And so I find myself in Lowestoft. A tourist town of gaping mouths in unified sleep – dribbling at the corners, staring through meshed windows whilst white-aproned men and women tend to slack jaws, slack bottoms, and slack minds. A town lost to itself, a town restlessly trying to find something to be, to create, to make other than the ‘golden sandy beaches’ nature has been kind enough to bestow upon it. There are the Broads too, of course, but the Broads would not be what they are had they not been so close to the inhospitality in which I find myself ‘hospitalised’. The most Easterly Point rests under unrelenting waves of Birds Eye odour that occasionally rolls inland to the residential; creeping through pub windows to ferment in pints served to toothless goblins and cackling locals f’ing and c’nting to kids enslaved in pushchairs; forced to watch this barbaric carnival in all its intensity.
I can’t deny that once upon a time this was a good place – a fair place – a prosperous fishing town.
‘Once’ is a useful word indeed…
A Train Journey Home
Here’s my story of the train journey home – after a very pleasant evening in Norwich
I arrived just as the Lowestoft train pulled out from the station, it would be an hour till the next train arrived (and left).
I had, however, plenty of reading material so set myself down on one of the many vacant benches that attempt a seductive curl around carefully maintained plant pots. I took my gloves off then quickly put them back on again; three walls and a roof proving inadequate shelter against the December cold. Half an hour of a magazine article and the trains start rolling in. I pull up my bike, thread my way through the we-need-to-make-more-profit barriers only to find that my train will be another ten minutes or so.
The station fills up with people that didn’t miss their train. They get on their respective trains, and the trains pull away; leaving me with the eight or so other commuters that had spent the last hour shuffling around the station. In one corner sits a twenty-or-something girl – bowed in respectful solitude – fingers twitching over lights encased in a modernist-steel gadget. One middle aged man rocks slowly back and forth between feet placed one in front and one behind. He yawns, switches feet, and continues rocking. Yet, amidst this colourless commuter-ing, one man holds the mainstay of my attention. He treads heavily between three separate platforms, wielding a fluorescent yellow bag, talking directly into the speaker of his phone; purposefully holding it up to his mouth like a walkie-talkie as if the figure on the other end (if there even was one) could hear his shouts clearer. My train pulls in, and as I’m packing my bike away in the shuttle-esque bicycle compartment I’m hoping the guy doesn’t walk onto this train, and if he does, that he makes his way to the other carriage like any loud phone-talky type should.
He walks onto the train. He sits in the same carriage. He sits two seats ahead of me. I want to scream.
I can hear him from my seat, and he’s more than audible over the trains conductor attempting the customary ‘railway welcome’ on the loudspeaker system. I try to read but my eyes can’t help melding with my ears as the fluorescent fellow launches into another description of his weekend away in Ireland, an event that I have heard so many times as to think that maybe I had gone with him. The train starts rolling, and he puts his phone down.
Silence, beautiful silence, and the carriage rolls through the lights of the city to drop into that familiar country darkness. I pick up my book again and make progress. The story complicates, the narrators angles shift, a new character is introduced and then:
‘So do you live in Lowestoft, love?’ He’s off again. Shuffled sideways on his seat talking to a seventeen year old plastic mobile phone fiddler. She pauses her tapping to look up and across to him.
‘Nah, Cantley.’ Then turns back to her typing as if that was the end of the conversation. But I know it isn’t. I know this isn’t the kind of man who stops there, not after the forty minute epic phone conversation he may or may not have had just a few minutes ago.
“Ah, Cantley eh? How’s it living in Cantley?’ I’m gritting my teeth already. She shifts in her seat – unsettled, uncomfortable – and looks out of the window, Cantley’s not too far she’s thinking. I go back to my reading, where the characters ask what’s it like rather than ‘hows it’, but once again find difficulty in separating ears from eyes.
“You live with your parents, then?”
