I’m a big believer in Karma – the idea that your actions, good or bad, determine what’s coming to you. Of course, the fact that I am not a three-time multi-million-pound lottery winner suggests that over the years I have made some mistakes, insulted too many brutishly overweight ladies maybe or used the c-word far too liberally. Or it could simply be because I do not play the lottery.
Karma is a great thing to believe in, because it means when people are shits to you, you can rest easy knowing they’ll get theirs at some point. And it’s also great because the belief fulfills itself so readily. Someone pisses you off and then ten years later you see them walk into a lamppost or slip on some dog shit and you think “YES! KARMA’S REAL!”.
Yesterday, I made a questionable decision, with the very best intentions, and ultimately it was my karmic comeuppance that told me definitively whether I’d done a nice thing or a not-so-nice thing.
I was going to the theatre with Alice to see Twelve Angry Men. Let’s all pretend going to the theatre to see a play is something that I do all the time and this is a very normal thing for me, and let’s leave any accusations that I’d barely left the house for the last month to one side. It was at the Garrick Theatre on Charing Cross Road, scene of many theatrical exploits in the past. I have in my eleven years in London been to the theatre quite a few times, but I think that almost every play I have gone to see has been at that same place. Oh well, at least I’d know how to get there… right?
I needed some cash, so I could buy all the souvenir tat they were selling in the interval, as is my way. And maybe an ice cream for the lady. So as I left work, in good time to meet Alice, I popped next door to Marks and Spencer where a cash machine is conveniently located right inside the entrance. Urban legend at work has it that we bartered the positioning of this cash machine, so perfect for PlayStation staff, in exchange for some co-operation on some utility matters between the two buildings. Yes, this is the kind of thing that constitutes “scurrilous gossip” in the games industry (I suppose there’s hard cash and a tight slot involved so…).
There is another cash machine in M&S downstairs in the food hall. At busy periods this is normally my go-to machine since very few people know it’s there. So there will be a big queue at the “obvious” machine by the entrance (mostly PlayStation staff of course) but usually no-one downstairs. I developed a formula for this after timing how long the trip down the escalator took. If there are two or more people conducting an average transaction at the main machine, it is technically quicker to go downstairs. Assuming the downstairs machine is free you will walk past the cashpoint by the entrance, cash in hand, just as the second person in the queue is drumming their fingers on the machine waiting for theirs to pop out.
I probably shouldn’t have posted that tip on the internet.
Anyway, so it’s about 6.30pm and I have nipped next door to get my monies. There were two people at the machine by the entrance, but on closer inspection, they were together and part of a single transaction. The formula kicked in and I was best to stand behind them and wait. Operating the machine was an elderly grandmother, and beside her, a heavy-set teenage lad, who appeared to have Downs’ Syndrome. They seemed confused. I monitored the situation carefully looking for opportunities to offer kind assistance. I’m nice like that.
The elderly lady’s frustration was clear, she said “it’s broken, it doesn’t seem to be giving out any money. We need to try somewhere else.”
I stepped in with sage advice. Told you, I’m nice like that. “Hey, there’s actually another cash machine downstairs, just down that escalator and turn right.” I was going to carry on and tell them the story of my formula and the urban legend about the utilities but time was tight.
“Oh thank you, that’s very kind,” she said, and the lad echoed this.
What I did next I did for the best reasons, but you might not think this when I tell you I sprinted off down the escalator so I could beat them to the downstairs cashpoint. Yes, I raced an elderly grandmother and a Downs’ Syndrome boy so I could cut ahead of them in the theoretical queue which had just formed at the downstairs machine.
I know this sounds bad, but my idea was, realistically they would have taken some time to get there, and I could be down there and gone by the time they arrived, and no harm would be done. I did have an actual woman to meet, and I was already on a written warning from this woman about my time-keeping. This seemed to me to be the perfect efficiency.
As I got to the thankfully empty and functional machine and put my card in, some thoughts did cross my mind. Yes, so I guess in hindsight I might as well have said to the boy “there’s a cash machine downstairs and there’s a shiny sixpence in it for you if you can beat me there, woo-hoo!” and then disappeared off in the distance trailed by plumes of dust. Or it’s like I’d said “hey granny, on the plus side, there is an alternative machine, but on the downside, those rickety legs of yours just cost you your place in the queue” at which point I did a star jump and then somersaulted down the escalator.
I typed in my PIN as fast as I could, this whole thing would only work if I could be finished before they caught up with me. A few more taps and I was drumming my fingers on the machine waiting for my money to come. A few seconds later, it popped out and in a flash was in my wallet, and I turned round to make my escape….
…Only to be greeted by the sight of the pair from upstairs, who were queuing behind me, having seemingly used jet-packs to catch me.
I felt a bit bad. The boy looked at me and smiled, “Thanks again!”
The worst thing about this was … he was being SINCERE. If that was me I’d have said “Hey, thanks, really, thanks so much for jumping the queue just because you don’t have any genetic or age-related disabilities. No honestly, REALLY kind of you, sprinting off like that, practically elbowing a disadvantaged pair of strangers out of the way and muscling in. While you’re at it would you like to punch my grandmother in the face? Thanks again!”
But no, he was genuinely thanking me for tipping them off about the other machine, and seemed none the wiser that I had basically skipped (jumped and danced) ahead of them. I felt really bad now, and someone somewhere was saying “We have a Karmic Emergency in W1, code red, send a task force immediately.”
