Wednesday, 19 August 2009

I calibrate my day with strangers

I walk to work.  It’s a nice walk, along the Thames, over Tower Bridge, and along the Thames again.

I aim to get into the office at the same time every day, but lethargy and Radio 4 often cause delays in getting out of the house.

As I’m walking, a torrent of people walk past me the other way, and after doing the same walk for a while you start to notice people who do the same walk every day.

I don’t tend to wear a watch these days – mostly because all my watches need the batteries replacing – and so the only thing with a clock on it as I’m walking into work is my phone.  My phone is busy doing other things – like playing ABBA and AC/DC songs at me to quicken my step to work – and so I have to rely on other signs to tell whether I’m running late or early.

And this is where my three strangers come into things.  These three people seem to walk the same route every day, at pretty much the same time.  By looking at how close to the flat I pass them, I can work out whether I’m running late or early compared with them; the closer to the flat I see them, the later I’m running!

Of course, they may be running late or early themselves, but if I see all three of them earlier in my walk than I would like, that’s a pretty good sign that I’m running late!

So who are these strangers?  Well I don’t know – I’ve no idea.  Don’t know their names, where they come from, or even where they are going on their morning commute. 

There’s the Welsh guy.  I’ve no idea whether he’s Welsh or not, but he looks Welsh.  So I’ve decided he’s Welsh.  Let’s call him Rhys.  He’s dressed smartly on Fridays, but not the other days of the week.  What kind of job would require you to do that?

There’s the Japanese guy. He’s quite short, and carries a brown briefcase and wears a suit every day.

Then there’s the ginger guy who has a woman with him some days, and not others.  He’s always smartly dressed, and seems to be the most reliable of the three as a calibrator of the time.

You see, I worry that I’m sounding like a stalker here.  But let me assure you I’m not.  I’ve no intention of finding out anything more about these people than I know already – which is largely nothing – except that one of them is Welsh – although I don’t even know that, I suppose.

Would I recognise them if I saw them out of context?  And what would I say to them if I met them at a party or in a work context? 

And are they watching me every morning and thinking “that guy who quite often carries badminton equipment of a morning isn’t a very reliable way of calibrating whether I’m running late!”

3 comments:

  1. I'd say that someone who dresses more smartly on Fridays is single. He's obviously not dressing up for work (unless something strange like customers always come in on Fridays). So he's dressing up for going out after work. That's the sign of a single person - (a) he's going out on a Friday evening; (b) he's bothering to get dressed up.

    Psychology investigations into "familiar strangers" suggest that if you did see one at a party you'd avoid talking to them at all costs. You'd rather talk to a completely unknown person, or someone you know and really dislike, than break that barrier. Interesting.

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  2. I'm sure we've talked about familiar strangers before. I think it was when I was talking about giving back stories to people I see in the street.

    I like your analysis of the guy dressing up of a Friday, although it is a slightly jaded view of the world to imagine that those people in relationships never feel the need to get dressed up ;-)

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  3. Reminds me of a known anecdote about Immanuel Kant:

    "Kant is often portrayed as a recluse of extremely regular habits; it has been noted that people were able to set their watches by the punctuality of his afternoon stroll."

    http://books.google.com/books?id=EdhGO1XmmvUC&lpg=PA358&ots=PfwjMNBTIU&pg=PA358#v=onepage&q=&f=false

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