Sunday, 21 October 2007

Broderick's Sunday Special #5 - Bureaucracy

I'm riding my bicycle to the British Library on a beautiful afternoon. The BL has an enormous modernist courtyard, including a statue of great majesty (a naked robot using a compass), coffee shop, and ample bicycle parking. From Ossulston St to the bicycle parking there is a 10 metre (barely) stretch on which you are meant to walk your bike. I usually do get off and walk.

Today however, there is no one at all by the bike racks but for one older man, also locking up his bike, basket and all. How elegant it would be to glide up gently to a parking space, I think.

No sooner than both wheels have rolled off the vehicular asphalt onto the rust-coloured modernist courtyard, do I hear the old man say in a loud, American voice: 'You're supposed to walk your bike here!'

I'm in the wrong, of course, legally, but the old codger is being completely unreasonable.

'All right,' I say, and for emphasis, 'chill.'

He shoots me a dirty look. 'Well, you are!' He shouts, like a two-year old child. I burst out laughing.

'Oh yeah,' I say, 'I'm sorry, it's just... I don't really speak English.'

I go back to locking up my bike, giggling, and he scoffs at my impertinence. I leave him to ride away, pondering the state of young people today. I walk towards the entrance pondering the fact that judging from his childish outburst, he probably comes to the British Library to look up swear words in the dictionary.

++++

Inside the library, I have my bag searched and go downstairs to put my papers in a clear plastic bag, like liquids on an aeroplane, and check my bags and coat. I can deal with the bomb check at the door, and I've gotten used to the clear plastic bag security of the reading rooms (they're worried about pens and implements that will damage their books in the rooms, however, like M. Foucault theorized, this repression only make me want to rip the pages out of an ancient volume of Pepys diary in an orgy of flying onionskin and tropology).

I go to check my coat and bag. The cloakroom is a huge desk in the shape of a crescent moon. There is a velvet rope demarcating the entrance and exit of the queue. I am standing by the 'No Entrance' sign. There is no queue. I throw caution to the wind and enter the exit.

'Hello,' says the cloakroom attendant.

'Hello,' I say.

'That is an exit. It is clearly marked with "No Entrance."'

'Well, yes, I did see that. I just thought that since there is no queue, it would be perfectly fine. After all, the function of the velvet rope is the orderly management of a queue.'

'If you were driving,' he begins, ' and you went through a "No Entrance," you would be driving down a one-way street. Then you would be in trouble.'

I think about this. 'Not if there weren't any other cars coming the other day. I'd be fine.'

'The Metropolitan Police would have something to say about that.'

'Are you threatening to call the police?'

'A policy is a policy.'

I smack my forehead in frustration. 'Can I check my coat and bag please?'

'Yes. You are number 438.'

Thursday, 11 October 2007

I don't exaggerate...


The London Victoria service to Ramsgate and Dover Priory...

A toad-like woman sits opposite me on a train to Canterbury, staring at Page Three of the Sun Newspaper. Her equally elderly, but ogre-like husband adjusts his hearing aid beside her.

'Getta load of those!' she shrieks, jabbing a sausage-like finger at the topless model's nipple.

'WHAT?' her husband bellows.

'Never mind. Turn your hearing aid up!'

'Ok,' he says, and does.

The man with the trolley stops beside them. 'Refreshments?'

'A small coffee, please,' the inflated crone belches beside me. She's clearly struggling to hold off from her usual order of six slices of Victoria sponge drenched in coffee creamer and butter, chased with a family-sized bucket of KFC.

'Coming right up! And how are you this morning?'

'Very well, thank you!'

The attendant looks at the elderly couple's suitcases. 'Going on a long trip, I see!'

'Oh no,' the woman replies, taking out a packet of raw bacon from her bag and sliding it down her gullet, rasher by rasher, 'we're just coming home from one, actually. We've been in Spain!'

'Spain! Ah, yes, Espana! Espana-Banana! Ah ha ha!'

'It was lovely.'

'I'll bet it was. That's £1.69 for the coffee, thank you.'

'Here you are,' and the woman hands over a five pound note, translucent with pork fat and Neutrogena hand cream.

'Your change, madam.'

'Just drop it in my bag,' she replies. Her hands are busy, you see, scooping out giant globules of full-fat mayonnaise from an economy-sized jar and stuffing into her gaping maw.

