Friday, 3 September 2010


This weekend, I happened to take a train journey into London and, as ever, I found myself fascinated by my fellow passengers.
Opposite me, sat a young woman, probably early twenties, wearing a baby doll dress (or so we called them in the 60s!) made from a busy, intricate, floral-printed, cotton fabric. The dress had a scoop neckline to reveal the slightest hint of cleavage and it ended at her upper thighs, showing off the full extent of long legs covered by black ribbed tights. The legs themselves were not those of a model, being rather plump at their upper reaches, but their very length made them imposing and eye-catching. Around her neck, she wore a string of huge fake pearl beads and on the index finger of her right hand was a large cosmetic pearl ring. Her mid-brown shoulder-length hair was worn loose and shone like spun silk. On her feet, was a pair of silver slipper-pumps which matched a fashionably enormous silver-coloured bag. Her face bore no make-up, but her eyes were hidden behind a pair of dark-framed glasses, which bestowed an air of gravitas.
The look was not glamorous, but it might be considered chic in an individualistic way, with a definite hint of flamboyance. I wondered briefly about her social class, as it was the sort of look that somebody very confident of their status might choose without the need to worry about fitting into social norms.
In her hands was a book – the biography of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother – in which she was totally engrossed. Was she, I wondered, a royalist or an historian maybe? She certainly looked intelligent. Yet, to draw such conclusions in view of the widespread popularity of the Queen Mother would be spurious.
However, there was something about the girl’s demeanour that conveyed an air of emotional stability, of deep-rooted confidence and calm authority. It was as though she was impervious to the world around her, lost in her own private space, unfazed and happily contented within her own skin. The comfortable way in which she was sitting with her long legs crossed so that they extended sideways to render the adjacent seat uninhabitable spoke volumes in itself. Indeed, passengers joining at intermediate stations chose to stand rather than disturb her, although their whispered mumblings did not escape my attention.
Despite this aura, I sensed that the girl was inherently reserved, serious and thoughtful, essentially an introvert with shades of extroversion.
However, when she looked up momentarily from her book to gaze into the middle distance, I saw the eyes behind the glasses and a whole new dimension to her character opened up. The glint in them spoke of energy, of wit, of flirtation and I mentally whipped the glasses away to find myself staring at Miss Moneypenny. Suddenly, I could visualise her teasing, sparring, flirting with a partner, desire burning within her just as with Moneypenny for Bond. She was a slow-burner, I decided, although there would be no holding back once the flames of passion had been ignited.
Why was she on this train, I wondered? It was late Sunday afternoon and I was heading out of London now on a train bound for the east coast. Had she had a rendezvous with a man, maybe?
Of course, all my assumptions were based on visual clues in the absence of any auditory information, which might easily have altered my perceptions yet again. However, it illustrates how we form opinions based on the minimum of information and, having seized on a few traits, we will then ascribe others according to our belief systems of character traits that tend to accompany each other.
The relevance of this to a writer, of course, is that we can convey a lot to the reader by the judicious use of a few carefully chosen words.
Incidentally, before my journey ended, I noticed another girl of a similar age, on the other side of the aisle. Her dress code was designed to blend in – jeans and a long-sleeved tee shirt – whilst her hair was tied at the nape of her neck, neatly, but unfussily. She, too, was engrossed in a book – Eat, Pray and Love – an interesting choice of reading. However, with no time to dally, lest I should miss my stop, I am afraid I had to leave that one an unsolved mystery.

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