From Sydney, I’d been sent to Coventry, UK for engineering work. I had arrived there by bus from Heathrow a few days before. It was the end of the week and definitely time to get back to my roots of the ‘The City’. There are places to go and although I’d spent time in the UK before, this time that I would definitely look at London as kindred homeland somehow.
No need to bus or drive to London in their A or M style roads, which can really drag on a Friday afternoon.The trains are direct and fast if you need them. All trains definitely seem to lead to London in this case.
Train then, Coventry ticket office, single fast train anytime please. About an hour from Coventry to London Euston, through green landscapes in the setting sun, with long shadows flicking across the windows. The train tilts as it rounds the bends and your ears either suck out or in going into and out of the tunnels at speed.
Naturally I checked out the carriage, 3 levels of emergency exit. Level 1 – the door to the next carriage, Level 2, the door to the outside, Level 3- the emergency glass break windows. Just the day before there were reports of Police evacuating Baker Street station IN LONDON and doing ‘controlled explosions’ on a panel van seemingly abandoned in the middle of the road just outside. In the wake of the November 13th terror and carnage in Paris just the week before, everyone in London must have also been a bit on edge.
Well, needs be I might make it out the emergency window, but Level 3 type emergency exits are a bit of a jump to the ground. Might be breaking a bit more than the toughened glass at my age. Thankfully, we arrived Euston safely with no breaking or jumping required. I retrieved my pretty worn luggage and exited the station.
I taxi ranked a quick cab and check-in to my hotel nearby. Switching from late Spring to Autumn cool, I added a pullover for warmth and went back out into the early darkness. Actually right outside the Euston station are several pubs to attend. The first one, All Bar One, seemed upmarket and was a cross between bistro, winebar and pub. All people going to and from the train station with roller luggage and overcoats, dropping in for a quick pint. There were some obvious locals who seemed to know everyone, introducing themselves to strangers, slapping people on the back, somewhat intrusively I observed. Lots of really tall well dressed people. Not me of course. Somewhat short and shabby compared. I thought shabby chic for chillin’ dudes from Australia. That’ll do. Of course short people get lost in the crowd in anycase. Beer London Style. Good.
Afterward however the Euston Tap bar seemed more interesting. Enclosed in a 19th century gatehouse at the entrance to the old Euston Square Garden, a small door leads you into a welcome heated space with a bar and a craft beer wall and chalkboard arrangement behind it. At least half dozen bartenders crammed in a space of around 20 square feet. The only women in the bar were behind it or upstairs perhaps at the end of the mysterious black wrought iron spiral staircase. Everyone of those drinking downstairs at least seemed young, relatively happy, and their conversation sharp. The ‘Tap’ could be the local watering hole for those from the University across the road perhaps.
I ordered ‘Half Mast’. How would I know what it tasted like, it was listed number something on a chalk board just above some other sophisticated craft been name. The only clue was that it had alcohol of a calculated percentage and was on the ‘KEG’ side of the room rather than the ‘CASK’ side of the room. Tasted good. I drank the whole pint — ok slowly — taking some time to read Time magazine found in the lobby on the way out. Craft beers, kegs and casks of specialty brew shipped in from somewhere. The lifetime of any of them depending on the number of drinkers. As Casks were emptied, their chalk tap numbering designation rubbed out like the way our teachers rubbed out the workings and started something new in the space.
Can I have a pint of ’20 please’ he asked, the guy next to me.
‘Sorry mate, It’ll be around 10 minutes or so’ the bartender said, as her colleague in black quickly rubbed out it’s space on the wall.
‘OK then perhaps number 15, thanks’.. he replied.
So then, beer by numbers and crafty names at the cool bars in London. Who thinks these names up ? Is there a standard dictionary of ‘Craft Beer’ names. Perfect for trivia nights back in Australia perhaps. Category.. London Craft Beer Names. I thought of a few more crafty beer names, promptly forgot them and went back to the hotel to sleep off some jetlag.
Alice was back in my house again after seven long years. She’d arrived just the last week on the doorstep, looking older and hoping I’d be able to rejoin our fractured lives again. So far I’d let her in but we hadn’t really connected.
We’d been parted abruptly, we lost each other suddenly like when a glacier finally cracks after years as a moraine and melts and falls into the sea. I’d gone first, melted by a sudden change in the weather and left her behind still frozen the status quo of life we’d become. Sure I loved her, but having melted away, I could not go back. Try as I might, I could not remember or feel the same things or go back in time.
So it went on like that. In the first year of our fracture I’d been to Japan and saturated myself in Saki, Sushi and to recover, climbed the slopes of Mt Fuji. Every day I’d look for a dose of exotica to help cover over the memories of the life I’d given up. I went to India and up and down streets with crowds of Hindu at holi festivals, but never once to temple. Which I probably should have. Still I’d been faithful to her and I knew eventually we had to get back together. It was just a question of time perhaps.
