Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Thoughts on a train: strange Russian women, squirrels, unicorns, men...etc

I left the house and thought – ‘yes, well, whatever it doesn’t matter’.  There were no histrionics, or my usual pounding sense of incompletion and fear at having been angry.  There was just a sense that in this instance at least, I had been right, and that he was being rather silly and unreasonable, and that I was both really pissed off with the whole thing, and really utterly bored.

I went off down the street and felt that there was no hint of vulnerability in my body movements, just a sense of onward momentum.  Boot before boot, clip clip clip.  A drone with the other drones, on the way to work or errands, tra laa, as usual, another day, another long savage day.

Sat on the train, with my mind quite quiet. I got my book out, but instead read the paper. It wasn’t like last night, where on the train back from Purley I had been unable to read because of a hugely corpulent Russian peasantly dressed woman opposite me, who had talked non-stop to her teenage daughters – in a guttural and tired forceful monologue.  In the end, I had given up trying to fight against the sound of her voice, and had flowed with it.  Put my book down, closed my eyes and rested my head on the glass (which for once wasn’t greasy), surrendering my ears to the cadence of her.  She didn’t stop talking once.  She sat there, a grubby version of The Empress in the tarot, dressed in a cheap blood red crushed velvet skirt, swollen legs splayed and toes barely contained in green flip flops.  She had a headscarf on, with the protruding hair looking dirty.  Her children looked clean, but scruffy, all in mismatched clothes.  They were an archetype, a stereotype – they looked like you would cross their palms with silver and they might laugh.  Not even bother lying to you about the journeys you might take or the roads you might travel with that dark and handsome man from across the sea.  Everything about them had been said before, and they knew it, and lounged there, stolid and unbothered, the teenagers even laughing sometimes.  She would glance at me now and again, the mother – making me feel inexplicably over tidy in my dark workish clothes.  Her eyes were both guarded and blank.  An aimless but serious hostility in there, deep.  I wasn’t them.

So I sat there, with my paper, which I read loads of, unusually.  The train stopped in tunnels a few times, and I had a vague sensation of my usual panic, but I was in a room in my head that didn’t allow for much of that – it was calmly focussed on other things.  The journey took ages. I drifted.

I can smell coffee, as I sit here chugging along and the refreshment trolley goes past. It reminds me, that particular coffee smell, of my last job and the way the machine had to be cleaned constantly, always breaking.  Cleaned by Jason, the new engineer, who seems much nicer and less stroppy than Damien, the regular refill guy.  Anyway, the machine has been playing up and producing drinks that look and smell like coffee, but taste like dishwater: soapy.  So Jason is here to clean the machine and see what the trouble is.  He is a bit chatty.  I may have chatted to him too much in my bubbly friendly way; as now I am having to look down a lot, as he is eyeing me in an interested way.  Ho hum.

School, and my English teacher Mr David. In school, I was a bit of a prodigy in English.  Definitely the star of that class.  This was nice, as I was so unpopular in absolutely everything else.  Mr David used to take me up into his strange little portocabin type office.  I seem to remember the school was perennially in the stages of construction or modification of some sort.  The English office lost its original location quite early on.  Hence being boosted into this strange little upper on stilts type office, neither on one floor nor another, but between the second floor staircase and the English and French classrooms.

I remember walking down the corridors – the smells of sour girl sweat of all nations; the smell of fear and discontent (also sour and somehow sweetened both at the same time).  I was always tense, always holding myself against a blow, a verbal blow.  Unhappy, but keeping my head up, because I was inside and no one could make me come out, inside was all I had.  In later life people have told me repeatedly I have excellent posture when walking, that I am very upright and unbowed.  It’s school that taught me this.  There was no other defiance I had, as though I could talk my way out of some things to a degree, there is no point trying that with people who are going to hit you if you make them feel stupid in any way.

Mr David used to call me into his office quite often, and sit me close to him on his shabby old chairs – motheaten, bits of dulled yellow foam pushing out.  He’d ask me where I got the inspiration for this poem or that story, discuss my plans for publication with me.  Sometimes, and a few times I remember very well indeed, he would quietly back me up against a wall.  Me with my back to it, and he would hem me in by resting his hand on the wall by my head and leaning in.  I of course, so flattered at this attention from a teacher in such an unhappy place, in my black court shoes and long hair over one eye, would stare at him longer than necessary, and push my chest out a bit.  I remember not even knowing quite why I was doing that last bit, only that it seemed the thing to do.  His breath stank of black coffee, a bitter sour smell.  His intense interest repulsed and flattered me at the same time – his little slightly wheezing breaths.

