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.

84289573bfd649a422af5a927102070a--paul-mitchell-canvas-paintings.jpg

Advertisements

Divide, and Conquer.

I went to London yesterday. I think there is a lot that people don’t understand about the world. A strange amount.

We were on Oxford street the majority of the time. I wanted to traverse Hyde Park and go on some boats because the sun was out. I wanted to trawl through a museum or two and have a gander at the Wallace Collection.

My friend wanted to shop in expensive department stores so shop we did. We entered Selfridges through the main doors because that is what Harry Gordon Selfridge would have done. I stared up at the magnificent building and the stunning front displays and imagined I was back in the early 1900s and the only department store was this magnificent display of architecture. Once inside I was transported to a world of glamour and excessive riches. Me in my glad rags. My ‘Sunday best’, as it were. I felt so drab and out of place. But it was euphoric, too. People treated me nicely because they wanted me to buy things. They showered me with samples and did a makeover on my face in the hopes that I would walk away with a bottle of expensive foundation or a Hugo Boss perfume that comes with a free bag.

I didn’t buy anything, of course. I am going to Morocco in early June with my father again, and my sister, and I am saving every single penny for that trip. We managed to find £60 return flights, and we will be staying with my father’s family so there will be zero hotel costs. But I do want to bring back things like Argan oil and clay tagine pots and some nice harem pants and maybe some summery tops. And those things are far more precious to me than factory made dresses costing a thousand pounds.

YES. A THOUSAND POUNDS.

Ok, not that much. But £550. For a sequinned gown. It was beautiful. But goodness.

They also do personal shopping! With champagne! Fancy that.

I really enjoyed my day out. I smelt amazing and had free expensive makeup on. And there were so many people to watch and observe and simply be stunned by. Affluent teenagers showering their credit cards on gleeful store clerks. Also the salesmen were so flirty. Telling me I had lovely skin and smiling and flourishing their wares at me. If I had a frivolous nature I would be charmed into bankruptcy!

It was a beautiful day. Marred, of course, by the devastation in the country. Everybody was on edge. Policemen manned every corner; I’d never seen so many in my life. Red alert, as they say.

I still felt safe, though. And happy. We are very lucky. Very very lucky and blessed. We have so much food and so much choice and so much affluence. We have organisation and kindness and order. We have security and care and effort. We have unity and consideration.

In other countries, they don’t have this. They have terrorists raining bombs down on them daily. Purging them from their homes. Sending them scattering in the wind under an ideology so warped and twisted from its origin of peace that nobody is sure of anything anymore.

One thing is certain, though. One thing. Behind all this aggression and cruelty is a lot of hurt. That is why it is so important to fight this hate and tragedy with kindness. KINDNESS.

For e.g., don’t torch a muslim place of worship. Don’t attack a muslim woman in central London. These people didn’t do anything to you. These people are hurting about this senseless horror just as you are. I saw so so much kindness on the news. I saw people opening their homes and businesses for those in need. Blood donor centres were overflowing. People travelled from all corners of the UK to offer a helping hand.

People care, you see? Some don’t. of course. Some are calling for the final killing of all muslims. Some are calling for the deportation and the banning of muslims. Some are attacking muslims and plotting their revenge.

If we hate our own people, Islamic State have succeeded. They have succeeded in dividing us, and that is how they can conquer.

 

 

Assholes.