Friday, 17 October 2008

The Gentleman's Cudgel

Yesterday, I had the journey from hell. Was on a train travelling back from the south coast, was in a customer meeting. There were delays, horrible delays. On the connecting train, approaching East Croydon, my loon beacon activated and a random stranger started talking to me. It happens a lot, I have no control over my loon beacon.

I suppose I brought it upon myself, his cudgel fascinated me. It was made of dark wood, ornately carved from a single piece of branch I guess, with what looked like a large acorn sculpted at the top, the handle or grip I assumed. Except the thing was 8 feet long and the owner had wedged it at an angle so it fitted in the foot rest with the top scraping the roof of the train. I observed this odd implement wondering as to it’s usage. Was he some sort of wizard? Did he harness the power of nature through it? (after dismissing the prospect it was a walking stick, the natural progression in my brain would immediately go to wizards staff instead of something more mundane).
But the gentleman owner suddenly addressed me.
“Do you know, I’ve been waiting on this train for two hours.” His voice had that softly spoken yet perfectly delivered tone and symmetry of one who what acts at Shakespeare. He was audible, crisp and clear, even over the background noise of the train. He was a proper posh luvvy.
“Yes, me too.." I responded politely. "There’s that bottleneck approaching Haywards Heath, only one track was in order.”

He was bald, clean shaven, with a David Niven moustache and wafer thin goatee.
“oh yes.” he replied. Then regaled me with one of his tales, no foreplay or anything, straight in there with an anecdote. “In 1974 I missed a train by mere seconds, then I heard it had ploughed through a crowd of people at Brighton. Many fatalities. It could have been me. When it’s your time, it’s your time. It clearly wasn’t my time that day.”

I didn’t want to entertain a philosophical discussion about fate, whether incidents in life are pre-destined or whether we are in control of our own destinies through the act of free will. It doesn’t interest me, because neither can be proven. If I’d turned my back to him at that moment, and shuffled backwards towards him whilst looking over my shoulder, calculating wind-speed and trajectory, before guffing loudly, would it have been an act of free will? Or would some greater power have it already mapped out. “On this day, Mel will point his posterior towards a posh gent on a delayed train and let out a fruity one. Why? I don’t know. But I’ve predestined it. So it must be…”

So I just replied politely. “Hmmm…” which means “I have no opinion, leave me alone, I’m a rude commuter.”
He then continued. “I’ve saved the lives of 5 people in my life, and two dogs.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yes.” he continued poshly. “I dragged a young lady and her child from a burning building. I can hold my breath in extreme conditions for well over three minutes, but the heat was invading my ears. The pain seared me. But I lived to tell the tale, as you can see.” He grinned waving his leather gloved hand around his face in a graceful manner.
I then lavished praise upon him.
“It’s amazing the courage we can muster at times of great stress” Which clearly was a lie, as using myself as a benchmark, I am a coward in all circumstances.
“indeed!” he said. “And the time I saved a young man from drowning, the press were very jubilant in their headlines. They wrote I dived in fully clothed, but I didn’t you know. I’d have sunk. I had heavy shoes on.”
“I see.” I said.

As I spoke to him, and slowly made more and more eye contact (I don’t do eye contact, I’m like a shifty Columbo type), I noticed actually he was a lot older than he looked. Although his skin was firm with a healthy sheen, not sagging, pock marked or dull, it was covered in liverspots. And his eyes, although full of life, had a dull cloudiness covering the deep blue. He could have been 50, but he was probably nearer 70 or older. He held a deep wisdom, maybe he *was* a wizard?
He was a dapper old goat in anycase. I then pretended to text someone and he gave up on telling me stories about life saving. But it was an interesting chat while it lasted. However, as I got my connection at East Croydon, I felt a pang of guilt for being a shitbag, so I did bid him a safe journey, “you too sir..” he gently replied, raising his leather gloved index finger in acknowledgement, the cool bastard, his whisper as clear as day. You see, I’m not as miserable as all of those other commuters. I’m just socially crippled. I don’t talk to people in any situation. That's the difference.

No comments: