The Penguin Army On The Underground

It was my birthday recently. As a friend’s 5 year old handed me a birthday present, she asked me how old I was.

“Why don’t you guess, my darling!” I sang, beaming at her. I was happy! I’d had a huge lie-in! I was going to have Wagamama’s for lunch! It was my 33rd birthday and the sun was shining and I felt like I was bouncing around on fluffy clouds (plus the present she was handing to me was MASSIVE)

“Dunno” she said, wiping some snot away from her nose and up the side of her face with the palm of her hand “40?”


(pop HISSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS went my parachute as I plummeted back down to Earth)

Later, to try to claw back those 7 years I evidently appear to have misplaced amongst wrinkles and haggardness, I asked my incredibly loyal and supportive “You are so beautiful, mummy, you are the most beautiful woman in the world” 5 year old son the rhetorical and fishing-for-compliments question;

“Do you think mummy should do a selfie with no make up on and put it on Facebook? Lots of ladies are doing it? It’s for char-”

“NO!” A pause.. “No don’t mummy. You look better with make up on”….utter silence as we eyeballed each other…”With lots of make up on”

So, there you go.  I got old. Not “old old”, but “older”. All of the above, plus the fact my smart phone broke this week, forcing me to borrow a Nokia fetus from the Jurassic age from O2 and send texts like a Granny

“Cn u pgone me plese £”

made me feel past it. I am fumbling about and doing so miles outside my comfort zone. I am Mel Gibson in Forever Young. I am Eternally Past It. I am both unable to access the internet (either my reliable, steady, always there wifely-like internet called “Wifi”, or my bit on the side when I go out and about, called “3G”) and forced to do something I NEVER do, answer the (wait for it….) house phone, just in case it’s an emergency. Which ultimately it’s not been, but both times my dad, laughing so hard he can barely say the words

“HAAAAA! Got you to answer the HOUSE PHONE!”

Embarrassingly, considerably pathetically I found myself tapping at the message icon on the screen of this ancient Nokia artefact, for several seconds, before I remembered it wasn’t a touch screen. Stupid. Like a pigeon flying into a closed glass door.

I’m not quite as switched on and sparky anymore. Can’t roll with the punches (especially the ones pounded into my GUT and HEART about looking old). I have aged.  Not aged like a fine wine does, but more like the cheap bottle of fizzy piss you won in a raffle and has been left out on the side, open, for weeks, half empty (yes, I still drank the first half anyway), to use for cooking.

Like lifting up a heavy butt cheek off a plastic chair and repositioning it so it feels more comfortable, I feel this is what I am doing with my life. And am accompanying it with a little

“Ooooh, there you go, gently does it!”

It’s happening. And in all sorts of weird, unforeseen ways. Previously, with youth, an ability to drink until beyond midnight and not be hungover the following day, breasts higher up my chest, the ability to eat healthily during the week and drop 5lbs by Sunday, I used to detest the thought of going on buses and trains and the sharing space, air, and germs of strangers. Now? 33 years old? I love it. I am starting to choose to use the bus over using my car. It’s nice. I don’t have to worry about finding a parking place or accidently filling up with the wrong fuel. I can talk on my phone, when it works, (just as the bus driver is doing), eat some food (as the bus driver is doing) and take my eyes off the road to check Facebook (in better days) on my phone (just as the driver is doing).  I don’t have to worry about the nob heads who cross the road before oncoming traffic, looking left right left right, weighing up whether they should pelt it across the road, will they make it, won’t they make it, using up their valuable time and probability of making it, before BURSTING off the pavement, at speed! And then sloooowwwing down to a pootly dad run…then ultimately walking and mounting the kerb on the other side. Perhaps stopping just before to scratch their armpit.

If they get hit? Not my problem. Bus driver’s problem.

It’s entertaining on the bus or train. Once I sat opposite an elderly lady in a moth eaten old marching band uniform, complete with gold shoulder tassels and a fox fur round her neck. With a fox’s head on it. As she read a lesbian porno mag.

