Thursday, November 24, 2005

Greener grass?

A short story about a conversation overheard on the train.

Yesterday evening, I went into town to help A celebrate her birthday. A is a friend and work colleague who wouldn't ordinarily get a mention, if it weren't for the fact that a) it's her birthday and b) she's only just started reading this blog and I'd like to keep her keen. Anyway, she arranged a birthday get-together at a lovely bar/restaurant just minutes from our office. Perfect. What could be simpler? A day at the office followed by a post-work drink just steps from the front door.

The problem is that drinks on a school night are a little bit complicated for me. You see, I leave work at 2.30 in order to get back home in time to pick up Scrappino from school. Then, once I've helped him with his homework, given him his supper, run his bath and tidied up his toys, there is just 20 minutes left for a quick shower before the babysitter arrives. I then have to do a 360 degree about-turn, and make the journey back to the office to meet my colleagues for that post-work drink. As a result, I tend to spend most of the evening cursing my lot, questioning my life choices and swearing at the likes of Rachel Hunter and Liz Hurley ("Being a single mum is so empowering" - Empowering?? Is it buggery! It's an exhausting logistical nightmare).

Anyway, I digress. It was about 7.15 and I was traveling on the infamous Bedford to Brighton Thameslink service. It's the kind of train service that makes you want to look up the word 'service' in the dictionary, to see if it does actually mean shambolic fiasco. So I'm sitting on the train hoping that the fact that I rushed like a mad banshee to get into town on time isn't too obvious, and in the seats opposite me are a couple of young(ish) women traveling from Elstree back towards town. I knew they were coming from Elstree because that's where the BBC studios are and these two women were the epitome of tv/meeja types. They had that lazy boho style of dress that looks thrift store but actually costs a fortune. You know the kind of thing. The woolly hat with the ear flaps from Peru. The chunky silver rings on their middle fingers. The jeans with the skirt to the knees on top. And they had the conversation to match the style. They chatted away about various producers they'd worked with, the Christmas shows they'd been involved in, the foreign locations they'd be filming at this year.

And all the time I sat there, with damp hair (no time to dry it before I left), make up in my handbag (no time to apply it at home) and I thought about the pile of unread (but oh so dreary) emails that were waiting for me at work the following day. And I don't mind admitting I was just a tad jealous. I eavesdropped on their conversation, and all the time I was thinking to myself - I want their life. I want the easy chit-chat about production companies and the foreign location shoots and the TV scheduling meetings. And I want the journey home from work at 7.30 without having to factor in babysitters and homework.

Twenty minutes or so later we arrived at Kentish Town and one of the women got off the train. The other remained behind and as the train pulled away from the station she took out her phone and dialed a number. The conversation (of which I only heard half, obviously) went something like this:

"Hi. It's Mum. How was school?"
"Have you done your homework?"
"Well, when will you do the other half?"
"Okay, well make sure you do. Have you had your supper?"
"Good. Did you tidy up your room?"
"Well when are you going to do it?"
"Fine. I'll be home in about an hour"
"Okay. Bye"

And suddenly, I didn't feel so dreary single-mother with dead-end job. I didn't mind that I'd had to execute a plan of military precision in order to have one drink in a bar in town after work. Or that, however much I enjoy my job, it will never induce pangs of jealousy in eavesdropping commuters. In fact, I stopped wanting their life and started appreciating my own. Because even the glamorous Guardian readers with faux-Oxfam wardrobes and foreign location schedules have to worry about homework and kids' suppers and tidying bedrooms. Why would I want the life of some trendy media exec when it turns out our lives are not so different after all?


Anonymous PMC said...

In fact, she should be jealous of you! You get to pick Scrappino up from school and help him with his homework. She doesn't get home until 8.30!

2:15 pm  
Blogger Karl said...

And just imagine if you didnt overhear her conversation!
Its always the overheard half conversations which you learn most from. (especially on London Transport.)

2:01 am  
Blogger R.x said...

PMC - you are right. Wise words (as always)

Karl - too true. And I suppose London Transport has to have some positive benefits...

10:25 am  
Blogger MC Aryeh said...

A favorite platitude - you never know what goes on behind closed doors - has worked to keep jealousy at bay for me. Everyone has their problems and issues, and I would not want to trade mine for most. Foreign locations do sound nice, though...but not as good as getting to tuck your child in every night...

6:23 am  

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