September 24, 2017
On the train from Scotland to London yesterday, we had a table next to a young, blond American man. He was 18 and was wearing pale beige chinos, a tee-shirt and a wide statement baseball cap. This cap was a showpiece with a removable hologram sticker still stuck to the top of the peak. The sticker would look silly to anyone not in the branded baseball cap game but to the boys who wear them, it signifies value, a collector’s item.
The young man opened his laptop while we were getting settled and I saw his name flash up on the startup security page: ALEX something. Let’s call him Alex Spanner.
As the train was pulling out of the station, he opened a hot coffee. The lid popped off with pressure and coffee spilled over his pale chinos.
My brother Bruce, quick to express manly sympathy, said, ‘I hate it when that happens.’
Alex smiled nervously, clearly worried about his chinos.
I broke out the paper towels and wet wipes. As Alex was dabbing his trousers, I tried a bit of manly sympathy myself, ‘Use as many wet wipes as you like. Don’t hold back.’
Alex nodded but his head was down. He was concentrating on the spillage over his general genital area.
Hovering, and still eager to help but wary of actually dabbing the affected area myself, I said, ‘It’s a shame the coffee’s brown, Alex.’
He looked at me, startled that I knew his name and shocked I’d mentioned the word ‘brown’ in context with his trouser groin. He returned his attention to the spill, vigorously scrubbing with wet wipes.
Bruce, unable to help himself, was now roaring with laughter.
I felt bad. I was itching to make my brother laugh again but I didn’t want to ridicule Alex. It was a fine line.
I once again addressed Alex. Perhaps we could neutralise the stain, I said. We could try squeezing orange juice on it. ‘We have fresh oranges,’ I added, helpfully.
My brother roared again.
Alex smiled good-naturedly. He was a good sport. Once he’d given himself a thorough wet wipe, he settled down with a politics textbook over his lap. We had a pleasant chat about Donald Trump and rugby until he got off in Edinburgh.