Looking forward, eyes glazed
And the scenes play out to the soundtrack of the robot woman calling out the stations. We arrive in Tower Hill, the context is a week of train problems. It’s a station where two Westbound trains sit in adjacent platforms, and ours pulls in. There’s a train in the other platform, and when the station announcer says that ours will be the first Westbound train to leave, almost everyone gets off the other train and gets onto our, already overcrowded, train. There’s literally no more room now. People give up their seats on the other train to stand in someone’s face. We are reduced to being sardines in a tin can. I get off and go onto the other train, now empty, pick a row of seats, all to myself and sit. We pull out two minutes later. How desperate are people for those two minutes? What makes us behave like this? It tires me out.
We’re on a guided tour of Bloomsbury and its nearly half four and the football matches are on, its a pub (the Friend in Hand, near Collonade, next to The Horse Hospital). As we pause at a stop and our guide tells us about the area, a football fan comes over and joins the group, in mock-studiousness. He’s playing the fool, on the balls of his trainer clad feet, sneaking a peek. His friends, all out for their compulsory cigarette break, all make fun. One of them takes a picture as if this was something that would be worth tagging on Facebook, worth wasting a second of someone else’s time over. I look at them, and they look back. I generally detest football fans, in their groups, their ultra-normal behaviour, never deviating. How desparate are people to assert their status as the purveyors of what is right? And how desperate are people to think that it’s right to be in an awful overpriced pub full of fruit flies near Russell Square Tube station on a Saturday with a set of people dressed entired in River Island regalia. What makes us behave like this? It just tires me out.
We’re on the road, in the street, a kid it on a BMX and he hurtles past me near the Upton Lane exit from the bus garage. He was muttering something, swear words on his breath. He heads into the crowd at the bus stop at full pelt, expecting it to part. It doesn’t. The bus arrives at the same time, and the kid hits a guy full on, coming off his bike. I see my brother at the bus stop and he greets me and as we walk past we see the kid with little shrink wrapped tears and a face of anger and a refusal to accept blame. The guy can’t understand why the kid expected to be able to get past such a large group of people and at such speed. I ask my brother if he really wants to wait for the bus and he doesn’t and we walk down Green Street. As we head down the predictable scene unfurls. The kid heads back to get someone a bit older and tell him how some guy had ‘knocked him off his bike’. We’re walking and the kid comes past again. The guy who had the kid knock into him is tall and Polish looking and is ahead of us and the kid catches him up, and then comes back, and then finally the kid rides past, a black teenager in a puffa jacket with a cigarette jogging past us. The altercation happens near the new flats at the next bus stop down Green Street. The white European guy is being asked by the black teenager, aggressively, why he knocked the (white) kid off the bike. He says that the kid should have been in the road, not on the pavement, and not at that speed. The teenager says that the kid is ‘just a kid, how can he ride on the road?’. I opine to my brother that its fine for the kid to be on the pavement, but not at 15 mph and hurting into commuters at a bus stop with a sense that everyone should just clear out of his way. My brother and I walk past and the argument takes on a depressing familiarity, the teenager invading the guy’s personal space and demanding to know why he ‘knocked him of his bike’ and the guy trying to explain to him what happened. We know what’ll happen next. Tempers will rise. Aggression. A stupid little kid and a stupid, bored teenager will round on the tired, frustrated commuter and probably give him a verbal, or physical going over. Why do we need to live like this? It tires me out.
East Ham’s dismal streets take on a orange sodium tinge as the sun goes down and we head home. Looking forward, trying to avoid provocation, the whole show tense like a muscle about to snap into action. Tiredness is the blanket suffocating the bleak shallow breathing of a suburban postcode.