Three brickies get on, roaring drunk and covered in plaster dust. One has a copy of the Sport, and all three lean over it. Oh, look - a pair of breasts. Fwooar

Click to follow
The Independent Online
I have forgotten to bring a book - not a good move if you're spending time underground. The Poems on the Underground are deliberately chosen for people with a short attention span; William Carlos Williams's "I have eaten/ the plums/ that were in/ the icebox/ and which/ you were probably/ saving/ for breakfast/ Forgive me/ they were delicious/ so sweet/ and so cold" is a gorgeous example of 20th-century pith, but The Rime of the Ancient Mariner would be more like it when you have to go all the way to the airport.

It's quite a revolting time to be making the journey, anyway; bang on the middle of the afternoon rush hour, amid torrential rain. Occasionally, I am assailed by the urge to check my armpits, until I notice that someone has taken his suit jacket off two rows down. After 10 minutes' gradual edging towards the seats (you can tell a true Londoner by their gradual edging), I fling myself onto a patch of someone's old chewing gum and start to read the back of my fellow passengers' newspapers.

They are, of course, full of the dress sale. And Brigitte Nielsen. I work out their relative values. Two rumoured Brigitte Nielsens equals one Diana dress sale, but 390 Diana dress sales equals one millennium dome (sorry - make that a millennium "experience"). Now, if Brigitte could be persuaded to work for charity like the sainted one, she could actually pay for an entire millennium dome six days before the fireworks and take Sundays off. Just think - if Pammi, Melinda, Anna Nicole, Samantha and every Miss World contestant who has requested world peace would also give of their time, they could donate a millennium dome to every country in the world, as well as making a significant contribution to the Middle East peace process. Then everybody would be better off - apart, perhaps, from Jonathan Aitken.

The train is full of suits - little shorty skirty suits as seen in a million Hollywood corporate movies, and scratchy grey dry-cleaned-sometime- in-1995 suits as worn by men throughout the century. Shorty skirty suits are mostly dug into books: Families and How to Survive Them, Problem People at Work, the Pasty Kensit Diet Book. Clompy Shoes over the aisle is buried in How to Read a Person like a Book. I think: "I know how to tell something that's not in that book - if it's on a train, has its legs splayed in a broad V and is reading a broadsheet newspaper folded out to full extent, it's probably a man."

All up the train, the scene is the same - women with elbows tucked in, knees together or legs crossed, managing somehow to avoid tipping over. This is great, of course, for leg and bum muscles; women have no need of gyms if they commute regularly. The scratchy suits on either side of me are reading the Times and the Torygraph. Though each seems to feel the need to read pages four and five at the same time, each also contrives to have his elbows on both armrests. Left-hand man actually has his elbow over the armrest, sticking a couple of inches into my seat space.

Somewhere west of Hammersmith, when the train has emptied out a bit, three brickies get on, roaring drunk, ginger-eyelashed, covered in plaster dust. They slam themselves down, knees bashing familiarly against each other, fingers dangling into their laps. One produces a copy of the Sport. All three lean over it, straining their dangly dungarees as they grin in astonishment. Oh, look - a pair of breasts. Bet she'd give me one right here if she copped a look at me. Fwooar. Don't fancy yours much.

They grin, boggle-eyed, up the carriage, and their eyes alight on the air hostess on the other side of Times Man. She is doing that crowd-thing of pretending not to have noticed their arrival, reading the ads above their heads. Youngest one nudges his mates, gets out a pen, drops it, hunkers down and stares up her skirt. She crosses her legs, shifts her eyes to the anti-ageing cream poster.

Torygraph Man lifts his elbow to turn a page. I quickly slip my own into its place. He looks annoyed; I look blank. Another small victory for X-chromosome guerrilla tactics. Over the aisle, Ginger Men are getting worse, egging each other on. Middle one turns another page of the Sport and they look in unison from paper to the air hostess's bosom, down at their crotches, back up at her bosom.

She bends to retrieve her overnight bag, setting off a chorus of "urk- urks". Pulls a slim volume from the side pocket, fixes each one in turn with a long, cool glance. Opens the book somewhere in the middle and raises it in front of her face so that the title is clearly visible. Ginger Men suddenly start to read the ad above her head. I sneak a look at her book. In clinical-looking sans-serif lettering, it offers to supply the purchaser with solutions to vaginal thrush. You go, girl.