ISLANDER James Marsh works for the Falkland Islands Government Office in London and lives in Essex with his wife Amy and three dogs. Much of James' day is taken up with a rather tedious commute into London. James has agreed to write a regular column for the Penguin News website, but just as a taster we pilfered the following entertaining musings from his Facebook page (with his permission).
There's a woman on my train in the morning who thinks she knows me. I don't mean that in the tortured artist sense ("Nobody really KNOWS me"), I mean that she thinks I am somebody who I am not.
A week or so after I started commuting into London from Essex four years ago a blonde woman in her 40s waved at me from slightly further down the platform at Chalkwell as we were about to get on the same train. She called out "Good morning! How are you?" through the small group of people between us. I was a little confused but automatically replied "I'm good thanks! And you?" as we waited for the train doors to open. She confirmed that all was well with her and we got on our separate carriages, sought out seats, and went about our days. I chalked the situation up to either the 'camaraderie of the commuter' which you usually find on delayed trains or in rain swept train stations. My alternate theory was that she was one of those 'friendly' people you encounter on public transport who insist on having conversations (Often featuring their cats) with people who would clearly rather read their book or listen to their music. You may be able to tell that I fall into the latter 'listening to music' group usually.
I thought no more about this encounter until a day or two later when we met again. I was walking along the station platform at about 07:30 in the morning, with my mind still very much on the duvet I had recently departed, and this cheery voice from beside me asked "Big day at work today then I guess?" I turned round and realized it was the same blonde woman from a few days before smiling at me, and that she thought she recognized me. The next few moments are some that I have replayed in my mind a number of times. I have identified that specific point in time as the last reasonable instance that I could have said "I'm sorry but do I know you?", and she would have realized that I am not whoever she thought I was. However, the 'English' part of my brain, the bit which would rather die than cause any semblance of an uncomfortable or awkward public situation with a stranger kicked in and I found myself chuckling politely and saying "Oh, just the usual I guess". I then asked her about her prospects for the day. As soon as I could remotely politely do so I scuttled off to my usual point on the platform realising with a growing sense of horror that this friendly woman who seems to take the same train as me every day believed she knew me, and that more importantly I had not corrected her.
The thing is that I see her at least three or four times a week, either heading for London in the morning or on my way home at night. If we're anywhere near each other she will always say hello and make knowing references to either my work or home life, or at least the one which she thinks I have. She seems to think that I have kids as she has referred to 'the little ones keeping me busy on a forthcoming weekend before now. I'm sure that most people will say that I should have immediately corrected her and said that I don't have kids but we'd already been chatting for more than two years by then! It was far too late! I simply agreed that they probably would (Conveniently substituting 'dogs' for 'kids' in my mind), so now I am apparently actively pretending to be whoever this person is! Somehow my politeness and social awkwardness has led to me being the bad guy in this situation?
It's actually at the point now where I avoid being close enough to her on both the train and the platform for her to chat for fear that I will give myself away by not knowing what she's talking about if she brings up something specific. What if I don't recognize my alter ego's wife or kids' names or something? She's also asked recently whether I'd heard anything more about redundancies at my work so I wonder if 'Alternate James' (As I have come to think of him) is in danger of losing his job. What will he/I do for work then? Of course that means that he won't have to do the commute any more...the lucky swine.