Thursday 17 May 2012

The Utility of the Flaneur

Yesterday evening, I was strolling through the expensive back streets of Kensington in the direction of the underground railway when I noticed, on the other side of the road, a small boy - a very small boy - blithely scooting his scooter across the road at a T junction. Fortunately there was no traffic and I assumed anyway that a parent or nanny was close at hand and had given the go-ahead. But no. I looked around and was alarmed to discover that there was no one in view who had anything to do with this child. He was probably three years old - barely taller than his scooter's handlebar - and apparently quite on his own. I watched in mounting alarm as he scooted on to the next junction, apparently with every intention of crossing it. By this time, happily, I'd caught his eye and mouthed and gestured at him to halt, which he did. Still no sign of anyone in charge of him - and the amazing thing was that no one else had noticed this tiny boy on his own. A young woman passed within a foot of him but was too absorbed in her mobile phone and whatever was coming out of her earphones to see him, or anything. Two businessmen passed by, talking and equally oblivious. Another woman appeared and scurried off around the corner having noticed nothing. By this point I was beginning to think I'd have to go over and take charge of the boy myself, and no doubt get arrested for my pains - but then I spotted a sensible motherly looking woman coming my way (equally unaware of her surroundings). I roused her from her reverie, and together we crossed to the small boy. He gave his name and told us that he lived 'here', but was keener to talk about his 'skateboard' (i.e. scooter). At this point, the story turns anticlimactic, because at last a woman - presumably his mother - hoved into view, approaching at an unconcerned saunter. I exchanged a roll of the eyes with the sensible woman, thanked her for her help, and went on my way.
You can say what you like about us flaneurs, I thought to myself as I flaned along, but we seem to be the only ones on the street in these days of electronically enhanced self-absorption who are actually looking around us and noticing what's there.


  1. For those of us who live outside London, even in decent sized cities like Bristol, that electronic self-absorption while commuting or walking is still noticeably extreme in the capital.

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