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.

Moroccan Country Market

The sun is beaming down, turning the sky a strange sort of blueish brown. When you go out into the direct beam of light, the heat radiates through your very bones. People still venture out, in their colourful overclothes and highly patterned scarves. Their faces are scrunched from the sunlight, but their spirits are high.

The little country market squats in the wide expanse of sand, stones, and dusty desert bushes;sparse, small and set close to the ground. Stalls are wagons, held up on one end by wheels and on the other by wooden beams and bricks. The cloths which cover them are faded and worn from dust and the pure dirt of the earth, and on top they have their vegetables piled high. This is what a country market looks like in Morocco.

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Have you ever seen so very many tomatoes? I haven’t. A woman shouted at me when I tried to take photos of the tomatoes, and other vegetables.

‘Eeh, shoofo, ‘and-hal mobile! Esh ket-filmy!?’ she waved her hands at me and thrust her chin out, confrontational. Eh! Look at her, she has a phone! What are you filming? Everybody turned to look at me, suspicious and curious. My neck prickled with shame and confusion, but I also felt annoyed. I gestured towards the fruit, ‘El-Fawakih!’ I exclaimed, trying to defend myself.  The fruit! I understood then that they were worried I was filming their women and would spread their images on Youtube. She stared at me suspiciously as I walked away, and I hid my phone sharpish. They found it offensive that I was taking pictures of their wares, because the area I was walking in never saw any tourists and to take photos of an ordinary food market was unusual activity.

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I saw a withered old man in a colourful turban and wide pantaloons sprawled on a mountain of clothes, next to his empty cart, snoozing as the flies buzzed around his head and the sun clothes which draped from the wooden beams overhead fluttered gently in the breeze. The very sight of him was a vibrant photograph, just begging to be taken, but I dared not take that risk.

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As we walked away from the market, a fishmonger, standing on the outskirts of the market and well away from the vegetables with all the other fishmongers, shoved a dead, open fish in the face of my relative. She reeled, pushing it back towards him, exclaiming that she didn’t want it.

‘Smell it, smell it. It’s fresh, caught this morning.’

She sniffed it tentatively then told him she wanted a kilo of the little fish.

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This little kitten was hanging about on the verges of the market, sniffing eagerly for food. We gave it a square of cream cheese.

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Munch munch. Little creature was as big as the shadow of my phone!

 

On Being Ungrateful

I am having the most awful day, folks. I missed my first day at work this week yesterday because I was up the night before swotting, and missed my 4am train because of it.

So I really enjoyed being at home; I cleaned my house for the first time in, well, a month and a half I should say. I scrubbed and scraped and my oven is gleaming and my floors smell like lavender and tea tree and my washing basket is empty. I showered and epilated and oiled and washed my hair and scrubbed my face and dressed up nice and – well-  clearly, it was the best day ever.

But it is my last week at work so I had to leave this morning. I simply had to, no amount of moaning about it or crying would change anything. But moan an cry I did. I groaned while I washed my face and cried in the mirror putting my cream on. I told my hair off for being such a relentless bush, and scraped it into the most atrocious bun you ever did see.

I scarfed a bowl of cheerios and a coffee as black and bitter as my mood. I watched an episode of Gilmore Girls at 3am and decided not to have a shower, dousing myself with deodorant and my husband’s manly perfume (don’t you agree ladies, they make men’s perfume so much stronger?).

I cried bitter tears whilst tying my shoelaces and told my husband I would not warm up the car even though he woke up at 5am to drive me to the station, never mind he had to be up at 7. But I did warm it up, I am not that cruel.

I was such a moany, horrible person this morning. Which is not very like me at all.

I think it was the fact that I woke up at 2:40am exactly, wide awake, heart throbbing, and was unable to go back to sleep. I am wired on exhaustion and concentrated coffee, much like a Gilmore Girl.

When I sat moodily in the train, I pulled out my phone to snap a routine snapchat of the train leaving the station at 5:21am, headed to London Euston.

I was about to caption it, ‘Ugh, thankfully this is the last time I have to take this crappy journey.’

But then. I sat. And thought.

Hang on.

That is pretty ungrateful.

It only took me three seconds.

So I wrote, ‘This is the last time I am doing this, hopefully it goes easy’

I don’t know what took over me there. I felt like utter crap, but why broadcast it? It wasn’t even about who would see it, it was about me projecting my bad feelings on the universe despite the fact that I am actually privileged to be on a train in the warmth going to a job that I don’t hate and will pay me – also, it’s the LAST JOURNEY?!

Sour puss, Lenora.

And I just realised that actually, I am pretty ungrateful. So.

Not a few minutes after that a lady passed me and smiled at me in such a lovely way that despite the dark cloud raining sorrow over me I was enticed to smile back at her. My teeth showed. She must have magical powers.

