Our eyes met over a fly-tipped settee. She watched, timid and from a distance, as I gasped for breath at my front door. It was about 3am. Chaplin was still asleep as I struggled down the hall, wheezing and knocking letters off the side table, to get to the air. I opened the door and stumbled onto the street and there she was. She ran behind the green, stained, rain-drenched settee that someone dumped in a driveway, and watched.
I had been out at a posh do. It cost me only £2.30 in bus fare. I was wined and dined as a plus one, listened to excellent writers read from their work, watching some win thousands for their writing abilities.
I started the event, red wine in hand, talking to an interesting American woman who, within moments of our meeting, told me she was a socialist so I knew early on it was going to be less of a haughty night than I’d feared. In fact, the biggest applause and laugh from the speeches came with a dig at the Tories; even the literati have had enough of this coalition.
It was the American’s first time in the city and she asked about our own occupation in the centre’s peace gardens. There are tents outside the library for all to see as they pass by from posh hotels, or on trams to work. It’s hardly Wall Street but, as Occupy London Stock Exchange kicks off, can now call itself part of a global movement. The local occupation explains, “We need to try new forms of opposition. We have marched in our tens of thousands at previous party conferences, and in our hundreds of thousands in London. Crucial as they are, more marches in bigger numbers will not be enough. […] As anger at the Con-Dem cuts grows we need to make it more visible. The cuts are for the benefit of the rich – we refuse to pay for their crisis!”
A mood shared by the readers and writers gathered in the baronial hall of a library once frequented by Karl Marx. I sat among them, with only enough in my pocket for my fare home. I was fretting about whether I should’ve stayed home and saved the money to buy Chaplin food, knowing he resents the stockpile of beef cat food he gets when times are tough. I wondered if anyone else in the room was unemployed. I assumed some were definitely worried about their energy bills.
I can add the event to my Looking for Work booklet, too. I was among former colleagues, contacts from the world of journalism and publishing, and my Jobseekers’ Agreement says I have to ask them about work on a weekly basis. I might have secured some voluntary work – if not an occupation of my own. Still, I found myself answering “I’m a journalist by trade” when asked the inevitable, “What do you do?”
I was given a lift home by a former colleague and so still have some money to last me ten days. It was worth the trip out into the cold night, the posh hotel, to be forced to speak to someone other than Chaplin, to get dressed up and act as I used to. I remember I too am a writer. I have a novel begging to be sent to publishers and agents. I remember I am a social being who can converse with humans as well as cats. I don’t have to drink wine alone.
I though of this as I gasped for air at my front door in the early hours of the morning. It could’ve been a reaction to cheese, to too much wine, perhaps, or a panic attack. It might’ve been the Manchester Tart I stole from someone else’s plate.
When I had calmed, I rested my back against the cold wall and our eyes met again. She walked towards me this time, wanting to go past into the garden, back to the park. I imagined her meeting the other urban foxes and saying, “you see some strange sights around here at nights.”
Amount of money I have: £14.05 to last ten days
What I need to buy: Gas, as ever, but that will have to wait. More on the response from NPower next week