'Thank you, and you have a wonderful journey!'

And he goes. 'What a pleasant fellow,' says the bloated wife, spewing crumbs all over her husband's face, 'very cheerful.'

'Oh yes,' he replies, hearing aid now turned up.

'At least he speaks English. That's a plus.'

I look over.

Her husband is adjusting her hearing aid. 'WHAT?'

'I said, AT LEAST HE SPEAKS ENGLISH!'

I tut at them. They look over, then away. I'm trying to decide if they are wondering if I speak English or not.

I'm reading the Guardian.

Maybe I can read English but not speak it.

In my imagination, in my dreams of bravery, I am Beowulf. I ride on my Arabian Stallion to confront the enormous sea-hag, knock the family sized Toblerone from her hands and declaim like Richard Burton: 'Hear you, you racist, xenophobic, elephantine pile of carbuncular crap! Economic migrants contribute much to your fair society! Who do you think puts the mayonnaise in your jar, and the bacon in your fingers!? I demand you apologize to all of England, for thou art a tremendous knob-jockey!'

Obviously, she'd refuse to apologize, and I'd use my superpowers, which are similar to X-Man Jean Grey's, to shake apart her molecular structure, telepathically. She'd explode into dust. Beside her, her husband, looking out the window, would say, 'WHAT?'

But that doesn't happen. Instead, I raise my newspaper higher so they can't see my face. I decide that a spite-flecked written invective is a far more productive use of my time than learning telepathy. My mind starts wandering, questioning why my vision of my brave self began as Beowulf by way of Henry V, and turned into Jean Grey.

The toad-like woman opens her suitcase, pulls out a large cake with the words 'Happy Birthday Billy,' and a '5' frosted upon it, and smashes her face into it in an orgy of vacuum noises. I start giggling, and plot my written revenge.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Broderick's Sunday Special #4: Weekday Matinee

The woman walking down Tottenham Court Road, Starbucks coffee cup in one hand, Treo in the other, huge bag dangling from crook of the arm like a gladiator's shield, is clearly in a hurry. Her heels clip-clop on the pavement like an effeminate horse as she valiently, aggressively ignores the charity street fundraiser at her side. He's been following her for 100 yards now since she stepped into his Cylon-like field of vision outside We Will Rock You at the Dominion Theatre.

'The thing is, We (Heart) Poor People* tries to combat a growing problem in our society. Every year, more than TWELVE rough-sleepers end up spending the night on the street under poor quality newspapers!'

'Go away,' the woman says. She looks to her left and tries to cross the road. The traffic is too heavy. She's stuck with him.

'Do you know what it's like to sleep under the sun?'

'Yes, I was in Tunisia last summer. It was lovely.'

'I mean The Sun, the newspaper. It's hardly enough to cover the entire body! There's barely any content at all! You think topless women and unsubstantiated stories are enough to keep you warm at night?'

'No, I don't. Now please stop following me. I already give to a charity, in fact, to a charity that helps the homeless. I don't give change to homeless people but I do donate it to the Salvation Army. I don't need you following me around, talking my ear off. What could possibly have given you the idea that I wanted to engage you in extended conversation?'

'Well, you did say "hello."'

'I said "Aw, hell!" And then, "another fucking charity street fundraiser!"'

She's at the crosswalk now, and he, with his clipboard and dreadlocks, is looking at the ground.

'I just think it's an important issue.'

Her shoulders sag. 'I know it is. I just don't think it's appropriate for you to be so aggressive. There's no need to follow me. In fact, it's a little bit creepy. Plus, your dreads smell like sewage.'

'We just want all homeless people to have quality journalism to sleep under. Newspapers that cover all the issues... as well as their legs.'

'Fine. Here's 50 p. Leave me alone.'

'I don't want your change, madam, I'd like a commitment.'

Having reached the opposite side of the road, she turns around on him, eyes blazing. 'You listen to me, you smug sack of crap. White people shouldn't have dreadlocks. I should kill you where you stand for that alone. But I will ignore this. What I will not ignore is your following me for ten minutes that I missed my destination and will have to double back.'

There is a long pause. 'Where are you going?' he asks in a small voice.

'The cinema.'

'It's a bit back that way.'

'Thank you.'

'What are you going to see?'

'Ratatouille.'

'Would you like some company?'

'No.'

