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Evening out the gaps


Earl's Court

It’s just after half six and the train that will take Joe home is at Earl’s Court station. He’s so engrossed in checking emails on his phone that he’s missed a couple of announcements from the driver that this District Line train is being held to “even out the gaps in the service”. They’ve been stationary for about three minutes now and already Joe is getting fidgety. He used to think nothing of waiting twenty minutes for a bus into town back home but five years in London has left him with the patience of a five year old on a litre of fizzy pop.

Joe’s stood by the door and there’s a group of tourists puzzling over a map of the underground, uncertain whether to board.

“Where are you going?” asks Joe.

“Canary Wharf” replies one.

“Hop on. This train doesn’t go there but it’s heading in the right direction. You need to change at Westminster”

They thank him in what sound like American accents. And already Joe’s made seventeen judgements about them in his head. Canary Wharf? Typical Americans wanting to go to somewhere like that. One of the many utterly soulless non-places that litters the banks of the Thames and attracts money but little else. Like the one where Joe works.

By now the train’s crowded so the four, who appear to be two couples in their fifties, stand close to Joe. They look tanned and, like most American tourists around the capital, not unduly concerned with where their next meal is coming from. I bet they’ve been to Wimbledon thought Joe. Probably had tickets for centre court but left early.

“You been to the tennis?”

“Yes, but we didn’t make it in as we got there too late. The queues were too big”

They tell Joe about how they didn’t get to Wimbledon until mid-afternoon. They’re not big tennis fans, they’re more into golf, but as they’re in London they thought they’d pop in and maybe watch some matches on the outside courts and pick up some souvenirs for friends back home. They explain that it would have cost the four of them eighty pounds to get in for a few hours play so they decided to head back into town. They ask if there is anywhere in the centre of London that they can pick up Wimbledon souvenirs. Joe gives it some thought but can’t think of anywhere aside from the various stalls around the West End selling snide gear. They look a bit disappointed. And Joe feels sorry for them. Major sports events certainly don’t make it easy for the average punter these days.

“What line of work are you in?”

Joe explains that he’s an accountant in an NHS hospital. “Ah, we love your health service. Don’t we Barbara? It’s such a wonderful system. I wish we had something like it back home”

It turns out they’re from Dallas and over in the UK on holiday for a couple of weeks. They’re doing ten days in England and Scotland before getting the Eurostar to Paris. They’re heading up north in a few days’ time. Going to stop in Sheffield with friends before getting the train up to St Andrew’s to play some golf. One of them is a geologist and lived in Aberdeen for a year working for an oil company. Joe mentions that he used to live in Sheffield and they chat about the Peak District. They love walking in the Peak District.

“What’s that place that we stayed last time Barbara?”

“Ah, yeah, Hather-sage. That’s the one”

Joe forgives them for pronouncing the final syllable like the herb.

They say goodbye at Westminster as they leave to change onto the Jubilee line while Joe stays on the Barking-bound train for a few more stops. They were alright thinks Joe as he turns to see if there are any seats free. Once in a while it pays to have your preconceptions smashed into tiny pieces.


From → London

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