I get on the train, unpack my belongings and sit back. I’m very uptight about my rituals. Firstly, I have to have the ticket out ready for the inspector. I hate it when people have to search frantically for their tickets. It’s never a major surprise when they come to check your ticket, is it? My food is lined up in the order I’ll eat it, along with a neatly folded napkin, my book is squared precisely on the table with my glasses in line on top and my bag is safely bestowed so as not to cause a public nuisance. I like to behave well and be orderly.
The couple across from me are distracting me from my novel. The novel is a bit weak. They’re in their late forties and she’s a disordered mess of lank hair and multi-layered flowing garments. He’s crammed into too-tight stone wash jeans and has an unwisely chosen ponytail. They’re not happy. I can’t help but listen. They discuss their visit to Neal’s Yard and their recent trip to a vegan food fair. The stereotype would say that this couple should be brimming with good karma and have balanced chakras. They don’t. They’re snippy and mean; taking every opportunity to belittle each other and gripe about each other’s failing.
She demands a hand massage and roughly thrusts a tube of lotion at him. He passive aggressively pummels her hands and they continue to row. I’ve never seen anyone argue during a relaxing hand massage before. I recall my days in bad relationships and the way it eroded me and left me smaller. I want to get up and cross the aisle and tell them kindly that it would be best if they just split up now. I don’t. I listen to music instead, to drown them out.
London is bright and the recent rain reflects the sun into my eyes. I walk quickly to the tube station. The first play I see is in a basement theatre off Trafalgar Square. It’s a tiny theatre and the set is a convincing motel room. Three actors re-enact a tense scene between old school friends. The play is funny in parts but not as funny as the man across from me finds it. He has a long face and is swathed in a woollen scarf and laughs heartily with his head thrown back, at all the wrong moments, displaying equine teeth. The seats are in twos and I’m sitting next to a plump teenager. Every time the man laughs either she or I struggle not to giggle and our seat moves a little, setting either me or her off again. Laughing can be contagious.
I go for walk after the play and eat in a cafe watching a succession of people drinking coffee and watching each other. We all watch each other. It rains while I’m inside and the sun shines when I go back out. I feel oddly content. The next play is a three part series of thirty minute plays set in hotel rooms. The plays are also staged in real hotel rooms. I’m in a 5 star hotel in Holborn which is a little ostentatious for me. There’s a lot of white marble and glittery chandeliers; heavy on cost and low on good taste.
Me and nineteen other people file into a medium sized hotel room and sit on chairs around the walls, like ghosts. On the bed are a young couple in 1950s underwear. Hers is flesh coloured with buckles and straps and screams discomfort. He wears cotton boxer shorts and dog tags. He’s a soldier on leave, it’s post war New Orleans and they’re newlyweds. The room is littered with empty bottles and smells a little of fresh sweat.
The play is about to start and I have my usual panic that I’ve not turned off my phone. I open my bag and the check and the clasp of the bag clicks loudly and the noise echoes across the room. A woman in front in a tapestry jacket turns and shushes me. I’m incredulous. Shushing is my job. I’m slightly astounded that I’ve been shushed. I feel like I’m the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
The play begins and the actors shout, argue, romp, caress and storm from bed to bathroom, slamming doors. It works well as a concept and I feel voyeuristic but amused and entertained. It’s a good play. At one point the man sits on a chair and I can’t help but notice that one of his testicles has fallen out of his boxer shorts. It sits there, rosy and plump and moves as he shouts. I want to tell him but am too polite. It would ruin the atmosphere. I can’t help but look but wish I hadn’t.
The other two plays are good too and I take the tube back to Kings Cross. There’s a bowler hat on the line and as I look a tiny mouse runs across it. I wonder, briefly, if it’s there for the tourists. London so often feels like a big theme park, designed to dazzle and entertain. I wonder if a businessman dropped his hat or if that all that’s left of him after a tragic accident.
The train back goes to Sheffield and is full of large groups of Northerners. They seem warm and friendly and I wonder if this is just a myth perpetuated by Northerners. They’re probably as mean spirited as half the people where I live. Behind me a couple kiss loudly all the way back, making loud slurping and smacking noises. This is almost as bad as the bickering couple but not quite.
I get home tired.