03 May 2007

Wittering in the wind

I ... am ... sit-ting at-the coun-ter
Of-the di-ner on-the cor-ner...

Unusually for me, I'm starting to write this no clear idea of what I'm going to write about. Full of my return to the Psion machines, I'm just kicking off into the blue; almost certainly a bad idea, but never mind. I'm not in a diner; I'm on a bus. I've started with the above snatch from the opening of Suzanne Vega's Tom's Diner because it has been running through my head since I left home an hour ago - but it's appropriate, too: a sort of anthem for the fleeting and transient flickers of life on the move. I'm on the move today, as on many days, and that fleeting, transient quality delights me - which may say something deeply ominous about my personality, but there you go.

When I wrote yesterday's decidedly geeky post, it was without any expectation that anyone would read beyond the first line or two. It was the equivalent of a television transmission test card. I was surprised, when I opened my email this morning, to find a crop of rewarding reponses - and not just geeky ones either.

Denny Hayes wrote to point out how very new it is to be able to write electronic documents on the move at all. She's very right. Until fifteen years ago, I would have written longhand on paper and then transcribed onto a keyboard later. Until twenty years ago, that keyboard would have been a mechanical typewriter. Twenty five yeas ago I was living a life where home meant, for months on end, a rucsac, boots and whatever bit of sky happened to be overhead, and any writing was on paper. Yet here I am, moaning about the details of exactly which small electronic miracle I use to write directly reusable words on a bus or an open hillside.

Jim Putnam, not in email but in a blog post of his own, offers me rescue from irredeemable geekitude by observing that the purpose of all my equipment is to tell him about a butterfly. He thinks I may disagree with that assessment, but I joyfully embrace it. In those roofless and keyboardless days of twenty five years ago the butterfly would still have been there, fleeting and transient, would still have been noted, and would still have been the glowing centre of its moment.

No butterflies today, I'm afraid. After four extraordnary weeks of wall to wall sunshine, this morning has dawned windy, overast and chill. But the flickering picture show carries other images.

With a coach to catch I was keen to get into the polling station (most of Britain votes, today, in local government elections) as soon as it opened and out again as soon as possible. I needn't have worried; I was the only person there. I was early, and had to wait a few minutes. while last minute setting up was completed. A "THIS WAY" sign with arrow, pasted up one handed by a sleepy young woman who carried a refuse sack in the other, still a human being with a complicit smile for other inhabitants of an echoing church hall, not yet become the brisk council official who will see through the rest of a long day. The returning officer, not yet in the swing of things, shuffling his ballot papers, pencils and voter lists into order. A Conservative Party teller (whatever your politics, it's undeniable that the Conservatives are the ones with the efficient machine: if there is only one teller, he or more often she will be a Conservative) politely requesting my roll number a I left, commenting on the change in the weather, ticking me off on a list in preparation for the evening rush to encourage straggling core voters. The call of pigeons and the buffet of wind around the building.

Sitting on the bus, now, an assortment of fellow travellers with whom I will have no explicit contact on the three hour trip to London - but each of whom is an important reason for my l ove of travellng this way. In conversation a couple of days ago, a friend who invariably fuels discussion with viewpoints different from my own insisted that most are unremarkable; I couldn't disagree more. Like them or loathe them, I've never met a human being that wasn't, in some way, amazing.

In front of me are a group of men, around my own age, on their way to a head office meeting in London. They have not planned their day in advance, and bicker uneasily over whether to get off at Gloucester Road or Park Lane. Behind me, two elderly women on what is obviously a regular shopping trip discuss (of all people) Heidegger. To my right, across the aisle, a little Sikh girl of about ten years keeps up an excited babble of expectation as she anticipates her first trip to the capital. Fragments from all of these flicker in and out of focus.

For myself I am bound for a day spent mainly in a museum, conferring with others on progress and outlook for piece of research. I should have been somewhere else entirely. but the CEO of a US mathematics software compny is in London for three days, offering an opportunity to meet, resulting in a last minute reshuffle. So, for an hour in the middle of the day, I'll decamp from the museum to the National Portrait Gallery café.

I opened by saying that I had no clear idea what I was writing about, and so it has proved: the rediscovered delights of a Psion keyboard have seduced me, and I'm wittering. Enough, already. Time to shut up, close my eyes, and listen to the conversations around me.

Suzanne Vega. Solitude Standing: "Tom's Diner". Los Angeles, 1987, A&M Records.

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