Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Crouch Hill Diary

"I had to leave my home. No one is my enemy I hope."

Elly, 32, is a woman who lives on a steep hill in North London with her vague, suspicious housemates, no husband and no children. She has a degree in this, then that.

Woke up to the sound of my alarm. Pushed the snooze button. 10 minutes later woke up to the sound of the alarm, and so on, until looking at alarm, leapt up in alarm.

Strode energetically to the bus stop (I’m told I walk too fast) and waited for overloaded bus. Portuguese woman and I exchanged meaningful remarks about how the bus is always full to bursting, but kind Somali bus driver let us stand in the front next to his bullet proof window. We immediately hit traffic and stopped completely. Pretty black teenage school girls started pressing the emergency exit button above back door. Driver pressed his own button somewhere to counter their button. School girls started shouting ‘Let us off the fucking bus, driver.” I exchanged more meaningful glances with Portuguese women that meant ‘aren’t children horrible these days’; I vaguely remembered swearing at my own mother, but thought how nicely brought up I am now I’m 32. Bus broke down. Ran down the road so as not to encounter extreme wrath of my elder sister. Found her in pajamas holding a grinning Safiya in her arms. Hugged and hugged my beloved niece, and set about staining my top with porridge, and saying, “where’s the cat, where’s the cat”; she knows that she has a cat and so turns her head around looking for Perdita (have previously discussed with my sister how Safiya might grow up thinking she has a cat called ‘Predator’), and so counter-productively away from the spoon holding her breakfast. Must rethink distraction strategy.

Morning continues with my sister shouting, threatening, humiliating and punishing man on the other end of phone for the failure of her broadband connection. She displays much anger and despair and Safiya and I cower in the kitchen. I worry about the man on the other end of the phone in Bangalore. Sister finds out she does have broadband connection. I make lunch dragging Safiya around the kitchen as she is clinging to my trouser legs. We throw potato at each other and laugh. Then we escape to Starbucks which I am boycotting but it has big comfortable chairs. We meet up with Carl who is terrified of babies. Safiya points at him fondly, and grins at all the men around her. I ask Carl about Gaza; he tells me, then we talk about nothing much which is nice and I relax. Safiya leans her head on my shoulder occasionally. I love her, I love her, I love her.

I run for no. 210 bus to look at a room. The room is nice, the flat is grim, my potential flatmate keeps showing me bits of the flat, and immediately sitting and crossing his legs as if standing might be too formal. I can see he is gay, and suspect he dresses as woman which is confirmed by photos in his room. He is bookish, but a panicky reader – has to read the entire canon, he says. For goodness sake, I want to say. I drink tea and advise him not to do an MA in International Studies as what is he trying to prove – that he’s serious to people that believe they have a monopoly on seriousness? It is only after I leave the flat that I realize it had no sitting room. Next house, I nearly lick the floor – it is so magnificent: contemporary, yet classic, big yet bigger, fluffy cat yet too…

I forget I don’t know this woman who is showing me around and looks 40 and sounds Australian and turns out to be 28 from Hertfordshire. My room is Ikea and that is depressing but it overlooks the garden. Second flatmate, Simon, comes back, and he has hard-grind artist yellow teeth and gregarious manner. I think I’ll find him a bully, of the easy-going sort. There are only two rooms and we are four flat searchers around a table competing to be interesting. I feel tired and my mobile keeps ringing giving the false impression that I am probably annoying and popular in a debased way. I'm tired and keep yawning. I want the room and say I will take the room and know I have no money. Simon goes round the table asking what people do. These are the answers: Magazine designer; student in international studies; music label something or another; volunteer at Women Living under Muslim Laws. I wonder whether I won’t fit in. They will let us know. Stagger home exhausted and poor. Decide to sleep in other people's deserted beds for the rest of my life.

Wake up as I have done for a month now – feeling like if I haven’t slept at all or been drugged with a date rape horse tranquilizer, such are my nightmares. I begin packing in a strategic way, trying to discard and dispose of as much as possible – in the hope I can walk out of here with a little knapsack on my back like the piggy that went to town. Wander down Stroud Green road where I know I can find low-quality containers for shitty prices. I bargain with a man for a plastic box and save 49p. Then I go down the road seeking a phone unlocker, each time sent further down that road. A man does battle with my new-old mobile, and I perch obediently on a chair. Three girls come in wearing identical blue and white stripped shirts and I watch them, in awe of their imagined lives; two are black and one is Indian. I find the logo on their short shirt-sleeves and work out they have jobs at the bookies, William Hill. I think, ‘how grim, how nothing, how why.’ The fatter black girl asks to send a money gram of an indistinct number of thousands; and I guess, ‘how much, who too, how can she’. Her nails are long and wide and squared, and the extended cuticle is painted with yellow and pink stripes. How tough her nails must be and how
different her life that she knows she has time in this world to get her nails painted by someone else - probably a friend now- in a salon, and I won’t admit I do.

Back up the road I go, passing through a chilled Tesco's Metro; Tesco not metropolitan: Local, No hope, No glamour, like a car wash at a local petrol station. I continue, now with readymade, nutritionally balanced meals in my plastic box. I see the woman in front of me and then see the beard in her face, and I see the man-woman pass me on her bicycle in a short black flared skirt so practical for cycling. Later further up the road, close to home, she passes me on her cycle and turns round and says ‘hello’ to me, and I know I must have stared earlier, and was sorry I did. Across the road a black man stared and then I noticed his tracksuit bottoms were pulled so high up on his body and that his face was not blissful so much as unaware. In this North London I occasionally remember to feel okay being indeterminately not so okay.

I went to my therapist and my problems – my family’s barely suppressed aggression, guilt and shame - were middle-class and catholic and protestant and Victorian, and it’s no surprise I suppose, so I am not particularly special. I said how tired I was, and she didn’t wonder why too much. Then I bought a lipstick and felt guilty, looked at shoes in a window and felt ashamed, travelled on the train home without a ticket and kept looking out for the ticket inspector along with the Polish guy next to me.

On the Silverlink Metro, a young girl is shouting to her brother a few seats in front, disturbing everyone who says nothing. I consider telling her off, and settle for putting my fingers to my lips, with a faux-smile to shush her kindly- this is so unnatural I blush. She stares at me. Her brother is by now next to her and she keeps calling to him as if he were still several seats in front. I sit up a little and see she is sitting next to her quiet mother. The brother wanders from seat to seat eating his piece of baguette and the girl doubles over into her seat and begins to cry – a sort of wail.

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