Categories
Living

Street Life

I think a great deal about, and of, my home town and how it’s changed over the years. Today, a lively discussion on Facebook on the subject of homelessness reminded me of Colchester High Street. I don’t think it’s ever been a kind place at night; peopled through history, as it has been, by a noisy cast including rioters, dissenters, siege victims and frustrated off-duty soldiers. Now, continuing that inglorious troublesome tradition, as night draws in, the High Street is increasingly colored by vomit, piss, and blood and peppered with the sounds of fighting, screaming and rutting. So established are the rituals of (self) abuse in that area, that an SOS bus is set up there every weekend, staffed by volunteers who try to help those who’ve rendered themselves helpless. It’s an attempt to take some of the pressure off an already overloaded local hospital.

Anyway, back to the subject which started me thinking along those lines. Homelessness, it is.

Some years ago, in the middle of winter, I was walking down the High Street late at night setting out on my way home. I hadn’t wanted to go out, it was freezing cold and the High Street’s a weekend nightmare. However, I’d promised to meet a friend for a drink before she left the country and that’s where she wanted to be. We passed a pleasant evening; though I felt very tired, meaning we said our farewells earlier than planned. I made my way outside intending to walk home – my apartment was only 20 minutes’ walk away after all. The night air hit me and that was it. I felt like shit – I’d suddenly developed a fever and nausea. Everyone stepped clear, probably thinking me drunk (a reasonable enough assumption given most of those around me were seriously inebriated).

From the shadows outside a shop a man emerged and started walking briskly towards me. My immediate reaction was fear. I was under no illusions that anyone would come to help me if I were attacked. Quickly, I realized that the man was sleeping rough on the street with his dog. Maybe he needed my help? I moved towards him. He smiled and shook his head at me. ‘You look terrible’, he said. ‘You’re very ill and shouldn’t be out in that state.’ I was so weak and so overwhelmed by this expression of concern I nearly burst into tears on the spot. He promptly wrapped one of his blankets round me, sat me down with his dog (which also appeared to decide I needed looking after and lay on top of me and the blanket) took my phone, called me a taxi, waited with me until it came, then saw me into the cab (while telling me off for not taking better care of myself). I offered him money as a ‘thank you’, he turned it down – said I needed it to buy meds. A kind man in a less than kind place. He, as are so many others in my home town, was an ex-soldier.

Categories
Living

Colchester. Surrender?

With thanks again to the excellent Colchester Castle Museum, and to my ancestors…

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Categories
Loving

One Day…

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Categories
Loving

Angular Momentum

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Love, or something like it, from the creative minds at xkcd.com

Categories
Living

No Country for Me, Then: Unsettled Now

I was born in Colchester. I am proud of being an Essex girl. Always have been. Always will be. That landscape formed me as surely as did the generations of my family who settled and were born there. If I had to call anywhere ‘home’, that’s where it is. Or was. You see, now I’m not so sure anymore.

I lived there for the first five years of my life, until my father took a job in another town (one I can’t be bothered to name) and so, away we went. We came back every Christmas to see family and friends, occasionally we returned to mark other, happier or sadder, events. As soon as I could I moved back. Why? Because however infrequent my visits, wherever else I may have been, Colchester was ‘home’. The sight of the town from the train always made me smile. Returning from working abroad? Returning from a day’s work in London? No matter, the view never tired for me – until now. I’ve changed.

The place has changed, too. That’s all to the good; I love visiting museums, I don’t want to live in one. Adaptive change is healthy, people and places growing together. This year though, for the first time, I saw not Britain’s oldest recorded town, but Britain’s fastest-growing town. In my lifetime, Essex University has arrived and thrived, Colchester Garrison all but disappeared, and people have come and gone. Now, they simply come. And come they do, in great number, from all over. The pace and nature of growth is shocking, and not just to me.

