Monday, 1 March 2010

Interchange

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Can two people share each other's experiences of two different events, even when there are over sixty years separating them?
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Trevor sat on the bus going home. They’d left Paddington about two minutes ago; the traffic wasn’t too bad tonight, so he hoped he’d be home quite soon. Trevor had a lot on his mind. He’d been bored with his job for as long as he could remember, but now the thought of a comfortable desk job suddenly seemed like a much more attractive prospect than it had done.

It was July 1941 and Trevor had just turned 18, making him eligible for the call-up. His dad had told him he could expect his conscription papers any day now. He had mixed feelings about that: Of course he was willing to serve his country, and made sure he appeared outwardly keen to do his bit for the war effort, but it worried him a little when he thought about the prospect of being out there, amongst the action.

Of course it wasn’t necessary to ‘go to war’ these days to be involved in it. This was a war that came to you. The air raids by the Germans were increasing daily. It seemed like only a few months ago, when people had referred to ‘the phony war’ because there had been so many times that the sirens had sounded with no subsequent appearance of German bombers. Real bombing raids had become more and more frequent recently though. Most were at night time; there had been a number of day time raids but the majority of the alerts during daylight hours still turned out to be false alarms even now.

Trevor watched as the young man who’d just got on the bus walked past him to sit in the seat behind him. Surely he was well over 18; he was certainly older than Trevor at least. How come he hadn’t been called up yet? Trevor glanced over his shoulder at the bloke, then turned to face the front again as the newcomer winked and said “Wotcher mate. You all right?” It was at this point that Trevor marked him down as a spiv and decided that he didn’t like him.

~o~O~o~

Colin was on his way to work. He looked at his watch. It was 8:47am. It was a short walk to the office from Paddington tube station, so he’d be there on time.

It was Thursday so it would soon be the weekend. Then it wouldn’t be long to his holidays, when he could finally escape from his boring job for a fortnight. He’d booked his holiday months ago, and had looked forward to it every day since. He was due to leave on August 6th, so by this Saturday, he’d have only four weeks left to wait.

He looked around at the other people on the underground train. It wasn’t too crowded today; he saw lots of faces that he recognised and a few that he didn’t. It was unusual to see tourists on the tube this early in the morning, so Colin found himself scanning each of the new faces suspiciously.

The tube train doors opened and various people got on and off. One particular guy caught Colin’s attention. From his appearance, he looked like a student, only he looked far too old for that. Colin could tell by the way he was dressed, that he certainly wasn’t on his way to work. Colin was annoyed and a little jealous. How come he had to go to work every day and clearly this bloke got by without having to? Colin glanced over his shoulder as the guy sat in the seat behind him. He caught Colin’s eye, nodded and said “How’s it going pal?” It was at this point that Colin marked him down as a waster and decided that he didn’t like him.

~o~O~o~

The spiv was whistling now. At first Trevor tried to ignore it, but after a while it was really getting on his nerves. It wasn’t even as though it was in tune, in fact Trevor was uncertain as to exactly what tune the spiv was whistling. Just when it seemed that he was going to stop, he’d whistle yet another unidentifiable tune. Trevor looked around at the other people on the bus. It looked like it was annoying lots of other people too, but probably none of them would say anything.

~o~O~o~


The waster had his MP3 player on now. It crossed Colin’s mind that the guy could afford an MP3 player, but couldn’t afford a decent set of headphones to go with it. The constant fizzing of the overloud treble tones was really annoying Colin. There was no way he could identify the tune from that tinny noise, but he assumed it would be something that didn’t meet with his approval. Colin looked around the other people on the tube. Most of them were just ignoring it, but Colin knew that it must be annoying them as well. He decided to say something. He turned around to address the waster....

~o~O~o~


“Excuse me,” said Trevor, “Can you turn that down please?”

“Turn it down?” said the spiv. “What do you mean turn it down?”

“I mean tone it down,” Trevor said, “Your whistling is a little loud, and to be honest a little tuneless.”

“I can hardly tone it down mate,” said the spiv. “I can only whistle at this volume. It’s either this loud, or I don’t whistle at all.”

~o~O~o~

“It isn’t that loud,” said the waster. “If I turn it down, I won’t be able to hear it myself; then there won’t be any point having it, will there?”

“Well in that case,” said Colin, “Why don’t you just stop whistling altogether?”

“Whistling?” the waster looked amused. “What the hell are you going on about pal?”

