Entertaining reading on the tube

How amusingly bizarre a recent journey of mine was.

I normally travel to work by tube, which at peak times is something of a nightmare. In fact one of the few positive things about my line of work is that I am rarely forced to become a sardine and join in the twice-daily mass experiments to see just how much human flesh it is possible to fit inside a small cylinder...

No, I prefer the more sedate journies just after rush hour when its actually possible to get a seat and read the paper in some semblance of comfort.

People-watching on the tube is a fantastic pastime, and I always take an interest in what other people are doing - be it the slightly dodgy looking bloke perving at the girl opposite (oh no, sorry, that's me) or the old woman talking to herself, or the guy who looks like he's going to start talking to you (avoid eye contact at all costs - he who shows an interest is lost). I always pay mild attention to what other people are reading, particularly if its my newspaper that they're reading over my shoulder.

The vacuous ads posted around above the seats occupy your attention for a few minutes, and also give you a great excuse to pretend to read whilst keeping the talkative looking chap in your peripheral vision, ready for you to make a rapid escape if it looks like you're going to be his victim. Our flight response may have evolved hundreds of millions of years ago, but it is certainly not redundant even now in the age of mass transit.

The other day there was a remarkable juxtaposition of conflicting texts, that fair tickled me pink.

A rather dour looking middle-aged woman was sitting next to me, reading a book entitled 'Teach Yourself Biblical Hebrew', which, excitingly for her no doubt, aimed to do this by listing Old Testament verses, in English, followed immediately by their Hebrew counterparts (originals, perhaps? Or were they re-translations of the English verses? Who knows, or indeed cares?).

I'm sure she had very good reasons for learning Hebrew, though none immediately occur to me. I looked at the book for a few moments, as one does, and may even be able to tell you how to write 'Daniel', if pressed (I think it goes 'vertical line, horizontal line, bendy line' but I'm not sure, it could have been something else). My overall judgement was that if I wanted to learn how to write Hebrew, I'd do it by studying modern, relevant language rather than the supposed rantings of deranged, long-dead prophets written many years after their uncomfirmed existences came to an end.

Opposite my seat was a mildly irritating and utterly vacuous advert from 'Lamb of God.org' which was simply a quote from a New Testament book (I didn't bother to check which one) - something about Jesus gathering all to him, I think. I really wonder what goes through the minds of the people who commission these adverts; I mean, I know the copy is cheap to produce, but what do they think it will achieve? Will the bed-sheet clad gentleman with the serene look on his face glance at the advert and put down his Koran, muttering to himself 'Dear me, but I have been wrong for all these years, of course Jesus is my saviour!' Will the middle-aged dragon learning Hebrew see it and think 'Hmmm, I must learn Aramaic next, Hebrew is so passe'? I think not.

Opposite and slightly to the left of me, I clocked a youngish man reading 'The God Delusion'.

Shortly after I spotted it, the Hebrew student glanced up, copped a sight of it, and sort of froze... I could almost feel the iciness spreading out from her... the silent indignation, then, with truly classical religious behaviour, the re-gathering of dignity, the return of the eyes to her book - her knuckles were white - an almost imperceptible shake of the head, the staunchly pretending that nothing had happened. Forget the nasty Dawkins monster, concentrate on what Daniel did instead.

But her natural curiosity (for even the deeply religious cannot supress it all of the time, except by trying to silence other people) kept getting the better of her. She kept glancing up, eyes darting from 'lamb of god' to 'no god' and back again. Back to Daniel, then a long hard look at the offending man. He looks up, catches her gaze briefly, impassively, glances at the title of her book... a wry smile turns the corner of one lip as he returns to his book.

Haughtily, coldly, she returns to her book and turns the page. The tension in the air was palpable (though it might be that it was only me who noticed) but all one-sided.

The young man couldn't have cared less, by the look of it, what she was reading. For the student though, anything that made her think about, perhaps even for a moment question, the veracity of her beliefs was enough to send her into icy tension.

I studiously returned to my newspaper, trying hard to keep a grin from spreading across my face.

If it makes you feel better, I had a shit day at work.

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