At about 4am, the net curtains began to flash blue and red as a silent ambulance or police car passed slowly on the main road. The room was cold, though not that damp, frosted breath cold which pools on the windowsill and pastes the panes of glass. That’ll be it now. No more sleep. The alien hum of traffic takes its hostage.
Last night was typical in the capital, from Oxford Circus to Bank on the Central Line, platform 2, 5.33, via St Pauls and Tottenham Court Road, sandwiched between free tabloid headlines about Trump and X-Factor contestants and the shaming of foreigners in this alien nation, and through the subterranean river of people to Monument. The tubes were packed, like tubes of smarties, multi-coloured, single flavoured. The people leaving each platform through narrow exits,like sand particles in an hour glass, compressed and squirted onto the escalators to spill onto the street, commuting. And then it was that familiar sea of determined automatons on the pavements, threading their numbed bodies against one another while seemingly talking to themselves, but actually on their phones. The bar where we met was large and loud and bedecked in industrial cabling and ducts and giant enameled lights on metres of flex, low lighting the rows of small tables over which hunched shouting friends and texting couples fed. There was overpriced craft beer from multinational chemical plants and organic burgers on slate plates with slivers of ghurkin and miniature buckets of fries with chili sauce and fancy names and waiters with i-pads and hand-held card readers at the tables, service included. Then glowing office blocks and dark Wren churches squeezed between dual carriageways and plate glass facades, and the chill air and rush of cars and street lights, headlights, warning lights, lights across the river, roof lights for planes, on masts and transmitters, and offices in the clouds. The opulent Shard, rising out of the river of people, surrounded by station and barriers and polished marble and back-lit directions with ever changing instructions which timed our decisions to the minute, momentarily trusted, and muffled tannoy disillusionment: “we apologise for any inconvenience…” Orpington via Grove Park 20.37, platform 7 or was that the front four coaches only? Did I swipe my card or will I be automatically charged for not doing so and anyway, is there enough credit on the Oyster? It’s an aphrodisiac you know.
All that after three hours of overblown bluster and unsaid truths, unspoken threats, undeniable lies about the why’s and wherefore’s of capital investment and loss, about the achievement of a dream or the memory of one. The obligations to declare impending doom as insolvency or to blow smoke on a mirror and persuade people who are self-satisfied but still hungry that the dream is still happening, only just beginning, that it isn’t a nightmare, that they won’t wake to the blue and red flashing lights at 4am, and realise that the dream was just that and it isn’t going to be the next big thing.
I can feel the tug of silence, at the bend in the river and the touch of wind. I know the clock hand is still moving steadily. There are autumn wisps from chimneys, rippling waves on the beach, and unhurried daylight. It’s another reality, waiting.