Sunday, 15 January 2012

The art of lost property

My favourite character in Craig Taylor's Londoners, his oral history of the capital which I've just finished reading, is Craig Clark, a clerk at Transport for London's Lost Property Office near Baker Street underground station. There is a lovely opening to this section which illustrates the unconscious synchronisation of millions of urban lives: 'I arrive at Transport for London's Lost Property Office near Baker Street station when it is loudest, between eight and nine in the morning - when all the lost mobile phones, programmed by absent owners and sealed in their individual brown envelopes, begin to chirp and ring and speak in novelty voices and vibrate and arpeggio on the racks where they are shelved, each with its own designated number. The chorus gets louder every quarter of an hour, until a last burst of sound at nine o'clock, and then most alarms go quiet for the rest of the day.'

As Clark the lost property clerk says, 'you learn about trends working here. There's a social aspect to it, you see what's in fashion with women in the summer because there'll be a ton of berets coming in or what's popular reading, like the Dan Brown books when there was that big craze with him, or the latest Harry Potter. You notice if the Evening Standard are giving away a free book or something, you get tons of them in; if we have an influx of six copies of the same book on one day you realize: it just came free with the Standard ... We also occasionally get drunks come in, or crackheads ... Once these two guys came in and said they had lost a swan. I think they were hallucinating.'

Mundane quote for the day: 'But it must be remembered, that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions, or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures; and we are well or ill at ease, as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent interruption. The true state of every nation is the state of common life. The manners of a people are not to be found in the schools of learning, or the palaces of greatness, where the national character is obscured or obliterated by travel or instruction, by philosophy or vanity; nor is public happiness to be estimated by the assemblies of the gay, or the banquets of the rich. The great mass of nations is neither rich nor gay: they whose aggregate constitutes the people, are found in the streets, and the villages, in the shops and farms; and from them collectively considered, must the measure of general prosperity be taken. As they approach to delicacy a nation is refined, as their conveniences are multiplied, a nation, at least a commercial nation, must be denominated wealthy.' - Samuel Johnson, A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland

1 comment:

  1. I went to Transport for London Lost Property Office near Baker Street station when it is to most, between eight and nine in the morning.

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