It's 18:24 on the 12th November 2014 and I’m at London Euston.
I’m standing as near to directly underneath the platform display boards as possible, whilst still being able to crane my neck upwards to spot the exact nanosecond the “-” in “Platform -” changes to a number. Experience tells me the number will be somewhere between 8 and 11 and I am positioned appropriately, perfectly even as the bronze statue of Matthew Flinders is touching my right shoulder, shielding me from the throbbing masses.
Thanks to an earlier signal failure at Leighton Buzzard, the 18:29 to Northampton is in serious danger of being late. As a result, the concourse closely resembles what I can only imagine an anti-anti-capitalist rally would look like and with every passing second, more bodies add to the throng.
Six inches to my right. Grey suit. White shirt. Blue tie. My Nemesis for today.
I know what he’s thinking - he’s thinking what I’m thinking. Or is he thinking that he knows what I’m thinking? So in reality, I’m thinking that he’s thinking that I’m thinking that I know what he’s thinking and now my head hurts.
Either way, we both have the same goal – door 4, front facing, double seat – and now it is very much on.
Around us gather thousands of monochromatic, frowning faces. Tightly packed, shoulders touching as though the 100% wool to 100% wool physical contact of their expertly tailored Saville row suits provides an emotional bond that somehow makes up for missing little Jimmy's first words.
Almost 49 years to the day since Gottleib’s famous anti-Vietnam war march on Washington DC (where, if my history serves me correctly, he was upstaged by a rousing, albeit largely unheard, oration from a Mr F. Gump). This mass of humanity stands here, commanded instead by the shiny bronze figure of, my new neighbour, Matty Flinders.
It's not a coincidence that Mr Flinders finds himself in this esteemed position of power. Having been heralded as the explorer who founded and named Australia, it is only right that such a great man be responsible for many others' expeditions to lands as far flung as Cheddington or even the fabled Long Buckby.
But wait, nameless traveller? Is that? Is that Jennyyou can hear and see? Rushing through the masses towards you. Promising to relieve some of the frustration caused by Jenkins from the "Digital & Technology" team (IT is such a passé title for a department these days) and his claims that the recessionary resource squeeze on his department has moved his bandwidth status to “DEFCON 2”, putting at risk the pre-stage gate 1 scoping exercise pivotal to the imminent execution of your most important, most bonus defining KPI?
No. Not Jenny. Butterworth. Maxwell Butterworth.
Maxwell Butterworth, Senior Vice President of JP Morgan's Forex derivatives trading division is a man who laughs in the face of convention. With his Ginola-esque wavy hair, light blue suit, salmon shirt and royal blue stripy (yes, stripy, for the love of God) tie would leave it totally forgivable for one to mistake his gaudy, non-conformist appearance for an ageing, fictional, female hippy.
But that doesn’t explain the voice. A deep, sultry female voice that somehow combines the silky smoothness of Galaxy chocolate with just a hint of gravel. You can feel the sexual tension in the air, particularly evident from the brokers and their thick pin-stripes as they begin beating their chests like a martini-infused Matthew McConaughey. It’s unsurprising, really, as this is the only semblance of female contact these alpha-males have had since Trixxxy provided the lunchtime entertainment for them and their most important Middle Eastern clients.
But there’s something more in that voice. Something monotone, digital even.
“The Train Now Arriving at Plat…”
Time slows to a crawl. 2,000 eyes dart up to the departure board in perfect unison and read the all-important number.
Blue tie and I instantly know that our dreams of optimal seating are over. Our eyes almost meet, in a taboo shattering display of madness. Almost, but we’re not that naïve and quickly refocus on the task in hand.
The herd of charcoal wildebeest explode into life, throwing more elbows than Fashanu in a Wimbledon kit as the pinstripes bellow the “Awooga!” war cry synonymous with the days when the aforementioned Fash had more of the speed, strength and heart to be a winner.
The surge is irresistible, ploughing through the filthy casuals in the queue for Upper Crust with unstoppable force on our way to the delayed London 18:29 Midland Service to Northampton now arriving on platform 13.
Then I spot him. A slightly taller Clint Howard doppelganger, blessed with the serious expression and horn-rimmed glasses that give him a much more academic and studious aura than his Hollywood counterpart. Clearly, he’s a slow disembarker from the neighbouring inbound train service, I spy him as he reaches the top of the ramp that leads down to the promised land of platform 13.
This man does not live in a world where physical and athletic prowess have been responsible for his survival to this point. I am willing to bet that his sleeveless green cardigan and blue checked shirt, coupled with baggy brown corduroy trousers is in no way hiding the body of a Greek Adonis underneath. I’m very was worried, panicked in fact at how this is going to turn out for him.
He stops. Frozen in place like the statue of the great Matty Flinders, just squishier. My pulse quickens and I quickly correct my course, anticipating the opportunity to securing a better seat on the train as many of those in front of me clatter into and subsequently trip over the unfortunate man’s lifeless corpse.
However, Instead of a bloodcurdling scream, cower of terror or even the passive-aggressive “excuse me” that would have formed my strategy were roles reversed, the strangest thing happened.
Instead, the man relaxes and stands up tall. He smiles. Actually cracks a smile, letting the crowds part around him. In this testosterone fuelled life-or-death environment of fight or flight this dude is Chilled. As. F*ck.
Looking back now, it was almost as though he was encased in a beam of light from the heavens – standing out through a colourful contrast of dirty green sweater vest against the charcoal suits backdrop. Almost immediately my shoulders relaxed, my pace slowed and I felt the unfamiliar feeling of the corners of mouth twitching upwards. This fraction of a second of simple humanity had shattered the bubble I had encased myself in. It and changed the way I saw the world at that moment, away from a place where the only thing that mattered was how to get home as quickly and angrily as possible.
Could this have been one of those pivotal moments in life? The ones that inspire you to start dreaming again, start writing again or change your whole outlook on the world?
At the time, I didn’t think that moment could have been any more poignant, but I was quickly proved wrong.
Out of his brown cords came his left hand. In his left hand was some kind of foil package. A 19g bag of Wotsits, the “multi-pack pack, not for resale” text clearly illustrating that this pack was no an impulse purchase but transported lovingly from home for just such an occasion.
Did this pioneer of social rebellion settle for your standard Wotsits? Would this man, one of the last true renegades of our times, conform to the “Cheesy Flavour” stereotype of the Wotsit paradigm?
Heck no. But you already knew that didn’t you?
The maroon accents of the pack quickly told me what I’m sure you’ve already worked out. This man dines only on Prawn Cocktail flavoured Wotsits. He scoffs at “Cheesy Flavour” and, in my mind, I am certain sure that his full confectionary repertoire consists only of BBQ Hula Hoops and Worcester Sauce Walkers – even Pickled Onion Monster Munch is too run of the mill for this man.
As I watched a second snack popped nonchalantly between his teeth, it dawned on me that this was more than just a fundamental shift in my outlook on life. It was more than a stark reminder that my view of the world had been muddied by the sheep around me.
This man was, and now is my hero. He gave the middle finger to the man and then commanded him to “swivel” via the medium of a well-placed fishy snack.