I used to do a lot of long-distance rail journeys, travelling alone. One of the ways I amused myself was to imagine a motorcycle keeping pace with the train. It was entertaining looking for routes through trees and between fields. One had to allow the occasional Steve McQueen style leap across a fence or hedgerow, but only where the lie of the land made this remotely feasible. I was a biker at the time, and felt this excused such mild fantasising. Not long ago, though, I met someone who rode, who said they did the same thing with an imaginary horse and rider.
I mentioned this as we drove home on the M25 last night, and Bob remarked that he sometimes imagines himself grinding on the central reservation crash-barrier. There was a pregnant silence until he added that jumping the gaps was fun, and we realised he was talking about skateboarding. I see now that transport corridors are paralleled by a phantasmagorical revving, galloping, grinding horde of shadows. It is they, not the passing vehicles, that stir the daisies on the verge.
There is an equivalent to this in typography, which I became aware of when I had the job of editing a newsletter. It involves the gaps between printed words. Sometimes, like pointing in amateur brickwork, they join up in successive lines, so that the eye can trace a wandering white track down the page. If text was chocolate, these are the fault lines that it would break along. Typesetters call these 'rivers', and they become a particular problem if you are using narrow, fully justified columns, because bigger spaces have to be used to juggle the words into position.
It turns out, according to the Today Programme, that there is a bit of the brain (there usually is) devoted to this sort of pattern recognition. It is suggested that we need it to spot predators concealed amongst leaves and grasses.
Like looking at a cartoon of two faces and seeing a Grecian urn, once the eye becomes tuned to spotting rivers they can pounce out at you in an unwelcome way. If you don't see them, try slitting your eyes so the words blur. In boring meetings, as a change from doodling, I have been known to draw routes down through the text of reports and briefing notes, from top to bottom of the page. The more direct the route, the better.
So there you have it. A way to make even Jeffrey Archer novels entertaining. Look on them not as literature (I know, I know), but as puzzle books, every page a new challenge.
Is there anything you do which 'normal' people might find peculiar?