Alone in a big city

People fascinate me. I’m not a habitual watcher of people, and don’t deliberately seek out interesting people to spy on, but occasionally, usually in cities, I see someone intriguing.

Yesterday, by the entrance to Tottenham Court Road tube station, a man was handing out free samples of a new Kellogg’s cereal called Krave. Independent findings from The Student Room have been unfavourable, observing variously that Krave tastes “rank”, “of sick” and “like a dog had farted directly into my mouth”. I neglected to take the proffered carton to find out for myself and remain unenlightened. Standing to one side of the man was a family of four, Hispanic-looking, all of them eating directly from open packets of Krave. Almost without thinking I invented a history for them, deciding that this was an impoverished family spending the day as tourists in London who, finding themselves hungry but possessing little ready money, had happened fortuitously on a man giving away free food. It was the eating of the cereal without milk that moved me, whether done through choice or ignorance. It’s curious what the human heart finds tender.

A little later, in the course of browsing sale items in Blackwell on Charing Cross Road, I noticed a bespectacled and somewhat portly middle-aged man, respectably dressed, apparently a middle-management type, slumped in a chair holding an open copy of a hardback by Robert Winston and gently dozing. I wondered why such a man should be asleep in Blackwell during working hours. People always appear most vulnerable and pitiable when asleep. I took my reduced NYRB edition of The Goshawk by T.H. White (£2) and assumed the seat next to him. As I read the introduction and listened to Brahms’ Third Racket I kept vigil, occasionally looking over my shoulder to monitor his progress. After about half an hour he was roused by a loud conversation between members of staff, and presently rose and left.

These people don’t know I have cared about them, however momentarily, and probably wouldn’t welcome my sympathy if they did, and it almost feels patronising to them to write this, though that is not my intention. I wonder what they’re doing now. Whatever it is, they don’t know I’m thinking about them.

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9 Responses to “Alone in a big city”

  1. argumentativeoldgit Says:

    Brahms’ 3rd Racket is amongst the finest rackets there is, although I admit ihave never listened to it while people-watching.

  2. Gareth Says:

    I listened to it over and over yesterday. What an infinitely fascinating piece it is. I fear I will have to start collecting multiple recordings. Karajan yesterday. Klemperer and Furtwängler are closed books to me at the time of writing. And I see the Rattle/BPO cycle is very cheap from Amazon on download-only…

  3. argumentativeoldgit Says:

    Over the years, one tends to accumulate multiple recordings of the works one loves most, and the Brahms symphonies come under that category for me. Of the recordings I’ve heard of Brahms’ 3rd, I particularly love Bruno Walter’s – both the mono recording with the New York Philharmonic, and the stereo remake with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra. Of modern digital recordings, Abbado’s recording with the Berlin Philarmonic is hard to beat. But there are so many wonderful recordings of this … Karajan, Klemperer and Furtwängler are all top notch in their different ways. Of live performances I’ve heard, I still have very fond memories of a performance I heard back in the early 90s with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Kurt Masur. In fact, I heard them perform the whole Brahms symphony cycle, plus the two piano concertos with Alfred Brendel, over the course of three concerts.

    The 3rd symphony is a particularly difficult one to bring off, with its curious combination of biting passion & autumnal melancholy.

  4. Evie Says:

    Lovely blog entry, G! I love people-watching, and I often have quite poignant moments on buses and things thinking that this is the one moment that my life will coincide with these other people’s, and we will never know even if we do meet again. I look at the people and wonder how the rest of their lives will be. I find it fascinating and a bit melancholic.

    You should have tried the Krave though. I was handed a Marmite cereal bar at Marylebone station recently, but it was a bit disappointing.

  5. Mike A Says:

    Gareth, you clearly have a novelist’s instinct. Pretty much every writer seems to do this – sees someone, a group of people, and immediately start speculating about their backstory and character.

    It’s often when people are doing nothing much that their idiosyncracies come through. There’s an interesting writing exercise where you imagine a character doing something mundane, or inactive, such as waiting for a bus, and then you describe everything they’re doing – fiddling with odd stuff in their pockets, fussing with their hair, etc.

    Regarding dry cereals, George always eats his serials dry (usually shreddies, lattery crunchy nut cornflakes). In fact he has a thing about crunchy foods in general – he refuses to eat soft food like mashed potato. He also used to be very colour-oriented too: orange is his favourite colour, and he loved eating anything orange. All apparently quite common in children with ASD.

  6. Mike A Says:

    BTW, years ago I wrote a poem about this old guy who used to dance in the shopping centre in Brighton. He’d spread out a blanket as his dance floor, then switch on his ghetto-blaster, which played tinny old recordings of dance-hall music whilst he shuffled around in his dress suit. The poem speculated about his past and how he came to be this eccentric street entertainer. When I showed it to one of Claire’s friends, she said “I’d have just asked him”. No sense of the romantic, some people!

  7. Evie Says:

    I had a dream about Krave last night. Just thought I would share that with you.

    (What is is it about the letter K in cereals and suchlike? ‘Crave’ would be silly, but ‘Krave’ is a whole different word.)

  8. Gareth Says:

    Well, it’s partly to do with Kellogg, I’m sure. It doesn’t only affect their cereal, but perhaps they started the trend.

    Apologies for not replying to everyone’s individual posts, by the way. I’m up to my ears in coursework at the moment – dissertation proposals and so on – which is exciting in some ways and time-consuming in others. This blog will probably be very irregular for a while.

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