London as a Twenty-Something, Upstart Reprobate: Vol.1.
Before you delve into any of these anecdotes, I feel obliged to provide a preface of sorts. The plots of each and every one of these short stories, which chronicle the life of a student in 21st century London, are utterly unexceptional; they comprise neither the substance of legend nor the drama of Hollywood. Instead, they offer an exploration of life’s trivialities, a muse on what befalls us during episodes of spontaneity, and personal reflection on chance events that I deem affecting enough to write about. There is sometimes poetry too, for those who take an interest in such things, but only to add colour to the margins of otherwise unremarkable pages.
However, I can solemnly promise that each episode is the genuine article – the unadulterated truth. Rather than fabricate details to make them marginally more readable, I reason the reader stands as much to gain from their guaranteed authenticity. In knowing each plot mirrors reality exactly, it makes it easier to identify with each event, emotion and reaction than if their validity were in any doubt. Greater personal resonance can therefore be invoked in the reader, in anyone. And indeed, these stories could belong to anyone. But, if the above logic holds true, then perhaps their being so ordinary is exactly what makes them worth reading.
I would be unduly flattering myself if I invited you to learn from my example – I am in all probability less intelligent than you, and far too young to be wise – but there are a great deal of mistakes which I can thoroughly recommend avoiding. If one cannot enjoy a story, then one must be able to benefit from it, lest it becomes utterly redundant.
Here on in, style, structure and language will vary according to whatever befits the context i.e. it’s not all wordy and written like Stephen Fry’s been dictating to me from a plush chaise-longue.
In most stories, all of which are readable within 10 minutes, I am the protagonist. Below lies some facts to inform your reading, if you fancy it:
- I grew up on a farm just outside of Reading, a 30 minute train journey west of London. My Mum’s a teacher, Dad does property/outdoor garden rooms, and I’ve a brother four years my junior.
- I went to a prep school just down the road, then to Abingdon School near Oxford. My A-levels were Economics, Physics and Art. Now I’m 21 and at the University of Bath, where I read Business Administration. This includes internships based in London, which I consider the greatest city in the world and where these stories are set.
- I’m now interning as a Strategic Analyst for Royal Mail, but I’ve also worked for an American law firm and a recruitment consultancy. I live in Bethnal Green a.k.a. the East End and home of the once infamous Kray Twin gangsters. I love every cracked paving slab in the postcode.
- Passions: Arsenal FC, literature, art, guitar and all things British.
- I’ve faded dreams of being a rock star; now content to earn a living during the day and secretly write at night. Or whenever Fiona asks me to.
18:24 to London Paddington
Paddington Station. For most, the miserably indifferent flag-waver at the end of the daily rat race. For me, born and bred near Reading, a beckoning portal to the culture, history and vivacity of London – a booming symbol of imminent adventure. Forget King’s Cross, Platform 9-and-three-quarters, and the Hogwarts express; the fast train from Bristol Temple Meads holds far more magic for me.
However, be the carriage crammed with young wizards and witches or bankers dressed in gloomy suits, the temporal limbo of commuting has long frustrated me. I’ve tried everything to make the daily hack more fruitful.
Perhaps I could engage with all the vibrant personalities and intelligent minds who share the carriage? Nope. The prevailing consensus is to pretend the humans around you don’t exist. Someone fainted on the Blackfriars platform the other day, but the guy right next to her didn’t notice because he had his headphones on. I’ve a hunch that people have started buying larger and larger headphones to signal their animosity for unprovoked human contact. The only permissible occasion for such an act is when the train is late. Here, strangers can express their frustration about how they can’t get in to the same cramped sweat-pit they were moments before dreading. Good old fashioned conversation? Dead end.
‘No matter,’ I cried with a scholarly gesture of the hand and reaching for a book, ‘I will educate myself!’
How naïve I was. If you’ve never attempted reading on a packed-out tube, imagine trying the same in a wardrobe, then introduce a slightly perspiring stranger who is mutely waging war against you to gain more space. Reading the newspaper was another avenue I explored. I soon stopped; finding enough room to manoeuvre a page-turn was even less frequent than a free seat, and I was left bemusedly re-reading the front page again and again. Nowadays, the only time I grab the Metro is when it’s raining, for whilst truly terrible journalism, it can make a decent umbrella in a pinch.
Alas, without the means to do anything otherwise, I’ve resigned myself to standing mindlessly next to another empty-headed zombie for roughly one hour every day. And so, when something different does happen, it cuts through the banality like torchlight in darkness.
Once, a barista at a Costa in Paddington gave me a free coffee – all I’d had to do was tell her my name. She was called Juliana, and her broad, white smile was proof that personality can write itself on the bearer’s face. On my return three days later, I sought out Juliana and surprised her with an Easter egg I’d brought from home. I’d never exchanged gifts with a stranger before, but it was made all the more uplifting by the way neither of us had expected to receive anything. We bid each other farewell, for we knew we’d never see each other again – that’s precisely the context which made each gift selfless and truly rewarding.
That was a tale of reciprocity. The following is not.
As my carriage drew into Paddington, I suddenly caught sight of something over the top of my book which made me lose my place. Perhaps it was the author putting mawkishly romantic ideas in my head (Keats does that to a man) but I was sure that pair of denim-blue eyes lingered on mine, underlied by a mouth that briefly twitched at the corners. Whether it actually happened or not didn’t matter; the mere notion alone was enough to provoke some kind of chemical reaction.
I let her walk past me as I got off the train, and noticed a spring in her step which set her apart from the rest of the bedraggled commuters. Then, without turning her shoulders, she looked back over my way with a kind of playfulness that meant I’d be breaking some kind of law by not smiling back. And after that, she broke my heart. But only momentarily, for if it’s true there’s plenty of fish in the sea, then London is surely an ocean, and that day, at least, the maxim proved right.
T’were on a locomotive London-bound,
My eye did sight a lady fair;
T’was something in her looking glance,
And loose curlings of her hair.
She offed the train, to platform sprung,
‘though wings did flight her feet,
And there seemed a certain dignity,
In the way she broke
my heart a
There was new life to matter lent,
In whatever found her eye’s foray,
Her ungloved hand cast coloured blush,
To things were former grey.
Casted she a listless glance,
O’er shoulder, I thought at me,
Her glinting blues did stoke a fire,
An electric pulse within mine arteries
She turned a tender, buxom frame,
Buoyant on the stone where did she stride,
And upon approach soft lips did part,
As clams unveil white pearls inside.
My ear did tense to hear a sound,
Of lilting music, sweetest air,
But swept she past; artless, cruel indifference,
My expectant ears left bare.
The method with which her hips did move,
Found halt ‘sides stranger’s waist,
Virile arms here held her ransom,
With artful thief’s embrace.
To lose a love that yet be found,
Does warrant glum dismay,
For grief the man whose heart is stolen,
Then crook herself be stole away.
But as each departing train,
Passes yet another, inward-bound,
So Solace found me sprightly: a newfound form so sightly
Lit by the lights o’ London’s Underground.