I use public transport about every day and mostly take the exact same routes from home to campus, campus to coffee shops, coffee shops to home, but for some reason the little moments of today’s journey around London seemed to stick with me. Maybe it’s because I’m gearing up to write an essay on ethnographic writing, about the ways in which anthropologists put down in words all the things they see and hear daily in different cultures, or maybe I’m just more observant today. Either way, until I have something more exciting to write about, the following are snapshots of my journeys around London.
Walking from my flat to the tube, I pass my favourite view of Portobello Road. Bright pink, blue and yellow buildings line both sides of a narrow street that runs perpendicular to the famous market road. Just as the buildings shrink with distance, the ideal spot for an artist playing with drawings of perspective, a clock tower rises from behind Portobello, capped with a sea green dome.
As I swipe my oyster card walking into the tube, I smile at the same man who sits behind a glass window making the same service announcements everyday looking utterly bored with his life. He rarely smiles back but I like to think one day he will.
When waiting for the tube, I’ve taken to making up my own superstitions. I consider any day that I see a mouse to be a good day. I’ve learned, however, that if I see two mice on the same track, it’s gonna be heavy day.
Today, I had the hardest time not dancing to my music while waiting for my train. Listening to Grace Potter and standing perfectly still is just plain impossible, so I gave in to being one of the few people you see bobbing along to the music you can only assume is playing through their headphones.
While walking down the street, I looked up to watch some pigeons on a ledge and when I looked back down, everyone on the street had looked up to see what I was looking at. Ha, made you look.
Still walking, while texting, I ran into a tree.
While sitting at a coffee shop today, I looked out the window and saw what was either a dog-training class or a circle of strangers simultaneously being attacked by unruly dogs. Rationality led me to assume the former but I looked up a few minutes later and found the group had already broken up, with only a few dogs still running wildly back and forth around their owners. Guess it wasn’t a class.
Most days I take the tube. But there are some days when sitting in a stuffy train car in a dark tunnel deep underground just seems unbearable. So, as a special treat, I take the bus even though it takes at least fifteen minutes longer to get home. My bus from campus to home happens to run the same route as the infamous open-top tour buses so I get to enjoy a particularly nice ride down Oxford Street and past Hyde Park.
While riding down Oxford Street, I usually get in a good dose of window shopping, making mental notes of which stores are beginning to bring out their spring clothes. Slowly but surely the window displays are brightening up with hot pinks and aquas and flowery pastels. I cannot wait for the days when it’s warm enough for shorts and skirts and dresses.
Today while at a red light, I was watching a shop keeper standing by the door to his shop. He was holding out his hand and rhythmically tapping each finger with a pen. In a moment of boredom he sighed and stretched out his arms, then swung them around, accidentally flinging his pen out the door, into the street, and right under my bus. His face flashed a moment of surprise before quickly looking around to see if anyone had seen. In London, even without CCTV, I’m pretty sure someone is always watching, if only from the top of a double-decker bus.
My bus circles around the statues of a giant upside-down horse’s head and what I can only describe as a family of gummy-bear people by Marble Arch, and then drives alongside Hyde Park for the rest of the ride home.
Though these moments have become so ordinary to me, as an anthropologist in training, I should be careful not to overlook them. They are moments of my own participant observation.