Somewhere south of London in a sort of 1980s that never happened, I am sitting on the top deck of the 466 bus with mum. The rest of the bus is empty. We gaze out of the bus window, through the tree tops and into the first floor windows of the semi-detached: orange leaves and net curtains. The bus glides across Bromley, Ravensbrook, Sevenoaks, and nothing much happens behind the windows of these towns.
The 466 shudders and comes to a stop in the cavernous Beckenham Junction depot. We get off. The depot smells of diesel and damp. The driver disappears with his metal cash box between the silent red buses; his shoes tapping the concrete. Mum and I head toward the light of Beckenham High Street.
The High Street is empty. The shops are closed. The Odeon is closed. The Three Tuns is closed. The cedars that once hid the train track have been coppiced and an engine and several carriages wait there wreathed in steam.
We count the iron railings with our fingertips. We count the paving slabs with our footsteps. The railings are rough with rust flakes and the pavement is thick with leaves and trimmings. On the platform we find that the awaiting train is actually a miniature. We climb aboard and off we trundle, clutching our knees to our chins, through the quiet of town and country.
The train jostles down George Street in Croydon and turns abruptly into The George. The pub doors swing open like saloon doors in westerns or ghost train rides at the fair. The pub is busy; it bristles with voices and laughter and the small train makes its way up the stairs – the framed pictures on the walls are of old hunting scenes; redcoats, long horses and bugles; water-coloured hills and simple birdshapes; the quick, brown fox jumps over the…
On the first floor the little train stops and we get out. The bar is busy. Here are Paul and Gail from Whitley Road. Here is Aunty Dorin and dead Ronnie. Here is Peter Marsh and his staff on a night out. Johnny Depp is slumped in the corner, the worse for wear. I sing him my song about his shoes, but he only stares through me.
How odd and disconcerting to find bonsai trees have started to grow from the backs of my legs. I tweeze them out, but the roots are deep and the tiny trees break off in the tweezers. I begin to panic and wake to find the fire alarm ringing. But it stops so suddenly that I cannot be sure if it was part of the dream or not. The room is strange and quiet and it takes me some time to remember that I am in The Premier Inn, Croydon. I fill a glass with water from the bathroom tap and on the way back to bed I peek out of the curtained window. There is a building directly opposite – an apartment – and a pale man is stood, naked, at the window staring straight into my eyes.
The Queen of the monkeys walks down the gangplank of a curvaceous galleon that has docked at the seawall of The Cobb. She is pale and is wrapped in a blue cloak or blanket. Her hair is bobbed. The ship towers above her and gulls wheel around the sails. I am stood behind a colourful newspaper/magazine stand at the foot of the gangplank. The pages of the publications ticker on the breeze. I stamp her passport (a hand stitched and simply designed booklet). When I ask her if she has had a good journey, she smiles and says, “I’ll know when it’s finished.”
In a room, candlelit and fragrant, with no glass at the vast window – yellow drapes lifting and falling – I lay beneath white sheets of a massive bed. The headboard is made of intricate curlicues of metal – leaves and flower blooms – and the floor is tiled – parquet – and strewn with articles of clothing that appear to be pools in the shimmering light. A door -ajar- leads my eye to a high sided bath that stands alone in a steamed bathroom. Foam bubbles spill and puddle, and from this mountainous range of tiny bubbles a knee rises, and an ankle.