Monday, September 9, 2013

LONDON'S RESTING FACES

Rozzie and Atli's Vauxhall flat is just in front of a bus stop, so double decker busses regularly pull alongside their 2nd floor windows. When this happens, particularly at night, since the busses are lit up, you get a fleeting view of waiting passengers.  They don't know they are being observed.  We'd be sitting at the dining table as the busses pulled up and it was like being served a tableau. The passengers were in an insignificant moment for them.  But for us it was like a moving theatre.

I decided to take some photographs but they didn't turn out very well.  The flash spoiled it. Most of the time the passengers didn't know I was there - but once or twice someone did look over - sensing they were being observed, perhaps.  Then they might look uncomfortable - or else begin to giggle - and occasionally we would wave at each other, and once or twice blew kisses and laughed, before their bus pulled away.

I think Edward Hopper might have enjoyed painting these upper decks- with their empty seats lit up- and sparsely placed passengers, reading or sitting side by side, or glumly alone and waiting.  That was the point of it, really; they were waiting for something else to happen.  This wasn't it. They were in transit as well as in transition.  

But later in the week, we saw an extraordinary passenger.  He wasn't on a bus but in a van.  Rozzie and I had walked down the Southbank  - she'd been showing me her London - and we ended up at Borough Market. Under an archway, a crowd had gathered and people were pointing cameras and smart phones at this parked white van.

In the driver's seat sat a large man in a t shirt, his arms crossed, and an amused self satisfied smile on his face.  His passenger was a dog who looked almost human. The dog reminded me of those pigs at the end of Orwell's Animal Farm - whose faces had begun to turn human.  "The creatures outside looked from pig to man from man to pig and from pig to man again. But already it was impossible to say which was which."

Well, that's what this dog looked like. The nose and jowls had begun to turn pink and the expression was knowing and placid - also rather bored.  When a woman in the crowd reached to stroke his ears, he reacted not at all.  He simply stared out front.

There was another strange aspect about him.  His front legs were crossed, and resting on the open car window ledge, both pointing forwards.

Rozzie took his photograph. Later, sitting in Shad Thames having coffee, we still couldn't get over him. In fact, from that point on, we showed his picture to everyone we met. We showed it to Atli and to Robert and Sherry and all of the flatmates.  Rozzie showed it to her friends in Oxford. We emailed a copy to Ben and Alice and Clare back in Hingham - and when they didn't respond and we realised it must not have gone through, we made a point of sending the picture again.  There was no way you could see this photograph and not be astonished.

 What is the meaning in his expression?  I know you all - like Shakespeare's Prince Hal, I suggested? But no, that wasn't it. At last we realized what it was.  This dog had "bitchy resting face".


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