Saturday, November 11, 2006

Paper tigers

Personally, I think that the best way to read the tabloids is looking over somebody's shoulder , or across the carriage, while commuting. For one thing, you never get to read much past the headline (which, let's face it, is the only bit worth reading - mainly because the rest of the article rarely bears any relation to it), because the owner always spots you and takes whatever measures necessary to ensure you can't read the rest. For another, if you're going to try reading somebody else's newspaper on a train, it's best to choose one you're not actually interested in reading, because reading is never the point. Let me be very clear - reading other peoples' newspapers on trains or buses is a game of oneupmanship. It's all about getting a tiny victory, totally insignificant in the bigger picture but magnified in the intensely competitive environment of the commute.

There are, remarkably, rules of engagement, even etiquette, to be observed in all this. You never try to read someone else's freesheet - Metro or London Lite(weight) or anything like that. This is because there are always copies of these spread liberally around the carriages, so there is no point, and you are just going to make yourself, and the other person, look stupid for no reason. This type of thing can lead to some quite nasty confrontations: there's nothing more annoying than getting yourself into these kind of back-breaking contortions and then finding that you've done so for no reason. If the 'paper in question is freely available thanks to an earlier commuter's largesse (or forgetfulness), then the owner of the first copy has no business, or interest, trying to stop anyone from reading it. It takes the competitive element, and therefore the excitement, out of it - like playing football with no goals: enjoyable maybe, and good for showing off your fancy moves (why exactly is it called a nutmeg?), but hardly worth the risk of a crunching tackle.

My only regret at the rise of the "compact" newspapers over the past couple of years (on the whole a very good thing - anything that cuts into the sales of The Daily Mail is okay by me) is that you don't get such good moves anymore. These days, you see a lot of folding - the reader simply folding his 'paper in half upon noticing someone else try to read it - which in my opinion is just plain lazy ndn doesn't make for a good spectacle. When it was all big chucky broadsheets (which of course don't so much fold as do some strange kind of origami thing) you used to get a proper show, with people instead folding their own bodies into shapes that would make a yoga instructor blush.

I'm not generally one to harp on about the past - you can't stop progress (no reverse gear, you see) but some things are worth harping on about.


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