Love Letters #38

Have you ever sunk down into the belly of London?

There are vertical escalators, and sometimes they squeak and squeal, groaning under the weight of a thousand feet every second of every day. Never stopping. Hundreds of stories and minds. Millions of thoughts, whispered in thousands of accents, drowned by the voices of people getting things done.

There are pictures on the metal walls, pictures that move and shift and change shapes, kaleidoscopic in their constant swirling motion, and for a moment you want to go to the theatre and see Les Miserable, and the next moment the thought vanishes from your brain as you frantically feel your way through pale yellow tunnels, following the crowd and wondering if you are going the right way, can’t turn back or else people will shove you back the way you came, the rush of hot air pulling you further and further into the belly of London.

Old walls, crumbling civilisations giving way to new ones.

I was born in London.

Tooting.

Same hospital as my mother was born in. So strange, that thought. Twenty four years apart.

My father fell down the stairs and broke his coccyx bone the day I was born. He was rushing to the hospital to see his first child. For twenty three years he hasn’t been able to sit properly.

When I was six years old, my stomach curled and unfurled itself as I clutched a small pink straw bag, descending on those vertical escalators down, down down below the crowded surface of the busy city.

Do we have to go on the tube? Can’t we go on the overground train?

Don’t be so silly, Lenora. Look sharp now, quickly!

My mother, seasoned, marching through the tunnels with myself and my little brother in tow. Stepping onto the train, grabbing the back of her skirt, sick with fear.

Then the hurtle, the loud screaming of the train on those metal tracks, the blackness outside the windows. Why were there even windows, if there was nothing to look at? Terrified. Barely able to breathe. Is this the stop? Can we get out?

No!? Ohhhh. 

A soft groan, deep in my belly.

Any minute now the lights would turn off and the train would stop and we would be stuck down here in the dark and heat forever and ever and

forever.

Loud, screaming, hurtling, whistling, wailing. I would close my eyes, begging for this nightmare to be over.

When I was eleven I read a story about the people who cleaned the underground tunnels.

You wouldn’t believe what they found there. Giant rats, and fleas the size of cockroaches, flittering in the darkness. An old woman spoke of the horrors of those tunnels. Yet, they were a refuge to many during the war. Safe havens, in giant brick pools under the ancient city of London. Curving under the Thames and even crossing by the long forgotten rivers that people seldom remember, yet traverse past daily.

And still, I was terrified.

The tube?! Really?! We can get to Victoria on the overground. What about a bus?! A bus is so much better.

Oh, grow up, you silly girl.

Stuck to my seat, sometimes shoved under someone’s armpit, holding tight, my stomach swaying as the train hustled and swerved and screamed its way through those hot, windy tunnels. Fear seeped through my skin, soaking my clothes and beading on my upper lip.

The roaring becoming louder, and louder, and louder, rising in volume and ferocity,

 – why is it so angry -?!

I open my eyes.

I am twenty three years old. I am sitting on the tube for the first time in three years, and before that, for the first time nine.

London has not been my home for twelve years.

Yet, every time I step off the train and into Euston or King’s Cross, a rush of overwhelming familiarity hits me.

The smells and the noise pollution, rising high in the sky, thousands of lives picking their way through thousands of machines, breathing in exhaust fumes and coffee grounds, heels on newspapers, sweat pooling in the creases of skin, accents and countries and worlds colliding as people get on with their business.

And I love the tube. I love the tube with all my heart.

I love the feeling of standing on the furthest end, watching everybody and their engrossed detachment from the world around them. The ginger man sitting next to a nun, sneaking peeks at her reading material. The woman who is watching a Netflix show and the audience of standing commuters, eyes glued to her screen behind the grimy glass that separates her seat from the doors.

I love the hurtling, screaming ferocity. I love the traffic of humans, all hurrying, running, racing, sweating, on the same journey but so trained in avoiding any real contact with each other. Physically pressed up against each other but mentally floating high above the tunnels through which they are carried at top speeds.

