Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Some people I've seen in London

My first morning here I kept walking past a policeman who looked exactly like Johnny Lee Miller (Sick Boy from Trainspotting, pretty much nothing else). I didn't think much of it, filed it in my head as what would likely be the closest I came to a celebrity encounter. He was on my street, just a couple of blocks north, so I've walked past the place several times since. I started to notice that there was always a policeman standing there, a different one each day. Curious, I looked at the buildings by where the cop was always posted. And that's how I found out where the Iraqi embassy in London is located.


On Abbey Road on Saturday, I saw an elderly woman walking up the street while I waited for my bus. I asked her if she'd lived in the area long.

"All my life." She puffed up a little. This may have been some sort of accomplishment I didn't understand.

"So were you living here when the Beatles recorded here?"

"Maaaahhh," she said, making a sign to ward off evil, and then moving away from me.


A woman in the coffehouse I frequent asked a man (an American, as it happens) for a sheet of paper. He said he didn't have any.

Thirty seconds later he reached into his bag and pulled out a sheet of paper without any rooting around. He knew exactly where it was. He gave it to the woman.

She thanked him twice immediately. The second time contained all sorts of extra words meant to convey the depth of her gratitude and her humility for having bothered such an obviously august personage with such a trifling request.

I got the impression that this was exactly the response he wanted. That perhaps he always said no before saying yes in order to produce a disproportionate amount of thanks for even the smallest of basic, common-courtesy gestures.

Which would be a weird, although perhaps gratifying, way to go through life.


Grabbing lunch in the same coffeehouse, I took a comfortable seat in the same little chair cluster as a woman whose unhappiness was so palpable as to fill the two seats between us and brush uncomfortably against me.

Her mouth turned down at the ends in two vertical lines which seemed permanent. Even just looking out the window her expression was of utter disappointment or perhaps disgust. She threw a couple of baleful stares at me when I sat, even though she had no drink or food in front her and arguably, therefore, far less claim on the table. It wasn't clear if she was even a customer or just someone who came in out of the rain.

She dropped her umbrella and, before picking it up, she grabbed what might have been a small sliver of nut, a shell from a seed, or perhaps a fingernail from where it lay on the floor in a footprint next to a cigarette butt. She put it in her mouth.

I started to think maybe she was homeless. Her hair was clean, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Her clothes were plain but not dirty. Homeless remained my best guess until she pulled out a cell phone and sent a text message. Then I didn't know what to think.

She grew tired from all her angry staring, curled up in her chair and went to sleep.

Later she awoke in time to dart like a squirrel across the room and snatch some sunflower seeds off an empty table which hadn't yet been bussed. Eating them, she placed a phone call. When she spoke, it was in a surprising high-pitched baby-doll voice with a heavy French accent.

I don't know what was said by either party, but the call appeared to have changed her life for the better. Before I left (during a jazz arrangement of Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines") I actually saw her smile.


A guy outside the National Gallery took off his shirt to eat his lunch. Somebody must have said something or just been staring because, as I walked by him, he screamed "Well, if you don't like it you can bugger off!" at a seven-year-old girl.


A woman with a ridiculously deep fake tan and vertigo-inducing cleavage runs the coffeehouse on my way to the Baker St. Tube stop.

My first time there was on my dawn walk my first morning in London. I stopped there largely because they were the first open coffeehouse I had seen. I had some trouble figuring out the coins I was paying with, and she patiently waited while I checked the backs and counted it out for her.

The last time I was there, a middle-aged woman with Elvis Costello glasses revealed herself to also be an American. She was having the same difficulty with the money as I had had.

After about a second, the woman who worked there barked, "They're labelled, yeah? Right on the back. Work it out!" And then walked away without taking her money. The other counter girl had to fill in until she returned.

From some similar observations I have concluded that she is nice only to male customers and people she knows. Which seems like another weird way to go through life.


Julia Buckley said...

Sounds like my London. Hope you're enjoying it here.

The Moon Topples said...

I am indeed, Julia. Thanks.

I like the sprinkles thing on your blog, but think it might be more accurate to say that you'd fill the pool with water, and then there'd be a billion billion molecules.

And cartoon Julia smells lovely, since you asked.