Welcome to my blog. A special welcome if you are not me. If you are a member of my family or one of my friends, judge me kindly. If you are none of that lot, then an even greater welcome, though you must be lost.

Tall, tall, tall, I want to be tall, tall, tall
As big as a wall, wall, wall, as big as a wall, wall, wall
(Empire State Human, The Human League 1979)

The Central Line carriages are small and cramped and the seatless space where the doors open and us commuters stand is arched, higher in the middle than at the doors. When it isn’t so busy, you can stand where you like, folks arrange themselves willy-nilly. But at rush hour it gets packed solid, sardines in a tin. No sauce. So, to avoid stooping or being bent double, the tall have to push through the fishy folk to the middle of the carriage where they can stand upright, their hair brushing the strip lights. And during this shuffling about of folks, the small often end up wedged near the doors in spaces that the rest of us can’t comfortably accommodate. Though sometimes you catch sight of a shorty floating near the middle, head bobbing lost in a sea of shoulders. I’m of roughly average height, but I have always wanted to be tall. It looks so cool, being able to loom over folks, reach things on high shelves, to look graceful or even gangly, to stand out. I have a few tall friends and most of them moan about the pitfalls, about aircraft seats and cramped tube trains and the poor state of their vertebrae and knees. This drives me mad, I have no ear for their complaints because they are giants and I would dearly love to be a giant. It’s not something that you can gain through exercise or practice. I could drink milk until the cows came home, scoff vitamins by the kilo and still be just average. Height is a gift of the chromosomes. As I stand here sardined about midway/average across the carriage, I can see three of them, between fifteen and thirty centimetres taller than me. They have naturally grouped and while not outwardly acknowledging each other, they are clearly more comfortable with their giant kin. They’re planning to crush the rest of us, no doubt…

Hands and wrists hang from the bar, separated from their owners by the density of commuters. No line of sight. One of them un-hand, un-wrist-like. Stick-like. A flesh-tone branch, no discernible features, no changes in width or shape or function. I know there must be stick-like fingers curled around the bar, but I can’t see them. Likewise, there must be a stick-arm, stick-body, stick-head somewhere in the forest of folks, but I can’t see the wood for the trees.

Hands and wrists hang from the bar again. This should be a photographic essay, really, but I don’t have the balls to photograph bits of my fellow passengers at rush hour. Apart from the logistics of pulling out the camera and taking the shot without falling over or elbowing someone, there would be no escape, no scuttling off into the distance once my crime was committed. We are all pinned, pretty much confined to the spaces that we stand in. I could shuffle about a bit but would still be within earshot/armshot of folks. The hands are beautiful, though. The variation of colour, size, age, grip. Poetry. Actually, the bar looks a bit like a stave, and the hands with dangling wrists are like crotchets. But the monotone tune wouldn’t do the lovely wrists justice. Mine is rather bland, alarmingly crinkly with pasty skin – boringly monochrome. Contrast it with a rather fabulous wrist along the carriage whose owner I can’t see, but clearly has a different life to my paws. The skin is male, middle-aged, mid-brown and glossy. Glossy? How do you even get glossy skin? It lives in a loose, striped cuff sporting a gold cufflink, and has a fat gold bracelet. The chubby, happy looking fingers are holding a purple ballpoint pen, presumably there is a crossword, sudoku, memoirs somewhere out of view. I like this hand, it hasn’t given in to the grey, inward-looking uniformity of us phone-studying commuters. It has glamour.

The time I swapped hands with another passenger. I stood holding the bar, as you do, squashed against my fellow travellers. I regarded my hand, as you do, and realised that I was regarding a slimmer, younger, more feminine hand than I was familiar with. I checked the whereabouts of my hand with that part of my head that keeps track of these things, a function so everyday that I suspect we are largely unaware of it, unless it goes wrong. As I sit here typing I know where all my limbs terminate, where my fingers and toes reside, I just do. It’s normal. But on this morning on this tube my awareness was broken. I tried waggling my fingers and it was a strange feeling, seeing an alien, dead hand moving as if via remote control. Dead because my head refused to believe my eyes, because my sensations of touch and temperature were coming from the graceful hand that my head had adopted. My stupid head was sure of it. I ocularly checked the rightful ownership of hands, a simple task, arms don’t lie, but my head continued to mislead until I stuffed the alien hand into my pocket and used the other, less ventriloquisticly inclined hand to hold on with instead.

Cramped on the tube this morning, a young woman, weary. She looked like she was at the end of the day that we were starting. She closed her eyes and leant her head on the shoulder of a woman compressed next to her, facing away, unknown. The other woman didn’t shrug off the weight, she let her rest. Freely given comfort.

Sardines again, I double-take a guy hanging from the rail, he has two left hands clamped to the bar. No, he doesn’t, but two identically coloured and shaped left hands, with nails alike, both sprouting from dark cuffs are gripped next to each other. The second left-hand owner stands behind the first, reaching past him. Are they brothers? Co-workers? The differences in their nails, knuckles, skin and their digit-hair are eclipsed by their similarities. I could cross my eyes, make the two, one without a jarring discrepancy. Would it be a four-dimensional paw?

As I look along the carriage, I can see a woman with a fantastic amount of hair, her face buried in a huge coiffure. But when I look again, I can see that she has a pretty big do, but that there is also another woman, nearer, facing the other way who also has the same colour hair. The pair of them have become visually compressed together as we all stand, physically compressed. We overlap, our personal spaces becoming Venn diagrams and, in the overlaps, the strange happens. We are merging. Huge hair, two left arms, me swapping hands with a stranger and shoulders as pillows. All products of our intimacy, courtesy of the Central Line.

© Copyright Alastair Lampard 2019