Thursday, 29 January 2009

In which I sit next to a man who is interested in telescopes

I love that there are still specialist magazines in the world. Not those sort of magazines, but magazines for people who love caravans and narrow boats and caged birds, and who work in meat processing, or construction or heating and ventilation. 

I have worked in magazines for over 10 years, woman and girl. Since I started my first job that tolling decade ago, slimmer of hip and fresher of complexion, I have seen more and more publications that were dedicated to the independent and the irregular crushed under the wheels of the printed superbrands and their tie-in radio stations, digital TV channels, compilation albums and roadshow events, until you can basically only enjoy a woman's magazine if you are constantly on a diet, fanatically interested in foundation, or pathologically insecure about your sex life.

But this evening, on the train home, I sat next to a man who was reading Sky & Telescope magazine. While I despise people who read over others' shoulders, the fact is, I am one of those people. I am owning this unsociable behaviour and trying to correct it, but until then I can tell you that in the current issue there is a lot of talk of lenses and Galileo.

Most days, I take two trains into work and two trains back out. That's four trains a day, five days a week, four and usually a bit weeks a month. I sit next to someone most journeys, which means I sit next to 20 people a week, a bit less than 100 people a month, around 1,000 people a year, who could reach over and hold my hand with the minimum of exertion, or quietly bless me when I sneeze, or pick up my hat when it falls off my lap and into their area of floorspace, or lay a hand inappropriately on my person when they stand up while the train is still jerking to a halt. They are so close to being close to me, but they are still strangers. 

So I feel a tiny thrill to think that while I don't know the most token, barely humanising information about my train neighbour – no name, marital status, where he's from, what A-levels he did – and probably never will, I somehow know much more. I know that he may be the only person on the whole crowded train who loves astronomy.

In the same way, you may not exchange a syllable with someone who is innocently exhaling the cold virus into your personal space as you stop-start-stop your way into the city. But when you strain to deduce what they're listening to on their headphones, you know that behind their rigid shield of pinstripes, their heart is beating in time to Kylie's Fever album.

1 comment:

Robert Hudson said...

I think my position on this is clear. I mean, I am, literally this morning, trying to sell Granta on an essay based on the entire decade long print run (to date) of Classic Angling. I am not saying they will definitely take it.