Observations of a nosy commuter

There is a curmudgeonly cleaner who works in the train station I travel through in my daily commute. I think he really hates his job. Every single minute of it.

He reminds me of a landscape gardener I met a few years ago. She told me she absolutely loved working with plants every day.

“Plants are amazing. I mean, I quite like people, but I don’t think I could eat a whole one.”

I think the cleaner could do without commuters all together. He usually stands at the top of the stairs, leans on his broom and glares at us. Every single morning. Around Christmas time, he yelled a Christmas carol sarcastically at us:

“Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin’s f***ing gone away…”

I guess he wished we were all Robin.

Angry-singing-shouting in the mornings aside, my evening commutes during the festive season offered plenty of silly-season observations. I like to call the late trains the ‘smelly food trains’. It seems the more alcohol you consume, the smellier the food you have to eat. And it follows that the funnier you think you are, the louder you have to laugh.

On a late journey home, I got on a tube in the middle of an office Christmas party. I ended up standing between co-workers singing Christmas carols loudly and badly, testing out their stand-up comedy and cheering everyone who got on or off the tube.

When I got cheered off the tube, I saw a herd of people dressed as ‘Wally’, and looking desperate not to be asked yet again, “Where’s Wally?” A group of elves danced with a busker, while a couple sat on the platform, gripped in deep and intense conversation over a fun pack of fast food. Another guy sat on his own, chuckling away to himself.

I walked through the station behind a guy who had a length of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe, and passed a number of random sad Santas seated around the station. A red-cheeked guy clutched his polystyrene cup of coffee like it was the holy grail, and looked like he was about to weep.

I boarded my train and sat opposite a guy who had walked on to the train, chatting on his phone with his eyes completely shut. Another next to me had spilt curry all down the front of his shirt, and a young woman was marching down the platform looking for a good seat with ‘no riffraff’.

On a more recent late train, we watched a woman sitting near us try to rouse her partner from a deep, alcohol-induced sleep. Each time she spoke to him, he stirred and responded with, “Egngchchlgkljg.”

She pinched his nose, she tapped his face, she punched his leg. He continued to sleep and make no sense. Occasionally he’d stir enough to tell her to go away. Or words to that effect.

Eventually she succeeded in getting him to his feet. As he stood, he spotted us. He wobbled over to us and apologised for ‘being rude’, before being frog-marched off the train by his long-suffering partner.

I wonder if he works as a cleaner?

Sunshine signing off for today.

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Riding in buses with people

I commute to work by bus every day. I take a ten-minute walk to my stop, hop on my favoured ride, and sit among the good and the great, the quiet and the noisy. Usually I catch up on texting my friends or family, or I read my book. Sometimes I sit and listen. Other times I just sit.

Last week, the American President paid an official state visit to these shores. Barack and Michelle Obama were welcomed by both Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister, David Cameron. In the midst of the pomp and ceremony and formality, David and Barack went to visit a south London school to play table tennis. And to meet the schoolchildren. Apparently the area was a no-go zone for most of the day, as security measures ensured the safety of the two highly competitive table tennis players.

The day after this school visit, which was splashed across all national and international media, I travelled on the bus with a bunch of schoolchildren who were clearly part-time political commentators.

“You know they went to that school, yeah? They chose that school, right, because them kids, yeah, they’s well bad, right? So they went to that school to make them good, innit?”

I hope they were successful.

So these are the things I observe as I ride in buses with people:

1. Some people bash everyone’s heads with their bags as they walk up or down the aisle of the bus. It looks like they have either a small washing machine, or an old-fashioned television set in the bags they carry on their shoulders and, systematically, they will bash the head of each person sitting on an aisle seat on their route. I am not sure how many points you get for a whole row of commuters, but there must be some high-fiving happening somewhere.

2. Some people like to take up two seats on the their own. They will sit on one seat and their bag on the other. (See above.)

3. Some people who travel with their friends or partners or spouses, love to speak loudly and sometimes to argue. I sat on the bus once listening to a young couple argue for forty minutes about the same subject. When eventually I got to my stop, I was tempted to say, “For goodness sake, do the freaking exam tomorrow. He has a point – you’ve got nothing to lose.”

