Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Thought of the Day: Lonely London

 London can be a lonely place to live. When I first moved here from a snoozy town in Dorset where the biggest attractions were the four supermarkets and the direct train line to the capital I felt like a young lion cub might after being released from captivity into the savannah. It was huge and beautiful and felt like the home I had been dreaming of, but at the same time it terrified me.

I said goodbye to Gillingham (fields, a street of estate agents and one nightclub on an industrial estate and with spirit-sticky floors) and hello to Hackney. I might as well have moved to the moon.

My first flat was a half hour walk to the nearest tube station, but during my first week instead of getting the five minute bus I chose to walk. I had no idea how to use my new Oyster card on buses (did I tap in or tap out or tap in and out?) and was much too embarrassed to ask my fellow passengers. I eventually managed to master my Oyster card, but it took me much longer to master the city.

I had moved to a place that was home to millions, yet for some (unknown) reason these millions of people didn't seem to want to be my friends. People didn't return my smiles on the tube and I soon learnt that the general rule was to avoid eye contact like yellow snow.

It didn't help that (unlike my friends who were spread out at universities across the country) the London College of Fashion didn't have a campus, I wasn't living in cosy halls, I had no fresher's week and the commute to my college building made me so exhausted that when I came home after classes all I wanted to do was put on my pyjamas, eat a bowl of cereal and go to bed. It probably goes without saying that I wasn't going to find my London friends under my bed.

I have now lived in London for two years. If I'm being honest, it can still be a lonely place to live. I am never going to be able to walk down every street and know everyone I pass (like I might back home in Dorset).

But there is hope.

I have made friends through uni, through my accomodation, Gumtree (which is how I found my house and housemates for my second year) and through other friends.

And every now and then a random interaction or a random burst of kindness will catch me by surprise and it will be like London is opening its arms and giving me a very brief but nonetheless warm hug. 

Sometimes a kind gentleman will help me with a suitcase up a flight of stairs. Some days the seats on the tube could be on fire for how quickly people jump up to offer a mother or elderly couple their seats. On a packed bus last week a woman with a pram boarded through the rear doors. All the passengers in the bus formed a chain and passed her Oyster card to the driver and back again to save her struggling to the front to tap in. When I was short by 50p for my coffee in a favourite café the owner told me I could pay the difference next time I came by. Today a man said "great outfit miss" as I walked past him. Last week a woman came over to where I was waiting for a friend to tell me she loved the colours I was wearing. On the same day I went to the National Portrait Gallery and had a conversation with an elderly gentleman who was admiring the same painting as me. I bought flowers yesterday and spoke with the florist about her dad who had owned the shop for 10 years, and my mum who owned a flower shop when I was born. One day last year a stranger sat next to me on the bus and we ended up having one of the most meaningful conversations I have ever had.

Recently one thing in particular has stood out and brightened my days: the 'Thought of the Day's written on signs inside underground stations across the city. This week I have seen several such quotes. I have seen a few before, but never so many. Maybe more stations are adopting this heartwarming quirk. Or maybe I have only just started noticing them.

The 'Thought of the Day's got me thinking about the nature of cities. Perhaps I don't talk to everyone I pass on the tube. But we are still all on the tube, going down the same escalator and passing the same quote written by workers who are wishing us well even if they have never met us.

A lonely place becomes a lot less lonely when you learn how to look at it in a different way.

That's my thought of the day.


1 comment:

  1. I can't help but feel scared whenever I think of meeting new people when I'm in London. I'm afraid of being completely friendless in such a big city.

    But these thoughts are very welcoming and warm, I'm happy to say that whenever I'm in London and someone sees I'm a tourist, they ask if I need help. Well, not everyone's as nice, but you know what I mean.