There was this bloke in the centre of town making these incredible bubbles with two sticks and a couple of pieces of string dipped in bubble mixture. I stopped to watch him for a while and it was pretty absorbing. There’s nothing quite so hypnotic as a floating bubble. He was a stony-faced guy with a flinty grey moustache and he went about his business with a calm, unhurried stoicism that soon became as interesting to watch as the crazily distending bubbles themselves.
Some of the bubbles were too ambitious and they popped before they were finished. It didn’t seem to bother the bubble man though. I expected him to wince or make some theatrical gesture of failure but it didn’t seem to matter if he didn’t quite succeed. He’d go back to the dipping pot like he hadn’t even noticed anything and carefully try again until he’d created the hugest bubbles I ever saw. They would go floating off amongst the crowd of shoppers, somersaulting like slow-motion jelly, wobbling elaborately, shiningly transparent, edged with marbled blues and greens and pinks and looking completely alien as they rose above the street. The bubble man wouldn’t even be watching them. He’d be quietly dipping the strings to make another bubble.
The passers-by responded in different ways. Some didn’t even notice the bubbles floating massively around them as they pushed on through the crowd. Others gave them the briefest of glances as they moved hurriedly on. A few stopped to watch. Some popped the bubbles as they went past. Children did so with wide-eyed delight, dancing and jumping beneath them as if understanding that a floating bubble demands to be popped. Other people popped them with a clear wish to destroy something as it was being made, sharply jabbing or tearing the bubbles into nothing with tight, angry smiles on their faces as they strode unhappily by or sniggered to their friends. The bubble man didn’t seem to mind what people did to his bubbles. Sometimes he even invited people to pop them, and children would dance in and gleefully burst them in a shower of suds, with excited shouts and grins. Then the bubble man’s face would crease into a huge smile and he’d give them a high-five.
Sometimes, if someone was looking in particular awe, he’d hold out the sticks and offer them to have a go themselves. Some shook their heads shyly and ran back to their parents. Some – the younger, braver ones – tentatively stepped forward to take up the sticks. Then the bubble man would guide their hands in a slow, flowing motion. The looks on the faces of those children as they watched their very own bubbles come floating off the strings and off into the sky was priceless.
The bubble man was generous with his bubbles. He didn’t mind what happened to them as he sent them out, so delicate and temporary, into the world. He didn’t mind where they went after he had made them. He did things at his own pace. It didn’t upset him if he didn’t quite manage the perfect bubble every time. He wanted people to enjoy them however they wanted to.
In the calm, unhurried manner in which he went about this task, at once so comical and so poignant, there were lessons to be learnt. I walked home feeling decidedly philosophical.