On the train, I was pleased to be joined by Amy and her mother. Amy is a precocious five year old, very excited by going to London to get her bridesmaid dress and see her cousins. She read the station signs, read a little in a book for older girls, and when she did not correctly answer the arithmetic problems her mother posed, I had the feeling that she did not want to play that game now rather than that she could not answer.
Amy told me of her friend, who is three. The parents gave the name Hannah, but the child wants to be called Luke Skywalker, or Luke- must have seen something to do with Star Wars somewhere- and gets upset at being called Hannah.
“Amy, when I was a child my parents called me Steven, but that was never right for me and I am far happier being called Clare.” Mmm. Repartee thought up a day later is always wonderful. I wanted to say something and I was embarrassed. I worried the mother might object. I sat silent for a bit, then quavered to the mother, “er, do you think the child self-identifies as a boy?” The jargon, self-identifies, was inappropriate. The mother thinks it is just a game, just a phase. I curse myself a little, now, but I could not think of anything better to say, and I was embarrassed. It would be good to be that confident, and I am not there yet. And- choosing an SF character may make it seem like a game, may slip the name change past others’ defences.
My friend was in Paris with her then-husband. As a gorgeous woman walked by, she looked directly at them and made a suggestive movement with her tongue. “You’re in with a chance there,” joked my friend, and her husband explained to her it was a lesbian gesture. When she told me this story, I thought, Hooray! Of Course you are lesbian, everyone sees it, soon you will cease being in denial. Now I think, well, this is not the first time people have thought you are lesbian, and perhaps I should take your insistence that you are straight at face value. The thing is, being straight is so completely weird. I find it hard to credit that anyone really can be. Everyone is at least bi.
I got the train back, and eight boisterous middle-aged men from Leicester got on, and sat round me. Stuart introduced me to all of them, and Andy, who is about sixty, chatted as we went North. They had been in London for the Rugby match. All the supporters of the opposing teams sit together, ribbing each other a bit but there is no aggravation. In the station he wanted to see the statue of John Betjeman, who had campaigned for its modernisation with such beautiful results. The steam trains had blackened all the brickwork, and it was left in that horrible state for years after.
Andy tells me that lads in his street had not heard of being a lawyer or an accountant: they all went to work in the mines. There was a decision made when you were eleven, you hardly understood it, and when you were 16, strong lad like you, you had to get a job. “And then the factories all closed in the 1990s”. He sounds still bitter. His son-in-law, there, is really angry. He has just been made redundant, just after buying a house, and does not know what he will do.
“If you want to see England win at cricket, you have to watch the Women’s team,” I joke. Doesn’t he know it, though they are never on the telly. About 15 years ago he was playing for a village side, and the other side brought on this blonde boy, who proceeded to take eight wickets for fourteen runs. When she came off he realised the bowler was a 14 year old girl.
“Just to show you how not-racist I am-” says Stuart to the black man he has sat beside, and I go watchful. Ideally, how not-racist someone is should not need to be proven or remarked upon. Stuart gets out his smart phone, and shows off a photo of himself with some black sporting hero.
Written 16 September.