A Practically Perfect 24 Hours

There are a lot of ways to fill 24 hours.

I should know. I’ve had to do a lot of filling of hours over the past few weeks, all of my own accord, with little-to-no assistance from employers or money. One can fill one’s days staring at an empty document on one’s computer titled, ‘Personal Statement’, whilst drinking cold tea. One can fill one’s days watching wish-fulfilment-science-fiction-fantasy TV shows that have a slightly incongruous ‘After School Special’ feel (see: ‘Being Erica‘). One can fill one’s days recovering from a hang-over; or lying in bed, watching Twitter change; or cooking inedible biscuits with whatever you can find in the cupboard (you’d assume that coconut and vanilla really would be a winning combination, so maybe it was the self-raising flour?)

You can spend your days being miserable and unhappy, watching minutes stretch into hours and all because its easier to keep doing what you’re doing than it is to come up with something better to do.

But, from approximately 7:30pm onwards last Friday night, I filled up a practically perfect 24 hours.

It all started at The Albany, which is a lovely little venue I have been to a couple of times in Deptford. Deptford is an interesting place. It is very ‘diverse’ in that polite, not-really-saying-anything liberal speak so popular with bureaucrats and real estate agents. It’s going through a process of gentrification, but it’s well-behind the trendy East (even those bits of the trendy East that are only on the Overground), so its still ‘interesting’. That is, you still meet real people instead of ‘people-doing-a-long-form-durational-live-art-interpretation-of-the-idea-of-a-human-being’ (hipsters, students and artists). Anyway, Deptford is an interesting place. The Albany is also an interesting place. It was one of the first places I saw theatre at in London after I moved – a friend (at the time she was a friend of a friend) was involved in a re-imagined Odyessy, which you experienced as a walking tour through the streets of Deptford. It was excellent – interesting, well-crafted, memorable, I had a great night. I don’t think I’ve been back to The Albany since, but it was such a great night that I keep returning and returning to it in my memory and it feels like I’ve been there a hundred times. I really don’t think I have. Isn’t that weird.

Anyway. I was late, so I was stressed and running. I don’t like to be stressed and running. I don’t mind running on a treadmill. I don’t mind stressing in a stationary position (though I’d really rather do neither), but the two combined is awful. Especially since I had on my new favourite wardrobe creation, which I have dubbed ‘gypsy-hippy-artist-woman’, involving a red headscarf, a lot of swishy black clothing and big round earrings. I look like I’ve either stepped out of the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ or was a 10 year old involved in a very serious game of dress-ups. Suffice it to say I thought I looked amazing. But the running was doing nothing for me.

Of course, the show was running late. This annoyed me. There was nowhere to sit. I had run in a stressed manner when my clothes indicated my mode of movement should be slow, gliding and mysterious. I was sweaty and smelly. I wan on my own so had nothing to do except to pretend to be interested in the free flyers (there is only so many times you can pick up a flyer for an Over 60s social lunch club and raise your eyebrows to the heavens and nod in a way that suggests, ‘Ah, what an interesting project. Sociability! Over 60s! Lunch! What a winning combination! I have never seen such a thing and will immediately pass this on to my many and varied Over 60s friends!’ without beginning to look a little bonkers). Just as I was starting to passively aggressively sigh and stamp my feet (those FOH people had no idea what hit them!) I realised this late start was partially my fault, as the FOH staff were waiting for more audience members to arrive. One of those people was my friend, who I knew wasn’t coming. I had meant to tell them when I picked up my ticket. I hadn’t. The only person holding up this show, therefore, was me. However, I decided to deal with this like the fully grown adult I was and… not tell anyone.

Despite this, the performers decided to get going. Most of my irritation melted away when the first performer, Leo, opened the doors, gave me a big smile and shook my hand. He had salt and pepper wavy hair, a gold earring and was slightly shorter than me. I liked him immediately. Inside, I found the second performer, Patrizia, a with hair so naturally voluminous it added glorious inches to her height. She stood in front of a blackboard and took the name of the ingredient we had bought.

Oh, yes. Did I forget to mention that? Wrapped inside my fake fur coat (which I had taken off because of all the sweating) was a packet of courgettes (zucchinis), hidden from the audience members. Everyone had bought a secret ingredient to contribute to our group meal, which we were all going to cook, and eat, together that evening. That was the premise of the show. It was called, ‘Only Wolves and Lions’ based on a quote from Epicurus, ‘Only wolves and lions eat alone’ (which is an excellent title by the way. That title made me pick up a flyer in Edinburgh. And that flyer brought me to a show in London. So, excellent title guys. Well done). One by one, we presented our food gifts to Patrizia, lay them on the table and sat down.

