(Originally published in 2006.)Swiping out of work at 5.45pm (can’t seem to shake off the habit of surfing the ‘Net for quarter of an hour – institutionalised by my lack of access at home until recently. . .)
It’s the Big Bald Security Guard. (At the back of my mind there’s a video clip of him trying to take a bead on Dolph Lundgren with some kind of plasma weapon, but it refuses to turn into an IMDB link.) He’s more than a little odd. Once he tried to convince me that the Bible is pure invention using “well, it’s a book, isn’t it?” as the core of his argument. Sometimes he stares out through the plate-glass front doors with a look on his face that says Danger: Forming Unhealthily Countercultural Philosophy — Run Like Bloody Hell. He has a face of finely-drawn planes of cheekbone and jaw, like a Terminator. He leans in when he’s arguing with you, his eyes glowing slightly.
Today, as many evenings, he’s sat in his chair, facing possible tides of lanky drug-crazed teenage thieves, random nutters and armies of balaclava’d fringe militant anti-private-healthcare liberation movements, staring out (maybe willing them on). His brow is furrowed. It’s always furrowed — when he frowns, his eyebrows descend into his head, pulling his shoulders up. He stares at the sky.
“It’s cold. It’ll be all them freezing of the ice-caps.”
He’s right. (The first part). Stepping out, from the warm, sterile atmosphere of work . . . it’s stepping into a freezer. You can feel your body blink, swear foully and start stoking its own fires furiously, as your first breath draws frigid gases deep inside you, a painful pulse of extreme temperatures on the inside of your throat. Animal instinct: be small, be small. Zipper, hands jammed into pockets, pushing against the lining towards your legs as if the pressure will warm them, which it will, but nowhere near as much as you need.
An animated wind whips the bitter air around, particularly underfoot. It’s caught many people out, this very clearly defined First Day Of Winter. The most nithering-looking are, as always, young women in skirts, all ruddy knees, convulsive self-hugging and pinched expressions. Blokes, myself included, disappear into our upturned collars like we’re on the way to a Raymond Chandler convention. Today, I positively love my new light-grey dark-grey fleece — figurehuggingly warm, no flapping waist to pump cold air up and around.
There are leaves everywhere.
Grey clouds scud. (What else scuds, apart from, obviously, this?) Crossing the railway bridge, the wind makes a carriage of a passing train moan the moan of the profoundly indigested, a low sound that if I was nearer I’d probably feel most in my teeth. Doors bang. Inappropriate shoes clatter. Car lights look unnaturally sharp (perhaps my imagination, or a function of the cold against my contact lenses.) Everything is faster — no tarrying, no wasted energy, no unnecessary exposure.
But I’m still not home quick enough.