Thursday, November 13, 2008

Love, love is a verb, love is a doing word

Matthew Eastmond's wonderful 'Commuter Ignores Lovable Bear', which is too perfect for words for today's post. I would love to think that we are all sometimes that lovable bear. You must - and this is not a request - take time immediately (even if the dinner will burn) to look at Matthew Eastmond's website, and at his online art exhibitions. Even better, buy something from him at once.

On the train home from London. No one speaks to anyone. People are even fearful of making eye contact. I challenge this by exuberantly greeting those on the morning or evening train who choose to take the seat next to me. Generally, they look afraid, then pointedly retreat behind books, Blackberries (I don't even know what a Blackberry is, but the chicks dig it...), Metro's or mobile phones. The exception to this rule - which I have noted consistently over the past two weeks I've been travelling to and from London - is Anthony, my seat companion yesterday from Waterloo all the way to Portsmouth and Southsea. It is ironic that on the one journey where tiredness had discouraged me from venturing beyond my usual smiling 'Is this seat taken?', it is Anthony who strikes up conversation with me.

"You read very quickly," he comments after half an hour in which I have been immersed in Rabih Alameddine's book, Koolaids - which I heartily recommend, and which has a great opening paragraph:

Death comes in many shapes and sizes, but it always comes. No one escapes the little tag on the big toe.

"You have nearly finished that book in half an hour!" he continues.

I beam at him, nearly sliding from my seat in surprise, and delighted that someone else has broken my observation of non-communicative travel. For the rest of the journey, Anthony and I chat about the benefits and disadvantages of speed-reading (he reads slowly and retains the details of every book he has ever read; I read very fast and cannot remember many details within the same week, though I can always tell you if I have enjoyed a book or not and rarely forget one entirely), and our respective jobs (he is an internal auditor in Gosport and very interested that I make my living writing).

It is a pleasure to listen to him talk; he has the delicious accent of Africa I have not heard since my days with the African Women's Choir (anyone who mentions my appearance on the Big Screen of the Guildhall Square will be struck off my Christmas card list for now and all time).

As the train pulls into Portsmouth and Southsea station, we exchange warm goodbyes. I wonder why these encounters are the exception rather than the rule?

Over the last few weeks, I have made a determined effort to speak to my fellow travellers during my train journeys, with varying results. Some people welcome contact with such warmth it borders on gratitude, as if they had been longing for someone to speak, whilst others respond with a hostility that may denote a fear of my self-evident insanity at speaking to them at all.

I don't mind too much how people react; the exercise is as much for my benefit as theirs. On Radio 4's Thought for the Day yesterday morning (Radio 4 is one of my closest and best informed friends) Giles Fraser said:

The more you give away, the more you have; the more your focus in life is outside of yourself, the more you will flourish.

In a world where our similarities by far outweigh our differences (should you doubt this, try comparing humans with frogs for a contrast), and in which many of us increasingly feel isolated and alone (Ah, how I miss you Kate!!!), the temptation to 'protect' ourselves by turning our focus ever inward (or, as the great philosophers John, Paul, George and Ringo once said - it's a fool who plays it cool by making his world a little colder), I'm all for bridging the gaps between each other, even at the risk of being considered crazy (what's new, I hear you cry, gentle reader).

1 comment:

Psyconym said...

Crazy is good. My aunt found a shop in Reading with the sign 'LIFE IS OUT THERE'. Getting trapped in your own head is pretty frightening, when you try and take a step out. You'll have to forgive me here if I start sounding like I am about to burst into a buddhist mantra. I am just back from my second ti chi lesson, keep feeling these werid energies that make my brain tingle. Oddness. Spontaneous conversation striking up is good for the health, and open mind exercises, I am quite certain. Hope your well.

Lyn x