“I was in Bond Street the other day, and one in five of the ‘gels’ there was in a smart suit. In Guildford, four in five of the ‘gels’ wear trousers.” The tone of the comment left me in no doubt that the elderly gent talking to his friend very much approved of the girls in Bond Street, and was somewhat alarmed by the evident decline in standards around Guildford.
To be fair, he was no model of sartorial elegance himself – his tie knot, in particular, left a fair amount to be desired. But I figured that a crowded underground train with no escape was not the place to confront him about his fashion sense or his views about local ‘gels’. Maybe I’m just a coward.
Of course, we all make judgments based on appearances. I’ve just done so with with this poor chap, criticising his dress and mocking his accent. Maybe a lot of the time it doesn’t really matter as it has no immediate consequences. Sometimes, of course, it is a useful defence mechanism – spotting the drunken lout on the train and avoiding sitting next to them is an essential skill in city living.
My moment with the old gent on the tube tickled my sense of humour, but also brought to mind another incident on the underground years ago, in Manhattan, which I’m rather ashamed of. I was leaving the subway to go up to the street, and an elderly lady came towards me. She was fairly disshevelled, somewhat stressed, and appeared to be muttering quietly. It was an encounter I wanted to avoid, suspecting I was going to be asked for money or invited to discuss religious matters, neither of which was high on my to-do list. I swerved to avoid her, and just caught a glimpse of her crestfallen look as I bounded up the stairs to the street.
I don’t know why, but something made me look back when I got to the top, and what I saw shocked and shamed me. Another man was preceding the lady up the stairs, carrying the heavy bag which she could not manage and which she had been seeking help with. I wondered how many other people had passed this lady by, before she finally got the help she needed.
There’s probably no way round the fact that we make judgments based on appearances. But I suspect we could probably be a good deal more open-minded than we are without sacrificing common sense precautions.
So, if my old gent from the train is reading this, I’ll do you a deal. I’ll overlook the tie, if you’ll overlook the Guildford trousers….