The following was written last night, into the Notes thingy on my iPod. I was a wee bit drunk. I have, though, gone through, corrected typos, clarified drunk ramblings and stuff, but on the whole, it’s the same as was written between Goodge Street and High Barnet on the Northern Line of the London Underground.
My feet hurt. A sentence that gives no indication of tense. My feet were hurting.
When I was in Toronto at the start of the month, I bought a new pair of boots. Boots that I call Chelsea boots, boots that my construction worker friend in Oregon calls Romeos. Boots that Blundstone call… whatever it is, I’m not sure what they’re called, I forget. I prefer Romeos, that’s a nice name. But really, in my head, they were called “replacement to the shitty, cheap boots that wore out way too quickly.”
I wore the Blundstones one day when it was raining. They kept the water out that the shitty boots would not have, but they hurt. They needed breaking in. So I kept the shit boots until I got to London. I bought some Clark’s desert boots. Clark’s make my favourite shoes: Wallabies. But, I’ve been in a boots mood for a couple of years, so figured I’d buy something different, and desert boots are great. I chucked out the shit boots because I’ve never had much problem with Clark’s before. Sadly, the desert boots still feel a wee bit stuff, so today, and for the last couple of days, I’ve been alternating between two pairs of boots that need a bit of breaking in. My feet hurt. I am typing these words as I stand in a hot Tube carriage. There’s a hipster with a moustache close to me. We made brief eye contact, and I found it difficult not to blurt out a laugh at both the ‘tache and his ostentatiously big glasses.
I’m a bit boozy, a bit grumpy. Partly because of the boots, partly because of the idiot in the elevator at Goodge Street station who thought it would be funny to press the open button in the elevator just as they were closing, that kept the doors open for about 30 seconds extra. It meant that when I got to the platform, my train was just leaving. The next train, the one I am on, would be ten whole British minutes later. Even more frustrating, because of the bilious nature of my brain, was the fact that the southbound train that he was taking arrived just as he turned left to go to the platform. Yet, I am listening to Eloise by Barry Ryan, which should make any three minutes of my life – my life, your life, everyone’s life – better. It is a fantastic song. You know this, right? (And if you only know the version by the Damned, go to iTunes right now and get Barry’s version, cos the Damned’s version sucks balls. Balls made of dog hair and pigeon shit.) There’s a moment in the Ryan version about 3:45 in, after it’s broken down and gone slow for a while, when there’s a short Beach Boys-y bit, followed by a couple of drum beats and it kicks off again. One of my favourite moments in all of pop music, that.
Anyway, this is the problem I have and fear I will always have with the nation where I was born: the good things are difficult for me to appreciate when there’s bad shit. This is MY problem, I think. Glass half empty. I just had a lovely evening in a pub with a friend. It was perfect in many ways. We had a great meandering natter. She gave me a jar of her delicious home-made mustard. I drank decent beer, but, as seems to be the way, every beer brand in this damn country has its own specific glass. And because of the tedious world of branding, I was drinking a beer that was served in a tall vase. Those glasses are awful. They look like the centre of gravity would be too high to withstand an accidental nudge. When I was ready for the second pint, I asked the barman for it a regular pint glass. He said he wasn’t allowed to do that. He said that without even looking at me, and said it in a way that suggested he’d been asked before. But he could give me a pint glass. I could decant it myself. Yes. Thank you. Logic graffitied over by the vandal of marketing.
The diarrhoea-filled toilet bowl we call the economy seems to have changed central London. A familiar crossroads, where Tottenham Court Road and Oxford Street meet, has changed. Not just because of the Tube station renovations, but big landmark stores are boarded up. No more Virgin. No more Waterstone’s. No more Other-Big-Book-Store-That-I-Forget-The-Name-Of. There’s a TK Maxx. That store seems to be an indicator that a shopping mall is going down the tubes. They sell cheap stuff. And now there’s one in central London.
But, that’s the part of my brain that wants to continue to think that leaving the UK eleven years ago was a good idea. I’m not saying it wasn’t a good idea, I’m still happy I did, there’s more to this planet than a tiny self-important island off the coast of Holland. And when I see things I dislike about the UK, it only helps reinforce the idea that it was a good idea. I’m not an impartial judge. And right from the moment I arrived, I’ve felt that. The border immigration control thing at Heathrow seems more American. There’s an efficiency and unsmilingness about it that was probably always there, but it feels more accusational now. Prove that you’re not a bad guy.
There are pork pies and chocolate Digestives, though. And that makes Britain ace. Currently my iPod is on shuffle. Rockerfeller Skank by Fatboy Slim just started. This song seems perfectly British to my tipsy ears. Crude and sophisticated. Stupid and clever. This is the first time I’ve been back in England for over a year and a half. Previously, living in Germany, there was a common European feeling that made the difference between the countries slighter. And visiting the UK after living in the States for a while, it only seemed superficially different. There are similarities between the two nations. But coming here from Mexico, the differences seem kinda big. I could point to specific examples, but it’s more like a feeling in my head.
I’ve been enjoying talking. A lot. I kinda think I’m a different person in Mexico. Tonight, for example, my friend and I spend a few hours together and we went all over the place with our conversation. But with my failure to get to grips with the Spanish language means I don’t really do that in Mexico. I feel like more of an observer. I tell myself that I just LOVE speaking English, but mostly, it’s probably because I’m too lazy, distracted, whatever, to properly give a shit about learning Spanish. I really need to give that a go. Do it properly or just leave Mexico, and live somewhere where English is spoken.
And sometimes, it feels like England could be that place. For all the positive reenforcement-y thoughts I have about England being shit, I do wonder if I’m just denying myself an opportunity to be properly happy. It is my home, after all. I have friends here, who I enjoy spending time with. The fact that a Travelcard costs more during the rush hour (a depressing thing, and something that seems indicative of this country’s ability to take just a little bit more money out of your wallet whenever possible) should not, really, compare when it comes to deciding where to live.
I’ve been in London for about a week now. I had big plans to make the most of my time. Galleries, seeing as many friends as possible. But on the whole, I’ve been happy to just sit around with my mates John and Sarah, and their two lovely daughters, and kinda have a break. I would love to go through the list of friends I want to see, have a packed social life, go out in Soho or Islington or the East End every night, but it’s exhausting. And one of my favourite things in the world is the knowledge that if John and I sit on the sofa watching telly, there’ll be some point in the evening where I’ll get the giggles and be laughing for ages. And that has happened several times since I’ve been here. It’s like a massage for my brain, that. And like you feel better after you’ve had a good cry, I feel so much better after a good giggle.