Week 19 – They Called My Name
by H D Thompson
Overheard at Edinburgh Castle:
- “Well, this is an old building isn’t it?”
- “Oh, I thought it said dragon”, when perusing the Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards
- “It’s bigger than my dorm”, referring to the military solitary confinement cells
Stayed with my friend Charlotte in Edinburgh and she took me to a Ceilidh dance. I didn’t know what to expect but could not have been more pleased with the result of folk dancing with kilts. There was a nice mix of newbies and career kids. There was one particular couple that paraded around like they owned the damned joint, and when grouped with them they would always try their hardest to make you feel like the scum beneath their traditional Scottish boots. For the most part though, it was a hoot. When it was over I walked around and skulled the leftover wine people had abandoned and we found a divey hole to dance in til 3am. It was a Tuesday. It was fantastic.
Charlotte took me to the botanical gardens to feed squirrels and it was everything and more. Some squirrels were apprehensive but most knew the rustle of a peanut bag from a mile away and came running. One little dude crammed an aspirational level of nuts in his mouth.
My favourite shop name – “Thistle Do Nicely”.
Charlotte organised tickets for us to go into the Scottish Parliament and watch a parliamentary debate for a couple of hours, and her assumption that I would be at all interested in something so odd was absolutely spot on. The topic was Developing Youth Workforce and it was enthralling. As the room filled up with more opposing members it became raucous, which obviously I am all about. At one point, a member was speaking about the importance of teaching youth skills for work-life such as time management, and then he ran thirty seconds over time. I was very happy to see someone else pick him up on that.
On the bus to Manchester, there was a swooning couple both in front of and behind me. To balance it all out, the man sitting across from me slept with his hand down his pants, clutching his crotch as if afraid someone were to steal it in his sleep.
When in Manchester I wandered aimlessly around checking it all out and the first place I visited, completely by chance, was the Gay Village, as if subconsciously guided by a rainbow compass.
The Manchester University Library has sleeping pods for naps. They’re only for twenty minutes but that they exist at all is wonderful. What a time to be alive.
I stayed with my friend James while in Manchester, someone I hadn’t seen in years. It was excellent and we took acid and wandered the streets for the entire day. I can’t recommend it enough. Manchester is in my opinion best viewed with a technicolour buzz and good company.
I was party to drama in the food court. All I wanted to do was scoff down some greasy food court garbage. The place was packed but I found a table with one chair on it and claimed it as my own. Just after I sat down, a worker pulled another table over and placed three seats around my new dining set. I do not understand why she had to do this to me. Seconds after, a woman carrying more bags than sense sits down across from me, without even asking if they were taken, just assuming I was alone. She was right, but I would have told her I was waiting for friends. She was having a loud conversation on the phone with a friend about some guy who was “pulling” and apparently that was a bad thing. They bitched and moaned about him until this friend turns up at the table and sits down next to her and her awful little child sat next to me. They put their phones down and continue their conversation about the dirty fool and his “pulling” and the kid sits and stares at me. All I wanted was a nice peaceful meal alone. The kid says I look funny and I tell him that’s probably because I was from Australia. He says he learned about Australia in school and it was where they send all the criminals. This was when I leaned in close to him, enough that he could hear me but his adults couldn’t, and said, “Yes, yes it is. It’s also where they send little kids who don’t behave and talk to strangers in food courts”. He went quiet and I was able to finish my meal in peace.
I was in London for 0.00006 seconds before I heard someone refer to someone else as a “daft cow”.
Even after all the years since it has been popular, I still think people are calling my name when I hear it. My name used to have a unique old-school obscurity but now it’s as common as rat shit. There were so many Harry’s in the Harry Potter shop in London, I was almost certain it was a skit. There was no way any of them were calling my name, but every time it feels like someone is.
I met up with my dear friend Sharon in London in a pub that had a real fire and allowed dogs inside. She talked about always wanting a pie they always sold out of, which I agreed was bullshit but deep down I kind of felt like I don’t really want to make that many pies either so who was I to judge. They served wine in glasses sized either small or large and we talked about boys til our faces hurt from laughing at how dumb they all are. I feel like this trip is just getting hits of all the people I had been missing back home, and I’m completely addicted to the high.
Walking through the subway from South Kensington Station to the Natural History Museum, a busker played Molly Malone on his violin. The mood it set while walking with the flood of people in this underground tunnel felt very eerie and war-like. It reminded me of a similar scene in the film The Deep Blue Sea with Rachel Weisz, which I guess is why, but my god London can seem dreary when it wants to.