I don’t love London at all. I might love the memories I have, which lurk around unexpected corners and in strange places. That place that I vomited outside the Natural History museum. That spot in the British library where I tried to hide those chewits. That fountain in Hyde Park where I sprained my ankle and subsequently cried all the way home on the 319. That tree where the dog barked at my brother and I, scaring our five and four year old selves half to death. That rookery where we rolled down the hills and I got grass stains on my blue Alice in Wonderland dress.

But I love the Tube.

I love the old terror that rises in my throat like bile, because my twenty three year old self recognises it for what it really is;

Adrenaline.

Excitement.

Adventure.

Thrill.

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A Journey

I binge watched Orange is the New Black this past week since I returned from Morocco. I came back on Wednesday. It was a painful journey, my posterior was aching by the end of it because I was sitting on it for way too long. I did squats in the airport with all my baggage just to stretch my muscles out.

I was treading water, barely, on 1.5 hours sleep, and the plane was circling above London in a very suspicious manner for half an hour before the pilot deigned to land and let us out of that sweaty heat cabin. They claimed it was ‘air traffic’ but my rising anxiety made a very convincing case that we were all going to spontaneously combust up in the sky, so I had to sit back and put my book away and stare into the distance saying my prayers, whilst my heart hammered against my rib cage in panic. Land never looked so inviting.

When we finally did land, a blast of hot air smacked me in the face and I had to peer out of the airport windows, to make sure we really were in England and didn’t somehow teleport back to Morocco. England was sweltering under a mighty heatwave, and the English were red-faced and melting. Was I glad to be back? I don’t know. I just needed some sleep.

We got on the coach and sat for four hours, sometimes inching our way through a treacle of traffic, and I woke up several times with my head against the glass, my mouth wide open and staring upwards. Drool snaked down my chin, cold and slimy. So very pretty.

At my mum’s house, after arriving at 10pm, my father proceeded to unpack everything while I watched like a zombie, downing glass after glass of icy water and sitting in front of the fan. It was only 29 degrees, but it felt like satan’s bedroom.

Why does 29 degrees in Morocco feel like heaven, and 29 degrees in England feel like the furnace hasn’t slept in days?

When I finally nodded off at three am, it felt like a few moments later that my stomach howled at me to get up. I raced upstairs in tremendous pain and suffered an agonising bout of Delhi bellies, which I miraculously escaped in Morocco but somehow was infected by English water? I fainted on the toilet, it was that painful. When I staggered back downstairs, I realised it was 6:30am and my train was due to leave in two hours. My mum tried to persuade me to stay and rest, but frankly, I hadn’t seen my husband in almost three weeks by that point and I just wanted to go home to him. And, well, other things.

So I did.

On the train I was nodding off in my seat, and a couple of teenagers were sniggering at me. I was faintly aware of it but I was so tired I really didn’t give a damn. When my train was about ten minutes away from the station I pulled my phone out and used the camera to smear on some makeup and make my hair look presentable because I suddenly felt a bit nervous. While I was doing that I suddenly panicked because I couldn’t find my phone in my pocket so I stood up and frantically searched my seat and the floor around me. My hands were shaking and I was near tears, when I realised, oh, stupid, I was using it as a mirror this whole time.

Exhaustion is like drugs, maybe.

My husband picked me up from the station and that was nice. He was on his lunch break so he had to drop me home and go back to work but. That was nice. I know I smelled bad, like travelling and sweat and poorliness, and I didn’t want to hug him, but he didn’t care and made me. That was really nice. It is really nice to come home to somebody who loves you. I cannot stress that enough.

It is really. Really. Goddamn. Nice.

Anyway this started out as a review of the latest season of OITNB but I ended up recounting a… well, a journey, really.

Nevermind. Maybe next time.

Ciao.

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This is my view of the edge of France from the sky. Comparing it with a satellite view of Google maps, it looks like a place called Saint-Malo. Or Saint-Jacut-de-la-Mer, to be exact.

