'...half-watched a young woman perform a 20 minute phase of what may have been a marathon meticulous make-up, including fastidious uprooting of eyebrows, the full MOT…'
That was nothing. The other day a young woman sat down diagonally opposite me at the table, distributing luggage and clutter where she could, and within about ten minutes, after a trip to the toilet, she was surprisingly deshabillee and well into an intensive make-up routine. We shared this space for more than two hours, and she was still preening and powdering her image in her tiny mirror when I left the train before its journey was complete.
The routine included two bouts (at least two, I did not pay attention the whole time) of squeezing spots at close range with her head down studiously. There was one lengthy spell of creaming the face and neck, and several bouts of face-brushing with all the head-bobbing that goes with it.
After about an hour we had eyelash fixing – tricky on a fast-moving train, I would have thought. Do they have left-eye ones and right-eye ones? If so there’s a chance she might have put left on right unnoticed, and/or vice-versa, which might leave anyone looking a little inebriated. I did not inspect, although I suppose I might have done if invited to the cause. And then we had fingernails selected from a large box, apparently stuck on, then used to collect up all the scattered unused ones.
I think that for some people, some of this might just be too intimate for the public realm. I was hugely impressed with the contrast between her personal concern and public disconcern.
There was a sense of urgency, almost aggression, in her actions, in spite of the time it all took. Perhaps experience had taught her with this particular journey that there was no slack for the job in hand: two and a half hours to London and the task must be completed… You wouldn’t want to be pulling in to the terminus with more to do and not feeling able to leave the train perhaps, then being whisked back up the line as the return journey started, still touching up round the temples...
At one point I wondered if this was an unavoidable occupational necessity – was she going to get off the train in London and get tipped out of a taxi straight onto the stage in the west end? Had I unknowingly been privileged to witness the meticulous preparation of a new operatic star? OK, perhaps serving in a night club bar or similar? My conclusion was not, because she kept pouring herself slugs of vodka and sticky-sweet. I could be wrong.
As it happened, someone was taken seriously ill on the train during the journey. Medical expertise from among the passengers had to be called for, and then paramedics summoned to an intermediate station. Which felt to me, non-judgementally, like a little reminder: let her paint an inch thick, to this end she must come.