“Yeah.” More phone clicking, and I start squirming as if I were the one being consumed by a projected conversation I’d rather not be having. I think perhaps I should say something, save her from the inevitable shoulder-shifts she’ll find herself doing in attempt to dissociate herself from the conversation. It won’t work though, not with a guy like this. Then he leans in closer over the seat next to him; leaving only the passageway and the seat on her side between them.
“You single?” Ah! I almost want to laugh. That inexorable question; spun oh-so-subtly from the lips of a stud himself. Words laced with the spittle of thirty years over her seventeen and I’m waiting for her answer, waiting to see what tack she takes and how long that awkward pause lasts. Outside the night spins in blacks and black-greys, the wheels cackling as they shunt across the old tracks – withered, weathered, wrecked.
“Yeah.” Strange tack – but an interestingly awkward pause. The fluorescent ‘he’ wasn’t expecting it and draws back a little; shunned as the Jesuits after an invitation inside, and then a woman I hadn’t noticed sitting on the table opposite-but-besides me laughs a little under her breath. She looks at me, and we share upturned eyebrows.
“What about the men in Cantley then?”
“The men?” She says.
“Yeah – the boys, the lads, you interested in any of them?”
“Nah, not really.”
Suddenly Cantley’s not close enough. That feeling that I should help is still there – settled somewhere between my stomach and lungs – but I can hardly get up and make a scene, besides, she was hardly helping herself. Naivety, or shy, or is she simply too kind? I turn back to my book settled in the fluorescent man and plastic girls shared idiocy.
Cantley, now approaching Cantley. I’d got lost in my book but Cantley woke me up. The girl gathered her belongings.
“My numbers ***********,’ he says, holding his phone up to her.
“I didn’t ask for your number.’
“Well, just take it,” he says as she rises from her seat. She presses buttons absently on her phone as if to suggest entering a new contact.
“I’m sorry,” she says, grasping at her bag, “I’ve got to go.”
“Have you got my number?” He says as she half-runs-half-walks through the passageway to the doors.
“I can’t, I have to go,” she says, so he gets up off of his chair and follows her to the exit. I hear the conductor come out and open the doors, and the fluorescent man asks him to hold them a minute whilst she gets down his number. Then he forces it into her; penetrating her prized possession with the crude zero’s and sweaty digits of desperation. The doors shut. The train rolls on and I think it’s all ended. He walks back to his seat, picks up his phone and suddenly he’s just another disjointed arm and patch of hair, that is until he rises slightly from his seat and glances at the woman at the seat opposite-beside me. A few minutes passes and he moves to the seat opposite me. He looks to the woman opposite.
“Do you live in Lowestoft?” It begins.
“Ah, I see – nice place Lowestoft isn’t it?”
“No, not particularly.”
“No, it’s a horrible place really. Do you live by the beach?”
“No. I live…”
I thought she wouldn’t submit, but she did – she moved on from the yes-and-no’s and he suddenly he had the knife in. She couldn’t move without him twisting it just. that. little. bit. more. She got off at Oulton Broud Station and he walked all the way down the carriage to find another woman for the two minutes it would take for us to pull into Lowestoft. He begins following another poor woman out of the station, an she walks with her hands in her pockets- shoulders jarred up to her ears, head bowed – walking at an uncomfortably fast pace to the taxi rank…
Then, on cycling home I bump into a group of kids f’ing and c’nting their way round a corner, swinging on scaffolding and kicking each other in the shins. Fair enough, I think, kid’s will be kids. I turn the corner and there’s a hulk of a woman with two small children on leads, one in a pushchair, and another older kid jumping around her. She pulls a can of cheap cider from the top pouch of the pushchair and swigs
“F’cking faggot Danny,” she says into a phone that may or may not have a person on the other end of it.
“Fellows a dirty faggot.”
I gathered from these actions that the kids round the corner were an extension of the many that had been pushed out of her and into the wide world contained within her jaw.
Apologies if there are mistakes – battery is about to die…
Over and out.