There’s a train that runs past the sewage plant, in the richest part of town. On one side of the tracks is the plant, surrounded by overgrown forest where – until the cops finally caught on last year – some kids were free to grow as much weed as they liked. Past that, of course, is a graveyard, and then you come to the dump. On the other is the cracked and faded bricks of council estates and shops that nobody visits anymore, and have probably been closed for years now, but who’s going to notice?
The train station sits at the bottom of a hill, and when you climb it, you emerge past the estates and shops and graveyards into a beautiful suburban paradise of semi-detached houses and four wheel drives, the hideous part of town where I used to live. It’s called Berrylands, as in, “land of berries” except not at all as it actually means “land of hill” because old english doesn’t give a fuck. Like every other town in this country, it used to be a farm, and like every other suburb in London, this all changed with the train. You can get from Berrylands to Waterloo in 28 minutes, and this is on the slow train.
Since then, it’s been the place where the middle class go to stay close to their inner city job, but also keep their kids in a good catchment area, so the kids do well enough in Primary School in order to get into get into Tiffin when they’re old enough. It is a predictably depressing place, full the worst Middle Class tendencies, performative wars of who has the best house, who throws the best parties, whose children definitely aren’t like all the other children drinking in the park. I – obviously – never fit in, and by far the worst time in my life was the seven years I spent in Grand Avenue Primay School, a prestigious school that responded to my then undiagnosed autism by giving me the privilige of sitting on my own in the dark every lunch.
There’s very little special about my hate for this town, so many queer friends, friends with mental illness, friends who just didn’t do Gender right, have stories about the scars of growing up with barely concealed violence under the surface of middle class decorum. What is special about Berrylands is the train. And the sewage, and the council estate, and the graveyard, and the kids in the forest. I love this little strip of land, this forgotten poor area that has to be ventured into whenever you journey into your well paying London job, this permeant reminder that you will never fucking escape and you will never, ever be rich.
The truly rich live in Guilford, or some other more remote part of Surrey that doesn’t have the problem of being confronted with reality every morning. But in Berrylands, as the Middle Class make play at being on top of the world, every morning they have to walk five minutes down the hill and unless the wind is very, very kind, contend with the smell of processed shit right there on their lips as they wait for the train. For two summers, I took this train at 7AM with the other office workers, shuffled into the few spaces left, and stood shoulder to shoulder, ass to ass with them for the 25 minutes until we reached Vauxhall. Nobody made eye contact and nobody made a sound, save for the brief moments of apology when a briefcase prevented another body from being crammed in.
No matter how many times I made the journey, it never failed to be surreal, to be presented with such a perfect encapsulation of the central lie holding up the British Middle Class every single morning. I am not going to miss having to live in the place where my family’s presence was so reviled as we couldn’t afford to renovate our house and thus were an eyesore on the otherwise well groomed road, but I am going to miss playing my part in that scene. Eventually London’s suburbs will become so expensive that there will be no more poor people left, and nobody will have to contend with living next to one and being reminded that if the wind changes just a hair, they could be poor too. But even with me gone, even when all people earning less than £100k have been forced out of the area for good, they’re still all going to have to walk down that hill, wait on that platform, and smell the air at Berrylands Station.
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Also: After the second summer, my mum’s friend had stepped down from CEO of the company due to a mental break, and was replaced by the guy who was having an affair with my boss and had waved his massive dick around at the Christmas do, which I believe was the cause of the mental break. I was not invited back.