Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Times They Are A-Changin’

I don’t know if you remember – and if you’re a first time reader you won’t know at all – but I was going to have a second surgery.  The ‘finishing off’ operation.  The proctectomy.  More details on that another time, but I’d definitely decided to have it; I’d seen the surgeon and got a date of October 12th and now I was living in a kind of ‘dead’ time.  I was well, but I wasn’t going to be, which is a weird position to be in.  Well enough to be doing ‘normal’ things for the first time in decades, and fully intending to take myself out of that for at least 3 months so that I could make my bag a permanent thing.  That was big.  Too big to think about for now, I’d decided, so I was just trying to do exciting things to fill the dead time.  Stuff I hadn’t done in decades.  The world was continuing apace around me.  Teen had finished school forever which was quite a milestone, and had got into Central St Martin’s to do a foundation course, which was quite a relief.  The highlight of my summer had been sitting in a coffee shop with a very old friend, rediscovered through the power of social networking, when he called to tell me he’d got the email saying he’d got in.  That was a good thing, a brilliant thing, and gave me  one less subject to fret over as August became September and the operation that had so recently seemed forever away was suddenly hurtling toward me.

I have a friend; a good and dear friend, who is a singer.  A chanteuse.  I would name her, because she’s wonderful and you should go see and hear her sing at your earliest opportunity, but I have a policy of not naming my loved ones in this blog, so I’m afraid you’ll have to follow the clues.  She’s a cabaret singer; voted one of the best cabaret singers in the world recently by Time Out New York, and I really wanted to go and see her show where she sings songs by Bob Dylan.  Actually, she doesn’t just sing them, she reinterprets them, according to the critics who lavish praise on her in print.  She was doing this show at King’s Place in London, which was definitely near enough for me to be able to go.  It was on a Saturday though, so my husband would be working, which meant I couldn’t go with him.  I asked the teen to come with me, and he was enthusiastic at first, but then got a better offer – friends of his in a band were doing a gig in a pub somewhere.  I know which show I’d rather go to, but I’m not a teen.  So I asked my friend who lives round the corner if she’d like to come with me.  Loyal readers may recall this friend from an earlier post when I described how she pointed out to me that I could empty my bag in her toilet; in any toilet, in fact, and didn’t have to go home to empty it in my own.  Obvious, you might think, but it was very early days – just a week after I’d come out of hospital, in fact – and nothing was obvious to me except that I was suddenly pooing into a bag and not out of my backside like most people.  Like I had been a few weeks previously.  She’s a forthright kind of person, and just the right person for me to have been with at that moment.  She’s also the kind of person it is always fun to go out with, so I was very happy when she said she’d come.  I told her I’d drive there, but she works at King’s Place and said that parking might be an issue, and anyway, when I told my husband I was planning to drive there, he pointed out that he had a gig in the middle of nowhere that night and would have to take the car, so that was that.  London transport it was.

I hadn’t been on London Transport since the 90s.  No word of a lie.  My Crohn’s had got so bad then that the idea of being on a tube or a bus and getting stuck in traffic, or – far worse – in a tube tunnel and needing to go to the toilet urgently had become my waking nightmare and one of my biggest fears.  I had no control; I’d had accidents before, but usually in safe, or at least manageable circumstances.  The idea of crapping myself in a tube or bus full of strangers, and being trapped with them for hours as I started to smell worse than a rotting corpse and their disgust at this stinking stranger in their midst was … well, it was not something I was prepared to risk.  We all remember the tale of the tube stuck for six hours in a tunnel.  That was my benchmark; that was what would surely happen to me if I got on a tube.  So I didn’t.  I drove everywhere, reasoning with myself that if I were to have an accident in my car, I could drive home with only myself to disgust.  I also got very good at parking and dashing into pubs and fast food joints and marching straight to the toilet as though it was my god-given right.  I really was good at it – I never got stopped or questioned.  And I never bought so much as a tomato juice out of embarrassment.