Rainy London was deeply unappealing, so I spent an entire afternoon reading in my hostel bed. It was an emotional ride in the last half of the book and when I finished with an exhausted sigh, I looked up and found the three young French girls who were traveling with their mother staring at me. One clapped. They said I kept gasping and crying and that I was a very strange man. I offered them the book I had just read but they didn’t want it, said they struggled to read English.
The free breakfast at the hostel I was staying at came with butter cubes with a limit to one per person, which is absurd as one cube was barely enough to scrape over one piece of their giant bread. On the second morning, M.I.A’s Bad Girls was playing and I took inspiration from it and reached over the bar to grab more when the lady wasn’t looking. I was so scared of being caught I ate my cold toast in the stairwell, but at least it was buttered to perfection. Live fast die young indeed.
In the pre-film advertisements at a cinema in London, I was witness to a Foster’s beer ad. It felt really weird to watch an ad filled with what I think were meant to be Australianisms for an Australian product no one in Australia even touches.
My last night in London I knew I should have done something special, but instead I just wandered around the streets feeling melancholic. Partly because I was leaving but also partly because I wasn’t sure if I would be back or where I would be two weeks from now. There’s something equally scary and exciting in freedom. I also drank a bottle of red wine while wandering around sporadically weeping. If it weren’t for the nice scarf I was wearing people probably thought I was homeless.
The day I was to leave London to head back to Melbourne, I stood at one of the giant airport windows at Heathrow and looked out. I was through security and ready to go but I was hesitant about the flight back. Tentative. Empty. It was only a short visit but something felt weird. I considered staying, just not getting on the plane. People would be disappointed, but they would understand – this is something I was told when I expressed my hesitation to one of my closest people and her words ran through my head as the planes careened along the tarmac. They called my name over the loudspeaker and I knew I needed to go to my gate, but I was stuck. Stuck in a mud of emotions I had no idea how to navigate. I was nervous about going home, even for a visit, but I was also nervous about staying because I didn’t know if this was where I belonged or where I wanted to be. On my travels, I read a book about memory loss and the choices involved in forgetting the painful memories that shaped you to the point you’re at. I think a part of me wanted to forget. I was hurting in a lot of ways I refused to admit and a lot I wouldn’t shut up about. I wanted to run from the painful pricks of the brambles that seemed to line the memories of my life so far. I’m not saying that I had some kind of clichéd spiritual awakening or anything, but I have learned on this trip that running from pain is not a way to deal with it. You have to learn to wield it as a weapon and use the mistakes of that pain to carve a new way ahead. Or something to that effect, I don’t know, I doubt I’m there yet. Before I left, my greatest friends organised a fundraiser to fly me home for my 30th birthday to see my idol Alanis Morissette play who is in town for the first time in decades. Seeing your idol perform is one of those things you just imagine happening but you’re sure actually won’t. Turning 30 is a big deal for someone who not only didn’t think he would last this long but also someone whose dreams have been so constantly littered with the sweet escape death could bring. Being so sure of your worthlessness in the world and being gifted with something so generous and kind is a real shock to the system. I had a delayed response to receiving the gift and it didn’t fully hit me until I was alone walking the ancient streets of Sarajevo. Being alone with nothing but my own thought for company had got me this far in life but it wasn’t always a healthy bedfellow. Knowing that there were people somewhere in the world out there who for no other reason other than genuine affection wanted me to be happy was a hard thing to wrap my head around. They called my name again over the speakers and with more urgency. I knew I had to move but I was scared to take a step back into a life I had left behind, even if it was only just dipping my toes in. I could feel the voices of my friends calling my name as clearly as the airport speakers. Seeing them would be bliss, but in a cruel way, it also feels like cheating. I left behind a life I didn’t think I wanted or if I’m being honest didn’t think I deserved. I was plagued with the shadows of my past biting me in the back and the light of the future in my eyes blindingly interrogating me at every move. I don’t want to forget and I don’t want to be forgotten. I don’t want to be a burden on someone else’s life but I guess that’s not my decision to make. I had found the best people and managed to somehow trick my way into their hearts and I think the biggest thing I’ve learned in my scattered isolation is that the power of that kind of connection is insurmountable. It’s not that my name is being called from the other side of the planet and I have to respond because I should, it’s that I want to respond. That’s a big deal for a weird kid in a grown man’s body who has no idea what he’s doing. I’m about to turn 30 and I have no idea how I got this far, but I do know who got me there. They called my name a third time over the speakers and I ran. I wasn’t far from the gate and when I got there they were anxiously waiting for me at the doors. One of the women said, “What happened, you get lost?”. I smiled back at her and said simply, “Yes, but only for a moment”.