Cider with Penny

March 28, 2006

The kindness of strangers

This post has nothing to do with cider, other than that I was drinking cider while reading the book in question.

I was at Aldgate East tube station t'other day, and a sweet young Romanian slip of a thing (by which I mean a girl) asked me where the trains were. She then proceeded to point out various places on the tube map that she knew. The conversation went a bit like this:

HER: I was an au pair there (pointing to north London).
ME: Why do you want to be an au pair?
HER: I don't want to be an au pair.
ME: So why are you an au pair?
HER: It says so on my visa.
ME: What would you like to do instead?
HER: I want to go to college and be a cartoonist but you have to be rich to go to college.
ME: I'd be a rubbish cartoonist.
HER: I'm a brilliant cartoonist. Where do you live?
ME: Putney, on the green line.
HER: Why are you here?
ME: Um (blushing), my boyfriend lives near here.
HER: I have three Polish friends.
ME: (mishearing) Three boyfriends? They must keep you busy. I have enough trouble with two.
HER: No, no you are a strange funny person. Three Polish friends.
ME: Oh, that's good. I went to Poland once.
HER: So do you want to be my friend?
ME: Um, I guess.
HER: Good. What's your name?
ME: Penny. (As she types 'Pemy' into her phone) No, P E N N Y.
HER: I am Edina. What music do you like?
ME: Indie. I'm not very cool.
HER: You are not very cool. I like drum 'n' base house.
ME: I'm getting off here.

And there endeth the conversation. So I came into work feeling strangely flattered but baffled, wondering whether I was a stuck up and unfriendly Brit or whether she was an eccentric East European. Both are probably true. Then I had strange daydreams veering off in opposite directions, one in which Edina becomes a bosom chum and ends up as chief bridesmaid at my wedding, and the other in which she becomes obsessed with me and ends up murdering me on the night before my 30th birthday.

And it reminded me of this quote from the aforementioned book, about friends, and what strange creatures they are:

"Lily smiled at her classification of her friends. How different they had seemed to her a few hours ago! Then they had symbolized what she was gaining, now they stood for what she was giving up. That very afternoon they had seemed full of brilliant qualities; now she saw that they were merely dull in a loud way. Under the glitter of their opportunities she saw the poverty of their achievement." (my emphasis)

I'm not sure what, if anything, I'm trying to say by this other than I'm extremely glad that I don't feel towards my friends as Lily does, and that, even if you come across people in unconventional ways, it seems sensible to be grateful when your path crosses that of a friendly stranger.

You're all invited to mine for a party, 6 February 2009. I musn't be on my own...


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