I was on the very busy train home. We were crammed in like sardines but I had managed to bag myself a good spot next to the door. This meant that not only was I the welcoming face of commuting for those embarking on the journey home, I was also in prime position to dash off as soon as the door opens at my station. It’s imperative that I reach my Grump Mobile as quickly as possible so as to not get caught in the queue of traffic attempting to leave the station car park.
I was stood there minding my own business and wondering who it was around me who was emitting the natural au de armpit fragrance. My instinct was telling me it was the young lady with the shocking fake tan.
Fake tan is something I’ve never understood. Surely it would be better to buy and apply creosote rather than fake tan? You see, the trouble with fake tan is that it’s… well… fake! Obviously fake. If you’ve plastered yourself in fake tan, everyone around knows that you’ve been trying to apply an even covering but instead look like you’ve gotten into a fight at a Dulux tester pot counter and lost to someone armed with Orange Mocha or whatever the colour is that you’ve rag rolled yourself in.
On the opposite side of the vestibule area, near the door on the other side of the carriage, were three guys in their early twenties. One of them was doing most of the talking. He was one of those guys who likes the attention he gets when his voice penetrates the silence of a small group of strangers in a confined space. He has an audience. We don’t want to be an audience but alas we are trapped and have no choice.
So he confidently cracks jokes and makes his friends laugh who remain more composed because they don’t really want the attention of complete strangers looking at them.
Then I hear him say to the other two, “Yo, have you seen dat show, Peaky Blinders?”
I knew immediately that he was referring to me.
Firstly we had just made eye contact and I could almost see the cogs working in his mind and his face change as he’s hit with a lightening bolt of inspiration. That, and because I was the only guy in the vicinity wearing a cap.
I am a bald man. Therefore, it goes without saying that I am a man of many hats. It’s what we do. We can’t have different hairstyles to change our appearance. We can’t decide to grow our hair, spike it, shape it, cut it or choose between a side parting, no parting or centre parting. We have always got a very large centre parting! So to change our style, we rely on accessorising. Hats are our accessory with practical benefits of maintaining warmth in the winter and protection from the sun in summer. All bases are covered.
Sure enough I was wearing a cap not too dissimilar to ones worn in the television show Peaky Blinders. With my black jacket on and shirt collar protruding from underneath the jacket layer, maybe I did appear to be Peaky Blinderesque.
The guy was obviously taking the piss. So how best to react to it? Ignore it? Acknowledge it? Metaphorically disembowel them with a verbal onslaught?
“Nah! I aint seen it!” replied one of his friends. “Why?”
Brilliant, the joke had been put out there. It could have just had a laugh and put straight to bed, but now it is being prolonged. It’s going to be left to linger on the air like au de armpit.
“Oh, it’s just dat I’ve see someone who looks like it like.” Yes, he said, “like it like.” Another friend of his craned his neck around like something out of the exorcist and looked in my direction.
So now I had to decide what to do. I couldn’t just ignore it, the reference was so loud that it was obvious. Any apparent lack of awareness of what had been said would be so obvious it would be embarrassing. No, best to tackle this head on. ‘Smile at them,’ I thought to myself. Not in a kind of cheeky, flirtatious smile you might send across a carriage to someone who catches your eye. (Something which I’ve never done by the way). No this was going to be a straightforward friendly knowing smile. A hypothetical tip of the cap to say, “Good one fellas. I know it’s a gag about me and I’m totally cool about that. I am so cool and confident in my own skin that I take no offense to your accurate observation.
I would gain their respect by demonstrating that I can laugh at myself. They’ll think I’m cool. Maybe they’ll want to “hang out” or whatever the on trend noun is for sitting in a skate park with a few bottles of cheap cider. I wouldn’t be hanging out with them though. They’re not the kind of people I would fraternise with.
So, to the guy who made the observation and the exorcist one, I nodded and smiled.
There, that’ll gain their respect. I have revealed myself to be a cool guy, up for a bit of banter.
But I haven’t. You see, I wear glasses and when I wear a cap with my glasses, sometimes when I move my face in a certain way, for example chewing or smiling, my glasses do something weird.
There I was smiling and nodding and appearing to float in front of my face are my glasses having lifted off my nose and hitting the underside of my cap’s peak. There the lenses hovered, vibrating slightly like a plucked guitar string in super slow motion. I resembled a cartoon character when the male lead sees an attractive female and their eyes pop out on storks. That was I. But this wasn’t a cartoon, there were no attractive females, just a handful of youths, a lingering joke aimed at me, au de armpit, my smile and my glasses floating out of control in front of my face.
I don’t think I gained any respect. But I was first out of the car park.