Tuesday, 9 October 2012

When the stars align

It takes four minutes to walk from my house to the bus station (I have a new commute). I leave at the same time most mornings and mostly walk past/alongside the same people. There's the woman with the fat black dog and bag of fat black dog shit. There’s the woman with the limp. And, of course, there’s the man in a suit on a push scooter.

The lady with the dog, I like. She seems friendly and I like dogs. I’ve actually come close to saying good morning to her. I usually meet her by the bridge with the pretty vista. Then, if the bus is a little late, I see her tie fat dog to railing, and go into the station shop to buy a paper. The Independent I think but it might just be i. Her routine pleases me but I worry the dog is old.

The lady with the limp, I see less often, maybe three mornings a week. She is overweight and wears a big dark fleece. I have no idea where she goes but it’s the wrong direction. Everything else is the other way. Unless she’s going home, after a night-shift.

The man on the scooter I can’t explain. He’s just one of those guys; a right quirky bastard. He dresses like he’s in middle management. Something formal. Insurance or commercial banking I reckon, an office manager maybe. I hear him before I see him. Him and his scooter. Scooting down to the train like a dick. Breaking the adult vow of morning silence with childish noise. I’ve never seen his face but I imagine he smirks as he scoots.

And then the stars aligned. It was like some kind of commuter solstice. For the first time, the four of us were all together. And it was wonderful.

I was yet to reach the bridge. The woman with the limp was approaching. I was on the outside, by the road, and she was on the inside, by the trees. Like normal.

And then the faint rolling of rubber wheels appeared in the distance. Getting closer and closer. The woman limped and the man scooted towards me, from opposite directions.

And then the woman and her fat dog appeared. Approaching the bridge – right on cue.

The scooter got closer. I glanced at the kerb. Way too steep for a jump off. We had him.

He reached the back of me just as I passed the lady with the limp. As she passed he scooted closer to me but again I was just reaching the woman with the dog. I could here him stop, start and stop again.

That will teach you I thought. You and your scooter. At your age. And then he sped passed me. But we were practically at the station by then.

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Giant White Basket

I miss a tube due to an overcrowded platform. I'm at the edge of the platform and would have squeezed in but a French trio want to travel together so wait for the next train, blocking my route and giving the boarded passengers an extra inch of space for their £400 a month tickets.

The next train arrives 45 seconds later. Already annoyed that I have been set back by almost a minute I am further irritated when I see a space I had spotted is in fact filled by a giant white basket.

In the unlikely event of me being shopping for white baskets in London during rush hour I am fully sure that instead of dragging said giant white basket through thousands of shoppers, tourists and commuters I would find the nearest pub, possibly Match Bar or that place across from Debenhams that I always forget the name of, and have three beers and a bowl of chips and wait for everything to calm down again. Anyone who wouldn't do likewise is simply uncivilised in my opinion, and an idiot.

Adjusting quickly to the basket disappointment I find room alongside the yellow hand pole on the right-hand-side of the train. A man is asleep in the corner seat and when I stand a certain way his resting leg is nestled right between my standing ones - with touching. He looks quite tough and the possibility of him being offended by our intertwining limbs is real, I make every effort to adjust my stance but leg space is premium.

Squeezed between me and the door are the French three from the platform. Two girls and one guy. One girl is pretty, wears a hat and has a lip piercing. She doesn't say much. The other two natter away as if there aren't another 820 people in the carriage. He is dark haired, is in his early twenties and has typical Gallic features. He's wearing very skinny black jeans, a Mac and battered Vans. The other girl, who seems older than the others, looks like a prostitute.

Back to him. He has dreadful fingers. Red marks and missing bits of skin surround his finger nail cuticle area. He nibbles at them constantly, not in an embarrassed, fidgety way but in an almost urbane one, like he's smoking a Gitane or tuning a trombone.

And so it is, the model, the musician and the whore are crushed by the door and I'm playing footsie with a possible goon-for-hire in the corner. I'm thinking my usual rammed-tube thoughts, unemployment, West Cork, Australia, and they're chatting away like they don't have a care in the world. They probably enjoy crowds, the young.

They speak constantly, about what I don't know. I have no French. He mentions Seven Seesters so I assume they're visiting an exhibition of some sort in Seven Sisters, or an orgy.

We arrive at Kings Cross. Mother tube usually sheds a few of her litter here so I'm confident that soon I'll be able to free myself from my tryst with Sleeping Beauty.

A woman, short and a little frumpy with her hair tied back too tightly, picks up the giant white basket. It reaches from her thighs to her throat. She moves from the centre of the aisle in my direction.

