6: What’s your poison?

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No man’s land had left us in purgatory for seven hours. Not in France, not in the UK, without transit so unable to cross the channel. We made friends with the people entrusted with searching buses as they went past the border. An unlikely alliance was struck. Down to our last €4 in change we had to calculatedly decide when to insert €1.10 for a coffee in the vending machine knowing that three was our limit and the time spent here had no sign of abating. We passed around the watery plastic cups, sipping miserly at the liquid that at once both gave us warmth and alleviated the boredom that was creeping over us more sickly than the cold. Bus after bus went past. Our pals asked the drivers if they would shepherd us over the border and chose to gloss over why these shifty looking 20 something gentlemen were stranded at a border point at 5,6,7,8,9,10,11 o’clock in the morning. Nobody fancied it though some said yes, a Dutch philharmonic orchestra intimated they would carry us then cited insurance.

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Hitching

Finally a bus came from the same company we had been on. We had been told during the dark times that this would be our greatest chance of salvation. It had been our misfortune that not only had we been forced off a bus at 4am, we had been forced off the last bus of the night at 4am. Now the long wait was nearly over but not before an opportunistic Belgian bus driver would sniff out our situation and demand a fee for the journey despite the validity of our old tickets to get us to London. ‘How does €35 each sound?’ he weaselled, his beady eyes burrowing into us like marbles in snow. We counted out our remaining notes. ‘We’ve only got £25, €25… and 70 cents.’ He pondered on this, his silence bearing out vast. ‘Ok, that will do, there are a couple of seats left upstairs.’ He gestured us onboard clearly pocketing the cash for himself. We climbed the steps to a near empty bus where a kindlier soul could have thrown us on for nothing. Honour amongst thieves no longer an abiding principle apparently.

But we were on board. The 50 notes of accrued currency was a drop in the ocean compared to the €300 penalty from the night before. What an escalation of events. The journey was mercifully event free and eventually we arrived into Victoria Station sometime in the mid afternoon. In a city where money talks, we had to use all the cunning and craft we had so emphatically failed to display at the border crossing just to find a way to find a toilet without having to pay. We hadn’t completely lost our touch and succeeded in pissing up against a chain pub down a back alley before making our way to Camden Town where a friend from back home was going to put us up for the night.

We walked around town before jumping on the line to Marylebone where I was meeting up with another old friend working in the city. Working in the banks in London he would open up another world to me and a different kind of people than those I had become used to meeting over the last couple of weeks on the move. It was great to see him, we had lived together for a couple of years but we quickly began to see what it was that made his colleagues tick and it didn’t appear to be very much. They talked to us about the most material of things, their lives revolving around money, office politics and commodities. With a fierceness only just masking his David Brent interior, the alpha of the group, the boss, the honcho, exerted his influence by buying drinks for everyone. “What’s your poison?’ he tendered as he came back with a tray of lagers. Every line he said was continually punctuated by proclaiming ‘I don’t give a fuck,’ as his wallet burst open with wads of £20 bills. Tequilas were brought over with the pints at 18:30. Another round followed swiftly from there.

As one worker tried to unfurl himself to get out, his weakness was seized on.
‘Stay for another drink, come on, don’t be a bitch,’ the team leader, the boss bellowed out.
‘Call him a bitch, go on, call him a bitch,’ his body opened up as he gestured for me to utter the words.
‘Call, him a bitch.’
‘I’m no gonna call him that.’
‘CALL HIM A BITCH.’
A raised eyebrow in his direction,
‘naw.’

I’d just been with people from across the world who threw themselves into never ending thankless tasks against forces much larger than them, fighting battles for the benefit of others, taking slim victories when they came like when when they stormed the Bayer offices dressed as animals. These people here though, they were the large forces. In their tiny wee existences they served to prop up the industries that hoovered up money, disseminated inequality and furthered a culture of individualism and greed and they hated it. Not because of the moral quandaries it posed to them but because the work was so definitely shite. It’s like it has to be shite because this kind of work causes such damage to the world that it instinctively becomes an unnatural thing to do. There’s a perversion to what they do and it’s driven by misplaced status.

If our society were a human body they would find work tearing apart scabs. Though the body works in harmony, they would scratch them, catch them, slice them off whenever the body was trying to heal and when the wound was infected they would use their expertise to be given even more scabs to deal with. They would get so much reward for these scabs that the more of them there were the better. When the body was crying out to be mended they would consolidate their positions and the body would get sicker. Rather than help the blood pump through veins, they dabbled in crust and dead leukocytes. As the body grew more ill, so they would need more scabby currency to gratify their sadness.

These scab mongers around me had no understanding of their opportunity to do something else with their time on earth. They lived expensive lives because they had the money but only worked to get the money so they could lead expensive lives. And so the tired circular cliche trundles yet more around.

We were both appreciative of the perspective given to us. Whilst being swept up in the movements of the last few weeks, both of us had had self critical thoughts asking if we were just indulging ourselves with the things that we were doing and perhaps playing up how intrepid and enriching our actions were when we ate en masse with new people. But we had been dining with people who had unique traits, drifting across the continent, holding no assigned position, protesting against assumed powers. They had a story to speak of, an awareness beyond themselves. But before us, we saw what a dull existence could pervade us if we chose to conform and work jobs that were societally seen as successful or even acceptable. But what do these people achieve other than material wealth and a chance to boss over other people? What does that do for a wider society? Who benefits from your contribution doing that on this planet? With this slither of limited time and space granted to you in the makeup of the human story this is what you choose? Trapped in a guilded cage of their own opulence, the only time afforded them from the rigmaroles of a sterile folksy 9-5 was spent being shouted at for not drinking more beer until finally they could escape to sleep for a few hours, have an Instagram friendly experience on the Saturday, sleep, eat, repeat then start their Monday Friday rotation again.

Eventually we left after a couple more drinks. We got home for a good night’s sleep to counter our actions from the early morning knowing the next day was Friday and that that meant fuck all to us.

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