Having melted into the ocean of possibility, knowledge and experience, I’d lost my structure and purpose. I couldn’t get Alice back or my life for that matter. Even the travel, although refreshing didn’t put it all back together. As the years went by it became easier, but colder and more distant, even from myself. Anyway, here I was in my fairly comfortable home and Alice had found me somehow, yet so far I hadn’t really found her.
I opened the door to get some fresh air. It was dark out but I needed to walk. Down the path a little and around toward little creek at the back of the property. Flowers seem to have a glow and brightness as the sun retreats for the night. In the evening under stars flickering their petals glow softly but defiantly against the surrounding dark. Dark full of sounds of frogs and moving things but still with the chill of the night air. There the flowers stood bravely against the darkness, and the star centered scented flowers shone quietly into my mind. I hadn’t forgotten her, I’d missed her badly, but she that I missed was not the one that I’d left. But there was music there, that uncanny Dido’s Lament came to mind. Where Dido laments that she be remembered, but not for the way she left the world.
I turned then to go back to the house with that lament by Purcell running through that blue petals image in my mind.
“Remember me, Remember me,
but ah ah forget my fate,
remember me but ah..
forget my fate.”
How sad would that be, I thought, that if only we were parted forever, that I should forget her fate. We really must try to find it again. The lights were on and I slid the door open and stepped inside and still there was Alice, looking carefully at my face … smiling…hopefully.
Photo: “Forget-me-not” copyright, Diane Cordell, used with permission.
Last week I was running around like crazy, trying to get stuff done. So many things on at the same time, including organising things for work, managing builders at the house and my dear dad’s birthday. God bless him, he turned 95 and still in pretty good shape, but his memory had definitely been going or fading recently and I’d been out there to his flat quite a bit. Anyway I should have thought of it before, getting him a cake, some things to take around to his flat for instance. In the end I forgot the time and was late when i finally went over there. Even though I’d knocked on the door, he didn’t respond so using my own key, went in, and there he was, had gone to sleep in that hot afternoon, storms and things, with the cricket game still on the TV. Some days things just don’t go right. I didn’t wake him up,but put the cake on the table with some flowers I’d picked up. Nice mix of tulips, to remind him of the old days.
The mobile phone rang…
“Hello John, you there son”
“Yes dad, I’m here, how are you ?”
“Well, not too bad .. ahh… I’m in Alice Springs… I can’t get home ! How come you left me behind ?”
“What do you mean, Alice Springs, how on earth did you get to Alice, out there in the middle of nowhere.”
“Well… I really don’t know. Didn’t you bring me here …? It’s just too hot…. to stay here. They have air conditioning,… but it doesn’t …work”
“No… I didn’t take you to Alice Springs dad…. Who are you with then ?”
“I’m with Connie my sister,…. She is out here. She… lives here. But she must’ve gone out … gone out for a while.
Where are you then ?”
“Dad, I’m in Sydney. I never drove you to Alice Springs. It’s too bloody far anyway, why would i do that ?.. Besides, you can’t possibly be in Alice Springs, you couldn’t catch a flight and there’s no way you can drive there and you’re birthday was last week” – I said
“I don’t know how I got here, but I’m here now and I need to get back.” said dad, getting a bit louder.
Mate, how did he get to Alice Springs, I’m wondering. I look at the phone, it says “DAD” and the number of the call is right. He must have his phone with him. Who would have taken him to Alice ? The idea was crazy.
“Anyway” dad continued, “at least Connie remembered my birthday, which is more than I can say for you !!”
The phone was quiet for a bit.
“Dad, I’m sorry about your birthday, yes I did forget..” I said, feeling a bit like well, actually I hadn’t forgotten, but then he had been asleep at the time.
“Yes ! John !” he said, quite angry now
“What kind of flowers did Connie get you ?”
“Well she got me a nice chocolate cake !. I don’t know who got the flowers. A bunch of tulips.” he said
Ok.. then he thinks he is in Alice Springs with Connie, but actually he is in Sydney in his flat. Perfect. I got in the car and drove round to the flat, kept the phone on handsfree. I’ve never seen people buy tulips in Alice Springs, and it was no doubt the chocolate cake I’d taken around to his flat last week and more significantly Connie had died quite some time back.
“Dad, I’m coming around to see you” I’ll pick you up in my car and take you back home.
“OK Son. At least that’ll be something.. forgetting my birthday.”
It’s strange, I had to smile to myself at least, each of us now comfortable in our own imagined world. I knowing that he was in Sydney, and he, knowing that It was no problem for me to drive the 2700 kilometers through to the red center in the middle of nowhere – Alice Springs. Whereas I said I’d be round in 10 minutes, it would’ve actually taken 30 hours of continuous driving.
“Hey Dad, I’ll pick up some beers along the way, we can watch the cricket for a bit before we come home.”
“OK son, thanks. See you then.”
I flicked it off handsfree, knowing I’d be there in around ten. I knocked on the door of his flat, the TV still on, I went in, there was the cake, untouched, and the flowers, open and wilting in the heat. I walked over to the air conditioner, grabbed the control and turned it back on. That’ll get him back to Sydney I thought, with a smile.
We sat down together, got some beers, and checked the score on the cricket.. for old times sake.