‘Adventures in Solitude’. ‘Tis how I’ve named this category, after that song by The New Pornographers. Adventures in Solitude. It’s fairly good. The song, and the title. Somehow the plural in ‘adventures’ stands out beside the very singular ‘solitude’. I like titles. I’m not above stealing them.
My Adventures in solitude. I’m not certain when I began them. Only after I found that song, memory tells. I came across The New Pornographers while I was still in Dublin, and I’m sure I’d been looking for something very different at the time.
London, I suppose, might be the start of the adventure. But for my time in London, perhaps ‘adventure’ is not the right word. I did some strange things in London. I slept one winter night on a golf-cart I’d found in Hyde Park. When you’re tired, your logic doesn’t work so well – so I had no fucking idea why there was a golf cart at Hyde Park.
Now I know why there’s a golf cart. It’s for all those fuckin’ squirrels man. Oh man, all those fuckin’ squirrels. Don’t make me go back there man, not the fuckin’ squirrels.
I would spend nights like that: however I could, waiting for my 6AM work start. I’d managed to secure a weekly-paying job at a cheesy restaurant inside the Museum of Natural History. I had no place to stay and couldn’t afford a hostel every night, so I did whatever would fill the hours of the night. Ideally sleep, but with the cold that was very difficult. In the right spot you could get a good hour’s sleep, but wake up colder than you were before.
Yeah I like to describe it like it was a hard knock life, but you know, with such a radical change in lifestyle, you garner some of that illusive ‘life experience’. I remember most of my nights from that time.
It’s hard to describe what it is – when you become one of ‘those’ on the street. It’s not really something I fully realised at first, but sooner or later I recognised I’d entered a wholly different world to what I had inhabited before.
Dickens makes some attempt at describing it in his essay Night Walks (in which, guess what, he walks through the night to pass the time. It’s fairly good).
‘Are not the sane and the insane equal at night as the sane lie a dreaming?’
The thing is, there are only two reasons people are out on the street at times like that. Either it’s due to bizarre circumstances, like you, OR, they’re insane. You don’t know which. There’s no difference.
Admittedly, a handful of strangers are walking home late from the pub, but you see they want out of there. They are rushing through the street, avoiding eye-contact. They don’t belong.
I.e, the regular people living regular lives become ‘them’. Other. And you? Become different.
The most memorable of those London street nights began when I came across a preacher loudly proclaiming the will of god to mostly-drunk Saturday night street folk. So I, for once in my life, went over and spoke to the preacher. Not to ask him about god; actually we barely touched the subject. I just asked him, from the start, what was he doing there? Really. What are you doing? We just spoke casually for a good thirty minutes. (To those curious: I do believe he just felt like preaching was his best form of communication, and God his favourite subject. Saturday night preaching was his entertainment.)
With the conversation’s end, I had nothing immediate to do – so I set myself a goal of reaching Liverpool street, purely because I had not been there before. It was a long walk, so along the way I grew tired and warm enough to sleep for an hour on a bench. Usually I would awake to the cold, but this time, I awoke to someone shaking me.
‘Mate, mate’, he was saying – his wife was beside him, staring at him in puzzlement. Yes, at him, not at me.
‘Got any spare change?’ he asked.
I looked at my bag. I looked at him. I sat up from the bench I’d been sleeping on.
She was overcome with her confusion towards the man she married.
‘Come on, Larry’, she said, pulling him away. ‘Sorry luv’, to me.
After an uneventful walk around Liverpool street, I finished the night at St. Pancreas, where I joined a trio debating about The Matrix. Yes, seriously. These people were all homeless. The Matrix. It was great.
Anyway, 6AM came. That’s my mark for beginning my walk to work. Takes an hour to get there, and it starts at 8.
Actually, every day – I was late to work. Not because I walked for too long. I was actually waiting outside the workplace. I had to go inside, dodge the museum crowds, and put on my uniform. I always misjudged how long that would take me, so I waited outside for too long. I couldn’t bare the idea of waiting inside work. I’m very good at waiting, but only when there’s no one around. That, and the fact that I was washing myself at sinks every morning (wasn’t good enough of a shower for my boss…), was enough for me to get fired in only a few weeks. But, I had earned enough to pay for hostels, and – every time work ended, I’d been handing out C.Vs nearby. One place got in touch and I had an interview, conveniently, on the very same day that I’d been fired. The place? One of those Kodak shops where you print pictures, or get your passport photo taken. I’d claimed to them I had extensive Photoshop experience, which – actually was true enough that I knew how to make a collage. This was how they tested me during the interview.
I showed up (late…), met the manager. She barely said anything, and asked me nothing. Sat me down on a computer, I did the collage, she looked and asked me to come back in about two days.
And just like that, I’d done it. I was now a full time worker. My hostel nights were about to end. And soon I was to get to know her. Yes indeed, her. ‘Her?’. Her. My manager. My boss. My Italian manager. My Italian boss. And ‘her’ would be the catalyst. She is the cause you see. London? Was the prequel, not the adventure. She would begin it all.
My dirt road life.