Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Talk to strangers and avoid Palmer’s Cocoa Butter

(Video from the British Film Institute http://www.bfi.org.uk/ )

On last week’s show we talked briefly on the topic of commuting. It is a strange phenomenon. Londoners are typically an uncommunicative lot unless with members of immediate family and friends. Despite this, they are perfectly happy to squeeze into carriages with complete strangers, standing so close that one can count every pore on the skin and vein in the eye. And you always get stuck next to the moustachioed man who forgot to shower rather than the attractive brunette across the way reading a book on Tantra. All, apart from the rattling of the train and the tinny sound of bad music belching into ears, is silent. Eyes are cast down to shoes or up to adverts. This can be disheartening.

Obviously, over-familiarity, lechery, interruption and talking to children are not the things I am encouraging here. Nor am I suggesting carrying a thermos and sharing deep personal truths with a stranger over a cup of char. Instead, a genial nod, a moment of tacit understanding between fellow men, a remark about the weather perhaps or a comment about a newspaper story. I understand it is a question of judgement. One wouldn’t chat to the man with nothing on him but a trench coat and a bag of Haribo for instance. But, perhaps to the lady with the tartan shopping trolley?

(Alas! Forgive me! I have just been guilty of creating sinister and kindly stereotypes there. It is only fair to remind readers that this might not be the case. The man might have been attacked, everything but his coat being taken from him by force, he may have then begged for some food from a passing confectionary salesman with the hope of restoring his blood sugar and using the remainder to barter passage back to Wimbledon. The elderly woman might be an assassin; an agent of a dark fascist power, and the tartan bag will very probably contain her terrible instruments of death. Use your intuition.)

On a particularly arduous bus journey, I was sitting next to a gentleman who had no shoes on and yet was carrying a bin liner containing at least six pairs of trainers. He was holding a large pot of Palmer’s Cocoa Butter. I am always wary of ointments and ablutions that smell like they might be edible. I recall a large bottle of bubble bath that smelt exactly like cinnamon muffins. I had to go and have my stomach pumped soon after. The risk of a similar event happening in this case was minimal however. The smell of cocoa was offset somewhat by the odour of the man smearing it on his bare feet. Now I respect a man who moisturises, but on your own time boys. The man in question clearly had a story to tell but I thought it best not to ask. Partly because talking would involve inhalation accompanied with the undesirable scent of stale urine and partly because the man was now eyeing my shoes with a lust I have never seen equalled. My stop was next. I disembarked with my brogues still firmly laced to my feet.

It is occasions like these that can encourage us to plug ourselves into our iPods or read some garbage in a damp free paper, but it is worth reminding ourselves that most people are pleasant enough and welcome cheerful banter. The other day, I had a lovely chat with a gentleman on a tube station platform about the busker we had just passed.

A final warning though: There may be times when a display of good humour will shock your audience. After I bade a lady good day last week, so shocked was she, that she dropped her shopping. As I watched a grapefruit roll away toward the horizon, I ruefully conceded to myself that the hat-tipping Utopia one might see on a 1950s postcard from the village of St. Mary Mede is not one that is always found or expected today. I then had to chase the fucking grapefruit.

So here are your orders readers:

1.Don’t be afraid to say “Good morning!” jauntily to a passer by.

2. Avoid Palmer’s Cocoa Butter

3. Do remember to wash before boarding public transport, for the love of God.

4. And always give your seat up to a lady.

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