Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Manningtree: a Beckettesque - Pinteresque on the 22:30

Finished the Magma gig, got the 10:30 train from Liverpool Street and lucky to find a table with no one to share it. Until about ten minutes in a youngish, quite smartly dressed man sits down opposite me. I remember seeing him run down the station concourse. His feet connect with mine briefly as he sits down.

Sorry, he says.

That's OK, I reply.

You'll probably find it very embarrassing, he says.

What? I ask

I haven't paid my fare, he says, adding, I'm drunk.

He is a little drunk, I can see that. Drunk but harmless. His face comical, animated. He looks faintly Jewish.

The inspector down there caught me, he continues. And the policeman. I was sitting in First Class. I thought there'd be less chance of being caught there. Sorry to be so embarrassing.

It's OK, I say. I'm not embarrassed.

Do you think I'll get a criminal record? he asks, concerned.

No, I assure him. No, you'll just have to pay the fare.

The policeman said to me, 'It's your kind that makes the rail fares go up'. That's unfair, isn't it?

I nod.

The policeman said, 'I knew as soon as I looked at you you hadn't paid the fare,' he frets. The policeman says he knew, he repeats

I'm so embarrassed, he repeats once more. He repeats everything. So embarrassed. My poor mother will be so ashamed of me.

The ticket collector and the railway policeman are approaching.

She'll be so embarrassed, he repeats.

Does she need to know? I ask, wondering why she has to find out.

So ashamed of me, he repeats, hanging his head.

Perhaps he lives with his mother so can't help her knowing.

Do you live with her? I ask.

No, he says. She's dead.

I'm not sure what to say after that. I can't say, 'In that case don't worry.' That sounds all wrong, so I don't say anything. He keeps worrying about his embarrassment, her embarrassment, my potential embarrassment. And he keeps worrying he's drunk. His speech is not slurred, his eyes are clear.

Where are you going? I ask.

To Mannningtree, he says. We're not there yet, are we?

No, I assure him.

The ticket collector and policeman turn up.

The man turns to the policeman and says: You knew didn't you?

Yes, I knew, says the policeman, adding, It's people like you that make the fares go up.

They move on but say they will be back.

He needn't have said that, need he? frets the man. Do you think I'll have a criminal record?

No, I assure him again.

You're very nice,
he says. Can I ask you a personal question?

Yes, I say.

Are you Jewish? he asks. I hope you don't mind me asking, he goes, you just seem so calm. And he shrugs in that Jewish way.

I am, I say to assure him.

I thought so, he says. You're so calm. It's a Jewish thing isn't it? Being so calm? My girlfriend is calm like that. She does that shoulder shrugging thing. But she's not Jewish.

Where is she? I ask. In Manningtree?

In California, he replies. That's the great thing about being Jewish, he adds. You're so calm.

I'm calm, I affirm.

I have no money, he says. Not till Friday.

What do you do? I ask. I quite like him. He is helpless and drunk and embarrassed.

I am a stand up comedian,
he says.

You live in Manningtree? I ask.

No, Harwich, he says.

So you have to get another train?


So you might have to go through this all over again?


And he explains how he was supposed to stay with his friend after the gig in London, but then his friend's girlfriend turned up and he couldn't stay the night and his friend, also drunk, wouldn't lend him the fare. So he had to get the train.

Good gig? I ask.

Good, he says. Though the others were probably better than me, he adds and names some of the other comics. Open mike, he explains. No pay.

Do you do anything else? I ask him.

I sell solar panels to people who don't need them. Are we at Manningtree yet? We haven't passed it have we?

The ticket collector, a very nice man with a sound sense of humour, returns and takes his details.

His only ID is his passport.

We talk in a repetitive sort of way for another twenty minutes till we approach Manningtree.

Manningtree next stop, announces the conductor's voice.

Good luck, I say.

He grasps my hand warmly. Sorry for boring you, he says. So embarrassing. You sure I won't have a criminal record?

You won't have a criminal record.

It's Manningtree. He gets out.


Unknown said...

Nice read, George. Check out mine: http://johnpmathew.blogspot.com.


caroama said...

Thanks George, this really made me smile

Gwil W said...

I enjoyed being the insect on luggage rack. A great exchange of dialogue. Wimbledon quality.

Rachel Fenton said...


Anonymous said...

For the depth of his regret and remorse, he should have been issued with a free single ticket to his destination (to be repaid of course, as soon as possible).

George S said...

Thank you, John. Have checked and will return.

Thank you generally.

I'm with you, looby - if only trains worked like that! I have been on a number where people haven't bought tickets - mainly young men who either go sheepish or get very bolshie. Or there are excuses. But this was a negotiated existential crisis, a kind of exemplary occasion.