In the waiting room, the snow makes us talk. It is compacting on the pavements, trying to lie on the road. “In Canada or Germany we would see it is beautiful, be used to it, just get on with it” says a woman. It is warmer in Portugal, I say. She does not like Portugal. Why not? She knew Madeleine McCann’s grandfather, so she was put off it. She used to like the Algarve. She is less willing to say, when saying something less happy.
She loves Germany. Does not like France so much. She has been to Paris.
-Well, you have to go to Paris.
She prefers Brussels. I want to be in the conversation, I say how much I love the Magrittes, but she is away, with her story to tell. She went with her nephew on a four day coach trip to Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris. He had only wanted to go to Paris, it is the city you know is magical. They saw the sights in the evening and morning, and travelled in the afternoon. He did not want to get much, he only bought a key-ring of the Manneken Pis. That was what he wanted, it would appeal to a thirteen year old boy.
-Yes, I knew of it when I was a teenager.
When the tour was finished, the driver from Antwerp asked him what he had liked best. He said Amsterdam, then Brussels, then Paris. What did he think of the Eiffel Tower? Glorified Blackpool tower, he said.
The other woman went to Venice once, and did not like it. The gondoliers were on strike. I am called up to the dentist, who tells me how well I have been brushing.
Slip and slide on the steep pavement to the bus stop, just in time. Woman says how beautiful the snow is, and I agree. “It should have been snowing at Christmas”. On the bus, I hear her phone call. “How can you keep my children in care when they would be better off at home?” I am listening, and I could not write it. There it is, so expressive, and I could not convey it to you. Or at least, not as quickly as I am writing now. She is on the phone from Swanston to Downley, and I wonder at the social worker not ringing off.
“I can look after my children better! They were losing their hair!”- What do you mean, environmental factors? (Nothing, of course. If he said something concrete, it would be refutable, it would leave space for engagement.) What the fuck? That, of course, gives the opportunity for the social worker to rebuke, I wonder if he took it.
Some problem or other. The bus stops, the bus driver gets out and messes about a bit. A howl comes from upstairs, and a youth, hood up, hoodie with “No Fear” once in large letters and repeatedly in tiny letters comes down, loiters a bit on the lower deck, then goes back up. His agitation perturbs me. Getting off later, he thanks the driver. Everyone does.