Three characters in search of a story

I used to travel into central London early each morning during the working week.  Setting off before the main rush hour shortened the Tube journey time and gave me more time to sit over my coffee in Starbucks or Costa, watching the world, before dragging myself to the office.

For those of you who have never experienced it, New Oxford Street can be quiet at 7:45 am.  But I was not the only one with an early morning routine.

Most days I would pass middle aged twins walking in the opposite direction, at approximately the same spot outside the umbrella shop, at approximately the same time.

I know they were twins because they were both petite and neat, with their bleach blonde hair styled in the same style short at the back with a  curly back-combed fringe.  They wore identical tight stonewashed jeans with sparkly appliqué down the seams which glinted as they clipped along in their black stiletto boots.  And their faces were indistinguishable from each other.

Every time I saw them and our eyes met briefly I would wonder where they were going, where they’d been, and especially why two adult women would voluntarily dress exactly the same as each other all the time.

I would say to myself,  there must be a story there.  And then the moment later, I must be able to make one up.  I’ve tried, but so far I’ve managed nothing more than a few unsatisfactory paragraphs .  The twins intrigued me, but somehow not enough to come up with a story for them.

After passing the women, I would sit in the window in Starbucks and watch as the morning activity in the street multiplied, as the deliveries arrived and the queue for coffees grew.

Among the ebb and flow of the crowd I noticed the street sweeper, carefully running his broom along the edge of the pavement making small piles of dirt and cigarette butts spaced evenly in the roadside for his return to gather them up.

I noticed him because of  his methodical approach to his work and for his pristine appearance: his overalls and gloves were clean, his baseball cap was clean and white; and he was listening to something through earphones.

Not only did I want to know his story, how it was possible to keep his clothes so clean while doing such a dirty job; why would he choose such a job?  Was he driven by the desire for cleanliness to endlessly sweep the midden that is the bottom end of Tottenham Court Road? And most of all what was he listening to?  Radio 4 or hiphop?  Opera or pop?

I wish I knew.

I have a lingering sense of failure.  Maybe one day I’ll find their story; in the meantime, maybe you have one?

Leave a comment


  1. margaret nickels

     /  January 17, 2011

    Were they really the Cheeky Girls ? Not being a city person I find it fascinating that there are patterns to people behaviour in all of that random activity .

  2. Too old to count Cheeky, I fear. Everyone has a pattern, it’s just we don’t necessarily see it.

  3. Funnily enough Rowena, and this is the most amazing coincidence of the small world variety, I actually know those twins. They come from my home town, Barry, and they are called Coral and Carol Davies. I remember them at school, although obviously they were a few years below me. They were a bit weird, to tell you the truth. It wasn’t that they always dressed the same, we all wore the same school uniform anyway. It was that they copied each other, precisely and always, in every imaginable way. I remember once, in assembly, watching them. They were in the choir, facing out to the rest of us, standing side by side, identical down to the most minutest of minute detail. Surreal.
    My mother told me that when they were babies they were considered a bit freakish, did that whole twin unique language thing, got studied by experts, and didn’t speak normally till they started school. My mother thought it was their mother’s fault, she was a dreamy kind of woman who treated them as dolls, and absolutely insisted, always, that they should dress identically. My mother talked to her about it once: you know what she said? “I want them to look at each other and it be like they’re looking in the mirror.”
    I heard, a few years ago, that they worked in London now. Lapdancers apparently. So you probably saw them on the way home from work in the morning, from one of those all night bars for the casino workers. I wonder if they wear identical outfits at work? and do identical dances? Whatever. They must make a fortune I should think.


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