Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Strangers in the underground...

I have recently written a draft script for a movie called “changing lines” the story is of a young woman who moves to London from a very sheltered life in the country side and she has to face her greatest fear… the use the underground metro system in London to get to college! This experience in itself plays a hug part in the plot of the film, and having to share your private space with others. But the main story line of the film is how she, through avoiding travelling with her very weird and creepy neighbour who takes the same train and line as her at the same time every day, decides to change lines and meets someone who, amongst the collection of strangers in the underground, seems to be the most normal, polite human being!
The inspiration for the film script comes from having been a “Londoner” myself for many years, and after leaving London and now coming back occasionally when I have to travel to my office, I realised how fascinating it is to see the millions of people who on a day to day basis share their personal space with others in the battle to get somewhere. I moved away from London some 10 years ago and I never thought I would be able to live outside this great city, but it took only a few months to realise how great it was not to have to share my personal travelling space with thousands of strangers and their various odours and flavours!
And now that I don’t have to do this on a day-to-day basis, boy am I glad I’m not a “Londoner” any more! I went back to travelling on the underground on a regular basis at the beginning of 2011 and I became an “Oyster” holder (season underground ticket), which was different to the old “Travel Card” system which existed in my days, where you had your picture on an ID card attached to your ticket. For those unaware of what the “Oyster” is (and I guess that includes millions of you!) it is an electronic ticket, which you place on a round plate on the gate, and it lets you in deducting your fare at the other end where you also place this on another round plate to go out. Genius system as it is fast, effective and impersonal! Yes and the corporate word here is “impersonal” You see, in my days as a regular underground traveller, you where someone, you had to identify yourself; you could not share your travel card with anyone. Now, anyone can use your Oyster card as far as I can tell, anyone can travel as you! You are just a number in the system, another passenger in a sea of strangers. And it is fascinating the choice of the name for this, “Oyster”. I am sure there is a right story for this, but for me an Oyster reminds me of something that is closed, hidden, secret. Something that usually if open is only partially and has something hidden, a secret or a treasure, or it may just simply be empty, we are all oysters in the sea of the underground system! And this is how I have always seen travellers in the underground, closed, hiding with secrets you may never not know, treasures they don’t show or they are simply empty. But at least in my day you had a face with your name!
Every day, millions of people share this very confined space with total strangers; people who have their own lives and you may never know what they are. People whom you may see once only or several times. Look around and you see people from all corners of the world, from different backgrounds, creeds, social status and political views! There is a famous say “don’t judge a book by its cover” and never was a truer statement than this in here. As you step onto the wagon of the underground train, on a busy rush hour, you will be within close proximity to at least 15 to 20 people, all within a hand’s reach. Some will be too closed for comfort and often you are able to smell their perfume, read their newspaper or emails in their BB or hear their music. But the thing that has always intrigued me is who they really are?
And I mean that in the sense of “don’t judge a book by its cover” Think about it, the business man, dress in his pink stripy suit, reading the Financial Time, who is he? What does he do when he finally gets home and takes of his costume, he masquerade? The young girl, with her rucksack, mismatching cloth, headphones and iPod, staring at the distance to avoid eye contact with a stranger, what does she do when she gets home and locks herself in her room? The weird looking man, wearing old dirty charity shop cloths, with the free newspaper he has just picked up from the previous passenger and greasy hair which leaves a mark as he leans on the glass panel, where does he live, what does he do and where is he going or coming looking like that? And many others, whom by their appearance you could make assumptions as to who they are. But remember, don’t judge a book by its cover, the businessman may not be who he seems, or the young girl or weirdo, or anyone else for that matter. You could be standing next to a murderer for all you know.
In my script “changing lines” our young heroine meets someone whom by his appearance seems “normal” and soon she learns that judging a book by its cover can change your life (for the worse) and meeting strangers in the underground may not be the best idea considering the vast collection of human beings placed together in one place. We are all strangers, we all have our secrets and we all like to put on a mask which we show when we go out.
Next time you are in an underground system anywhere in the world, look around at your fellow passengers and remember, you just never know who you may be standing next too!

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