It’s not often you find a place that brings all sorts of people together. People from every walk of life, from all backgrounds, people with all sorts of futures ahead of them. Think about it. Even in places like libraries, pubs, evening classes, school playgrounds, everyone there has something in common. Possibly the only democratic place these days is a transport hub. But in a large train station, everyone’s moving, or queueing, or staring at noticeboards. The place to go to watch people is a bar within a train station.
Down there. Group of men. They’ve been here since at least half past eight this morning, drinking pint after pint after pint. By half eleven, they’re adding chasers. The table’s full of empty glasses, and I can’t imagine for a moment how any of them are managing to stay upright, or even lean without crashing, face first, to the floor. They’re mostly in their mid-40s, clad in t-shirts/polo shirts of cheap, manmade fibres. The oldest member of the group puffs constantly on an e-cig, apart from at thirty minute intervals when he disappears outside for an analogue cigarette. Oddly, sitting with the group is a younger man, dressed in designer jeans, cashmere brown jumper, the collar of a smart shirt poking through the neck hole. Alone of the group, he wears a wedding ring, is very obviously drunk, and seems unsure as to whether he’s going to fall asleep, fall off his chair, or puke next time he yawns.
Then there are the middle aged couples, sharing a pot of tea, trying to pretend they’re oblivious to the noise and drunkenness around them. Quietly remarking on the quality of the tea cups, pressing lips together tightly as they swallow their (still too hot) tea, anxious not to dawdle in case they miss their train. On the way to the platform, they’ll pass Starbucks and wish they’d gone there instead. Not wanting to be tagged as the sort of person who frequents pubs during the day, they’ll secretly blame their spouse for not suggesting looking for a café, instead of heading into the pub.
The group of drunk men are at the ‘Meaningful drunk’ stage now. Lots of hand of shoulder deep chat, forefinger thumping into own chest sincerity, and ‘burrano, burrano, burrano, YOU’RE agoodman. Yurra good man. You. You. Are. A goodman.’ They’d make eye contact if they could, but no longer have control of their faces.
The stag do groups mill around. Men self-consciously wearing top hat & tails, or personalised t-shirts (depending on social class), drinking champagne or pints (again, depending on working or middle class), and seeing who can be rowdiest (ex public schoolboys win hands down). They’ve got half an hour to kill before their train leaves, and they intend to make it count.
The football fans, scattered around the bar, identifiable by their West Ham shirts. The one group that seems to cover all ages, genders, social classes. From the seven year old girl, squeezing close to her dad as she sips a J20, to the skinny old geezer in his seventies (whom you just know is going to tell someone he’s ‘supported the Hammers for 67 years, man and boy’ in a thin, high-pitched Cockney accent) to the bloke in his forties, modelling the signature ‘Status Quo bald patch and wispy ponytail’ hairdon’t. Some are in large groups, others are on their own, but mostly groups of three or four, having a quick pint or two before the game.
The tourists. Specifically, the French family next. to me. Mum, Dad, teenage son. No conversation. No eye contact. All three of them instead delicately tapping and swiping phone screens, occasionally sighing to themselves, but not sharing the source of their ennui with anyone other than the people living in their phone. A modern disease. Highly contagious.
The hipsters. I thought we had a problem with them in certain parts of Norwich. But here, in Liverpool Street station, you can’t move for them. Rolled up skinny jeans exposing bony white ankles, flat caps, winkle pickers. Not a hair left unstyled, not a face devoid of beardedness, not a glass of milk drunk unironically. Trying so hard to be individual that it becomes a uniform.
The elderly gentleman. Politely asked if he could sit on the other side of the enormous table I’m occupying. He takes out a copy of ‘Europe’ by Jan Morris. But instead, he gazes out, unseeingly, across, the room, his face troubled, forefinger pressed against his cheek, his mind many miles away from the deep leather armchair he sits in. Then, abruptly, the present and immediate world rushes in on him like a wave, and his thoughts are gone. He picks up his book, becomes engrossed for as long as it takes him to drink his pint of real ale. I manage not to cry for the full 45 minutes he sits with me.
And the baby. The baby in the pushchair, with the family who come in after the French tourists have left. Kicking his legs. Blowing raspberries. Catching my eye, grinning at me, and reminding me of the purity of an infant’s smile. That they expect the world around them to be good, happy, welcoming. That they are secure in the knowledge that they are loved, treasured, precious. The simple innocence of his smile at me, that I reciprocated, even as my eyes filled with tears, knowing I have no memory of feeling that way.
And then me. A twatty blogger, who’s had too many knocks of late. A twatty blogger who couldn’t bear to meet the people who’ve meant so much to her, in case she was a let-down, was rejected, in case people realised how much of a nothing she was. A twatty blogger whose confidence, never much more than a will o’ the wisp, deserted her. A twatty blogger who gave up, gave in. A twatty blogger who cried for thirteen hours straight in Liverpool Street station. A twatty blogger who realised she has nothing to offer anyone. A twatty blogger who is a disappointment. A twatty, fragile, broken blogger who never left the station.