I must confess that upon relocating to London from Bristol in the late 90s, like a child playing with an oversized train set, I loved using the London Underground system. I never entirely understood the wails and grunts from work colleagues as they arrived at the office first thing each morning.
Accepted, it was not the best place to be on a hot day between Brixton and Vauxhall. Especially in an over-crowded carriage, waiting for the light to change and drivers unintelligible announcements.
Donning my headphones and observing the subterranean world become one of my little daily pleasures. Witnessing the solemn faces of passengers navigate the unwritten constitution, which governs the use of the underground with an iron glove:
Do not acknowledge other people
Pretend to read something essential.
Do not disturb.
Do not invade space and avoid all physical contact.
Do not intervene in other peoples misdemeanours.
Learn to pivot and balance against gravity.
When the occasion arises, gawk at your reflection.
Rush hour: Be a complete and inconsiderate tosser.
The practice of social distancing, before it became a necessity. After a period of using the same route a small acknowledgement, a nod of the head would be exchanged between familiar faces.
One particular day, it was my first week of employment at Lambeth Council. I was still coming to terms with the kaleidoscope of new names and faces, and I jumped on the system at Brixton Underground.
The carriage was pretty full, but not overcrowded. As the carriage pulled away, I noticed one of my new work colleagues down the other end of the carriage. I looked him in the eyes and gave him a firm nod of acknowledgement. He looked down and did not respond.
A few moments later, he lifted his head and looked my way. I gave him a smile and reaffirmed my acknowledgement. Once again, he looked away only this time a little more uncomfortably as if he was being tested by a psychopath. He tried to move behind somebody close to him, but I could see him looking at me through the reflection of the carriage window. I gave his reflected stare an acknowledgement, and he shuffled behind this human shield again.
Now feeling somewhat offended, I thought, fuck it, you miserable sod. The carriage pulled into Stockwell Station. I watched my supposed work colleague take a quick glance, again through the reflection in the window. I looked away in disgust. The driver announced the closing of the doors, next stop Vauxhall. In the blink of an eye, my work colleague jumped from the train onto the platform, leaving me with no time to join him.
With great stature, he stared directly at me, as the carriage slowly started to move. His eyes shouted out to me, “who the fuck are you?”
At this point, I realised my work colleague was none other than Mick Jones, guitarist from The Clash. Our paths were never to cross again.