You know who makes me sick?
I'm all, like, 'Say thank you to bus drivers!' and 'Let's all just get temporary jobs and watch the world as it goes past and take photos of lost mittens on the pavement!'
But as it turns out, I'm actually an angry, unreasonable commuter bitch, just like everyone else.
Still, I've been punished for it and I've been reading lots of improving articles in women's magazines in an attempt to move forward, spiritually speaking. As an unexpected bonus, I've also found a recipe for a surpringly versatile savoury tart, which is brilliant for picnics and lunchboxes.
But I'm starting at the end, and if you ask me, that's no way to begin a story, even if you're at the chapter in your creative writing course entitled 'Breaking the rules'.
It's 6.30pm. I'm emerging from the hot squeeze of the tube, subconsciously racing my fellow commuters to get as far away from the tunnels as possible. It's a Monday. The most psychologically gruelling of all the days, apart from Tuesday and most of the other ones. It had been a tough day at the fashion magazine sub-editing coalface. Maybe you don't believe that such days exist, but let me tell you, names like Ermanno Scervino don't spell themselves.
I'm hot. I'm tired. I've spent the last 20 minutes in a kind of battery farm of germs, sweat and freaky breath smells. At this point, Jesus does not want me, or anyone using the underground network, as a sunbeam. Among the extremely important and difficult things on my mind are: I must buy a birthday gift for a friend. I'm a gift-giving kind of a girl. But in this instance, I'm an embarrassingly late kind of gift-giving girl. On my way to the mainline, overland station, the portal to the suburbs and their purer strains of air, I walk past an upmarket chocolate concession. OK, I think. I will stop here. I will decompress by browsing their upmarket delicacies, I will buy the present and maybe they will have some samples for me to eat. The proximity of praline and caramel will soothe me and then, who knows, maybe even feed me on the journey home. (Buy a present for someone, buy one for yourself – everyone knows that's how it works.)
(Incidentally, in train-food news: this evening, the woman next to me on the train ate a Marks & Spencer prawn salad, four mallow/chocolate 'teacakes', two foil-wrapped all-over-chocolate digestives and two chocolate/caramel wafer bars between London Bridge and Forest Hill, which is the point at which I got off the train. What is the largest amount of food you have seen anyone eat on a 13-minute train journey, readers?)
I turn into the concession. Peace. Let the chocolate meditation begin. But before I have so much as a single sandal over the threshold (it's an open-wall kind of an establishment, so the notion of threshold is purely a theoretical one but it is the PRINCIPLE OF THE THING), an over-officious assistant bellows in my ear, 'CAN I HELP YOU?', a terrifying mask of make-up looming towards me like a clown who has been crying over the demise of the circus arts on a really hot day.
'No, thank you. I'm just looking.' And also, BACK OFF. I'VE HARDLY WALKED THROUGH THE DOOR (again, 'door' purely a linguistic construct in this instance). Don't you know I want to be furtive and sullen and isolated until the point when I actually need some help, and then I want to be righteously incensed at the lack of customer service available? Where do you think this is, America?
I walk to a different part of the concession. It doesn't take long. It's pretty small.
I browse in untroubled bliss for about one second, until a shadow falls across me, and a voice says, 'Can I..'
I say this in a manner which I must, with an accuracy that pains me, describe as really bloody rude.
My second assailant whispers an apology and scurries away. I turn around to see that it is a meek, paunchy bespectacled man who looks about 14 rungs below Timothy Lumsden from Sorry! on the ladder of downtrodden. I feel terrible – so ashamed of my behaviour, in fact, that I leave the shop immediately. There is no reason why I should feel more remorse about Timothy Lumsden than I do about Melted Clown Face. Perhaps it was the startled-faun style of his retreat. Perhaps it is an unsettling matter of gender politics. Whatever. In a characteristic act of stereotyping, I imagined him in a back room somewhere, weeping over the staff basin while bingeing uncontrollably on an unfit-for-sale box of damaged violet creams.
So the next day, I resolve to go back and be unflinchingly pleasant and cheery. I would win him round with the Miss Jones who makes jokes with the binmen and says bless you when people sneeze. Yes, you're right, she is kind of annoying, but she gets on much better with shop assistants. I would buy the present. Maybe Timothy Lumsden is on commission, in which case I'll buy even more of his luxury chocolates and eat the extra myself, in an act of selfless reparation. Although, let's be honest, he probably won't even remember me. A fast and wide river of people runs past his shop every day. What's a single one to him?
I think he remembered me.
I return to the shop. He is there. No sign of Clown Face. My browsing is fresh and concerted. The shadow falls. Here he comes. Be nice, Jones. Be. Nice
'Can I help you at all?' he says.
'Oh no thanks. I'm just having a look at the moment,' I say, beaming. 'Thanks very much, though.'
'Oh, just having a look?' he says, with his sitcom nerviness. 'OK then. You're just having a look.' And off he goes.
Phew. I think it went OK.
But then, I hear his voice behind me as he approaches another browser. 'Would you like to try some chocolates?'
That is a remarkably direct way to get my attention. I turn around. Strip lighting bounces of a silver platter he's carrying, which is loaded up with FREE CHOCOLATE TO OFFER PEOPLE LOOKING AROUND THE SHOP.
I am looking around the shop. Offer me a chocolate. Go on. Offer me a chocolate.
Naturally, I can't say this. I am proud, and also on shaky terms vis-a-vis demanding free stuff from a man I was incredibly rude to the previous evening. I turn my back and aim hard for nonchalance.
'Would you like to try some chocolate?' he says to another drifter. They take some.
Offer me a chocolate, Lumsden. I am the only other person here. Seriously, offer me a bastard chocolate.
He does not.
I make my selection from the shelves. I think to myself that he's probably left the tray of chocolates out on the counter for people to help themselves. That's what they do in the Bromley branch. I'll get my free chocolate when I pay.
As I stand at the till brandishing my credit card, the silver tray is nowhere to be seen.
Like I said, I think he remembered me.
I hope he told Clown Face the next day and she put an extra sugar in his tea as a treat.
That reminds me of this:
38. QUEEN ELIZABETH OLYMPIC PARK, LONDON
7 months ago