Friday, February 08, 2008

The birthday experiment

Yesterday was my 31st birthday. After last year's extensive celebrations to mark the beginning of my third decade (or, more accurately, the end of my second), it was a fairly low-key affair. What with the arrival of The Little Commuter, marking the passing of another year seems a fairly pointless thing to do with any great gusto, since it rather pales into insignifiance compared to other recent developments. I did get a nice surprise at work, howver, when a half-bottle of champagne arrived at my desk, courtesy of my sister, along with a helium baloon bearing the traditonal birthday legend. My sister jokingly remarked that she'd pay money to see me try to get the balloon home on the train, and, never one to turn down the chance of a quick buck, I decided to conduct an experiment. Leaving the office early (one birthday privelege I was not going to pass up) I set out to walk to Kings Cross, with the champers clutched under my arms and the balloon fluttering above my head. I was intrigued to see whether I would attract attention, and moreover whether anyone would wish me happy birthday. I figured that, since Oxford Street and Soho are crawling with people desperate for trade - chuggers, vendors, the guys that hand out London Liteweight and The London LooPaper, recruitment-literature-hawkers and the people that try to sign you up for language school no matter your nationality, my chances were fairly good.

I was wrong. Nobody so much as batted an eyelid. Well, I thought, either Londoners really are a bunch of mean-spirited curmudgeons, or this city is just so full of crazy loons that the sight of a grown man parading along the street in rush hour with a helium balloon fluttering above his head just doesn't cut the mustard in terms of spectacle. No matter, I thought, as I headed into the Kings Cross underpass: I'm bound to attract at least a couple of good wishes from my fellow commuters on the train, at least some of whom must see me everyday.

You know what's coming next, don't you?

Nobody on the train paid me the slightest attention, even though I was standing by the door the whole journey, so that everyone who got on or off filed straight past me. I even pulled the balloon into my chest at one point, to clear a path for somebody to get off, and then I even pressed the button to open the doors. No one thanked me, much less wished me happy birthday.

Now I'm not by nature an attention seeker (despite the evidence). I'm not making out that for some reason I am especially deserving of people's good wishes. I just think that simple things like wishing someone a happy birthday, pardoning them when they sneeze, or thanking them whne they open the door or even move to accomodate you, promotes a sense of bonhomie and should be encouraged. Little gestures can often mean more than big ones. The mayor of London obviously agrees with me, as he is starting an advertising campaign promoting just such a thing. Ken, I salute you.


At 12:26 PM GMT , Blogger SEAN RECKLESS said...

Perhaps at one time in my life my disposition could have leaned toward being pleasant and affable, but alas, You have to earn my respect these days- I reserve certain traits for certain people.
When I came to Finland first I continued to - as was my custom back in Ireland - to greet people - good morning, good evening, how're doin' and the occasional congenial comment to nutters with helium baloons- I liked be compatibla. Naturally within the heighbourhood, and within reasonable distance from the town. Behaving that way in a big (Dublin) city, as you can understand, may be taking bonhomie a little too far- the naked ape, and all ...that
Anyway, the Finic people didn't respond, and after a while I gave up. I realised they thought me a little strange, plus my behavior attracted the crazies.
I'm all for being kind, and helpful, I think a greeting to or from a strange can only promote well being no matter how small, unfortunately some don't nor never will fathom it or want to, and so don't deserve it.

At 3:26 PM GMT , Anonymous The Model Commuter said...

Despite having a balloon saying Happy Birthday you may have just been carrying it to deliver it to somewhere else, or, worse still, some form of nutter who carries round balloons to trap poor unsuspecting to initiate conversations with him. Doesn't surprise me in the slightest that no one batted an eyelid :)

At 5:14 PM GMT , Blogger JD said...

"Some form of nutter who carries round balloons to trap poor unsuspecting to initiate conversations with him"? Gosh. Have we really sunk to such depths of suspicion. Well you're entitled to your cynicism, obviously. For myself, I will continue bidding people good morning, blessing them whne they sneeze and, yes, even wishing them happy birthday even if there is a reasonable chance that they might just be carrying a gift for someone else, because I believe such small gestures make the world a better place.

And Sean, thank you for understanding.

At 11:52 AM GMT , Blogger Rish said...

There are times when the self-preservation instinct kicks in, and you can surely understand that a packed train/tube/bus causes people to concentrate only upon their own being, and be very suspicious of others.

However, last Sunday I was driving through Sutton Coldfield when one of a group of young girls (probably 13 or 14 years old) waved at us. When I waved back, they all cheered, and I thought how great it was that they were so easily pleased - I believe my precise thoughts were "at least they are not drinking alcopops, smoking and doing bad things with boys(!)". So basic human interaction can still be a source of joy, although these girls still have plenty of time to build up an unhealthy level of cynicism...

(By the way, I probably would not have waved at young teenage girls if I had been on my own in the car - I did have my girlfriend and another couple as my passengers. Honest, your honour, that is the truth!)

At 11:54 AM GMT , Blogger Rish said...

Oh, and JD - I have fiddled with my settings, so you should be able to find me on Facebook now.

At 6:38 PM GMT , Blogger JD said...

I thought I already had! There's two guys named Rish in my friends list already! No matter - I'll track you down.

At 2:59 PM GMT , Blogger savannah said...

i'm so late...congratulations on the little commuter and happy belated birthday, sugar! ;-)

At 6:07 PM GMT+1 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Er, *end* of your third decade, surely?


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