Crisp Cold Sunny Day in Chelsea
From Saturday 11 February 2012
My partner was in hospital at the time, recovering from a stroke. I felt constant rage every day:
That’s how it was late morning when I set out along King’s Road for Chelsea Library (based in the Old Town Hall). I was snagged by a Big Issue seller outside one of the express supermarkets so common around here (Tesco, I think, and of course, there are many other types of “express” and “local” branches available). She was cold, with a woolly knitted hat tied under her pink and trembling chin. “Please …” she implored, holding the last two magazines out to me, “I’m cold and I want to go home.”
Kermit was on the front cover and I thought it was a safe bet that I might read it this afternoon, waiting in that desperate room known variously as the “canteen”, “cafe” and “restaurant” at Clayponds Rehabilitation Hospital (yes, I’m talking about you), barren and overheated like the rest of the place, with the addition of ear-damaging mechanical noise from the various contraptions and machines and banging and crashing of kitchen utensils and large pots, and the radio on full volune over the top of it all, Lana Del Rey droning out her dirge, not an ear protector in sight.
“How much is it these days?” An increase to £2.50. I remember the good old days of just one pound, exchanged with my favourite seller in his pitch in Bold Street in Liverpool. Opposite there was a guy who begged everyday, eight hours a day, seeing off any competition for that lucrative spot.
I asked her how much she made: ten copies cost £13, she took £25, she was selling about ten copies a day, not many she said, “because there are so many other vendors over there …” (pointing at some place out of sight), plus her return bus fare to get to her pitch: £1.40. While she was working out her answers, I was thinking, well, I’d guess she gets all the cover price because the printing costs would be covered by advertising revenue. But I was wrong.
From April 2013.
I’d just bought a folding hand truck for wheeling garden supplies from the car to the garden — about a hundred yards and a short flight of steps. Until then, I’d relied on Ricky in the end flat to help me with the heavy work. After wheeling it back and forth for some time, there was the interesting foray into the cupboard under the stairs to find a home for it:
When I was a girl, my Aunt Lucy lived next door and had a cupboard under the stairs that she referred to as “the cellar”. It had all manner of things in it, all closely interlocked. It was a sure thing that whatever you needed in the hardware, home decorating, upholstery, shoe polishing line would be in there, and all that was needed was half-an-hour’s careful excavating to retrieve (triumphantly, with a smudge of dust on your nose and a stray cobweb in your hair) the very thing! Of course, the whole escapade had to be washed down with a cup of tea made in a pot and a sugary rock cake the size of a saucer.
Review of 2013
From Sunday 29 December 2013.
I’d lost my partner the previous year, and then had an accident at work in the January, smashed the edge of a cast iron gate into my forehead, saw stars, and had to wear crossed plasters like I was in Tom & Jerry:
A friend’s Facebook status had a review of 2013: started poorly ended on a high. Same for me.
Miserable, cold, bleak and, in case I didn’t get it, topped off with a bump on the head. Later in the year I completed a test of cognitive functioning — some exploitative nonsense put out by Patrick Holford to rev up people’s worries about dementia. According to the test, I was still functioning. So the crackles and fizzing were all in the mind.
Finally, in April, a sunny day. Walked to work by the river, everyone was excited about the brightness. I wondered why everyone didn’t just take the day off. The end of the project continued inexorably, relentlessly marching towards the final day. Boss wasn’t there, spent the weekend in Ireland.
A strange summer: beautiful days at the house, enjoying the craic with tree surgeons, lovely boys rolling on the vast expanse of carpet — like a magnet, compelling them to start wrestling. Empty days in the new building, clinical, sterile, lifeless.
Into the autumn: we’ve got to get out of this place. [updated 13 December 2014: Eric Burden, talking about performing for troops stationed in conflict zones, said “we’ve got to get out of this place” was a constant request].
Made it to Wolverhampton. Not the obvious choice, but it had something I wanted.
Finally, in November, we started to hit something: a big idea, something new no-one had done before. Lots of nay-sayers: ha! I know where I am now.
And then, December, apropos of nothing, an innocent community event, shabby, blu-tac scarred venue, lovely food, happy people, a wonderful, unexpected experience.
2013 ended well, as it should have done, if it knew what was good for it.
From Monday 30 December 2013.
Ordinary life. Walking along the King’s Road, a diversion into Lush for a sweet silly present, sitting on the Circle Line. I remember this, I remember this from another time. A guilty, but not really, text, “On my way”. African time, I learn later.
Re-calling those times as I wait at the junction at Sloane Square: a winter evening, city lights, traffic arguing right of way. The early eighties. No central heating, no shower. Fortunately, an automatic washing machine. Black and white tv, mobile, tune in with a dial, never broke, never died, abandoned for colour later.
Rushing up the stairs at Embankment. I’m late, I’m late. Will I be able to see? Up Villiers Street and in the side entrance, sneaking through the back way, roaming the station, scanning. Out through the front, there, right ahead, from the back but — unmistakeable? Yes. Big instant smiles. Faces light up. A dazzle of energy, fireflies hovering. We’ve found each other.
Tea at the Cafe at St Martins. It’s quiet. The feisty pensioners with sharp elbows are elsewhere today. I’m thirsty. I fill my cup continuously, tea, milk, stir. Serious faces, we compose ourselves for the business of getting to know each other. He remembers every word, I remember nothing. Maybe Patrick Holford has a point.
We move. Out across the river. A mild evening, windless. We’re holding hands. I smile.
The South Bank. Den of scoundrels, thieves, lawlessness. We decide to walk. It’s beautiful. Almost to the Millenium Bridge, but not quite, the chill gets the better of us. We walk slowly. I sit every so far, gazing at the river.
Mulled wine in the Festival Hall. We find a quiet place. An elderly black woman directs us to the toilets. I’m a regular here. She sits in her fur hat. You’ve missed the performance, consulting her gig guide, there’s nothing now until Wednesday. I’m a regular here. When we leave, we wave good-bye.