I rent a small, dark room opposite East Croydon station (as is now: glass, steel, pigeons pecking fast food discard, noise) and I start cutting hair there. The room is situated on the ground level of what has been known variously over the years as the Threepenny building, the Fifty pence building, the Wedding Cake building and, officially, No. 1, Croydon. There are no windows and no signage. The space is accessed through a blank metal door that you would not notice unless you knew it was there. The floor is concrete.
There is a work desk that stretches from one wall to the other – nothing else. I cut JC’s hair into a Marilyn Monroe style. The door opens and in comes BC. He is annoying. JC puts on her coat (a beige mackintosh, belted) and prepares to leave. But BC is all over her, chatting his inanities. He kisses her on the cheek and hands her a business card. I am stood in a hoodie, arms folded, against the work desk, smiling. She turns to me and says thank you. She leaves. BC says, “Well, I think I’m right in there.” I nod in agreement, but I feel the curl of my lip and rise in my eyebrow betray me. I say, “So, do you want a haircut?” He gives this a moment’s thought, looks to the door and says, “Actually, I’ll leave it. See if I can’t catch her up.” And so he does just this.
I am stood at the door. E. Croydon is busy. I watch BC push through the crowd and catch up with JC. She turns and breaks off and returns. She hands me her pack of tobacco – it has loose change in the bottom of it – and I say, “When you back?” “Sunday and Wednesday,” she says, and disappears into the crowd.
The library is vast. I imagine that it dates back to the twelfth century: cathedral in volume, with great norman gothic arches and spacious halls pierced by shafts of light that stream through colourful, high stained glass. Motes of dust float on the cool air. The shelves go on forever – rising, rising – and the highest can be accessed by heavily varnished and ancient stairways and gangways.
I have come here (it wasn’t so far away – which, of course, is a surprise – or rather not as this is dream) with a sleeve of polythene containing many sheets of ephemera; things that mum has entrusted me with; things of her’s and dad’s; memories, love letters, photos, monochrome and faded; a monogrammed cotton handkerchief, scraps of paper scribbled with grocery notes (priced in the old money), etc. She wants everything photocopied. The library has just such a facility.
I wander from room to room. I wonder why there are so many of my things here – socks drying over dusty, heavily painted radiators; handwritten notebooks on desks; my duffel coat, hung from a hook on a wall beside a large ceramic pot and even the yukka plant stood within that reminds me at once of one I had years ago that caught fire one evening and ended up burning on the windowsill of my bedsit in Wellesley Road) – I don’t recall being here before, but I suppose that I must have been.
Eventually, I find the photocopy machine: it is (naturally) huge, antiquated (or incomprehensible to me). The instructions printed on the side are very misleading. A man appears, a librarian, and offers to help. “It is tricky,” he says, taking the plastic sleeve and emptying the contents (a little too cavalier?) onto the tabletop. He begins to set up the machine, and as he does he begins on some ramble about something of no consequence. His breath, as he turns his face to me, is heavily tainted with brandy. He laughs too much.
As he closes the lid of the machine down onto the first batch of articles he knocks over a huge jug of water that has been standing precariously close to the edge of the table, and the contents – so much water! – drench everything. I am distraught; furious even. “Oh, sorry,” he says, picking up the soaked papers that begin to disintegrate and turn to pulp as he does so. “The thing is I have been drinking since breakfast!” he says. Clearly this isn’t good enough. His name badge bears only a mess of scribble.
Inexplicably stripped to the waist, shoeless and sweaty, I am stood in the middle of a desert at the side of a vague sandy road beside a huge open top pale blue car with 1950s fins and chrome everything. I am shaded from the sun by a billboard that reads Mexican Crossroads. I’m looking for my notebook and pen (but these were in my jacket): Mexican Crossroads being a fairly good name for an average Santana tribute band.
I remember that my jacket is where I left it – draped over the back of a stool in a bar that I used to visit when I lived in Bath, called The Raincheck. I decide to go back and get it – or at least get out of the sun. But there is no key in the ignition. I decide to push the car. I am really putting some effort into shouldering this hulk up the dusty road. It moves, but only an inch or so at at time (I can’t recall its connection to me, or how I or it came to be at this desert intersection with nothing but cacti stood, straight out of Castaneda, like spiky scarecrows).
A lorry shimmers over a distant brow and approaches. I stand to one side to let it pass, which it does at a tremendous speed, horn honking, the desert clouding all around it. The cloud and the lorry disappear over another brow and I begin to remember the night before and I become quite sad. I have upset, I suspect, a list of people – this I sense. But what on earth did I do? Oh, dear!
(i awake with a vague doomy & acidic feeling in my stomach until the sadness slips quietly away and I realise, haha, yes, that it had all been a dream! – and this makes laugh!)