Last summer I got into the habit of staying at friend’s houses till 5am, and catching the first train back to my parent’s house.  Ambling home as the sun came up, and falling into bed with the window open - headache sunshine and the smell of cut grass permeating my sleep.



On one occasion I’d been watching Wondershowzen and chewing toffee all night, so it was with a slightly disturbed mind and aching teeth that I began my journey.  Standing on the platform waiting for the 5.17am train to Clapham, I was vaguely aware of a woman to my left, drowning in a green parka.  She sat near me in the carriage, as I tried not to fall asleep so I wouldn’t miss my stop, my legs stretched out on the two seater.  I always choose the two seaters, I like the drop down table – it’s so ridiculously unnecessary and glamorous.  My stomach sank slightly as she came and sat closer, opposite me.  She spoke immediately, “My dad’s just died”.  Fuck.  “What an opener”, I thought, and with prejudiced sadness waited for her to ask me for some change.  “I’m on my way to his now; I’ve just got out of hospital myself, so I’m a bit out of it”.  I mentally prepared my excuses.  “My boyfriend had to come and tell me the news; he just wrapped me up in his coat and put me on the train”.

She was wearing black tights and DM boots and was about 45 years old.  Her hair was cut into a feminine mullet (is that an oxymoron?) and she chatted at me nervously, tugging at a strand of rust coloured hair, and explaining how her father had made her grow it out from her skinhead look.  I perked up at this.  “Oh you’re a skinhead”, I could feel the other passengers smirking at me, rolling their drowsy eyes and mouthing along when I asked, “Have you seen This is England?”

The memory of that question still makes me cringe.

She had seen it.  She liked it but thought it portrayed skinheads in a bad way; people who shared the opinions of the spitting fighter in the film had been hurt.  I nodded.  I asked inane questions about the fashions, she told me about gigs and her boyfriend.  We talked about her Dad, the shock of death and her fear of growing older.  I was really smug by this point, my voice was getting louder and louder the more we spoke, growing from a grudging whisper to a confident drone.  It started to get a bit emotional, my tiredness allowing me to be more open with her than I would be with most strangers, and she matched it with understanding.  I played with my phone as we talked, and drafted texts in my head, pondering how best to describe this encounter to the friend I’d just left.  As we got off the train she trembled slightly, and I held her elbow to support her.  I said goodbye but before she walked away she leaned into me confidentially, and I stared into her eyes, waiting for wisdom.  “You know what?  I fucking hate Clapham.  Full of blacks”.  Then she grabbed my hand, thanked me and walked away.  I watched her standing on the opposite platform in the darkness as I waited for my connecting train, and picked the last bits of toffee from my teeth.