That’s what the weathered looking man said to me at the station at 8 o’clock this morning. He had (and likely still has) a little grey goatee beard and fluorescent yellow waistcoat. And a hat. And legs. And, most importantly for the sake of this story, a pile of handouts he was giving to people as they walked onto the platform.

Admittedly I had no idea what they were, but I decided I didn’t want one anyway and so just went to get on the train. I was all sleepy and vacant.

Then he said the despot thing.


Which sounded like an insult. I mean, I think it was an insult. Maybe it was a ribbing. Maybe he was talking to the guy behind me (he started talking to him afterwards). By the by all that because I did feel insulted. It was all unexpected and odd and I was immediately concerned that my expressionless face had made someone think I was miserable when I wasn’t, that seemed to be what he was getting at (if he was getting at anything). I’ve just got one of those faces, I can’t help it. At least I don’t have one of those faces that relaxes into a smile. Sounds good, you might think, but personally I think people who seem to be smiling ALL the time are taking the piss. I’m aware at this point that I’m building a very good case for me being over sensitive. If you want me to smile say something funny. Don’t say despot. It’s not a word that sits well in daily banter. It had me flummoxed. I don’t think I even knew what flummoxed felt like but how I could tell in this case was by the mind-boggled inarticulation of my response to the man. It went something like this:

‘Wooohooof?’, sort of a cheek-puffing exhalation.

I kind of did it over my shoulder while walking away, looking back a few times in disbelief at being called a despot by an employee of the rail network I was trying to use the same as any other morning. But the man was talking to someone else at this point. The main reason for my confusion:

I couldn’t remember what a despot was. It sounded familiar. To be honest it sounded like tosspot, which is perhaps what he meant.

To clarify then (after a consultation with, a despot is:

1. a king or other ruler with absolute, unlimited power; autocrat.
2. any tyrant or oppressor.
3. History/Historical. an honorary title applied to a Byzantine emperor, afterward to members of his family, and later to Byzantine vassal rulers and governors.

That sounds right. It doesn’t sound like me though. Even at the fullest stretch of the definition I don’t think I’ve ever reigned over any railway staff in a tyrannical way. I always pick up my rubbish and I don’t put my feet up on the seats. I always buy a ticket (sure I’ve done my share of bunking, but who hasn’t?)

Still I felt insulted. Was he talking to me or not? Did he even know what a despot is?

This leads us to four possibilities:

1. He was talking to me and thought I was abusing my absolute power by not taking his flyer and not looking happy about going to work in the cold.

2. He was talking to me, thought I was a tosspot but wanted a more sophisticated word for the same and decided despot was close enough.

3. He wasn’t talking to me, he was talking to the guy behind me who was actually a time travelling Byzantine emperor who needed to get to East Croydon.

4. He was talking to the guy behind me and thought he was a complete tosser because, y’know, that’s those Byzantines for you, isn’t it? Can’t even graciously accept a piece of rail service literature from a cheeky porter.

I don’t think he was talking to me. And if he was he is stupid. I can live with both of those. Plus I can now define what a despot is. And it’s less like a tired commuter and more like someone chastising someone else for not wanting to be spammed on the way to work.

I think I need to work on my morning demeanour.