Beth gets me home and makes sure I have everything I need, and then she has to go. I am at home, wounded, not at all in the state I expected I would be. I have allowed myself to be mistreated again, helpless to defend myself. I retire slowly and painfully to bed.
I wake up the next morning disoriented. It is darker than it should be, it seems to me. I get up slowly and move to turn the light on – nothing. Perhaps the light bulb has blown. There is a strange low roaring in the air outside. As I shuffle along the landing in my flat, I realize there is no electricity, and this weird noise persists. I find a battery operated radio and turn it on, and then I hear the news. A tremendous storm has hit south-east England. The weather forecasters have failed to predict it accurately. Some people have been badly injured, many buildings have been badly damaged, and countless trees have been destroyed. The view from my front room is across Lloyd Park, always an attractive vista. I open the curtains and see, instead, a chaotic scene of damage. The wind, though slightly reduced, continues to roar outside.
I pick up the phone and try to call out. The line is damaged – although I sometimes get connected, and I can hear people at the other end, they cannot hear me. For days afterwards there are ghostly calls, just like a celebrated episode of The Twilight Zone. At one point my phone and the phone in the downstairs flat collude with each other, and call each other without any human intervention. The tenants downstairs answer their ringing phone, and I answer mine, and we are talking to each other in baflement as neither of us has made a call.
Late in the morning electricity is restored and gradually things begin to return to normal. For me it has a special, strange resonance – I am not well enough to leave the flat for a few days in any case but it is weird that I am housebound at a time when the outside world is demonstrably, and defnitely dangerous. Alone with my thoughts.
A few weeks later I have a brush with another devastating event. By this time I am feeling a little better, and for the present I am keeping the emotional consequences of my surgery at bay. Just now it feels like just another “thing” that has “happened” to me. I am “different”, so different stuff happens to me I guess. It will be months before I let the impact of what has happened ascend to my consious mind. I am still not desperately mobile and Beth is expected over for dinner – at around 7.30 to 8pm. She doesn’t arrive. It gets later, and later, and she still doesn’t arrive. I phone, but I can only phone her flat in those pre-mobile phone days. No answer. I wonder, and worry …
Finally, around 10pm, she arrives, talking about “horrendous” delays on the London Underground. I put the food on and then while we are waiting, I turn on the television for the evening news and within moments, we realize what is going on. There has been a horrific fire at Kings Cross tube station, possibly caused (we learn later) by a discarded match falling underneath one of the old wooden escalators and setting the accumulated rubbish and grease there alight. The fire quickly gains momentum and rages through the whole station killing, in the end, 31 people.
Beth lives in Maida Vale and I live in Walthamstow. There are two ways to travel by tube from one destination to the other. One is to take the Bakerloo Line south from Warwick Avenue to Oxford Circus, and then to pick up the northbound Victoria Line to Walthamstow Central. An alternative is to take a short hop down to Paddington – take the Circle or (in those days) Metropolitan Line to Kings Cross, and then get the Northbound Victoria Line from there. I tend to take the first route as there is only one change, whereas Beth is a little more arbitrary about it, sometimes coming one way, sometimes the other. We both quickly realize that if she had opted for the second route that night she might have found herself caught with many others in the Kings Cross Fire. Trains were still being run (without stopping) through the station while the fire raged to try and aid ventilation below, but passengers on those trains were only told that trains were not stopping at Kings Cross, and were given no other information. So the first Beth knows of what has actually happened is when we both see the television news reports. It’s apparent though, that she may have escaped a very dangerous situation through the benefit of a fairly abitrary choice.
Back at the end of 1986 I had split with L– and was living alone. That autumn I remember panicking about Christmas and in the end booking a holiday away at Edale Youth Hostel in the Peak District. I have a fantastic few days there – everyone who is there is “avoiding Christmas” for their own reasons and we all form brief, no strings relationships for the duration of the stay. I remember us walking down the snowy path to the village on Christmas Eve to attend Midnight Mass at the local church. As well as being an enjoyable holiday it feels a grown-up choice somehow, at the end of a year which seems full of possibilities. At the end of 1987 many of those possibilities seem to be closing off, and I troop back to Potters Bar to spend Christmas with my mother. I have two abiding memories – I have a major asthma attack, my first for some years. Then on Christmas Day I am in the flat with Mum and my grandmother, who is starting to become hard of hearing. In time-honoured British fashion we entertain ourselves after Christmas lunch by watching Bedknobs and Broomsticks on the television, and to help my grandmother hear Mum cranks up the volume on her television, the tiny speaker straining to keep up. I sit there, wheezing while the distorted Disney soundtrack assaults my ears. With the exception of Beth, very little by the end of 1987 is as I expected or hoped. And in 1988 I will have to deal with the consequences of my surgery, as they become more and more apparent.