Friday 4 February 2011

Reading the rush hour

I've lived in London for six months now. For four months I have been one of the millions of people getting on the tube every morning and again in the evening after a day's graft. The first part of my journey, I squash on the train and spend four minutes shoulder to shoulder, bum to crotch, armpit to face with whoever's space I am forced to share. For the next part, I can usually get a seat after a stop or two and it slowly filters out as we while our way to Hammersmith. Legs out, paper spread.

This is if I pick up the paper in the morning. I'm not going to pick up my usual broadsheet read (the lunchtime online read is for this) but perhaps I'll pick up the Metro. I always feel positive when picking up this paper, perhaps because it's free, but then I start reading it, and I wonder what suicidal thoughts I must have had when I stooped down to get it. It's simply one of those papers where you can read the headlines and that is enough. Five words from each story and you've delved as far as you need to, trust me.

So, more often, I take my book. Not only does it whoosh the minutes past, but it gives me forty odd minutes a day to read it, if I can't find time at any other moment of the day. I enjoy reading immensely and get slightly worried and depressed if my bedside table has a book on it which needs to be wiped for its dust.

Of course, I am not alone in this endeavour. Millions of others bring their paperbacks, kindles and ipads on board. At first, I would be interested to see what and how people were reading. I put people into categories: The Reader Who Wants You To See What He's Reading (the book will be held high in someone else's airspace and has just got into the top three of the New York Times Bestseller List); The Try Anything Once Reader (usually struggling through something like Mein Kampf); The Social Reader (there is a picture of Richard and Judy on the cover somewhere); The Truly Dedicated To The Cause Reader (these are the ones who lug along huge hardbacks and proceed in the same way);The Immersed Reader (they miss their stops); The Trendy Reader (on their leather bound kindle).

Then, recently, I started taking this a bit further. I had forgotten my book, remembered to not pick up a paper and so was squashed up with no reading material. However, I soon realised I was surrounded by the stuff. Packed like sardines, I could still read the lines of those around me. So, I got a page of a thriller novel, a terrible write-up of a boxing match, and a paragraph on how negative thoughts can give us cancer. I stepped off that train enlightened, confused and happy.

Reading snippets from other people's books and papers is an interesting way to spend the commute. It also lets you read things you wouldn't normally 'be seen' to read, and come away with your reading reputation in tact. Snippets also let your imagination steer into other worlds. Not only do you wonder what has happened and what will happen after your two pages worth, but it also gets the mind pondering the reader. What are they thinking reading the same lines with their hindsight? Why did they choose it? It's a whole minefield of words and wonderings.

So, next time you're on the tube on a dreary winter's morning without your own reading material, despair not: simply while the journey away with whatever your fellow commuters have to hand. Your reactions and opinions to words you wouldn't normally have read will make you arrive refreshed and ready to start the day in a way you couldn't have otherwise imagined.

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