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Saturday 4th November 2006

On the tube on the way to the Hampstead Comedy Club I found myself in a carriage with three young girls of maybe eight or nine years old who seemed to be accompanied by a middle aged woman. I was trying to read my paper, but as seems to be the pattern recently, I was getting distracted by the noise and activity of the annoying youngsters. One of the girls started swinging from the hand rail by the door. She was a good way off the ground and it looked like a slightly dangerous stunt for someone so small to be attempting on a moving train. But far from being concerned for the child's safety the adult with her was merely helping her count how many times she was managing to swing. This jarred with me slightly. She wasn't even standing close enough to catch her if she fell. It didn't seem very maternal, but then maybe the woman wasn't the girl's mother. Maybe she wasn't even with them.
I wasn't the only one surprised by this disregard for health and safety. A pretty woman sitting opposite me caught my eye and pulled a face and smiled at me with a look of disbelief on her face. So maybe this recklessness would help me for a relationship with a beautiful stranger, which is surely worth the brain damage of a small girl.
The other two girls who were sitting nearer to me now also started jumping around on the seats and swinging from the handrails. They at least had the seats beneath them for safety, but one of them did slightly stumble and landed on the seat next to me, coming into contact with me. She was fine and got up and carried on and I got another pretty smile from the mystery passenger.
I could have said something to the adult accompanying them, but it wasn't my place and I didn't want to ruin my chances of seeing that smile again. But really it's an unwritten rule that you can't start chastising other people's kids if they are with an adult already. But the woman with these girls was not at all concerned.
An old man, unaware of the unwritten rule did chastise the girls, telling them to get their feet off the seats. They were quite nice children and complied with his instructions. The woman counting the other girl's swings did not notice or care. Maybe she wasn't with these other girls. Though the girls all seemed to be together. The other girl came to join her friends and started jumping on the seats. "We were told not to do that," said one of her friends. But the old man had gone now and they didn't seem too bothered and carried on.
I tried to catch the smiling woman's eye, but she had become bored by these childish antics. I had missed my window of opportunity. Maybe she would have been more impressed with me if I had been as brave as the old man and told the girls off. Maybe she had thought, "Well, I'm not marrying him. He does not require the necessary disciplinary skills to bring up my children".
The girls realised their stop was next and their placid adult gathered them together to get off. It was also my stop and it soon became clear the stop of the smiling woman.
We all got off. The girls ran off to cause mayhem in the station as their guardian did nothing, the smiling woman stopped on the platform in front of me. Perhaps she was worried that the strange smiling man had just "happened" to get off at the same stop as her. Maybe she was waiting for me to propose the marriage that our smiles had made clear was on the cards. Or maybe she'd got off at the wrong stop and was waiting for the next train.
I carried on, without proposing. Another potential destiny unfulfilled. But what if we'd had kids like those three? It was for the best.

November quiz - Question 4
In 2004 I cleaned out the elephant stalls at a zoo. Which labour of Hercules was I emulating by doing this?

Please wait until the end of the month before sending all 30 answers in together. Anyone sending answers individually will immediately invalidate their entry to the competition.

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