Decamot of the month

30 Nov 2018-Modern Times

Decamot inspired by the following items: fire engine, atlas, chef, railway arch, robin, The Alps, swimming shorts, doorstep, bowler hat, Christmas tree

You don't often see bowler hats these days. Robin was justifiably proud of his. He'd spotted it in a shop window on Drury Lane, and knew he had to have it. It was a jet black Coke made by Lock & Co. Hatters of St James's Street. It was the exact twin of the one he'd seen his father wear to work each day on his way to the City when Robin was a boy. That seemed such a long time ago now: a bygone age; a simpler time when families had their milk delivered to their doorsteps, going online meant putting the washing out, and windows didn't crash unless you were being burgled.

The acquisition of the bowler hat had marked a turning point in Robin's fortunes. Over the course of the next week he also acquired a pair of black shoes (slightly too large) a single-breasted, single-buttoned jacket (slightly too small), a pair of baggy trousers, a woollen tie, and a bamboo walking cane. With these items, he was then able to differentiate his living statue from the others in Trafalgar Square. There were several generic figures who had spray-painted themselves grey to imitate stoneware, there was an apparently levitating Yoda, and there was a fakely-bearded Gandalf - all standing motionless awaiting contributions from appreciative tourists.

And now there was also Robin, who, in his new outfit, mop of black tousled hair, slight build, diminutive height, and neatly trimmed moustache, was so uncannily similar to the late great Charlie Chaplin circa 1925 that he quickly drew a large audience. That week his takings were nearly double that of the previous week. By the second week, word of mouth had helped swell the crowd that his character attracted, and naturally swelled his take too. What a way to make a little money, he thought to himself. Being paid to stand motionless watching the world go by.

He felt that eventually the popularity of his living statue would wane. The novelty of his character would pass, he knew that, and his crowd would gradually disappear. He was expecting it; but he wasn't expecting it to disappear as rapidly as it did: one minute a healthy number had gathered pointing and occasionally depositing coins at his feet, and then the next minute, they were all running to the other side of the square. What had prompted the mass migration was the sound of a fire engine's siren. The vehicle approached rapidly from The Mall, sped round the south side of Trafalgar Square, and then up St Martin's Lane. This sudden burst of activity was much more exciting than watching a static living statue regardless of its extraordinary likeness to a Hollywood star from another era.

As they departed, Robin allowed himself to break the unwritten rule of living statues and slowly turned his head to watch his retreating crowd. As he stood there, hunch shouldered and feeling somewhat forlorn, an idea came to him: he decided to follow the crowd. But not just as one of the crowd, but as Charlie Chaplin.

He shuffled along, slowly at first to make sure he got the walk just right. He pointed his feet outwards as far as he could and brought his heels in close together (showing 10-to-2 as his grandma would have said). He bent his knees slightly and he moved with an exaggerated rolling gait, lowering his hips from side-to-side as he moved forward, not unlike Dick van Dyke impersonating an emperor penguin in Mary Poppins.

He picked up the pace a bit and gave his bamboo cane a practise twirl and he adjusted his tie. Once comfortable with the general style of his movements, he broke into a gentle trot. When he neared the road that everyone had departed for, he made it look like he was screeching to a halt by hopping on one leg, while leaning to one side and holding his other leg out straight as if for balance. For extra effect, he clamped his bowler hat down with one hand and desperately clung on to his bamboo walking cane with the other.

When Robin heard the first titter from the crowd as someone spotted his performance, he knew he'd hit the mark. He craned his neck around as if trying to watch the departing fire engine. He removed his hat and scratched his head while placing his other hand on his hip. He shrugged his shoulders. He twitched his nose and moustache. He shrugged his shoulders again and started to waddle off. Robin heard more laughter.

This marked his progression from living statue to Charlie Chaplin mime artist. The tourists couldn't get enough of him. First they started to follow him and watch his antics. Then they started asking for selfies with him. Each time he mimed reluctance at first, then let himself be persuaded. And each time he received a handsome recompense. When he sat on a bench, tourists would join him. He'd then start a silent scene with them. He'd look at the tourist, they'd look back. He'd slide a little closer. They'd slide a little closer. They would interact silently for a few minutes, Robin improvising gestures that seemed approrpriate in each case. Other tourists would look on, taking photographs and applauding. And more importantly, tipping well.

His mini-mimed scenes soon became a regular part of his day and seriously boosted his income. If anything unusual happened in the square, he would hurry over to it and become a silent part in it. A three year Drama degree and two years at RADA had not been a waste after all, he thought to himself. His late parents would have been proud, he knew they would.

What he enjoyed most was when a couple sat on a bench he was already on and continued their conversation as if he wasn't there. He was amazed how often people seemed to forget that he was real and would talk about the most personal things between themselves without inhibition. He heard about slights and illnesses, about sexual conquests and broken relationships, and hopes and aspirations. He heard a celebrity chef tell her partner that she really wanted to be professional rugby player; he heard a tearful nine-year old tell her exasperated mother that all she wanted was to be the fairy at the top of the Christmas tree; he heard an MP confide in his private secretary that the reason he was a daily frequenter of the Virgin Active Health Club was because he couldn't resist seeing his fellow members in their swimming shorts.

Late one afternoon in early December, a couple sitting on the bench started talking about a recent holiday they'd enjoyed in The Alps. Just where exactly are The Alps? Robin wondered. As there was a Waterstones just the other side of the square, he decided to call it a day for the mime work and go find out: Waterstones were bound to have an atlas that he could consult. He stretched, stood up, yawned and ambled off in the direction of the bookshop using the flat-footed rolling gait that had now become almost second nature.

He walked into the bookshop and climbed to the first floor where he spotted the travel section. He took off his hat and placed it upside down on an empty table and hung his cane over the back of a nearby chair. He ambled over to the bookshelves and started to scan them for an atlas, all the while unconsciously using Charlie Chaplin's mannerisms: he stood with his hands on his hips, shrugged several times, fiddled with his tie, twitched his nose, took several flat-footed steps backwards to get a better view of the books. He even gave a little hop when he found what he was looking for on the top shelf.

It wasn't until he returned to the table to reclaim his trusty Coke and bamboo cane that he realised several fellow customers who'd been watching him without him noticing, had been treating his upturned hat as a collection bowl. He couldn't help noticing that amongst the coins were several large looking bank notes. He nonchalantly pocketed the money, mimed a heartfelt thank you, returned the hat to his head at a rakish angle, and then ambled back downstairs and out of the shop, all the time wondering how generous this latest benefactor had been. Maybe he'd have enough money to buy a train ticket to somewhere nice. He could do with a change of scenery. Maybe he'd have enough money to buy a plane ticket. He'd never flown before. Maybe he'd have enough to visit The Alps!

He wandered into the Cafe in the Crypt at St Martin's-in-the-Fields church. As he sat with a warming cup of coffee, he discreetly counted the day's takings. He quickly realised he'd rather let his imagination run away with him. He'd certainly done well today, but not that well.

Oh well, never mind, he thought as he made his way back to his home under the railway arch. Maybe next year.