“I must admit I’m a little shocked that we’re right at the top of the growth league for population.” Paul Smith, Colchester councillor responsible for resources (31-05-2010, Colchester Gazette). Way to go with planning, eh? He then said this meant there was more need for investment. No room to breathe or think, let’s just invest. With what? From where? In whom? For what? The Office for National Statistics predicted in 2010 that the town’s population would rise by 18.9% over the period 2008-2018. Private building projects march on, even while local and regional councillors make cuts in public services. Green space disappears, roads are gridlocked, the railway groans with the weight of the commuters, everyone’s going nowhere fast and somewhere slowly. Yet, people keep coming.

Do they know where they’re coming to? Do they care? Where are the Colcestrians? The greater the growth, the less space there is for me. Colchester, this could be the end of our affair.

Categories
Moving

Back and Forth: Unsettled Then

…well, back at least. Recently, I returned from a trip to England which left me feeling deeply unsettled. Realizing that this is nothing new for me, I found the following entry in my diary for January 7-8 1994.

I wake up at 4 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep. What is bothering me? Why am I returning? Just to collect my belongings? By 6 a.m. I abandon the pretence of falling asleep and make myself a coffee (or three) while I watch the news. Take your (ice) pick – it’s frozen everywhere except where there’s flooding and except here in Wivenhoe, where it’s fine. The Man phones at 6.50, so it’s as well I’m up to take the call, we chat very briefly and, though I miss him dearly, I cannot muster any enthusiasm for returning. I draw a deep breath, shower and finish my packing. I despair at the 20kg my suitcase weighs. After a final visit to friends for (yet another) coffee, I can delay no longer and am back just in time to pick up my bags, bid a choked farewell to Grandad (who thrusts a bank note into my hand as I leave), and reach the station. On the train, I doze a little. Luckily, Liverpool Street Station has reopened Left Luggage – what a relief. Keen to pack the time with as many people as possible to avoid facing-letting-go, I head to meet SK in Gower Street. We talk and walk books. For hours we do this. She then comes with me to Liverpool Street and helps me take my baggage as far as Hammersmith, when we go our separate ways after hugging a great deal and a great deal longer than strictly necessary. As a result, I miss two trains. Eventually, make it to Richmond, where I and S collect me at 18.45 and take me back to theirs for a pot of tea plus trips down memory lane via the photo albums. They drive me to LHR Terminal 2, which is strangely quiet. OA 266 is the last flight out at 21.55, delayed by half an hour. They’re getting good at seeing me off, I and S, and I find it oddly reassuring that this is as close as I seem to get to tradition now. My Athens flight is only half-full; mercifully there’s room to stretch out. I hang onto England until OA 266 peels its wheels off the runway. Arriving in the UK, I’d cried over London, playing join-the-dots with the lamps, lights and headlights down below as we taxied in behind flights from Paris and Tashkent. I don’t look forward to Athens; so tedious, the airport no more than a holding-pen, but there’s only an hour and a half wait and my connecting flight is, once again, only half-full. So, the journey to Rhodes is quite smooth. I’m in time for the Nissos Kalymnos ferry to Symi and, when it docks in Gialos, I find a taxi to deliver my suitcase to the door. I am ‘home’ by 11 a.m. I’ve been on the road for 22 hours. The sun’s shining and it’s a beautiful, warm day. I’m flagging. I unpack, eat, shower, sleep, unpack, shower, eat – rinse and repeat. I feel distant, in fact, not here at all. When I was in England, the time passed so quickly but I did so little of what I’d set out to do. The whole experience was unsettling, unnerving and illuminating. I set out with questions left unanswered and returned with yet others. It takes me two days to return to ‘normal’ – wherever that is.

Categories
Loving

Unsettled: A Letter to You

Hello,
I’m writing you a letter. This is it, in fact. I’m writing it, but I won’t send it. You want to know why? Of course you do. Why is because I need to write it, but you don’t need to read it. Though I’d like you to, it wouldn’t be fair. I can cope with being unsettled but it’s not for you, this unease. It would affect your settled existence and that would never do. There’s the rub.

You unsettled me.

I wanted to see you again, but had practised my diffidence so well that I believed it didn’t matter – us meeting. I had rehearsed Plan B; disappointment was not an option. With so much else for me to do, really you’d have done me a favour if you hadn’t shown. But you didn’t do me that honour. You came. And when you said you would. And it was all like before. Yesterday was all those years ago, yet closer. I mean that’s when we’d last met wasn’t it?