True story.

Last week I sat behind this man;

ghost man

You may recognise him from behind as the angry, rage fuelled


phantom being who stalked the underground trains in the movie “Ghost”.

Guess he rides buses now.

On that same trip I sat next to a cannibal.

A tiny Chinese woman sat down next to me with a carrier bag she was cradling in front of her, in cupped hands, like she was carrying something very delicate and breakable. Then she shoved her face into it and came back out with slices of ham hanging from her mouth. Gobbled it up like strings of spaghetti. And then she did it again. Burying in her head into her orange sainsbury’s bag and firkling around until she came back up with slices of piggy flesh in her teeth.

At least I hope it was piggy flesh.

And not people flesh.

Another reason I like buses? No one can criticise my driving in the manual gear-shift car if I try to change gear with the brake pedal. Or, you know, get out of the automatic car and not put the handbrake on or take it out of “drive” and take a second to figure out the car is actually chasing me down the drive way (both things happened this week).

You get to have nice philosophical chats with your husband, reaching theoretical conclusions you will of course never put into practice, because you are sane;

“That bloke’s music blaring out from his headphones is doing my nut in”

“Well, what can you do about it?”

“I’m going to go and read my book out loud in his FACE”

It’s nice to pretend to be tougher than you are and build up fantasies about getting one up over a stranger. It’s not like we could read a book out loud to our children in the car as a punishment. This is what they want. They’d just be naughtier to get more stories.

And you get the comradery of people jostling and travelling together on public transport that you don’t get in a private car. The bonus of paying extortionate travel prices is that you get to have a good old communal BITCH. Aging people like me LOVE moaning about stuff, like how

“Ooooh, it was never this much money in MY day! Ooooh, was it Jim? Was it? The price of this ticket would have bought us a HOUSE back in MY day”

And now I am one of them. I love it! Getting fleeced on money stuff? Bad time keeping? What’s not to LOVE?! There might be hundreds of us all joining forces to roll our eyes and admonish the tardiness of the train! To vent our spleen in disgust at the price of travel! Or, to join together and battle a wrong-do-er who is in our midst? Even better! Victimise someone! (for a valid reason, obsv). Standing on the London Underground last summer, cutting off the circulation in the boys’ hands with my death grip lest they get “the urge”, break free and bolt for the edge, simultaneously keeping an eye out for The Penny Shuffler (London is exhausting), a man pushed past us, trailing a suitcase behind him. In a move swift like a swallow, he swooped down, whipping the luggage tag off his suitcase.

And threw it on the floor.

It was a cauldron of fury on the underground that day. One of the hottest days of the year. No air con. Tired whingey kids. People pushing and shoving. And people like him, who may as well have jazz hand out of the crowd wearing an archery target board on his chest. Us Smiths are staunch anti-litterers (Hurrah!), but we were in a big city, with a large population and ergo a greater likelihood of someone perhaps being a little bit more prone to being…stabby (Booo). So caution prevailed.

Or not.

Smudge muttered, albeit loud enough for this, this, criminal to hear

“I think you dropped something.”

And we rolled our eyes at each other and gave the back of this man’s head death eyes, smug in the knowledge that we were right and he was wrong. The next train rolled in to the station as the vandal finished his Mars Bar.

And screwed up his wrapper.

And threw it on the floor.

And turned around and actually eyeballed us.

“What to do what to do?!” I thought, my mind racing and having a billion different conversations with itself, a billion scenarios rushing past, through and over each other in my mind’s eye. “I should say something! (I’m obviously never going to say something – look up “British” in the dictionary and find a photo of my apologetic face). But this man could be violent or crazy (like me)! Is it worth it? Seriously? You hear all sorts of horror stories about people doing their nut over someone pressing the pedestrian crossing button before them and ending up in A and E and then as a Daily Mail feature and- whooooooooaaaaaa hang on a minute, what the hell is Smudge doing?!!”

as Smudge picked the wrapper up, went over to the perp and said

“You dropped this” and slapped the wrapper in his hand.

