Squalor and tins April 8, 2008Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.
“This train goin’ Guildford, mate?” asked the man.
It was a nice welcome to England. I’d been chatting just the night before with an American gent who didn’t know how to respond when a stranger chatted with him friendlily back in the States. I flicked my brain to native-language-chat and problem-solving mode and looked helpfully and inquisitively at the board. The fact of the matter was that without the internet, which I haven’t yet had surgically implanted, or a leaflet of timetables, or a psychic connection to a timetable-memorising autist, I didn’t have a great deal more info at my fingertips than the asking man. But one look at him was enough for even the least perspicacious onlooker to conclude that I was in a better state for detective work than he was.
“Let me see, old man,” I began. But then I took a closer look at him and asked him to ignore that mode of address and re-began, “Let me see, probably not that old actually man whose features have been ravaged by alcohol.” It was only about 8 in the morning yet his eyes were gleaming with the euphoria of drunkenness. He didn’t reek of booze so I thought about giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe his glistening, blood-shot eyes were the result of some disorder or other. But no disorder, eye-affecting or otherwise, has a drunken leer as a symptom, I concluded, and got on with worrying about what the world was coming to.
Huge provincial men wearing white trainers and carrying the flag of some football team, or a nation I have never heard of, milled around.
“Hmm, well, the next train from this platform is going to Portsmouth. Oh, and to Bognor Regis.” I slightly couldn’t remember where Guildford was and waited for the screen to go through its selection of displays until it revealed all the in-between stations. “Erm, no, so this one won’t do. Er, that one’s going to London and beyond, but not to Guildford. Erm, perhaps you’d better go and ask a human in a uniform.”
The asking man tarried before setting off. He gave a big grin. His teeth had seen better days. He did his best to hide what appeared to be a generous covering of fading tattoos. Looked as if age might be doing him a favour by at least slowing the pace of a life lived with rarely a sober moment.
He soon returned. “Platform 5 in half an hour,” he revealed, no doubt sensing I was struggling to keep a lid on my curiosity, with a self-deprecating guffaw. “That’ll teach me to get pissed and fall asleep on the train.” I ticked off my suspicion on an internal spreadsheet and wondered that any human had ever allowed themselves, via the devil’s own agent of alcohol, to be making their way home, drunkenly and with unplanned detours, at 8 in the morning whilst others all around were soberly making theirs to righteous destinations and huge provincial men in white trainers carried flags on their way to some rally or other.
I stared briefly at the panel advertising the pending arrival of my own train and wondered, if I stared very hard, whether I might convince it to bring the ETA forward. I soon gave up hope and returned to my leerer. “So are you going to be in trouble when you get home?” I inquired, accidentally getting into the swing of the conversation while pulling up my trousers from mooning at a passing train.
“Naa,” he guffawed. “Divorced. Live alone.”
I struggled to delete an image of squalor and tins dancing before my eyes.
“The wife had to call the police once. Went up London. Was gone for three days.” He repeated his self-deprecating, what-am-I-like guffaw.
“… just flown in?”
“Yes, from Berlin.”
“Fuckin’ ‘ell, never get me on one o’ them things.”
“It’s only an hour and a half.” I wondered whether to add that that was a fraction of the time it took him to get from somewhere-not-very-far-from-Guildford to Guildford but chose not to, in case he’d run out of self-deprecating guffaws.
“Get home safely,” I wished him as I clambered onto my train, choosing not to think of the future.