4. Some commuters are very British. And others aren’t. One morning, as I walked up the stairs to the upper deck of the bus, I heard a young man seated at the back of the bus having a conversation on his cell phone. Clearly, he didn’t need a phone; I think his friend would have heard him from Edinburgh. He finished his conversation, and then began to strike up a conversation with the guy who had sat down beside him. I thought it was an entirely one-way conversation because all I heard was the young guy, at the same number of decibels as his phone conversation, tell his neighbour about what had happened on the bus the night before. After a polite pause, his new friend said to him, “Would you mind calming down, please?”

5. Some people don’t mind having inappropriate conversations that everyone on the bus can hear. One evening, I was joined by a chubby and jovial young man who came to sit next to me. He was already having a conversation on his cell phone, which he continued at full voice for the entire journey. As hard as I tried to concentrate on reading my book, I couldn’t focus for the incessant yabbering from my neighbour. My book was much more interesting than the fact that he argued with his partner for three hours on Monday night because, as he was ironing, he forgot to tell her when Glee came on television.

6. Some people are fruit murderers. The other day, I sat near a guy who wasn’t so much eating an apple, as beating it to death between his tongue and the roof of his mouth. Loudly.

Despite how it may sound, I do love travelling to work by bus. I have a scenic walk along the docks, the river and then a treed walkway to my bus stop. And it is fun getting to know some familiar faces who catch the bus at the same time as I do. Once I’m on the bus, I make sure I don’t forget to look up at the regular sights that we pass, like the occasional uninterrupted view of the River Thames, and the view of Tower Bridge. Mostly I sit there and feel thankful for my job and for this opportunity to live in London.

On the odd occasion – and thankfully this doesn’t happen too often – the journey can be quite different. Once, I planned an entire tantrum in my mind. I had no intention of acting on it, but the process of imagining turned out to be just what I needed. Let me explain …

One day a few weeks ago, I’d had a really full and busy day at work, and I got on the bus feeling quite tired and wearing the hair-shirt of grumpiness. I was trying, unsuccessfully, to send a text message to my husband; traffic was bad; our bus sat in one of the railway tunnels for ages; a young couple was arguing non-stop and a Spanish couple were shouting at each other (I don’t think they were arguing, just trying to get themselves heard above the arguers). In my mind, I imagined the following: flinging my head dramatically into my lap, grabbing my hair with both hands and doing a screen-worthy “aaaargghhhhh!” Once that had got everyone’s attention, I imagined myself storming down the aisle – telling the young couple to “sort this out, one way or the other, for the love of London!”. (I actually thought that.) As I stormed down the aisle, I would also be bashing everyone’s heads with my bag – not on purpose, but just because I had a big bag over my shoulder – and swearing like a pirate at the bus driver for the traffic, before demanding he let me off the bus.

It felt quite satisfying to imagine that drama in my mind, until I remembered that that very morning, I had prayed that God would use me to extend His kingdom in whatever I did that day. Major fail. That made me smile and it loosened the grumpy shirt that I’d been wearing. I breathed deeply, I tried to remember the true meaning of tolerance and chuckled as I stepped off the bus, quietly, at the next stop. I didn’t even touch my hair.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Afrikaans in English

There’s little that should surprise me in this heaving world city that is London. But hearing a Middle Eastern man testing out his Afrikaans on me in central London certainly made me smile.

I bought myself a new handbag last week. Carrying around a postage-stamp-sized bag just so I don’t have to take my Oyster card (London Transport travel card) out of my bag to ‘tap in’ every time I travel on the bus or the tube (the card reader can read my card through my bag), had long since lost its novelty. I needed to carry a bag that could hold more than my Oyster card, glasses, cell phone and one pound.

So I went to our local shopping centre and found a bag I wished to buy. The vendor told me the price and duly closed the sale. As he handed me my change (which I could now fit into the new handbag), he looked at me sideways and said, “South African?”

I assume he recognised my nationality from my accent. Not from the cheapness of my purchase. I smiled and nodded.

“Buy a donkey!” he said.

He then stepped back and beamed with pride like he’d just performed a magic trick.

I nodded and smiled my super impressed-ness to him, decided against saying something back to him in Afrikaans because that would have just been awkward, and walked away, smiling.

