Thursday, November 27, 2003

I go to the airport with Dad. We stand in the check-in queue as I worry about whether or not I'm going to be sent straight back to Belfast. I have my winter coat on, that coat which I wore for the last few days I lived in London. My bags aren't full but they carry music which I hope will be playing in Jonathan's living-room later today.
At the head of the queue, I lean forward, explaining that there may be a problem with ID. I worried about this all last night, pacing up and down in the garden, wandering nervously from room to room as I packed, wondering whether the effort was going to be in vain. The only thing in the world which matters now is the expression on the girl's face; her eyes; the cast of her mouth. Whether I can judge anything from it. Searching for my permission to leave, to spread my wings - to return home.
She runs up the little flight of stairs. We wait. Dad stands off to one side, watching. She comes back with a walkie-talkie which squawks as she says something. Her phone rings; she has a brief conversation and looks up sternly. Christ - after all this I'm going to be told: no, you can't fly, you are not who you say you are, Greenwich will be denied you! - but... no.... she's printing something out... I'm free to fly! Feeling like kissing the air, I turn and walk away, my little bag over my shoulder, following dad. We stand on the moving walkway, my heart beating slower each second. Almost in a daze, I see my fingers punch the buttons on the cash machine, see the cash poke out and be slid into my wallet by hands which are barely mine.
I snap out of it as dad gets his money. I lift my phone out, and call Jonathan. He says 'Hel-lo' and I say 'Well... I had to beat up a couple of check-in staff, storm the security office' and he laughs - 'but I'm on the flight'. I say I'll see him later, and ring off. For a second my head is full of his kitchen, him putting down a cup of coffee before sighing and starting the task ahead. I feel myself smile.
Dad and I sit down with coffee for him and a burger and coke for me. The man in front of me in the burger queue was rude to the harrassed, blushing teenager behind the counter, hateful in his old-man slacks and stern face. Dad steals most of my newspaper for a while. When I bought it I thought I was in the mood for papers but I'm not - I can't concentrate - already my mind slips through the air, quick like a dart, following the curve of the atmosphere to plummet down, down, smooth and swift to land me there.
Dad leaves. Work goes on all around me. Why do those people look so bored? Why is that suited man so glum? Do they not know what is happening? Can't they tell?! I think I must be too excited to pee but wander off happily to the toilet and find that nevertheless I can. I return, smoke a few cigarettes, read the paper cursorily, and then go through to Departures. This is where I saw Jonathan walk away from me at the end of his first visit to Belfast but this is not then, this is new and so familiar and exciting that my feet aren't touching the ground. I have spent too long away, but with even the first step towards an airport or a car we put an end to that - we travel - we arrest the process of arrest. And the actual process of travel, that movement between-times, when you are noplace and everywhere all at once - that is the knot fraying, disentangling, lying pathetic and weak at your feet. Only then do you start to walk.
And I walk.
I do a lot of walking around this time, actually. The lady at the desk tells me I need to go to Gate 24 in the International Departures lounge. Never having been there before, I go off on a trial run which is more an amble, traversing corridor after long corridor by the runways, finding the gate, and ambling back. I settle at a table which earlier this year hosted my sister and niece, get out a book and the packet of cigarettes, and read for perhaps 5 minutes before the urge to wander hauls me like a marionette through the air, moving, looking at faces and listening to voices. Getting restless and eager, I walk back to the gate to find it's full of people. the young people look at each other, and me, quite a lot. The older ones don't, or they stand looking at the runway. The plane perches tantalisingly below us. Two bright- scarfed ladies give orders, look at photos, and we board.
These planes always seem smaller than I remember them to be, and when I stand and look at the seat I've chosen it seems impossibly tiny, but when I settle into it - ah, that's it, stretch, hassle over, Jonathan and Greenwich here I come - it fits. It's comfortable. A young woman sits down one seat away from me. A breathy young asian man plunges between us and levers himself into the intervening seat. I rearrange my bag at my feet and look out of the window at the engine and the wing sweeping backwards, tip out of sight.
We taxi. The captain (why captain? Why not pilot?) tells us it's cold in London but that there was fog in Amsterdam earlier. The stewardess tells us officiously that the captain is 'in full command'. I feel like I'm in Russia but simply smile and return to the view.
The rush and G-force of the final acceleration - the cabin tilts back alarmingly - the judder from the wheels suddenly ceases to exist and we are free!, climbing steeply. The young woman beside me is sitting bolt upright, the young asian scrabbling in the seat pocket for a magazine. I survey the sweep of Strangford Lough from above. It is beautiful. From this distance and with a little squinting to blur things, I see it as the untainted Strang Fjord when Belfast was just a stream through sand with rushes whistling in the wind. A loud crunching beside me announces the arrival of a crisp- packet in the young woman's hands.
I decline the snacks and start to think of the wider issues of London. I'm going there - this is a holiday - why do I feel that I'm going home? Because I am, in a way which is elating me and depressing me and making my stomach turn alarming cartwheels of anticipation. I realise that I'm having to think of how best to get to Greenwich - that alone tells me it's no longer the familiar place it was. I start feeling disappointed until I remember why I have to plan my route. This is not forgetfulness but the flaying of the skin which grew over my eyes and mapped the city for me. It is no longer pre-ordained: it is again a slightly seething chaos. So yes! I will have to plan.
Jerked back by the ding of the seatbelt signal and the jingling of metal clasps, I realise we are landing. It's twilight, almost. There are fields, little farms, cottages with red roofs. The tyres bump onto the runway. And that's it?! One hour, give or take - that's all, to get me here? My heart starts beating faster. Reminded of how criminally easy it really is to travel, I jump up, hitting my head on the oxygen-mask cupboards and hoping nobody is inconvenienced during any possible disaster in future.
In the baggage hall, I haul one case, and another, off the conveyor. Perhaps I should buy train-tickets here. Yes - at the station all I will want to do is make straight for the platforms, so I talk to a pleasant girl at a desk and she hands me a little slip of card printed with London Bridge. I gaze at the name. The shuttle bus is painfully slow.
On the platform at the airport's satellite station, I don't wait for a train, but I think of a train. I think of all the trains I've ever been on in London. Trains which squeak, trains which jerk wildly, trains which glide and whine. Trains whose doors slide and rumble, whose doors hiss and click, whose doors close heavily with a 50s clang.
The doors in fron of me are dark-blue, and open invitingly. I step in. London Bridge? This goes to London Bridge? one voice asks. Yes, it does, I think.
Yes. It does.


