I’m going to Walford. Trains are few and far between because – and this may come as a shock –Walford is fictional. I might as well be going to Hogwarts, of which I’ve read nothing; although I have watched EastEnders for the last three weeks. A young woman embarks at Winchester and, despite my best efforts to appear sound asleep which, largely, I am she asks whether she might sit down. I’ve spread my meagre belongings across two seats in an unfriendly sort of way and, eyes closed against the world, ignore her plaintive request. You can do this if you’re old. Unperturbed, she taps my naked wrist with an icy finger: death is clearly calling her and refuses to leave. First impressions suggest she seems a likely client for Coker’s funeral parlour in Albert Square. Her touch is so cold I fear she may have already passed. Sadly, she hasn’t passed me. I open a bag-ridden eye and pretend to be surprised by her presence. Yes, of course I’ll clear a space, but I manage to make quite a to-do about the process.
Having bad-temperedly scrunched myself and worldly belongings against the window, I fall back at an awkward angle into catching-up sleep mode for sufficient time to allow the onset of an unpleasant crick in my flabby neck. No sooner am I back in Dorset-inspired aboriginal dreamtime, than she wakes me again; this time by sobbing wretchedly and dabbing at her watery eyes with a much abused tissue. At first, I think she has a cold or hay fever and turn to glare at her. Hasn’t she noticed this is the quiet zone? Can’t she weep outside the toilets? She’s plugged into her phone from whence apparently distressing news is arriving via the WWW. This not-so-silent sobbing continues all the way to Clapham Junction and it’s impossible to either sleep or concentrate on the tribulations of David Copperfield who, at the age of 10 years, has far more reason to be noisily distressed. Let’s face it, even when life improves for David, it’s conditional on the fact that he agrees to be called Trotwood. Can this crying creature surpass this?
My friend B says I am hard-hearted. She mentions this whilst sobbing uncontrollably through a DVD of Paddington Bear. I am sorry for her distress over the death of Paddington’s uncle in deepest Peru and take pains to explain that it’s not real. B works on Eastenders so spends her life in an unreal otherness. She has kindly taken me onto the set of this iconic soap where, irrationally, I am thrilled to meet Shrimpy in the allotments. I don’t even watch EastEnders generally but I know who Shrimpy is. He has a rather minor role in life but so do I. Shrimpy’s optimistic that his role will expand soon. You never see Shrimpy sobbing. As Robin Williams said, ‘carpe diem Shrimpy’.
Large yellow courgettes and lemon cucumbers are donated from the allotment. Too much wine is consumed and Jane worries that my journey home might not be uneventful. I like eventful journeys. EastEnders is where a scriptwriter’s view of life occurs. Keeping your eyes open in real life is where you see things.