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  • David Mathews

Broken down by age and sex on St Andrew’s Day


From the train, seven minutes late, alighted 19 passengers. Twelve women, seven men, all shapes and sizes. I will not describe them one by one for fear the terms I use give offence – fat, skinny, wobbly, stumpy, lanky, funny-looking, boss-eyed – or lest I might seem to approve only of those whom I thought gorgeous or handsome. Body Mass Indexes ranged from skinny 20 to ample 30 or more. Most ages were represented: 65+, 55-64, and all the rest, bar minors and infants.

What were their nationalities? Were any immigrants, even – ugh, shock, horror – economic migrants? Impossible to say, since none tried to snatch the train driver’s job, and none spoke. They could have been British or from a dozen different places, I could not tell. How might they have identified themselves on ethnic or LGBT spectra? Not bothered, frankly, and none of my business. But I would have been happy to know who had been misguided enough to vote for Brexit, which ones hit their partners or demeaned them, and which, if any, thought Nigel Farage a man of the people and Liam Fox a credible politician.

Unconscious of my curiosity, they stepped onto the platform, organised their bags (two to four each), passed between the thirteen of us champing to board, and headed for the stairs and lift.

What then? Lunch and an afternoon with a lover? A shift at Primark or Boots? A hot chocolate at the Christmas market? Shopping for shoes or maybe an appointment with an oncologist who will give them bad news?

I know nothing, except that …

… there was a 0.46 probability that two of them shared a birthday (ie, almost as likely as not), but only a 0.007 probability (estimated) that they shared a birthday cake.

… it was considerably more likely that one of them had left behind an umbrella than mislaid a haggis, even though it was the feast day of Scotland’s patron saint. I would have been happy with either when I boarded the train, but no luck.


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