My So Called Life

 
 We’re at the back of the bus making a right racket. I feel bad about it, it must be annoying for the other passengers but we’re having such a good laugh I can’t help myself. Eliza told us this hilarious story about this thing she did to her physics teacher. They stole the key to his cupboard so he couldn’t get anything out for the class experiment and it made him furious, he nearly had a breakdown. She was doing these brilliant impressions of him, going red and shouting. Then we got totally carried away and started singing.  Eliza is very funny but she’s also pretty intimidating, she has an older brother and she listens to Black Sabbath. Her hair frames her face in these soft little curls, they’re misleading those curls, she’s not cute, I think she’d probably punch you if you annoyed her enough. I think I annoy her a bit but she’s good friends with my friend Jane so she tolerates me.  “NEXT STOP PLEASE!” we shout, still laughing. Jane and I rush down the narrow passage between the seats yelling our goodbyes. We might be noisy but we still thank the bus driver. We walk along Liverpool road and turn onto Abbot’s Park. Liverpool road is pretty busy and noisy but as soon as you turn onto our road, West Bank it’s quiet and leafy. Jane and I live across from each other, we go to different schools but we’re best friends, outside school anyway.  Jane is one of my favourite people, she is kind and funny. I can be completely myself around her, I don’t have to pretend I’m anything I’m not because she knows everything about me anyway.  She’s much taller than me but we look kind of the same, so people think we’re sisters. We practically are, we spend loads of time together.  “Shall I come back to yours?” I’m not sure why I ask, it’s what we do pretty much every night. We go back to Jane’s, eat some bread and butter while we do our homework, then we watch some TV and sometimes we talk to her Mum a bit. Jane’s Mum is really nice, she lets us do pretty well what we want and she always listens really intently to our stories, like we’re telling her the most important thing in the world.  “Yep, come back to mine. I’ll ask Mum if you can stay for tea then we can watch My So Called Life.”  “Eeeek, I can’t wait…it was so good last week.”  In case you don’t know. My So Called Life is this incredible new American TV show about this girl called Angela who is about the same age as us.  It’s the perfect description of what it’s like to be a teenager, it’s as if someone has crawled inside my brain and made my thoughts and feelings into a TV show.  Angela the main character is really pretty but not in the usual blond, American, cheerleader Barbie way. She has the COOLEST dyed red hair – the colour I would have if my parents would let me. But they won’t. The show is mainly about her relationships with her friends, her family and Jordan Catalano. Angela is completely obsessed with JC and it’s not surprising, I’m completely obsessed with him too. He’s a stereotypical ‘bad boy’, rebellious, mysterious, and seriously uninterested in anything remotely academic but MAN is he good looking and he has curtains…  Last week Jordan and Angela kissed. It was amazing. I felt like my heart was stopping, like I was Angela.  That sounds completely insane but it’s true. I wonder if that’s what it actually feels like…to kiss someone?  I haven’t been in love yet, I haven’t even had a boyfriend. I think I’m ready to have one but I go to an all girls’ school so I don’t actually know that many boys and when we go to parties I feel so…I dunno…stumpy, fat and uncool. It’s really scary when you haven’t kissed anyone before…I wouldn’t even know what to do. So I hang around in the background watching everyone else, they’re so far ahead of me, I feel young and inexperienced compared to them. I’m just not that fanciable straight off, I think boys would have to get to know me to like me...  We’re all lying on cushions on the floor in the living room waiting for this week’s episode to start. Our sisters are watching too, they can be really annoying but they know better than to make any noise during this show. I secretly like it when we’re all together in a gang but I would never let my sister know, she’d never leave me alone.  This episode is mainly about Ricky, Angela’s best friend. He’s in massive trouble for bringing a gun to school but it wasn’t him but he wants everyone to believe it was, so he’ll get teased less for being bisexual.  It’s a REALLY good episode but Jordan Catalano isn’t in it much, which is slightly (only slightly!) disappointing.  It’s almost dark now, Mum doesn’t mind us being out late, sometimes I’ll stay over at Jane’s but I still have some homework to do before tomorrow and I’ve stayed over a lot lately.  “I’ll call for you in the morning, we could walk in to town?”  “Yeah, cool. See you in the morning”.  Jane and I hug each other.  I grab my sister’s hand and we cross the road into the darkness of our driveway. We run until we hit the safety of the security light and then let ourselves in to the side door. Its pitch black inside and very creepy so we race up the three flights of stairs to the flat (we live in a flat at the top of our parents’ school which is kind of weird but also cool).  A voice comes from the living room.    “Hi girls, put the kettle on will you?”

