A few days ago I popped into my local Waterstones bookstore, the one on Deansgate in central Manchester. I'd taken a quick detour to browse through the new books on display, as I do on my evening walks, with my left ear plugged with a podcast and my right one free to keep me tuned to my surroundings. I was closely inspecting a book when I heard, or thought I heard a sound. I recognised it as the sound of someone saying something, something short, no more than two words, but I couldn’t make out what the words were. With my head down, still fixed on the pile of books in the Essential Fiction section, I spotted a figure that appeared in my periphery, in the corner of my eye. The figure inched towards me, and I heard the sound again.
I looked up and to my right to see a middle-aged man in a raincoat.
“Good style,” he said again. “I like your style.” He pointed at my shoes and my backpack. “You are very colourful, I like it.”
As I write this, it is difficult to articulate how I felt in that moment. I remember being surprised and delighted in equal measure. I felt a big grin form across my face and my heart leaped with joy.
“Thanks,” I replied, “that’s kind of you to say.”
What was supposed to be a fleeting detour turned into a 15-minute conversation with a stranger. This man, let’s call him Mike – because that’s his name (I asked) – ended up telling me all about his love of the arts, dance, classical music and poetry. He told me about his time in fashion school in his youth back in London, and about how he’s always appreciated the art of self-expression. As he spoke, his face lit up and he exuded such passion as if he’d been transported two or three decades back in time, to a different place when and where he was in his element.
Still standing in front of the pile of books, staring at covers of Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Terry Pratchett’s and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens, as fellow shoppers and book lovers ambled back and forth, Mike told me he’d made a practice of complimenting people, acknowledging and calling out good things in the world. He encouraged me to wear my colours boldly, to embrace my uniqueness, and to shine my light in a world filled with darkness. He talked about art at length, how we all have it in us, how it’s what makes us human, what keeps us alive. He gestured at the books in front of us as he talked about the vibrant illustrations on some of the covers, the embossed titles on others, and the text within.
“This is all art,” he said, “art that so many people have contributed to the world, the drawings, the designs, the stories, the music.”
I nodded in agreement, my face still set in a smile. As if Mike could read my mind, he now spoke about how none of this art would exist if the creatives didn’t have the courage to pursue their art with passion.
“We need more of it in the world,” he said, “passion!”
A few more minutes of chit-chat passed and then we exchanged parting salutations. This was when I learnt his name (told you I asked), and he learnt – when I gave him a card with pointers to my artistic presence online – that he was speaking to an artist. In hindsight, perhaps this was obvious to him from the beginning of our encounter, though I can't say for sure.
I walked away from that chance encounter 10 feet tall. I found myself floating on air, gliding on the cobblestones of St. Ann's Square and Market Street as I made my way home. In addition to the warm feeling I had as I walked, there were a few questions that echoed in my mind…
Why don’t I do this more often? How much more light could I put in the world, and how much more love and kindness could I spread around with the simple act of complimenting a stranger on the streets, saying something nice to the person behind the till, or indulging a fellow train passenger in a conversation on a topic they’re passionate about? On the flip side, at the risk of indulging myself for a moment, what stops me from embracing my uniqueness? What stops me from wearing my colours boldly? What stops me from shining my light?
I'd like to leave you with these questions this week, and a request, if I may. The next time you come across someone whose outfit you like, why don’t you say something nice to them? And the next time you hear some music you appreciate, or read some poetry that resonates, or get lost in a novel you love, why don't you reach out to the creative – whether in person or online – and let them know how much joy their work has brought to you? You might just make their day, and yours too.
PS: Just a reminder that my latest single, Feels Like Rain is out now, everywhere. You can listen to it on several platforms. Please share it with a friend, share it with your social networks, and consider subscribing to the newsletter (below), my YouTube channel, or wherever else you listen to music.