90. Ego Wars

 

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She waits,

Diluted by the crowd.

Knowing exactly where doors open.

A quiet standing,

They are as different as the Tuesday before and after a festival.

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86. Early Adopters

“They’ll make you whatever you want to eat here, Grandad.”

The menu is quite impressive. Every egg dish you could think of, either duck or hen. Bacon and sausages of a named breed from a Norfolk farm. At least six kinds of tea. Runner-up in a barista championship. Bakery on the premises. I can see a royal warrant before too long.

“I think that’s them.” I say. His Grandad turns stiffly to see the camera crew that’s just walked in. “Your interview’s not for an hour, so we’ve got loads of time. Have you decided what you’re having?”

It’s no coincidence that this restaurant is called ‘RE.’ It’s both the initials of the original company that owned it, and the beginning of every word used to describe the concept and evolution of the building.

His hands tremble a little as he holds the paper, but his eyesight and hearing are way better than mine, thanks to modern technology. “I’m going to try a fried duck egg, thick cut bacon, field mushrooms, home grown tomatoes and toast, and I want some marmalade. If it’s that same marmalade that you got me at Christmas, then I want another jar to take home with me.”

Half an hour later, we’re sat in that contemplative silence you get when you’re comfortable in each other’s space. He hasn’t set foot in here for over fifty years.

He’s studying the 1970s school chair, stroking the grey and red heavy felted wool fabric on the seat. “These are just like the blankets we had in the war.”

I think of festival stalls piled high with old hospital blankets in mint green or bubblegum pink. Quietly stored for decades in a building just like this one, waiting to live temporarily in a gated community. Life had no meaning outside of those walls. Cloaked, comforted, cherished, then casually discarded.

He’s too polite to ask why the floor is concrete and pipe works are exposed. Air ducts instead of a ceiling, overhead cisterns with pull chains in the loos. Why none of the taps match along the long institutional, animal trough sink. The amber, oval transparent bar of Pears soap with the unmistakable smell like spicy coal tar that transports you back to childhood. A towel machine on a roll next to an airblade hand dryer.

He points out parts of the warehouse where industrial machinery once stood, and why it looks like there’s a door to nowhere halfway up the wall. The hoists that swung out over the canal. How two men lay on their backs on the boat and “legged it” by walking along the inside of the brick tunnel to move the boat along, in the years before the towpath was built. No-one cared, then or now, how hard the job was. The only story everyone wants to hear is how he saved a man’s life by pulling him out from a grain bin, where he would have otherwise suffocated.

I couldn’t have predicted that audio cassettes and vhs tapes would make a comeback so soon, but it’s only a brief glimpse into his world. The working red telephone box in the foyer, next to the second-hand bookshop. A booth selling sweets by the quarter and a florist with exotic blooms for £4 a stem. Offices of companies that only exist online, next to artist space, the obligatory bicycle repair shop and a combination wine and vinyl warehouse, with barely anything for less than a tenner. A cut-throat barber shop complete with tweed knickerbocker-wearing Victorian gents and their twizzly moustaches, straight out of ‘Peaky Blinders.’

Sanitised nostalgia, packaged and sold back to us in red and white striped paper bags for more than we originally paid.

Even this meal didn’t exist back then.

A woman, looking like she’s about to do a Ted talk, wearing loose flannel trousers, a silk shirt, and an expensively scruffy hairstyle strides over, followed by a younger, nervous youth carrying a clipboard and phone. Their lanyards have the name of the TV production company on it. She sticks out her hand and says, “William? I’m Jessica. Pleased to meet you.”

73. Reasons to be Cheerful

Ripe cherry blossom against a pure blue sky.

Finding a sweet in my coat pocket when I’m stuck in traffic, on my commute home.

The smile of recognition from someone I forgot I ever knew.

A cherubic, fat baby holding out its arms to me for a cuddle.

Money in a birthday card.

The smell of silly putty.

Stepping off the plane into the heat.

Walking into an air-conditioned shop.

Reaching for each other’s hands.

Building a fire from scratch.

Seeing someone famous on the tube.

Hot bath towels straight from the drier.

When he perches on the edge of a table so his knees are either side of my hips and we are face to face.

A pile of birthday cards on top of a present.

A small child pottering around the garden.

The moment of leaving work the day before I go on holiday.

Camping at a music festival as a teenager.

Waking up to the smell of coffee and bacon on a Sunday morning.

Old photos of you that I’ve never seen before.

Seeing a clock change from 2️⃣3️⃣:5️⃣9️⃣ to 0️⃣0️⃣:0️⃣0️⃣

Popping bubble wrap.

Kicking up leaves in the park.

Singing along to a 30-year-old pop song, that I’ve not heard since then.

Twilight in the summertime.

Watching my dad skim pebbles across a lake.

🎈 Trying to keep a balloon in the air as long as possible.

Feeling a cashmere sweater.

A perfectly ripe avocado.

Playing with Lego.