These Are The Days
11 March 2002
The hissing limps into a spluttering dribble, the shower's last gasps, and the damp footsteps of the flatmate I haven't seen for six days down the hallway provide my ritualised cue to flop forwards out of the warm covers for a couple of painful instants as I hit the power button on the radio and then fall back down into comfort. We get on fine, it'd be nice to catch up, but this is the city and we both lead busy lives. The Today programme floats soothingly around me and I set my mind focused on processing world events. My eyes are drifting shut, I still haven't made up for the four hours of restlessness on my mate Mikey's sofa over the weekend, but the front door slams and I force myself out of this trance of luxuriation and onto my feet. Poor bastard lives all the way over in Stratford.
Most of us can cope with the journey, arm around a pole we've learnt the survival skills and how to best manipulate the pages of Metro in a confined space. World events are processed and I stare at the cryptic crossword, no chance to fill in answers of course but I check I can solve a couple just to be reassured my intellectual faculties are still intact. A clump of gelled and scrubbed schoolboys provide a soundtrack, chattering away oblivious, swinging book-laden rucksacks in dangerous arcs. We're not bothered by taking a couple of blows, however, relieved not to be the greying man in the corner with whom the morning crush has forced an apologetic Arabic guy into uncomfortable proximity; he smiles forbearingly at the embarrassed grimaces but in his head fucking immigrants fucking immigrants chunters like a chant.
We negotiate our paths through a minefield of colleagues, happy to be caught up in the eddy of Suzi Dalston's fluttering enquiries, anxious to avoid Bernie from accounts and another torrent of indiscriminate self-revelation, and swerve around Phil Newton's desk, conspicuously still empty, like a rock in a stream. Not mentioned since the initial round of platitudes and reminiscence was over with, the bad smell and awful chain e-mails have gained endearing qualities since we last ignored him sloping home on a friday night; we all knew that he ate the stalks off broccoli but none of us knew about the cancer eating away his liver.
At lunch we flee, escaping to the familiar haunts of crammed little outfits where spreading gloop between slices of bread is charged for as a professional skill. A stocky guy in his thirties recognises a chap he went to school with and hollers across the shop; there follows hearty hand-shaking and an exchange of progress reports for the last fifteen years before they eventually part: the first smiling at the serendipitous arousal of nostalgia, the second without having a clue whom his interlocutor had been. I hurry through the crowded streets, unloading lorries and clacking shop girls, ducking into a wilfully disordered vinyl heaven, losing myself in forty minutes of flicking through records, shimmying around its cramped confines with the half dozen other young guys in unironed shirts and half-mast ties to exercise the passion that puts me on another level to all the rest.
Afternoon and a motorcycle courier passing down the hallway catches a glimpse of the side of my head through the open door and gets a hard-on but, staring at the page, I am consumed with fantasies of DJing to underground acclaim and don't notice him go by. Diane Marfoot and Richie Jenks consult intently about the Daiwood takeover, her unaware and him forgetful of last night's groans as he lay naked between bachelor sheets, wanking at the thought of being enveloped by her thighs.
And on the train home we all start in unison at the unexpected electronic trumpeting of the boom box brought into the carriage and sit stiffly through the yells of the drunken white rasta as he inches the volume dial further and further up the more we ignore his shouting. "Look at all the sad faces, why you all got such sad faces?" Papers shuffle and paperbacks are studied more intently than ever as the code of silence is preserved even though in our heads each one of us is humming along to the beat in a hundred private rebellions.