Not Always Like This

I sat on the coach as other passengers ambled on. A woman boarded, dressed entirely in purple. She stood at the front, and announced,

“Ladies and gentlemen, I need your help – I am casting a spell for world peace.”

She reminded me of a teacher on a school trip, but mad.


A week or so earlier, my doctor called me into his office.

My words tumbled out in a monotone jumble: I felt unable to cope, I’d banged my head against a wall on purpose.


The woman continued her monologue.

“You see, ladies and gentlemen, there are lines connecting all of us: green lines, orange lines and white lines…”

A bus station staff member boarded the coach.

“Can you step off the coach for a minute, love? We want to have a word with you.”


“You need to find a healthy way of dealing with frustration – hurting yourself isn’t going to help.”

An anger swelled inside me.

“I know that, don’t fucking patronise me.”

“I’m not used to being sworn at whilst I do my job,” he responded calmly. “I’m trying to help you.”


The woman in purple got back on.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very sorry to have caused such a disturbance,” she said coyly, before returning to her seat, collecting her things and leaving the coach.


“I’m sorry,” I said, ashamed. “I’m not always like this.”

I took the pale green prescription slip and left the doctor’s office.

Poor Woodstock Children

I sat on a bench along a footpath that shoots out eastward between meadows from University Park. Clearheaded from running, I felt elated by endorphins, the sepia autumn sunlight, and pride at having recently become a graduate student at the University of Oxford.

Then, a woman and her son – a chubby boy of around eleven or so – came walking along the path.

“They were poor Woodstock children!” the boy whispered theatrically.

“What are you saying?” the mother replied, flustered, possibly embarrassed by my presence and not wishing for a stranger to judge her by her son’s nascent snobbery.

A few seconds’ later, two Labradors came bounding along, followed by two women. One of the dogs panted toward me, and began sniffing enthusiastically around my groin. Thankfully, one of the women then called it away, smiling to show her embarrassment at her dog’s wandering nose.

Getting up, I walked in the direction from which they had come. Toward me came two young girls, also of around eleven. One was small and blonde, the other was larger, with black hair in cornrows that cascaded down to braids.

“Keep running mate,” the latter said, sarcastically.

I attempted an expression that conveyed disapproval yet also wry amusement at her remark. I then broke back into a run and kept going along the long, straight path, where the trees provided coolness yet obscured the view of meadows on either side.

Cheesy Easy Peasy

So I was in Sainsbury’s, squatting in front of the refrigerator cabinet looking at the £1.50 Sainsbury’s Basics margarita pizzas. They were piled up like a load of old frisbees at a lost-and-found: discs of bready dough with tomato puree and little oblong strips of cheddar smeared scantily over one side, held tight by clingfilm to a polystyrene base on the other. There are slogans on all Basics product labels that attempt to make light of the product’s crappiness in comparison to more expensive alternatives. The one on the pizza read,

“Dinner is easy peasy,

just a little less cheesy

I thought about what other things I could put on top of the pizza to make it edible: the olives, peppers and spinach that I had in my basket; the chilli flakes I have in my cupboard; the extra cheese that I have in the fridge. It would be fun – almost a creative process – making this otherwise tasteless circle of carb into something enjoyable to eat.

An arm then reached over my shoulder, and hurriedly pulled a pizza from the pile. I turned around and saw a woman maybe in her late twenties:  droopy green coat; blonde hair, dark roots; tired pretty eyes. She put the pizza in her trolley, and wheeled off around the corner.

I carried on strolling along the aisles, enjoying the fact that because one of my university lectures was an hour earlier than usual I got to come here at around 11 – before lunchtime hungriness had kicked in – and could therefore browse more carefully. I mulled over whether or not to buy a jar of umami seasoning because it contained anchovy, as recently I’ve been abstaining from meat in an attempt to live more mindfully.

Along one aisle, a small child whizzed by me, then the woman with the pizza came around the corner, calling out to her or him. As we crossed paths, I saw how her face was strained; her eyes stared straight ahead. I felt my own eyes drawn towards the content of her trolley. Keeping the pizza company were eight tins of Sainsbury’s basics products, and nothing else. Even though doing so made me feel like I was taking something from her, I couldn’t help but stare at the orange and white tins lined up in her trolley as we passed.

What dumbass slogans were written on those tins, I wonder.

