Anonymity, Idiocy, and People Watching

Today was only interesting in that I managed to navigate the vagueries of the Great Western Railway, the London Underground, two different Starbucks coffee houses, and somehow managed to not really interact with anybody at all apart from asking the man on the train this morning for a “return to Paddington, please”, and the serving staff in the coffee shops “Grande Cappuccino please”. I thought it strange that the train conductor asked “is that all?”, but didn’t think about it at the time.

Now I’m wondering about it. Did he mistake me for somebody else that routinely buys several rail tickets at once? The comedy scene almost writes itself:Conductor : “And what can we sell you today sir?”Passenger : “Oh, I’ll have two returns to Paddington, and a single to Kings Cross please”Conductor : “Wonderful choice. That will go lovely with a Zone 2 Travel Card – two for the price of one this week.”Passenger : “Oh go on then. You’ll be the end of me.”You can see why I never forged a career in comedy, can’t you.

At lunchtime I found a food place called “Eat” in a side-road off Regent Street. I used to go to “Eat” quite regularly when I worked in London years ago – their food was always better than Pret – if you try them back to back, there’s an enormous difference (almost everything at Pret is loaded with salt or sugar). While sitting in the window, feeding my face I became lost in the internationally un-recognised sport of people watching.

After amusing myself for a few moments a businessman stood directly in front of me on the other side of the glass, facing me. At first I was terrifically self conscious, but then realised he was actually squinting to see what “today’s specials” were on the board at the far end of the shop behind me. From that point on it became a challenge – when somebody stood similarly, squinting (and there were many), I would meet their stare – daring myself to look at them.

It’s interesting – looking at strangers, straight in their face when they’re not looking at you. They don’t notice you at first, and then they become self conscious. I think my favourite was a businessman in his early 50s, wearing an immaculate grey suit. His hair was combed neatly in a side parting, and his skin appeared every so slightly too smooth. I wondered if he had some kind of skincare regimen going on in secret – rubbing the essence of Smurfs into his skin or something.

My entire game was ruined when the most beautiful woman I’ve seen in quite some time walked past the window and glanced at me. The glance was all it took for me to look directly at the floor without passing go. Oh. My. Word. It was like being 14 years old again, and the girl you secretly burned a candle-shop full of candles for looking in your direction.

I stopped playing after that – contenting myself with peering through the expensive suit shop windows on the opposite side of the road to see who on earth might frequent such an establishment (I buy my clothes almost exclusively from discount clothing stores, so setting foot in Brooks Brothers is akin to walking on the Moon for me). There was a self obsessed bear of a man with an immaculately trimmed beard trying on a white shirt and waistcoat. While turned away from me I became fascinated with him – he could have passed as a double for Henry Cavill, but then I noticed his arms were remarkably weedy – which immediately re-wrote his life story in my head. He was obviously from a “monied” family, didn’t have a job, and didn’t really do much really – other than shop for things that other people probably can’t afford.

Thankfully my phone vibrated a few moments later, and reminded me that I should really be heading back to the office. Back to a fun afternoon pretending to be clever.

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