I’d been on the subway in Barcelona, but I didn’t count that.  I was about to go on the tube.  And a bus.  There was no reason not to, my friend pointed out; my bag would be perfectly fine ‘til we got to our destination at either end, and as long as I didn’t have a leak which could happen anywhere at any time, but usually didn’t, then there was no problem travelling by London Transport at all was there?  And it was far quicker than going by car.  I half-heartedly suggested a taxi, but I knew I couldn’t justify the expense.  I hadn’t worked in ages, my days as a television writer were long over, and while I had every intention of starting the uncommissioned novel that I hoped would eventually earn me some money, I didn’t feel there was much point in embarking on that ‘til the next surgery was over, ergo money wasn’t something I had a lot of.  And taxis are an unreasonable expense under most circumstances, particularly when you’re using them as an excuse not to get on a tube at Finsbury Park.

I borrowed my husband’s Oyster card.  I had no idea what to do with it, so I was fortunate that my friend lives nearby and we could meet at the bus stop, which meant I could just copy her.  I was amazed to find a computerised voice announced each stop.  That hadn’t happened when I’d last been on a bus.  I was also amazed to see how quickly the money on the Oyster card went down (thanks, Boris); we were only going a few stops to the tube station and I’m pretty sure that had been 24p the last time I’d done it.  When we got to the tube station, I found myself looking around in a kind of awe; it was very different, with no photo booths and I paused a lot, not least when I had to scan in the Oyster card again.  People were pushing past me, somewhat angrily, which I thought was a bit unfair; it’s not like it was rush hour, this was early on a Saturday night, surely most people were going out to enjoy themselves? Even my friend was getting a bit agitated, ‘Not everybody’s finding this the exciting new experience you are’, she pointed out. 

The tube was no cleaner than it used to be, and the bunch of  drunken Arsenal fans that got on at Highbury were reassuringly familiar.  And all of a sudden we were there; we walked to the venue, had a drink in the bar downstairs and before I knew it, it was time to go into the gig.  At the last moment, I realised I hadn’t even thought about my bag for a while and ran to the loo to check all was okay, which of course it was, and then I was sitting there, watching the magic of my dear friend singing Bob Dylan’s songs in a way I can’t think he’d ever have dared dream they’d be sung.  It was wonderful.  Beautiful.  I was overcome and proud and elated all at the same time.  It had been so very many years since I’d been able to do this – sit in an audience while a consummate professional of extreme talent had sung so beautifully that I’d got lost in the sound of it so that I could have been anywhere, with anyone, just awestruck by what I was experiencing.  I glanced at my friend sat next to me at one point, and her eyes were closed as she listened, equally blissed out.

Afterwards, we hung out in the bar with my talented singing friend and her pianist and had a marvellous time, just laughing and talking and eating Japanese rice crackers, and then we left, walking back towards the tube station.  The singer was going to hail a taxi (she’d earned it), and we were going to get back down below the London streets, but then my friend saw a bus.  A bus that would take us all the way to Crouch End, but still a fifteen minute walk from our homes.  We jumped on it, laughing, and I kind of loved being on a bus in the dark, watching the familiar streets go by from the height of the bus, not having to think about traffic lights or road rules or driving because that wasn’t my problem.  This wasn’t my car.  We were nearly home, and I’d been like a normal person for the whole night.  But there was that fifteen minute walk awaiting us. On the one hand, I wanted to do it; to complete a whole night of normality and walk home like anybody else would. Then again, I didn’t want to push it.

‘Imagine the look on his face if I just arrive at the door and tell him where we’ve walked from,’ I said to my friend, speaking of my husband.  He’s quite protective, my husband.  A small part of him worries that both teen and I might die if he’s not actually with us, making sure we don’t.  With that in mind, I wondered about the walk; I was high on adrenaline, but probably more tired than I knew, it wasn’t a cold night, but it was getting there by now, and most of all, I am a bit lazy. So I did what you already know I did; no matter how healthy I get, I can’t imagine I’ll ever be the kind of person who walks home when my husband is fully prepared to meet us in the car. 

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