++++

I've been watching this ignoble display from afar, and I pull out my notebook, and pen and imagination working furiously, start scribbling it all down.

I have no problem with the things that charity street fundraisers stand for, but I dislike the fact that their very presence on the High Street reduces an important cause to a daily annoyance. How are we meant to trust that a charity will actually help the people they're meant to if their public face is a bunch of musty-smelling students with blond dreadlocks?

It does make for excellent weekday matinee entertainment, however. I'll pass on Ratatouille for now, until the DVD release, even if the voice of the rat is one of my favourite comedians, Patton Oswalt.

*Names of charities and actual causes have been exaggerated to protect privacy and increase entertainment value.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

The Sound of the Underground


I’m sitting on the Northern Line Northbound platform at Euston Station waiting nine minutes for the next Edgware train. I’m a little annoyed that it’s such a long wait, but I have my David Sedaris book to while away the time so I’m content.

A little old lady with a wheelie basket steps onto the platform. She looks at the bench I’m sitting on, sees my bag on the seat next to me and gives me a withering, old lady stare. I take the hint and put my shoulder bag onto my lap. The little old lady doesn’t sit down, however, she merely tuts and walks right up to but not an inch past the yellow line at the edge of the platform. She’s waiting for the High Barnet train. One minute. She opens her wheelie basket and takes out a foil wrapped chocolate biscuit, unwraps it and starts happily munching away, but as she does this, a Tesco carrier bag, which I can see has in it several Tupperware containers and the wrappers of more chocolate biscuits, falls out of her basket and rolls onto the platform, next to her feet.

‘Excuse me -’ I start, but she turns around with a look that would kill a child with a weak constitution.

‘You - you dropped something,’ I stammer.

The old lady tuts me again and turns to look as the High Barnet train approaches. It slows, then stops, and with a familiar ‘bing’ the doors slide open. There are plenty of empty seats. The little old lady looks triumphant and approaches the doors.

Her wheelie basket drags the carrier bag containing her Tupperware containers, the remnants of her lunch, towards the edge of the platform. She heaves the basket onto the train. I see her give a withering, child-killing stare to a young goth couple as she sits down and unwraps another chocolate biscuit.

The hard plastic containers are now caught between the edge of the platform and the train. I don’t know whether or not I should retrieve it. If the train starts up, I could get hurt! I feel terrible.

Not guilty that the little old lady’s lost a bunch of Tupperware, but more like, ‘now the stuff’s going to be pulled under the train onto the track and the train’s going to explode and kill us all.

The doors close. A vision fills my head. The train stalls over the Tupperware and biscuit wrappers. Sparks fly. Suddenly, there’s a huge bang as the train splits apart, metal, glass and copies of the London Lite careering through the air. People are screaming and cleaving to each other, nuns finger rosaries and whisper Hail Marys, and the little old lady just looks self-satisfied and smug at getting a seat before she’s engulfed in a fiery inferno. A huge explosion follows and I am showered with the lady’s foil wrappers, Rich Tea Biscuit crumbs and bits of boiled egg and cabbage before the train door flies off the carriage and smushes my handsome young face into a paste against the wall.

The doors close. A West Indian accented driver announces: ‘this train tahminates at High Bahnet… Please mind the closing doors… mind the closing doors.’ The train pulls away. The little old lady’s lunch bag is pulled under the train by the force, but nothing happens. The train leaves the station. The old lady pulls out a repulsive looking true crime novel about a paedophile murderer and reads happily.

I’ve been saved by some cosmic mystery. I lean back in my seat and open my David Sedaris book, glad someone in this world is more neurotic than me. Edgware: 7 minutes.

The bottom drops out of my stomach. The bag’s on the track now. I know it is. It must be. It’s there, there, right on top of the electrified rail. I stop breathing. I don’t dare to look. This will be the death of me. The next train won’t be so lucky. It will crash into the bag, spark and go kaboom, and I will be smashed by a train door in a freak explosion because some old lady didn’t pick up her bag.

Fuck.

More people step out onto the platform, looking expectantly at the LED notice-board. Edgware: 5 minutes. I could leave, of course, but I do want to get home. Edgware: 4 minutes. I await my fate.

A female voice announces over the tannoy : ‘There is cah-rently a good sah-vice on all London Underground lines.’ Did such words ever resemble such a death knell?

Edgware: 2 minutes… Tick tock. Tick tock.