Monday, November 07, 2011

What have you done today to make you feel proud?

Warning: This is a brag post, originally written for a Singapore audience.

My son, his mate and I enjoy watching the comedy series "Miranda" in which Miranda's friend (and employee) often holds up a mask of Heather Small and mimic her singing "What have you done today to make you FEEL proud?"

Yesterday I went to bed thinking that I really toted up well.

First, a meeting with fellow social scientists outside academia. It was a group I started – by accident – some years ago and now it has grown, nearly 400 members! Was able to encourage those present.

Then on the way home – my train, for which I was careful to buy a first class ticket to ensure a seat after a tiring meeting, was cancelled – I was squashed into a Tube train whereupon a man with a beard, long hair, a very large ring in his nose, dirty finger nails, on a walking stick asked my fellow social scientist and myself whether the train was going to MK.

He, too, was supposed to be on my cancelled train, but got shoved into this other train instead.

My colleague got off the train but this man – let's call him Mick – leeched on to me. Meanwhile husband was on the phone trying to get 'live' information on the internet and telling me how to get home.

We were directed to make a change at station X at which anxious people were trying to get information as to how to travel. The platform staff were trying to be helpful but they, alas, did not seem to have the up-to-date information.

The electronic board said 17:15 was "on time" whereas I was told on the phone (and another passenger apparently knew too) that it was cancelled. What to do?

Husband on phone said, go to platform 3. Train due in. I walked over to platform 3 as quickly as I could while Mick hobbled along, trying to keep up.

More confusion on this platform. Even bigger crowd. Mood still harmonious though. People were anxious, not angry. Londoners are used to such delays. Unlike in Singapore, a train that is delayed by six minutes does not get reported in the papers.

Husband on phone, "There should be a train coming in at 17.19. It's the late-running 16:44. Get on that one."

I could hear on radio of staff on platform receive the information from control at a station upstream, "Train leaving that platform, should be at station X soon."

Husband on phone, "Your 17:19 should be arriving any second now. You might need to push your way in. I'll hang on to make sure you're on."

Me, "No. If I need to push in I need both hands. Call back in five minutes."

Train on platform. Mick said, "O no! It's one of those trains with a big drop from the platform. I made sure Mick got onto the train and followed." We actually found seats across each other.

Husband on phone, "Are you on?"

Me: "Yes."

Husband, "Your train should arrive at 17:32. I'll be at the station to pick you up."

Mick continued to make conversation with me across the train. Other passengers looked on with interest. Was tramp-like Mick harrassing this tiny Chinese woman? I felt they were all watching to make sure I was alright.

The man next to Mick was clearly an ex-Gurkha. He wears a uniform with a badge "Security" emblazoned on it. (A number of ex-Gurkhas are in the security sector in the UK.)

Girl next to me got off. Mick came to sit next to me. Mick had been very keen to tell us on the first train that he could not wait to get home to his flat in MK. He had gone to London for a "demo" for animal rights.

I asked him where he lived before MK. He uhmmed and arhed which suggests that he had just been taken off the streets, or released from supported housing (for mentally ill?), or even perhaps from prison, but he was "doing well". I had, as if on auto-pilot, put on my CAB hat and wanted to make sure that he was being looked after as well as looking after himself.

So the questions came fast: why the walking stick? Orthoarthritis since he was 16 or 17. How old is he? About 39. Is he taking his medicine? He stopped because the pain comes back one the drugs wear off. He just bears with the pain." I thought, "Hmm, should I ask if he was on cannabis?" Time and place for everything, my dear. The train is not the right place.

Is he with a GP? Which council is looking after him? Does he get to do much? So I learned that he gets "lonely, you know" and he repeated how pleased he was to be travelling with such good company. Earlier he had given me his number so that my vegetarian colleague could call him. Now he tells me I should put his number on my phone, too.

No, I won't, I said. "Why not?" It's falling apart. "O! But you'd put it in your next phone." I didn't commit.

Then I said he should stop smoking. Told him I could smell it a mile away. What a waste of money. "I know, but I have cut down a lot," and threw me a sheepish look.

He told me he is into art (I really hope it's art, and not graffitti). I said he should make himself useful, do something with his art. "Do something nice for someone every day."

He said he tries to do that, indeed. Mick might smell, but he speaks very good English, and very polite. If indeed he was on cannabis his intellect had only be slightly dulled by its use.

We reached our station at the end of the line and was thrown off the train. I walked away quickly, wishing him a safe journey home. He waited as I went through the gates to say "Goodbye!".

I think Mick was chuffed that two complete strangers (describing us as "very pleasant ladies") trusted him enough to continue a conversation with him. Would he do something to make himself useful? I don't know and might never know. But I certainly hope so.

Outside my "chauffeur" was waiting patiently and we got home, had a short break and we were off to a church fireworks party.

There we met PO and his dad. PO has just lost his mum. His dad had been married for nearly 60 years. Put another way, he had been married for longer than I have been alive.

For Christmas "dinner" we usually gather people we know who have no close family to go to, or people who are new to the country. So a number of nationalities have graced our table at Christmas.

[What would Jesus do? In the parable of the banquet the rich man invited those who were not likely to reciprocate his invitation. This is also partly a result of my own experience of Christmas in this country as a single person. Friends went home to their families and I was on my own, lonely and very cold.]

We had asked PO and his dad this time knowing that the first Christmas after the death of a loved one is always difficult. PO's dad was not sure whether he wanted to accept the invitation just incase he wanted to be able to have a cry. Later on he grabbed me by the shoulders and said "Christmas. Thank you for the invitation. Yes, we will be there."

Tears welled up and he gave me a long, long hug. I comforted him as I have comforted others by confessing that it took me four years before I could speak of the death of my father without crying.

When we left the party – husband was "smoke damaged" by then , from being the "lighter" of fireworks – PO's dad gave me another long hug, and still more tears.

At the end of the day I took stock and thought: It does not take much to bring happiness to those around us. A word of encouragement. Kind words. An offer of hospitality.

Perhaps I must remember to ask myself at the end of each day the words of Heather Small: what have you done today to make you FEEL proud?