London. Springtime lately over, and me sitting in a tube station. I delight in the map, its lines mesmeric, its place names captivating as ever, though I know there is nothing exotic about Perivale. It is just the idea of all those many places and the lives lived within them, every one so different to mine, from bankers to paupers. Such a concentration of contrast.
This must be a thousandth glance and I still notice new ones: I’m sure someone has added ‘Canonbury’ since last time. In the carriage, where eye contact is a death threat or a marriage proposal, I catch a whiff of perfume. I remember this particular scent. It takes me back to a girlfriend of long ago, when the parents made us keep the bedroom door open. I’m sure she was with us on that school trip to London; has she left a scent? There always was something a bit feline about her. That was the trip where Carl Whitehead managed to buy a bottle of vodka and spend the entire trip home abusing the headmaster. I was sat behind them and Carl kept going right up to the Head’s face and calling him a ‘knob’. When we got home Carl’s Mum, a school governor, was in the car park. I drift back as if I’m on the coach again, trying to remember who was there.
Occasionally the here and now interrupts, as when I see someone actually give up their seat. It’s always disappointing, somehow, to find polite people in London, as if your stereotype has let you down. Those reality checks do not last long though. I’ve had a drink or five, let’s be honest, and so I drift back in time again, and am mostly awake.
I check the time on my phone. I have lost 45 minutes to this dreaming. I have missed my stop. This is how I know Perivale is not exotic.
I am not certain of much in this life, but there is one truth – the best before date on crisps always falls on a Saturday. Now that is mind-blowing in itself, but get this: nobody knows why. Theories range, each tinted with conspiracy. Most blame the church, suggesting this is a safeguard, a haloed barrier, against potato and maize-based snacks going out of date on the Lord’s Day. They point to Leviticus Chapter 17, Sacrifice and Food, which decrees that ‘whosoever allows Pickled Onion Monster Munch, Cheese ‘n’ Onion Walkers, French Fries and their ilk to become rotten on the Sabbath, shall be punished. Scampi Fries we’re not so arsed about.’ As ever with the bible, much is down to interpretation.
People, and I am one of them (as are you, in a way), spend much time and money trying to be less stressed. Hours and pounds are lavished on spa breaks, therapists, prostitutes and Reiki, despite the fact that absolutely no-one knows what the latter is. Some even employ ‘life coaches’ who basically follow you around talking about ‘easy wins’ and ‘goals’, like some demented football manager but with dangly earrings and a history of substantial cannabis use. Actually, I did once have a football manager like that. He was terrible for writing fifteen names on the teamsheet when high or, during a bout of paranoia, enmeshing himself in a goalnet shouting ‘they can’t see me here.’ The earrings were just for show.
Anyroad, observing my toddler as one generally must when a parent, I hit upon an extremely cheap and pleasant way of de-stressing: acting just like her. Thus, for one hour each day I terrify those around me. If someone annoys me in the supermarket, say by cutting in front of me while I peruse fruit, I grab a peach and casually lob it at their face. Further, nothing shocks an annoying neighbour more than me marching up to them, violently pushing them over, and then walking off giggling. It’s even better when I shout ‘No, MY car’, shove them and then drive away in their Citroen Passat. And you just see how much better you feel when you do the exact opposite of what your boss asks: ‘Can you submit those spreadsheets to head office, please?’ ‘Delete the spreadsheets and tell head office we hate their faces. No problem gaffer.’ Less popular, domestically anyway, is the smearing of your dinner across the walls. The whole potty thing was another step too far.
I know you probably saw the Sky News ticker-tape announcing it, or caught Melvyn Bragg’s piquant documentary (a line too for Trevor McDonald’s special edition of the Tonight programme; dropping Syria like that for me, Trev…you are a one!), but my new book is upon us. Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters: Travels Through England’s Football Provinces will be out on August 1st with Bloomsbury.