You get on a bus or a train today, and what do you do? Well, in the spirit of creativity, which is the spirit of this blog, then maybe you don’t stick your iPod in and turn it up. Maybe you don’t get your book or your free newspaper out immediately, or sit and face the window, consumed by the swirling winds of your own thoughts. You have enough time at home with them, so maybe you turn to the person next to you and you start a conversation.
I’ve done this a few times recently, and always been pleasantly surprised by the reaction. Just today, as I lugged a suitcase on to the train and looked for a seat, I ended up sat opposite a girl roughly my age at a table on the train. She smiled and was very pretty, with dark curly hair, but I did not say a word (duh, I’m English) and got out my book. When I got off to change trains at the next spot, suitcase wheeling behind me, however, I noticed that she had got off too, and we were quite obviously both headed to the lifts so we could change platforms. And lo and behold we ended up in the same lift, then walking one behind the other, in perfect silence, on to the same platform. We’d now spent about three quarters of an hour within probably 5 feet of each other, but not said a word. She had her book and I had mine, though. So, whether through cowardice or contentedness, I let our silence lie. In my head I was quite amused by the whole thing however.
When we got on our next train, however, she spoke to me. “Where ya headed?” she asked, and it was only then that I realised that she was American.
“Oxford,” I answered, quite bluntly, in shock that we had spoken, and then there was an extended pause before I formulated the obvious sentence: “What about you?”
“Newcastle,” she replied brightly. “Got a long journey ahead of me. You visiting people in Oxford then?”
And just like that, we were off. We were having a conversation, sat again at the same table, chatting right through Reading until Oxford. Sure it wasn’t the deepest chat in the history of mankind, but I met a girl on a train and it was more interesting than my book. (FYI – She was from Minnesota, by the way, she was visiting her cousins in England, it was her first time here, she loved it so far and she was actually older than me – just graduated from college last year.)
An earlier time – I was in the barbers, having a chat with my barber (not always easy with my Turkish barber), but simultaneously listening to the bloke in the next chair along, who was an afficionado of those websites where you do surveys for money and also where you can enter competitions for prizes – he’d just won a trip to New York for 5 days. As he, a little fat man with a moustache that would have been perfectly in fashion in the Boer War, was having the hair round his flappy ears tamed, my barber suddenly chimed in to their conversation – he had a friend in New York who could tell him the best places to visit, should the prizewinner be interested. (Obviously the man supposedly in charge of restoring order to my scraggy barnet had got bored of my stutters and silence and so had been eavesdropping too). But then, that started a whole conversation between the four of us – two in chairs, two in possession of razors. New York. In our little English town I was the only one who had been, and thus was immediately claimed the expert, but we all had our views on it, our dreams of it, our favourite movies with it in. Then: The Empire State Building, the other barber declared, was the most iconic building in any city in the world. I disagreed (Eiffel Tower, come on), and so did the prizewinner. “What about the Sydney Opera House?” he exclaimed. “The Houses of Parliament? The Kremlin? The White House?!” at which point my barber revealed his shocking lack of knowledge as to the whereabouts of the White House. The following discussion was one of the most entertaining I have seen in a barbers since someone asked what length a number 5 cut should be. I wished the lucky, soon-t0-be-jet-setting man a happy holiday as he left.
I have another couple of stories to tell you about a Welsh soldier on a replacement bus service and the cashier at a Sainsbury’s petrol station, but those can wait for now. This post can just be a reminder, really, about the excitement, thrill and humour that exists in strangers, the interest that everyone has even if you don’t expect it, and the joy of a simple conversation.