Monday, September 14, 2015

Across the Tops and Never Stopping

At 17, I was overwhelmed by nerves every day, and would steal my mother's beta-blockers and Valium in a vain effort to curtail the symptoms. The pills had been prescribed to treat a fear of flying; I felt I needed them just to sit still in the classroom during lessons.

I wore tight layers along with a scarf and cricket cap to swaddle myself, and habitually held my jaw to prevent my head from twitching noticeably.

Arriving at college, I would stay until the mid-morning break, but then often retreated to Drummer Street, where I would catch a George Jennings coach. I remember my relief walking up the steps to pay my fare, the brutal, self-conscious air outside instantly tempered by the pewter light of tinted windows, and on to the end of the rows of seats, whilst the engine idled soothingly, and the squeak of springs as I adjusted myself so that my knees rose up against the back of the bench in front, and the warm fabric on my hands.

The 10.30 a.m. George Jennings coach had the longest route to Kingston, and with frequently no other passengers, there were no stops before mine, as it skimmed the tops of Cambridgeshire villages, Hardwick and Caldecote; always across the tops, and never stopping; and going through areas that would one day become the new settlement of Cambourne, and past the Caxton Gibbet, I remember that I felt very lonely, but embarrassed of the loneliness. The embarrassment was the worst thing, aware that my peers were getting on with their lives, that I was haemorrhaging rectitude, reduced to supporting my head with my hand. When I got home, I would lie down before the electric fire. It was the fire they said Mrs. Tinkler had been buried behind; the fire that singed the white fur of our pet labrador dark yellow; the fire that my pet rabbit, Jinx, had escaped behind, though we got him back; the fire I had presented my bare butt to when it was sore; that once hurled me back across the room when I touched one of its bars; the familiar fire that was a humourous haven.

On Thursday evenings, around this time of my life, a sitcom called Life Without George showed on television. I tended to watch it before heading off to Cottenham for band practice. It was insipid and compounded my detachment.

Here is a picture of me, age 17. The face poking above the bottom of frame belongs to James Kilsby, the drummer of my band.