I left M&S torn about whether I had done the sensible thing by getting ahead of them, or if I’d been mean and should have hung back and waited on them. Believing in Karma means in situations like these I think you can tell if you did the right or wrong thing based on the reward or comeuppance you get in the hours to come. Based on this, Karma was in no doubt which direction on the moral compass I had been pointing.
I mentioned I had been to this theatre many times, and it’s just ten minutes walk from where I work. Somehow, perhaps due to the interventions of a higher power or merely guilt-addled confusion, I got lost. I got spectacularly lost. This isn’t even one of these occasions where a temptress with a nice arse walking ahead of me led me astray, I can not explain this other than karmic vengeance. In the diagram below, green was my original plan, red is how I detoured.
When I realised my mistake of turning into Shaftesbury Avenue instead of Charing Cross Road, I cut along a side street which I thought would get me back on track. It didn’t and as I saw Covent Garden station in the distance, from the wrong side, the magnitude of my navigational error became clear. It was going to be a long way back. Really, I should have texted Alice to tell her I was going to be late, but how was I supposed to explain that a race for cash against a granny and a handicapped kid had caused me to get lost mere minutes from where I work every day.
Now, some of you might be thinking, why not check Google Maps on your phone? I have tried this in the past, and been completely incapable of getting anything but a map of my street in Tooting and the immediate vicinity. There was no time to be dicking around with a phone that is more lost and more flaky than I am.
It then started to rain. Right OK, I get the point, I shouldn’t have “jumped the queue”, now I’m lost and wet, surely this is all my punishment is going to be. I had a bit of a walk ahead of me, to basically get back to where I took the wrong turn. I reached for a cigarette and as I drew my lighter up, a huge blob of rainwater landed on top. The lighter was then useless, but it didn’t stop me trying for a few minutes as I clumsily jostled through the human traffic and actual traffic with one eye on the lighter and one on the way ahead. I had to be careful on the roads though, if this karmic vengeance continued there could be a bus out there with my name on it (and soon to be my face and guts).
I gave up and put my now soaking wet cigarette back in the pack, snapping it in the process. I uttered the words “fuck” and “sake” loudly and in quick succession, and focussed myself on getting to the theatre as quickly as possible. I finally got there, and as usual, whereas others normally make their excuses when they need to leave somewhere, I tend to make my excuses as I arrive.
Tickets were picked up and our seats were in the second row, soon we would be within spitting distance of acting royalty like Tom Conti and Robert Vaughn (Superman III, I know!!!). I had been looking forward to this for weeks. We took our seats, and I was sat between my lovely Alice, and an enormous titan of a woman, squished into her chair like a blue whale in a thimble. I did wonder for a moment if I had accidentally sat down in a ferry port, but I was in high spirits now and contrary to popular opinion I do not have a general problem with larger ladies (except that one time with the pies). We were all here to enjoy a good piece of drama, right?
The play began and it was only a matter of minutes before the woman on my right flipped open her phone case and the light from her phone flashed in my eyes. Presumably, she had forgotten to turn it off and was about to do so now. I shrugged it off, people forget things, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. A few minutes later, it was flipped open again and she’s reading messages on WhatsApp. Again, I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she had received an extremely urgent message, about a relative passing away, or perhaps a bake sale nearby.
No, for the whole first half of the performance, she was fucking playing with that phone every few minutes. WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter. Unbelievable. Was she just here because there was the promise of fucking ice cream in the interval?!
Alice swapped places with me in the break and in the second half there were no such interruptions – possibly because the woman heard me muttering to Alice that I wanted to shove the phone up her arse. If it was possible to even find her arse without some heavy-duty mining equipment.
The play was amazing and even the ignorance of Karma’s fattest messenger didn’t manage to spoil things; me and Alice walked to the Tube, chatted a little bit outside and then went our separate ways. I had planned a stop at the new posh fish and chip (and battered sausage) shop in Tooting on the way home, and it looked like I’d just be in time before closing. That is, were it not for the fact my Tube line was suspended. Fuck’s sake, how much was I going to be punished for my earlier cash dash?!
I eventually got to Tooting, after an infuriating amount of delays; battered sausage was now off the menu for the day, so I thought I’d try my luck at McDonald’s. This was as close as I’d get to ending this day on a high. The place was also near closing, with only a few things coming out of the “kitchen”. The queue was long, and all the usual McDonald’s staples were there – a gang of youths by the tills making trouble out of nothing, and endless streams of people going back up to the counter to ask for sauce or to complain that they were short-changed on fries. I tried to keep my chin up as yet again, I waited and waited – everyone in front of me had some kind of problem with their order, or was just being difficult. I tried to be patient.
A chavette voice grated behind me “There’s one Big Mac left, it’ll take ages for them to make more. I’m just going to have that Big Mac. Nobody better fuckin’ take that Big Mac.”
She repeated this about ten times. Problem was, I had also spotted this solitary Big Mac and I was (internally and more politely) hoping that it would stay that way until it was my turn. I got to the front of the queue “Big Mac and large fries please.” The manchild behind the counter scooped up my goodies and handed them over. Behind me I just heard “Oh my God, Chanelle that guy just nicked your Big Mac. I can’t believe he took your Big Mac.”
No Chanelle, ‘that guy’ – who incidentally is about 6 inches away from you and can hear you – did not ‘steal’ ‘your’ Big Mac … I was in front of you and I ordered what I wanted from what was available, and if there’s one thing I have learned from this day it is the importance, and sanctity … of the queue.