Paddington Laid Bare

There appear to be loads of people searching for other people at London’s Paddington station at 9.30 on a Tuesday morning.

You just have to choose your look-out point and stand still there for a moment to watch them all in action. It is remarkably easy to spot those who have arranged to meet someone for the first time. Like me, they keep their mobile phone  handy as they peer expectantly at the steady stream of people disembarking.

Before joining in myself, I watch the whole procedure repeat itself a dozen times: the tentative smile of possible recognition followed by the awkward greeting.

Why, I wonder for the umpteenth time, is it that we Brits never know how to comfortably greet each other? As a race, we always appear unsure about whether or not to shake hands, embrace, hug or even kiss each other. Returning to the UK after twenty years in southern Spain, I have had to tone down my over-enthusiastic “hellos”. I quickly realised that Londoners (especially in the grip of a swine flu scare) are reluctant kissers …even the frosty “air-cheek- brush” variety is not really welcomed. Now I tend to shake hands …and then we both reach for the anti-bacterial gel.

But I digress. Back to Paddington station where I am waiting to meet Jon Lee. Jon is a much travelled industrial safety expert who recently selected the London Vision Clinic to carry out his Laser Eye Surgery (but more of that later). We have spoken on the phone but have never met before. All I know from his own brief description is that he is in his mid-fifties and has a “sort of” small, beard.


Well that limits the search somewhat. … but not a lot. The Heathrow Express seems to disgorge numerous businessmen who would match that description… apart from one major factor. I know that – unlike the vast majority of his contemporaries – Jon will not be wearing glasses.

As I watch the steady stream of humanity, I carry out a quick “spec count”. It occurs to me that –  if this is a typical cross section – about half the population wear glasses. The proportion is somewhat higher in the more “mature”  age group. Clearly this doesn’t take into account the number of people who wear contact lenses; but it would seem that only a lucky, very small minority are blessed with perfect eyesight.  And, as we get older, those lucky few are as rare as (please excuse the phrase) rocking horse shit!

Spectacles have become part of the human psyche – by that I mean, alongside our height and hair colour, they are part of our overall description.

“I am blonde, 5’6” and I wear glasses”, we might say or

“You’ll recognise me: I’m 6’ with a beard and glasses.”

For those of us who don’t need specs, it would actually, alongside the other stuff, be more relevant to say so in any blind (sic) introduction.

“You’ll recognise me, I stand out from the crowd, I don’t wear glasses any more”, we should explain smugly.

This would be a more satisfactory, but nonetheless equally conspicuous, way of narrowing the search . Considerably easier than wearing a pink carnation or carrying a carefully folded copy of yesterday’s Times for instance.

By the way, I met up with Jon just fine. We did the last minute phone thing and spotted each other immediately.