Richard Mayhew.


(Holidailies #4, continued from yesterday)

Well, one of many things I’m not good at is storytelling; I have to pause here and rewind.

Not for dramatic effect.



In actuality, it’s because of a faulty memory. I used to be able to remember details from anything, but age and synapses at near-capacity mean I got some shit wrong, which I kept recalling with an ‘aaaaaagh’ for a big chunk of yesterday. Because, while sensible people might have thought a long, multi-part entry through in advance, and/or written a draft, I didn’t know what I was going to write until I was writing it yesterday morning, in haste, before work. I only wrote until I had to catch a bus (which I subsequently missed).

Many people would just simplify, ignore, and move on. But nope. Pedantry reigns, at least today.

I did not get off the train at Bank, this was half-assed guesswork based on looking at a non-miniature online Tube map and trying to figure out how I got into the City.

But I now remember two things clearly: definitely taking the Northern Line, because I had recently read a Mike Gayle book in which the main character complained a lot about the Northern Line and thinking ‘yep, this really IS a dump on wheels’, which means I had to make two transfers with my luggage, one at Piccadilly, which was a giant mistake. Well done, me.

I also remember making a wrong turning at London Bridge and nearly not finding my hostel. I was used to h/motels with big garish signs alerting me of their presence, so a wee wooden thing on a street of shops (many shut) and pubs was hard to see through my sleepy eyes.

My hostel was the cheapest, at the time, in town. It was my first hostel experience, and my first time meeting Australians en masse. Since, at this point, it was only 11am or so, they were reluctant to let me stash my stuff in my room/under my bunk and the lockers were all full, but relented, possibly because I looked exhausted and unstable.

The room had four bunks. One was occupied by a ‘lifer’, an Aussie who worked in a bar and was sleeping it off, snoring loudly. Another was cordoned off, after a fashion, with batiked cloth, by another Aussie who was getting ready for work. On a third bed was a very sad boy (just turned 17) from Saskatchewan who had only been there for three days and was thinking about going home already. The fourth bed was mine.

I chatted with weepy boy for a while (he was leaving for somewhere in the commuter belt to visit friends of his parents, I think?) and decided to take on a Tough, but Caring persona and get ready to face the town, in part because there was no way I was going to be able to nap alongside chainsaw noises and tears.

So I headed out, confused as to where to buy food (why did an apple at the off-license almost a pound?!), then decided to head in the direction of St Paul’s, which I could see across the river.

That’s when the shit actually got real.

Why? Because this had happened the day before.

There’s nothing like detritus from an unheard-of riot to make a person feel welcome and safe in a place.

Adding to the drama was not understanding that the City of London (meaning the financial bit) is always deserted on weekends. In my overtired state, I thought the world was ending, or that I had somehow ended up in 1980s Beirut, and that I had made the biggest mistake of my life.

I guess it could have been worse. I could have arrived the day before and been teargassed.

I went to St Paul’s anyway, even hhough it was covered in unwelcoming scaffolding (I didn’t see it uncovered until a decade later), ’cause surely a church provides sanctuary to the overwhelmed yokel, right? I ate some kind of overlardy pasty in the cafĂ© there, felt slightly better, then went wandering.

I was so fearfully tired that what I did next is/was a blur. I didn’t truly understand how unbelievably ungrid-like the streets were. How could I be walking along the same pavement/sidewalk facing north, but somehow end up on a differently named street and back at the Thames? It was like a horrible, stinky, house of mirrors covered in anarchist graffiti.

I’m not even sure what else I saw that day. I know I went to Boots (which I had missed frightfully since they pulled out of Canada a decade earlier) and bought some facial wipes, which went black when I used them.

I know my snot turned black as well.

I know I went back to my hostel to change out of my DMs because it was too fucking hot out, but found out that flip-flops (which I had brought for hostel showering) are not a good option for walking any distance, unless you like between-the-toe-blisters, and that I had to start wiping my feet (and hands and arms) with those facial wipes too because I looked like I’d been working in a coal mine while eating a drippy chocolate ice cream cone.

I know I went to Piccadilly Circus, because at least that was easy to find…if one ducked into the Tube and gawped at a map and hoped for the best.

Worst of all, I still believed the Tube Map had some geographical merit.

I tried to make it to evening so that I could go to the hostel, maybe make a temporary friend, and go to bed early.

Yeah, not so much.

(Part 3)

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