So this last Thursday I headed down to Rochester — I should say historic Rochester — for the first time in over 5 years. What brought me there all those years ago was my first trip to the UK and some chance that instead of a gig there was a book launch and a generous invitation to join. It’s such an odd thing, but it’s very much like me. I just find myself in places, Paris/Glasgow with A, B, and P, Denmark with S, O, K, F, (and many others), and originally Medway with W, A, and too many others to name.
What brought me down this time was an impulse, mainly. I had initially seen Mick’s work on my first visit and was already familiar with Wolf’s. The title of the exhibition — “the Skull grins relentless” — also inexplicably helped the increase of the importance of this event. Another big factor that has been motivating me to get back down there is the fact that Wolf and Aurelie have since had a child, who I virtually watched grow up via Aurelie’s amazing photographs and son-related facebook posts. There are no words to describe how precious he is, or why I feel so connected to him. The only way I can justify it is that when I first visited, Aurelie was pregnant, and so in a way I knew him before he was born. He’s really the first being I’ve been old enough to remember ‘before you were born’.
So I arrived in London early Thursday morning, and there was no rush to head east, so I wandered about a bit (okay, more than a bit) lost. I saw the Duke of Wellington’s statue, which, now that I’ve lived in Glasgow so long, didn’t look right without a cone on top of his head. I briefly entered Hyde Park, the first place I discovered in my first trip to London. Last time it was summer and dry, so I sat underneath a giant tree for a while and pondered what the UK would have in store for me. This time it was a bit colder and definitely more wet, so I passed up the opportunity to get soggy jeans and instead headed to the palace. Mainly because it was close, but also because I kept hearing my grandma’s voice saying ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it!” — and that was convincing enough. So I got there and there was a definite letdown. I’ll never understand why hundreds gather at the gates to watch an outdated, irrelevant tradition continue. Ooh, guards with funny hats. The rain started up quite heavily, so I took a few pictures for grandma and headed to the station.
I called Wolf up and he said he’d meet me at the station. When I got there floods of memories about my first trip rushed through my mind. How could it have been that long? We headed to his house and waited for Aurelie. I took what I thought was going to be a brief nap before waking up to a small voice downstairs. I went down slowly and peeked into the living room where he was on the couch dancing about. I couldn’t believe how big he was! So they said, “come and meet Celina.” He turned and immediately grew shy and hid behind his mum’s leg. Adorable isn’t even the word.
So we sat down to an amazing dinner and got ready for the exhibition. When we got there it was quiet and a vibe of uncertainty coursed through the room. As more people showed up, the atmosphere turned, quite frankly, lovely. All kinds of folk showed up and the paintings as well as the ceramics / poetry were great. Mick and Wolf seem to have unknowingly synthesize their artwork so that it compliments each other without ever having had that intent. The painting that they did collaborate on illustrates this subtle relationship more overtly, and ties in Wolf’s portraits and very human themes with Mick’s more abstract and morbidly playful ones. In short, it was well worth traveling to see.
After the exhibition, we headed to a pub and spent the night pretty much how my last night in a Rochester pub was spent — laughing and having a good time. Good people.
When we got back to Wolf’s we had toast, tea, and chatted for what seemed like a little while. Unfortunately we kept Aurelie awake, which I still feel awful about. I blame Wolf entirely.
So when I headed to bed — initially made by their son out of two couch cushions, a blanket and some couch pillows, and later perfected by Aurelie with a few more blankets, a proper pillow and a hot water bottle — i finished my tea and fell asleep feeling incredibly comfortable.
Sometime early in the morning (I’m assuming around 6ish) I was wakened by a gentle voice: “Celina, would you like to go into my room.” As discussed the day before, I was to move from the living room to his bed as he was away to school. Aurelie also had a lesson at 9 30, so we (Wolf and I) were instructed to either stay asleep or stay hidden while she worked. I did the former with no problem at all.
At around noon I woke up and chatted with Aurelie. She has vibrancy that I admire be cause she is just so genuine and warm. I remember that from my first trip. Just a very beautiful and intelligent human being. I took a shower and she made us some delicious omelletes before Wolf came back.
Because my flight was so late I didn’t really have to rush and so Wolf very kindly invited me to an interview he and Mick were doing about the exhibition. At first I felt pretty out of place (as aforementioned, it is a bit of a strange situation because it just kind of happened that I decided to go out to Medway and that Wolf just happened to be so kind), so really I felt like I should just stay quiet because I shouldn’t be here for this interview anyway. Even so, I’m pretty grateful for getting to listen and kind of be a fly on the wall. Wolf’s very lucky to have such a warm circle of friends.
