The company of strangers

posted 13 November 2006

I find myself the least busy I've been in quite a while, so expect a few long blogs that I've been storing up.

I can remember three times in the recent past that I've spoken to a random stranger.

The first was on the tube, probably about a year ago now. The carriage was almost empty apart from us and we were both on our iPods. I unplugged my headphones from the socket and motioned for her to do the same. Then I handed her my headphone plug and she gave me hers. We plugged them into our respective iPods and gave each other random samplings of each other's music collection, commenting on the songs as we went until we reached the station. It was pretty fun.

The second was on the street near my house. A man came up to me and the friend I was walking with and started telling me about the crappy day he'd had, how everything had gone wrong, and how now he needed to park put didn't have change for the meter: he showed me the £2 in change he had in his hand and asked if I had 2 pound coins he could change it for? Stupidly I gave him the coins first, which he then pocketed and walked off. Fucker.

The third was on the same street two weeks later. A guy came up in a similarly blustery manner and started talking about the crappy day he'd had. Alone this time, I tensed up and waited for things to get ugly. But it turned out he'd actually just had a really crappy day. He was a carpenter and electrician, and he'd been unemployed for 3 months and had just got a job. So he'd gone to the unemployment office to sign off. There are big signs in the jobcentre saying you get £200 when you sign off, but it turned out that's only the case if you've been unemployed for more than six months: instead he'd got £24, which was all he had for the next 2 weeks to buy food and pay for his two bus journeys to his new job.

I responded by talking about how I'd been made redundant recently, and how the process of finding a new job in the same company was complicated and stressful, while just taking redundancy was easier and quite rewarding financially. We agreed that the system tended to produce perverse incentives, and that it was a funny old world. We parted ways with a friendly handshake.

So... two out of three ain't bad, I guess.

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