Wednesday, 29 December 2010

A Phonecall

It’s Thursday morning, between 6 and 7, and almost Christmas. I have only a handful of 2010 commutes left. Snow is on the way though. My flight home, for Christmas in Cork, is in jeopardy, work is busy, time is running out and I have a performance review this afternoon. Luckily I’m reading a good book, cooked my best ever chilli last night (still burned the pot), and am sitting in my favourite seat on the train. I’m a little stressed but things could be worse I think.

Enter a twitching man.

There’s something about him. I don’t know if it’s the dreadful trainers, the very blue jeans or the gold chain that’s dangling from his neck but there’s definitely something about him. He boards the carriage and like a jerk looks for a seat. He plops alongside me.

He smells of cigarettes.

The smell of fags mixed with morning damp is revolting.

He leafs through his Metro like he’s inspecting legal documents. He’s back and forth, fidgeting with himself, up, down, cough, sniff.

I can’t read like this. It’s Thursday morning, how did I end up spending what should be the most civilised part of the day in the company of halfwits like this?

His phone rings, blessed relief for the poor bastard, finally he has something that’s easy to concentrate on. It’s a dreadful ring tone; commercial dance/hip hop, the kind you’d hear in a niteclub for the thick and the lonely.

“Alright mate” He’s faux cockney and a shouter.

It appears the caller is returning an earlier missed call.

“I was just checking if you were still on for tonight”

It’s only slightly after 7 am.

The conversation continues loudly, and infuriatingly. His friend is still able to meet after work – at least 8 hours from now – but is unsure about how to get to their previously agreed rendezvous point. Bad news for those within earshot, in this case the entire carriage, I’m bearing a fair brunt of it though.

“You need the get 9-1-9 mate”

“Nah, it’s easy. The 9-1-9, right by the chemist. You know the chemist on the Bells Road, it stops right outside there”


“You there?”

He looks at his phone. I notice his screensaver is a woman in a purple bikini. She looks pretty. I wonder if it’s his girlfriend. Some girls have dreadful taste in my experience so I wouldn’t be surprised.

He calls back.

“Yeah mate, it went crap I don’t know why.”

I don’t know why a man with a voice as dreadful as this one gets to talk on the phone.

He continues…

“The 9-1-9…”

He has a way of saying that number. I want to scream at him. Can I stress again that it’s about ten past seven in the morning. PHONE HIM AT LUNCH TIME YOU FUCKWIT, I want to scream.

To othersI must look like another listless passenger but on the inside I am full of rage.

“You know where you work”

Moron, moron, moron.

“Well, you turn right, go onto Bells Road, keep going, yeah, and you know the chemist on the right, the bus stops right there”

He listens.

“Yeah, the chemist, on the right the bus stops right there, just get on the bus”

Honestly, I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.

My book, long forgotten, is put into my bag and I myself begin to get fidgety. What station are we at? It’s too dark and there are too many people blocking the window. The time on my phone tells me it’s almost time to switch to the Underground.

I get up, train still moving, and squeeze past the offensive one. He’s still blathering.

“So we’re going to the King’s Crown, well the 9-1-9 stops right outside…get out there”

As I pass him, I have the urge to squeeze his head and shout in his face, but I don’t, because there are certain things one shouldn’t do on a train or tube.

The review goes well and later that week my flight leaves on time.

Happy Christmas.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Tuesday evening

The Teacher is at book club. The fridge is empty. The plastic storage box we use to keep the ironing in is full of ironing. These things all involve my home life, but I haven’t switched that part on yet. I am still at the office.

Finally I leave, in a mad rush. My grandmother is arriving on Friday morning. The spare room needs to be prepared. We call it spare not because it is spare space but because spare things that have no place to go, go there.

I am going spare.

The trains are a nightmare. This is not unusual. When the weather turns, train companies seem to go into meltdown. The rain, the leaves, the cold, the shock of it wasn’t this dark yesterday morning.

Oxford Circus has closed its gates. As they do every evening. A lazy admission of failure; Oxford Circus cannot handle its passengers. Oxford Street; close your shops, the system isn’t working.

I am working though and so am forced to stand like a sheep in the rain, huddled next to strangers, some smoking, some smelly, some pretty, for long minutes and minutes while the Underground sort themselves out.

The gates open. The concourse is clear but the platform is a mess. A train is held, full of people. The platform is full of even more people. I find space, put my bag between my legs and wait. People shove past me in every direction. The sign still says ‘Held’. I wait.

Ten minutes and three full-to-the-brim trains later and I am on my way, squashed between two Italian twentysomethings, a weary businessman and faceless others. Between stations 2 and 3, the train stops. The driver announces something. We wait. The young Italians don’t know the rules and talk to each other, like they’re at the beach or something.

We move again and then stop again and so it continues. Until I am at another platform, off the tube, waiting for a train; this platform is also very overcrowded. I manoeuvre for position. I need to get on the next train; the house needs to be prepared for Granny Sheila.

I am on the train. The train stops, again not at a station. There is a simultaneous frustrated intake of breath, an indecipherable driver announcement and then deadly silence. It moves again. Repeat thrice.

Finally, the train begins to empty. I sit down, check my phone and breathe out. I take out my book, Big Sur by Jack Kerouac, I’m two chapters in and struggling, I love On The Road but I’d forgotten how long Kerouac’s sentences can be.

Anyway, I’m finding it difficult to concentrate – the evening of cleaning and the thought of showing my almost 80 year old grandmother around London is distracting me. The guy sitting opposite isn’t helping either.
In his forties, with slightly curly hair, he looks like a geologist, a pretty successful one. He has an air of confidence about him and is sitting with his legs crossed and has papers on this lap. His dangling foot is in my eye line.

His fold-up bike is also blocking the seat and I nearly fell over it when I was sitting down; minus further commuter points.

Maybe because the train isn’t packed or maybe because I’m off tomorrow I don’t fill up with rage. He’s annoying but has a certain friendly charm too. I forgive him and try to get on with my book.

Two minutes later, I look up. The geologist is staring at the papers in his lap. He has an odd, bewildered look on his face. He has a pencil in his hand. He’s making a list. I love lists. Reading them and making them. Watching someone make a list is something I am very interested in doing.

His manly geologist legs are folded in a peculiar way that is restricting my view. I can see though that the list is half printed half written, in pencil. This list was so important it was started at work and then printed it off to be continued on the train. This is no shopping list.

I adjust my position for a better view but still can’t read anything. It’s a list of sentences not words or names. What list is made of sentences? It could be a brainstorming list of ideas I think but his pensiveness makes me think otherwise. The train begins slowing.

I like this man and am disappointed as he begins to make leaving movements. As he uncrosses his legs and faces me more directly he looks less like a geologist. He could be anything really, he’s a middle-aged man who isn’t poor and doesn’t wear a suit to work.

As he gets up and begins to fold his bike, The List is revealed for a quick second, it’s enough time for me to see number one.

Every day is the same.