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Endless fun: match the child with the parent

1st Jan 2016


David Aaronovitch

August in London allows me to do something that can’t be accomplished the rest of the year. It’s the result of a coincidence of factors. The first is that most Tube trains have long rows of seats facing each other about four feet apart. The second is that many regular commuters have gone on holiday, leaving the seats free. The third is that the summer brings families of tourists, entire: mum, dad, two or three children.

So they sit opposite. Americans, Finns, Spaniards and Geordies. And that allows the study of the strange business of family similarities and differences. Whose hair and eyes did the kids get? Which child ended up with the recessive chin, which with the large forehead? See that teen boy, whose future is sat next to him, heading inexorably, though he knows it not, for early baldness.

My favourite, though, is the family where every child takes after just one of the parents, leaving the other parent in a seeming state of genetic rejection. There’s dad, round-visaged and blue-eyed, and then there’s mum and the brood, dark, angular and bony. It’s enough to bring out the calipers-wielding Edwardian scientist in you.

Bat-like cunning

Off the train and up into the lower concourse at London Bridge. This a place where great migrations — the overground passengers making for the Tube and the Tube passengers headed for the overground — run into each other, almost as though the wildebeest and the arctic caribou were to meet in a valley in the Lake District.

In this concourse there are about ten entrances and exits and people pour into and out of each one of them. They do this at some speed.

And yet they do not collide. Even if someone emerges unseen, there is never an accident. How come? We must surely possess some bat-like hidden sense, or combination of senses, that allows us to work out — without conscious thought — what the people around us are going to do and how we should react. And if you could find a way of interfering with this sense, London Bridge would become a writhing heap of hopelessly entangled people and luggage.

Angelic children

Whereas in summer there are folks who try to get far away from the masses, there are many others who substitute the unchosen crowd with the chosen one. So, a week ago, I was speaking about freedom of speech at the Wilderness music festival in Oxfordshire.

When I were a lad, festivals were (a) free or cheap (b) not without hazard and (c) patrolled by Hell’s Angels. This one was safe, jolly, expensive and patrolled by park rangers. Back in the day, the main entrepreneurial activity at festivals was the selling of illegal drugs. But no spliff assembly or roach rolling at Wilderness. Here, it seemed to be “axe and paddle bushcraft”. On that Sunday afternoon you could still do spoon carving for £25, but hazel bow making and beetle wing earring making were both sold out.

I like to think that among those tousled moppets sitting in a circle learning “festival themed nail art”, were the grandsons and grand-daughters of the Hell’s Angels of my youth.

Migration watch

If you come out of Seven Sisters Tube station in Tottenham, and turn left, through the doors of the Pueblita Paisa Café (run by Colombians) you enter — as in Harry Potter — a sudden parallel world. In a row of shops and workshops known as Wards Corner, there’s a sudden bazaar of migrant micro-businesses, offering fotocopias, Latino DVDs, and food to be eaten at tiny one-table restaurants. Have your hair cut at the Nubian Hair Studio and your stars told at Sri Sai Baba Astrological Centre. And all for less than it costs to carve a spoon.

Rear-view mirror

On Saturday there were just two items of post for me. The first was notice of a colonoscopy appointment and the second was a flyer for Jeremy Corbyn. Readers can invent their own moral.

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