I first met Michael on platform four, Paddington Station in the summer of 1993. If all the rumours and hushed conversations of my youth were to be believed, it should have been a dangerous psychotic maniac stood at the ticket barrier to meet me that day. Thankfully it was not.

Michael was dressed entirely in gleaming white. From the dainty white daps to the peaked cap that sat angled aloft his grey pony-tailed head. In fact, far for the deranged drug-addicted lunatic that I had expected, had it not been for the roll-up cigarette jutting from his bottom lip, Michael might easily have been mistaken for the member of a religious sect. It is probably worth noting that I was not as au-fais back then with London fashions, and may have mistaken the all-white garb for some sort of post-modernist chic that hadn’t quite yet filtered down to the small South Wales town that I had just travelled from. Michael later informed me that he had recently purchased twenty-eight identical white t-shirts at Brick Lane Market at a snip. Thriftiness had been one of the traits my Grandmother had mentioned.

Two weeks prior to this meeting, I had been pottering about in the attic of my Mother’s house, sifting through dusty piles of Viz magazines and whiling away the long hot holiday. In the pursuit of alleviating my boredom, I had taken the act of masturbation to almost Olympic standards, and the attic room had provided the perfect training ground. I soon discovered that the cluttered piles of tea chests and old furniture were the ideal environment for an aspiring wanker, and the creaky stairs that led to the small attic boxroom acted as the ideal alarm system. Factors such as these are extremely important to the fledgling wanker and he will painstakingly plan, sometimes for hours on end, to achieve the perfect wank. In the same way that the Chief of Police at Scotland Yard might organise security for the opening of the Olympic Games, so must the young wanker cover each base, tick each box and ensure that the entire event runs smoothly and with the minimum of fuss or interruption. The consequences can be devastating; as the unexpected entrance of my Auntie Maura several months earlier paid testament to. All this is beside the point of cause. The important thing is how I came to meet Michael, and that in the course of my sojourns in the attic and amongst the chaos up there, I came across two photographs.

What struck me first about these two photographs was the obvious age difference between the two. They were quite clearly of the same person and yet the men that stared back at me seemed remarkably different. The first was a young face. Dark craggy features; a sharp jutting nose sat above thin pursed lips that scowled indignantly at the camera. The man wore a garish multicoloured striped t-shirt topped off with a brilliant white blazer jacket, a camera strap slung loosely across one shoulder. This was clearly the 80’s and clearly not Britain, as the shimmering blue seascape behind and radiant sunshine hinted at. It was a backdrop worthy of Turner, and yet such was the malevolence in the man’s eyes, and the unflinching intensity behind them, it seemed to suggest in no uncertain terms that he wanted nothing more than to ram the camera squarely up the photographer’s arse. This was clearly not a man enjoying his holiday.

If the man in the first photograph had been a raging bull, the man in the second was without any doubt an Indian sacred cow. The sharp angry features had aged and softened, the eyes had opened out from tight squints of suspicion into doughy brown pools. The aggressive shock of dark hair had wilted with age and now flowed grey down the man’s back. The eighties eyesore clothing had been replaced by a very un-offensive light green bomber jacket. The kind worn by park-keepers and those who have turned their back on making any kind of fashion statement.

However, the most unusual thing about this photo was what the man held in his hands. He was stood in what appeared to be some sort of indoor garden, surrounded by all manner of greenery. On the whitewashed walls hung blooming flowerboxes exploding with pinks and purples; fusias and pansies throbbing with colour dominated the scene. But despite the impressive backdrop, one could not help be drawn to the man and his frankly, odd pose. He stood between rows of garden benches holding in one hand what appeared to be, a small potted shrub. The other arm was bent at the arm with the palm raised, signalling toward the plant, in the same way that some busty TV gameshow co-presenter might stroke a dishwasher. Indeed, so idiotic did this man look, that on first glance and despite the difference in age, they looked to be completely different men. Such was the smugness of this park keeper character and the potted plant that he was so proud of; I could not help feeling a strong dislike for him. What was so great about his fucking plant? What did a man of his age think he was doing stroking a shrub like some hippy mongoloid? On any other occasion, the irritation I was feeling and the summer heat may well have spurred another furious masturbation session, but not this time. For the irritation was quickly being replaced by a realization. A realization that would soon make me question almost everything that the past 13 years had taught me. I knew who this man was. I knew exactly who this man was.

A stranger on the Platform | Next

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