THEN, a few minutes later, the conductor came by asking for tickets. I realised my tickets were due to leave yesterday, and I had made an accident while booking. So we had a pretty decent chat about refund prices and how the Trainline is not the best website to book cross country train tickets and the better bet would be to use Nationalrail.co.uk (pssst, some good tips for you UK train travellers out there). And he got his special red pen that only conductors are allowed to use and MARKED MY TICKETS VALID AT NO EXTRA COST TO MYSELF!?

What a nice man. I think this morning taught me that actually, I should be more grateful and that there are nice people outside.

Also. My childhood American friend is coming to the UK from America for some time and while we were chatting on the phone she told me in the USA they do not travel cross country by train. They either plane it, drive it or take what they call a ‘greyhound bus’ and we call a ‘coach’. A ‘bus’ to us is that long metal vehicle that sometimes has two floors and smells of rubbish and sweat and costs four pounds return to take you ten minutes down the road to sodding Tesco; i.e. an ‘in-city’ bus. But it looks different from a ‘greyhound bus’ or ‘coach’.

 

The sun will rise, folks. That is a fact. Unless it doesn’t, in which case I stand corrected.

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Spain. Yours truly.

 

Dream

She was a dream. No, she was dreaming.

She thought that dreams were just thoughts your brain is trying to have, but because it is asleep, it jumbles them up and gets confused. Poor thing.

She found this out because last night when she was trying to sleep she was asking her friend why her shoulders were over there. That was strange. There was a bird in a cage.

It made sense when she was awake, though. Because she was thinking of Barney’s canary. And Barney had wonderfully large shoulders. That was slightly sexual. She didn’t want to think of Barney’s shoulders, because what kind of name was Barney? A big fat purple dinosaur name, that’s what it was.

She couldn’t tell if this was a dream, or reality. She was standing, and she felt pretty tall. And Barney was there in his purple jacket, kneeling on the stone before her. The stunning view that was Granada fell away behind his back, and all she could see where the white houses tripping down the mountainside, cobbled streets winding around them like gleaming snakes in the bright sunshine. There was sweat on her back and behind her hair, and her lips were sticky with the remains of an ice cold coke, that left a hot, melty film around her mouth. It was horrible. She needed a drink. And he was on his goddamn knees.

Wait. He was on his knees. Dusty with the stone of one of the towers. Palm trees and red sand in the distance. Sweltering heat and tapas bars blaring sultry music. And he was on his knees.

She felt sick, suddenly. Barney with his purple jacket in the heat. Like the big fat singing dinosaur. The coke churned very realistically, very uncomfortably in her stomach.

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Spreading Some Joy

I don’t have many words to use anymore. I am spent. So I leave you with a photograph of a snippet of happiness. Children and bubbles, long summer evenings. And a man spreading joy.

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Image Credit: Yours truly

A Bit of a Think

So far this month things have been crazy. And by crazy I mean CRAZY.

I used to think people’s lives couldn’t be that crazy, but lately I have begun to measure crazy using an odd concept. I measure it by how many times a week I can sleep in my OWN bed at my OWN home.

This week it has only been twice. And once more tonight but that doesn’t count since I have to wake up at 4am. Which is technically midnight and not a full night’s sleep at all.

I now know truly what it means to be run down. I caught a ‘cold’ last Thursday. Thursday the 27th, I mean. It was so mild, nothing that a good night’s rest wouldn’t get rid of, you know? But I never got to have a proper rest because I spent the weekend getting ready for the week and catching up with writing and work, and then bam I was travelling again and living out of a bag and staying up till 1am feverishly working whilst trying not to fall asleep and then the weekend arrived and family obligations arose and on Saturday night we got ‘home’ at 2am, and slept like logs until 1pm the following Sunday and it passed SO QUICKLY and today is Monday and I am preparing for tomorrow when I have to leave at 5am again and I am just so exhausted. And I have not recovered, my throat is burning and has been since that Thursday and there is a terrible cough that only attacks me at night, and it constantly wakes me up.

It is time to question my life choices. I mean, really. I think I am just doing this job for the sake of charity. I am basically doing charity work because it is not like I am earning anything substantial and what I do earn goes on train fares. And I can’t quit because I can’t leave those people in the lurch, it is for a good cause, really.

But.

It’s just so hard.

And my husband keeps saying he doesn’t want me to go. And now I feel guilty too. But the big question is: Do I even want to stay at the job?

See, at first I did. I love this job. I love the kids. I love the opportunity to help out and be involved in guiding people and giving them opportunities. If it were closer to home I wouldn’t blink an eyelid. But since we moved it’s getting harder and harder to juggle two lives.

And I am constantly ill. And this illness keeps me up at nights so it is not like I am getting a good night’s rest.

Oh.

I just wanna stay home and lounge about and flick through Netflix and watch Youtube videos while I munch ice cream and D hammers away on something upstairs.

