Bathroom door – If you pardon, we will mend.
I’ve never hit anyone in my life. And I’ve met real-life monsters, it’s true. I’ve been two-timed, I’ve been to Morrisons on match day, I’ve even canvassed for Oxfam on Oxford Street in heavy Christmas shopping season. Even when I wound up in an impromptu scuffle in the loos of the pub where I was playing my second ever gig, I failed to throw even one punch. The incident only served to sober the cartoon myth that when a head is slammed hard against a condom machine, the subsequent silver lining comes by way of a windfall of free prophylactics, which flurry down in abundance like a novelty, glow-in-the-dark or extra-safe tsunami. It doesn’t happen. I’m sorry.
So naturally it beats me – how I caused so much bare-knuckle damage to my best friend’s bathroom door on what should have been an ordinary April morning last year in London.
We’re in Walthamstow – the nice, village-y bit and crucially planted on the Victoria Line and a handy few stops from Kings Cross St. Pancras and the den of the Eurostar. I’ve been travelling this way for while now and it’s my favourite route out of the frying pan. I’ve dabbled in the cheap flights – the disapproving looks of passengers and stewards as you carry your guitar on the plane. The ripple of a bendy knife in your back as one by one your favourite airlines sell-out to the 85cm rule. So my general rule now is that I’ll fly if I have to… but if I can avoid the cheap shot of being penalised for my guitar having a neck, while some of my fellow passengers conduct themselves appallingly and incur no extra charges; I’ll neatly sidestep it.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen on board this Typical Miscellaneous Airline flight. We would like to remind you that this is a light fabrics flight and we do recommend that passengers wear chinos at all times.
In the event of a loss of irritating noise a mobile phone will be lowered from that panel above your head. Please raise your voice and continue to say incessantly wanky things as loudly as is possible. If you are travelling with any women on children, please do not waste your time talking to them.
Armrests to your left and right and available for your use. We cannot recommend any consideration of the comfort of other passengers. Similarly, if you are travelling with only one suitcase today speak to a member of the cabin crew who will be happy to provide you with a second suitcase so that you may casually disregard the luggage restrictions.
As you exit the plane today please take care to obstruct the line of people waiting anxiously to exit the aircraft for as long as possible while you adopt the ‘slow coat fold,’ ensuring you take the maximum time possible to gather your things, entreating children to become distressed in the exhausted arms of their mothers and beads of sweat to gather on the foreheads of those with connecting flights.”
A few years back I attempted to shave off a few bucks from the travelling budget by taking the coach from Victoria to Cologne. It was the same story twice – on board toilet broken and when the coach eventually stops at Brussels Bus Station in the twilight or dusk the driver forbids you, in a lilting but stern Eastern European accent, from seeking out the restrooms here. You want to yell out a petulant “you’re not my real Dad!” while trying to force back a snake-dance that highlights how much you’re busting to go. Essentially, these men of few words have in my experience, been kind, and have handled a guitar taken on board like a baby. You can’t help but trust them in what they forbid, but arrive at the end of the line needing to pee so badly that you’ve felt yourself age 10 years.
By contrast there’s rarely a queue for the ladies on board the trucker ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. It was night time and pretty cold too. I’d found a little corner to hole up in and was watching those Rodeo Drive mean girls give Julia Roberts a dressing down, on my netbook. Two thirds of the way through the movie something caught my eye, perhaps the glowing end of a North Sea roll-up, and I turned to see five or six hairy blokes through the window behind me evidently watching Pretty Woman with me.
Eurostar however, trumps all of the above. St. Pancras is a slick concourse of shops, bars and restaurants where small, smart wheelie suitcases are on parade like dogs doing parklife in noontime Paris. Someone is eccentrically bashing away at the keys to the free piano nearest you. Sometimes it’s someone who can really play and it can be really quite beautiful. I’ve not found myself face to face with an unoccupied eighty-eight as yet. Chances are anyway that I’d never have the nerve, being neither piano-pro or urgent-fingered eccentric.
But scroll back a few paces and a few tube stops, and leave the bustling and tinkling St. Pancras in a hush for now. Still in Walthamstow where my good friend has kindly lent me a couch for the night, I’m getting myself ready for the day. It unnerves me a little, this whole close the door behind you and leave business but I’m getting used to it. The mental image of my passport and tickets, phone, keys and all of my underwear – lying left on the breakfast table as I pull the door irreversibly shut, haunts me. It’s driven me to become a hideous checker and double-checker, rifling through bags and pockets in the wake of ajar doors, the world over. The checking routine is a good few minutes off yet. My friend has left for work and I have the flat to myself. The mechanism is in motion, I believe, for an on time departure. My route through the flat on the way from being asleep to being on the other side of that front door – pulling it very very slowly to a final click of the latch, is mentally itinerised and idiot proof.
