I was on the phone to a very nice person trying to refine the definition of ‘Evaluation’.

This is what my life has become.

They said they had lots of letters saying their work was good.
Would these comments count as ‘Positive Evaluation’?

Me: No, just because someone says your work is good does not mean it actually is.

I was aware that I was wobbling on a contradiction in terms.
I was also aware I was probably crushing dreams.
That’s just part of my job, I do that all the time.
This was a point of semantics though and I could not leave it alone.

I grasped for a metaphor but the day was not with me.

Me: For example, if I asked the people in this office if I had good dress sense or not they would all probably say ‘Yes’.

I was suddenly aware about how close everybody else’s desks were. I just hoped my usual droneing conversations did not penetrate the concentration of my hard working colleagues.

Me: Whereas if a complete stranger asked them if I had good dress sense or not, I think the answer….

I became slightly unfocussed and distracted at this point as these really are not the sort of analogies one should make in an open plan office.
I was guided to my conclusion by the stifled giggles around the room.

Me:…the answer would be quite different.

I felt I may have lost a bit of ground. I was not sure where from but it had definitley gone.

Me: Any way, umm, independent Evaluation would probably be a good idea.

The thing is, we might listen to a stranger more than we would listen to those close to us.
True they lack the perspective of years of knowing you.
On the other hand they have the unique perspective of not knowing you.

A complete stranger managed to say one of the most revelatory things about me when I was in London.
I was just stepping out of a rehearsal room in Waterloo, I paused for a moment and patted my pocket for the key.
There was a big chap coming down the street, it was about 6.30pm but still light.
He stopped and stared at me.

Here we go I thought, London, big chap, probably got guns and drugs and bombs because that was what I was told in Porthleven before went to find my fortune. London, it’s all guns and drugs and bombs.

He stared at me, raised one hand.

Man: I don’t have any money.

Oh here we go, thinks I, at least he only wants my wallet and not my kidneys or liver or to drug me or bomb me or something.
I sort of stared at him.
I did not move and was still mid pat.
With hind sight I must have looked a bit odd I suppose.

Big chap: I…you aren’t going to rob me are you?

Me: No.

How embarrassing.
I sort of coughed and muttered.

Me: Just looking for my keys.

Big chap: Bloody hell. You look really scary.

Which is exactly how I had tried to look when I went out that morning.
Here I am in a city full of criminals and thugs and drugs and bombs and guns, I had better dress the part.

Ok, not strictly true, I was also trying to create an air of dark, charming mystery for the ladies.
Sadly he did not tell me whether this element of my wardrobe and demeanour were working.
Wasn’t really the best time to ask though.
As a point of note, I later found out it wasn’t.

And it was a mile stone for me, to realise that perhaps other people were intimidated by me in the way I was intimidated by them.

None of my friends thought I was scary.
They all knew me.
Nice to hear it from a stranger.
Sort of, probably would have been better if he had not thought I was going to kill him to death with my shiv.

So when this lady sits next to me on the bench by the swimming pool I had a bit of a conundrum.

Digestive biscuits? Halva? Porridge?
It’s sort of a savoury food smell but it’s not….it’s not…nice.

In fact, it’s awful.

Prole2: What’s that smell?

Suddenly he looked like his mother. She had an uncanny sense of smell. This was great if you wanted to locate the bakewell tart in the tent in the dark (never lose quality bakery products whilst camping) but it could also render her powerless, in a gagging heap, when trying to change a bin bag.
This uncanny power has passed to Prole2.
Mind you, i am far from uncanny and I could smell it.

Prole2: What’s….

I grabbed him, put him on the other side of me and gave him my mobile phone.
He began killing Zombies.

Prole2: Still smells.

I don’t have a great sense of smell.
If I can smell something it usually means things are serious.
Too much garlic.
A bit heavy handed with the cinnamon.
Shouldn’t have touched the aftershave.

This was a really serious nasal assault.
This was Tom Cat in the kitchen bad,
She really did smell.

Now I know what you are probably thinking, there are lots of variables here.
Open public space, lots of other people around, many sources of potential smell.
It is also unfair of me to point out someone else’s problems.
All I know is, the smell arrived when she sat next to me, stayed as long as she did and left when she stood up and left.
All the time it was there it was my problem too.
The second half of the swimming lesson was smell free.

Sadly she left me with another problem.

You see, she really did smell.

I did not stare at her, I did glance across.
I don’t know what someone who smell looks like.
I don’t think she looked like someone who smells.
She just looked sort of normal.

Not like the homeless guy who took his shoes and socks off on the Circle Line that time.
He looked like he smelled.

She looked, sort of, fine.

And I wondered if she knew she smelled.
I mean, if it was you and you never smelled any different, you wouldn’t know would you?

Is it more neighbourly to say “You smell” or not?

I mean I didn’t.
I wouldn’t.
But should I have?

Who else would?

Would someone tell me if I smelled?
Perhaps I do smell?


I think back to all those friends who I have been in social situations with and not mentioned the unzipped fly, the toilet paper on shoe, ┬áthe food on face, the smudged make up. I actually left a table at a party because I did not know whether the girl I was talking to knew her blouse was undone. I thought maybe it was some kind of fashion thing but was not sure so ‘went to get a drink’ and never went back.

They were my friends and I couldn’t tell them.

Would I tell you if you smelled?

No, I’d probably cough nervously, mutter something about ‘evaluation’ and then go and get a drink.
And not come back.

I am sorry to say, if you smelled I probably would not tell you.

I am sorry, I feel awful about that.

And if I can’t do it, perhaps none of my friends can either.

I take solace in the thought that if I do smell and my friends are too nervous to tell me a smell, at least I don’t smell as bad as that lady at swimming.

She left, smelling, and I was the lesser man.