Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Restting the context 

Today brought some welcome variety work-wise - a train journey to an office across the country for a couple of meetings. The trains out from London are only one an hour and I didn't want to miss it so I arrived at Paddington station with half an hour to spare. With nothing particular to do I just sat sipping a coffee and watching people come and go.

I love people-watching; it works best if you're relaxed, mildly detached, mind free-wheeling, just idly watching the world go by. I never fail to be struck - enchanted even - by the endless variety of humanity; the uniqueness of each individual. 2 billion of us, yet we're all different. That much diversity can only arise out of an equivalent degree of intrinsic complexity. You just couldn't get 2 billion variants of something simple. I'll try and remember that next time I pigeon-hole someone into some pre-determined category.

Sometimes I notice particular individuals. The young woman in a smart brown business suit sitting next to me, expertly juggling bagel, coffee and mobile phone; a tall guy across the way in a dark suit with pale pink tie, struggling with his large hands hands to key numbers into an incongruously petite mobile phone; a teenager in a beanie hat, hand deep in pockets, eyes lowered. I start to imagine stories about them - where they've come from, where they're going; who they're meeting. All pure fiction, but it makes them more real; makes it easier to appreciate their individuality.

After a while, time play tricks and the panorama of people criss-crossing the station concourse takes on the character of a stop-motion film - you know, where you see a few hours activity condensed into a few minutes. I become further detached; an outside observer looking in on this corner of humanity.

Do you remember protractors from maths lessons at school - a semi-circle of clear plastic marked out for measuring angles? In idle moments in class I would sometimes use mine to give a different view of the world, holding it close to my eyes so that the angle marking were indistinguishable, and looking through the scratched plastic made the classroom seem distant, unreal, as though I were watching it on film or TV. It separated me from the reality of the class giving almost an objective viewpoint - a welcome change from the sometimes extreme subjectivity of classroom situations.

Today's detached people-watching was a bit like that. A bit of detachment every once in a while can be quite helpful really. It helps reset the context of self; appreciating my own individuality alongside that of all the other players in this game we call life. Seeing the world without the distractions of my own baggage I feel much more balanced, and paradoxically much more in touch with the world.

Sometimes its good just to stand and stare.

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