We’re at the back of the bus making a right racket. I feel bad about it, it must be annoying for the other passengers but we’re having such a good laugh I can’t help myself. Eliza told us this hilarious story about this thing she did to her physics teacher. They stole the key to his cupboard so he couldn’t get anything out for the class experiment and it made him furious, he nearly had a breakdown. She was doing these brilliant impressions of him, going red and shouting. Then we got totally carried away and started singing.

Eliza is very funny but she’s also pretty intimidating, she has an older brother and she listens to Black Sabbath. Her hair frames her face in these soft little curls, they’re misleading those curls, she’s not cute, I think she’d probably punch you if you annoyed her enough. I think I annoy her a bit but she’s good friends with my friend Jane so she tolerates me.

“NEXT STOP PLEASE!” we shout, still laughing. Jane and I rush down the narrow passage between the seats yelling our goodbyes. We might be noisy but we still thank the bus driver. We walk along Liverpool road and turn onto Abbot’s Park. Liverpool road is pretty busy and noisy but as soon as you turn onto our road, West Bank it’s quiet and leafy. Jane and I live across from each other, we go to different schools but we’re best friends, outside school anyway.

Jane is one of my favourite people, she is kind and funny. I can be completely myself around her, I don’t have to pretend I’m anything I’m not because she knows everything about me anyway.  She’s much taller than me but we look kind of the same, so people think we’re sisters. We practically are, we spend loads of time together.

“Shall I come back to yours?” I’m not sure why I ask, it’s what we do pretty much every night. We go back to Jane’s, eat some bread and butter while we do our homework, then we watch some TV and sometimes we talk to her Mum a bit. Jane’s Mum is really nice, she lets us do pretty well what we want and she always listens really intently to our stories, like we’re telling her the most important thing in the world.

“Yep, come back to mine. I’ll ask Mum if you can stay for tea then we can watch My So Called Life.”

“Eeeek, I can’t wait…it was so good last week.”

In case you don’t know. My So Called Life is this incredible new American TV show about this girl called Angela who is about the same age as us.  It’s the perfect description of what it’s like to be a teenager, it’s as if someone has crawled inside my brain and made my thoughts and feelings into a TV show.

Angela the main character is really pretty but not in the usual blond, American, cheerleader Barbie way. She has the COOLEST dyed red hair – the colour I would have if my parents would let me. But they won’t. The show is mainly about her relationships with her friends, her family and Jordan Catalano. Angela is completely obsessed with JC and it’s not surprising, I’m completely obsessed with him too. He’s a stereotypical ‘bad boy’, rebellious, mysterious, and seriously uninterested in anything remotely academic but MAN is he good looking and he has curtains…

Last week Jordan and Angela kissed. It was amazing. I felt like my heart was stopping, like I was Angela.  That sounds completely insane but it’s true. I wonder if that’s what it actually feels like…to kiss someone?  I haven’t been in love yet, I haven’t even had a boyfriend. I think I’m ready to have one but I go to an all girls’ school so I don’t actually know that many boys and when we go to parties I feel so…I dunno…stumpy, fat and uncool. It’s really scary when you haven’t kissed anyone before…I wouldn’t even know what to do. So I hang around in the background watching everyone else, they’re so far ahead of me, I feel young and inexperienced compared to them. I’m just not that fanciable straight off, I think boys would have to get to know me to like me...

We’re all lying on cushions on the floor in the living room waiting for this week’s episode to start. Our sisters are watching too, they can be really annoying but they know better than to make any noise during this show. I secretly like it when we’re all together in a gang but I would never let my sister know, she’d never leave me alone.

This episode is mainly about Ricky, Angela’s best friend. He’s in massive trouble for bringing a gun to school but it wasn’t him but he wants everyone to believe it was, so he’ll get teased less for being bisexual.  It’s a REALLY good episode but Jordan Catalano isn’t in it much, which is slightly (only slightly!) disappointing.