For my non-South African friends, baie dankie, which can, to an English ear, sound like buy a donkey means thank you very much. It was a very sweet interaction.

Travelling home on the bus the other day, I eavesdropped in Afrikaans. The guy sitting next to me had a long and detailed catch-up, in Afrikaans, with his friend on the other side of the aisle. I think I might have leaned over to listen more closely to what they were saying and I might have asked them to repeat a few words that I hadn’t heard properly. Apart from that I think they were oblivious to my nosiness.

One asked the other how his wife was and when his baby was due. (I’ve heard many a South African say the other one asked the other one, but that’s a story for another day.) He replied that the baby was due on Sunday, and his friend said,

“Ag, foeitog.”

It’s not the kind of expression you can translate easily. It could mean oh dear, how unfortunate or alas. In this context, I would say it means “Ah, shame” or “Ah, cute”. But you would never hear any men speak like that to each other in English. Some words just cannot be translated.

Shame is a word that is used in an interesting way in southern Africa. I could look at your new baby and say, “Ah, shame.”

Before you rush off to the paediatrician for a full assessment, you would need to know that what I’m really saying is, “Your baby is really cute/gorgeous/pretty/bonny/handsome/so small/so chubby/looks just like you/clearly the child of the milkman”. You can choose. But know that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your little one.

The appropriate response would be for you to smile and say, “Buy a donkey”.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Sights and Sports

I couldn’t have imagined it happening, but just over a week into my new job and I have another memory to throw into our red box. I’ve also seen a few sights I’ve not seen before, and overheard a conversation that enlightened me about the expressions of young love. As far as first weeks at work go, this one’s been pretty good, thank you.

A tiger in a tree in south east London

I can’t get enough of the fact that I work so close to the River Thames. Any opportunity I get, I take myself down to the water and walk and walk and watch and enthuse. Last Monday lunchtime we launched our walking club from the office: we walked down to the river, walked over the London Millennium Footbridge towards St Paul’s Cathedral, and then walked along the far side of the river as far as Blackfriars Bridge and back to our office.

Bright blue sky and weak sunshine provided a perfect backdrop for the walk. I couldn’t stop looking all around me, soaking in everything that makes London such an amazing place to be. City workers in dark suits sat dotted on benches all along the edge of the river; some eating sandwiches, some reading newspapers, some just sitting and thinking. Runners paced past us in both directions, and tourists were everywhere with cameras in hand capturing the London-ness of the day.

Seated on one of the benches was a musician playing a didgeridoo. I so wished I’d had my camera with me to document such a unique sight – I’ve seen a didgeridoo player in a tube station before, but never out in the waterside sunshine. I was riveted.

Another day I walked the other way along the river, and sat in front of The Globe (Shakespeare theatre) to eat my lunch. I was surrounded by tourists, office workers and schoolchildren all out to enjoy an outing in the chilly sunshine. I walked past a group of primary schoolchildren seated on the riverside wall, with pencils and sketch pads in hand, and they were all drawing pictures of the Globe Theatre. I then walked past a headless statue that was attracting much photographic attention, and many foreign students gathering together to visit the Tate Modern art gallery.

I wrote last week about the conversation I overheard on the bus, and I continue to hear funny things said on the buses almost every day. I enjoy the commute as I have not only a stunning walk to my bus stop, but the ride gives me an opportunity to read, although when I hear something that fascinates me I find it hard to concentrate on my literature. I have just finished Bridget Jones’ Diary, so my eavesdropping has occasionally taken a back seat!

On Thursday, I volunteered at a big fundraising event organised by the charity I work for. They run a calendar full of such fundraising events, and this was their inaugural Sports Quiz evening held at world-famous cricket ground, Lord’s. It was a black tie event, and the draw card for the evening was the presence of a number of British sports celebrities, including cricketers, rugby players, athletes, swimmers, a famous sports broadcaster and a certain Scottish manager of one of the most successful premier league football sides in Europe.

My colleagues were surprised that I had volunteered to help at an event in my first week! Perhaps they don’t know that I suffer from a hereditary condition known as FOMO (fear of missing out) and I am mad about sports. Put those two together, and you literally couldn’t keep me away from Thursday night’s event!

