Friday, August 5

Bits of the mind's string | 02

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you go for a long walk in the sunshine with headphones and a coffee, the combination of exercise, fresh air, music and caffeine turns the cranks of your brain faster than you can keep up with, and you end up with a phone full of half-written, slightly incoherent notes.

You can read the first lot here.


Waterloo Station
Sitting wifi-less in Waterloo, next to the strains of a terrible busker (truly terrible), a giant pretzel in my backpack.
Busker now singing ‘Just The Two Of Us’ which he’s dedicated to a passing girl in a summer dress. The busker is wearing red trousers. Of course. 
Walked 15,000 steps today, from Brixton to Waterloo. The streets were bordered with the early green of summer, and schoolgirls clustered in groups outside the fried chicken shops, buses and runners trundling past - 
oh god he’s playing When I’m 64
and grand Georgian houses with cracked grey pillars and broken sweet pea frames and shiny black cars squealing circles outside front doors - 
we shall scrimp and save (our day jobs)
walking on, sore heels and a bit hungry and very tired, approaching the side of the Imperial War Museum, where people are sitting on the grass in 5pm Friday bliss, and this is the -
he’s just referred to Waterloo as Wembley 
this is the -
he’s singing It Must Be Love for the second time
this is the way we came to the Imperial War Museum on that school trip in Year 5, I remember walking across the grass in pairs and the 1940s house, and the fine autumn drizzle, and the rubbery smell of the lunch room, but nearly at Waterloo now -
everybody is refusing to meet his earnest gaze
coming at it from the side, the bit I look down on from the train every morning, and Lower Marsh Street is full of drinkers and bottles clashing in bins (“watch your ears, love”) and I slip under the wide girth of Waterloo’s tracks, the roof of the tunnel like the belly of a beetle, and finally I am passing - 
he’s singing Champagne Supernova
round the side of the station and falling into place with the pilgrimage of commuters, tramp tramp tramp, and tramp on the stairs crying spare ten pence please, and a man drops his cigarettes in the gutter, and another stops to make a phone call, and I am inside the station, and pretzel-bound. 

On the bus home
Saw you yesterday standing outside the bathrooms in the shopping centre, looking down at your phone, waiting for somebody. The last time was over two years ago, on a quiet train back from Waterloo. You were on the phone. I was pretending to be asleep. ‘I got a 2:1,’ you said, on the phone. ‘It - will - do.’ Funny to see you again. Funny to think you’re the same boy I followed up the stairs that rainy summer’s sports day in Year 9, the trees heavy with water, the corridors quiet. Your hood up, and your deep voice.
Still deep. (I’m behind you on the escalators heading down and out, and you’re talking to the person you must’ve been waiting for by the bathrooms: not a girl, as I’d assumed, but a bald middle aged man.) That low, slightly cocksure rumble that was so welcome to my ears among the ratty pre-pubescent chorus at school. You’re broader now and I’m taller than you, more tanned than I was in those pale under-confident years: the boy I wrote about in my diaries is hard to find, as is the girl who held the pen.

Thoughts on gap years
The difference in maturity between an undergraduate straight from school and one who’s taken 1+ years out of education never ceases to surprise me. I used to be against ‘gap yahs’ but now I think everybody should take at least one. You don’t have to do anything amazing like travel to a country nobody’s heard of or do public speaking in the middle east or rescue a Third World community. You can just work in your local shop. But whatever you do, the point is to breathe outside the bubble of education, to experience the reality of the adult world and how you might fit into it, to realise the value of education, and to get a bit closer to knowing what you want to do. So that you’re able to make the most of your undergraduate experience, if and when it comes. 

In a pub in Battersea on a hot wet evening in June
In a pub on the Battersea road. It’s a large open space with high windows, high ceilings and leather sofas, dangling light bulbs and big screens. England are about to play and the pub is noisy with football revellers. A lady breezes out of the door with a fistful of 60th birthday balloons. Hipsters in tortoiseshell glasses and vintage England shirts gaze up at the television. The day’s mugginess has lifted, though it’s still warm. A barmaid plunges her arm through a couple’s loving gaze to retrieve an empty beer mug, a thin swill of amber-ish bubbles blurring past their doe eyes. 

Being British can sometimes feel like a straitjacket: constrained by a certain accent, stepping into a cliched demeanour of being polite, reserved, awkward, self-conscious. 
Self-conscious. That’s the key thing. What I love about American culture is its ability to shed any self-consciousness, to be clear cut and vigorous and full of life. It’s like walking out of a stuffy, old, velvet-lined theatre full of well-spoken, smartly-dressed people, and walking down the city street with the air on your face and people slouching and moving and dancing, and human buzz all around. Lights and life. That’s what the difference between British and American culture feels like to me.

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