I just wanna be cosy and snuggly in my own bed instead of cold and uncomfortable in a lumpy bed in a cold room away from my husband and have to walk everywhere and carry heavy bags all over the place and have my boss breathing down my neck for those bloody target sheets.

I MEAN, I WILL DO THEM. JUST GIVE ME A DARN CHANCE.

Oh dear.

Well. I will carry on, of course. But at some point, I will need to rethink my life choices.

These decisions sound so great in theory but when you actually have to live it, it is not easy at all.

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Physical Relief

Had a terribly busy week. I was travelling since Saturday, when I drove two hours to go to a party, where I burned 600 calories dancing, according to my fitness tracker. I then drove to the in-laws’, where I stayed for the next three days to get to work. I walked to work daily and it took a good forty minutes, and helped my mother move house, worked till 2am  preparing lesson plans and studying for my first assignment.

On Thursday I went to work as usual, carrying a pile of heavy books.

‘Want to add more to that pile, Mrs Sparrow?’ one of the teachers muttered as he walked past, then offered to help but I declined. After work I went to my mum’s and slipped on my stilettos, then my brother dropped me off to the train station and we had a massive argument because he can be an arrogant overly sensitive jerk sometimes, and he refuses to listen to me and he kept speeding on second because I told him to put the car in third gear, even though it was a HIRED car, and he has never had practise driving while I have had a good year and a half on my belt. He is so stubborn it is maddening.

I got out of the car in tears, and caught the train to Birmingham where I went to the loos to slap makeup on my face for another party, this time more sophisticated and in a restaurant.

Then I caught another train all the way back home to my husband.

I hadn’t seen him for a good three days while I was at work. The minute I set eyes on him, waiting by the exit doors with hands in his pockets, my heels aching from my stilettos, and my shoulders heavy with bags, a wave of fatigue washed over me and I sank into his fresh perfume scent and the cold of his heavy leather jacket.

I don’t understand this phenomenon.

It was as though the mere sight of him took my stress away and my body began to really feel the duress I put it under. As though my brain subconsciously knew it didn’t have to hold on anymore because he was there and he could take care of me.

My throat felt scratchy and as he took my bags from me, lifting them as though they weighed nothing, my head started to pound, and tears prickled the back of my eyes. I hugged him for ages before I got in the car, just letting the feeling of home wash over me.

I had never experienced anything like this. A second ago on the train I had been perfectly fine!

All day today I have been in bed feeling ridiculously lousy.

 

 

Love Letters #24

The place was flooded with oranges. It was orange and red, the sand a deep rusty hue. Orange trees lining the pavements wherever you go. Giant cacti and prickly pear plans replacing the ivy on house walls. Markets everywhere, carts piled high with citrus oranges and greens. Vendors handing out orange juice, orange peels by the thousands, piled up by the gutter, along with fish spines and bits of brightly coloured material. Alleyways filled with empty, shuttered shops and tall buildings springing up everywhere by the month.

Oranges and fish. Markets and spices. Haughty prideful patriotism. This was Casablanca.

I did not see the Casablanca that tourists see. I was sucked right into everyday family life, because I was visiting distant relatives.

The White house. In Arabic, ‘Addarul-Baydhaa’.

It was not as beautiful as it sounded, when you got down to the nitty gritty. There were far too many people and way too many cars. But there was beauty if you dared to explore. If you waded through the traffic of spluttering cars and cantering horses, the odd mule and innumerable donkeys, you would be greeted by beautiful red desert plains and sunny, sandy beaches.

There was a magnificent white mosque sitting on the water, with the sun reflecting its pristine architecture and the deep blue sky behind forming a serene backdrop to its beautiful image, waves crashing behind.

I did not fall in love with the city at first. In fact, I hated it. I hated the way everything was such a hassle, and how the government did not cater to its people. I hated the cockroaches that teemed the streets, scuttling confidently over the white powder put there to keep them away. I hated the way vendors shoved their ware in your face.

But those were shallow, unimportant things. As I spent more time there, the people began to find a way into my heart. They were so generous, and eager to please and inform. They loved to show their home and their city off to you. They had such pride in their hearts for their beautiful homeland, and gave so very much when they had so little themselves.

They had love in their hearts. A deep, warming love that unfurled its leaves through the earth and spread like ivy along the cracks in the roads. Neighbours were like family and the sense of community was fiery. People went out of their way to make you comfortable.

Soon the little peeves became things to smile about, in fond recollection.

Casablanca.

I didn’t feel as though I belonged there at first. I felt isolated and too western. I didn’t feel like I had roots there at all, but they welcomed me and treated me like I was one of their own, even though I was very different from them. I fell in love with Casablanca and her beautiful sunsets. The way the calls to prayer rose gently to the sky, the wide smiles and friendly shouts from complete strangers, the warm, rough hands of thousands of aunts, kneading bread and combing hair.

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