I was born in West London in the mid 80’s. Okay, maybe early 80’s. A year earlier my father in his infinite wisdom and foresight had managed to scrape together enough money to obtain a mortgage on a small, two bedroom flat in Notting Hill. Back then Notting Hill or Pembridge Gardens to be more specific was nothing like it is today. Nowadays, a trendy upmarket area, famous for its cool bars and one cheesy Hugh Grant film. A haven for city slickers and celebs of varying caliber, it was, back then, much less desirable that it is today and was so run down that my granddad had originally addressed the Christmas cards to Bayswater because it sounded “more upmarket.”
I no longer live in W2. I moved out of the area in my late teens. This seems to be quite common due to booming (and I mean ridiculously high) house prices which have resulted in regular folk like myself having to move slightly further out in order to find a place of my own. I now reside in Windsor, Berkshire. I miss living in West London but Windsor is a beautiful town and every day I take the short train ride into Paddington to the office.
Now this is not an autobiography. I wouldn’t suppose for a minute that you would have the slightest interest in who I am or where I live. I am almost bored writing it, and it’s me. I suppose I am sharing this because it was in my early years that I realised how influential the way you looked contributed to the way the rest of the world perceived you.
You see I use to go to a school situated in Sloane Square. This involved a quick 5 stop tube ride every morning on the ever unreliable circle line. I remember running down the steps into the station, my hair still wet from where I had plied it full of wet-look gel, trying to keep my perfectly quaffed curtains or middle parting in place (it was the 90’s). Squeezing through the throngs of city workers and tourists making my way through the barriers with my monthly child pass and scrambling down the stairs, eventually arriving at platform 1 where inevitably I would be met by a system informing me of a delay or cancellation which would ultimately render all of my rushing about pointless.
Whether it was waiting for my tube or sitting on the metaphorically apt sardine tin, I was always intrigued by the people around me. Anyone who lives or works in the capital uses public transport to get around. Driving is pointless and the result is a complex mix of individuals squeezed way too close to each other on a daily basis. Regardless of wealth, age or background, the public transport system is the one common denominator when it comes to those experiencing life in the city. Certainly getting the tube every day will ensure, and I’m sure anyone who travels in London on a regular basis will testify, interaction on some level between yourself and a varied selection of the human population.
I would sit there every morning, trying to keep my eyes open (I never have been a morning person) against the slow maternal rocking of the carriage and to help keep myself awake I invented a game. This game which I would play alone inside of my own head involved looking at the individuals around me and trying to figure out who they were. I would use my Sherlock type skills to assess all the information presented by the individual huddled by the door or sitting next to me. It was the complete opposite of not judging a book by its cover. I was of course completely judging everyone specifically by their covers but as long as it was being kept to myself and ensured I stayed awake until I reached my destination, I felt that no offence was being caused…
To this day I can remember a few of the regular characters that I shared this journey with. There was Sad Sue for example. In her early thirties I would hazard a guess, she would get on at High Street Kensington every morning, squeezing onto the train with her trusty holdall like bad. You know the bag on wheels that you carry onto the aeroplane although I reckoned that she hadn’t been on one for a while. She was always wearing a slightly worn grey suit and on her feet flat shoes. Her hair was always wet and she had a fringe which always covered her eyes from where it had overgrown. A seemingly quiet and timid character I never saw her look up until she got off the stop before mine where she would, again squeeze out, apologising profusely whilst upsetting the other commuters in the ungracious manner of her exit.
I got the impression that she was a very busy lady, constantly rushing from here and there, the sort of person who would feel that they never had enough hours in the day. I don’t know why but I imagined she lived alone apart from a cat called Eamonn or a couple of fish probably named Anthea and Lorraine respectively. A couple of times I smiled at her but whether she didn’t notice or something it was never returned.
Party Animal Dave
Party Animal Dave would always get on at my station. His outfit of choice was usually stone washed denim jeans and some sort of sports jumper embossed with either the Gap or if feeling fancy, Calvin Klein logo. Surprisingly clean white converse trainers on his feet and without fail a woolly hat regardless of temperature, which always made me wonder if he had a brilliant head of hair or was completely bald. To me, he seemed like a happy, contented sort of bloke. Sometimes we would stand together on the platform waiting for our vessel to arrive whilst he hummed along to some form of upbeat music pumping from his headphones which were connected to a battered Walkman stuffed into his pocket. At first I didn’t like him. I don’t like anyone who has that sort of energy first thing in the morning.
I certainly didn’t appreciate having to listen to Robin S’s Show Me Love or Baby D’s Let Me Be Your Fantasy whilst he chewed his gum like an irate football manager at half past seven in the morning. Over time though I grew use to this unofficial travelling companion. A grudging respect developed for the unwavering positivity and contentment that Party Animal Dave emitted day in day out. I imagined he was out enjoying a few pints with his friends every night, averagely acquiring about four hours of sleep before heading off to work at his mates second-hand music store or amusement arcade. Unlike Sad Sue he would often smile or nod a subtle hello in my direction and I actually ended up disappointed if there ever was a day that I wouldn’t see him.