More memories arrive with each station. I do not arrive at stations. They arrive at where I sit. They arrive at the terminus of my mind and wander around with their baggage, banging into things, causing scatterings and spillages. St Albans, warm, redbricked, with its squat cathedral, boyfriend's house, platforms tortured with worry over no money, frosted fields, firelit rooms. Radlett, with its taxicab office handy when you have fallen asleep on your train, Elstree and Borehamwood, magisterial with the presence of the invisible studios. Mill Hill Broadway. Too much. It's a flash at the window but too much, Hendon, Cricklewood. West Hampstead Thameslink and I strain to see the alley, the trees, the little slanted street by the name of Broomsleigh, first home to Jonathan, birthplace of so much, guardian of so little. I guard it here, I think, touching my head in my imagination. We speed on.


I clamber out of my seat just after Cannon Street slides away. The train is full and yellow-lit, darkened with suits, businessed with commuters away from the daily grind. And here... we slow... the platforms... suddenly I'm back in September 2000, graduated, trying to be a journalist, knowing nothing and nobody in this whole wide city and - the doors burst open, my bags are at my feet and my eyes grip the exit sign, take me through to the ticket office. Greenwich, it says. I'm smiling again. My phone is in my hand. I call Jonathan's new number with a pang: he's out of work and right now, with a rush of concentration and love, I hope he's alright. 'I'm in the middle of everything here... can you get here by yourself?' I know I can. Smiling again.


I'm hot in my long coat and my bags are heavy, my arms corded with the effort, but the stuttering rumble of suitcase wheels on Greenwich pavements sounds inexpressibly encouraging and on Royal Hill almost clamours to me to go faster, faster - and on Maidenstone Hill it pushes me in front of it until I twist and topple the cases at the door and rattle the letterbox. There is a sound like a plate from somewhere which sounds like the kitchen. Footsteps. And Jonathan's there at the door. Did I use the steps or have I just materialised inside the living-room? We hug. Thanksgiving.


'I'd love to say "Sit down, have a glass of wine, relax",' he says, 'but I need you to do some washing-up' and, looking at the kitchen, we both laugh. Giggling, I stride over to my coat and take out a cigarette. I stand outside the window, looking through the steamy panes: ladies and gentlemen!, I want to shout - this is Jonathan's Kitchen! - but I don't. I grin, clang the bin lid on my cigarette-end, and find myself inside at the sink. The pile of dishes gets cleaner, the cloth damper, as we talk. It's wonderful to be back. It's dark outside. The house is filled with wonderful smells. I feel excited and desolate for him. His job is over. But that means a new one is on the way and I refuse to countenance for even one moment the possibility that he'll have to move out of the house.
And besides, tonight the house is so completely ours that the very idea is exposed as folly. We move in and out of the kitchen. A pumpkin pie, beautiful thing, browns sweetly in the oven, indecently delicious as a tanned rentboy but homely and warm.
Cutie pie.


