Long sticks of coal glowed in a bundle with colours from white ash to deep infrared sat under the grate with heat I could feel on my face all the way from the counter. German sausages lined up in their tens and coming off the rack and slotting into long bread buns as fast as they were hitting the grate raw. The cold air around me accentuated the warmth on my skin and added to that feeling that it was November-Christmas; that subtle time where Christmas is hinted at with market stalls selling wooden sculptures, berry gins and lanterns but without the crayon thickness of Christmas tunes, mostly from the eighties, in December roaring from department stores full of the hard sell.
With guests visiting for the weekend I spent at least two hours catching up on my vacuuming, dusting and frantically washing work clothes, includethose gender-thing trousersfor the week after before they arrived for the weekend. I’ve still yet to understand how Garlic paper finds it’s way to the bedroom floor, let alone the front hallway or living room. May be one for the New Year Resolution, ‘check floor for garlic skin after cooking.’
It was a far away scene from the working week stuck on crowded trains. It’s hard enough being hot from a rainy walk to the station but, if I’m lucky to get on the train, it’s a place of people pressed against the doors and a line filling the aisles end to end. Cattle shipped to work and back each day. When it’s like that a thought passed briefly, that moment when everyone is finally jammed on this already late train and the doors close and I wait for that little bit of silence before the engines start and I would shout, “tickets please!” Somehow I don’t think it would go down well at seven something in the morning. I suspect I would be lynched from the nearest luggage rack if anyone was able to move more than a spare arm across the chest.
I kind of enjoyed the return to commuting. I felt like an observer. As if it was a temporary thing that I wanted to see how the commuterarti lived. Like Jarvis sang, ‘I want to live like common people.’ except I wanted to travel like the working middle classes. But with the crowding so bad it was hard to people-watch like I might in a cafe over a hot chocolate topped with cream. Looking how people felt in the morning by the look on their faces and how people dressed for work in the winter, especially with Christmas coming up. In fact what I did see of those morning faces they, at least, didn’t look too bad, certainly not like those on the Tube in London. There’s nothing more winter-certain than a patterned scarf and dark coats or long dark hair over a warm red coat.
I can’t help myself looking at other women’s shoes and thinking, ‘I wonder if I could get away with wearing those’ or a pair of trousers and wondering if that pattern and colour would be my next purchase for work. It may take longer to get to work by public transport and, my god, is it more expensive than driving, but there are some times when people-watching is as much entertaining as it is comparing and looking for ideas and lifestyles.
I pulled my phone briefly from my pocket to check the usual cycle of email, text, Instagram and what have you, one day last week and then I realised – I was missing out on the scenery going by and just life. I sit in front of a screen most of the day and have plenty of other times to check my phone. I put it away and glanced around. It was difficult to find anyone that wasn’t glued to a small screen. Watching some video, listening to music or endlessly scrolling through Facebook. I thought for a moment, ‘Is that what it looks like from the outside? Twenty minutes fixated on that little ice white rectangle of light.’ I felt privileged to have realised that sometimes it’s good to put it away. For some, I guess, it’s to keep themselves shielded from the depressing obscurity of monotonous late and cancelled transport.
It was the weekend though and when my guest, Maddie, arrived – Maddie, my ex-who-knows-from-a-decade-or-so-ago – I felt all my stresses fall away. A weekend of hints of Christmas in the air, a visit to a National Trust manor house and coffee in the cafe allowing time to just float away. It’s at times like that the gender-thingjust kind of takes a backseat and I just am. That is, I’m not worrying about it or thinking about next steps and stuff like that.
You know, I think it’s another one of those moving on a stepkind of things, where if I mull over some of the advances I’ve made in the last year or so in who I am and how I present myself and where in the past I would have been a bag of nerves about it – I now just sort of smile to myself how good I feel about it. It’s slow progress but it’s my pace and in my own time and that’s what matters.
I think my heart would have stopped at the very thought of say, wearing my running clothes at my parents after one of the running events, yet a few weeks ago I was sat across the table in a cafe, my three quarter length running trousers, from my Mum over a coffee and having one of our chats. Just another little more at a time.
Until next time,