An ode to the magic, humour and strangeness of ordinary life

Have a rough day? Then picture this: ‘A man walking along Caledonian Road falls over on to the huge roll of bubble wrap he is hugging, perhaps for just this sort of situation’. 

Or this: ‘A woman glides round Tesco in blue flip-flops, gold socks and a red dress, her basket entirely full of tinned tomato soup’. Or even this: ‘Man on the tube: “I’m tired”. His wife: “Oh, we’re all tired, Brian”.’ 

Whatever your mood, wherever you are, whoever you’re with, ping, up pops a tweet like these from a day in the life of Miranda Keeling and somehow your own experience can begin to feel different. More texture. Less grey. More alive with potential. 

Keeling is an actor, coach, and silent meditation fanatic. She’s not picky about what she observes. It could be the complex hue of an autumn leaf or the crumpled sadness on a stranger’s face. The everyday is full of jewels. 

“As a teenager, I used to cross the Thames on the bus and I remember seeing all the people who, even when they were with friends, just wouldn’t look up,” recalls London resident Keeling. “I guess I’m just one of those people who, when I get a window seat on a bus, I have to look out of it.” 

All her adult life she has kept a notebook with her daily observations. 11 years ago, she was a newcomer on Twitter and unsure what to write. she took to posting her jottings. 

Many of these vignettes are quite funny. Like the woman cycling along the towpath with a small, portly pooch chugging along behind: ‘Woman (over her shoulder): “Keep up, Death Star”.’ Others lean towards the surreal or profound. Think, a discarded sofa: ‘Its insides spilling out, like secrets after too much wine’. 

Fortunately, the general bias of her 35,000-plus tweets (a selection which have now found their ways into a heartwarming compendium), tends to the positive. Keeling does not walk through the world with rose-tinted eyes. (Life, she readily admits, can be “really dark”.) It’s more because the tiny shards of beauty that pepper our days are what lift her spirits – and, equally, “what people go to me to see”. 

Speaking of audiences, Keeling confesses to being “always amazed” by the responses she receives from her 20,000 or so Twitter followers. She’s had people write to identify themselves as the pilot, for example, of the hot air balloon she once saw flying overhead. Others write in the opposite direction, explaining that they wear outrageous clothes in the hope of being seen by her. 

It is even more amazing to see the amount of people who send her drawings inspired her word stories. “Woo, this is cool,” Keeling says, remembering the first time she received a picture. “Then, they just kept coming.”

We’re in this astonishing, visceral, tangible place. It is a rare experience to be there and feel it.

She doesn’t invite them, nor do any of the artists know that there are dozens of others like them. It’s evidence, in Keeling’s view, of the “creative collaboration” that everyday observations inspire, and that online platforms can facilitate. 

Why is she so passionate about noticing? It might not seem it on a grisly morning commute or when staring out of the window at work, but look hard, and you’ll see that we live in a world of wonders. You don’t always find jaw-dropping, falling-off-your chair marvels. There are moments of quiet beauty that, for a second, make us stop and take a deep breath. 

“We’re in this astonishing, visceral, tangible place,” enthuses Keeling. “And just to be there, just to feel it and see it, is something inimitable and I’d recommend it highly.” 

Miranda Keeling’s The Year I Stopped To Notice is now available at Icon Books

Sam Bush, Photography