Thursday, July 01, 2004

Tipping the balance 

Such little things can tip the balance one way or the other. From optimism and energy to victim-hood and lassitude, see-sawing between these two extremes or balancing precariously on the knife-edge between them.

This morning it was a busker on the London underground. Busking used to be disallowed on underground stations – one of those rather pointless rules of officialdom, prohibition for its own sake; after all, why should anyone have a good time going to work? I think the station staff never liked having to enforce the rule; I’ve seen them, and even uniformed transport police, walking very, very, slowly in the direction a busker, giving them ample time to pack up and move on so as to avoid the ugliness of an unwanted confrontation. Thankfully a compromise was reached - busking is now officially sanctioned and authority still has its way, through licensing and the creation of designated busking spots.

But I digress. Sound – especially the mid-range frequencies of musical instruments - carries well in the rabbit-warren of underground passages linking lines and platforms, even when those passages are crammed full of the sound-absorbing bodies of commuters. So I had plenty of time to listen to the familiar opening of “Stairway to Heaven”. (Which film was it had the sign up in the guitar shop “Positively NO Stairway to Heaven”? Well, this wasn’t a guitar shop, so I guess that made it okay).

The guy was playing a battered Fender Stratocaster lookalike, and playing it not half badly either. Okay, he wouldn’t make the stage at Glastonbury, but it was pleasant enough as a musical interlude on the way to work. I know the song well – I’ve even played it myself in my time – and I couldn’t help but sing along in my head, all the way down the platform even though he was now out of earshot, and on into the train. Maybe even a few hummed notes escaped into the air around.

It wasn’t just the music. I think there was a touch of the anarchy of the era that, through the music and the associations it has, found a path through the anaesthetising effects of morning routine and woke up a remnant of free spirit in me, gently nudging me off that knife-edge towards the start of a Good Day. So I’m rather sorry now I didn’t take the trouble to drop any coins in his guitar case.

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