As she approaches me I move as far over to the other side and kind of squash up against a man in a suit to allow her room to pass. Internally I sigh and bitch and moan as I do this but I also afford her a polite smile as she passes. She doesn't respond.

Now her only obstacle from tube to platform is the French. They are chatting as before. The man is facing the woman with the giant white basket. He sees that she needs to pass. He must know the doors are going to close. He doesn't move. He stands firm. He stares at the woman and her basket. This lasts for a two tenses seconds.

The sleeping ruffian has woken up and is smirking with his friend (also rough) at the impasse before him. Everybody else in this part of the carraige stares.

What a prick is my first instinct. Obviously. But then I think, this type of thing must happen in cities like New York, Moscow, Rome & Paris all the time. Cultures where less of an emphasis is based on the British idea of politeness. I, afterall, think this woman is a total idiot for even considering carrying a giant white basket on the tube and would love to tell her so so maybe he's right and we're wrong, how else will the morons learn? He is wrong though, and a knob.

The woman blinks, lets out a small sigh and goes for it. She simply barges through him. Giant white basket first. And with that she's gone. Off the tube. The Frenchman doesn't react and casually goes back to his conversation.

The rough guy in the corner gives his friend another smirk and our eyes meet. He knows our legs have been touching I think.

"Mind the closing doors" the voice announces.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Post theatre

Leaving a theatre, film or symposium alone is an odd thing. The desire to discuss the performance, the absence of company, seems to be replaced by an increased purpose of stride, that’s my experience anyway.

And so it was that following a very enjoyable evening at One Man, Two Guvnors (10/10 first half, 7.5/10 second half) I strode purposefully into the McDonald’s on the Strand and right into what I suspected was the ladies toilet. I simply had to go. As I went, a huge belch, of Barney Gumble proportions, came from the cubicle next to mine. A male voice then shouted,

“Rude boy”

Profanity followed. I was in the ladies with a very drunk, and possibly hostile, drunk man. Perhaps I wasn’t even in the ladies.

I knew the bathroom door was open, and in my confusion about the male/female toilet situation I had made eye contact with a number of diners. I also knew the burping and language would be audible in the restaurant and that I would be a prominent suspect.

I finished my wee, shook, and left the cubicle. A youth with bleached blond hair and a large chain was at the sink splashing his face and neck with water. I decided not to wash my hands (dirty) and quickly left to what I now presume to be the unisex toilets before hurriedly shuffling through the golden arches and back into the night.

The Strand (or is just Strand?) is full of homeless people, one of whom was being fed burgers and coffee by two pretty young girls. Reality was disturbing my post-theatre stride so with added purpose I walked towards Charing Cross Station and down the escalators to the north bound Bakerloo line.

On the last escalator I heard the chanting. I know Millwall had a big win this evening (I checked Twitter at the interval).Great. Second only to ‘Millwall fans after a loss’ when it comes to people you don’t want to meet on a train, Millwall fans celebrating a victory are guaranteed to ruin a late night train journey.

Even as a lifelong football fan, I’ve never been a fan of chanting outside of the ground. It’s clannish, aggressive and, especially when one is trying to read, quite rude. The chanters are in the middle of the platform. I edge towards the top, at least two carriages away from them. The train is due in three minutes. I look down, they are kids, the lot of them, still intimidating though, it’s the chanting, it’s like they’re headed to a lynching, even if I know they’re going home to mum.

I board the train, sit down and relax. I can hear the youths chanting in the distance, but ignore them. At every stop they seem to get closer, like they are changing carriages, like they are looking for me.

A man in his early thirties is sitting opposite me with a woman he clearly has been on a date with. She is dressed like a posh hippy. He’s wearing a shabby suit. He has a poorly groomed beard and a blotchy face. He holds himself with confidence though. Or he may be drunk.

“They are determined to annoy as many people as possible” he says to his date.

Right on brother I think.

The bell rings and the doors close. We are safe for another stop at least.

The man continues a conversation with his girl.

“I was in CafĂ© Nero killing time” he begins.

“Hey, what did time ever do to you?”

“Oh” he laughs, pauses, then laughs again saying “very good”, touching her hand as he does so.

He touches her hand. And she likes it.

As I make notes he continues his story and touches her hand again at least one time. Later they’ll kiss and maybe more. There’ll be more dates and for the next few years, perhaps for the rest of their lives, they’ll share a little joke, that neither of them find funny, every time somebody says ‘killing time’.