Wednesday, October 05, 2005

diary of a stone monkey volume lxx

Dear All,


Gateway to Europe. Same way as Singapore’s supposed to be gateway to Asia: sober government, civilised hygiene, and at least they speak your language.

This is an unusual vacation for me because I’m running less towards a place than away. I’m frankly frightened of the weight of adult responsibility and the duty to win bread. Nor am I encouraged that I haven’t produced any great oeuvres in my four months dallying about the city being a writer: a poem every week, a play in 24 hours, a microbiography; no screenplays, no operas, no bildungsroman.

Odd thing about London is how it lies both inside and outside you. Americans won’t get this, because they weren’t suckled on a diet of Enid Blyton and Conan Doyle the way us Commonwealth kids were. And of course, there’s the dark imprints of the Raj on our architecture and recent history, and the prodigal’s return, the yellowing and browning of London itself, the clash of global union that sounds and gets reimported home all over again. Jamiroquai. Ishiguro. Meera Syal.

I boarded QANTAS on Monday at 10pm. Father’d been being fractious, told me I still didn’t know how to travel because I’d planned to leave the house too late, I’d packed my jacket in check-in luggage instead of carrier. To dispel the tension, Yi-Xian taught me close combat moves in the kopitiam, an odd bodily ballet of slapping the breast, grabbing the offender’s knuckles and locking his thumb and twisting the tender joints with a foot between his to prevent him from kneeing you in the groin. Mum said be careful, don’t let anyone cheat you, and I’m terribly puzzled, of course, because whyever shoul they have such concern over what can happen to me in Europe?

Wild Europe. Virgin Europe. Darkest Eurofrica.

Mum’s been commenting that I keep American time while I’m in Singapore: I write till 6am and I wake at 2 in the afternoon. My contrary sleep habits persist in the plane: I’m asleep for the two hours that the lights are on, then when everyone’s gone to sleep I read “Absalom, Absalom” and “Let’s Go: Europe 2005”. I watch “The Simpson’s Halloween Special IX”, “Beyond Tomorrow: Australia Edition”, a cooking show on tempura oysters and “Faking It”. After twenty-eight days, an insurance salesman is able to fool two out of three movie critics into thinking he’s a professional stuntman, whereas a maestro can point out a 25 year-old punk rocker conducting the Royal Philharmonic because he does it too damn well. It’s heartbreaking when he shaves off his pink and daffodil Mohican fringe and swaddles his tattoo. For the next few days he wears a brunet wig and coat and tails.

The lights come on and they run out of Continental Breakfast. I go to sleep. Heathrow airport is cold. In the line for immigration I put on my jacket, despite my pride against my father for not having needed it through the nightlong flight.

The West Indian woman tells me to step behind the line. She snaps at me when I hesitate on how long I’ll be in London; I haven’t decided, maybe ten days, maybe two. I tell her I’ve graduated and I’m doing the Grand Tour, next maybe Munich for Oktoberfest, then Vienna? She asks to see my Eurail pass, but already she’s looking at me nicer, unjealous, living vicariously in my wanderlust.

It’s 6.30 am. I’m the only man in the street dressed in red. Red windbreaker, red shoes, green army duffel bag of my chattels. It’s daylight, but hardly anyone’s on the Underground yet. Heathrow express to Paddington. Circle Line to Baker Street, Bakerloo to Finchley Road.

The West Indian woman asked me if it was my first time in London. First time in eight years, I say. There’s a bizarre, horrible sense of homecoming to this city. Of course I am glad to be here but there are certain words which already describe it.

London is limbo. The celestial regency of Sheridan and the inferno of Aphra Behn. The court of Marlowe, the boat of Kipling, the oblivion teahouse of Carol Ann Duffy. But empty.

Today there’s been a curious peoplelessness to it, no doubt because it’s Rosh Hashanah, or possibly because I haven’t stepped beyond my borders much today.

Will write more, once my thoughts are collected. Chag sameach, my Hebrew friends.



1 comment:

The Empty Signifier said...

About farkin' time you serialised your Stone Monkey entries on a blog!! Was wondering why you didn't already do it way back when.

Bon voyage, old friend, and I'll see you when I do.