Low life

The kindness of strangers you need the morning after

Unexpected consequences of a Spectator Life party

11 April 2015

9:00 AM

11 April 2015

9:00 AM

Spectator Life’s third birthday party was a glamorous affair. It had paps, pop stars and Pippa. One went in and waiting at the top of the stairs were Spectator Life’s editor and deputy editor, super-dazzlers both, offering their cheeks to be kissed. We drank Bellinis.

There is a new economic theory which claims that people often act more irrationally than economists in particular imagine. One of its key terms is ‘discounting the future’, which is another way of saying that in certain circumstances people often behave as if there were no tomorrow. The Spectator Life birthday party was a bit like that. Speaking for myself, I discounted the future so comprehensively that it was a case of Everything Must Go. I woke the next morning five minutes before checkout time at the St Ermin’s hotel, however, feeling pretty good all things considered.

I jumped out of bed and dressed with all haste, scooped up my personal debris from the dressing table, ran my toothbrush over my few remaining molars, checked out at the desk downstairs and returned the doorman’s cheery greeting as I stepped out on to the Broadway. I walked past the 1960s modernist horror of New Scotland Yard, then passed underneath the sinister Jacob Epstein sculpture that squats on the art deco Transport for London building opposite. This piece of public art ignited such a moral panic when it was unveiled in 1929 that Epstein was obliged to file an inch and a half off the little boy’s penis. I nodded my usual commiseration to the poor lad and entered St James’s Park Underground station.

It was only here, amid the pre-war marble and Portland stone of the station foyer, that I noticed that I was unwell, and that I was becoming less well with each step. I marched giddily and unsteadily on, hoping it would pass, but the weakness and breathlessness increased until I had suddenly to conform to current realities and hang on to the nearest wall like a drowning man clinging to the wreckage, while looking around for somewhere away from the main thoroughfare to sit or, much preferably, lie down. Seeing nothing except walls and adamantine floor, I set off again through the foyer until I found myself back on the street where I draped myself over one of those metal barriers for diverting pedestrians to a safer crossing point. Now I was in trouble. I hung there, hooked over the top rail by my armpits, my legs completely gone. I must have presented a sorry sight to the people passing hither and thither, but I couldn’t lift my head to see their faces, so was spared some embarrassment as I was sick into the gutter.

Not for a moment did I imagine anyone would want to go near such a sorry wreck, let alone approach and ask me if I needed an ambulance. But this small, brisk Asian woman stepped up and did just that. I lifted my head and thanked her and said no, not an ambulance, but I’d be glad of somewhere to sit or lie down for a while. Her face was set, I noticed, in an expression that refused to waste either of our valuable time on expressions of pity or gratitude; a quick, practical solution to my problem was what she was offering.

Presently she reappeared with the guy manning the barrier line. He gently and courteously asked me if I was capable of stepping back inside the station. Head down, ignoring my thanks, perhaps even disdaining them as being unnecessary, the Asian woman sped off. Supported by the solicitous barrier guy’s arm, I stumbled inside the station. He got on his radio and soon the station supervisor, whose name tag said she was called Fatima, came and helped me into her office, sat me down and made me a nice cup of tea. I couldn’t believe how kind everyone was being, I said. I was perhaps over-profuse with my gratitude, because it made her cross. ‘Don’t thank me! It’s normal! You’d do the same for me! Hallo?’ she said. It was like a sauna in there and she opened all the windows to give me some air. I was slumped forward on a chair on one side of her desk, and she came and sat in her office chair. Was I sure I didn’t want an ambulance? Could she go and fetch me a sandwich? Did I take milk or sugar in my tea?

I recovered my strength and composure after about half an hour. Even after all that time, she made me promise her faithfully that I really was feeling better before she would allow me continue on my journey. ‘Oi! Don’t thank me!’ she said, irately, as I took my leave. ‘It’s normal! You’d do the same for me!’ The kindness of these strangers that morning after was an education.

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  • Dave m

    i do enjoy your writing, and appreciate your observations. keep them up forever. i dont know why you get so few comments.

    • Redneck

      Dave m
      Most of my acquaintances read Mr Clarke faithfully every week in the print-version: I agree, delightful writing.

  • Call me Dave

    Because you have to subscribe to read the article.

  • Sideshow Bob

    Wonderful writing. It is more like I am listening to you than reading it. I hope you’re feeling better. Sorry to take such pleasure in your misery but don’t stop anytime soon.