Ms F6 ‘has a system’ when she comes to the cinema. This system is a kind of self- organisation, a preparation for the two hours of inactivity ahead. Using the bench in the corridor as a handy prop, she first removes and then folds her lilac overcoat. Always sleeves, halves, quarters…. Repeating this method for her two jumpers. She then stacks the coats so they form a kind of soft tray to rest her 3 plastic bags on. These bags lose an edge of their purely practical identity; because they only carry one small item each, they are collectively superfluous.
She’s Skinny and Scottish, and always alone. An old blue bucket hat attempts to contain a frizzy fountain of hair. The hat flaps up at the front so grey spurts shoot out across her eyes. She’s alert! With a springy step and brisk rhythmic hand gesture, Ms f6 conducts her own conversation. She’s “Sylvia! One of Shakespeare’s girls”. A Scottish purr and a whisker moustache : Does she feel or think about those bristles?
F6 is Sylvia’s favourite seat; “ it was made for me” she believes, even though in each screen F6 is at a completely different angle and distance to the action. The day that Sylvia came to watch ‘The Lady in the Van’ I tore her ticket at the entrance. She told me “oh can you believe that I was in bed half an hour ago? But I suddenly decided that I must see this film today, so I jumped up, and here I am on time! And this must be my lucky day, because I have my favourite seat: F6!”
Sylvia is like an old grandfather clock. She is fragile, but not frail. she ticks on through the day in the same rhythm and routine, because it has worked so far that the tick should always be followed by a tock. The cinema has always preceded a trip to sainsburys, and sitting in F6 has always been followed by a sense of stability. Sylvia has a round faded clock face, with a murky sheen. All of the features are laid out in the uniform, practical way; so when you glance down at her, she can be read quite clearly. Sylvia must be some family’s inherited relic, but maybe they have no need for an old clock in their digital life.
Sylvia ‘f6′ easily winds back time with her memory. When I went to clean the auditorium after ‘The Lady in the Van’ I found her organising herself in her favourite seat . “How was the film?” I asked . “Oh Maggie Smith is a wonderful actress. I read the book when I was snuggled up in bed on the 8th January 2003. As I was reading, a flat in the same block as me had their Japanese parcels stolen by thieves. Parcels that had been delivered and were waiting in the hall from the Christmas period. So yes, I always remember ‘The Lady in the Van’ with mixed feelings.”
Ms F6 ‘keeps a low profile’ at Christmas. She told me that “your values change as you get older. I used to put a lot of effort in but now it’s all too materialistic for me. I celebrate advent more. I like the lights, the shop window displays, and I went to a Christmas concert last week. I had a big family gathering in 2005 when I announced that I wouldn’t be doing any more of these gatherings. All this present hunting that I used to do, well, I can’t be bothered with that anymore.’
I once complained to Sylvia about the repetitive nature of the job at the cinema; tearing tickets, directing people to the toilet, standing at the ushering station waiting for customers to come etc.. Sylvia said that she had a quote for me that had stayed with her for years: “He (or she) also serves those who stand and wait”. (My dad later explained that this was Milton, writing about soldiers who were enlisted in the First World War as watchmen, who waited to be called up to fight. These soldiers would also be watched over and ‘served’ by the Angels / God because their patience and will was significant, even though they were not doing too much.)
Months later I passed by Sylvia on my bicycle. She was standing by the war memorial on the main road. stooped over reading the inscriptions, here she was giving her attention to the names of all the people who served, and suffered in the war. The restlessness of the street seems to be irrelevant to her. Unlike most of us who pass by, Sylvia stands, she observes (and serves) the significance of this statue.
Sylvia F6 and I always chat, but she’s never asked me my name. Once She let me check her ticket without even hinting in her expression that’s she recognised me. After completing her folding routine Sylvia came back up the corridor, bringing one of her plastic bagged items for me. It was a box of ‘Dean’s mini shortbread bites- history in the baking’. It came With a a note ‘ a taste of Scotland to wish you good luck in 2016’. Ah this made me smile! So she does remember me from one cinema trip to the next.
On a Wednesday afternoon in January, after watching ‘Sunset Song’ ( a romantic film set in Scotland) Sylvia makes her way to exit the cinema. But here comes a fat swell of video gaming employees carrying their beers and the smell of sweat up the stairs. (They’re here for their company’s Christmas treat: a private screening of ‘Star Wars’.) Sylvia grabs the bannister with one hand, leaving the other to rest in her comfort position: she tucks it in through the gap between the buttons of her lilac coat, pressing her palm flat against her heart. I go over and lead Sylvia F6 to the other staircase. She leaves and then returns to tell me ‘wow! The stairs used to be so shabby. Now it’s like walking down the red carpet!’ This is another hint that Sylvia F6 has a very unique view of the world. She sees rich luxury , she sees colour, when everyone else sees crumbly dank grey. We see ‘given up’ where she sees ‘glamour’. We complain where she compliments. “Merry Christmas!” She chimes, and then like the cuckoo of an old grandfather clock; she retreats, as is her set routine, and disappears.