Here We Go
Stations were built for lovers.
This is where we act out our dramas: waiting expectantly at ticket barriers, or clutching each other in a tearful goodbye, before the departing 8.15 to Euston is announced over the tannoy. Brief Encounter would not have been the same film if it had been set in a hotel, or even a coach station. There is something about the trains themselves that adds to the romance.
Liverpool Street is not just a tube station. Once you come up from underground you find yourself in an airy concourse, surrounded by travellers venturing much further than the boundaries of the M25. It has the buzz of international movement, multilingual relationships, delays, bad coffee, loss.
For me, Liverpool Street is charged with being in love.
I find myself on the escalator, reaching up towards the sunlight, towards London, towards love. I have a permanent case of butterflies in my stomach these days, but they are fluttering harder and faster today.
Some train stations seem to be deliberately positioned in the most non-descript part of town, so arriving is an anti-climax for everyone. Euston is dumped in the middle of boring streets and office blocks. Birmingham New St throws us into grey subways and tatty shop fronts. Even Kings Cross and St Pancras, as imposing and grand as they are, peter out onto grimy roads of hassled commuters and gridlocked traffic.
Liverpool Street is different. Once you are carried upwards by the moving stairways, onto the sunlit pavements, you find yourself in the middle of the action. Bars and cafes spill people out onto the streets. Even the city boys in their uncomfortable suits look a little bit relaxed, a little bit Friday afternoon. Across the road and down a side street and you are in a different world. Because Liverpool Street is the Gateway To The East: Saris and samosas and waiters outside curry houses touting for business. Hipsters look like tourists in their own town. Its colourful and lively and exotic.
I couldn’t tell you the way but I know it off by heart. Out of the station, across the road, turn left and then right and down into the labrynth, and before I know it I am walking over the wasteland, by the railway track and up to his door and my heart stops.
He in his red t shirt and black jeans. He with his olive skin. He with his wide, but slightly sad smile. And sometimes in glasses. He hugs me and finds me a beer and he talks. He knows how to talk and I listen, feeling grown up in this modernist flat. With the music playing and it is always sunny and its 1999 and what am I doing here? My body feels clumsy, awkward, unloved. Oh yes. That’s the thing. The main bit of the story. He doesn’t love me back. But I keep coming here, to sit in his flat and to drink his beer and to listen to his music on his makeshift stereo, to pretend.
There is a soundtrack to that summer. It doesn’t really relate to the Circle Line, or the M25. Its Belle and Sebastian, and Arab Strap, and Alabama 3 – the songs on the mixtape he made me, with his little neat writing and all the meanings I loaded onto it. But for me, the music is all about Liverpool Street. And coming out of the tube and up the escalators and onto the pavement and over the road and up to his door and here we go