I’ve been asked again when it was I first met Mme Roux?
` I was thinking about this only the other day. I was thinking about it because twice over that day I saw Angel. Not an angel, but a girl I used to know. Her name might well have actually been that, or been something entirely different – there’s no reason to suppose it derived or was shortened from anything. This was somewhere circa 1990. I was living on the Elephant back then, Castle that is. On the Rockingham, one of those estates from the 50s where the urban slums and bomb sites were bulldozed and remade into entirely new slums. In the right light they look somewhat Art Deco, but that has to be a very strong light - and the only time bright lights ever shone in such estates is when someone from The Bill would be filmed arresting a blister-mouthed single-mum prostitute-illiterate cliché. Her name then was Angel, and that was nothing odd as you have to understand that later that summer I had a good mate called Helle and my girlfriend as-then-unmet was called Grit (and both of those were their real names). I knew a couple more called Tizer and Xerox (and those were not). I met Angel on the tube coming back from a cave where I’d worked, and we got talking because back then if you had the leather jacket, and the para boots, and the squat-sink washed clothes you knew each other, even if you had only just met. I knew Angel for eight days, we were friends pretty quickly, and then she was gone. No one knew her, no one remembered her, no one had ever heard of her (and in that scene someone always knew someone, who knew someone).
I saw Angel twice the other day, once on a forum on line, once in the local high street as I crossed the road. Not Angel as was then, but both times someone that looked so like Angel as she would have been had she hit middle age too. The same long face, the same mass of tangled, curly hair, tall, rangy. It wasn’t her in the first, and in the second the woman was jogging and, well, you don’t call out to strangers after dark do you? That would be creepy. So it wasn’t Angel, but I hadn’t thought on her for twenty odd years. And that’s why I thought too on Mme Roux. Not stealing my biscuits as now but when I first met her. Or the second time; I don’t remember the first (though she assures me it is true).
It was a memorable day.
I remember it because as a young man and pretty I woke up in one bed, went asleep in another and made close acquaintance with a third girl on the train (the one before the tube where I met Angel). I want to be clear here that this was unusual. I am by nature a serial monogamist. My life, but for that one summer, has been one of long relationships, years each. I am not and have never been a player. I didn’t cut marks in my bedpost then, I certainly don’t now. I can’t abide leches. Just so we’re clear on that. It was nonetheless a memorable day; you’ll give me that one.
And on that day I first met Mme Roux. I was late and hurrying for the train, to get to a cave. I’m never late and in truth I wasn’t then either, but I wasn’t early which for me is much the same. It was a warm morning. London no longer sees the pea-soupers but it can possess a fug, a half seen fog of heat and exhaust fumes, the ghosts of Friday night and most importantly a thick presence made by the brief absence of almost anyone. That slither of a moment between the return of some and the rise of others. It’s a weekend thing. Warm, and I was hurrying and Mme Roux fell in step with me and chatted away as if we were old friends, which might have been true, or she thought I was someone else – or it was that London thing of the time in the culture that was counter where everyone just assumed you were a friend of a friend anyway. Only Mme Roux did not fit this mould. Her leather was cracked and brown. She wore neither ratty jumper nor punky t-shirt. Her skirts were long, not short, and they did not cover hoop tights even if she did wear practical boots. In her case though they were practical for walking (not practical for jumping out of Dutch airplanes). Her hair was short, plain, and she wasn’t wearing make-up. She was, I remember thinking, therefore a Christian out to save a few souls. They tried that at the time, they might do still.
She walked with me, in step, and quickly then. She gave me a cup of tea. It was in a mug, I recall that because it was a mug and a mug is something from the home although it was big, chipped, off white and ceramic. The tea was luke-warm, wet and sweet. Not like Mme Roux at all. We walked and she chatted about people I did not know, though she disagreed with me on that. I remember thinking how old she was, well into her thirties – I was just into my twenties at the time. I was walking quickly I say again and when we came close to Guy’s Hospital just before the station she grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and yanked me back from the road. At that moment a motorbike took the corner too quick, barely righted itself and roared away. Right where I would have been. She gives me a cigarette and a twenty pound note. She patted me on the cheek and left me stood there confused and aghast. And that was the first time I remember meeting Mme Roux. I had serious thoughts about that on the train; it was all very guardian angel. But Mme Roux was and is no angel. Though on the same day I met a girl called Angel.
You remember days like that.