metro it’s an unwritten absolute rule that you don’t do it. Or get involved in anything. Though it’s a very safe way to travel and I never felt threatened in all the time I lived there.

  3. This piece is so evocative of London to me. I’d find it very hard to live there – even though I live in Leeds I don’t really like the bustle of cities – but I do like to visit and I love your vignettes.

  4. Birdy – travelling by tube at night can feel edgy. I don’t mind round zone 1 but not out in the sticks.

    Chris – I’m very ready for a break from London. Here’s hoping. Owls? Countryside? Would love to experience that! Much as I love the flat, never really got used to the noise of living centrally.

    RO – interesting story re: the policeman! Good for him for having the courage to be himself. Moscow subway sounds interesting! Have friends there now for 2 days, about to board the TranSiberian.

    Daphne – thank you! I have a love/hate relationship with it.

    Lou – thanks! It was one of my more vivid ones I think.

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