COLUMN: September 14, 2017

lanyard
A man wearing a lanyard

MY normal resting facial expression is one of confusion or worry. It does occasionally prompt colleagues to ask if I am all right or reassure me that “it might never happen”.

What I really want to cultivate is Resting Grumpy Face. It would be ideal for travel on public transport to deter people from sitting next to me with their pickled onion-flavour Monster Munch or extended mobile telephone conversations.

“I’m not sitting next to him. He looks as if he would bite my head off,” I want them to think. “I’d be better off sitting next to that woman in the floral dress and Viking helmet who is singing.”

But I am stuck with Resting Vaguely Worried Face, which is all very well – my face has to be arranged in some way while it is not in use – but it does not intimidate people in any way.

I was walking to work, trying to learn a foreign language on a phone app through my earphones, so that, when I am thrown out of the country following the Big Brexit Revolution, for Remoaner offences like whistling Beethoven or being nice to people with dark skin, I will be able to obtain food and shelter overseas.

That was when a young woman with dark skin appeared in my path. “Help me, please”, she said. “Oh, no,” I thought. “I hope she doesn’t want me to assemble a bed.”

But she was young enough to be my daughter, and I switched into Dad Mode. “What do you need?” I asked, hoping that it would be quick and painless.

She swung a lanyard badge from the local FE college in my face. “Where is college?” she said.

“Oh, right,” I said. “Erm, which campus?” She looked at me as if I had asked her which frying pan Hylda Baker would have used to fly to Mars. “What is campus?” she asked.

I tried a couple of my newly-acquired languages on her, but she was unmoved, so I resorted to English, enunciated clearly and very slowly. “Are. You. Learning. At. The. College?” I mouthed, miming the word “learning” by pointing at my head.

“Yes,” she said.

“What. Are. You. Learning?”

“English”, she said.

“Of course”, I said. I whipped out my phone, and Googled the college. Up came a page with the details of the English as a foreign language course. Did it say where the course was? No, of course not.

I decided to phone the college myself, and find out. Was the college telephone number on the mobile website? No, of course not. Because websites are all about spiffy animation and not about unfussily telling you the stuff you need.

Then the woman bustled past me, presumably tired of my uselessness. But it turned out she had spotted four other young women, with lanyards like her own. “Where is college?” she asked them.

I walked over. “Which campus?” they asked. She looked at me. “She doesn’t speak English,” I said. “Do you know which campus does English as a foreign language?”

They did. They told me. It was about a mile away. I thanked them with the heaviest of hearts. I knew where this was going. Worse, I knew where I was going…

“The college is that way,” I said, pointing hopefully in the approximate direction of the institution.

“Now, you need to take the…” I stopped. Her incomprehension was as clear to me as my instructions were unclear to her.

“Please take me,” the young woman said. I was still in Dad Mode. I imagined my own daughters in her position, in a foreign land, completely lost, trying to learn the language. What would I want a local to do?

I would want him to be late for work. “Come on,” I said. “I’m Gary. Follow me.” She scurried after me, and I wondered how I would be able to fill up the silence of a mile’s walk with somebody who didn’t get my jokes.

But then, after a mere 10 metres of walking, she squealed excitedly. “I know this! It’s there! I know this place! College is there!”

And off she went, a cloud of dust behind her. “Thank you,” she called. “I haven’t really done anything,” I said, to nobody in particular. I was almost disappointed.

I resumed my journey, hoping that she would make it to college. At least for once my Resting Vaguely Worried Face was appropriate.

 

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