The little man with the tiny backpack runs up the steps of Embankment tube, wriggling like a wee ginger salmon with a tazer up the shitter. He looks very much like Alan McGee. I’m so certain he’s Scottish I’ll eat a haggis if he’s not despite assurances haggis is filled with colon juice, battery acid, insects and whatever else radge bastards assault themselves with.
I’ve missed him in the past two weeks, my bespectacled chum. But we’re together again Alan, me old fucker. The ‘festive season’ is done. We’re back in the commute.
Backpack wankers abound. I don’t know why I have a problem with people who wear both straps over their shoulders instead of the insouciant one strap worn by worldly types such as Petra Kvitova, Benedict Cumberbatch and myself, but I fucking do. Unless the tall fellow with the wrap-around earphones barging down the side of the groaning punters at my local tube station, every single morning, has a Mutant Turtle-type shield in his little satchel I can’t see how he’ll survive the impact of the 8.14 to Kennington via Charing Cross that someone, can’t say who, is soon likely to push him into the path of.
There’s the girl I see every morning whose chin blends seamlessly into her neck like the north face of the Eiger. I imagine the offspring she could produce with the hairy arsehole nearby, who seems to be all forehead. The pair look grimly displeased to be sharing both a carriage and the awful orifices and filthy fluids the calamitous copulation I’m now picturing would involve.
Morning, rubber-faced auld bint. Welcome back, man who somehow moulds five strands of hair into a baffling centre parting. It’s good to see you, actual, genuine, friend-of-20-years who gets the same tube as me, though it’s not good to see you at all, because if anyone makes me talk to them at such a horrific hour this will be the last train they’ll ever ride.
I try to read. Lately it’s a non-fiction book on immortality; ironic, given death is all I crave on January 3rd as we begin the tragic scramble for the remaining seats, like eager Jews jostling for Janowska. The text swims in and out of focus, something about Frankenstein and the Duplication Problem. Oh for a giant green monster on a Northern line rampage, caving in skulls with his 3D printer.
If a book won’t keep me awake there’s always a paper. Who wouldn’t enjoy the mounting anxiety of liberal gobshites at the imminent arrival of Rear-Admiral Trump on the bridge? If the Guardian were a novel it would be Watership Down. Thankfully it’s not a novel but a collection of massive, uncontrollable sheets of paper, ideal if red-eyed glares of hatred are an important part of your breakfast routine.
Perhaps it’s time I bowed to the inevitable and took to a smartphone of a morning. I have to admit I’ve been casting envious glances at fellow passengers lately as they enjoy the latest gaming craze: Home Screen Hysteria. This you play by staring slack-jawed at your phone’s start screen, and after maybe 20 (sometimes 30!) seconds, one of the little icons will suddenly become worth touching with your finger. The computational power behind an app that can somehow send a message to your brain that, yeah, you might as well look at fucking Twitter again – well, the world’s come on apace since my day, that’s all I can say.
Sometimes, a blind man shares my ride. This morning he seemed perfectly content to stand holding the rail in the centre of the carriage, until a busy-body decided he must have her seat. As she began to manhandle the poor bastard onto his backside, she evidently realised the train was about to start moving again and a carriage held its breath for possible comedy. Clearly he wasn’t the first man to feel her cold hands on his cane first thing in the morning, as she expertly manoeuvred us all away from laughter and back into the sullen realisation that this lucky bastard doesn’t have to witness the horrors the rest of us do every day.
Eventually I’m spat out beside a poster of a David Bowie exhibition, as Aladdin Sane taunts us that he got out before 2016 started filling up with corpses. The barrier won’t recognise my Oyster card and the newsagent despises me for buying a single pint of milk just like every other customer he’ll have in that morning.
I cross one of the city’s most polluted roads, breathing in deeply to coat my lungs with particles that might combat the stench of a valued colleague’s microwaved lamb pasanda. I wait four minutes for a lift that will port me up six floors to a desk in an office beside a woman who eats egg and feta cheese with her mouth open. There are pieces of paper here that meant something to me two weeks ago but it’s gone, all gone. There’s a Post-It Note stuck to a monitor that says ‘2B120’ and I’ve no idea why.
Eight hours I’ll be here, achieving so little I could be substitute goalkeeper at Yeovil Town and have as much job satisfaction. Five days a week for probably 47 weeks of 2017’s 52. Then Ernold Same caught the same train, at the same station, sat in the same seat, with the same nasty stain, next to same old what’s his name, on his way to the same place with the same name, to do the same thing. Again and again.
On we go, year after year, Einstein’s definition of insanity be damned. No matter what I do, no matter how many jobs I walk out of in a flurry of sorrowful elation, I am up and down the same grimy shaft every morning and night like a 14-year-old’s wrist.
And the man with the massive face and the woman who wears sunglasses on her head no matter what Tomasz Schafernaker whispered in her ear last night: these people are now part of my life, treasured fellow travellers on the road to nowhere that represents the life of an almost-middle-aged man whose morning is broken.