Last Friday I was in London. London is a city I’ve never really liked. I’ve never really been able to put my finger on the reason why, but I suspect it’s something to do with the bustle and the pervading sense of grime and dirt. You can never quite escape the weight of all those people. A population of nearly eight million is something you can smell in the air and feel in the ground beneath your feet, it’s an ever present fact pushing down on you. The sense of unease and oppression I feel in London is likely rooted in my roots as a quaint country lad. Throughout my life the only cities I’ve had regular cause to visit have only had populations around the 250,000 mark, some 30 times less than that of our heaving metropoloid capital. The population density of London according to data from 2009 is 12,773 souls per square imperial mile. Do you know how that compares to my quaint northern homeland? It has a population density of 160 people per square mile. One hundred and sixty! It is perhaps no small wonder then that London puts me on edge and fills me with an unspoken bitterness. Perhaps there’s also a small current of paranoia there too, as if I think the Southrons are out to get me; Northmen do not really belong in such a place as Old London Town.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are areas of London which are wonderful. I, however, have never had much cause to stray from the tourist traps with their awful frippery or the intimidating, ganja stained warrens of Camden Town. Camden Town has held for me a special kind of terror, ever since, on a previous visit, a bald man came up behind me, hugged me and promptly asked me if I wished to purchase some cocaine. But there is one thing about London which I do like; London is a terribly interesting place. Since there are so many more people there, you are so much more likely to bump into the more unusual and fascinating aspects of humanity. I like the think that the more bizarre, unusual and singular members of the human race occupy a fixed percentage of any given population. Whereas in a place like the North that percentage may yield only a few solitary examples, perhaps not even a whole person, the burgeoning realm of London throws up so many more. So strictly speaking it’s only logical that you’ll see more of these unique specimens of humanity. I should make it clear that I’m not talking about figures like the drunken tramp at the bottom of your road who you see everyday shouting at squirrels, or threatening you with an unintelligible stream of what might have once been considered words in some far off distant past. I’m talking about those rare moments when you see something and you’re utterly entranced by the allure or the repulsion of what you’re seeing. Something which is fascinating.
I was treated to two such sightings on my most recent trip.
The first occurred as I was getting off the tube at Paddington Station, as I scanned the platform, hunting for the sign pointing to the stairs out. While standing and looking I saw a man. This man was dressed like a penis. An actual, literal penis. This is not a simile, nor an artistic device, the man was dressed like an actual penis. A dong. A cock. A willie. A todger. A schlong. Complete with, I might add, a set of large, peach coloured testicles. Such a sight could potentially have been passed off as a late-night anomaly, or drunken shenanigans. It was however, about 10:30 in the morning. To make this already unusual sight take a swift and reckless swerve into the realm of the surreal, the penis man promptly offered to help a lady carry her push chair (replete with small child) up the stairs to the exit. So he promptly crouched down and with one arm lifted the pushchair up the stairs, while with the other he hitched up his balls like the hem of a skirt.
The second sighting occurred on the tube I took to return from Paddington to King’s Cross later that same day. It took the form of something quite the polar opposite of Penis Man. It was one of those awkward commuter moments when you chance upon a little island of astounding beauty amidst the throng of mundanity. I saw a young lady standing in the middle of the carriage. She was wearing a black trench-coat and a fedora made of ivory coloured felt, with wispy strands of her blonde hair spilling out from the sides where they’d been tucked up underneath her hat. She had those high, slightly flattened cheekbones you see in those of Nordic stock. There was a strange serenity in the way she stood; calm and composed, yet alert and watchful. If I saw the world in black and white the scene would have been reminiscent of one of those old films from the 40s and 50s where people stood looking moody on station platforms at night, silhouetted against billowing clouds of smoke and steam. It was one of those images that burns its way into your brain, an image that you just know to be right.
I recall she had two phones. Part of me likes to think she was a secret agent.