Davide et al arrive, late because of the trains, but that's alright because we're not yet ready anyway. Davide is different, almost adult in stubble, accompanied by a guy I've met before and an American I haven't. He's 'so American' but not, ageless, could be thirty, could be nineteen. We sit down while Jonathan does things in the kitchen. I feel the panic starting to subside. The bottle of wine I opened with the lady's skirt earlier has been poured, and with only the first few sips I feel expanded, tethered in the moment, anchored to the kitchen and the man who frets over dishes just inside the doorway, warm in the living-room glow. I tell them of how I am a journalist, of how I had to leave here because of money, of how I work in a carpark. But Greenwich and Jonathan's kitchen and the whole miraculous present weave such magic that nothing jumps within me as I say the c-word. It's just another thing - and the things here-and-now are perfect.
Candles in thick squat glasses glimmer warmly on the table. I smile, wondering where Willie has got to, and the guys talk of a fire on a train at New Cross, and Willie arrives, and -
Smells from the kitchen. A flotilla of pungences as fod emerges from the oven. Jonathan emerges from round the corner, barely less hot than the steaming dishes behind him, and reaches to the table for a plate, looking at us, sighing and smiling, saying 'We can just... everything's in the kitchen.....' and we troop in and back to the table, plates laden, mood on high.


A fraction of a second. We're all looking up. 'Well.....' someone says, and my hand moves to my glass and I raise it and in a rush of gratitude speak of Jonathan, of Greenwich, of this utter bliss, and there are Italian drawls, English murmurs, American yeahs, South African grins. Before I know it, three mouthfuls have disappeared, conversation is washing in tides over the table. The wheels are turning, pistons stretching, but this train isn't going anywhere. The steam rises. The cranberry-jar twinkles crimson like an altar-lamp. The wine glugs from the bottles. Sod the church - we're already home free.
Pumpkin pie and friends: can there be greater perfection? Not tonight. I commune earnestly with my plate. It communes earnestly with me. I grin, piefaced, down at the table. Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater. Feel like giggling. Sigh and giggle. Happiness.


After leaning back in our chairs, and doing a great deal more sighing and smiling, we all walk in the cold and dark to the station. Waiting by the DLR track, I give Davide + boyfriend a group hug. Jonathan and Willie and I walk back. My glass of wine on the table is still half-full so we wander around, talking, until soporificity reaches a cosy peak. Jonathan brings pillows and a duvet. I unfold the sofa, feeling here, simply... here, the world is as it is, can be, should be, and I read drunkenly a little before gathering myself into a sumptuous Jonathan-housed, Greenwiched sleep.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Looking through the referer logs today, I found someone happened in on peripathetic by doing this search. Well, blow me!

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Oh, sod it.
I want to live in another place than Canada, but at the same time, too. I can't be arsed to steal the links from Metafilter, so here's a post about Norway's terrifyingly beautiful Lofoten Islands. Where I want to live, as well as in Canada, but at the same time.

Monday, November 24, 2003

What a wonderful name!
Snow near BrainerdThe Brainerd Dispatch (of Brainerd) has the story of the winter's first big snowstorm over there on the other side of the pond. Other places which got buried beneath about 11 inches of snow include Pequot Lakes, Pillager, Hackensack, Emily and Onamia.

See, apart from the seasonal snow, these names, these wonderful wonderful names!, are partly why I want to go here, or here, and do this.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

A superb paper - laid out online
We all know that you can go to a newspaper's website to read the stories. But what about look at the pictures - or see the layout of the printed page onscreen? You can't usually do that - unless you're content with Newseum's Today's Front Pages. But the UK's Guardian now has, in addition to GuardianUnlimited (the web version), The Guardian Digital Edition.

It's fantastic. You get the layout, story text, and press clippings, of each and every page (well, nearly) of each and every section of the paper, and its sister sunday, The Observer. No software is needed - unless of course you want to download Adobe PDFs of the pages to keep and enjoy. *smiles warmly* Register here (free for the beta).

Friday, November 14, 2003

Buggerantoes! What was the world coming to?!
Bloody Salemite puritans... swings and roundabouts, really
"The Puritans saw and heard wondrous signs of God's purpose and the devil's menace: ominous lights in the sky... ...the magistrates abdicated some of their power, and most of their discretion... ... the silences in the documentary record indicate a purge of embarrassing documents by the authors or their descendants..."

Any of this sound familiar?
Music to their ears
In a way, adults know less about music than babies. But we still use it every time we talk.
Random thought
If god deposited all of us onto the planet fully formed and marked "made in Heaven" then how come he made it so damn difficult to get back in when our batteries ran out?

Monday, November 10, 2003

I'm not talking about Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany here, although it's part of this one. (The Schott book is the second by Ben Schott, a graduate who got bored and struck by idea genius one day, bringing forth this little bundle of delight in time for Christmas last year.)

But to complete this entry: Duncan Fallowell, a friend of mine who wrote the libretto for the opera Gormenghast, has recently published his latest novel. Mediaeval illuminated manuscripts are given a superb treatment in this book by Taschen. Northern Ireland humour can't get much better than the Portadown News. When you've seen the film and want to read it instead, go and get your movie scripts. Possibly the best cookbook ever, by Nigel Slater. And last but by no means least - the Titanic Inquiry Project.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Awwww! Bunnies!
These two little cuties have been quite shamelessly lifted from this site. I don't know what it's about, but Patrick sent the link to me in an email today, and my god, it was worth it for this little bit of soft wussy I'm-so-soppy-it-hurts gif bunny goodness.