April 5, 2007
The underground in London is always an interesting place to be. I’m sitting amongst the weary London commuters. Specifically, I’m sitting next to a woman who appeared attractive until she started hacking up whatever junk her years of smoking have left in her lungs.
Londoners, being big city types, do not speak to one another. They do not make eye contact. They push their way out of the train rather than politely ask for space to get out. So it was with great pleasure that I watched a bunch of foreign schoolchildren arrive.
They sounded Italian. Perhaps they’re in England on a field trip of some sort. They gleefully count the number of stops to their destination; counting the stops was a novelty for me too, when London was new and unfamiliar, but no more. They squeal the number in their native language and in English. They loudly recite the posh announcements suggesting that commuters “mind the gap between the train and the platform.” They sit on each other’s laps, they fall over when the train stops and starts, and they bump and push the natives without meaning to. One poor London gent attempts to pretend that a 14 year old kid didn’t just fall into his lap crushing his book; she laughs, while he tries to find some ceiling to stare at. These kids have more character than everybody else on the train combined; I couldn’t help myself but laugh out loud at their antics. They reach their destination, echoing laughter fading as they stumble further away.
The smoker lady also leaves. I notice her greasy skin this time. It’s skin I’m sure she hates. Perhaps she should stop smoking, or perhaps she needs to apply less antiperspirant in the mornings.
A pretty brunette takes her place. Her hair is neat, and professional (inoffensive), as is her white jacket and black trousers. I toy with the idea of saying ‘hi,’ but decide against it for two reasons: first, the efficiency with which she unfolded her free paper suggested that she did not want to be disturbed; second, my Glaswegian accent would stick out like a sore thumb amongst these Londoners and their elongated vowels. How can anybody speak so slowly? I do not know.
The brunette gets off at the same stop as I do. She walks ahead of me, thus placing her three steps higher than me when ascending out of the underground — the eye-to-ass ratio was as perfect as the flesh her black work trousers was surely concealing. Mesmerised, I only realise I’ve followed her in the opposite direction from where I want to go when I see the ticket barriers.
I snap out of my fantasy land and make my way out the correct exit to head for dinner. I find a neat little Italian restaurant, staffed by actual Italians. Native Londoners seem tremendously impolite, and my waitress seemed genuinely surprised when I said “thank you” as I sat down at my table. Such a simple courtesy than so many people in this city seem to forget. I tip heavily, thus bucking the “stingy Scotsman” trend while I’m at it.
At the airport, I nip into W.H. Smith to satisfy a slight hankering for chocolate. I spot a Dairy Milk Double chocolate, and decide to go for it. At the checkout, the girls talk to each other:
- Assistant 1: Have you tried this double chocolate?
- Assistant 2: No, not yet…
- Assistant 1: Neither have I. I’m really tempted, I’ll bet it’s really creamy… [to me:] that’s one pound eighty two pence please.
I pay for my purchase, and offer them both a square of my chocolate which they both accept after a little negotiation. Such a simple little gesture is, again, met with surprise. But it’s such a simple little gesture that puts a smile on three people’s faces, if you include mine. Is it so surprising to be nice to people these days?
The flight was uneventful, aside from my sniggering at the fellow next to me who returned from the toilet with a wet patch down his right leg (followed by attempts to cover it up for the remainder of the journey). I chat to the taxi driver as he drives me home about his night, his previous fare. He started at 5pm, and he’ll be working until 4 or 5am, as per his usual shift. Taxi driver, now that’s a job way harder than any academic position. He’s a nice gent, so he also gets tipped heavily.
Surprisingly, throughout this journey none of my Scottish money was refused, and I was only accused of being English once (followed by swift sincere apology upon my correction).
Home. Tired. Sleep.