Thursday, 5 February 2015

My Train Nemesis - The race for the last seat is on, and i don't want to lose.

We stood side by side at the edge of the platform, both taking our places near the yellow lines signifying the edge.
I hoped and prayed that today I would be the lucky one, that I would be in the correct place when the train stopped and doors opened so that I could grab that perennial last seat in the carriage.
I had already taken my place so knew I couldn't change position again. You can't just change platform position once you have picked your spot, not without making the people next to you think you are quite strange, and knowing you were preparing yourself tactically, not just by chance like we all pretend. The only way to change your platform position is to do that thing where you pretend to take a few steps back to look at trains arrivals board again, then start all over again and take a new position, apparently oblivious to the fact you were standing somewhere else a few seconds earlier. The morning commute is full of these kinds of pitfalls and silent secret plans.
On that day though 'he' was in my favoured position next to me; I really hadn't expected to end up with a train nemesis, but (and I admit I sound like a child for saying this) he started it so I felt duty bound to compete with him on a Monday to Friday basis.
The journey from Ely to Cambridge was thirty minutes, a lot of people disembarked at Cambridge meaning most people who continued the journey got a seat, but it was a long thirty minutes to wait when you're the one left standing, silently cursing the seated ones that on that day have been victorious.
It was during my first week in Ely our first encounter took place. 
I was still finding my way, checking out the facilities, getting a feel for my new daily journey. I decided on that day to take a position at the far end of the platform, and on that day, on that part of the platform is where the rivalry started, over a total misunderstanding.
I stood next to a man of around 50, hair greying, but sporty looking, he was wearing cycling clothes, so I thought he must have ridden to the station. 
Cycling seems to be the latest ‘thing’ for men of a certain age to take up.  It is the mid-life crisis of this decade. The need to date unsuitable women and get a sports car has been replaced by an urge to wear Lycra and talk about segment times, but each to their own I guess.
I think as I first took my place next to him he may have said good morning to me, I couldn't be sure, I'm sure I heard him say something, but I had my in-ear headphones in, so I didn't reply as I wasn't sure. Afterwards I saw a change in his body language, but by then it was too late to reply, the moment had gone and left me looking like the rudest person on the platform, rather than someone just listening to a pod-cast oblivious to his surroundings.
I was wondering how to convey a ‘oh my music is loud I can’t hear anything’ expression, by taking out my ear buds in an over-elaborate way, I was still wondering how to do this a moment (roughly one and a half to three minutes) later as our train started to slow down.
The train pulled into the station and the doors opened right in front of me, I smiled and climbed on board.
I still felt bad about the whole not saying hello business, so wanted to do something, or say something to make it right.
I noticed on my left and at the back of a carriage were two empty seats.
“After you” I said to him,  and pointed towards the empty seats.  I thought, this would be a nice gesture, he could climb on, and then I could sit down in the other seat, all damage repaired. Who knows, we could even become train buddies, someone to share the journey with to help pass the time, he may be local so may be able to fill me in on places to go, things to see and do in Ely, this was the start of a great friendship...  I could just feel it.
As I stalled to daydream someone came in through another door in the carriage and sat down,  in the last remaining seat next to my so called new ‘train buddy’. 
He laughed a sneering laugh in my direction, and so it began.  
From that point forwards I had a train nemesis.
After that day I tried to get to the station a few minutes earlier, just to make sure I was in pole position, at the end of the platform, just opposite the exact centre of the locoexpresso coffee shop on platform one, the place where I knew the train doors will open up directly in front of me, and I could enter the carriage and slump down in the last remaining seat in the carriage, leaving my train nemesis standing.
Although I got there first most mornings and got that seat, I still felt somehow behind from that first morning when he laughed at me, I always felt like somehow he was winning.
Then after a few weeks he vanished. 
I had the luxury of knowing the golden place was mine unrivalled, but the sport and the sense of challenge were gone. 
I found myself leaving home a bit later, my reason for being there early now gone. Without a nemesis there to challenge me the journey seemed that bit longer, and duller.
Then one day I caught the slightly earlier train, and there 'he'  was, in what I now regarded as my chosen spot. I stood as close to him as was comfortably possible, and although nothing was audibly said I'm sure we both knew the battle had begun.
As the train approached the platform I recited my daily morning train mantra over and over in my head, "please stop opposite me, please stop opposite me"
And for once the train gods were smiling on me, and it did, right in front of me. 
I smirked as inwardly as I could manage and boarded the train ahead of my rival.
There were two seats at the back of the carriage once again, as there had been that very first morning, and I suddenly saw a chance to make peace. 
Whilst I had been enjoying the competition, I felt it would be even better to put our differences aside once and for all, be the bigger man.  I decided to let him pass me and have the first seat, he would then see that I wasn't so bad after all, and we could both move on with our lives, both having learnt a little bit about human kindness.
I stepped aside to let him through, a look of surprise on his face, this was it, a new beginning, a brave new dawn, I smiled.
He sat down on the seat closest to the window, and before I could get there to sit down had put his rucksack on last available seat in the carriage next to him, and immediately pretended to go to sleep.
Bugger it.
Forget peace,  I decided that the next time I saw his stupid little bike I would let his tyres down.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Who is Smirrell?