So we stayed and they ‘interviewed’ for a few hours before we thought I should head to London. We headed and I got to say goodbye to Sarah and Mick before walking to the train station. The train had been delayed, which should have worried me more than it did. I said goodbye and thank you again to Wolf before boarding and back to London I went.
When I got to Victoria there wasn’t much time to get to the coach station, and true to my intuition I had just missed the fast bus. I asked a very helpful clerk which stance it was and if he thought I’d make it, and he said “probably, but it’ll be quite tight.”
So as I paid for the bus I asked the driver if this was the hour and forty five journey, at which he scoffed and said “hopefully, but that’s if we’re lucky.” It was 6 40. At this point a man seated at the front said “it’s really tight, I have to get to the airport for a flight at 8 45.” I laughed and said how that made me feel somewhat better. It did — until I saw the traffic.
It was endless. 7 30 came and went. I looked for any road signs that mentioned Stansted but there were none, at least not until 8. As we started getting further from all the houses/flats/lights, I felt like we still might actually make it. And then taillights. Hundreds of them. Two police vehicles whizzed past in the left lane and a road sign was blinking that a “stranded vehicle” was on the road.
Those last ten miles felt endless. As quarter past 8 approached, I felt my heart sink a bit. At half eight we had made it onto the airport grounds. This gave me at the most 10 minutes to get through security, find my gate, and board. Several others and myself ran off the coach to the departures area, and as I approached security I asked if there was any way I was still going to make the flight. She very indifferently said ‘If the barcode lets you through then you’re fine.” The light went green and the gate opened. I had done it! I ran to security, took off shoes, belt, coat. Exposed laptop. Emptied pockets. Dressing myself, I ran over to the screens for departures.
Gate closed? But the security woman said it wouldn’t have let me in otherwise. I had no idea what to do. Then I saw the guy from the bus. It was his flight too. So I ask someone if there’s really no more hope. I really pray that I never get to be as jaded with unfortunate circumstance as the people employed in London’s airports are. They told me, “Well, no. You’ve missed your flight. Go and see if there’s anyone at the desk of your airline,” That turned out to be the least helpful thing ever. No one was at the desk because the last flight for that airline was the one I missed. Somehow I kept passing the guy who’d also missed the flight. He managed to find out the next flight was going to be the next morning and arrive at Glasgow for 11.
I may have glossed over the fact that I had work the next morning. At 10. So landing at 11 was pretty much impossible. It was still early (as far as transportation goes), probably around nine. Not to mention that they had told him the flight would be 62 pounds. Now I know I traveled down at a time when I probably shouldn’t have because I couldn’t comfortably afford it, but 62 pounds is just outrageous. Especially for a flight that will not get me to work on time and after a series of events that weren’t my fault.
So I go to the information desk to make sure that that is the case. She suggested I pay for internet access and look it all up on the airline’s site. She also told me I get free wifi for an hour on my own laptop. So I did that. I let a few people know my situation just in case and looked up flights from all London airports. The stay put all night and pay 62 pounds option was looking like the best until I came across the bus site. If I took a bus out of Stansted, back to London, I could potentially catch a coach all the way to Glasgow.
I verified this with the guy at the counter and it all checked out. And it was well cheaper than 62 pounds. So I boarded the bus back to London, and waited. We actually arrived with plenty of time, so I sat with my headphones trying not to think much. A man with a big canvas rucksack asked me if I was going to Scotland. The second he spoke I felt transported north. I said yes and he asked if I could watch his stuff while he went to go mail a letter. Why he had waited until eleven at night to mail something is beyond me, but I looked after his stuff and when he returned we talked a bit.
He says his mum’s just had a stroke and so he’s going back north to hopefully spend some time with her before it’s too late. He also says his brother is a well known painter in Glasgow. I’ve written the name down and am going to investigate. With regards to the bus journey, which he says he’s done many times, he told me “Oh you’re going to hate it.” I laughed. What else could I do? A 7+ hour bus ride sitting next to a stranger and inhaling body odor is not ideal. But, it will hopefully get me to work on time. I’m sure I’ll be feeling it in the morning. At least I’ve not got work Sunday.
So here I am, one in the morning, somewhere past Milton Keynes and heading home. I managed to find a radio station on my phone that was broadcasting the Celtic Connections concerts from the CCA on Sauchiehall Street. I don’t normally like that kind of thing, but it’s been a welcome comfort through all the late night hysteria. I’m going to try and sleep sitting upright now. Hopefully I’ll succeed. What I wouldn’t do for the bed that 4/5 year old made for me last night. Two couch cushions and a blanket sound like luxury indeed.