I’m sure you’re all sick of it by now, but this is my space, and so here it is.
Saturday night, I was pootling about at home, trying to do some writing but actually spodding on the internet. You know, how we all do. Suddenly I see a Tweet about London Bridge, and because I spent a lot of my time there, I followed it up.
What became apparent from the hashtags filled me with horror.
There was the usual gamut of thoughts;
Maybe it’s just a run of the mill accident…Maybe it’s people larking about on a Saturday night. White van men, eh?
Oh. Let’s hope nobody’s badly hurt, maybe they missed everyone? Maybe everyone got out of the way?
Oh no…no…not agai – and now it’s spreading…the Market, it’s full of people…dear god no…who do I know who might be there? What if TwoShuks at Ted’s Veg or Graham at The Turkish Deli are on a late clean up shift? What about the teams at Pulia, Roast, Black and Blue – what – how on earth can I find anything out?!
The answer was to stay glued to Twitter. There was nothing I could do but follow the Met Police feed because newspapers are alarmist at best and tend to quote each other as sources.
As the night went on, my heart sank. Pockets of lightness happened when my friends checked in on FB, one by one. Do not underestimate how important that is. Just because YOU might know that you are safe, and miles away, your friends on the other side of the screen do not. Just check in. My friends across the pond know that I go to Borough a lot, they had no way of knowing if I’d gone there for a late night event or not, so in I checked.
Eventually I went to bed, knowing that those who had checked in or tweeted or sent me a text were safe, and that I’d just have to wait.
At 12.34am I got a text from my husband, who was away for the weekend. I knew he was ok, and hadn’t popped into town for a steak dinner or something. I went to bed, dreading the news.
Sunday was spent pointedly not looking at the internet. I needed my head to get itself together. It didn’t really, not until late afternoon. I felt listless, groundless, like being in 1000 places all at the same time whilst standing stone still.
This is MY city, MY home, MY patch, MY alleyways and cobbled streets and hidden walkways. My respite, my joy, the place that I go to unwind, to seek out new things, to talk to the people I have got to know over the years, to share recipes and food ideas, swap stories, talk politics, eat fried breakfasts fit for a king, try samples, buy lots of brilliant things from the myriad of sellers.
It’s where I go in the very early morning, to watch it wake up. To see the bread and coffee stalls uncover, the restaurants and cafés open their sleepy-eyed shutters. The fish and meat stalls washing out the remains of yesterday’s trading, ready to start all over again.
My favourite grocer’s stalls laying out the fruits and vegetables in ever more intricate piles, rainbow hued and gleaming tomatoes, onions, aubergines and lemons, ranks of tall heads of celery, forests of celeriac with the full set of leaves still on, the olive drab and thistle purple of artichokes, and the papery white or vibrant green of garlic old or young. It makes my heart long for a stove, a pan and some olive oil, right there in the middle of it all, so I can cook with the fabulous produce.
There’s the early morning banter by the fish and meat stalls, the same as you get in Smithfield, or New Covent Garden; people who have worked together for years, all being a part of the whirling, turning buzzing whole. I feel completely at home there, and totally safe.
I can sit at Maria’s on a dark, cold morning, long before I need to be in work, fortified with a proper cup of builder’s tea and a sausage sandwich that defies all others, watching everything emerge and unfurl around me, listening to her cockney accent punctuated by machine gun Italian. I watch the cook arrive at the Turkish deli, knowing that she is going to make amazing baklava, the softest dolma, the most garlicky sweet carrot dip, surrounded by the green, briney tang of olives and the dusky waft of Turkish coffee.
One morning down by the river, three homeless men serenaded me because they were so happy to be in the sunshine, and just to be with friends. The rasta Big Issue seller (Chris, by The Shard) talks to me of his family, his daughters, his hopes, and his philosophy. After Westminster, he held my hand, told me not to be afraid, and to be strong and hold my head up.
It’s all I can do. It’s all we can do.
We might be a nation that recoils from eye contact on the tube, or actively runs the other way when we see someone we know (no we don’t know why we do that either, we just do) but we will hold fast, and we WILL help when it’s right there and we WILL save our pint of beer even whilst being pursued by asshats of the highest order, and we WILL be back the next day and pay our bloody bill, and we WILL make jokes and invoke the god of sarcasm and understatement because we are British. Everyone on this island is. Regardless of colour, creed, religion – British is what we are.
You cross that border line, you stand in a long, long queue, patiently? British.
Eventually that eye contact is made, the small talk happens “Bloody trains, eh?” “Is this queue ever going to move?” “Look at him pushing in, tsk.”
and damnit humans are bloody alright, really.
Until the next time we’re in a crowded train carriage.
From https://www.instagram.com/p/BU_McxZg7_2/? Two Shuks, Ted’s Veg.