It’s almost dark now, Mum doesn’t mind us being out late, sometimes I’ll stay over at Jane’s but I still have some homework to do before tomorrow and I’ve stayed over a lot lately.

“I’ll call for you in the morning, we could walk in to town?”

“Yeah, cool. See you in the morning”.

Jane and I hug each other.  I grab my sister’s hand and we cross the road into the darkness of our driveway. We run until we hit the safety of the security light and then let ourselves in to the side door. Its pitch black inside and very creepy so we race up the three flights of stairs to the flat (we live in a flat at the top of our parents’ school which is kind of weird but also cool).

A voice comes from the living room.  

“Hi girls, put the kettle on will you?”

A Road Less Travelled

The warmth from my coffee cup diffuses into my hands but does nothing to alleviate the sharp, painful cold in the rest of my body. I descend into Tower Hill underground in a slow film-camera like movement that gradually reveals the chaotic scene below. The platform is busier than usual, seething with perplexed tourists and disgruntled commuters.

I observe the pockets of people crowding around the doors of the stationary train, squeezing into the non-existent space inside where yet more people are crushed together like olives in a jar.  I am not in the right frame of mind for that sort of effort today. I turn around and bound back up the stairs.

Moving quickly and with a new found enthusiasm I pass through the station into the bright cold; dancing down the steep steps and under the tunnel that obscures the Tower before revealing it in all its regal glory.

I pause to drink in the silhouettes of the turrets against the sky, their standards dancing benignly in the breeze. I am momentarily connected to Kings and Queens, political prisoners, kitchen workers, priests, guards, solemn visitors; the centuries of life and death in the Tower. I move on.

I’m listening to the story behind the creation of Happy Maps. The words collide with my experience in perfect coincidence,

“So one morning Daniel left his house and he ignore the mapping app he just stuck to the side streets, the alleys, these little one way roads that he never really bothered with before and what happened next…

‘I just remember a feeling of surprise, surprise at finding a street with no cars…surprise at finding a street draped by the leaves and surrounded by trees. For an entire month I had been trapped inside my mobile app and the journey to work became one thing only the shortest path…it totally changed the experience of the city. The app assumes that there are only a handful of directions to destination…Einstein once said, ‘logic will get you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere’ and so with a bit of imagination we needed to understand which parts of the city people find beautiful…’” *

I’m in the plaza now, the river in front of me, the keep on my left.  My attention is captured by three higgledy-piggledy domestic dwellings nestling in the tower wall. I fall in love with their chimneys, their soft brown brick and the sun reflecting off their windows. They are simultaneously out of place and perfectly at home.

I marvel at man’s ability across the ages, the Tower itself, Tower Bridge, the shiny new curved glass buildings south of the River; all the product of clever humans, people with vision, craftsmen, planners, it seems impossible that the same species should also be capable of wilful and violent destruction.

As I pass along next the River; the water that binds the two halves of my life together, a constant presence in all of my days, I send a text to my love who, for over a decade, has been encouraging me to be more spontaneous, to take the less obvious path. He will be proud of this deviation from the norm.

I climb up onto London Bridge where crowds pass, buses rumble, water flows. I feel vital and optimistic. Happy to be in the midst of Another London Day.** I board the 133 just as the doors close.

*Ted Hour. Building Better Cities. ** Island Man. Grace Nichols.  

Reading Music

In the seat next to me a man is composing music.

He is using an elegant ink pen with a long thin neck. From its nib, lines and curves flow rapidly onto the page with a pleasing scratch, the marks joining gracefully to form notes and phrases.

I read the music in the same way I would a foreign language, methodically matching each symbol to a letter; the nuances, the beauty, lost in the effort of translation.

He sees the marks and his mind conjures the flowery trill of a flute, the grand swell of the violins, a pic pic of a piccolo. 

His eyes are closed and the pen hand dances briefly in the air, fingering the notes before returning to the paper, capturing the sound of an entire orchestra in a plump semibreve. 

I read in black and white but he writes a symphony in glorious, sonic colour.

[Written on the Northern Line]