Archway is an area of North London populated with Irish people like me. It’s almost home in two senses. It’s not far from where I live and there’s so many Irish centres and pubs that it feels like a walk down the Falls Road. It lies at the foot of Highgate, which is a vast hill upon which expensive houses perch and old churches bleed light into winter nights.   It’s quite an ugly, depressing place.   Some social climbers refer to Archway as “Lower Highgate”, when it is in fact the far less fanciful, “Upper Holloway”. (I was wrong: The name Archway derives from the arch built between Highgate and Hornsey in 1896.).

Standing outside Archway station requires a person to dig their feet into the concrete in order to avoid being blown into oncoming traffic. It is perpetually windy and cold, an urban moor of a place, wuthering heights. Nobody smiles. And standing craven beneath a bus shelter with wind bellowing in my ears is where I saw the man, or more accurately, the boy.

The man was probably in his early twenties but seemed like a boy in his rodent thinness and anemic awkwardness.  His hair was cropped and he was smoking nervously, one after the other.   He had no-one with him, in fact, I don’t think he was even waiting for something, or for anything.  Two girls were talking to each other, the usual teenage things, and he stood near them, his head turned as if listening, not in a sleazy or strange way, but in an attentive, polite way.  On first look it might have seemed if he were with him but their cynical, rather rude rolling eyes at him betrayed otherwise.

I was tired and freezing, I surreptitiously turned my music down so that I could hear what was going on.

He put his hand out in a friendly way and introduced himself as Martin.  The girls turned away from him, hand to face.  He then smiled rather tightly and stepped back, clocking a man sitting behind the girls.  He offered up a grin, but the man carried on ignoring him.

He then almost danced across the road, expertly weaving through traffic and I thought he was gone.  I resumed my reverie, pulling my coat tighter around me.  Sunday buses are terrible.  But then he reappeared and seemed to be at the shop door one second and at the bus stop the next, with no beeping horns or exasperated drivers cursing him.

From his coat pocket (one of those sports coats, with a tear in the sleeve), he produced four lollies.  He handed one each to the girls, then another to the man, and one for himself, explaining apologetically to me, “Sorry, I could only buy four”, to which I just smiled and carried on pretending to listen to music.  Then he resumed his rather jittery hovering, but was studiously disregarded.  The girls didn’t even say thank you.

The bus pulled out and almost from nowhere came a great swell of people, pushing and shoving and shivering.  I turned to look for the boy, but he was already walking away, with his hands in his pockets.

Some people might have thought he was a weirdo or predator, but that’s not how I saw him.  He was utterly nonthreatening, he didn’t bristle with aggression, he didn’t seem to have that spring coiled up inside him.

I am one of those people who worries if she feels she’s “said too much”.   It is very difficult to become my friend.  I have armour thirty feet deep.

Everybody is lonely.  And everybody is haunted.  But there’s a certain kind of loneliness that is terrifying in its obviousness.  The eyes hungrily devour the most throwaway of attentions.  Every glance is begging for acknowledgment.

This boy emanated pure, naked need. And the whole time I was watching him I was reminded of those lonely children in the playground who stood close to others in conversation so that they could pretend that they had friends. Like me.

Perhaps I should have spoken to him.

17 Responses

  1. A beautiful poignant post. I think I was one of those kids in the playground. Loneliness a universal emotion and one of the worst to ever experience in great depth. Tahnks for posting. x

  2. Why when I read you blog do I find you always have a way of reaching inside me and going “shit that’s me” …

  3. This reminds me of myself.
    I don’t need attention but it hurts whn you get ignored as your classed as a werido.
    It’s just nice to be noticed once in a while – just so you know you excist.

  4. Very sad yet lovely post, Seaneen – super writing. I remember ostracism well enough, even back from 25-30 years ago. By 2ndary school I resigned myself to being a clown. D x

  5. 😦

    Talk about ships that pass in the night…

  6. Wow. You got me again. (And you named the post with my name too.)

  7. Excelent seaneen .
    Very well put ,oh how lonely life is an noticing one in the masses gives us the reality that in so many ways we are all alone . Although as you pointed out some are so obviously read like the cover of a book an all to see the introductions of actually whats brewing inside one such as the boy you described that oh so strange in his efforts that went entirely unnoticed . or at least un appreciated . Poor guy even tried to make an effort in his fumbling an uneasiness .
    Thank you for your blogs .
    They allways seem to bring light into awareness of life an living with the stigma an realities of
    bipolar disorders
    Cheers to you an all your readers !
    heres one of my writings of “passages in time” for anyone who wishes to explore an enjoy
    thank you for taking the time to read my blog .
    link on the name ………………..
    Sincerely Dirtdog

  8. This post really moved me.

  9. You sum up the Archway experience nicely Seaneneen. The boy sounds an interesting character. Like something out of Heroes. A programme I naturally never watch.

    As I’m not blogging right now I’ll give you a quick update. Met Mr Right on the Buddhist retreat at Xmas. Now sky high but it’s being very skilfully contained by the combined efforts of my wonderful friends and the Haringey crisis unit. Oh, and a wonder drug called Clonazepam which keeps you nicely chilled…shaken, but not stirred.

    And I’m due to see the guy next in less than two weeks. Aren’t I the lucky one?

    Lots of love. Here’s to your blog. x

  10. I thought it was named after Archway Bridge? Wikipedia seems to back me up there.

  11. It used to be the border to london, surely? The Arch Way and the High Gate being the same thing?

    That’s what I was told, anyway!

  12. anyway, you should have mugged him.

    What? if no-one will miss him, free money!

    (joking again, readers…)

  13. Oh, this pulls at the heartstrings. I’m actually crying in my office! I wish I could talk to him and be his friend.

    I was reminded of those lonely children in the playground who stood close to others in conversation so that they could pretend that they had friends. Like me.

    Me too.

  14. This was a lovely post, reminded me of all the lovely things in islingon when I lived there, but also some of the things I dont miss about london, it can sometimes be such a lonely city. Hannah X

  15. I love how you sometimes refer to yourself as “uneducated” , while you can write more insightfully than nine tenths of my colleagues who’ve been through six-year journalism programs. Amazing how we who are bipolar like to sell ourselves short , isn’t it?

  16. @ J C Larkin:

    Agreed. Talent like Seaneen’s is a huge, juicy, delicious fruit cake with lots of yummy sultanas and a generous dash of brandy in it.

    ‘Education’ is merely the icing.

  17. Speak to the next one then?

    I always remember people who stop. Usually old people who talk to me and I listen. But once I was crying on the street and a girl stopped and asked me what was wrong, honey. I’ve never forgotten her little act of kindness.

    This is Laura (CL), btw. I have five new wordpress blogs so I dropped by to see how yours was going.

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