Southampton and back again

It was far too early in the morning to have my card declined. I don’t have a plastic version of my one card with funds left in it. It exists only through my phone…

I’m at H&H van hire, in Kentish Town but they need more than the numbers and the CVV now I’m standing here. I heartily recommend them if you need a big van at short notice. They had a long wheel based Luton. The receptionist is lovely but his scrupulous efficiency really gets on my nerves. He’s too damn good at his job, so I keep instinctively poking him in the OCD and looking for his chaos because I feel the smile can’t be genuine. But maybe it is! He was unhelpful about the prospect of just taking my payment as if it was over the phone, but he was unexpectedly helpful as I looked for other solutions. Plus there’s free coffee while we wait. The solution came in the form of an employer friend who owes me some extremely overdue money. He put it on his credit card. Thank God for him. 9.30am and I’ve got wheels. Long day – HO!

My flat is between the van hire and Southampton so then it’s back down to pick up Tristan and load up with disgusting dusty crap from the attics. Then off to Southampton where they throw stones at you if you’re gay.

The temperature noticeably changes when we hit Southampton. It’s like we’ve suddenly gone through a time portal. Angry looking men walk out of one fishing tackle shop and cross the road to go into the one opposite. Angry looking young women talk animatedly on mobiles while pushing prams. Everybody seems to be conforming to gender stereotypes¬† – or is this my confirmation bias considering I’m at Gaystoner-500? We drive past a pub painted with a George’s cross on two sides.

Unless you’re Bulgarian, which seems somehow to be tolerated, you don’t want to break down in this area if you’re a bit swarthy looking and an artist. I feel a bit American Werewolf. I get a bit lost – oh God – and I pull into a quiet lane to work it out. Someone is immediately at my window. “Wherever you’re going it’s not down here,” is the opener, and not in a tone that’s designed to be helpful. It’s “Who the fuck are you, are you scoping us for robbery?” I respond instinctively in my Harrow accent using deliberately complex syntax and even guffawing at the end to my eternal shame, but it does the trick and I get the directions I need, swarthy or no swarthy. (Sorry, I used to get called “swarthy” when I worked hospitality. “You’re not from round here.” “Ascot, madam? No. I’m not. I grew up in Jersey.” “No that’s not what I mean.” “Oh. What do you mean then?” “Well where were your parents from?” …. etc … ending in the word “swarthy.”) And that’s ME, Poshyface Magoo, ten years ago too, before it was internationally government funded to be a poisonous bastard. My grandfather was an aristocratic Spaniard heavily decorated in the Royal Navy in WW2 and I’m fortunate enough to have inherited his olive skin. “Who was your father, with those dark eyes?” I was asked one November at Clapham Junction as part of an unprovoked harangue for not having a poppy on, delivered by someone with eyes that were almost animal. I remember these nonsensical hostilities, because it is stressful to find yourself suddenly unexpectedly attacked for your appearance and not your actions. God. And I don’t feel any insecurity about belonging here whatsoever and I can count the number of incidents on one hand and am not afraid or feeling marginalised already.

People like that bring us nothing but international shame as a nation. Before Brexit, arriving in Dubrovnik for work, I asked the barman on the first night how to order beer in Croatian. “American?” he asked. “No. British.” He was surprised. “Britain? Terrible international responsibility.” Those were his instinctive words, immediately. A Croatian barman. Hands up if you can say that in Croatian.

We find the place we need and load a set. God I love theatre designers that have the budget and the understanding to make a set like the one I carried today. No steeldeck. No chipboard. Just good timber, in slats. Smells and feels lovely. Light. It was a pleasure to load in. Just a long drive. And I’m up at dawn tomorrow to get the van back in time. Night night.



Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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