Most days, I take the train from Brighton to London. I don’t get on at Brighton mainline station, but a small satellite station a stop away. On a good day, it reminds me of the charming Paris suburbs. On a bad day, La Haine.
It’s not a big enough station to have a café. There’s a man with a coffee cart who sets up on the pavement outside on weekday mornings. Sometimes I buy a latte from him. Usually I don’t have the time, or the cash on me, or I forget. So I don’t talk to him that often.
He’s nice. He’s called Gary. His coffee cart is strung with fairy lights and he is usually playing jazz on a little radio.
This morning, I got up early and decided to treat myself.
‘It’s a latte, isn’t it?’ he says.
He recognised me. He remembered. It has made my morning.
We all want to be seen. We all want to be recognised.
In a text exchange with my boyfriend yesterday, I made a slightly lame throwaway joke without even thinking about it.
He replied instantly: ‘Haha. That’s such a you thing to say.’
This was also a throwaway comment, but I don’t think any thought-through extravagant compliment could have made me happier. I found myself thinking about it all day, feeling a little surge of joy every time. It made me feel special, and unique.
I say things that are just ‘so me’! Not only that, but another human sees those things that make me ‘so me’ and actually still wants to spend time with me and go to bed with me at night. That’s quite magical, when you really think about it.
When I finished sixth form, they did an awards ceremony with comedy categories. I won the ‘Clairol Award for Most Hair Colours In Two Years’. It had been long and short and in-between; it had been brown, black, red, blonde, purple, blue and for a while I had an undercut with green stripes at the front. I had also had several piercings and a tattoo. I wore band T-shirts and a charity shop fur coat and baggy skater jeans.
I was trying so hard to find my Signature Look. I thought it would give me a purpose. A defined personality, I suppose. Something to hang on to, anyway. A way to be seen and recognised.
I wanted to be a writer and I had no idea how. I wanted a nice boyfriend but I didn’t know how to make somebody like me. I assumed I would have to try quite hard to make someone like me.
My personality was Nirvana and Placebo and PJ Harvey, Sylvia Plath and JD Salinger. Going to G-A-Y every Saturday night with my friend Neil, and Popstarz every Friday with Russell. Piling on eyeliner to hide my hangover in my waitress job on Saturdays, where I gave my friends free hot chocolate.
I would borrow my cool friend Sheryl’s clothes and hope that not only would they make me look like her, but they would also make me be good at art and have a nice boyfriend like hers. I hoarded other people’s things. I was over 30 before I began to just leave my hair alone.
I’m 37 now. I have a fringe. I have good friends. I have seven tattoos. I like stupid puns. I like singing in the kitchen when I’m cooking. I cry easily. I’m neurotic, and when I let myself, I get into a terrible feedback loop of being neurotic about being neurotic. I’m funny and nice.
I got on the train this morning with my latte, with my sunglasses on and my headphones and my Yoga With Adriene T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. And then I spilled my coffee all over myself.