Monday, June 27, 2011

Christmas 1981

I was working in Harrods at the time. A Christmas sales job, putting up temporary dressing rooms, unloading lorries, that sort of thing. All the boys from proper public schools were behind the counters, wearing suits they looked natural in. This is the winter of 81/82. I remember walking through early morning streets hushed by snow. Cars creeping gingerly by. My footsteps crunching and squeaking. Brakes moaning like whale-song on Beauchamp Place. Occasionally I worked Sundays, double-pay, and at seven in the morning the city was as I’d never seen it before, never imagined it, deserted and draped in white as if for some ceremony, some fantastic wedding. I’d lived in London all my life, but I got to know it better, walking in it, from Charing Cross, over Trafalgar Square, up Pall Mall and round the palace, to Hyde Park Corner, along Knightsbridge to Harrods’ discreet back entrance. Home via Picadilly, where brake-lights shone in the early evening darkness, to Leicester Square, to meet friends in The Imperial. Monopoly names, which had once been evocative but meaningless. Now I was walking along these streets like I belonged in them. And being handed real money, a hundred pounds or so, in a wad in a brown envelope each week.

I’m not sure what my plans were. Three months earning money, working evenings and weekends, and then going to Europe, and travelling on long train journeys to places I’d never been before. Then Manchester, English and American Literature, then God knows what. The Harrods job wasn’t even a bridge, it was a doorway, out of school, into some new, more adult version of life.

There was a bump on my knee. I noticed it one day, and couldn’t remember having knocked or twisted it. It didn’t go away or get any smaller, and ached a little. Once I knocked it when I was manoeuvring a heavy trolley, and it hurt like hell, sending a shiver of pain through my whole body. The doctor said it looked like water on the knee, or something called, I think, a ganglion, and booked me in for an X-ray a couple of weeks later. My mother, ex-nurse, informed by intuition or anxiety, arranged for one two days later at Greenwich Hospital.

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