It was safe terrain for conversation. When the gentleman next to me extrapolated the beauty of train stations in England it wasn’t difficult to indulge and slip in a few notable stations; Bristol Temple Meads, Huddersfield, Hebden Bridge and not least Victoria station in Manchester. He nods at my choices: small eyes, bald, about fifty, a whispering essex accent, divorced, two children, a slightly slimmer version of Phil Mitchell from Eastenders, so softly spoken I had to lean in and strain to listen.
Nor does he look at me but stares straight forward to the seat in front bemoaning the rail infrastructure and I agree furthering that the politics of the railway benefit
private companies and political parties to the detriment of the public: Safe
terrain. “It’s not like it used to be” he says “not like in the good old days of The Empire.” It’s going to be a long journey I think.
We are on the plane to Spain where the rain stays mainly on the plane and The Journalist is sat across the aisle from me. Safe Terrain. “don’t get me talking about soaps” he wanders. I honestly wasn’t going to. “suicide street I call it” he
spits referring to Coronation St. “England isn’t what it was thirty years ago” which is why he lives in Spain I guess. “You could leave your doors open then ” he says as if leaving your door open were a panacea: as if people were as open as their open doors.
I needn’t cast my mind back thirty years. Nowhere is what it used to be. Today yesterday is not what it was. “In the good old days of the empire” he says
“the trains ran brilliantly.” In the inanity of naming themselves ex-pats when they are in fact immigrants they are wilderness people. “You could leave your doors open then” is one step away from “when people knew their place.” England isn’t what it used to be because It never was. We are all immigrants of one kind or another , emigrating from yesterday to today, from the last minute to the next, from village to town to city. . He galloped through his life story needing only a cursory glance before further indulging himself in himself. He works in tomatoes and in his spare time he is a DJ, “ska music, northern soul, rare groove and
what have you”. It’s incongruous to his look of a downbeat salesman. He has a scar that “goes from here” he rolls up his shirt and points to his left wrist “to here” then points to the inside of his elbow “football injury.” He nearly died of MRSA in the hospital . “Don’t get me started on hospitals…” he says “MRSA’s from India – The Indians brought it.” It’s a deep single rail track scar. “Suicide street I call it”
I noticed that whenever he’d say “don’t get me started on..” that is exactly what he would start on. He’d say “don’t get me started on politics” then talk politics or
“don’t get me started on hospitals” then he’d talk about Indians. I’d been head locked in his monologue. Listening was a test of restraint and self control. His father passed away in a London hospital seven years ago. The hospital was “run by Indian doctors” who refused his father a heart bypass citing his condition as not serious enough. A month later his father died of a heart attack.
That’s when he decided to leave the country. In exasperation he gasps “ninety percent Indian, the hospital was”. In correlation with the “good old days of The Empire” with his comments on “Indian Doctors” alongside his view that “England’s not the same as it was thirty years ago” I see a weak man
broken not by change but by his inability to accept change. Change is nature. To not accept it is inhumane. This train of thought, track by clickety track, lead directly to auschwitz. “Don’t get me wrong.” He says shaking his head from side to side as the plane gulps down towards the runway “ I’m not a racist.” I hadn’t said he was “My own children are half caste.” He passes me his card and I feel my stomach turn as the wheels skid onto the runway.