There were many many more characters to whom I attached complex and diverse backgrounds and futures. Smelly Steve with the cigarette addiction, Nanny Norma with the annoyingly loud kids who she clearly hated and Grandfather Gerald who always slept opposite me allowing no trace of visible life until his stop where he would spring up like a jack in a box and casually depart leaving me startled yet revealed.
The Peoples Champ
There was however, a certain gentleman who would join my train at Gloucester Road who I always looked forward to seeing. I named him The Peoples Champ…. I don’t know why I gave him such an unoriginal and cringy name but it just seemed to suit him so well. He was always in an immaculate suit which fitted to perfection. And he didn’t just have the one. One day it would be a beautiful pinstripe dark blue and the next day a double-breasted grey might be on display. Dazzling black patent shoes or classic Oxfords in a number of different colours would be worn. A crisp white shirt with a powerful, bold tie kept in place with a classy tie bar and always complimented with a silk pocket square. The aura that this gentleman emitted was almost tangible. He would always be one of the last entries at his stop after letting the others fight like gladiators in their eagerness to board.
Once he had calmly stepped onto the carriage he would stand by the door with an expensive looking leather briefcase in his right hand and the Financial Times clutched in his right. Standing there he radiated confidence and despite the carriage always being close to bursting point there always seemed to be an invisible barrier between himself and the other commuters who subsequently huddled together completely forgoing any thoughts of personal space or barriers. There was a unified respect shown for this man which I put down simply to the way he looked. I would secretly watch him standing there in his exquisite suit, totally calm and collected and wonder what sort of multi million pound deals he might make that day. I fantasied that he had a grand, top floor office somewhere in the West End where he would make important financial decisions of which I would have zero understanding of. Although too young to be the owner of the company I was almost certain that he was on first name basis with his superiors.
Potentially engaging in a spot of tennis or golf with his CEO or MD on the weekends who I guessed addressed him as Sport or Champ. The really unusual aspect about this man was that despite the power and confidence on display there was no suggestion of arrogance or superiority. Always offering a warm smile or respectful nod he acted with a politeness and graciousness which befitted a true gentleman. I even remember one spring morning when he helped Granddad Graham who struggling with a handful of official looking papers had managed to drop half a pile onto the floor. Without hesitation or any sign of annoyance, Champ helpfully picked up the fallen papers and with a smile handed them back to a grateful albeit surprised Graham who was obviously taken aback from this act of kindness that is so rarely seen between strangers on the underground.
This man was what I now attribute to being my inspiration. The way he looked and acted was so engaging that I realised who it was I wanted to be. He was the top of the leader board of my guessing game. The Pangani Huayra of the Top Gear lap or the Usain Bolt of the track, it was hard to dismiss that this was a guy at the top of his game and subsequently winning at life.
Now I know that for all of my deductive logic I was most likely completely wrong. Sad Sue could have quite easily been the happiest lady on the entire tube. Party Animal Dave was possibly a cool graphic designer getting at least the recommended and healthy seven hours sleep a night. Equally although it still pains me to consider, The Peoples Champ could have had a serious drinking problem possibly brought about as a reaction towards a stressful dead-end job which he hated every second of.
It is of course all about perceptions. I was looking at these individuals and making a decision based purely on the way they looked and acted. It is something that as I have grown and matured learnt to be wary of. The way someone looks has of course no real bearing of who someone is as a person. Bill Gates or Roman Abramovich both multimillionaires who look like they follow Party Animal Daves dress code. Equally I have met many well-dressed individuals who are conceited and arrogant, still living at home relying on their mothers to organise their washing and ironing. I am not in any way stating that the way you look is a true reflection of how happy, successful or you are.
However, I do feel that the way you look is the first most influencing factor to how you are perceived by the world around you. I am reminded of well-known expressions such as ‘Smile at the world and the world will smile back’, ‘you get what you give’ or ‘you reap what you sow’. These are all about receiving what you put out. I feel that if you are well dressed and act with confidence whilst conducting yourself in kind and polite manner you will be shown the respect that is needed to achieve whatever it is you aim for. Present yourself as the way you want to be perceived. First impressions are made within the first seven seconds, you want to make sure you are giving the right message right from the start.
Whether we like to admit it or not we all play the guessing game. It’s not just 14 yr old’s on the way to school. It is the job interviewer, the skeptical investor or even the attractive blonde you sit next to every day. The way you look speaks volumes about each and every one of us without uttering a single word. I’d like to think my style is saying the right things.