It was such fun and it so didn’t feel like work; the hardest part was running around in a little black dress and high heels. The former England rugby player who hosted the evening and ran the auction was brilliant – so funny and entertaining, it was like being at a comedy show; his banter with fellow sportsmen was fabulous and so well received.

I listened and laughed and watched and took in as much as I could as I ran in and out of the function room and did what I was told to do. I loved every minute of the evening, and was glad to share a cab ride home just after midnight. My aching feet were relieved of another walk to the tube station.

So, seeing a tiger in a tree on our walk to church this morning was nothing too out of the ordinary. We’ve come to expect the unexpected in London; it’s constantly filled with surprises and as for this week, it was good. Really good.

Sunshine signing off for today!

TMI and the Art of Eavesdropping

(via shoeboxblog.com) Sometimes I hear and sometimes I listen.

There’s much you can overhear on a daily commute in London. It’s rare that you learn anything much, other than what someone is planning to have for supper, or how trashed they are planning to get at the pub tonight, or how much they hate their snooty colleague. Today, however, I learned something about how relationships develop. When you’re 11.

On the bus home this evening, I sat behind a bunch of primary school children, all dressed in their uniforms, and aged about 11. They sat and giggled at fellow commuters, exchanged insults with each other and kept a commentary running until they alighted at their stops. As much as I wanted to ignore what they were saying, I couldn’t help hearing and then I began to listen.

(Hello, everyone, my name is Sunshine and I’m an eavesdropper.)

The lone boy in the group said to one of his friends:
“So, bruv, did you see me kiss her, yeah?”

“Yeah, like I was so surprised, yeah? I thought, he’s doing it near a window and, like, everyone’s going to see, innit?”

“Yeah, but you know there’s like a trampoline next to the building, with a wall next to it, yeah? Well, like, that’s where I done it.”

“Yeah.”

“So, you know the longest it’s taken me to kiss a girl, bruv?”

“Yeah? How long?”

“Well, this girl who was, like, my first girlfriend, yeah? Well, you know how long it took me, right? Two years.”

“Whoa. That’s insane. I’m so bad because it takes me, like, two days, yeah?”

“Whoa. But that girl, yeah, I just hate her now. I hate her, bruv. You know I like kissed her and all, and then she’s like telling everyone, yeah, that I’m such a *****, innit.”

“Yeah, that happens sometimes.”

“So, you know what I normally do, right? I go, like, kiss kiss and then I, like, snog snog snog. Yeah?”

Doing a Beyoncé move of the neck from side to side, and waggling an index finger in his general direction, his friend said,
“Too. Much. Information. Yeah?”

And so ended the conversation. You’re probably thinking this post is too much information (TMI), yeah, but I thought you might, like, learn something from it. Innit? No, I didn’t either. Yeah?

Sunshine signing off for today!

The Fun of the Commute

(This is a re-post of the second post that I wrote, and one of the main reasons I started blogging!)

If all the world’s a stage, then London public transport is scriptwriter’s paradise. And absolute bliss for a new blogger like me.

From overhearing an animated conversation among a group of priests – yes, as you guessed, they were talking at length and with passion about “Alice in Wonderland in 3D” – to watching a group of overweight, under-talented and slightly less than sober commuters pole dance on the Jubilee line, I’ve observed enough dramas, soap operas, musicals and scary movies on the tubes, trains and buses, to write a library-full of books. And I’m still watching.

A while back I was sat on the tube, waiting to go home at the end of a busy work day (yes, I did have a job then!), when the crowded carriage of Friday commuters was interrupted by the arrival of a young, fresh-faced woman, who ran on the tube in a fashion reminiscent of Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”.

She literally ran into the tube, her face filled with awe and wonder and amazement; she ran this way, she ran that way, she looked up, she looked down, and then, when all foreign eyes were upon her (local commuters generally don’t look up), she slinked over to the end of the carriage and stood at the window, facing the next compartment.

She opened the window, put her iPod earphones in place, and began to sing at full volume. I thought she was serenading a friend in the next door carriage, but it seemed she was singing for whoever would listen. Occasionally she sounded like someone singing through headphones, at other times like someone auditioning for a reality TV show, but mostly she was singing for the amusement of the commuters in both carriages.

