Half-six and I was pretty much dead on my feet, and yet I ill-advisedly decided to traipse up the escalators that take you from the Central Line to the District/ Circle Line platforms at Notting Hill Gate station. In lieu of time (read: inclination) to go to the gym, I’ve decided the world is my Stairmaster.
Doggedly making my final steps, I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around, I saw a middle-aged man holding my current book of choice, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West. Scanning my bookshelf at home, I appear to have a morbid fascination with dystopias, both real and fictitious.
This was really puzzling for a moment. I had been holding said book open in preparation for my infinitely-long wait on the platform for the elusive mistress that is the Wimbledon-bound District Line train (up to eight minutes feels like an eternity for someone with the patience of a small child en route to Disneyland… or someone simply craving the comfort provided by a sofa, an episode of Mad Men and a whiskey and coke). Was I so dazed post-work that I hadn’t noticed dropping Escape from Camp 14, for it to land at the feet of a fellow commuter nobly trying to tone glutes and thighs on his way home via our makeshift Stairmaster?
I was then struck with the same sensation you have when you’ve been searching for your keys, only to find that you’ve been clutching them in your left hand all along. Sure enough, my fingers were still improvising as a bookmark. I realised that the tapping stranger must be holding another copy of the poignant Escape from Camp 14!
He smiled. I smiled. To be honest, on the Tube I’m happy just to see a fellow commuter reading something that’s not 50 Shades of Shit or the Evening Bog Standard. But two strangers sharing an interest in the woes of Shin’s life in the North Korean prison camp and an escalator was really something.
When we levelled out, he prefaced with, “I’m not trying to hit on you…” at which point I interrupted with a clumsy question about his thoughts on the book. The man’s name is Greg. He has been avidly reading about North Korea for a decade and in a week’s time he’ll be in the hermit country, observing first-hand just a sliver of North Korean life as we understand it from reading defectors’ accounts.
My (dubious) take-out from this interaction – aside from the fact that I love, love coincidences like this – is that people who walk rather than ‘ride’ escalators are more likely to be go-getters in life. They’re more eager to get from place to place. It’s one of the Underground’s great metaphors. Maybe. Maybe not. In any case, Greg, it was lovely to meet you fleetingly, and travel safe.