Yesterday I took the 6:24pm westbound District Line train from Victoria to Wimbledon Park.
I was heading to dinner with some of my elderly Polish relatives, who live at the other end of the green stripe across London. Getting to their house required me to venture amidst the throng of tired commuters, coming in a thick stream from central London and filtering out to the burbs. Parsons Green, Putney, Southfields; the stream runs to a trickle.
I was wearing a pink gingham shirt and sweating out my own brand of claustrophobia. I felt like I was just another yuppie- albeit a jobless one- rolling my way back home.
But I’m not a yuppie (yet), and try as I may to dress up my trip as a commute, it was nothing of the sort. I was an imposter. Even men and women my own age appeared to be coming back from jobs, carrying satchels, pompously reading files, wearing lanyards.
I looked over at the man next to me, who was tapping away on an iPhone. He was, perhaps, late twenties. A man who had graduated from university six or seven years ago, and now found himself rattling along on the 6:24pm westbound District Line service to his Wimbledon flatshare.
He was wearing a starchy white shirt and grey trousers that had clearly been ironed in the last few days. He had a neat, short, trendless haircut, and wire rimmed reading glasses.
I looked down at his phone, in a really invasive way, and saw that he was Googling ‘Notting Hill carnival’. He then flicked through the map, looking for directions to Notting Hill.
And perhaps he goes home and pulls on a Rammstein t-shirt and smokes pot and watches Mike and Molly. And maybe, every so often, he meets up with his friends from university and they talk about European politics and have affairs with glamorous French tourists. And, perhaps, all that they want from their weekend is to drink rum and Ting from sippy-cups and buy sketchy looking jerk chicken from unlicensed vendors.
But I’m sitting there on the train, listing to Tame Impala and wearing a pink gingham shirt, and I can only feel pity for the man next to me. Pity, and a lot of fear.
There’s something quite melancholy about the way he’s sitting on his commute back home, Googling something that typifies the wild, youthful spirit that you have to give up. Maybe that was him once, but now he’s a middling-aged man, in a stiff charcoal suit. Is he planning to try and recapture those past years? Or, is he just Googling it, wondering what it is, what all the fuss is about?
Now I don’t feel youthful, and I can’t think of anywhere worse for me than a carnival (remembering last year, queuing for 15 minutes to pay a quid to use the loo in Caffe Nero) but I do worry that I only have a year or so before I find myself becoming a regular user of this train service. I fear the day I have to get a season ticket on my Oyster card. I fear the day someone expects me to iron my trousers.
The man gets off the train. I stay on. Fuck, am I aboard a metaphor?
I spend the evening with my relatives who don’t even observe the rat race anymore. The end product of tie bars, iPhones and carnivals is just that: exemption.
Back on the train- heading eastbound now- the man isn’t there. There are only a gaggle of Spanish tourists, shouting at one another across the carriage. Perhaps the man is already asleep. In the three years since my sister left university, she has gone from staying up til 2am, to being in bed, asleep by 11pm.
And I’m just sweaty and listening to indie music and cultivating a beard that no one approves of. And I condescend the man on the train, just because he has to Google directions to Notting Hill? Just because he cannot follow the underground map that adorns every carriage? I will blink and be in the same position.
Or, perhaps, worse off. Either wear the suit or ride the bus.