We ended spending about 4 hours there that night, no ‘interval’ or anything, just cooking, cleaning, chatting and the occasional performance and directed discussion. It was fantastic. A lot of people had come with their friends, but it was quite nice being there and knowing no-one. There was a big discussion about communities in London and whether or not community was something that was being lost and whether or not that was a bad thing, or was that only a middle-class experience, or a youth experience or an immigrant experience etc. etc. etc. Some people got very grumpy, which was interesting in itself, because… well, because I come from a nice Anglo-Saxon family and people aren’t supposed to argue with each other about things. Especially not at parties. You know, no religion or politics?

Anyways, it was about 11:30pm by the time I got going. I retraced my steps, jumping on a bus and hoping to get to Queen’s Road Peckham before the Overground stopped. But, by the time I had gotten off my bus, the only trains left were not going to my station. My only choice was to catch a Night Bus. But there didn’t seem to be any buses going past me in any useful directions. So, because I can’t stand waiting around for things (especially in London where I’ve gotten used to buses and trains only ever being between 3 – 5 mins away), I decided in the end to walk from Queen’s Road Peckham to Denmark Hill, where I could get a more regular bus. For those of you who do not know London, this is what I did:

Queens' Road Peckham to Denmark Hill from Google Maps

Queens’ Road Peckham to Denmark Hill from Google Maps

Which isn’t that long really, but it feels longer at 12:30am. To some people this might be hell. But, to me, night-walking is bliss (And, as a side note, to me, waiting for a bus pointlessly for 25 mins with no book, no seat and drunken people falling around me is hell). So, I walked. I’m not sure what it is about night-walking that I so love. Certainly the fact that the city is quieter, emptier is good. I usually do it post a show or a gig or a party, maybe something that’s been quite stimulating, possibly loud and the chance to walk and clear my head, or think some more is usually welcome. Maybe part of it is feeling special because you’re walking around and seeing things that others are missing because they are inside sleeping, watching the telly or stumbling around outside drunk. Maybe I just have a death wish or enjoy taking risks. Really, I don’t think that it’s that I enjoy the risk part of it, though, because whenever I think seriously about the potential risks I feel very guilty and ashamed that I sashay about places I hardly know just for the joy of seeing street lamps lighting up bitumen. I think its that I block out the risk part of it and just go with my gut feelings, which is that I just really really really like to walk around at night. And, hey, they’ve got to have lit up all the streets for someone, right? What’s the point of burning all that energy if no-one’s around to see the pretty lights glowing orange in the blackness? Exactly .

I tumbled into bed around 1am and slept as soundly as a huge meal and big walk deserve. When I woke up it was beautifully sunny and I decided that I refused to stay indoors any longer pretending to ‘work’ and ‘write’. Instead, I was going out somewhere green and I was going to walk for hours. Because it was Saturday and the weekend, I took my time getting ready. I had a lazy breakfast and tea. I was enraged to discover that the internet was not working when I woke up, but then remembered that I hate looking at the internet and social media first thing when I wake up, but do it anyway (my lame-ass self-destruction). So, instead I picked up a play from the many unread plays strewn about my room and I settled in. It also has an excellent title. The title made me buy the play even though I had never heard of it. The title is, ‘If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep.’ It was about Occupy and anarchism and politics and the left’s lack of direction and identity and it was, yeah. It was a good read for a Saturday morning.

I then headed to Clapham Junction to take a train to my chosen green destination: Richmond. I had gone walking by the Thames there with a friend a few weeks back and her knees had given up well before I was ready to (there was a village I could see! Just ahead! Just up ahead! Quaint English village! SO CLOSE! SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR), so I wanted to head back and do the walk again.

