At this time of year minds turn to holidays. Does everyone really like holidays? They tell us that we do. We have to decide if we want the familiar or the alien; if we need stimulation or respite from stimulation. Do you need to forget yourself or find yourself? Sometimes the alien turns out to be too familiar: overly resourceful agents of exotic venues can sometimes spend energies making the exotic familiar; do we want coca cola and dominos pizza in Cairo? But would we rather venture into a dark doorway and eat something we do not know amongst strangers speaking in an alien tongue? Or we might end up spending too much time with the ones we thought we wanted to spend more time with. Holidays teach the value of moderation. And anyway, as the man at Total Recall tells Arnold Scwarzennegger: the real holiday we all need is a holiday from ourselves.
There are places I find it hard to go to. Places where the wash of the past is too insistent. These are often places where I have spent a lot of time, where ghosts have been created by past life. When you go back there things have changed. Where once there was a charming cafe, now there is a Starbucks; where once you knew someone, now there is a stranger; people go on with their own lives and you play no role in this city anymore.
There are other places where a city has so many layers of history, so many palimpsests emerging one from beneath the other that it is difficult to deal with the polyphony. In Berlin it is hard to accept what is happening in Mitte now at the spot where the wall ran between east and west, which itself was the spot where Hitler sat in his bunker contemplating the end. Now there is a drum and bass party going on there.
I had a heavy package so I took the bus from Royal Albert Hall. The driver’s machine wasn’t working so he waved me through. A free journey. A mere grain of pleasure but many grains of pleasure make a whole heap of pleasure. By the time we got to Sloane Square the bus was labouring and the driver called an early terminus, everybody off. The bus had broken down. I cursed under my breath. The one day I have a heavy package. The next bus came. The last bus broke down, I said as I skipped past the driver to grab a good seat by the window, not paying. You see, I had offered to pay on the first bus. My offer was (was it not?) rejected. The second bus is subordinated to the negotiation of the first bus. A fine legal point but, I’m sure you will agree milord, a valid one. In Pimlico a bus inspector got on. My argument about bus subordination withered. I was determined to carry the day by my acting abilities. I rehearsed the moment. The inspector puts my debit card on his little control plaque. You haven’t paid, he says. Yes. My last bus broke down, so I didn’t pay on this one. I dare to look boldly into the inspector’s steel blue eyes. But you didn’t pay on the last one either. His technology is formidable. I post up a puzzled mien for a couple of seconds before feigning a realization. Oh! I exclaim. The machine was broke on the bus that broke down. The driver waved me through. The ticket inspector, convinced by my acting abilities, allows me to pay retrospectively with no fine. The danger is negotiated. As it turned out, it wasn’t a ticket inspector. It was just a man in a high-viz jacket. Or if he was a ticket inspector he was off-duty and on his way home. He got off at Vauxhall, no doubt to take another bus into the far reaches of South East London where, on a ticket inspector’s wage, he could afford accommodation.