The inside of the bathroom is tiled in white. It’s a boy’s bathroom which means there is a range of bottles skirting the edge of that bath each with little or no product inside – green
and blue gunk marketed to men as the ‘ultimate’ in ‘fresh’ and ‘cool’ ‘wake-up’ slaw. Lying untouched is a rather prissy wrapped soap – that mum brought with her when she visited. Last year.
I locked the door – absentmindedly. I’d had the place to myself all morning. And that’s when it happened. With the panic that followed I have no picture now of the shape of the lock – whether it was a key or slider or one of those little round buttons that you twist. I think it probably was once of the round buttons that you twist. Regardless, without any ceremony, as quickly, effortlessly and needing little human contact to do so – the thing yielded at the touch. Without friction, or clatter or noise – back sprung the inner and the outer halves of the doors lock and everything fell to the ground like a heroine in a Shakespeare play – swooning and slim of wrist in her white flouncy gown. I saw it from the inside, the metal casing slid down the inside of the door while something weightier drew back, down and landed with a dull pang on the floor outside. Locked in.
The first few blows are just for testing – to see how truly firmly locked the door is and whether it will wiggle itself unlocked or if those inside bolts will come loose like the rest. It won’t. They won’t. I’m stuck. Taking a step back I laughed to myself, picturing my friend coming home from school and finding me still there having been locked in the bathroom, suddenly feral and foaming at the lips – having had to eat the fancy soap for sustenance. Then I remembered the long day my friend said he had been dreading, the Parent-Teacher-Association meeting and then maybe meeting his girlfriend after that. As my cartoon thoughts turned to grim possibility, I felt the coolness of the temperature, looked down at the skimpiness of my pyjamas and became increasingly more aware of the boyishness of the bathroom, old hair and poor aim.
That was when the beating really began. Punching, kicking. Kicking, punching. The door was a boheomoth but at several points it looked as if it was going to give in, so I continued, working up a rhythm of arms and feet, palms and heels, ignoring the pain and the futility. I saw its brute blockishness ruffle, cracks appearing with each contact, but after a combination or two, my hands started to swell and a pulse beat through my arms and legs that said this is just silly. I was eccentrically bashing – and it wasn’t good music.
Sitting back off the edge of the bath feeling defeated, I took a minute to really breathe. I brushed my teeth. And let the water tumble from the cold tap to ease the prangs on my hands. Under the cool running water I turned my hands right over left, left over right and turned over the situation in my mind, until eventually the intro to its b-side started to play. Here was a second wind, and it spoke in a way that was sharper, more switched on and beyond flailing limbs and hitting and kicking. It was like tape two of a Now compilation – streetwise, stripped of the obvious pop and a month or two down the line you end up wondering why you ever even bothered with tape one. Like Firestarter, or a cheeky reggae record with the dubious message that stumbled into the top forty and stayed, a devil of an idea appears.
All I have to do is cross the line between good houseguest and naughty one, which is not a transition I’m keen on making lightly as someone so reliant on kind people and their
couches. Still the whisper on the second wind says do it. Cross the line. Bathrooms are full of tools it says. Sin. Open up the mirrored cabinet and have a root around. Golly.
Then suddenly, it’s happening. I’m justifying the violation as I go – turning over objects, rolls of tape, tubes of stuff. This friend and I go way back. We’ve lived together. We’ve pinched each other’s milk, probably heard each other having sex… I’ve just beaten some undeniable shit out of his bathroom door.
Bingo. Nail scissors. Skinny enough to poke into the hole in the lock but so fashioned to expand into the space and clasp onto whatever moving parts are in there and hopefully manipulate them. Turn, turn, turn and yes… that’s it. As the slightly buckled but still substantial door creaks open I stand with the scissors in a little disbelief. Am I really free?
The same tingling feeling of a near miss stays with me out the door, underground, drowning out the tinkling of the pianos and the sheen of the concourse. It fades a little – as the train stoops low unto the depths of the English Channel. I travel facing backward – face on and locked in with the track that leads back to the dishevelled bathroom door, the metal jigsaw swept into a pile by the skirting board, a scrawled sorry-note left on the kitchen table.
But soon it’s only black space. The track and and the way slip from my mind as my eyes start to close. Luminous orange B&Q vouchers will be in the post by way of apology and now I am far, far away from the scene of the crime.
And this weak and idle theme, No more yielding but a dream.