I take the train north – refusing to look at the price on the automatic machine and pushing my card into the slot. It is a sudden decision that I am glad to have taken but I need to change at York – creaking sunlight under the arches of the station – and I am feeling a little funny, a little taught and pulled thin. Perhaps it is something to do with leaving quickly, lurching from one space to another as well as that odd sense of standing on a platform, somewhere in the middle of the country, transitory for a moment, for a passing train that takes you somewhere else.
But that night, at my best friend’s family street party, there are the faces of the girls, family and friends. We wear paper hats and the dads stand around the barbeque and we are in red and white and blue. As dusk is falling, we group into a large circle, hold paper lyrics and, laughing, sing Jerusalem.
Mum is sorting out her old clothes, getting rid of things she hasn’t worn for years. I recognise the patterns – shapes and colours when I used to press my face to her legs, the scent of old perfume. There are shoulder pads and fabric buttons the musty smell of lace. I try some on in front of the long mirror in the spare room and we laugh.
With my grandpa. He is in bed and his eyes are sleepy, his skin loose and pale. Soft, thin hands in mine. On the television, the Queen is parading through London. Afterwards, the headland at Low Newton is a spring meadow with yellow rattle and buttercups that bend in the wind off the sea.
The train back south, brushing tears away and, like with the long skirts, pressing my face to the window so nobody can see. That night we have evening ceramics workshop and I am glad. Glazes are applied pastel and will turn bright and shining in the kiln, candlelight in the bar next to the canal.
I meet Lori after work for coffee and we squeeze each other tight and talk about future plans. The line of her fringe, the curl of her umbrella handle and her wave at London Bridge.
I need to take a train to Wales for a meeting – out of early morning Paddington (coffee hot and strong on my tongue) through the wet countryside (bright, bright green). I imagine the line we are taking across the country: Malvern, Ledbury, Worcester – names I know but cannot place. Beneath the train, the embankment of earth drops away to woodland, thorns, tangled hedgerows and wildflowers. Red clay soil, water caught in tyre tracks, fruit farms dripping with wet-grey rain. The meeting is at a festival in a field and I leave feeling excited, through the wet tents and coloured flags pulling strong in the wind.
When I wait for the bus back there is a group of teenagers and they have just finished a Duke of Edinburgh expedition. I have been thinking about high school a lot recently and there is a sudden memory of wet socks, mouldy tents, silly songs and the green smell of paraffin. The conversation of this group makes me smile: “guys, just think – when you go to uni, you can be anybody you want, you can like, change you name, or totally change yourself!” I listen to the stresses and inflections of their words. On the bus, the girls fall asleep on each other, one by one. The boys discuss the Euros and 4-4-2 and then they too fall asleep.
With Frankie and Steve on a Saturday – and it is so good to see them, the flowered print of Frankie’s dress, the plans of what she will do next, Steve making us laugh when he talks about teaching.
A night time wedding in a side-street bar – bright colours and shimmering dresses, a machine that takes your photograph when you squeeze in with wigs and silly glasses. The next morning I am running a half marathon and we are gathered on a water meadow beneath the cathedral, the voice of the commentator crackling and echoed across the field. Long hills and country lanes, cool overgrown trees and, an hour later, the welcome sight of P, and a pint, and a beer garden out the back.