I’ve had many nicknames over the years, Pringle, Poodle, Pricey, but this is the story of my first nickname, and how it would come to affect me one day later in life when I least expected it. 
So where shall I begin?
When I was young we lived in a small quiet cul-de-sac.  
At the end of the road was a tiny patch of grass, it wasn't a park, there were no swings or slides, and was about the size of a small school football pitch, which was exactly the boys around my age used it for.
The older kids I had been playing with moved away, which left me playing on my own, kicking the ball repeatedly against the wall, like a small footballing Steve McQueen.
Then one day another boy appeared who lived in the next Street.  He was about the same age as me, ten, and  was called Mark,  he asked to join in, as you did at that age, and I said yes okay then,  as you also did at that age. We played for a few hours. 
And then again the next week.
And the week after that. 
And so it continued.
We usually played three and in, one person would be in goal and the other would try to score three goals, and when they did they would go in goal. We would pretend to be different footballers we'd seen on Match of the Day when we were trying to score, usually I'd be Glenn Hoddle, and he was Ian Rush. But one week he insisted on me being Smirrel, his version of Cyril Regis I assumed, and from then on that's what he called me. 
The same the week after too, until he was knocking on my door asking if Smirrel could come on to play. 
I was pleased, it was my first nickname after all, no one had thought to find me a nickname before then. Not one that I'd been told about anyway. 
Okay fair enough it was quite a strange one,  people in my school usually have versions of their surnames,  usually just with an 'ie' on the end of it,  like Finchie,  or Bestie,  or Gerrard, alright some names don't work,  but you get what I mean. 
I now had Smirrell.  
My parents would ask me when I came home from the park "why does he call you Smirrell?" 
And I told them I really didn't know, but I would ask next time, although I never did.
Eventually he moved away, and as I was 15 so my 'three and in’ days were over.
I saw him in passing a few times over the years, but the days of football in the park were gone, and we each had our own friends and teenage pursuits to conduct instead.  

I was 30 when I next properly spoke to mark again.  I was at a collective job interview, as was popular at one stage of the nineties. There were 10 of us in the room, all trying to outshine each other, even though the brief for the day was that they were looking for how well we could collaborate, and work as a team, none of us were fooled. 
It was like a very poor apprentice episode.

We'd had the discussion about leading a team, whilst a female manager sat in the corner of the room, marking us and making notes about our input.
Then we had an interview, with two managers, the standard questions were asked, "what would you do if....", "what are your strengths and weaknesses.....", "where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time", I had stock answers for all of these, I just had to pass these parts competently. I had my ace card still to be played, my advantage that would push m beyond the rest of the candidates, and I was pretty certain that it would.

Then came the final stage of the day, we were to meet the customer service director, the youngest director they'd had, some whizz-kid who had changed the way they'd worked, and made quite a difference to the company, if only I were to know him, then maybe it would give me a foot in the door for the job.
Except of course I already did know him, it was Mark, and although he didn’t know I'd applied, how could he - we hadn’t really spoken in years, but if I knew Mark, then once he'd seen me I was pretty sure that I would be in the driving seat to be the new customer services manager.
I just had to wait for him to appear.
After ten minutes of small talk between the candidates the door opened, and someone vaguely familiar strode confidently through the door.
"Smirrell" he almost cheered, he looked pleased to see me, and shook me vigorously by the hand. "Are you here for the interviews? I didn’t see your name on the list. It’s great to see you again Smirrell, how long has it been?"
Before I could answer though, another candidate interjected, she had a sour look on her face, and no one else had been greeted in such a way. 
"You two know each other then?" She scowled? "Wait, why did you call him Smirrell?"
I looked at Mark, I had no idea why that was my nickname, and I decided to pass this explanation on to the only person here who knew what Smirrell actually meant. 
"I'll let the boss answer this one" and nodded towards Mark.  This was an uncomfortable situation now all round, Sally obviously now thought this whole interview process was a shame.  I hadn't really thought through what would happen when Mark arrived to conduct the interviews
I looked at Mark expectantly,  
I was keen to hear the answer too, I didn't really know what had made him choose that name, so I leaned in and was keen to find out also. 
Mark looked confused, like we were ganging up on him to play some cruel joke.  
"What?” he stuttered? 
"Why do you call him Smirrell?” dally repeated. 
"Because his name in Cyril" he looked at me, a confused look on his face. 
"No it's Chris" Sally said.  I nodded dumbly and we shook hands, having known each other for let twenty years, but having just been introduced by a complete stranger. 
Cyril? that's really what he thought I was called? Did I look like a Cyril? I thought not. I imagined him calling out to him mum years before that he was doing out to the park to play football with 'Cyril'. The 'Smirrell' name must have been out of some embarrassment of using my supposed first name.
Mark stood between us looked crestfallen and embarrassed, "I've just got to go over here" he pointed to a corner of the room weakly, and walked away. 
"Awkward "said Sally with a now growing grin on her face. 
That didn't go at all to plan I thought as I left the building, but surely a little bit of embarrassment wouldn't stop him thinking of me for the job? 

After a few weeks of not hearing anything I decided it probably would.