I’m on the train back from Moorfields to St Michael’s and there’s a familiar routine playing out. Someone’s mobile phone is broadtcasting a tinny representation of some popular music. This is something not uncommon in this day and age, usually coming from a group of teenaged girls at the back of a bus inflicting some Black Eyed Peas on their fellow commuters.

But there’s something different this time; it’s not Will.I.Am (surely the rest of that name is A.Twat?), it’s David Bowie singing about spiders From Mars. Nevertheless, I cast one of those disapproving glances around the carriage in order to fix a stare of middle-class annoyance, destined to be recounted on some Radio 4 programme, on the culprit.

I meet a fairly challenging stare from a middle-aged bloke, clearly with a few pints under his belt. “That alright mate?,” he essays with a questioning thumbs-up.

“Bowie – good,” I answer, neither validating nor condemning his impromptu DJing. He goes around the carriage. “That OK?”. No-one dissents, so the music continues. Formerly rapt in a spot of classic public-tranpsort texting, I ruminate on this. In fairness, I don’t object at all to the music; and, having spent the last few hours in the pub myself, I’m not averse to a spot of 70s glam-punk-rock.

“There’s nothing wrong with music is there?,” asks the man. People shake their heads. There’s nothing wrong with music.

“I’ve been to New York; everyone looks at the floor, they don’t even look up when you’re talking to them,” says David Bowie.

We can all relate to that. On the train, every morning, I have my head pointed to the ground, an iPhone in the way. I’m answering the morning emails before I even get into work; people have told me that I’ve point blank ignored them on the train in the morning, I’ve been so caught in up in my own little world.

Years ago I’d read a book on the bus, or just think. About work, possibly, or holidays or life in general. Would I have a tea or coffee when I got into work? Is there still time to make it as a professional cricketer? And, is that girl giving me the eye?

When I got the 86 or 82 into town I’d frequently see people I knew and have a chat with them. And, every now and then, you’ll see someone you’ve not seen in ages and catch up. You never walk away from a meeting like that in a bad mood; you’re brightened by the experience, even if you never follow through on the promises of drinks in the future.

When I lived on Lark Lane I knew, to some extent, the people in most shops; and many of my fellow residents. A friendly hello and a spot of gossip about what was going on on the Lane. Somehow it all makes the world go round a little easier.

Back on the 8.55pm, David Bowie has the bit between his teeth. “We’re getting like that in Liverpool; but that’s what we are isn’t it? We talk to each other? It’s not like that in New York or London.”

He gestures with the mobile. “But now we’re having a chat; and that’s how it should be here. That’s who we are.”

That’s who we are. It strikes a real chord. That’s what Liverpool is all about; that’s the sort of thing that makes Liverpool brilliant. The willingness of people to strike up conversations over music, football or the minutiae of everyday life. Scousers tend to think they have a monopoly on this – they don’t, as someone born and bred in the north east can attest to, but they are peculiarly good at it.

Maybe that’s what makes Liverpool such a hot bed of talent and creativity; the willingness – the simple willingness to simply talk to one another. Such a simple thing; and such a difficult thing.

By the time we get to St Michael’s three of us are discussing the death of such interchanges amongst strangers. Bowie is staying on to leafy nowhere, or even beyond, towards South Liverpool. But another of the impromptu 8.55 from Moorfields is getting off at the same point. We have a friendly chat all the way out the station and half-way home. If it wasn’t for Bowie we’d never had even made eye contact.

A friend of mine recently confessed that he did not acknowledge someone when they essayed a friendly ‘bless you’ after he sneezed on the Tube. He wanted to; but it wasn’t the way of the London Underground, or London come to that. He regretted not responding, and I thought it a little sad. Perhaps that person will not bless the next London sneezer, and the world will be a little less friendly; a little less inclusive; a little more insular.

So I’ll make time to look around the carriage; to see if there are people I know; to try to engage people in conversation, even if it’s a ‘bless you’ or ‘hello’. Just not first thing in the morning. And definitely not if someone is playing Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night.

8 Responses to “That’s who we are”

  1. Garry Knight

    I like this a lot but I also sort of don’t. I’ll read it again tomorrow and maybe a more considered response will ensue. I’ve been out drinking beer and watching Cheltenham (could have been amazing – wasn’t) then went to a gig. I’ve had an decent day. I spend a lot of time on the bus and when it’s not on my own terms, particularly in the morning, it sets me off to a bad start. I adore music but I hate people forcing me to listen to theirs on public transport even if it’s my own taste. Hey ho. Good piece though. And I do like talking to people especially when there’s smiling! 🙂

  2. Joe Forrest

    What a splendid piece of writing!
    Can’t really have a problem with it cos he asked everyone there if they did and no one did! If it’s friendly and over decent music then why the bloody hell not”

  3. Great piece. Garry: this is more about interaction and engaging with fellow humans rather than just the music issue. I think everyone can agree that’s super annoying.

  4. Is there still time for me to make it as a professional cricketer though?

    Gary – I think it was kind of of the moment. I suspect most of us had been in the pub and it fitted nicely with the general mood. Plus there weren’t many people on board.

  5. Great read.

    This is one of the main reasons I moved back to Liverpool from London. I’d sometimes strike up a conversation at a bus stop only to be given the evil eye. I’d smile at strangers on the tube and then wish the earth would swallow me up so I could escape the withering glare. A few months ago in Liverpool I passed a bloke in the street who sneezed and I said bless you, he shouted down the street, Cheers love, and he meant it and it made me smile. I don’t think I’m cut out for London and happily I don’t think Liverpool is in any danger of going the same way.

  6. Sam Bytheway

    Many moons ago when I was a student in Liverpool I was going home to the south coast for the holidays. In Liverpool a stranger saw me struggling to get my suitcase onto the bus and carried it on for me. In London a stranger saw me struggling to get my suitcase onto the tube, gave me a disgusted look and moved their coffee so that I wouldn’t spill it. In my experience people down there are definitely more defensive and wary of strangers, which is a shame as they’re missing out. I love random chats like the one described here.

  7. Like the sentiment Robin.
    ‘You don’t have to know a person to say hello’.
    This is something I have experienced in rural settings.
    I think it is general politness that is being diluted in bigger towns.
    Lets keep making eye contact and saying hi, it just migth catch on again.

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