The grey sky seemed to close around me, hugging me tightly like a damp cardigan as I threaded my way slowly through the wet mass of Christmas shoppers,instinctively ducking the barbed spokes of carelessly swung umbrellas whilst straining to hear the barbed insults passing between gallus Glaswegian shoppers, heaving, swaying and insulting their way through the crowds along Argyle Street in a rain shower that seemed to make everything look dull and shiny at the same time.
I hopped this way and that, trying to avoid other shoppers, puddles and the gangs of chuggers that seem to infest shopping centres. Occasionally I stepped on a shoe or rubbed shoulders with another equally wet and stressed looking individual and we would exchange a simultaneous thin smile and insincere apology before continuing on our separate search for a Christmas bargain. At one point, I accidentally barged headlong into a woman as I attempted to sidestep an unseasonably slim, rather bedraggled Santa. The suit had obviously seen better days and his straggly beard and sallow complexion told me instantly who, or more accurately what, he was collecting for. Well, that and the empty can of tenants lager he was trying to rattle in my face.
My collision with the woman reminded me of a minor incident only a few days previous when I had been shopping in my local supermarket for a few items to finish off my Christmas food shop and I heard a couple having a fallout. I hadn’t noticed them at all to begin with. The hushed tones of their verbal disagreement approaching from another aisle didn’t even register, although the air seemed to crackle with the energy being given off from their conflict. I was drawn to the sound of a scuffle at first. Nothing too aggressive, more of a clash of trolley’s and the unmistakable sound of a couple at loggerheads in a public place. She, angry upset and verbal, caring nothing for the scene being created around them and he, hissing loudly like a split air hose, attempting in vain to keep things on the down low. Suddenly they were there at the end of the aisle looking for all the world like two angry contestants on Supermarket Sweep.
Naturally, although my attention was drawn wholeheartedly to their squabble, being British meant I was unable to turn and spectate, employing the standard tactic of needing to scan EVERY item on the shelf in front of me until I had either heard enough or they moved away. Unfortunately though, she seemed to have had enough and I was forced to half turn to watch events unfold as she spat out a very loud, very aggressive “well fuck off then!”.
As I turned to witness this particular relationship go supernova, I saw out of the corner of my eye, the woman of the drama, dressed in a very fashionable thick knitted poncho, attempting to put something into or take something out of her bag. The folds of her poncho appeared to be interfering with her actions and as she began to stomp off, she threw back her poncho to afford herself a clear run at her bag. Sadly for me, one of the wings of her poncho hit me square in the face and managed to catch on the zipper of my jacket. Like a fish caught in a chunky knit fishing net, I was suddenly yanked out of my life and dragged rather unceremoniously and painfully into hers. As I cried out in pain and surprise at suddenly being catch of the day, she stopped and turned, clearly just as surprised as I was.
She then stepped forward and her tone and attitude became very apologetic and calm. She apologised and as she freed me from her net, I told her it was okay and no harm done. She then threw him a look of complete disgust and spun on her heels, striding confidently away. He slowly pushed his trolley along the aisle, perusing the many and multicoloured shelves of alcoholic beverages, presumably mentally planning a much better Christmas than recent events promised.
Anyhow, as I approached Trongate and the welcome sight of a trusty, dependable Marks and Spencer store, I felt inside my jacket for a pack of cigarettes. I wanted to head inside to the coffee shop and nestle a warming mug of hot chocolate in my ice cold hands but first I needed to get my nicotine fix. The rain seemed to be easing slightly but that hadn’t brought about a convenient evacuation of the pavement under the shop’s canopy by those already drying themselves under it’s welcome protection.
I looked disparagingly at the crowd as I cruised past, eyeing up a potential spot to stop and squeeze into the clammy, stinking scrum, trying to identify the selfish ones who weren’t sheltering there to have a smoke and were thus stealing a dry space from a needy smoker. On the corner closest to the pedestrian crossing, someone was actually playing a harmonica and garnering a smattering of applause from the residents of the part of the shelter round the corner that ran along Glassford Street.
It was a competent effort, I thought, albeit spoiled by his drunken attempt at tap dancing in the filthy rain soaked trainers he was wearing. His sodden, tatty, too short flared trousers, flapped round his ankles like bunting at a village fete as his tobacco stained teeth poked out from behind the lop sided smile, framed by his untidy gingery beard. His grin grew wider as his audience shouted out words of encouragement like “encore” and “bravo” and “fuck off ya wee stoater”!
Backing into the recalcitrant smokers, I slowly edged my way to the window where I took out and lit up a cigarette, the blue smoke mingling with the stinking fog already hanging heavy under the canopy. Through the smog and umbrellas I noticed the corner where the crossing was located had been submerged under a mass of brown water, forcing shoppers using the crossing to divert further along the road to avoid wading through the filthy soup.
Obviously the drain was blocked. I might have wondered with what but the layer of crisp packets, empty food containers and discarded cigarette ends jostling for position on the surface was a bit of a giveaway. The rhythmic bobbing of the cigarette ends was strangely hypnotic and I stared at the puddle until something on the other side of the road caught my attention.
The drab, almost uniformly grey crowd was being parted by a lone female, laden with brightly coloured shopping bags, obviously on a shopping trip, oozing self confidence and an air of superiority as she knifed her way deftly through the slow moving herd. She wasn’t even wearing a coat or using an umbrella although she would have found it difficult to carry one with the amount of bags she grasped firmly in both hands. Her striped shirt was darker at the shoulders and neck where the rain had soaked through and her jeans were tucked into wooden heeled, knee length, brown leather boots. She strutted across the road like a lipizanner, her deliberate, unhurried, gazelle like performance giving her an assuredness that set her apart from the lumbering crowd. She showed not even the faintest flicker of concern across her dampened brow. Clearly this was her city. Her day. Her crossing. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.
As she neared the middle of the crossing, a slight look of horror rolled across her face and the self assured prance that had carried her across the road gave way to an ungainly stagger as one of the heels of her boots snapped completely off. Thrown off balance, she began to tip forward and step wildly from side to side as she fought to regain balance and composure. Sadly for her, this was a fight she was losing and she gave in to the forces of physics and gravity, tumbling forward, arms flailing.
Her self confidence now abandoned ship and as she fell forward, the expensive, private swimming lessons began to pay dividends as she threw both arms outward in what was probably the most perfect swallow dive I have ever seen, the many shopping bags fully extended at the ends of her arms, straining at the handles as she moved to a near horizontal position. Momentum expended, she now became a dead weight and as gravity took over, she started downwards, landing face first in the puddle.
Mentally, I gave her an eleven for the dive and as the sound of a slow handclap from the critics round the corner echoed round to my side, I stubbed out my cigarette and turned to go in for my hot chocolate. As I did so, the harmonica player was striking up another tune, his dark eyes glittering with a playful look. Perhaps he was happy that someone else was actually managing to look filthier than he was.