No, this is not a generic “tramp on public transport” story, this is far more freaky and evidence I lead a charmed or cursed life.
Some years ago, I had booked a trip from London to Glasgow for a very infrequent trip home and for some personal business. I was involved with a band called The Complete Stone Roses, the definitive Stone Roses tribute band and one of the top tribute acts in the country, playing to about 80,000 paying fans a year – not bad. I was their webmaster and online marketing guy at the time and general designer when needed. I designed and maintained their official site (not the one linked above, the previous version) and designed e-mails, flyers and newspaper ads too. I was heading up to Glasgow to meet their manager Peter to discuss some new website ideas and sort out some live video clips from their forthcoming DVD.
I’d also see one of their gigs in Glasgow, we’d timed the trip well.
I arrived at the train station with one thing on my mind, as always. How the fuck was it always quicker for me to go home from London than it used to be from Birmingham? Anyway, I got on and looked for my seat, aware that as usual my seat would probably be occupied by some fucker who’d just sat in my seat and eaten the slip of paper with the reserved sign on it. I would then say “oh it’s OK ‘mate’ I’ll sit somewhere else, don’t want to bother you” and then go and try and find somewhere else and all the other seats would be reserved but some would be empty, so I’d sit in one of those and then the valid occupant would arrive and tell me the seat was reserved, and I’d say “Oh sorry I’ll get up and move” and then I’d find somewhere else and someone would come and tell me to move and I’d repeat this about 10 times till I ended up standing in the space between carriages outside the toilet for the whole journey.
Always the fucking same.
I got to my seat. No blind ignorant mannerless fat bastard sitting in it. A new experience. But it wasn’t empty. There was a small carrier bag with some shit in it.
Not literally shit. But knick-knacks and rubbish. Not things someone had bought from a shop and that was the bag, it was a crumpled little reused bag being used to hold some random bits and pieces some of which had already fallen out onto the seat. And the train wasn’t even moving yet. I looked for the owner. In the seat next to mine … hmmm, how do I describe him…
He was so scruffy and unkempt he made your average homeless person look like Max fucking Headroom.
He looked like he hadn’t shaved since birth, his hair had gotten to that stage where it “washes itself”, and that the contents of his bag and his skanky overcoat were all his worldly possessions. It also occurred to me the only reason he was on that train was because it was warm.
My excitement about my seat not being taken disappeared, I mumbled “oh for fuck’s sake” and tried to calm myself with the thought that someone would come along shortly and say, “Excuse me, Your Royal Highness the King of Tramps, I reserved this seat and unfortunately I’m not as non-confrontational as this fop here next to you so I’m going to have to tell you to scram.”
I stood over the seat and took my rucksack off and made many shufflings intended to suggest I was going to sit down because that was my seat, looking down at the bag and up at him as I did so. This was my polite way of saying “move your shit”.
He looked at me and did nothing. I gestured again and eventually mumbled “this is my seat do you mind moving this”, fearful that he’d vomit on me or something by way of response. He grunted and mumbled something himself which I didn’t quite catch but it sounded like some kind of pagan language, and he collected his bag and put it on his lap. I sat down, at least happy that for the first time in my life I was sitting in the actual seat I paid for, but still pissed off I had to spend the trip next to some tunnel-dwelling grunting werewolf.
I figured I’d get a bit of work done to take my mind off the constant anticipation of cider-drenched vomit chunks which I was convinced would be flying my way as soon as the train started moving.
I opened up my laptop and got my notepad out and got working on finishing off some bits and pieces for Peter. I half-expected the tramp to ask about my magical keyboard but he stayed quiet, occasionally snoring even though I’m fairly sure he wasn’t asleep. After about half an hour, it was time to head to the buffet car to get me a couple of mini bottles of vodka. In those days I did not travel without drinking, it was unbearable. Well I didn’t drink on the Tube on the way to work, I mean travel as in a decent distance like long train journey or flight.
Needless to say I took my laptop and my rucksack … and my jacket – everything in fact – with me when I went to the buffet car. I didn’t want to come back and find my stuff had been traded for half a sandwich, a can of lager and a cigarette.
I got my vodka and came back. He had put his little bag of shit back in my space. Unbelievable. He muttered something, it sounded like “oh thought you’d gone”. Well it sounded like “oh thought you’d gone” being said by someone who was spending their first day above ground. Where the fuck would I have gone? The train was travelling at full speed. Did he think I’d thrown myself off the train? Gone to sit on the roof? Decided to go to the back of the train, tie a rope to my ankle and let myself be dragged along for giggles.
He moved his bag of tat and I sat down again and got working. I had the design for the site and I think a new flyer open and was beavering away. Something came up, and I had to call Peter.
I had to run through the set list for the DVD with Peter, all the songs and the order, and there were some issues with placing the live videos for Waterfall and I Am The Resurrection – I spent almost half an hour running through all the details and adjusting things on my laptop. I could have waited till I saw him but I was making good progress and getting a lot of work done on the train; the troll beside me hadn’t disturbed me except once when he went to the toilet, was surprised he just didn’t pee his pants.
I kept working away and enjoying my vodkas and the whole journey seemed more pleasant. Then a guy who’d been sitting on the opposite side of the carriage a few seats down got up. He’d been looking round a lot at me when I was on the phone and had seemed fidgety. To the extent I’d wondered if I was in the quiet carriage or something. He came right up to me. Oh for fuck’s sake what’s this now…
And he handed a newspaper to the tramp.
Nice of him I guess. And then a pen. Random but also nice, maybe the King of Tramps was a crossword or Sudoku enthusiast and would appreciate that. I’d have let him play Solitaire on my laptop but I was busy. All the guy said during this was “do you mind?” The tramp scribbled something on the newspaper and handed it back. Weird. I glanced at the tramp as he did so, and began to wonder something. I eventually dismissed the thought with “nah… couldn’t be.”
It was only when I had to get up again for him to get off the train that I realised my thought was correct. It was Ian fucking Brown. Lead singer of the Stone Roses. The actual Stone Roses. He had been sat next to me the whole time, as I worked on the tribute band’s website, talked to Peter for about half-an-hour about their songs and scribbled notes about the website in my notebook.
And he never said a word.