Dark Coloured Track Suits and Plain Black Shoes

I wrote this whilst living in Aomori City, Japan

Sometimes before the salsa class that I have been going to recently, I pop into the game centre a couple of floors down and have a go on the taiko drum game. A few times there I have noticed a boy of twenty or so, hanging around on his own. He is skinny with pale skin and short, sensibly cut hair; his mouth is slightly down-turned, making him look kind of serious. Whenever I have seen him, he is wearing a nondescript, dark coloured tracksuit and plain black shoes.

The last time I was there, he was standing with a group of boys of around the same age, who were playing a game which involved racing miniature plastic horses. The boys he was with kept doing something wrong – I think one or two of them were sitting on a part of the machine – so the centre attendant kept coming over to tell them off unsuccessfully.

Although a cursory glance might have lead one to believe that the boy in the tracksuit was a part of the other boys’ group, I thought otherwise: partly because I had seen him there alone before; also because none of them seemed to be acknowledging his presence. Mainly however, it was the differences in his and their appearances that gave the game away. His clothes and hairstyle looked like they had been chosen for him by somebody else, with practicality and value-for-money in mind. They on the other hand, wore brightly coloured sweat pants and parka jackets made from PVC fabric, their hair grown long, styled and dyed various brassy shades of caramel. He wore his clothes to protect himself from the elements. They wore theirs for this purpose too, but also as a means to engage in Rebellion™; to make a statement about who they were and how they wished to be seen by others.

So, it seemed that he was standing next to them, but not actually with them: close in physical proximity yet distant in all other measures. At one point one of the boys – maybe in a deliberate attempt to get rid of him – came and stood with his back turned right in front of him, blocking him off from the others. For an instant the boy looked put-out and angered by this, as if his rightful place in the group had been stolen. Yet seemingly he took the hint, as the next time I looked around from the taiko game he had moved and was standing a few metres behind me, once again on his own.

I finished the game, and headed off towards the escalator to go up to salsa. As I was leaving, one of the boys broke off from the group and ran up behind me, keitai in hand.

“Excuse me,” he said in Japanese. “Can I take a photo with you?”

“No,” I replied in English, turning away and walking off toward the escalator.

Two Days in Kathmandu

From the airport we travelled by taxi through the city, along  pothole-filled roads crammed with red-brick houses on either side. Some were plastered and painted bright colours and covered in verdant green plants, high walls enclosing their neat, cool courtyards. Others were crumbling, half-up half-down, about to topple. In the background, massive, concrete-grey apartment buildings loomed half-built; skeletal structures pointing to a hoped-for future. Stray dogs slept here and there on the side of the road.

I remember the colours of the clothes that the women wore – pink, burgundy, turquoise, electric blue, greens and golds – carefully hand-washed, their vibrancy undiluted.

The word REVOLT was painted toweringly on the side of the wall. A billboard for a cellular network leant precariously from a rooftop, displaying a group of young, attractive people using mobile phones and looking pleased with themselves. Revolutionary socialism and consumerism both jostling to offer a form of escape; both coming off as somewhat incongruous with the surroundings.

In the mid-afternoon on our second day we went up a tower in the centre of the city, built 200 years before and opened recently to the public. From the narrow balcony at the top, we looked out on many rows of tall, narrow, higgledy-piggledy houses, and little matchstick figures playing football and cricket on the yellow-thirsty grass of the parks and sports fields. The faint silhouette of the surrounding mountains seemed to fade almost imperceptibly into the hazy grey low-hanging sky; the constant honking and beeping of the crowded streets was audible, yet distant. A father and a son were pointing somewhere and discussing something in good-natured contention, most likely the location of a certain place.

Later on we were sitting in a bar in the tourist area when a white man in his thirties or so stood in the middle of the street outside, alone. He held a transistor radio, and looking up towards the sky, he began singing something softly yet imploringly in a North American accent. Cars honked at him to get out of the way, yet no noise seemed to penetrate the trance-like state he was in. Two or three Nepalis watched from a nearby shop doorway, smiling curiously.

As we sat in the waiting room for the jeep that would take us out of the city, there was a toddler in a bright fuchsia dress with puff sleeves, her eyes coated with thick black make-up, ears pierced with thick gold rings. An empty wrapper of instant noodles had blown in from somewhere and she laughed happily to herself as she chased it, pitter-pattering across the grey concrete floor.

Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu