Lost opportunities could teach us an object lesson - Ian McMillan

Here I am on the Tyne and Wear Metro, that fantastic example of public transport that can take you out to the East Coast and back in the twinkle of a Geordie eye.

My wife and I are staying in Newcastle and we’ve had a lovely day by the sea, wandering into the unforgiving breeze in Tynemouth, and taking shelter from the drizzle in Whitley Bay.

Not that the weather bothered us, to be honest: the air was as fresh as could be, and any stroll in the fresh air is a good thing.

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We had some marvellous fish and chips in Whitley Bay and then got the rattly and quite warm Metro back. I blame the fish and chips, and the aforementioned rattly and quite warm carriage, for the fact that I began to nod off.

Ian McMillanIan McMillan
Ian McMillan

Suddenly my wife nudged me and then I was gapingly awake and there we were, back in Newcastle.

We wandered up the stairs away from the Metro and it was then, when I noticed the cold afternoon air, that I noticed I’d left my hat on the seat and that the train was probably taking my hat on a jaunt back to the seaside. My present tense became my past tense: I was hatfull but now I am hatless.

Now, I’ve lost hats on trains before, but I have to admit that this was one of my favourite hats. It fitted well, it was warm but not hot, and it didn’t seem to lose its shape when it got washed. I felt a great affection for that hat and hoped it would end up in a good home.

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I had a sudden vivid vision of a man who looked a bit like me picking up the hat when he got on the Metro at Cullercoats, trying it on and then claiming it as his own. ‘It suits you’, I imagined his wife saying; ‘You look just like that handsome Ian McMillan.’ You’re right: I have a vivid imagination.

Many years ago, on a stopping train from Saxmundham to Ipswich in Suffolk, I left a book on a train. The carriage was probably rattly and warm and my eyes probably grew heavy.

Again, I’ve left books on trains before but, like the hat, this was a favourite: It was the selected poems of a fantastic poet called Sujata Bhatt. I recommend the book to you but you should definitely take more care of it than I did.

Then I began to imagine another life for my book as well as for my hat. I fantasised that the man who’d picked up my hat had been on a holiday to the Suffolk Coast a decade or so earlier.

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Maybe he was getting on the train that I’d got off and maybe he saw the book under the seat. I can picture him picking it up and reading it and enjoying it very much.

And now, in his house on the outskirts of Cullercoats, there’s my lost Sujata Bhatt book on the shelf, and there’s my lost hat on a peg by the door.

And maybe that’s how life works: maybe nothing is ever really lost, it’s just momentarily unfound before it’s relocated and unlost. Perhaps every object has a number of lives, each of them as remarkable and valuable as the next one.

So I hope the hat keeps him warm and the book keeps him nourished and then maybe one day he could leave them on a train and a Metro and they might just come back to me like beautiful objects in a warm and rattly dream.

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