Monday, May 14, 2007

History in the Rain

At eleven o'clock on Sunday morning it was raining on Aldgate tube station. The buildings around stood tall and grey, soaking up the drizzle patiently until they would be filled yet again with office workers the following day. My friend Jessica and I were perched on stools in a brightly-lit Subway opposite the station entrance, clutching cups of tea and staring somewhat forlornly at the rain as it spattered the windows.

Spotting the people we were waiting for we got up, sighed and shook out the umbrella we had brought along between us and made our way back across the slick road to the tube.

More turned up, sporting outfits of varying degrees of appropriateness for the grim weather (I was, you will no doubt be shocked to hear, not one of those wearing a brightly-coloured plastic raincoat and sensible walking boots) and facial expressions of varying degrees of stoicism. We hung about under the shelter, stamping feet, making introductions and being dripped on through the large gaps in the pitiful attempt at shelter.

This was not the weekly meeting of People Who Like Being Cold And Wet On A Sunday Morning When They Could Be Hanging Around In Bed (I believe they meet at Whitechapel). No, this was a group of people who had all decided to spend the day being guided around a part of London by a very knowledgable and interesting man. Stan (the aforementioned man) is the father of my friend Steve, and they had decided to do a Walking/Drinking Tour for Steve's friends and acquaintances. About twenty of us were hardy enough to look at the weather forecast and not make up some elaborate lie about having a last minute monkey training course or a celery-related emergency, and it was amongst these brave folk that Jessica and I set off to be taught some history and guided to some ale.

Jessica, as it turns out, is American, so I was immensely proud to be able to demonstrate such a typical British activity as wandering around in terrible weather under the promise of alcohol. She gracefully ignored the comments about American tourists and allowed herself to be introduced to such experiences as the Sunday roast, the Sunday ale and the Sunday almost-being-swept-into-the-Thames-by-massive-gusts-of-wind. We walked past the Tower of London and the old Royal Mint, through St. Katherine's Dock and around to the river. We huddled under trees to listen to Stan's powerful baritone raised above the whistling wind and imagine for ourselves the scenes from the Depression as hundreds of men would stand, day after day, hoping desperately to be among the dozen chosen to be given work that day. We saw the places where smugglers were hanged, where the bodies of pirates were covered in tar and left in cages to be picked apart by carrion. We drank ale in pubs once frequented by Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens, and were whipped by the wind and rain as we picked our way down moss-slicked steps to walk along the little sandy beaches that show themselves at low tide.

The last pub we came to was the rather charmingly-named Prospect of Whitby, ostensibly the oldest pub in London (although many of them make that particular claim). As we stood at the bar and ordered more ale the weather cleared. I stood out on the tiny terrace at the back with an old friend and looked up and down the river, squinting in the rain-infused sunlight. The tide was out, revealing the beach far below and the ancient-looking wooden pier. To the left was Canary Wharf and the right led back to the City.

We stayed for a few drinks, enjoying the antiquated feel of the pub with its old beams and sloping ceilings. At about seven-ish (it had been a long day) about eight of us wandered off together to find some food. We walked to Brick Lane for curry, after which some people peeled off to call it a night leaving the rest of us to go in search of ever more ale.

For me the day ended sitting out the back of the Spitz, in the closed Spitalfields Market, engaged in a heated debate as to whether anybody actually knows how to do long division. I do try to make a point of going home when the conversation turns to maths.

I got on the tube feeling happy. Tired, and perhaps somewhat drunk on ale, but happy nevertheless. There were some odd elements to the day, in that I saw for the first time in ages somebody with whom I have too much history to relate (much of it extremely painful) and it was somehow absolutely fine. In fact, it was really nice.

I skipped off the tube at Farringdon and hopped over to the other platform, upstairsthendownstairs. As I stood looking at the departures board a voice from behind me said "Hello. You ran down the stairs and it sort of put me off a dance I was trying to do."

I turned around to see a man about my own age, smiling at me.

"Oh." I said "Sorry about that. Do it again now, if you like."

He shook his head. "No, it's fine, the moment's passed really. I just said to myself that I would come and chat to you. Tell you about my dance."

"Right" I replied. I felt a bit guilty for having put him off his stride, so I thought for a moment, before saying "I could do a tap dance for you, if you like?"

He seemed enthusiastic, so that is how I ended up doing an impromptu and terrifically unskilled tap dance for a strange man on a train platform at twenty-to-midnight on a Sunday night.

(This, however, seemed to impress him rather, because he asked if maybe I would like to go out with him sometime. Which I did, actually, so I handed over my number like the train-harlot that I am.)

Today I went back for the beginning of penultimate week of temping in Luton. The weather was grey and rumbling outside, but I thought about my yesterday and felt removed from the office, with its fluorescent lighting and beeping humming mundanity.

I tap-danced home, feeling happy.


Blogger Neal said...

That sounds like a splendid day out.

5:19 am

Blogger Dancinfairy said...

What a perfect day.

Mine had more walking in the rain and a lot less ale.

Oh yes, and the sun that came out? That was just as I got home and dried off. Cracking!

I would have preferred your day :o)

9:37 am

Anonymous Mr Angry said...

That dancing line never works for me.

Maybe I should just moonwalk for them and be done with it?

9:42 am

Blogger Curly said...

Did you have to pay for this wonderful tour?

Perhaps you could take me on it sometime, you wouldn't even have to remember all the facts - just make things up and I'd probably believe you.

What was I doing on Sunday morning? Lying in bed, moaning about the night before and humming Eurovision songs.

10:13 am

Blogger Clarissa said...

penultimate week?????! congrats!

9:26 pm

Blogger Miss Devylish said...

I love the idea of a celery-related accident. I can't even imagine. And tap-dancing harlots.. I've got the latter part down, I can sorta fake the tap. Glad you had such a good day..

6:12 am


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