Tuesday, 16 January 2007

What goes around comes around

Saturday 30th December 2006 – Shortlands train station, London

In the tree opposite my windblown platform there hangs a length of electrical cord. The plug, still attached, is hanging onto a branch for grim life, its cord dangling below it, swaying like some desperate snake, trying to regain its rest. Strange. How on earth did it get there? I’m inclined to believe it literally dropped from the sky, from some passing aircraft. The way it is hanging, dead, vertical, suggests this. But the severed end of the cord suggests some kind of violence. And I have time to think about it. The train’s late. I had been early.

Perhaps, some demented commuter did it. Did he (while it could easily be a she, it’s my daydream, it’s a he), having bought a new toaster from Argos, struggle through Victoria station, perhaps being uncomfortably jostled? Did he drop his ticket on the slick of thin wet mud on the floor and have to bend awkwardly to peel it off, put it wet in his pocket? Dirtying the lining? Finally he gets on the train, elbowing an old lady out of pole position for a coveted seat, feeling too hard done by to be guilty, he sinks heavily to the chair and unwraps his purchase. Did the weight of the day and his existing frustration with his old toaster – cord just too short – bubble up as he opened his bag, peeled off the security tape, lifted the toaster aloft and discovered… a similarly short cord? In anger, incredulity and frustration that became brute force, did he rip that goddamn cord from the body of the new toaster, stagger to the doorway and toss it out of the train when it stopped at Shortlands, making an Incredible Hulk style grunt as he did so? And then did he leave the train in embarrassment as familiar commuters wondered what had happened to their mild-mannered companion?

That would have made a nice and fairly plausible tale were it not for three things: the cord is actually very long (see photo);
train doors do not open on the non-platform side; and neither do trains any longer have windows. So I shall never know what happened to that cord. It shall remain a simple object of beauty and violence, and loneliness. And in an entirely pretentious manner, I shall say that it might signify the loneliness of the commuter; and my own selfishness as I sat alone on the platform listening to the ipod someone once told me ‘doesn’t make you look cool, it’s just a glib fashion accessory for the beach’ (good cuss). And I shall also say again that this loneliness doesn’t exist in Sierra Leone, where people are noisy and nosey. And that the cord wouldn’t have been left to hang, but attached to something else (albeit not electrical, given the lack of power).

Later, back at Marylebone, in need of a pen, but with nothing open from which to buy one, I approached a florist, furtively, and asked if I could buy a biro from him. He seemed completely confused until he spotted an opportunity to make money, showed me a blue biro and said 'Two pounds'. As much as I felt like a crazy person for asking I wasn't going to be mugged, so I told him that was a touch steep, how about a quid. He accepted. Only on the train, tucked in between drunken commuters, did I realise it was a free pen from Barclays bank. How very SL I thought. And laughed. None of the drunken commuters thought it odd.

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