At the train station there was a huge crush of people on my platform. This displeased me. It confused me too. Where was everyone going at midday on a Saturday? Had everyone had the same idea as me? Then I saw that the trains on my platform were going to Richmond and then to Twickenham. Something twinged in the back of my brain. Twickenham. ‘That’s a sporty kind of place, I think’, said the tiny, poorly used and ill-informed part of my brain that deals with sporty things. ‘Perhaps horse racing?’ It guessed. ‘The Twickenham Races? Yes, yes, I’m sure that’s right,’ it said and went back to sleep. The rest of my brain then analysed the facts and decided there weren’t enough women in ridiculous hats and pointy shoes for it to be the races, so my curiosity getting the better of me, I turned to a friendly looking gentleman and asked in my plummiest English, ‘Sorry, this is probably a daft question, but is something happening today?’ He laughed the uncomfortable laugh of a person who has just suddenly and unexpectedly had their life choices and passions brought into question by a stranger’s indifference and ignorance of something they care too deeply about. ‘Oh, its a Rugby match. England vs. Australia.’

‘Oh, yes,’ mumbled the sporty part of my brain, ‘Rugby. I knew it was either Rugby or Racing. Very similar… same letter, you know…’ and then slumped back into a coma.

I eventually managed to squish onto a train with a variety of burly Rugby fans who proceeded to discuss the perpetual existence of Australians wherever it was that you happened to be in the world. Considering this was a game being held against Australians I was a little bit surprised at the burly gentlemen’s surprise at finding more Australians surrounding them, but I kept my comments to myself.

At Richmond, after finally getting free of the Rugby hordes, I sat down to have my lunch by the Thames in front of a very lovely boat cafe/restaurant/bar which is currently the scene of every friend I know’s imaginary wedding. That is to say, its not that they are telling me they want to get married there, its that I look at the boat and I think, goddamn it, SOMEONE should get married there and I want to be there when it happens! And if it takes wildly inappropriate and unasked for matchmaking and wedding planning, well then, that is just what will have to happen!

After lunch, I started the long walk towards my English village. Things were going very well to begin with. The sun was out, there were children gambolling down the pathways and jumping in puddles, there were fluffy dogs running beside their owners. The Thames was ridiculously, comically swollen, so that a ledge I had drunkenly swung my feet over on at a picnic in May causing my friends to worry that I would fall in, now had water spilling over it and onto the grass. There was a difference of at least 2 metres. As I got closer to the promised English village, however, things started to look iffy. The path was overflowing. Not just overflowing, but up to my knees in some sections. Approximately, that is, as there was no way I was wading in just to measure how far up I’d get wet to accurately describe to you guys in this blog.

I had only been walking for 40 minutes and I had wanted to walk for hours and hours. Slightly annoyed, I turned around and headed towards Richmond Park instead. By now the sun was gone and people were scurrying back towards their fancy cars and lovely homes. But I was not to be deterred. I was walking for hours and hours! I walked straight into the park and about 10 minutes later it started to rain. But instead of turning around and heading back I decided to keep walking. I ended up walking from Richmond to Kingston-Upon-Thames, at which point the rain was pounding down and I decided I was beaten. I would go and find some kind of public transport and head home. But at the end of the road, instead of public transport, I found a pub called ‘The Albert’. Remembering there was a rugby match on, I approached cautiously. But the place was only pleasantly full, no TV and instead, a huge roaring fireplace with 4 giant armchairs sitting in front of it. Empty. I approached the barman quickly.

‘Can I just order a tea and sit anywhere?’

‘Yes.’

(almost breathless with excitement) Can I sit in front of the fire?’

(slightly confused) Well, yes, as long as there’s a table free… (gaining more confidence) Of course you can!’

At which point I nearly fainted from happiness. Fainted straight into one of those giant armchairs in front of the fire that is! I sat in my armchair (with pillows) in front of the fire, with my tea and reading another play until myself and all my clothes had dried out and the sun was shining again. I then headed back to Richmond Park and walked all the way around to the Roehampton Gate. I essentially walked over 3/4 of the perimeter of the park:

And though every walking muscle in my body ached, I felt amazing. The view back towards London was beautiful. The light was beautiful. I saw a flock of parrots. I don’t know why. Don’t ask questions. They were just there. It was weird and beautiful anyway.

The light was beautiful

The light was beautiful

The light! The light! Oh man, the light!

The light! The light! Oh man, the light!

 

Eventually I stumbled onto a train back to Clapham Junction, jumped in the shower and got prettied up in my favourite ‘1980s does the 1950s dress’. 

And there you have it, a practically perfect way to spend 24 hours. Not that exciting really. Go to the theatre. Make good food. Eat the food. Walk. Sleep. Read. Eat more food. Walk some more. Have tea in front of a fire. Walk all the other places you haven’t already walked. Have a shower.

Life really is pretty easy when you don’t think too hard about it.

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