The sun is bright and warm. I’m about to head out somewhere. I’m not sure where, it may involve the underground. I want to feel the sun, the air, be near water.
Later, on my way now, just gone past Slough, on a very new train with lots of little green lights. I get so restless, that’s the trouble. I don’t know this side of London at all, but I feel landlocked by it. Small houses, 1970s cubes, very bright green fields, almost artificially green, ugly industry, construction, concrete, new tiny flats. New “London” suburbs created by developers, they put up glossy images of perfect families on their hoardings, sucking in the brainwashed people who “need” to buy somewhere. They create communities, give them names inspired by random old relics that were destroyed in the construction process. They’re not even really in London in some cases, they’re just more suburban sprawl, the green belt doesn’t seem to have stopped the spread. It’s strange how we look back romantically at the march of Metroland, documented by that whimsical old socialist John Betjeman, yet the same thing is happening again. This time its tiny apartment blocks which will look dated and worn out within twenty years. The villas around Harrow and Pinner look “natural”, as though they existed in small village clusters for centuries. They were equally mass produced, as we know.
I think, or I tell myself, that I like to head off and roam free, but I actually do need a plan of some sort, otherwise, as last time, I prevaricate, I panic, I get agoraphobic, I come back home dejected and tired. Today was different, I was decisive, got on trains with minutes to spare. I look and feel organised. I expect people think I’m going somewhere for a reason. In reality I spent ten minutes in a grand but bland town centre, and got the next train back, the fast route away from desolation. The other people there didn’t seem happy or especially full of life. Passing those peripheral business parks where technology companies exist in bland square offices, Oracle, ICL, HP. ICL made the early barcode scanning checkout hardware for Sainsburys. I worked at one of the very last stores to be converted from big chunky manual cash registers. In those days I found computer technology fascinating, and understood modems and other flashing light cabled mysteries. I don’t worry about it now. I think it’s true that as we get older we understand less about practicalities. I do anyway. I think I devote more energy to thinking about existence, and how to be happy.
When I was exiled in West Yorkshire years ago I worked with a slightly deranged woman who had previously lived in Bracknell, and spoke of it in halcyon tones. I think her husband must have worked in an office talking about something abstract and nonsensical all day long for ten or twenty years. She had some very odd idiosyncrasies but was pleasant and kind, and very into colour coding everything. It was a terrible time, looking back. Everyone argued constantly. The atmosphere was oppressive and bullying. Each day drained me. I thought of running away, and eventually I did, twice.
Back in the inner London suburbs now. Even over on the prosperous side there’s a lot of non-affluent use of the land. Railway yards, Victorian furniture suppositories. Elevated motorways and street “fusion” below. Unhappy looking social housing. I’d like to live somewhere with a view of a busy railway line, to be at home and see life outside. I wanted to see reservoirs today but didn’t. There are some large ones near the airport I think, but that terrain is hard to navigate spontaneously. I should look at maps and make proper plans I suppose, otherwise I don’t know why I am doing this. There must be a reason there somewhere though.
On the underground the lights go off as we go over the gaps in the rails. These must be the only trains left that do that. They are as old as me.
On the Thameslink train now, and actually looking forward to arriving back home, unusually content. The train is almost crowded to normal levels. It’s mid afternoon, the sun is low in the sky but still warm. People are heading home from work. I still don’t work. Two young men are talking animatedly about their drinking exploits. They work on building sites, one has a metallic pole used for something I would never understand, and looks a bit like Harry. I imagined for a moment if Harry and I were construction workers, we’d be like Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s posh scaffolders, talking about musical theatre. I’m optimistic that life is beginning again.