The art of conversation

Today I bonded with a stranger over a pigeon with a deformed foot.

I took a seat on the platform next to a young lady at Birmingham New Street waiting for a delayed train. In the usual British manner we didn’t make eye contact or acknowledge each other in any way. Until a pigeon arrived in front of us, hobbling with one gnarled foot and we both made a sort of involuntary ‘poor pigeon’ noise at the same time (yes, the same one you’ve just made in your head). 

I was eating a sandwich at the time so I threw a bit of bread to the pigeon, who made a right song and dance out of trying to eat it. My new companion’s subsequent attempts to feed the pigeon bits of spring roll and raspberries, and the pigeon’s ability to scatter bits of food everywhere had us in fits of giggles. Then a second pigeon rocked up to see what all the fuss was about, and this one was missing a toe from one foot. This observation took us onto a discussion about whether the pigeons had intentionally maimed themselves to elicit gourmet lunches from sympathetic strangers and reflections on poverty-stricken countries where there is a known practice of maiming children with the purpose of begging from tourists (a nasty but unfortunate reality). Not ordinarily a great basis for a conversation except that it showed we both clearly had a love of travel. 

We spent the rest of our wait, and then the subsequent train journey (turned out she was going to the same place as me) chatting about places we had been, what made them special, where we still wanted to go, and both left with some new additions to our lists of ‘must dos’ – South Korea and Japan both now added to mine. 

I’m trying to remember the last time I just struck up a conversation with a complete stranger – and I genuinely don’t know the answer. But it was a real highlight of my day and something I am going to consciously do more often. This girl was almost 20 years younger then me (though rather charmingly she said I didn’t look a day over 28 – it’s entirely possible that is why I liked her so much) but that hobbling pigeon led us to a shared passion and the basis of a fun spontaneous conversation. 

My message is this – ditch the British ignorance of each other, smile at strangers, say hello, respond to what is happening around you, it might just lead to something special.

As an aside I have now googled ‘crippled pigeons’ (yes, really) and it seems that most urban flocks have a large proportion of deformed feet principally due to the careless way humans dispose of their rubbish. Now I don’t particularly like pigeons, but I really hate littering – so while I’m on my soap box, let’s do better. 
If you would like to use the urban environment to get in touch with your creative side why not sign up to a free Street Wisdom event. I’m running one in Leamington Spa on 11th June – click here to register. I promise not to talk about pigeons, or their feet. 

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