The train stops.  Rain hits the windows. In a field past the raindrops, a white horse crops at the grass. I used to believe in unicorns.  I wrote a poem about them, that had the words ‘my secret valley’ in it.  I don’t remember anything else. Once my school friend Aisling sent me a card with a beautiful silvery picture of unicorns on it.  Blue kingfisher skies, silvery flanks, white manes, the swirling of the horns spiral looking like a child’s sweet made of bone.  I liked the picture so much I stuck it on my wall.  I used to look at it and fantasize that I was there, not doing anything in particular – just coexisting, peacefully and happily  with the unicorns.  Which of course existed, they were just lying low for fear of being hunted for their horns (by ivory or magic traders), or simply being hounded by wanton attention seekers.

I  used to believe in a lot of things. I am currently unsure if I believe in anything much at all.  It may be that I am being refined; or that I am simply lost. Either way, I don’t believe in much anymore. It’s sad, because today, when I went for a walk and saw a full 12 squirrels (how cool is that? Little fluffy buggers), ordinarily I would have been feeling excited about it.  Having one of my connected to nature feelings, absorbing the peace from the trees, their green rustlings, and feeling the flow of the mother, the light and rain from the father.  I would have been feeding the squirrels, and collecting feathers and small innocuous pieces of wood (remember the hill in Eastbourne where I found a twig I am still partially happy to think of as a transmogrified fairy whistle – and yes, I was 32 at the time; and yes, I have always been this fanciful).

But lately, what I do when I go walking, what I am aware of, is that I am doing my body good, I am burning fat, working my cardiovascular system – and that I am entirely alone.  I walk on the earth – veering from the path to the grass, to feel it give under my feet, watch the orange and dirty brown leaves in their pattern of violence on the ground. Splayed and ungainly, pointed and definitive.  And I see it is beautiful, and I see it is real.  I smell the vehement but gentle smell of mulching earth. But I am feeling nothing much. A sense of mild relief to be outside. Knowing it is good for me to be here, good for the lowering of my tense shoulder muscles. But feeling it…not.  Beautiful, but far away.

We pull away from Haywards Heath after more carriages have been added.  I see a man go by in a bright blue outfit and remember.  A man dressed in light blue denim, head to foot.  He had blonde hair.  And that’s all I can tell you about him, because I was completely and utterly pinned by his eyes.  My 14 year old self had nothing else to see.  I lost my brain in those few moments it took to leave the bus and go round the corner.  All he did was look up at me to get his bearings, as we were passing through a narrow space and it was possible we would bump into each other. So he was only meeting my eyes for the fewest of moments.

But that look he gave me – never experienced anything like it before or since. He drilled into me and excited all my zones at once.  He looked and I felt hot, cold, frozen. My palms began to sweat, I felt aroused. In a second, I was ready. A great feeling. I felt myself swollen and warm, tingling.  I was disembodied and fluffy – only sensation, only these spots, the rest of me fuzzy at the edges.  He had hit me with a vibe, a spell, a pheromone bolt and I had splatted and fallen, unexpected and stunned.

Yet it was also as though he were not there. I have no memory of touching him, though we must have brushed each other to get past. I have no memory of his smell, and you’d think, with the degree of awareness I got off him in one moment, that I would have been especially conscious of both these things. But no.  Not at all. I don’t even remember where I was.  Some school trip, we’d gone somewhere.  Country, city – no clue.  I just have that one elongated moment where I saw him and reacted, and then he was past.  I have a slight memory that maybe he curled his lips, that his eyes knew exactly what he had done.  Did he feel it too?  Or was it just a trick he played on girls for power?