Living in Crewe

Hello bloggers.

I have taken a short break from blogging. No, I haven’t. I just have not blogged for a while. I haven’t been busy, as such. Well, I suppose I have, in the grand scheme of things!

I have edited (finally) my husband’s 24,000 word dissertation. I even did some research on the history of cars, from the designs of Leonardo Da Vinci to the Model T created by Henry Ford. As a non car-enthusiast, I can honestly say I found it all immensely fascinating. What really stood out starkly for me was the revolution in all economic systems that was created by cars. Traffic control systems had to be created from scratch through trial and error, 60% of the deaths caused by careless driving and speeding, at a time when speeding was a concept nobody had ever heard of let alone contemplate, were children. The growth of the car industry was a tragic and nostalgic business. However it sure has saved us a LOT of time and hundreds of feet worth of horse manure! (I speak very literally here when I say hundreds of feet – in the year 1900 the horse population outnumbered the human population in New York city!).

I have also been working on my own dissertation, which is far less fascinating and a whole lot of nonsense, really. I am taking a creative analysis course, where I have to analyse creativity in language. All the theories are entirely subjective, so it’s a little tedious to hear somebody’s opinion on something and quote it as fact. In all honesty, I don’t think much of it at all. But shhh, don’t let my lecturers hear you say that! It would be a travesty and might potentially affect my final grade! The grade which determines the outcome of my degree! Huzzah! It could NOT come sooner, I tell you.

Britain is sunny, the dogs are barking cheerfully and sometimes suspiciously, and the small town I now live in is a piece of literal crap. *insert taped laughter*.

It’s called Crewe, in England, about an hour South-East of Manchester and two hours East of Liverpool and three and a half hours North-West of London. I could cycle the entire town in about fifty minutes, and walk it in around two hours. The people are remarkably racist and treat me as a second class citizen because of my olive complexion and my dark black hair. I know this because they give me English looks of disapproval (I do it myself so I KNOW) and they also make comments about ‘immigrants’ and ‘they shouldn’t let them in’. I am not an immigrant. My maternal grandmother was. So was my paternal grandmother. I am just a very diluted English person. Even if I was an immigrant, one oughtn’t to treat immigrants like that. It’s rude and unwarranted and plainly ignorant. Also inhumane. When I open my mouth they are often taken aback by the British accent. They are uneducated, pro-Brexit and against Islam, brown people, and immigration. They are also remarkably poor, and very uncivilised, often leaving their homes at 3am in their pyjamas (oftentimes without) shouting at each other and toppling bins over.

It isn’t all negative, though. The shop ladies are lovely, and my neighbours are a sweet Polish couple with a bubbly little blonde daughter. Once I was cycling on the road and my long cardigan got stuck in my chain (fashion over logic, in this case, ha ha!), so I had to stop and yank it out on the road. While I was thus occupied, a woman darted out of her house and asked if I was okay and did I need any help? I was mighty touched, thanking her for her kindness. Another time I got my chain caught (on nothing, this time), a couple of really shifty looking young men came up to me when I was trying to fix it. I panicked because they did look menacing, but one of them said, as they drew close, ‘You alright, love!? Need any help?’

I was pleasantly surprised by their helpful kindness. I suppose it isn’t all black and white, and there is some ying in this yang. Or was it yang in this ying?

 

Britain’s July

Sticky hands

Giant flies

buzzing

The loud tinkle of the ice cream van

Sun beating down

heavy, humid air

Shade and breeze

summer dresses

windows flung wide open

Because there is no air con

No air con, did you hear that?

The carpet is too hot

My pits are heavy

My head is lolling on my shoulders

Lips bright red and stuck together with countless lollies

Garden chairs

Empty plates outside

A tall glass

Glistening with condensation

Ice cubes tapping the edges gently

Fizz bubbles rising softly and bursting furiously at the top of the brown syrupy liquid

Cold

Britain’s July.

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