A couple of Fridays ago I attended a feminist lecture in a boat on a canal.
Let me explain.
The afternoon sun filled me with promise and hope as the trappings of the workweek fell from my shoulders and I made my way to the Poowich train station. I mounted the DLR and took a seat in the empty train car. Shortly thereafter, a man with a baby buggy entered the train and, although there were 3,692 other available seating options, decided to box me into my seat with the buggy and sit down next to me. I (super casually) picked up my bag and moved down in the car a bit to, ya know, HAVE SOME PERSONAL SPACE. Through my headphones, I heard the man say to his baby, ‘OOooooooohhhh do we stink?! We must stink!!!’ (The baby had nothing to say on the subject, by the way.)
Great. Good start. I love an awkward confrontation with an insane person!
I nervously stuck my head in a book, hoping to avoid getting embroiled in some sort of altercation.
The conductor came by and the insane person asked him, ‘Do we stink?’
The baby began to scream in unison with my internal monologue.
Eventually, I managed to escape the DLR without suffering any bodily harm and hop on a bus to Vicky Park. Ah, the sun was bright again and the air fresh!
I alighted at the park and made my way to a charming pub, there to wait for dear Cordelia. The pub was certainly up to Weekes snuff and my spirits soared with the scent of stale beer and the sight of crusty regulars.
With an uncustomary air of joviality and happiness, I exclaimed, ‘I’ll have a pint of the American Pale Ale, please!’
‘Which one?’ the barman asked, unsmiling.
In my momentary elation, I had forgotten that bartenders aren’t nice in this country and they don’t want to be your friend and they will not give you free drinks or make small talk or look after your belongings while you go to the loo or make sure the date rape drug isn’t slipped into your drink. Fair enough, they make minimum wage. I humbly took a seat and commenced perusing my diary (‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read […] !’).
I felt eyes on me. Against my better judgement, I looked up.
Can you get syphilis from eye contact? I wondered.
Look away! Look away! O, where was Cordelia!?
The glorious sun set into the witching hour and on I waited. At last, the pub door clattered open and Cordelia rushed in, her face flushed and her eyes bright. The spirits had already gone a bit to my head (or was that the virtual syphilis?) so my face was probably also flushed and my eyes bright, but I really couldn’t say for certain. After exchanging excited greetings, two probably flush faced and bright eyed young ladies set off into the now black night.
The night really was quite black, indeed, quite dark… very very impenetrably dark as our steps hastened through a gate and down a dimly lit path that bisects the park. In addition to being very dark, the park was also very quiet. The only decipherable sounds were our nervously hushed voices augmented by the rustling of the wind in the trees as we descended deeper in the wilderness.
Our murmurs were silenced by an ominous ticking growing ever closer.
Suddenly, a pack of delinquents flew past us in a chorus of howls.
‘Youths!!!’ I uttered in disgust, shaking my fist like some curmudgeon-y old lady on a front porch. (They were safely out of earshot and couldn’t get me.) ‘We’re probably going to die tonight,’ I conceded.
‘I’m not sure that I like the park after dark,’ Cordelia more charitably remarked.
We were two unaccompanied and diminutive young (rapidly approaching mid-thirties) ladies alone after dark (it was 7pm) in a terrifying park full of youths (12 year-old boys on bikes), but we were also hearty feminists on a mission. We determinedly straightened our metaphoric ‘Votes for Women’ sashes and bravely carried on towards the canal.
At last, the canal was in sight–or rather more in sound–the only impediment a rather formidable fence. Emboldened by American Pale Ale, I mounted the fence and considered swinging my legs to the other side. I was quickly overcome with my intense fear of heights (the fence was about 2 feet tall) …. errrr I mean, I was held back by my restrictive skirts and petticoats and obliged to drop my feet back into the confines of the park.
‘I don’t fancy climbing the fence,’ the more level-headed Cordelia informed me.
We found a gate.
If the park was scary then the canal was like…super scary. Equally dark, the canal boasted the addition of black, inky water and the sound of dead bodies (probably) lapping against the bows of boats. But hark! A light?
Yes, it was the heavenly glow of the Village Butty beckoning us into her warm confines. Down the steps we climbed, entering her belly where there were drinks and emancipated ladies aplenty. Cordelia purchased a tea whilst I felt it most sensible to answer the call of Bacchus.
Wine certainly enhanced and bolstered my commitment when it came time to pledge allegiance to the V. Indeed, I recited my lady vows with a courage and vigor matched only by Cordelia’s more modest and earnest promise.
At any rate, pledges to the Purple Ostrich read, we obtained a top notch seat for the lecture–balanced on woollen blankets, our feet warmed by the generous heat of a stove named Bertha (apparently).
But alas, many laughs later and the first part of the lecture drawn to conclusion, the wine had gone to my head (bladder). Our saucy entertainers had alluded to a loo, but where could it be? I courteously pushed my way to the front of the drinks queue and declared my situation to the Jack of all trades Village Butty employee. A magic key was hence produced from the rafters of the boat and some really very extremely confusing directions were communicated to my blank and un-receptive face.
Those were the only two words that stuck in my head.
‘Look for the black door,’ I repeated as I bid Cordelia adieu (probably forever) and set off into the night.
That darkest, black night.
Ropes creaked and dead bodies lapped as I made my way down the canal in search the black door. Ghoulish (and syphilitic) eyes peered out at me from the other boats moored along the waterway and an icy wind clawed at my throat. I pulled my shawl closer around me and carried on with as much false (drunk) bravado as I could muster.
Black door. Black door. Ahhhhh scary shadow! Black door. Black door. Black door.
Suddenly, I stumbled upon a whole row of black doors.
I composed myself and decided I had better try each lock with my magic key and hope for the best. The best was not good enough: my key did not fit any of the locks.
By now the call of nature was very strong within me (I would classify my need for a wee as ‘urgent’). I retraced my steps, hoping to find some overlooked black door that would at last lead me to heavenly relief.
Then I saw it. A black door on a shack-like structure set back in the park. The shack was encircled by a rusted fence with a gate which, of course, rattled rather vigorously and creepily in the wind.
With much temerity, I will admit, I approached the gate and pushed it open. Creeeeeeeak. My feet were heavy but my bladder urged me onward to the now infamous black door. With a shaking hand, I tried my key in the last of the locked portals.
Click! It fit! I was inside!
Not that I really wanted to be. It was, pardon my French, fucking terrifying in there.
‘Well, this is it. I am going to be murdered tonight,’ I remarked to the uncaring darkness.
I fumbled for a light switch. Once found, a sickly greenish light flickered on and off with a buzz before deciding illuminate the environs of the shack. I quickly locked the door behind me.
‘Come on, come on, come on…GO!’ I had now become too nervous to wee, the ominous drip of the leaky faucet doing little to encourage me in my endeavour. The wind whipped and howled outside. Somewhere in the distance a crow cried out with rage.
I bolted out of the shack and sprinted back to the boat with a speed and agility not normally attributed to my movements. Down I plopped next to Cordelia (panting) and stretched my hands to receive the warmth of Bertha.
‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them,’ our lecturers were saying.
xWG // #dazeandweekes