I had an odd moment the other day – the sort of moment that suddenly and quite intensely reminds me of, hmm, life distance I suppose, between places and between selves. It’s not an angsty feeling, at least not precisely (I can work angst into anything, given half a chance), just a little thought provoking.
The thing is, H and I are off to Edinburgh for the Fringe at the end of August. We’ve doing this … God … since we were students although, thankfully, as our income, has increased we no longer sleep on our friends’ floors and we actually eat food that isn’t solely provided by the 100% Angus beef burger van parked outside the Gilded Balloon. I think last year we even went to a nice French restaurant.
(Although we also went to Well Hung and Tender … because it has the best name in the known universe and provides genuinely the best served-out-of-a-van food I ever eaten – or maybe I just think that because I tend to be eating it exhausted, and most likely wankered, at about three in the morning. God, I’m a classy guy).
It’s a bizarre choice of a holiday, I know, but it has a long, loved tradition behind it and neither our work schedules, nor our personal tastes, synch very easily on this one. H doesn’t like flying, and doesn’t really like being away from home – which probably sounds dreadfully boring but I like it. I mean, not that it’s boring, wah. I mean, that H is so grounded and content. I’m content, more than content, but I’m I am sort of world hungry as well. A few years back I left H behind and scampered around Europe having adventures. It was fun, but there was sadness on the homefront. And I know if I asked, let me drag him wherever I wanted to go, and he’d probably enjoy it too, but one cannot always be the dragger. Deep man. So the perfectly acceptable and functional compromise is we roam the length and breadth of this tiny island, and we go to Edinburgh every year. In increasing luxury. Which is sort of so hilariously anti-fringe it’s almost part of the pleasure.
The journey up there, however, is not so great – and that’s from someone who enjoys travelling. I mean, the travelling bit of travelling. That glorious, suspended non-time, with a landscape, or a skyline, streaking past. It’s either laziness or neuroticism but I like the space to think, and the safety that comes from a temporary state of no expectations. But British trains really suck. Or maybe they don’t suck as badly as I think but I saw Murder on the Orient Express at an impressionable age and now I have a distorted perception about what travelling by train ought to be like, i.e. luxurious and full of murder. Actually I can remember about ten years ago, travelling on one of old trains from Milan to Venice, rattling tracks and those adorable little compartments. A far cry from the Virgin cross country service from Portsmouth to Aberdeen, let me tell you.
The worst part of about travelling with H is that H is so terribly terribly MORAL about everything: won’t let me blag, the self-righteous git, even though it’s a victimless crime because it’s not like if you get yourself upgraded a comfort zone, somebody else is being stuffed in the baggage hold.
Once we drove up – and that was even worse. It’s about 8 hours behind the wheel and I know this probably sounds like pish to an American (it’s 8 hours just to cross the road around here) it’s a bit gruelling on me. I keep getting tempted to try and get the sleeper up instead – in practice, it’s pretty grim but it sounds oh-so romantic, doesn’t it? – except we’d have to get to Euston for, like, midnight and we’d be grumpily stranded in Edinburgh with luggage and nowhere to go at like 6am on a Saturday morning. The last few times I sort of managed to semi-honestly acquire first class upgrades – although I genuinely think they should rename them from Standard and First to Unbearable and Slightly More Bearable. Okay, I know I sound like a right knob now: “oh no, standard class is so plebeian.” Standard is actually fine for a short trip, to be honest, even if you have grasshopper legs like I do, but four hours down the line, when the entire carriage just reeks of humanity, somebody has been yelling into their mobile phone since Leeds, a child has been crying constantly (not that I blame them), and your legs have seized up … really, it’s not a good mood to start a holiday. First class is not, actually, all that much improvement (there are no oiled cabana boys with palms leaves, for example) but you get WiFi that functions, leg room and space for your legs and elbows. It’s not the Ritz but, dammit, I’ll take it.
Anyway, normally I do all the booking line and then faff around upgrading afterwards, while H looks on disapprovingly, but this year I decided I’d take a more cunning approach. So I went down to the train station, found a human being … and emerged about ten minutes later with two first class returns at … about the same cost as a standard class ticket. Oh score. I met H for lunch and babbled about this gleeful story and H burst out laughing (affectionately) and was like “dude, sometimes you are so working class, I can’t quite get over it.” And I was like “?” And H was like “Well, it’s a combination of the fact you’re ludicrously excited to have first class tickets, and you’re bragging because you got them cheap.”
I hasten to add, that this was an exchange carried out in the spirit of play, not classism. But it’s kind of funny really. There’s a stand-up routine by a Ed Byrne called, Different Class. I find him pretty hit and miss as a performer, but when hits, he hits hard for me – and the show touches on a lot of these sort of issues. I find it strangely comforting, actually. Like, yeah, sorry to describe someone’s joke, thus ruining it, but there’s a bit where he gets his first paycheck, buys an enormous telly and invites his friends round and they’re all “gosh, you’re so working class” and he’s like “how can that be working class, it was really expensive.”
I like to think of myself as a sort of class guerilla these days – I kind of slosh around somewhere near the middle, feeling quite comfortable about it, but I’m still so fascinated by these behavioural shibboleths. And, sometimes, I look around my life and I see all these … things that I like and have, and suddenly it all seems a bit impossible.
Like, a few years ago, I was in the supermarket and it was hot so I decided I was going to buy ice-cream and have it for dinner. Because I’m a grown up. A middle class grown up. Hell yeah. Anyway, while I was scanning the fridges, my eye fell on a Walls Viennetta which, out of deference for my vast international audience, I shall helpfully link to a Wikipedia page – just in case you don’t have ‘em over there. Now the Walls Viennetta is an institution where I come from. It’s the, ah, crème de la crème of sophisticated desserts. The sort of dessert you would carefully take out of the box and put on a plate before … serving. With flourish.
A Walls Vienetta, incidentally, is a bundle if vanilla ice-cream with layers of chocolate shoved through it.
And they are enshrined in my childhood memories: the careful ceremony of the Vienetta, the careful demarcation of portions by ripple, the sharp, crisp sound of the chocolate cracking under the serving knife. When the Vienetta came out, you knew it was a serious occasion. A Grandma’s birthday type occasion. I think we had maybe one or two a year. That’s just how bloody fucking special they were.
Okay, so a Walls Vienetta costs … 99 pence.
99 pence?! That’s an amount of money so negligible I would hesitate to pick it up if I dropped it on the floor.
It was such a disorientating moment. The pillars of all my childhood temples brought crashing down in the most careless of moments. I felt like such an arse, not because I was ashamed of having once worshipped at the ripply feet of 99p dessert, but because something so deeply valued had – without my noticing – become close to worthless.