Aida Austin

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside -

‘Peo­ple give up their seats for me now on the Tube

Lon­don, my sis­ter’s flat. I’m with my mother, mak­ing plans for a day out. Last time we had a day out to­gether, we fol­lowed an itin­er­ary of her choos­ing. This kicked off with a visit to Hatchards book­shop in Pic­cadilly, fol­lowed by cof­fee in Water­stones, then onto Fort­num’s to look at marzi­pan fruits, back to Hatchards, into the Royal Academy for the Sum­mer Ex­hi­bi­tion and onto lunch. The af­ter­noon re­mains a bit of a blur but what stands out in my mem­ory is march­ing through Green Park look­ing back at the deckchairs and want­ing to lie down in one. To­day, we’re fol­low­ing my itin­er­ary. “Be­cause that’s how it should be,” Mum says, “when peo­ple get an­cient they get taken out for the day. I know plenty of old peo­ple – peo­ple much younger than me – who get taken out for the day. So I must be old enough to qual­ify.” “I think that’s what hap­pens when peo­ple get in­firm,” I say, “as op­posed to just 80.”

“Peo­ple give up their seats for me now on the Tube,” she says hotly, “if I’m in­firm enough for that to hap­pen, I’m in­firm enough to be taken out for the day. So where are you tak­ing me?”

“What do you fancy do­ing?” “Take me to all those funny places you go to buy your ma­te­ri­als,” she says, “I want to see a side to Lon­don I never see any­more.” “The trim­ming shops?” I say, “in Elec­tric Av­enue?” “Even the name sounds ex­cit­ing,” she says “where’s that? Let’s go there.” “Brix­ton,” I say, “but it gets re­ally crowded and noisy on Satur­days.” “What’s wrong with a bit of noise?” she says, “for all I know I could be deaf next week.” “Or I could take you to Toot­ing, where I buy my metal­lic braid.” “Why not go to both?” she says. “It might be a bit much in one day,” I say. “For who?” she says, shoot­ing off the sofa.

Elec­tric Av­enue. I browse through rolls of braid at the front of the trim­mings shop. Mean­while, down the back, my mother has come across the owner and is putting his bro­ken English to the test by chat­ting with him.

They are still down the back when I pay for my trim­mings. They have had to swap ges­tic­u­la­tion for words but are get­ting on like a house on fire. “I’m wor­ried for him,” my mother says when she re­joins me by the braid. “Why?” I say. “His English is very poor.” “Our Hindi is very poor,” I say, “I don’t see what -” “We are not run­ning a trim­mings shop in Ra­jasthan,” she in­ter­rupts, “so our Hindi doesn’t mat­ter a fig. I have an aw­ful feel­ing the rea­son his fab­rics are so cheap is be­cause the only thing he knows how to say is, ‘two eu­ros please’. He’ll never be able to keep a busi­ness go­ing like that. At the very least some­one ought to teach him how to say ‘five eu­ros please’.” “Time for lunch,” I say, be­fore she puts her­self for­ward for this job, “what do you fancy?” “That,” she says, point­ing at a booth sell­ing Asian street food, “I can’t re­mem­ber the last time I did bat­tle with a pair of chop­sticks.”

A man walks past our lit­tle ta­ble where we sit, wait­ing for noo­dles. He’s wear­ing an ad­ver­tis­ing sand­wich board on which there is a paint­ing of Je­sus. Je­sus has flow­ing robes and be­seech­ing eyes. The man has dread­locks down to his bot­tom and his eyes are dart­ing and ma­ni­a­cal. He roars about Je­sus at the top of his voice. Ev­ery­one, when they see him, looks down at their feet. Apart from my mother.

“Well you cer­tainly see the sights down here,” she says, “from now on when I come up to Lon­don, I think I might meet my friends in Brix­ton. It would make a nice change from the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert. Per­haps I should keep the V and A in re­serve for when I’m com­pletely de­crepit.” “The V and A feels quite ap­peal­ing right now,” I whis­per, look­ing down at my feet. The North­ern Line Tube to Toot­ing is packed. A man stands up, of­fer­ing his seat to my mother. “How kind of you,” she says sweetly as the man makes room for my mother to sit.

Ev­ery­one in the car­riage watches this small ex­change. “But I’m not that fee­ble yet,” she says. Then she turns to me, points at the seat and or­ders me to sit.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.