Ticket duly fumbled, step duly stumbled and safely ensconced next to a man in a neck brace reading a bible, I breakfast on the thin fumes of nail polish (who doesn't appreciate the challenge of doing their nails on the bus?), calculate my tube journey (too long, no matter how I play it) and seethe about People Who Can't Queue.
Queuing is neither peculiarly British, nor anchored in any specific class, age or location, no matter what your local pub sociologist would have you believe. It's a universal. Kids do it, punks do it, even animals do it. It's just an efficient way to access limited resources; and the only reason we make such a big thing about it is that it while we're at it, we have time to think.
And unfortunately, what we do is waste our time musing about the essential nature of queuing, rather than figuring out and sticking to the optimum rules for the specific queue which we are in. For British buses, the rules are these:
- If you're the front of the queue, step forward and wave for the bus.
- Get on without delay, and have money/pass/questions/luggage ready.
- Only offer help to people directly ahead of you in the queue and then only if they clearly need it.
- Letting people in ahead of you is OK for one person you know well.
- Flirting or conversing should only be done if it doesn't slow you down.
- Get in, sit down, get out of the way.
Time passes, and I make my apologies to my uncle, my father (you should have called me! said Dad, I would have given you a lift!). Go to Tower Bridge, where half a gay Dutch couple compliments me on my charity-shop hat (did he see the place where I'd just removed the red ribbon in my attempt to be funereal?) and walk across it (something I've never done before) under the gargoyles and onto the Thames path to the slate expanses dotted with modern art which marks the regeneration area around City Hall. The Thames is grey; the rain falls down. My only black bag soaks through and after a bit I remember to rescue the tech to my trouser pockets. The scripts will just have to soak through; the whipstick lipstick will cope or dissolve. I pace the Thames through underpasses and stairs, past building sites and murals and offices behind glass, benches and piers and innovative public lighting schemes.
My feet hurt, in my smart black shoes.
Eventually I make it to the concrete beach at the Tate, and spread everything out to dry, stretch out in the imaginary light of the sodium sun that gives neither real warmth nor real light but just the image of both. The paper isn't too wet to sketch on, so I script, between glancing up at scampering toddlers and hallucination prickles of white light. The cloud machines turn on, and I run away before everything gets even wetter.
I go upstairs to history and memory, look at trees liberated from the beams they were imprisoned within, images of a Brazil long-gone, the sign that reads, "THE WORLD HAS BEEN EMPTY SINCE THE ROMANS". Since you've been gone, since you've been gone.
And so on. And so on.