Newcastle - in a glass, brightly
In this blogposting…
* A Tale Of Two Cities
* Some Helpful Advice
Make the most of it….

Grand gestures - like royal weddings and state visits - are all very well but, in my experience, it is more often in the dew of little things that the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

I’ve just spent a few days in London and, largely because of my hopelessly inadequate time management skills, my friend and I found ourselves struggling through the West End and back to Ealing during the rush-hour; that frenzied, overcrowded time when, you’d think, all altruistic considerations would be ditched in favour of an ‘every-man-for-himself’ approach to survival on buses and Underground trains - and the devil take the hindmost.

The rush hour was living up to its reputation. The Tube train was packed, sweaty and slow. All thoughts of personal space were necessarily discarded as passengers stood cheek-by-jowl, so close together that we were holding each other up like terrace houses as the train lurched and clunked through the tunnels.

Then quite suddenly, a youngish bloke stood up and offered me his seat.

Perhaps I looked careworn, exhausted and haggard after an afternoon wandering round Covent Garden. Maybe I looked fragile, uncomfortable, sad - or just old. Whatever the reason was, I’ve rarely been happier to accept an invitation ‘to take the weight off my feet’.

Giving up your seat on a crowded Tube train during rush-hour is no mere goodwill gesture. You are sacrificing a journey of relative ease for one of crowded, jostling, strap-hanging discomfort. So I thanked the man in question profusely; a little too profusely, I think - he was about 25 and was in possession of a gently sexy smile as well as extraordinary good looks.

But the politeness of London’s commuters didn’t stop there. At the next stop, the middle-aged woman sitting next to me moved into a newly-empty seat so that my friend and I could sit together for our journey home.

I was going to say that such thoughtfulness, at such a time and in such a place, must be quite unusual - but I’m not sure that it is. I’ve seen care and consideration for others like this many times, in London and elsewhere. I wonder if we notice it more because we have become accustomed to discourtesy and selfishness so much that random acts of kindness like this are now noticeably exceptional.

Or - more likely in my view - we are living in a changed age wherein it’s so much easier, and even more fashionable, to be cynical about the actions and motivations of our fellow human beings than it is to recognise the good in them.

So - thankyou, Mr and Ms Wonderful. You made what could easily have been a day-spoiling journey for two frazzled old men into a strangely life-enhancing affirmation of the actual and potential goodness of our capital city and of the people who live there - in however small a way.

It reminded me of the 15 years during which I was a Londoner myself - I lived there after I left home when I was 18. Travelling back to Ealing the other day on that District Line Tube train reminded me of how much I loved London, and why I still do.

To return to my more customary scepticism, though…

Picture it.

It’s the same time of day. Rush-hour. All public transport is crowded. Every seat is fought for almost to the death. People are pushing and shoving each other with seemingly no thoughts except for themselves.

But you’re not in London. You’re on the Metro in Paris.

As the train clunks along, a man in his mid-20s stands up and offers his seat to an older, tired-looking man who looks as if he’ll die on the spot if he doesn’t sit down soon.

Along with everyone else, you gape at the young man in amazement. Is he a beggar? Is he going to extort money from the older man? Is this a practical joke? Is there a hidden camera? Is the young man ill? Mentally unstable in some way? A terrorist, God forbid?

Should you call Security? The gendarmerie? An ambulance? A priest? Your mother?

I know that my saying this will not endear me to the friends I have in Paris, but I’m prepared to risk it. The fact remains that hell would freeze over, the sky would fall on chicken-licken and hen-len and the Wizard would return to Oz - before the charming little scene of comfortable good-fellowship I described on the District Line in London would happen in Paris.

I know perfectly well that stereotypes are just that: exaggerated caricatures about which it is dangerously inaccurate and unfair to generalise.

Except for Paris. It seems to me that the stereotypical thoughtless and haughty smugness of its citizens is something they themselves relish and even cultivate. That’s how thoughtless, haughty and smug they are.

(Except for the ones reading this posting, who are considerate and empathetic to a man.)

On 8 April 1979, eleven soccer players were struck by lightning simultaneously while they were running for cover during a storm in Caerleon, Gwent. The bolt actually struck the waterlogged pitch, thus creating an electric gradient felt by everyone there, including the spectators. However, only one man was hurt.

Strikes like that, though far from common, are by no means unique. It had already happened at the Army Cup Final in April 1948, when eight spectators, two players and the ref were all felled. Two of them died.

Lightning strikes the ground about 300,000 times a year in Britain. On average, between thirty and sixty people are struck each year, of whom three (on average) die.

So, in the interests of public safety, and because truckshunters are nothing if not socially conscientious, I hereby reproduce the advice offered in a wonderful book I’m reading about the weather on How To Avoid Being Struck By Lightning During A Storm.

Ignore it at your peril.

1 Avoid open spaces and beaches
2 Do not shelter under a tree - especially a lone tree - however tempting
3 If in water - get out
4 If you’re caught in the open, keep away from metal objects (golf clubs, fishing rods, mobile phones, iPods, bicycles, wire fences - even coins)
5 Crouch as low as you can, feet together - and preferably in a ditch or hollow
6 Get into a car - the superstructure acts like a giant Faraday cage, guiding the charge harmlessly around the outside of you

And remember...if your or anyone else’s hair stands on end, or objects around you begin to buzz, run - lightning may be about to strike.

...if you have any advice - about anything at all - please get in touch.

Post comments on this blog or email me: truckshunters@googlemail.com


Kev said...

Re: politeness on the Tube.
A few years ago my wife and myself took a holiday in Japan. Part of our stay was in Tokyo. For the most part we, along with the rest of the tour, were taken en masse to see the sights. There was, however, time for individual sightseeing.
This saw us using the Tokyo subway system, a nightmare if ever there was one. All the signs, directions, departure boards were, naturally, in Japanese, as were the automatic ticket machines.
However, we finally caught the correct train, at the correct level, at the correct platform at the correct time. It was full! Full as a tin of sardines is full. If you weren't friends with the people next to you when you got on, you were by the time you got off.
This brings me to the point of the story. Some of you may not know that I am disabled; I walk slowly with the aid of a walking stick. At 6'5" tall I am somewhat conspicuous, especially when standing in a Japanese tube train. As the train moved off, an old lady, 85 if she was a day, 5' tall, wearing a kimono, stood up and, in gestures with much bowing, bade me sit. I tried to refuse but had to give in gratiously as she would have none of it. Her friend (also 80+) gave up her seat so my wife could sit by me.
It was embarassing but yet a humbling experience.

Hildie said...

That's such a lovely story, Kev. I really enjoyed reading it.
I was in Eldon Square Gardens on Monday afternoon , along with dozens of students who were sitting (as they do) on the lush, green grass there. Suddenly, the thunder rumbled and the lightening began to strike ..... you should have heard their screams!! If only they'd read your advice, Ian ...
they'd have known what steps to take.
I love the idea of Les Conscrits!
Your photos of them are fab. I think I basically like the idea of a group of random people gathering together for no earthly, particular reason, much like Trickshunters do!
You must google THE TWELVE MEN OF WREAY LOOK NORTH 10TH MAY and watch the video clip .... promise me!
Kev ... have you got exams coming up? This year I'm starting a little job at St. Bede's Comprehensive School, Lanchester
for the duration of the exams. I'm going to be a Scribe/Reader for Special Needs Pupils who are taking exams. I've not done it before .... I'm looking forward to it. I start next week. Be thinking of you.