Saturday, 23 February 2013

Fish and chips on a Friday

Fish and chips on a Friday. Feeling grown up as you leave the house, clasping the money and trying to remember what everyone wants. Climbing over the brick wall to cut across the green, staying away from the busy main road. Following the scuffed-grass path, but slowing down to peer through the iron railings into the small back gardens of the ground-floor flats. Waiting for a moment by the pink plastic windmill, watching it spin wildly in the slightest breeze, then carrying on along the pavement, with its faded markings from the last game of hopscotch. Up the hill to Rosendale Road, past the huge metal gate that was always shut, knowing it was there to keep the cars out but let the fire engines in. Waiting to cross the busy road, peering out between the parked cars and then dashing across to the chip shop. Staring through the glass front of the counter, past the pieces of fish lined up in a row and down into the bubbling churning cooking oil, where the dancing chips were trapped in a deep wire basket. 

Fish and chips on a Friday. Always eaten straight from the paper, but with the paper set down on a plate, so you could balance it on your lap as you watched the tv in the corner. Too many chips, always too many chips, soaked in vinegar and too much salt. Small fingers picking between the sharp thin edges to grasp the softer thicker ones. Breaking off the tail of the cod first, with all its crunchy batter, then biting into the thicker part, realising too late it was still piping hot. Sucking in cold air, trying to cool the fish down. Holding your hand over your open mouth so nobody else could see as you moved it from side to side, hoping it wouldn't burn.

Fish and chips on a Friday. Forty years later and a different part of town. A five minute trip in the car, to bring back the Styrofoam packages and tip them out on a plate. We sit at the big wooden table, the tv screen high on the wall. I still eat the crunchy tail end of the cod first, but the brightly-coloured plate next to mine has a sausage neatly sliced and there's no salt or vinegar on the chips. Too many chips, always too many chips. Small fingers pick between the sharp thin edges to grasp at the softer thicker ones. Eddie looks up at me as we both blow gently to cool them down, “I like chips Nana.” 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The 13.07 from London Victoria

I hadn’t noticed the suitcase at all when I sat down. I’d been so pleased that the train had arrived early, that I could take my choice of seats in the empty carriage and sit reading my book in peace until it was time to leave.

“Erm… Excuse me, is that yours?”

I turned round, not sure if the question was meant for me, and saw a short balding man, pointing to a battered leather case on the luggage rack.

“No, no…” mumbled an elderly gentleman, who’d taken the seat just behind me. He sounded embarrassed, apologetic, as though the case really should have been his, or as though, at the very least, he should have been able to explain why it was there.

“Is it yours?” the short balding man turned to me.

I looked up again at the faded blue suitcase, with its brass locks, and the sort of thick handle you could just imagine clasping comfortably. I hadn’t seen luggage like that for a very long time; all angles and corners, no wheels and pull-handle, no hard plastic, or zip-pockets. This was a suitcase made for the days of long slow journeys, for a time of uniformed porters and heavily laden luggage trolleys. A suitcase made for a luggage rack on a very different sort of train.

“No, not mine” I answered with a twinge of regret.

“Oh dear, oh dear” he began to bluster, looking back to the still open train doors, then up to the rack, then around the carriage. “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear”

He looked around again, uncertainty etched into his frown.

“I’ll have to report it… you can’t just leave a case…there’ll be a delay…  it’ll cause all sorts of problems…”

He looked like a man who’d been brought up to do his duty, the sort of boy who always snitched on his class-mates, the sort of man who’d never leave work early on a Friday afternoon. He leaned forward, peering out of the door, searching for someone in authority. If he’d had a whistle in his pocket, he’d have blown it, shrill and hard.

Then a young, bearded, wild-haired man jumped on. Shoving past the short balding man, without a glance at the elderly gentleman and oblivious of me, he headed straight for a seat by the window. The seat just under the luggage rack.

Blustering, balding man turned back into the carriage, “is it….” He started to ask, just as the young bearded man reached up towards the suitcase.

And as the words died on his lips, as the elderly gentleman watched silently from his seat, as I looked on from across the aisle, the young, bearded, wild-haired man reached up and flicked open the lock.