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Sunday, 16 March 2014

As sure as eggs are eggs

There has been no trace of
Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
A Malaysian plane along with its crew and passengers has disappeared. According to the more enthusiastic newspaper reports, aliens have it and/or the Bermuda Triangle has struck once again (but a bit to the right and down a bit by about ten thousand miles in Malaysia.)
Somewhere near Oz is a place where all
lost socks hang out
Eleven years as an air hostess and there was not one hint of an alien abduction, though the pilots did tell me about the unexplained bright lights they saw through their windscreens that do not register on the radar. There was plenty of time travel, 'You can walk around in New York while you can sleep in Penge' David Bowie so succinctly foretold my flying career in his song 'If you ever had a dream'.
I think, if people can believe in God or fate, then why not aliens? And why can we not think that something can disappear, when we know that disappearing is proven by the ever-presence of The Lost Sock Syndrome?
Portrait of a Dad
          Big news is that Dad is still very much here. As the days lengthen and the year shortens, my Dad can no longer walk to the pub. So for some people like him, the world is becoming a lot smaller much sooner than expected. Smaller than a mile let's say, small like the twenty-nine strides from the lounge to the kitchen and then back via the upstairs toilet (my leg span, not his). The distance between the beam of the remote hitting the sensor and the space between Noel Edmund's eyebrows while wondering what's in the box on 'Deal or no Deal'. Now that wine is allowed in the house it is never very far away from his lips and close to his hand via my mother's eyes. This has made the pub redundant as far as I can see. There is no need to go out if everything you need is around you. But this is not all of the truth and just a bad habit of me generalising a situation, which is a false thing. Donald Rumsfeld said, "all generalizations are false, including this one" which can apply to writing as much as anything else I have to say about my Dad. And because you don't just stop going out, you stop going out because you fall over when you do, because of blood pressure, because of the floor being not as trustworthy, because you are in between that bit of life between being well enough to envisage a hope-filled future and dying, which is old age.
Only three months ago he tried to help me in the garden. I was collecting an old travel trunk full of my diaries
The trunk belonged to Mr Saunders
next door who would pay me
 fifty pence to mow his lawn.
from the shed. I couldn't get the key in the padlock. He took the key from me and tried. While I shone a tiny torch on the padlock he missed the hole each time by a centimetre. His eyes or co-ordination weren't so good after the last series of mini-strokes. I let him try to home in with the key, over and over in the small spotlight. It was just me and him. It was the most important gesture from a distant father, who made a few steps down the garden path to stand with me by the bin, in order to not be able to open the shed door.

In the book shop where I work I stopped a man this week who I believed was a thief. I am on tenterhooks because someone had stolen the shop iPod earlier in the week and there seemed to be a greater proportion of drunk and drugged up people at 10am roaming Crystal Palace than usual. Once I started examining people, everyone who was a bit thin and pale started to look like a thief. The suspect is dressed in a grey hoodie, worn unwashed jeans, dirty and dusty scuffed sand boots. As I followed him around the shop I didn't know whether my behaviour was causing his behaviour. He looked at every section of the bookshop while trying to look as if he was just browsing. I stood so close to him he left. My heart banged after and I thought, 'I can do this, I can be brave.'
Later on a different man came in troubled by drugs. A fresh scab on his nose, the pale demeanour, another grey hoodie with the front pocket kangaroo pouch, faded jeans, dirty trainers. I am showing a woman a book on British colloquialisms. She has a slight foreign accent which I can't place and says she wants a book on sayings for a friend who had said to her that morning, 'as sure as eggs are eggs.' We are talking about how neither of us knows where the expression comes from. It is the first pleasant and interesting intercourse of my day. Her little girl is standing with us so silently that you could forget she is there.
The man walks round the bookshelves and comes to stand directly next to me, the distance of someone next to you on a packed tube.
'Where is the Salvation Army?' he asks.
William Booth started the Salvation
Army. Booth's book 'in Darkest England
and the Way Out' exposed the 'unmentionable evils'
of the time and suggested radical
remedies such as planned emigration,
a missing persons bureau, a Poor Man's bank and legal aid.



'Up the road,' I say, 'by Sainsbury's.' I point out the door.
'Where is the Salvation Army?' he says. I repeat my answer.
'How many shops?'
'Four shops.' I say. 'Walk four shops up and it's there by Sainsbury's.'
I switch sides with the woman to get away from him. I am aware the child is closest to him now. The woman does not move herself or her child. I wonder if I am over-reacting.
'Where is the Salvation Army?' he repeats, each time with the same insistent urgency.
We go on like this for ten or so more times. His short term memory broken.
The woman with the accent says, 'I will take you there. Come.' She beckons him.
'You're not speaking the Queen's English,' he says.
'Where is the Salvation Army?' he says, turning to me.
I walk backwards towards the counter.
'I can not say it again,' I say. 'Nothing has changed since the last time.'
'You're not speaking the Queen's English,' he accuses me.
'You're Polish,' he says.
I will not say I am from around here as it will insinuate that the woman with the accent is not. He will not make me defend myself or herself. He steps forwards. He is wanting something from me, his fists are clenched in his hoodie pouch pockets. They are starting to shake, the knuckles through the cloth. I pick up an empty cardboard box, inside it is space and it puts a box worth of room between us. I have the key to the till in my bra cup. He stands there, 'Where is the Salvation Army?'
I hold the box up. The woman with the accent calls on a man from the street to help. We are trying to alert him without increasing the anger in the drug addict. I can say this is all he is at the moment, because there is nothing else about him - he is all drug and itching anger. He has no human face, because he is off it.
You can depend on X = X
The man from the street says he'll go to the Sally Army and leaves us with the drug addict, which was not the plan. The man from the street doesn't want to be the hero on this occasion. When he comes back he says 'The Sally Army is closed'. He does not want to come in the shop, he does not get what the woman with the little girl got immediately, that we were containing a situation that felt as if it was about to explode. Not everyone can do this, not everyone picks up on the radar, for whatever reason.
And I am still here, silently not knowing what to do.
'Where is the Salvation Army?' he says, edging closer.
'Come with me!' The German woman gets him to walk up the road with her to the Salvation Army.
I stand in the shop shaking then go to watch them go up the road together. He walks into the doorway of Salvation Army after turning back to her with a sneery smile on his face.
She comes back and buys the book on British Colloquialisms and we look it up:
'As sure as eggs are eggs' possibly comes from the mathematical expressions 'X equals X'
I am glad that there is some certainty to the day after all, even if it is a mental sum.

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