Just Another Day – Livy Tinsley
To lead a better life, I need my love to be here.
– from “Here, There And Everywhere” by the Beatles
As the sun was setting over the Pacific Islands, casting it’s multi-color, thousand shaded dance on the faces of people she would never know, if only through the stories of a future, decade away lover, Olivia Tinsley (Livy) was waking to the new day. North London, having yet shed its coal-smoke past, greeted the morning like a stepmother embracing an unwanted child. But Livy’s spirit was above this, stepmother or not, she was connected to the morning. Her world was never just East Finchley. Hers was all that the equator bisected and all that lay between the poles. And while only a young girl, she knew she would bring them all to see this.
This particular morning, Saturday, December 17, 1967, was Livy’s birthday. She was turning ten today, double-digits, the first step toward young womanhood and the springtime of Psyche.
Trudy would be waiting. And the two friends, connected by a vision that stretched beyond the High street and market day, would walk above what others saw. Today their trek would take them to the Thames, a river which, in both their minds, led to the all of the oceans of the world.
They met at the corner as they did on so many other mornings, liberated from the utilitarian drabness of their council-flat homes. (This drabness should be seen as only the narrator’s point of view because neither girl could be “bothered” with pigeonholing themselves as being poor.) Poverty was something they saw in their parents’ eyes. It scared them, like the [Boogie Man], and solidified in them, a desire to not be poor, at least in spirit, and dreams. Dreams were what they had, a warm cloak against the morning air and their protection against their mother’s insistent urging to dress more warmly. The only warmth Livy needed today was what she saw in the floppy-haired eyes of Paul McCartney. The Beatles were in full force and she saw in them, especially in Paul, the promise of the world outside; a world full of Europe, America and the power of words to make change.
They walked along the High street, peering in the windows of the shops that had yet to open, not to appraise the wares laid out for sale in the way their mothers saw them, as objects to be possessed and kept, but as objects of discovery and promise, things that told tales of the people that created them and the lands from which they had come. In the window of the Tea shop sat boxes and tins bearing English names but the brands were so much less important than the places they had come from. Ceylon, Bombay, Jakarta and the like were names that conjured in them, fantasies and dreams of sweet-smelling air and fragrant fields of tea, places where their supposed poverty was alternatively noble, and lives built around the cultivation of these crops were simple and pleasurable and fraught with tradition, ritual, and beauty.
At Finchley Road they turned, and walked the long stretch from the here to there. A long walk for you and I, but just here to there for Livy and Trudy. Just here to there. The “there” being the banks of the Thames, and a bridge. And it was on this bridge, Blackfriars Bridge, looking East along the river that their conversation began. With the warm lands in their minds, their Saturday dreams took flight and Livy would often pose a question. “What would this have been if it wasn’t for Norsemen and Saxons? If we two had had a say in the building up of this island?”
Instead of answering, Trudy would turn inward, subconsciously erasing feudalism and Burgundian kings. She would instead picture a world where Joans’ of Arc would ride in on silver steeds and carry a message of peace. Or Emile Guillame’s, La Deliverance, an actual female nude statue standing in the middle of Finchley, holding a sword in the Battle of Marne, projecting power and grace and a vision of something other, other than the usual outcome of war, and other than a temporary half-conjured promise, but a promise of finally broaching that next world, that world where definitions are based on how well all is defined and not on the appearance of things. And while the barges and steamships of commerce rolled by she would picture a river full of music and romance, and a body of water that carried instead promise, and intangibles like adventure and freedom. These commodities would, in most cases be, under the cold eyes of the economist, trade goods, but to Trudy they weren’t simply traded goods, but an exchange of the wealth of kingdoms, kingdoms borne of diplomacy, goodwill and temperance.
“Didja know Trudy… an early, maybe the first, Briton and his wife, Hwll and Akun came through here in the summer some seventy-five hundred years before Christ, on their way to Salisbury? They came down here to find a new home, somewhere warmer as the last ice age was ending. This place was full of trees but they didn’t stop. Something drove him further south. London was a forest and the Thames ran freely, wide, and big. * Trudy there was nothing here. No off-licenses, no Minis, no Austin Healeys, no Ty-phoo or Tetley, no London Times or BBC… just trees and the river. How must that’ve been?”
Livy had broached this before, several times thought Trudy, but Trudy never tired of the speculation. She loved that Livy would ask it. That’s where Trudy wanted to go, away from the council flat, away from the sinking feeling that permeated it. She felt this more deeply than Livy. She could feel it creeping up around her ankles, threatening to choke her, and she, unlike Livy, felt powerless to fight it. Her only escape was through Livy’s words, and her questions, and her spirit, and her eyes, blue as nothing she’d seen. Livy was like a happy little female Buddha, smiling lovingly and defiantly at the world. It couldn’t touch her. She was wholly Psyche; nothing of Aphrodite and her sometimes steamrolling quality were present. She was fun, and hope, and promise, “cheeky” and detached.
“I’m ten Trudy, a decade old, ten years, double-digits. I mean, what will I mean? I’m sorry but, bloody hell, what is this councilflat-eastfinchley-povertyshite. I’m biding my time Trudy. I’m not long for here. I’m just ten but there’s work to do…
St. Paul’s. What do you think of St. Paul’s? Trudy? What do you think of St. Paul’s?”
Trudy had drifted off. She felt Livy pushing, moving, couldn’t be there for her anymore. Livy wanted too much. Trudy wanted just to talk. Livy spoke her dreams and Trudy rode on them, but Trudy couldn’t see it for herself. Livy, livy, livy, she thought. She’ll leave me here.
“I think my mum got me new ballet slippers. God knows why, I’ve only done one thing right in four years. Stopped the whole class to show them I was so excited. But mum still thinks I’m going to make the Royal Ballet.”
“But you’re going to be a writer Livy.”
“The ballet… girls don’t write, not supposed to… not girls from East Finchley.”
Trudy sort of nodded in agreement and disbelief at the same time then pulled something from her coat pocket.
“I wrote this for you,” handing a folded sheet of paper to Livy, “You’re a much better writer than me, but well, here it is. Happy Birthday.”
“Thanks Trudy, I suppose they’ll be more coming out of East Finchley than just ink.” **
She stopped to read:
whistles on wind
all the while
sweet songs of seashells, seabirds & sandy crabs.
walks in whispers
under white light sky
through pretty poetry of
mustard greens and autumn sun
reproduced in sand
lyrics and verse
composed in her small hand
conversation adrift that she can’t understand
she sleeps quietly with Nana
in Nana’s new land.
“Thank you so much lovey. You are a love…”
Livy put her arm around Trudy.
“I love the look of St. Paul’s from here. It looks… well… it looks like someone cared…. but, at the same time… the constructs of it.” she continued.
“Construction…” Trudy added.
“I hate construction…” said Livy.
Trudy frowned, “Exactly.”
They looked at each other and Trudy smiled through Livy, then both turned back toward the Thames and at a passenger ship heading downriver to Dover, the Channel and everywhere else.
“Nana’s new land Livy! You can see it too.”
“You’re going to leave someday,” Trudy finished.
They were quiet again until Livy had to speak.
“My dad drank a lot again last night.”
The two of them hugged one another.
“I love you sweetie,” Livy said.
“I love you too,” replied Trudy.
“Best friends forever.”
“Best friends forever.”
It ended like this most every time.
* gleaned from Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd
** In 1874, Henry Charles Stephens, son of the Inventor of modern ink and also known as “Inky” Stephens came to live here and to establish a laboratory.