I-pods. Cell phones. Burberry. Blackberry. PDA of the electronic and human kind.
Reports that were meant to be read last night, skimmed through while trying to peek the headlines on someone else’s Daily Mirror.
If you can overlook the unscheduled stopovers at Willesden Green. The signal failures at Farringdon. And line closures on weekends which can leave you marooned at home, travelling by tube can be rather wonderful. The people watching alone makes up for a 30 minute wait at Kennington.
There are the Japanese women. Poker straight black hair, perfectly tweezed eyebrows and smooth, poreless skin make these women a delight to watch. Whether they’re dressed in severe black suits or jujube coloured leggings and bizarre t-shirts you can be assured that the bag dangling oh-so-casually from their arm will either be an Louis Vuitton or Gucci.
The young couples surgically attached at the lips, hips and every other joint and crevice of their bodies. One such pair had me examining a wad of chewed gum on the floor from Finsbury Park to Heathrow. That’s more than 14 stations. It was either discover the myriad textures of used gum or discover the myriad kissing techniques of East European backpackers.
The City types in black, navy blue and charcoal grey. Pin striped perfection with suitable arm candy – sudoku, the FT/Economist, palm pilot or an Ice Blonde Consultant.
The second and third generation Asians with their mocha coloured skin, pierced noses, bleached hair and low rise jeans. Not all that different from their cousins back home till they open their mouths and out spills a torrent of in-nits, wassats and other words that have made half the alphabet redundant.
Ageing parents from the sub-continent out to see the sights of London. Men in heavy jackets borrowed from sons pouring over maps and trying to make sense of new fangled cameras. Women in bulky sweaters that clash with their silk saris, feet encased in woollen socks and brand new Clarkes sandals. They look out of the window on the overline. Gazing at the never-ending stretch of identical, grey, Dickensian suburbs. In the dark of the tube they try not to stare disapprovingly at the cleavage bearing, body pierced youths and draw them to their husband’s attention with an indiscreet foot nudge. Only to be snapped at and told to look out the window.
Sleek Somalis women in their fake Dior headscarves and bright skirts. Ruddy cheeked Germans. English roses. Asian lilies. The tube is perhaps the best representation of multi-cultural London.
But one person from all my train journeys stands out in my mind. It was on the way to a play after work one night. I was on the Circle line to Sloane Square. The train had been emptied of the rush hour madness and there were but a few of us in the compartment. An old Englishman stood by the door in a suit that looked as tired as he was, holding a Guinness in his hand. His cheeks were bright red and he had what seemed to be a bad cold. Till I noticed that he was crying. Every now and then he would take a swig of his Guinness and fresh tears would course down his cheeks. Everyone in the compartment would look at him and then look away lest he tried to off load his tale of woe on them. Everyone was thinking the same thing - Why was he crying? Remembering his dead wife? Thinking of the daughter that didn’t call anymore. Maybe he just had a few more months to live. Or maybe it wasn’t anything so dramatic at all. Perhaps his favourite team had lost another football match.
I always keep an eye out for the old man on the Circle line. Silly I know. I’m not sure why I do it. If my life was a movie I will see him again a few months from now. Laughing and talking with his young daughter. Holding hands with a his wife (how pessimistic of us to think that she was dead). Or maybe drinking another beer and celebrating his team’s 2-0 victory.