I pulled the children in behind me and looked for a weapon. No weapons. Looked for a distraction. No distraction. Dammit where was The Penny Shuffler when you needed him?!

The nefarious vandal looked at Smudge with utter contempt in his beady evil eyes and spat at Smudge (as in “said his words scathingly”, not “spat” as in, dispelled saliva. PHEWY, as I do really hate phlegm and if he did do that I may have myself morphed in to The Penny Shuffler).

“So? This is Britain. Your British people can clean it up!”

and wagged a finger in Smudge’s face.

Oh no. Finger wagging! Finger wagging an adult is the ultimate non physical insult. It is the release button for years of repressed memories of being humiliated by adults doing that to you as a child. And I thought Smudge was going to react in his own way. By smacking him in the face with his fist. Which, obviously, I didn’t want. I mean, I wanted it, but I didn’t actually want it, if you know what I mean.

But the weird thing was that the previously apparently deaf people of London had all been secretly listening to the situation unfolding. And they were backing Smudge up. Not, to be honest, in any massive way shape or form that you’d notice if you weren’t aware yourself of the scene unravelling on Baker Street platform, because this army of commuters and tourists were not using heckles or violence to battle this littering dickweed. This army was one of well, quiet agreeing mumbles and the gentle subtle, shuffle, shuffle towards us. Like Penguins keeping their babies warm. A camaraderie, of sorts. A bit weak, but the point was made. Smudge’s infection of righteousness didn’t so much as flood across the platform like a gushing tidal wave, it was more sort of like, when you see someone else yawning and catch it and can’t help doing it yourself.

But it didn’t matter. Because this army of silent warriors were the Robins backing up my Batman in tweed as he picked back up that Mars Bar wrapper, looked dipshit right in the eye and went

“No. You. Take. It. Home”.

And the bullying, littering, perp? Well the bullying, littering, perp…

blew a raspberry at him.

You see? You wouldn’t get that sort of drama and British pride in your car would you? Plus, my car is filthy! There are Mars Bars wrappers all over the floor! I threw them there!

So there you go. Not only has “it” happened, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Aging isn’t all that bad. Some of it’s rather fun. With every year you notch up you are allowed to be a bit more grumpy! It’s ace!

Well. No. Not all of it. It’s not ace being told I can not pull off a barefaced selfie…that’s utter shit. But some of it is alright…. In fact, no, I only really like the public transport bit. The rest can do one. I’m getting a face lift.


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The Penguin Army On The Underground

  1. What an exciting life you Smiths lead. No two days alike. One day you must write a book as it is bound to be a best seller.

  2. bonniecroft says:

    first of all GOOD FOR YOU SMUDGE .xxx Love that manxxxx

    We now have bus passes but the only buses that go past our house are the school ones.First thing in the morning and late afternoon . Filled with spotty, noisy, scary youths .

    I need to do a bus ride when I am up with you next Hannah .Just so I can experience the freedom you do .
    And we could do lunch and have a glass of wine and not worry because we are not driving ! It gets better x
    P.S wish Id thought to phone your house phone Ha xxxx

  3. sarahmo3w says:

    Love this so much – only you could combine a rubbish Nokia phone, a litter bug and the no make-up selfie 🙂

    • Hannah says:

      HA HA! I suppose it was a bit rambly…but that’s how my brain often works! Thanks for reading and sharing, mate x

  4. hurrahforgin says:

    No make up selfie pls Han! Come on you owe me 😉
    Smudge sounds most excellent btw x

  5. Lynne Smith says:

    Another cracker, Han . Brilliant! X

  6. Karen says:

    Love this story! 🙂 x

  7. nisha4017 says:

    loved it – well done Smudge!! I’m very impressed. I laughed a lot at the beginning with you describing the selfie and the car antics – especially it following you down the drive – laughed out loud…. at work, and not at lunchtime!!!

Like my blog? Leave a reply...