Power games. I sat on a Hammersmith and City Line tube, going from Stanley’s to elsewhere, back in 2006. See a much better memory here, more detail; and had a similar experience.  Nowhere near the same intensity, but similar.  I looked up from being absorbed in my reading, in a sort of primed sexual state (Stanley and I had not long been together, it was still all very new, that intensity you get at the beginnings).  I looked up and saw a young man dressed in student smart-drabs – old tweedy jacket, raggedy trousers, little wire rimmed glasses, old bag with his books in.  He lounged in the seat, reading something wordy and involved. No idea when he got on.  He glanced up, total insouciance, and held my eyes, telegraphing sexual interest.  Or…not exactly sexual interest; he was telegraphing me to have it toward him.  It was a come hither without wanting me to really, and without him feeling it himself.  I held the gaze for a few moments and met it with my own situation, that was not to do with him – it was a look of, ‘I am being serviced elsewhere, can’t you see my bedhead and flushed cheeks, reddened skin?’. The gazes met, he thought he won, and as I got off the train, he curled his lip as if that was such fun; making the woman think he was interested when clearly he was not.  The joke was of course, on him.  As I was encased in a complete coating of my own Stanley oriented lust, and all he had done was pick up on it and imagine it was for him because he wasn’t looking very hard.  My look that had said to him ’you aren’t needed’, he had decided to read as ‘I am in need’, because that’s what he wanted to see.  I find men often see what they want when they don’t know you personally; they have less of a tendency to home in on the detail than females do.  

 Much as, the stereotyping goes, women will see what Stanley calls ‘my shadows’ – the things that aren’t there.  The rampant reading between the lines, that ends up leading to overgeneralising.  The details are lost then too.  I wish we’d all remember to be specific when we deal with people, to not only deal with them as patterns from our lives, but as a distinct individual encounter.  I am guilty too.

I climb off the train, my errands ended, my feet begin to walk home. I seem to be sighing a lot.  It’s no use pretending that I write, when for years I did anything but.  I would set up all my things around me, and nothing would happen.  I would work my way through Julia Cameron’s An Artists Way, doing each day’s tasks with mad diligence and an increasing sense of purpose and readiness - then I would finish the book…and nothing.  It would all flow away again.  To nothing.  I would suddenly and very successfully fall asleep (ah sleep), or tidy, or have to watch an inspiring film first.  Or somesuch.

It’s a fact that some of the best reading or the best naps I have ever had – have all taken place when I was supposed to be doing something else entirely.  The sense of decadence, or being bad and wrong and unreliable and even dishonourable (like cheating in a pub quiz, hmm?), was half the enjoyment, half the thrill.

Reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, I think I was supposed to be doing something else entirely – and instead, there I was, hiding in Fry’s bedroom, and hunching over the book – it was the bit where the heroine died, and it was something about diving, and pearls?  Whatever it was, it was very good and I remember the sense of fevered intensity I had reading it, how utterly involved I was.

In fact, that is life. I strain for communication with actual humans, and it’s always but a pale representation of what is actually going on in my head; only through music, or in books, or when I write (rarely), do I feel I have genuinely touched someone else’s mind.

Stanley thinks that he and I are very close…and mostly we are. Though early on I felt such a distance from him a lot of the time.  Distance that I felt he was pursuing, as I am sure I used to stand there, pretty much still, with my arms open, coaxing, all the time.  And he used to be ‘I have to go, I have things to do now’, and off he would trot, happy happy happy. Quite happy to be left alone however long.  I used to be very confused by that.  He used to say he missed me when I wasn’t there, but when I was, he would feel perfectly content to go off and leave me all evening, now the comfort blanket was returned to the zone.  Understandable in one way, insane in another.  Then Fluffhead came. Now I remembered the need for personal space with an addict’s panic.  I understand Stanley rushing off now.  We swap rushing off when we can, and comeback replenished with information and things to tell the other. 

I tried to tell him about my rewatching of Perfume, the film of the (brilliant) book, last night. Amazing music.  One of those films that make you have really vivid thoughts, coalesced and sudden, that flood into the centre of the forefront of your mind, there solidifying.  The nature of loneliness, the hypnotic nature of absorption, in anything. The sad skewedness of obsession.  It was all sad.  Maybe I shouldn’t watch that again.  Back to Lovefilm in its little folder.

I enter the house.  He is waiting for me with a smile that has a sorry in it. Fluffhead runs out and nearly knocks me over with the force of the leg hug.

‘I love you really much’, he says into my chilly jean leg.  I realise unicorns do exist, again. 

Stanley comes and buries his head on my shoulder.  I remember the squirrels and I feel their swishy tails, feel the cold plumey air on the trees.  My thoughts of aloneness and sadness lift away.  They just fall aside; the Russian woman folds them into her bag with a blank face.  I don’t think about power games and men on old trains anymore. I put my arms around him.

’I’m sorry,’ I say. That was simple.

‘Me too,’ he says to my neck. We hug.  I close the door.

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