Lately, I have been aching at the seams and falling apart at my ankles. The damp London winter has got to parts of me I didn’t know I had, and my joints ache in the morning. Subsequently, I have been floundering around on the upper deck of buses and holding on perilously by my good hand to the rail on the stairs, lest my pathetic shoulder joint gets wrenched by the sudden braking of a No 82 bus. London is cruel when you can’t move quickly, and shows no mercy to a 33 year old with the joints of an 87 year old. I have been taking cod liver oil for the last week, though, and suddenly the pains vanished. However, I have sprouted a pair of fins. Should I be alarmed? In addition, my secondary ailment is I cannot pass a regional branch of Waterstones without spending £30 on books – books I shouldn’t be reading, because I have twenty seven books at home I should be reading but am not. I am still only half way through Bleak House. It’s been nearly a month. I have discovered Jean Rhys, however, a godsend on damp rainy bus journeys, and – unlike Bleak House – small enough to carry around easily without dislocating the bad joints in your shoulder.
So there I was, waiting on the northbound Northern Line platform at Euston when I was asked directions by a lady tourist. She was delightful, but English wasn’t have been her first, fourth, sixth or eighth language, and some evil friend or relative had flung her at the mercy of London Underground where she was close to tears. Flailing around the network, desperately trying to find Tottenham Court Road in such broken English that no one could have put it together again, she couldn’t have understood my reply. Once she had turned to Platform 5 when she had been told Platform 6, and once she went towards northbound rather than the southbound direction, I found myself wondering what kind of sadist sent her in search of Tottenham Court Road in the first place. I bet you ten pounds that by 8pm this evening she’ll be stuck on the platform at Ongar, damning our city and weeping for her homeland.
Once she moved off, my eyes settled on a poster advertising a film called “The Last Station”. It had a smug Helen Mirren on it (is there any other kind?), and a warning of “Moderate Sex Scenes”. I couldn’t work out what that meant; scenes containing moderate amount of sex? Moderately bad sex? Or incredibly filthy and censorworthy shenigans but only a moderate amount of it? What is sexual immoderacy anyway? And the poster showed an old man with a beard leering at Helen Mirren in an unsavoury way and pretending to be Leo Tolstoy. Maybe it’s sex scenes featuring the moderately old, or sex scenes featuring a moderately bad actor pretending to be moderately, sexually Russian. Either way, it was all nonsense. We are all linguistic co-dependents; if we can’t understand the writing on the walls in the tube, no wonder my tourist lady was struggling.
Then, and I don’t know whether I had language on my Helen Mirren-raddled mind, I got into the carriage of the tube and everyone was having weird conversations. With themselves. A man opposite me merrily mouthed the notes in a book of Chopin waltzes as he read musical notes like words, the woman next to me was praying, apparently into her Blackberry (to the god of Blackberrys?) and a drama student opposite me was making quite a show of letting everyone see she had lines to learn, flipping self-consciously coy eyes up to the carriage ceiling and muttering all the way to Hampstead, whilst trying to look as if she wasn’t attracting attention.
Then, before getting onto the train, when I was looking at the train info board on the platform for the next train, it suddenly changed its mind. Instead of a destination of ‘High Barnet’ it said ‘Thursday’ and it was coming in 3 minutes, apparently. Curiouser and curiouser…