While winding down a series of meetings yesterday afternoon, I received an unexpected compliment. One of the ladies I had been working with all week noted that I “wasn’t your typical nerd” – that I was “actually really intelligent”. Just to give her observation some context, I had been working on the design of a fairly major system, and had a lightbulb moment of sorts – stopping everybody in the room, and drawing on the flipchart while saying “I think we’ve all been thinking about this wrong” (and of course by “we”, I meant “you”). I grinned, and did that thing most people do when faced with a compliment – I dismissed it quietly, and tried to find something to compliment her on in return.
It’s worth noting that English was not her first language, and after working with a diverse European team in Germany for the last year, I’ve come to appreciate direct communication. If you’re not a native English speaker, you might not cloak thoughts and opinions quite as carefully as the English are apparently famous for. An Austrian lady I have come to like and respect once pulled me up after I not-so-obviously questioned her opinion about something, and said “Oh you English – you say things without saying them”. She was right – we do.
After saying my goodbyes yesterday afternoon, I picked my way through the back streets of Leeds towards the railway station. Thankfully my ticket wasn’t for a specific train, so I jumped on the first train towards London.
On the way home I watched the movie “The Big Short” – the dramatised movie about the Sub-Prime housing collapse in the US back in 2007 – the beginning of the worldwide series of bank failures, and the lone fund managers that realised what was going to happen. It’s a fascinating movie, and really quite unconventional. In order to describe the various technicalities of the money markets, the movie switches to various well known celebrities here and there – including a hilarious scene where Margot Robbie (of Harley Quinn fame) explains what a “sub-prime” is while sitting in the bath of a penthouse apartment. After explaining, she turns back to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and shouts “NOW FUCK OFF!”. It was one of those moments where you’re watching something in public, and you’re aware you might have just snorted out loud.
The movie took me all the way back to Kings Cross station in London – which was it’s usual idiotic self – with a sea of people flowing in all directions – all walking into each other like headless chickens. I escaped the masses, ran across the paved area outside, and vanished into the Underground – re-appearing at Paddington perhaps twenty minutes later.
I love Paddington railway station. I always have. I’m not sure if it’s because “Paddington Bear” is named after the station, because I loved the Paddington books when I was young, or because I spent two years of my life commuting through it every week-day. It’s funny – although I think of those days as being in the recent past, they’re not any more. It’s been 11 years since I was sub-contracted into the city. I sometimes wonder what happened to the group of people I worked with – where they might be now.
A curious thing happened on the train towards home. As we rolled from Paddington the carriages were filled to the gunnels with commuters heading away from the city. Station by station lots of people got off the train, but very few got back on – meaning that by the time I got off there were perhaps ten people left on the entire train. It was slightly surreal – stepping from an empty carriage out into the night air at Maidenhead.
While dragging my suitcase along the platform behind me, my phone buzzed. My other half.
“We’re watching your progress on ‘Find my iPhone’!”
“Yes – your next train is at 18:48”
I grinned, put my phone in my pocket, and made my way through the station to the appropriate platform to continue my homeward journey – wondering if I was still being watched.
I got home about half an hour later – opening the door, and quietly making my way back into the house. Within minutes I had been scalded for washing up, putting things away, unloading the washing machine, and re-loading it with clothes from my suitcase. Apparently I needed to sit down and relax for a bit.
I’m not very good at sitting down and relaxing for a bit.