Friday, July 07, 2006

song(s) of the week: svefn-g-englar & staralfur

I’m a sentimental old soul. I have ticket stubs from films minifig and I saw together in 1998. I have a box full of printed e-mails from long dead accounts from people I don’t even speak to anymore, but think of, often. I have entire written conversations passed surreptitiously between me and the other girls in my class at school, and every single game of consequences played on the coach taking us to the Isle of Wight or Covent Garden or Blenheim Palace.

In Christopher Nolan’s ‘Following’ , Cobb the middle-class burglar says everybody has a box full of secrets that they leave out in order to be seen, because that’s who they are. My box will tell you everything you need to know. Every crush, every petty fight, every film I’ve seen, every gig I’ve been to, every country I’ve visited. I keep on a high shelf, out of reach, and it’s very very difficult to open.

I’m very sentimental about places. The Student Union Bar of Essex University. A particular room in a hotel in Bury St Edmunds where I used to work, where I stood out on the roof overlooking the grounds, smoking a cigarette in my pyjamas at midnight as it became Christmas Eve, as the snow fell. The pub near school where we used to go for chips, beer and cigarettes before afternoon classes, that we took our teacher to for our last lesson so she could see why we were so dozy in the afternoons. Upstairs in the Jeremy Bentham. Valerie’s in Soho with my girlfriends. Victoria Street and the walk I used to do to work that replicated Elizabeth Dalloway’s walk of freedom. Tavistock Square and the pitter-patter heartbeats before a tutorial, or worse, a creative writing workshop. Tavistock Square was where I lit up – crossing at the junction by Woburn Place, waiting for the lights to change, that was my cigarette moment.

Of course, it’s also the place where the number 30 bus blew up on 7th July last year. I had left university by then, just. I was about to start my new job – I had accepted it the day before. So I hadn’t done that walk for two years. But, terribly, perhaps, it wasn’t seeing the pictures of the bus that made me cry last year, but of seeing my place, my road, my cigarette junction, changed beyond all recognition, and yet, terribly recognisable. Russell Square is my tube station – it’s my first home away from my parents, between King’s Cross and Russell Square… and Bloomsbury - is my playground. And there it was on television, these beautiful broad streets and leafy squares become a nightmare.

Like many people, I had a little cry on 7th July 2005. I felt sad for people I didn’t know, which always makes me feel false, but I still feel sad all the same. I was a bit spooked for a while, but got on the bus on the 8th (got off a stop early, admittedly), and used the tube on the 10th. Nobody I knew was hurt – and the likelihood of this happening was obviously tiny. A couple of people I once worked with fell into the “walking wounded” category, as they were referred to that day. The sooty, largely unharmed, but pretty messed up bunch. To my knowledge, they still commute.

I went back to my hometown that weekend to see a band play. Leaving London felt so strange, like I was being somehow disloyal, abandoning her. When Jean Charles de Menezes was shot inside Stockwell tube, our local tube station on 22nd July, minifig and I also left London to see a friend, a long overdue trip. Again, it felt wrong to leave.

In my mobile phone, ‘Home’, stored under ‘H’ used to be my parents’ place. But, also around this time last year, ‘Home’ became SW9.


London is a canny little phoenix. Around the time minifig and I started getting serious about each other, homemade bombs went off in Brick Lane, Brixton and Soho.

But Brick Lane is still where you go for knock-off DVDs and curry, and you can still get a pink pint in the Admiral Duncan in Soho. And, let me tell you, Electric Avenue in Brixton is always heaving.

My A-Z automatically flops open at page 37 even now. Despite its straight lines and orderliness, Bloomsbury’s tough to navigate when you first get there. And even though this morning, and this lunchtime, and this evening, seeing Tavistock Square on the news, over breakfast, for the two minute silence, for the Fiona Bruce evening special, I still got a funny sick feeling in my belly, and it will always be the place where the bomb on the bus exploded, Tavistock Square will also still be my beloved cigarette junction.

I may not have been born within the sound of Bow Bells, and I am really a suburban girl at heart, but I’ve been here long enough to realise that London is a canny little phoenix, and don’t you forget it.


So, anyway song of the week?

Bit of a cheat, but I’m picking two.

Tracks 2 and 3 from Sigur Ros’s Agaetis Byrjun, Svefn-g-englar followed by Staralfur.

I listened to this a lot in my first year at university, and although I have no idea what Sigur Ros are singing, I love London in the same way I love those two songs.

Like you care.


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