The tube stopped at the next station, and who should walk into our carriage but a busker! Complete with guitar, and skirt made from a Union Jack flag … which wouldn’t be so bad if the busker were female. However, he introduced himself and said he wanted to entertain the evening commuters, asking for 10p per song, and promising he wouldn’t use the money for drink or drugs,
“Although,” he added, “it is Friday, so who knows?”

As he began to sing “Satisfaction”, a song he told us he wrote with Mick Jagger, the giggles of my fellow commuters could no longer be stifled. One person asked where the cameras were, and if the guitarist and “Julie Andrews” were taking the mick. Our in-carriage drama queen said,
“Oh, no. He’s a professional singer. I’m just annoying.”
No kidding?

The busker sang a few songs, walked down the carriage and, while he attracted very little funding to feed his habit, he did attract much mobile phone video attention. He walked down the carriage, singing enthusiastically and occasionally in tune. Miss Sound of Music watched in melodramatic anticipation of his next song, as he jumped off the tube at the next stop.

As the tube moved on, Miss Musical discovered, to her hair-grabbing horror, that she was travelling in the “wrong direction”. Thinking and agonizing out loud, she walked this way and that as she decided what to do about this increasingly tragic situation. After many dramatic utterances of  “OMG!” she alighted at the next tube station, amid flutters of giggles and chatter on the tube, and cynical echoes of her words. It was the first time I saw unity among commuters, albeit at the expense of a would-be dramatic actress and a drug-fuelled singer/songwriter.

And then there was the time I was waiting for my tube at my local station, when I noticed a fairly mousy, innocuous-looking middle-aged woman a little way down the platform from me. When the crammed tube arrived, the doors opened in front of her, and there was not one centimetre to spare; there was literally no way she could possibly consider climbing into that tube. Not even a hardened London commuter would have braved it.

But she was different. She launched herself headfirst on to the tube, only – after some jostling by the heaving mass of in-train commuters – to be spat out on to the platform like a mango pip. Undeterred, she gathered herself on the platform, turned around and forced her way backwards into the tube. She leant back at an acute angle to ensure the doors wouldn’t close on her, and off she went, leaving commuters on the platform open-mouthed, amazed and perplexed at her dogged and surprising determination.

Another time, I noticed on my crowded tube that one of the commuters was travelling on a different tube from everyone else. His tube was much bouncier than the one the rest of us were travelling on, and every so often his went over a particularly bumpy patch. No-one around him noticed, especially not the city suit next to him, who was moving and swaying to the rhythm of his personal entertainment centre, nor the chap nearby launching battle in a deadly game of snooker on his mobile phone.

It’s all there, folks – and I’ll keep telling you about it!

Sunshine signing off for today!

Minding My Language

Yesterday I travelled by train to an area south west of London. A young woman boarded the train a few stops after mine, and immediately made a call on her cell phone. I don’t think she needed the phone, she could have just shouted. Then she made a second call, and said this: “Hiya! You all right, love? Guess who died?”

I can’t imagine what response she got on the other end of the line. (I couldn’t hear because the callee didn’t shout.) The caller then said, “Only Doris, off Gavin and Stacey.”

I gathered she was a big fan of this romantic comedy that has now finished its run on BBC, and was sad that this dear actress had passed away. I did, however, find her method of sharing the news quite fascinating.

So that made me think that it was time for another post of talking forrin. If you’re new to my blog, this is something I write about from time to time: sharing new words and expressions that I hear here in the UK and words that I know from a lifetime in Zimbabwe and South Africa, that I know mean nothing over here.

Here are a few links to previous such posts: English as she is spokeSo this is where I learnt to speak funnyThis blog’s seriously going southDoes this make sense? I doubt; I’ll be there now now; Blogging is not pants;  Is that your new wife? Shame

I’ll start with English expressions I’ve heard:

