Monday, July 27, 2009


My digital watch tells me the time is 16:48:31. My right foot is poised, ready to step off the bottom of the escalator at Oxford Circus. I scrunch my eyes tight shut. When I open them the world will have stopped. Everyone and everything will be frozen. Except me. All I have to do to cast the spell is open my eyes. One. Two. Three. Open. The time on my watch is now 16:48:36. And there it stays. Time is suspended at 16:48:36. Eerily 36 seconds does not become 37. Statues now populate the London Underground. If Madame Tussauds had an exhibit of Oxford Circus in the afternoon this is what it would look like. I step off the now stationary escalator and walk amongst the immobilised commuters. It’s all very strange. I’m used to trains inexplicably stopping on the underground, but never the passengers. A man in a suit is caught mid-yawn; his lips stretched tightly over his teeth, giving him the appearance of those mummified bodies in The British Library. The busker with the 28 inch waist and Lowry-esque legs, arched over his guitar, fringe hanging down past his chin. The Finsbury Park mum clinging protectively to her daughter’s hand, both wear flowery wellies, in candy shop colours. A tall fresh faced kid in Oxford bags and tan and cream brogues turning the collar up on his vintage 1940’s Macintosh. He must be from Shoreditch. Or the ghost of someone killed in the Blitz. I step through them all. Worn out shoppers, pudgy office workers with Spammy complexions, Polish labourers with their swinging buckets and spirit levels. Leaning my back against the tiled wall, I let myself slide down into to a sitting position. Now all is still. Looking around I wonder what secrets these people have. What illnesses they are hiding. It’s impossible to tell from just looking at them. Here we all are in our Clark Kent disguises, none of us giving a clue to what lies beneath our clothes. Beneath our skin even. Surrounding me now there could be epileptics, migraine sufferers, people with arthritis, with high blood pressure, low blood pressure, bulimics, cancer patients, Hepatitis C carriers, burns victims. You just don’t know. There may even be other ostomates like me. Maybe the frowning girl in a hurry, with the hair like Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment has a colostomy bag, too? No one would know. And now I catch my reflection in one of the concave mirrors above my head. I see myself as others do. I have a colostomy bag, but no one would know. No one would know. It’s my secret. I scrunch my eyes shut. When I open them the world will have started again. One. Two. Three. Open. The time on my watch is 16:48:36. 36 ticks over to 37 to 38 to 39. Oxford Circus is alive again. The flowery wellies pass me by and disappear amongst the mish-mash of legs. The busker flicks the hair out of his eyes, hammering out a raw and juddering tune, tilting his head right back, the tendons in his neck as taut as the strings on his guitar, he sings, “Everybody’s got something to hide except me and my monkey…”