Stood by a streetcar stop a just few minutes walk from the shores of Lake Ontario, on a honey-coated summer evening, light and humming with warmth, I checked my watch only to be suddenly reminded of once living in hearing distance of Big Ben.
I didn’t start there, originating a bit further south. The first house I lived in was just around the corner from Tooting Broadway tube station – the one that became iconic after TV’s Wolfie Smith walked out of it moments before his fist raised declaration of ‘Power to the People’ on the opening credits to Citizen Smith.
It was surreal so often seeing Wolfie emerge into a place once familiar but suddenly now feeling so far away. For years that was where it felt I belonged. As though coming from there meant I was destined to live there again one day, it just being a matter of time. I’ve been back often since. For work or fun, but far more often just to pass through.
At first, it pulled hard; then time ebbed and with it came gradual decline. The unseen row of shops opposite the tube that Wolfie walks towards; a picture in my hand that slowly ceased to match. Can still see them now, clear as day – the Chelsea Girl shop, once quite the boutique. A swinging, hip n’ happening mini-skirted place, with clubs like The Cat’s Whiskers not all that far away.
If Wolfie had taken a left, walked the other way, he would’ve passed my first dentist instead.
Today it must be close to twenty years since even passing through. When first leaving London for the West Country and then the UK in entirety, I didn’t go to say goodbye.
Despite its age, Wolfie’s spirit continues: in 2015 some media outlets reported (incorrectly, it so far seems) Citizen Smith was to get a reboot; and in 2016 Tooting by-election candidates were asked to do Wolfie impressions by the BBC.
It was never the place I missed, but the time.
It was a few moves later, too, before the Elephant and Castle – in the middle of the triangle it forms with The Oval and Camberwell Green to be precise; there, parts are quite nice. At least when compared to being right in the beast.
Perhaps that was just the time, not the place.
I could hear them there; though only late at night and when stood on the balcony from where much later imagination saw a toothbrush arch high in the sky.
‘Two steps of realisation that kept me carrying on. Straight through the room and out onto the already open balcony like it was exactly where I’d intended to go.
Behind, laughter verged on the uncontrollable. “Sorry,” She managed to say through it, “I have to stop you a sec, Paul – a naked body has just walked passed me and gone stood on the balcony!”
NAKED?! Looked down. Somewhere between the bathroom and living room had lost the towel.
From the living room: “Yeah, yeah – I know, I know!”
Pulled the toothbrush from my mouth, threw it hard over the balcony. Total frustration. Rage. Didn’t even watch it arch through the sky.
She called out: “Paul says you might wanna think that look through before going any further than the balcony.” Her laughter again reached rapturous heights. Again talking to the fuck-wit Paul, She continued, “I have absolutely no idea . . . I can’t stop laughing either.”
Surely no judge, if knowing the full unabridged story of what She’d done, could fail to sympathise, show mercy and offer leniency: Hers was the real crime, I was the victim – justice would have to prevail. Given Her great misdeeds against me, could be no other way . . .’
The Medusa Protocol, Book I
Could hear them ring out; maybe ten, eleven if it was quiet enough, so more often the twelve strikes of midnight. Or the harsh loneliness of one that always sounded rung in cold mist.
Never then did I consider the boon it would’ve been for everyone to have access to time. How much further it would’ve reached, too, without all the modern tall buildings or noisy engines filthily clogging streets.
Never when in London did I think of London much at all.
‘from rusty hooks upon the Thames New Romantics hang . . .
. . . that thick body rushing darkly through . . . Flanked by wharfs, ominous black; heavy chains and hooks hanging aching and macabre year-after-year from weather-beaten cranes . . . all shadow and silent apart from occasional creaks of old timber or dull clang of buoy bell . . . To think our slight lulling movement could have originated from there . . . What an incredible place to exist . . . What an incredible place to be born?’
The Medusa Protocol, Book IV
The secondhand of my watch moved ever onward. Seemingly eager and impatient, appearing to lift a little as a hammer before striking down again to signal another moment in time eternally gone like it had somewhere important to go.
Memories can be funny things; the watch face is off-white and the hands light brown like the strap, though with a green tint at the edge so they show in the dark. I haven’t worn that watch for some time. The one I wore is black and white, simple as – but the brown and green sits so much nicer with the summer scene . . .
There would’ve been bells more locally prior—I realised it then—and for some considerable time too; the time I’d imagined buried back in itself even further still.
Looking up from my watch in Toronto, a streetcar approached.
It was about time.
Thanks for reading 🙂
N. P. Ryan.