“So what’s the big event today?” Sandy is stirring her coffee in their shared kitchen. Alys bristles at what feels like an interrogation.
Sandy looks up and eyes Alys’ unusual outfit and makeup. “Oh, wow Alys, you look posh.”
Alys glitches a little and can’t -- or won’t, she never quite knows, -- reply. The outfit is atypical for her, and admittedly a little uncomfortable, but she’d spent hours researching the right thing to wear and this was unequivocally it. Equally she’d spent hours on TikTok makeup tutorials and she was pleased that it had turned out so normal looking. Her face felt like it was covered in cement, even if this was the “light” makeup look.
Pathological attention to detail and perseverance do have their upsides, she thinks with a hint of smug. She can do "normal" as required.
Sandy sighs and turns her attention back to her coffee, “I’ll be down at the kennels for your shift at 3 today. We’ve two adoptions today, so that’s exciting.”
Alys looks up - how did she miss that?
“Mash and Panda.”
Alys finds her voice, “Are they going together?”
Sandy nods, “Yeah, and to an experienced sighthound owner. Ideal, isn’t it?”
Smiling now, Alys nods and turns to leave, grateful for Sandy’s ability to just leave things alone sometimes.
8:37 Bristol Temple Meads
Alys loves trains in general - she loves thinking about trains as efficient and world-altering infrastructure, and she loves watching individual trains follow their tracks with precision, again and again, the consistency of the train at least as beguiling as the dreamiest of landscapes.
The reality of being on a train has complications, however, and mostly those are people. People, sitting too close, being too loud. People moving too much, loudly. Her infrastructure heroes almost always contain a circus of terrifying clowns whose lack of self-consciousness she will admit to envying. Alys has prepared for this, though, meticulously: a pre-booked forward-facing window seat, noise cancelling headphones on her head (and a backup pair packed just in case), her jacket will drape over her arm, giving some padding between her and a potentially invasive neighbour. And then Vicks, because sometimes humans stink in non-figurative ways.
Should these preparations fail, she knows there are enough comments in her comments section to keep her distracted from most public behaviour infractions long enough to make it to London. For now, though, the visual pulse of tracks and poles out the train window is exactly what she needs.
Alys boards the train long before anyone has the opportunity to take her pre-booked seat and prompt a terrifying confrontation - or worse, an unjust change of plans, and settles in, her backpack under the table on top of her boots, and she’s ready - so ready - to stare blankly out the window all the way to London.
When the train leaves Reading, she picks up her phone again and reviews the map. The studio is in West London, and if the train is on time (and it is so far), she will have just less than three hours before she needs to be there. Plenty of time. Paddington to Ealing Broadway. Walk to Ealing Common. The weather is mercifully dry, and the sky a comfortable grey. She’ll do some wandering on the common, and film a quick chat for her followers on TikTok. It’s focused work, and it’ll pass the time beautifully. And then, time having passed, she will go do her first ever audition for an actual film, in a very real film studio, and that blows her mind, all the rest of the way to London.
11:03 Ealing Broadway Station
11:11 Ealing Common
She’s so near the film studio now she could literally crawl over Ealing Common and make it there on time. Crawling would admittedly ruin her very planned audition outfit of course, so it’s not on the cards. She stops herself going there to be sure of its location first,
terrified of inadvertently being perceived before she is ready, and she
is not yet ready. She is pleased with her clothes today. She took all the advice she could find, and spent hours getting it right. She prioritised freedom of movement and casual neutrals, and it looks great, but it is a little itchy, and she’ll be delighted to get out of it too.
Alys takes a seat on an empty bench, and breathes the quietest and deepest gasp as though she’s been unable to for hours,which isn’t entirely untrue. She repacks her backpack and pockets, and pulls out her tripod and a small light. She has some notes on her phone, and she reviews them, tweaking talking points, and internalising the script.
“An important one today, my friends,” Alys starts, talking TikTok fast and bright. “And I’m going to be a bit vague because I don’t want to amplify this - I want it to stop. Do not tag people you think I’m talking about. I mean it.”
Alys completes a one minute talk in 15 second segments, good enough to post with very little editing. She’s pleased, a bit empty, and hopeful too. A few of her videos have gone viral, and she’d like to think she makes a difference. She records a closing that’s longer than she’d like, but she posts it because she really wants to be done, and to have nothing to do, for a just a little while:
“If you end up in possession of a photo or a video or even a screenshot that shows someone at their weakest, or their most vulnerable, or having a bit of a mental health moment, you should delete it and understand that by sharing it, no matter how you frame your intent, you are still boosting the number of people who will witness a moment that I promise, that person did not want to share. Delete the photos. Stop sharing them. Please. We are all learning, but let’s do better today. Privacy is for everyone.”
Privacy was a common topic on her TikTok, which had started out as a pretty standard rescue dog appreciation channel, all wagging tails and puppy dog eyes. When she posted an impromptu rant about fans of one of her favourite TV shows pressuring a teenaged actor to out himself, she went viral, and gained a lot of young, fannish followers who were enthusiastic and well intentioned, while entirely lacking in any kind of awareness of how easy it was to wound someone’s sense of safety.
Alys learned early in her teaching career about how a single intrusion into her privacy could unsettle everything, and she started to see public figures very differently. At 30, she now felt she had some small wisdom to share, and so did a lot of teenagers on TikTok.
Alys is a music teacher, TikTokker, and dog rescuer, but she has a secret ambition to become an actor. When she's called for her very first in-person audition at a London film studio, she does everything she can to set herself up for success. Not long before her audition, she meets a dog wearing a pink hoodie and everything goes horribly wrong, sending Alys into a very public autistic meltdown. Alys is charmed when a famous stranger sticks around and helps her, but, afraid of being intrusive to someone she knows way too much about already, she allows him to leave without introducing herself. They find each other again when a video of her meltdown appears online, and texting ensues, each of them grappling with their own needs for privacy and safety, but finding in each other the safety that comes from an unusual connection. What seems simple at first becomes fraught when Alys realises she must risk losing their friendship if she wants to help her new friend.