A rare occurrence
Despite what some of us were taught at long-demolished primary schools, humans have more than five senses. Unless cruelly denied by some neurological or physiological affliction, we can can detect temperature, pain, balance and hunger, and somewhere in the oldest part of the brain, we know when we’re in imminent danger.
But we are also aware when we’re in the presence of like minds. And on the Tube yesterday, sat in those folding sideways seats with my nose in a book, I suddenly became aware that I was surrounded by other book-readers.
I’d been dimly aware that to my left was a young woman successfully carrying off an unlikely stylistic combination of John Denver (round glasses, flaxen moptop) and Siouxsie Sioux (black tights and Docs). I’d taken a low-level mental note that she’d taken out a paperback which seemed to be about Baudrillard and capitalism, through which she was diligently plodding.
Then, as my destination station neared and I began the palaver of departure - insert bookmark into book, put book in bag, retrieve spectacles case, insert glasses, put specs case in bag, suddenly and inexplicably need to check pockets for phone and wallet - I noticed that on my right was another youngster, timelessly clad in T-shirt and jeans, also reading a book. In his case it was a French-language advanced maths book, but he was still bent attentively over it, feeling the paper between his fingers and physically communing with the text.
I glanced around the carriage at the faces illuminated by the bluelight of smartphones and the never-ending diversions therein, and wondered how long it had been since three people sat side by side by side reading books. I tried to recall a similar instance, and couldn’t. I also wondered how rare it might become.
And for a moment there, it took me back to my days in the local library, glancing around at oak shelves and fellow bibliophiles and feeling like I belonged. True, these two were (presumably) students and wouldn’t identify with a bushily-eyebrowed man whose middle-aged spread was threatening to occupy the periphery of their seat.
Even so, we shared a moment, Siouxsie Denver, Blaise Pascal and I, a silent trio of bookworms. I hope my young flankers continue to read, for pleasure as well as purpose, to learn even when it’s not on a curriculum, to constantly widen their horizons beyond the bevelled edge of a smartphone screen.
And that makes perfect sense to me.
Picture by Annie Mole, under creative commons.