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.