I've just travelled from one end of the Central Line to the other, and I feel like I have stepped up the train into another county. I'm in South Woodford. Redbridge. Which is not a part of London I'm familar with, and yet recognise instantly. The shops are all exactly the same as anywhere else in London. There's a Starbucks. And a Marks. And I can spot a Waitrose coming up ahead, but even so. Something feels off.
I feel different.
Or rather, I look different.
Which is odd because I'm wearing my classic combo of great big black skirt and black t-shirt.
And then I realise, it's not me that's changed. It's everyone else.
Do you remember back when I told you about my trip to the artsdepot, and I mentioned how out of place my friend Helen looked in Finchley? Well, that's me in Redbridge.
In a world of untucked pastel t-shirts, I'm walking around looking like Joy Division wrote my personal theme song.
Although apparently, I'm yet to perfect my resting bitch face as everyone is smiling at me. It's making me feel paranoid.
A homeless man sitting on the pavement offers me a cheery "Hello Miss!"
A group of men all wearing flip-flops grin as the shuffle past me.
Everyone is happy.
I'm beginning to think they must pump something into the air around here.
The confirmation email I got from the Redbridge Drama Centre after booking my tickets has been the chirpiest I've received to date on the marathon, and by far the most delightful. Following an assurance that Emily and Molly will be busy stuffing my tickets into envelopes as I read, the email goes on to promise a "rather unique!" box office if I "thought better of it and will be picking up tickets."
With nothing further to go on, my brain has been going all sort of wild places (Up a tree! Underground! A hole in the wall you must whisper your darkest secrets into before being allowed inside!), but nothing could have prepared me for the next email.
The show had been cancelled.
That was a serious blow.
I could actually feeling my heart sinking as I read it.
This isn't the first time this had happened to me. I'd planned to get to the Redbridge right at the start of my marathon. It would have been one of my first venues. I had it all diarised and planned out. And then the day before, when I went on their website to buy the ticket, there was nothing but a note to say that the show was no longer going ahead, but I could see it at some other theatre on its tour. Which was no bloody use to me.
The disappointment was compounded by the problem that, despite the name, the Redbridge Drama Centre doesn't have all that much drama going on. It's taken nearly half a year for me to find another marathon-qualifying event on their appalling website for me to go to.
So, I was feeling a wee bit stressed about the whole thing.
But all was not lost.
It was not really cancelled. Just postponed. Moved from the Friday to the Saturday.
I didn't need to do anything. My tickets had been moved across to the new date. All I had to do was turn up.
Fair enough. I could move things on my end. I wasn't missing out on what might be my last chance to get to this place before the year runs out. Except, the email didn't end there.
"If there are any problems with this," it went on to say. "Please let us know and we will be able to make arrangements for you to see the show on the Friday still."
What on earth...
The show on Friday was cancelled. But I could still see it.
It was all very strange.
I began to wonder whether I had done something wrong. If perhaps I should have paid homage to the keepers of the box office in advance. Perhaps they just already knew that my secrets aren't dark enough.
Maybe it was all a test. And by turning up on Saturday, I have already failed it.
So, it's with some trepidation that I turn off the main road, walk through a housing estate, and pause in front of what looks like an old school building to get a photo of the outside.
There's a ramp leading the way down to the main entrance, which I follow around and go in.
I find myself in a barn-like space. Brick walls painted white. The bar takes up one side, decorated with black umbrellas and a street sign hanging from the ceiling pointing out the way to 42nd Street and 5th Avenue (in completely different directions).
In the corner is a model of a cow. I don't have the brainpower to process that right now, so I move on.
Over the other side is... I'm not sure, I have to take a few steps to one side to fully understand it. It's the front of a tube train. Bursting out of a brick tunnel which leads to a back office. The TFL logo is painted on one side, and the driver's seat has a computer next to it.
It must be the rather unique box office!
They weren't lying.
There's no one sitting inside, so I hang around, trying to make sense of this place.
A woman comes in and slips into the tube carriage. "The box office is now open," she half-sings through the front window, with a Broadway-style opening of her arms.
I sidle my way over as someone in the office calls out: "And the bar!"
"And the bar," the box office lady confirms. "More importantly."
"Everything is open!" I say, not wanting to be left out.
"Are you picking up tickets?" the box office lady asks me. "What's the surname?"
"What a lovely name," she says. "I would love that to be my name. I would smile every day."
I give her my standard patter that I dole out whenever anyone shows interest in my surname. It's Scottish. It means small.
"Aww," she says, as she hands over my ticket. "Well, smile through the performance!"
The Redbridge air must be getting to me, because I leave the tube grinning from one ear to the other.
There are a few tables dotted around, but over by the cow (I'm still not ready to contemplate the cow) there's a black sofa that looks mightly comfy and more in keeping with my aesthetic. I lob my bag and myself onto it and watch all the people come in.
It's soon packed. Every table is full of people chattering, excited about the upcoming show. Music is playing. Someone dims the lights. A party atmosphere starts to form.
I just hang out with the cow.
We start by merely side eyeing each other, before I realise that it's not the cow that's looking back at me. She seems to have a see through centre - a glassed off compartment where her four stomachs should be, and through that a poster of two men peer out. It's most disconcerting.
"The auditorium is now open!" calls a voice from the door on the far side.
I sigh in relief, and head over to join the queue.
The door takes us through a corridor lined with show posters, around a corner, through another room that looks like it belongs in a hospital, round another corner, and this time into a hallway lit by a row of chandeliers. Very la-di-da.
An usher stands guard by the door, checking tickets.
The boy infront of me shrugs.
"You don't need a ticket," she laughs, clearly recognising him. "You just turn up!"
I can't just turn up so I flash her my ticket and she nods me through.
The old man behind me tries to hand his over. "I'm just looking at them," she explains, and he is also nodded through.
Inside is a floor level stage, with a good-sized bank of seating rising up away from it.
I clamber up the stairs, making my way to the back. I don't want to be taking any of the good seats away from these people. But it's not a large theatre, and even from the back few rows, I'm still not all that far from the stage.
One of the front of housers comes and asks for a surname. "Can I have a show of hands?"
Said owner of surname shows his hands and the front of houser goes over to him. "These are yours I believe," he says, handing over a pair of tickets.
Now, I don't think I've ever seen in-seat ticket delivery. I bet ATG are pissed they didn't think of that.
Tickets all delivered, the show starts. Five minutes late, but no one seems to care. They're all so happy.
I can't say it lasts for long. The show is Elergies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens and it is super depressing. A serious of monologues from people who died of AIDS, interspersed with songs.
And that finale, with a massive cast busting out a tune together, filling the entire stage... Really not sure I can take on that on a Saturday night. My poor emotions.
As the doors open, I slip out quickly and hurry back to the tube station.
It's a long way back to Hammersmith.
It's a long way back to anywhere from here. I'm almost grateful that the theatre's programming is so infrequent. The chances of me ever feeling the need to come back here are very slim. Shame though. I did like that box office.
As I cross the North Circular, a man dances out of my way, and then stops, startled.
"Hey!" he says. "I saw you coming the other way."
I give him a confused look and keep on walking, but as I pass his friends I realise that yeah, I do recognise them. They're all wearing those frickin flip-flops!
It's probably for the best I'm not coming back. Only been here two hours and already people are starting to remember me. They'll be talking about this for years: The day the Goth came to Redbridge.
I better get out of here.