Colin was a little confused himself; he had no idea why he’d said ‘stop whistling’. “The sound leaking through,” said Colin. “It’s so bad, all I can hear is whistling.”

Suddenly another sound interrupted their conversation. It was the loud droning of a siren. To Colin, the noise of it was piercing, though it didn’t seem to bother the waster at all. He’d obviously been turned partially deaf by the noise he listened to through his headphones.

~o~O~o~


On the bus, there was a mixture of annoyance and panic when the air raid siren sounded. The bus conductor tapped on the window of the driver’s cab, and after the driver had slid the glass panel open and they’d consulted with each other, he turned to face the passengers on the bus.

“Ladies and gents,” he said, “Please keep calm. We all know how rare these daytime raids are, and this is probably a false alarm yet again.” There were agreeing nods from most of the passengers. He continued: “I know you’re all eager to get yourselves home to your families, but we must follow procedure. We’re coming up to Edgware Road underground station. Now it’s not a very deep station, but it’s deep enough to protect us from this raid. It’s best if we all use it as our shelter until this raid is over, so we’re going to pull the bus over.” He looked around the bus at the various annoyed and worried faces. “Now it’s up to you whether you come down to the underground with us, or take your chances on your own, but this bus isn’t going anywhere until we get the all clear.

~o~O~o~

Colin looked around at the other passengers on the train. Nobody was moving. The train would be coming into Edgware Road anytime now. Surely people should be getting ready to leave the train. He looked around. It was as if nobody on the train had even heard the siren, let alone heard the evacuation instructions from the guard.

“Isn’t anybody going to move?” Colin said to the lady next to him. “Can’t you hear the siren?”

“Siren’s a bit strong dear,” said the woman passenger, “It was a bit loud, but that’s what music is like these days isn’t it?”

“No, the siren,” said Colin, “Surely you can hear it. It’s so bloody loud how could you not hear it?”

The lady next to him gave him a strange look then turned the other way. Various other people nearby either frowned at him or grinned as though he’d said something amusing.

“What about the instructions the guard gave us?” he said. “He told us to leave the bus at Edgware Road.”
“The BUS!” the waster seemed to be the only one who would speak to him now. “What bloody bus? Are you sure you’re ok mate?”

“I mean the train,” said Colin. “We were told to shelter at Edgware Road until the all clear.”

“What all clear?” the woman next to him turned back to him and spoke. “What the ‘ell are you on about sunshine?”

“He just gave us all instructions.” He said. Everyone began to look around themselves. “Him,” he said, and pointed to the front of the carriage where he was sure the guard had been standing.

Nearly all of the other passengers turned and looked toward where Colin was pointing. Colin looked himself, but rather than a train guard standing there, all he saw was a young bearded Asian man wearing a white baseball cap, and clutching a rucksack. The Asian guy looked a little awkward and backed away from the combined gaze of the passengers.

The train started to slow down as it arrived at the next station. Colin grabbed his briefcase and moved toward the doors. The station name came into view as the train slowed to a stop: Edgware Road.

~o~O~o~


The bus had pulled over at the junction between Chapel Street and Cabbell Street, and most of the passengers had walked down the stairway into Edgware Road underground station. Trevor stood on the platform now, and found himself chatting to the spiv.

“We should be safe down here,” said the spiv, “There’s about 20 feet of concrete between us and where the bombs are going to fall.”

“That’s if any fall at all,” said Trevor. "Even if it isn’t a false alarm, we probably won’t hear anything right down here.”

Moments later, there was a loud explosion. It didn’t seem to come from above them. It was more as though it came from down the tunnel where the train line back to Paddington ran.

“Bloody Hell,” said Trevor, “That was a close one.”

~o~O~o~


Colin found himself on the platform at Edgware Road station. He’d had a bit of a struggle getting off the train, since this time of the morning, everyone else seemed to be trying to get on. He was alone on the platform apart from an old man in his eighties, with a row of medals decorating his overcoat. The old man looked at him and nodded toward him. Colin smiled back at the old man, feeling a little silly, but still feeling confused about what had happened and why he’d got off his train one station too early.

Colin was about to head toward the stairs to start the walk to work when a deafening explosion sounded from down the tunnel toward Paddington.

Colin turned to the sound of the explosion and then turned back to the old man standing on the platform.

“Bloody Hell,” said the old man, “That was a close one.”

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