  1. To get the hump: this means to go into a sulk, to get upset or fed up about something. I watched a quiz show the other day on the telly (as television is fondly known over here). When asked how she’d like to spend her prospective winnings, a contestant said she’d like to travel to Egypt to see the Pyramids and to ride a camel. (The programme was clearly filmed before the current events in Egypt.) Her adversary, who’d not been doing as well as he’d hoped, then said to her, “Well, love, sorry but you won’t be able to ride a camel.” “Why?” she asked. “Because I’ve got the hump,” he said.
  2. Flower. This is a term of endearment, used particularly in the north east of England, around Newcastle. A Geordie term, if you like. I travelled up to Newcastle for a conference last year, and I absolutely loved the city – it was such a beautiful surprise, and I’d love to travel there again when I can spend more than two days there. I am also mad about the Geordie accent. I went into a little newsagent in central Newcastle, and the shop owner said to me, “Can I help you, flower?” I immediately adored the expression and wanted to put her words and her accent into bottles and buy a dozen.
  3. Thick: this means dim or unintelligent. It is often accompanied by putting your tongue between your bottom teeth and your bottom lip and making monkey-type noises.
  4. Go on! This expression crosses the cultures, for me. Its use as I’ve heard it in England is quite different from its use by my Dad. In England, if someone is trying to persuade you to do something, and you’re hesitating and not quite sure whether or not you want to do it, and then decide you will, you’ll say, “Ok, go on!” By contrast, I grew up with my Dad saying this to me every time I’ve told him something that I find amazing.  “Hey Dad, the Springboks have just won the World Cup! Again!” He would say, “Go on!” which, in a slightly patronising way, means, “You don’t say?” or “Well, I never” or “Knock me over with a feather”.
  5. Gutted. This expression means cut up or distressed or extremely disappointed by something. So, for example, if your house burnt down and you lost all your possessions in the fire, you could well be completely gutted.
  6. Knickers in a knot. If you get yourself into an unnecessary panic about something, you could be getting your knickers in a knot.
  7. Faff: this verb means to waste time doing unimportant things while you’re supposed to be doing something important. It could take the form of procrastination, or it could be fiddling about doing things when you’re supposed to be going out. You can either faff or faff about. Either is annoying.
  8. All over the shop: this means everywhere or disorganised. For example, “He was trying to explain to me what happened, but his mind was all over the shop and I couldn’t follow what he was saying.” The equivalent expression I would use is all over the show.
  9. Argy bargy: argument, disagreement, fighting. For example, a sports commentator might say, if there is a potential fight on the field, “Ah, now there’s a bit of argy bargy going on there.”

And on to some of my words and sayings from Saffa:

  1. Naartjie (pronounced narchy): this is the term I would use for tangerine, Clementine, mandarin. It refers to any orange citrus fruit (apart from an orange) that has an easily-removable skin and is easily divided into segments (which I call skyfies, pronounced skayfies).
  2. Chaff (pronounced charf): this word also has a dual meaning, and is no longer really in common use. It can mean to chat up someone, or it can mean to stretch the truth. So, for example, a guy might meet a girl and, if he fancies her, he might chaff her. When I was at junior school, I remember reading our school magazine during one of my holidays. It was quite an honour to have your story or poem featured in the magazine, and I always read others’ writing with interest. I remember reading a story written by a girl who was a year younger than me, which would have made her about nine. It was a fantastic tale, that I was struggling to believe, but I persevered with it because, hey, it had been featured in the magazine. When I got to the end of her story, she had written “Chaff chaff.” (Which meant she had made up the entire story.) I was horrified.
  3. Ja (pronounced ya): this means yes.
  4. Is it? This is an expression of interest or surprise. Is that so? For example, someone might say to you, “There are terrible riots happening on the streets of Cairo right now.” You might respond by saying, “Is it?”
  5. Hanguva: this means very or a lot. For example, in London lately, it’s been hanguva cold.
  6. Stroppy: this means difficult, aggressive, uncooperative. For example, actor Russell Crowe sometimes gets stroppy with the paparazzi.
  7. Koppie: this means a small hill. There is a koppie in the middle of a park near where we live, and if you walk to the top of it, you get a great view over south east London.
  8. Dof: this means dim, or not very intelligent. (See thick above.) For example, if you can’t find something or don’t understand something, you might say, “Sorry for being dof, but I don’t know what you mean.” So it usually refers to a temporary state of mind, rather like having a brunette moment.

I hope this has expanded your vocabulary horizons somewhat, and I’d love to know some of the interesting words and expressions that you use at your ends of the stick. I won’t get the hump if you don’t, but I’d be hanguva interested to learn more words. Thanks for reading, flowers.

Sunshine signing off for today!