For me it takes both a well written book and some peace and quiet to achieve that. At home, with family and chores around to distract me, it’s rare that I am so absorbed in a book that I forget who or where I am. More usually it happens to me when I am on the tube, travelling to or from work.
And so it was this morning. I am reading Take A Look At Me Now by Anita Notaro which a friend lent me. It is not Booker prize-winning literature, it’s written by an author I’ve never heard of, and I really don’t like the cover, but I am finding it so absorbing. Sometimes that happens with the most surprising books – I just need to keep reading because I care what is going to happen to the characters.
I was sitting in a café in rural Ireland, wondering what was going to become of the little boy whom everybody wanted, when I dimly heard a train announcement telling me that this was Bank station. Change here for the the Waterloo and City line, the Northern Line, District and Circle Lines and the Docklands Light Railway. I hauled myself back from Wicklow to London and put my book into my handbag ready to get off at the next stop.
When I looked up I saw an extremely tall man standing right in front of me, rolling a crystal ball around on the back of his hand. He wore no coat but had a black zip-up top with a rather mesmerising swirly orange pattern on it. The crystal ball was the size of a large grapefruit and he rolled his hand around underneath it, so that the ball looked as though it remained still and serene while his hand writhed around below. He rolled his head around to match the rhythm of his hand.
I spent the short journey from Bank to St Pauls openly staring at this bizarre sight, wondering if I were being hypnotised. I only just remembered to get off the train right before the doors shut. On the way up from the platforms to the street I was mulling over the incident of the crystal ball, and still wondering what was happening to the book characters I’d left behind in Wicklow, when I nearly tripped over four identically dressed, very short men, each crouched over identical, old-fashioned, walking sticks as they hobbled off the escalator in front of me.
Again, more staring from me as I realised that they were identical quads aged about 60, complete with identical hobbling gaits and matching black homburg hats. How come they all had the same disability? Where did they get such cool hats? So very odd.
A few minutes later, standing in the queue at the coffee shop I was wondering if I had imagined it all. The imaginary book world in Wicklow and the real world in London were getting hard to tell apart. Books can transport you to places you’d never dreamt of, and it seems that the London Underground can too.
St Paul's station this morning; watch out - strange things happen in here!