Express Pizza at Pizza Express.

“It is 8.55pm. We need to have had two courses and be out of here by 9.30pm at the very latest. Is this possible, sir?”

The waiter looks anxious. He scuttles off to the chef, and returns promptly, not totally sure of what he has manateesigned up for.

There are four of us. We all met at a Project Trust Returned Volunteer Weekend; the three of them last year, and add me on this year. We have all come from different parts of the UK tonight: Edinburgh, Kent, Leicester, and North London: to go to a VSO meeting and to enjoy each others company.

We order immediately, hurriedly, as if it is some kind of time test on television. ‘Ready, Steady, Eat and Leave’ it should be called. As Stewart stumbles over his words Henry and I jump ahead, to give him time to get his tongue untied. We order for Anna, no time to wait.

Before the food arrives we have paid our bill (employing our discount voucher).

First course: the table is divided. For the guys: bruschetta. For the girls: dough balls with garlic butter. However, Stewart looks on enviously at the dough balls, and myself lovingly at the bruschetta, so we do a half and half split to get the best of both worlds.

By the time the pizzas arrive time is running out. It is a competition; except we all need to be winners. We all need to leave by 9.30 in order to get to our respective stations on time. I fold my pizza over, so there are three slices face to face and face to bottom. I don’t usually eat quickly, but it seems like the only way physically possible to ‘complete the task’ in the time limit.

9.29pm and the last bites are being gobbled. The calming manatee (a meme) reassures us all that we will make it. On leaving a 10% tip (how could we not?) and a decorated thank you not to the waiter, we dashed out: our mission complete.

Advertisements

The Artist

Spontaneously, the young couple had floated to Clissold Park in the summer breeze. Drawn by the unrelenting promise of cheap Cornish Ice Cream, relatively.

When the porch wrapped around the old stately home quietly whispered to them to come back soon they walked hand in hand, in love, down the hill to the path below. The river glistened and slowly, but surely the spring leaves unfurled revealing a lush green, waxy texture.

They saw the jacket before they saw the face. It was vintage, bought cheaply in a thrift store in Australia. Ten years ago it had simply been practical; it had fitted, it was cheap. But now, it had become the height of fashion. So, who was laughing?

They knew him. They all danced together; Wednesday nights were the highlight of their week. They would dress up, and wind down to hot jazz, with good company. ‘Lightfoot’ as they called him, was part of that company.

The coincidence was pleasant. It was the first time they had felt part of a community. London, with all of its quarters and districts, areas, groups, winding streets, tall buildings, concrete; had become somewhere where one could belong, and casually bump into friends in the park when enjoying a stroll in the sunshine.

The beer garden experience was great for two, but not the other. Politics was the agenda; she was not sure whether left or right. All she was sure of was that she was not interested, not involved and hungry. Food was on her mind.

That is why when young Michael invited them for dinner she could not resist. It felt like they were being taken around a new city, somewhere unknown and exciting. Yet, they had been in the area, often.

The house, the Australian housemate- the ‘reluctant accountant’- it was too good. The mushrooms detracted slightly, but, Lightfoot was right; what vegetarian in their right mind doesn’t eat mushrooms? The conversation ebbed and flowed; between hipsters, the internet, mobile phones and art.

Art. What a wonderful thing. Artists. What fascinating people. The living room was the heart of the home. This is where it happened. The paintbrushes, the canvases, the easels, the books; how could somebody not be inspired here. The painting of her, based loosely on Manet’s ‘woman with hat’ (or something along those lines), was striking. The expression fluid yet unchanging, the young woman couldn’t take her eyes off her. Until she realised that Lightfoot had done a drawing of her and two friends in pen and ink. It was strange to see a drawing of herself, a representation of what other people think. She looked normal, happy, playful; a pleasant surprise.

By the time the clock struck 12, metaphorically, they left. After a quick dash back to retrieve a forgotten bag the night was over. The bus scooped them up and whisked them back to close proximity of where the whole adventure had begun.

An Unexpected Trio

Trio member one: me, a weary and lost young women trying desperately to get to Thatcham and failing. She had planned for the journey to be three things: quick, straightforward, pleasant. However, as is often is the case in life, the sliding doors complex arose. She missed the train by a fraction of a minute (perhaps 1/4) leaving the rest of the journey in a state of chaotic catch up. First, was London Paddington to Reading. Then a stressful potter at Reading. Next, Reading to Theale. It was supposed to be Thatcham- the train continued on to there- without her. She found herself overwhelmed in a hot and busy carriage full of young men dressed to the nines, and families poshed up for the Newbury horse races (an event that she had never heard of until stepping onto the strain- bustling past the cyclists, the bags and the sweat). It was when she stumbled out of the carriage, over the bags, ahead of the cyclist that her eyes fell upon the sign: Theale. It was the wrong stop. She felt her eyes welling up, her breath quickening and the she saw him…

Trio member two: Gawain, a fairly young, fairly unusual character. A friendly face, a mop of ashen hair and prominent teeth- noticeable, attractive. As he arrived at Theale from Swindon his eyes fell upon the back of a girl in black; her hair loose and free absorbing the hot English sun. It felt like summer. The canal was round the corner ready to be walked, bit by bit, in order to stave off what often became long and unfulfilling days of unemployment. He was clever, but sort of nervous, unsure of himself- except that he laughed like a Walrus with a cold. As she turned he saw her tears, her frustration and rather than comforting her by recognising her negativity- he spoke of other things- the weather, the canals, the absurdity of the business of the previous train. He was understanding and extended a warm hand of friendship to a stranger in need; waiting with her until the next train whizzed through the train station of this sleepy English town.

Trio member three: Martin. As a young man surrounded by at least twenty friends at a time he had always imagined that the old chap sitting reading the paper was a sad case. Today he felt like that man. His divorce had just gone through and he had just moved back in with his father after 30 odd years of marriage. It was over and he didn’t know what to do, who to turn to; so he turned to the newspapers at a pub far away from his father’s house. It was on the train station where he saw her; playfully dancing on the platform with a friend. Cheeky and graceful; in his eyes the picture of youth, a ballerina. Their eyes met from afar and he was flustered, embarrassed, very careful to show that he did not want to impose or but into anything where he was not welcome. As her friend walked off she came over and stood right next to him, the train slowly pulling out of the station. She looked him directly in the eye and beamed. She was standing with a youngish man in the carriage, he looked awkward, they must have been together he thought. She was like a seamstress, sewing together threads of these three different lives together for one train journey, what became a trip to London.

A Fresh Start

To put it simply, I need a fresh start.

Image

I no longer live in Mauritius and as such decided to start a new blog about my life in the UK, rather than living in the past.

So, without forgetting what was an incredible year, I am moving on to greener pastures (literally- it rains quite a lot in the UK- one of the reasons why our grass is so fresh) and creating something new.

That is all for now, other blogs with more photos to follow…