Sunday 12 October 2008

Les Oignons

I should have perceived it when I stopped to inspect an enormous onion in the road, outside the wholesalers in the High Street:

to bicycle around town at 2.30 am on a Sunday, wearing a black-and-white-striped jumper, is to be taken by tipsy nighrevellers for the Onion Man, the itinerant Frenchman of local lore.

After a couple of comments ("Onions!"; "Is your name Pepé?") I decided that I didn't mind letting the clubbers walking home think they'd seen the onion seller, so I put the beret on. ("Frenchie!"; "Don't shout: he's French.")

All of this came about because, as I rode home after an evening of pleasant sprawl with Amy and Andy, I found that I didn't feel like stopping and so rolled down the Avenue, London Road, Above Bar and the High Street.

I go out in town sometimes but tonight I could have gone straight to bed in my hushed suburb and forgotten the activity that hums away, a mile south - Southampton is not glamorous. Yet, I feel expanded and comforted by a furtive glide past the mêlée of taxis, packed takewaway houses, collapsees, police and busy club pavements. I took the chance to visit Rob, night-portering at the Grand Harbour Hotel, which, tonight, hosts Cyndi Lauper.

Just as the day had begun, it ended with a thick mist. It muffled Town Quay in a greasy cloud that almost hid the moon and was broken only by big, silent white gulls. The Isle Of Wight ferry was at dock and about ten fellows populated the end of the quay surrounded by rods, buckets, vans, cycle-trailers and a large "No Fishing" notice. It must be a weekly gathering: they turned as I passed and I felt like I was interrupting. I stopped to sketch the faint shimmers of light from the container port.

All of this was unplanned; I was alone and didn't even buy chips (which is always fun on a bicycle) but I hope I added something.

Perhaps the Onion Man was someone just like me all along. If so, for tonight, I am him.

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