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A Rat on the Tube

It was 1977 and I was going home to South Kensington as usual.  Well not quite as usual – I had just been to see Star Wars at the Odeon in Tottenham Court Road, so I took the Northern line to Embankment and changed onto the Central Line.  It had been a late showing and it must have been well gone midnight, so I had the carriage to myself.  I liked it that way – despite the dirt on the upholstery and the grime on the windows, the empty carriage felt clean and pristine, unsullied by the normal quota of sweaty, moist, malodorous bodies.  My main concern at that time of night was to avoid being trapped in a carriage with a rowdy drunk, or worse, a bunch of football louts, or even worse, a bunch of drunken football louts.  But tonight, the only thing filling the the carriage was the thud and the chuntering of the bogeys as the train lurched thought the tunnel and the hiss of the doors as they opened onto the platform at Westminster.

My splendid isolation was broken when a well-dressed man entered the carriage and sat down in a corner seat.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see he was wearing a dark, thin pin stripe suite and he was carrying an umbrella with a expensive looking tortoiseshell handle.  His dark grey bowler hat was an impeccable match to his waistcoat.  Initially he reminded me of John Steed in the Avengers, until he turned his head to watch the adverts on the station walls as we pulled out of the station, and then I could see he was much older, maybe in his 60s.  Nevertheless, Steed would have thoroughly admired his immaculate pencil moustache although he would have equally thoroughly disapproved of the pomade that had leaked slightly from the man’s hair onto his shirt collar.

I think the man sensed I was scrutinising him as he briefly glanced in my direction.  He looked away almost immediately, casting his gaze down on the carriage floor at some obscure feature of interest.  I wondered if he too was troubled by the thought of meeting drunks and football fans.  Maybe he was even worried about drunken students – though the most I had that night was a coke and a bucket of popcorn.

I was glad when he got off at Sloane Square and left me to travel the last stop to South Ken on my own.  It was only when I approached the stairs up to the street and I saw a rat scurrying away into an alcove that I realised I had shared my journey with Enoch Powell.

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