When things go… just right! TWICE!

Let’s face it, life can be a bit crap sometimes. Work; deadlines and to-do lists; traffic jams; DIY; precious time lost to things you ought to do, rather than enjoy doing. And that’s even without the backdrop of disaster and disease, unfairness and inequality of opportunity; wars and poverty and governments who fail to act or even make things worse.

Which is why when something surprising and refreshing and remarkable comes along, I believe you should grab it with both hands, turn it over a few times so you can see exactly how good it is, and celebrate it. We should all speak of remarkable things when we find them.


A little while ago I stumbled through twitter on something called “Books on the Underground”. It is breathtakingly simple, and goes like this:-

    • Commuting is boring
    • Books are wonderful
    • Leave a book on the tube for someone to pick up and read
    • They read it and in due course leave it for the another person

How simple, yet how powerful! I can imagine myself on the underground, thinking “Oh, someone’s left a book behind” and then discovering they did it deliberately, for me to find! An instant rainbow into the drudge of commuting, and a journey to… well, who knows where…!?

So you pick up the book, and – by whatever alchemy of the title, cover, notes and the couple of random pages your thumbs pick when you open it to glance over a few paragraphs – you may take it home and read it; or at least pass a more pleasant stop or two; or, decide it’s not for you, in which case just leave it for the next person.

And I then drift off into a reverie of the journey that book may take on its travels,  and the people it will touch. Perhaps someone who may be newly-prompted to read, or who will discover a new author or genre, or who will learn something, or tell a friend about any of the above. Or maybe even tell a child of their mysterious encounter, and so create a new reader.

Quite remarkable, from such a simple concept.

I have a Shelf-of-Very-Special-Books, the ones which for some reason have particularly touched me, or perhaps represent a particular layer in the archaeology of my life. If I were to leave a book on a tube, I thought, the candidates would come from that shelf. (Not those actual books, obviously I could not part with them.)

Then this last week, something worked out Just Right. Twice.

I went to Waterstones to collect a book for my daughter and having earned enough stamps for a £10 voucher, I wandered back to the shelves. To my delight they had a copy of “If nobody speaks of remarkable things” by Jon McGregor. I had my first book for the underground, and it had not cost me a penny!

I have an upcoming three-day trip to London, so thinking that one book is not enough, I popped into a local charity shop. Not only did they have another copy of Remarkable Things, but to even more delight I also found four others from my shelf, plus one other that I would definitely use for the tube. So for less than £10 I am now armed with multiple rainbows for my trip, and have also made a charity donation!

So never mind the conference, the client meetings and the contract reviews… look out 

BooksLondon Underground, here I come: three days, three books all stickered-up and ready to spread a few rainbows on the Piccadilly, District or Circle lines.

These are the ones I found (the first three about to go on a journey):-

  1. If nobody speaks of remarkable things, Jon MacGregor. There is a dramatic incident at the centre, but the beauty of this book is the truly-remarkable nature of the absolutely-ordinary things going on in an everyday street.
  2. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks. Overwhelming in its description of being at war (and especially impactful for me with family roots in mining.)
  3. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy. A beguiling story and dramatic climax, enchanting characters and Small Things; but what makes this special for me is the language, which is hypnotic and like Mozart.
  4. The curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Mark Haddon. A cracking story in itself, but more than that: an education, and a window onto a completely different view of the world.
  5. A Thousand Splendid Sons, Khaled Hosseini. Transports you to Afghanistan; makes you feel something when you hear the word “Taliban” on the news.

Each one of them remarkable. But, if you found one on a tube… and it had been deliberately left you you…! ! !


About johntleeds

In amongst the perpetual juggling of work, family and things on my mind, this is MY time, MY escape. Any this is what my mind comes up with when it has time to wonder, as I wander on the trails... twitter @johntleeds
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