Last night (around 6pm if you must know) I was enjoying the cool evening air (outside Aldgate Underground station) while waiting for a friend to arrive . Nothing unusual in that I’ll grant you. I lent back against the railings (that stop impetuous Londoners from rushing from the mouth of the tube and into oncoming traffic) idly jabbing at my cellphone with my thumb. In my periphery I spied a bulky suited object waddling toward me.
If you’ve never been to London you may not appreciate the strange sensation of concern that drapes over one when being approached by a stranger. People in London do no look at each other, let alone approach and talk. I’m sure I could walk naked through the financial district carelessly whirling my genitals before me and attract no significant attention. I’m not sure enough to have tested the theory, and nor am I inclined to take the risk. As a caveat I should tell you that my lack of nakedness in the city is not something I lament; although there’s always a chance there are others who may; as you're about to find out:
“Excuse me, do you have the time?” I looked up and was greeted by the slightly nervous visage of a gentleman for whom youth may be a distant memory, and retirement a swiftly approaching inevitability. The pedant deep within me wanted to inform this man that I did indeed ‘have’ the time, and cease all further communication until he asked me ‘what’ the time was. On this occasion my inner pedant did not have his say; the voice behind the ill-phrased question was of a Mediterranean lilt, and it is not kind to mock visitors to our fine country. While I have made it clear any interaction with fellow beings in our nation’s capital is unusual, on the rare occasions when a visitor from foreign climes (clearly unaware of the rules) makes contact it inevitable that initial greetings will be swiftly followed by a request for details of the current hour.
It is not my intention to tease you (my reader) with tales of what is usual in our city, and very soon you will find the conversation that follows far more entertaining. Enjoy this tale as it moves from the realm of the usual, to the depths of the unusual. I shall tease you no more, here for your pleasure is the exchange that took place between myself and my inquisitor after I had furnished him with the time:
“Are you Polish?” While not graced with a cut glass accent, or vocally bound by the obstacle of having a plum in ones mouth I do consider myself reasonably experienced in the use of the Queen’s English, so I replied that I was not Polish. This assumption that my ethnicity is Eastern European did not displease me in any way, in fact I was rather delighted – in a swirling metropolis racial ambiguity is no bad thing. People can make swift assumptions once they know on which rock your dear mother spat you forth. I try never to make such assumptions, but sometimes on very rare occasions the owner of origins other than your own can make a concerted effort to force these assumptions upon you.
We rejoin the conversation after I had answered that I was English, and he informed me that he was Greek. He asked me again if I was sure I wasn’t Polish; I informed him that I could only vouch for the last few generations of my lineage but yes, I was fairly sure I was English. This line of question bothered me a little – I no more chose to be English than I chose to have blue eyes.
“Are you married?” Okay, this was an odd thing for him to ask, but I guess he was also killing time outside the tube station and a friendly chat can make time spent in anonymous London a little more pleasant; so I acquiesced to his line of questioning,
“Yes, I have a wife.”
“Ah, me too, me too.” He drew up along side me as if he was about to confess to his part in some great conspiracy that would soon entangle me.
“Are you faithful to your wife?” Wow, things really were getting personal; but I found this Greek chap entertaining in a distracting sort of way. Before I could answer he registered the surprise in my face and changed tact,
“I am a doctor, I work here in the city. I very much like the English man.” Hang on; did he mean man in the ‘mankind/ humanity/ society’ sense or did he just tell me he likes men in a more intimate way? I tried to move the conversation along a new tangent; where he had failed I felt sure I would be victorious.
“So how long have you lived in England? Do your family live here with you?”
“Yes yes, my wife and two children live here,” he sighed and looked at his shoes,
“Now they live here.” There was a pause while we both watched a crowd of people spill out of the station from a newly arrived train.
“I still feel single sometimes, do you?”
“Sort of, I mean; I’m married - I’m not dead.”
“So you sometimes look at other people? Although of course you wouldn’t want your wife to find out – you wouldn’t want to hurt your marriage.” I had nothing to say, so he continued in fashion that came across as rehearsed.
“I am from Greece where things are very different to here in the UK – you are very relaxed.” By now I don’t think I was looking particularly relaxed, but I assume he meant as a nation.
“I didn’t lose my virginity till I was twenty three. They don’t let you do that in Greece, the Orthodox Church doesn’t let you have sex.” I wanted to ask him how they tried stopping people from having sex but he seemed to be gathering pace so I decided to stay silent and see where this odd conversation would take us.
“Same with homosexuals, in Greece they don’t like homosexuals, not like here in UK. It’s silly you know.” I said I didn’t.
“It’s silly because Greek man would rather go homo-sex.” I turned to face him but when he met my glance he swiftly turned away.
“Do you have homo friends?” I told him that indeed I do.
“Did you ever try homo-sex?” I answered quite truthfully that have no burden of curiosity.
“You never tried homo-sex before you were married?” I replied that no; it is not something I felt the need to experiment with.
“Of course you wouldn’t try now? Although your wife would never find out?” He met my glance and raised his eyebrows a little making clear that this was an offer more than it was a question.
It was at this point I decided I would wait inside the station for my friend. I was perfectly polite and shook hands with this middle aged Greek Doctor and bid him good day. I have to confess that as I walked away and disappeared into the bowels of Aldgate Underground Station three little words popped into my head – ‘still got it!’.
More at www.andrewlaws.com
Photo at top of page taken by 'Bobcat Rock' - http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobcatrock/2525131900/