Games, trains and a bloke fiddling with his nuts?

I glanced out of the window during a lecture the other day and there was a huge construction being erected.

I glanced out of the window during a lecture the other day and there was a huge construction being erected. I’m sure the last time I looked it was a building site with dumper trucks and the odd surveyor hanging around. (‘Odd’ meaning ‘few’, after all I may not be particularly mathematical but I’ve nothing against surveyors.) This transformation however had me thinking about how much we actually notice about our environment.

Take public transport for instance. And I do every time I journey into Uni. It occurred to me that there are many things on the tube and Docklands Light Railway (DLR) that go unnoticed and that I also ponder over during my trips back and forth to university.

One that struck me was the announcement on the Jubilee line regarding the arrival at Canning Town. Or as the lady likes to suggest…’Canning Town! You really have been waiting all your life to alight here! Aren’t you glad you’ve arrived?’ To be honest? Not really. I’ve never done more than walk along the platform and venture up and down an escalator whilst at the allegedly amazing Canning Town so I may be doing it a disservice, but I have to admit it is not the place I’ve been waiting to arrive at all my life. Yes, it’s handy for changing onto the DLR, but other than that…? 

Then there is the visual. One journey I found myself standing in front of a man who was fiddling with a neat package that fitted perfectly in the palm of his hand. Yes, it was his nuts. What particularly interested me was the delicate way he peeled off the transparent brittle lid and removed a salted almond from the container. Instead of popping it straight into his mouth he appeared to be savouring every morsel. I could hear the snap and crunch – and suddenly I was completely, but covertly, focused on his actions. It occurred to me that there were hundreds of people on this train thinking about where they were late for or what they had to do when they arrived at their destination, yet this man’s actions were calm and made a refreshing change for those who cared to notice.  I’m not suggesting it was life changing – it just reminded me to stop and smell the roses, or the almonds in this case, once in a while,

It was half term last week and a family with five children got on the central line. They were headed towards Tottenham Court Road. I knew this because the mother was getting the children to count the stops to their destination and read out the names of the stations they passed through. (Fortunately not in the style of the lady announcer on the Jubilee line.)  It was all done with a decent amount of respect for their fellow passengers; they weren’t being noisy, just interacting with each other. The children were all under ten and I wanted to bottle this tube chat for them, knowing what lay ahead. How many grown ups chat with each other as freely as that on a tube? On another journey a grandmother was getting the children to play a guessing game involving the tube stations on the map. She would give an alternative name to a station e.g. ‘somewhere where you put your money’ and the children would come up with the answer ‘Bank’. They got to choose the alternative name once they had got the station correct. It amused me and it was all I could do to keep quiet with the answers… the ones I could work out that is. I don’t know why I should be surprised when adults do interact with their children in public. I guess we are more used to them being told to be quiet or just sitting in silence on a crowded tube.

Then last week, as the tube pulled into Leytonstone station a young man leapt from his seat and shouted, ‘Yea! Leytonstone, Leytonstone!’ As I glanced up from my book I thought, I wonder how many people ever want to do that. I don’t mean sing the praises of Leytonstone, I’m sure it has its jewels, I mean jump up and down whilst on the tube? 

I expect it goes without saying that the young man in question was probably only six years old. His delight at passing through a station he recognised as once having lived near needed to be expressed; so why not leap from his seat? However I reckon it’s a safe bet that in ten years time or even less, he won’t be repeating it. This is a huge shame and a bug bear of many commuters; we all complain that nobody talks to each other, or dares look at each other.  It makes me smile (although heaven forbid not at another commuter) that we wish we could have more interaction on the tubes and then we do nothing about it. I think we might get to our destinations in a far better frame of mind than we normally do if we were a tad friendlier. 

Coming out from the SU bar that same day I chatted with some friends about when it is that we suddenly become aware that we shouldn’t be leaping up and down in public. Of course after a few drinks one doesn’t think twice about doing it, but in our sober moments, why shouldn’t we? Life is too quiet and short at the best of times. When we are older we lose our inhibitions and say what we like when we like.  It is a scientific fact. Why shouldn’t we do that all the time, before our hips give out on us and we become incapable of leaping up and down from our seat shouting ‘Canning Town! Canning Town! Where have you been all my life?’