In your company, there was no time, there was no yesterday, just today. We laughed warmly, we talked openly, we walked miles in companionable silence. All in the now. Then you left. When you did, I cried. I was bereft; happy-nostalgic and sad-empty. I had no idea you’d affect me that way, none at all. Yet, you did. By being you for a day I could be me. That was in your gift.

You unsettled me.
I appreciate it.
Thank you.
Sincerely.

Categories
Living

My Ancestry

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With thanks to Colchester Castle Museum for telling it like it is/was.

Categories
Learning

On the Third Day…

of December 1993. Taken from my diary when I was teaching English on the island of Symi, Greece.

Can’t write well, was up to 4 a.m. thanks to a party and am forgetting how a good night’s sleep feels. I’m stale and my throat is sore. The school owner is visiting from Rhodes, so I take myself to a quiet corner of the classroom and prep there. That done, I go out to buy bread, biscuits and veg. Take coffee with K at her very quiet cafe, after collecting D’s music centre. Bigger! Louder! Better! (Well it will be when this fug clears…). A walk around the harbour reveals the pack of male teachers at Elpida’s, talking in a hearty-blokey way. Not in the mood for that at all, I go to visit MA. She’s miles better company and we chat about constructive use of time – y’know, making it matter. I eat too many biscuits because they’re warm from the bakery opposite and she tells me I’m too small. I’m easily persuaded! The weather’s fine, the laundry’s done and I’m back on the bicycle enjoying the scenery. Return from my ride in time to take a ‘phone call from my sister – she’s just landed a new, permanent job at County Hall. So happy for her! That conversation had, (my former employer) Mr J rings to discuss getting me back to work in Rhodes. He’s lined-up a group of civil servants as students to start after Christmas and has found a teacher who’s willing to come over here to ‘replace’ me (who is this mad person, I ask myself?). Anyway, no time to ponder as DS (fresh from his male-bonding at Elpida’s) is outside, at the bottom of the steps, waiting to walk me up to a teachers’ party at Dolares. It’s a Salonikan celebration and we stay until 03.15, when we walk back down – smiling and laughing all the way. Bed by 4 a.m. Again.

of December 1994. Taken from my diary when I was teaching English on the island of Rhodes, Greece.

Wake early, plagued by thoughts of no pay (again). The temperature is colder than in London, there’s an icy wind. It’s overcast, so there’ll be no hot water – nothing like a cold shower to dowse self-pity. I have an odd rash on my body – standing in front of the mirror, it appears to be a fire starting from the big toe on my left foot and spreading upwards with its flames licking my thighs, abdomen and chest. I itch. A lot. Calls from S & H to meet by Agios Athanasios church at 8 p.m. for a night out. Next, I reserve a seat to Cairo for the new year with Ethiopian Airlines at the closest travel agent. Visit M to tell her the good news and she goes to check ferry times for the trip. Nervously excited! Especially as I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it. Meet D at Academia, where we wait for our students to emerge from their FCE papers. We’re definitely far more nervous than them. KL passes and invites me over to Koskinou for a ‘final’ dinner before he leaves for Australia on Tuesday. In the afternoon, I try to nap, but it’s too cold, the girl next door is shrieking again (having forgotten being ‘shot at’ by J as a warning the last time – where’s a firearm when you need one?) and the ‘phone keeps ringing. My private lesson is OK, though my concentration is poor. I pass my bill to the student, it is not paid (of course). In the evening, D comes round to take a call from her mother in the States, the rest of the gang come round, we go to meet S & H and all go to eat at ‘Vrachos’ in Ialyssos (lovely setting and place). Back to ‘ νυν και άει’ in the Old Town, with a great DJ, before going on to a very crowded ‘Melrose’ at 1 a.m. Well, dear reader, I danced, I drank, I smoked, I sang. All with no thought of tomorrow. That can wait.

Categories
Loving

I’ll Take Care of You

 

An all-time favorite singer, with an all-time favorite song. Simple.