6th of July, 1952
Smokey London’s hapless night time feel and me were never one. Forty eight minutes to ten, Guinness time. Hold me up or hold me back, I’ll make it there in time for The Girl I Love.
The trams are finishing tonight. When you heard them fumbling their way through the morning, first thing, you knew you had survived another fiery night. The rattle, the clang and the sway and oh how snug it was to be on the inside, when it was raining on the outside. The trams and the rain and South London all seemed to go so well together then. And now what of these unused rails? The paths left abandoned, the streets never chosen. And what of that special section of thin air, reserved solely for those hardy souls, temporarily suspended between street and sky?
I never appreciated my position. I never gave it a second thought. The magic in the everyday, the mystery within the machine. Gliding through the kerosene strings of Christmas lights and Chinese lanterns, the filament eyes, tripped into life by the lamplighter’s touch, all the while sat side by side with the wishless old ladies who thought nothing of it.
I thought something of it though. Every single night. Like putting lighter to cigarette, I still love that sound. It’s nothing. The fizz, the sizzle, as flame meets paper and root catches light. Inhale and exhale smoke. Smoke is like a secret, the hazy wisp of a secret, breathed in for a moment, hidden inside, deep within the chest and breathed out when concealment becomes too much.
Now I’m demobbed, but I’m still feeling the Ardennes in the palms of my hands, in the soles of my feet, I’ve got its mud under my fingernails and its metal in my back. I held his hand as he melted into the dirt. I took his pictures from his top pocket, took his letters given passage by BFPO and held them in trust near his St Christopher, until I could plead my way home.
The tram driver becomes a bus driver tomorrow and for the first time in forty years he will be able to sit down, but then again, I suppose bird song always does sound louder after any storm. I’m going to open all the windows on the top deck, I’m going to let the atmosphere flood in, I’m going to jump up on a seat and peer out and see over the edge of the world, and the old ladies are going to frown and I’m going to let them. I miss my father more than anyone else in the world, and if love is the absence of anxiety, then I’m as anxious as hell.