In a city of 7 million people its preferable to try and make yourself close to non existent to move through the city relatively unscathed and keep the flow of human traffic moving seamlessly. To do this there has to be a combination of written and unwritten rules that everyone abides by. A few are obvious and clearly marked, STAND ON THE RIGHT on the escalator, touch in HERE, let passengers off the train FIRST. There are others that are less so, but enforced just as harshly. Don’t stop in the middle of Oxford Street. Move out of the way if you’re the twat that forgot to check their oyster card had credit before he got to the front of the exit gates. Don’t touch anyone with any part of your body at any time unless forced to do by sheer lack of space. Then and only then is it OK to get up in someone’s face. When reading your local free paper of non-news, don’t stretch your arms too wide and invade person next to you’s space. Turn OFF YOUR KEY PAD on your phone. And never EVER under any circumstances, choose your ring tone in public.When these rules aren’t followed it all contributes to the seething resentment and frustration you can feel jostling around, the rolled eyes, clicked tongues, exaggerated sighs. London excels at being violently passive aggressive.
To be reminded that we are all individual human beings with complex lives carrying trauma and joy within us and all experiencing this tumultuous existence at exactly the same time and practically in the same place is both sensational and devastating to consider. We need to block each other out in order to function. Each of us plays hero in our own story, preoccupied with the small day to day crises we face, all consumed with how everything affects us. And at the same time we play a tiny bit part face in the crowd in another’s. Girl in coffee shop scene 5. Man on ladder opening sequence. You are a blink in someone else’s life. I often wonder, like a true narcissist, how many times I appear in the background of random people’s pictures of touristy London. Girl running past Big Ben. Slowly.
This leads to a strange but not uncommon city paradox that you can be your loneliest in a city of millions of people. That it can be hard to make friends or meet love interests while you zoom past hundreds of people every day. And, weirdly that some behave like they’re in their dressing gowns alone in their bathroom on a rammed tube carriage (I am looking at you lady who clips, files and varnishes her nails on the central line, and you Mr nose-picker. Seriously it’s gross). The lines between public and private are blurred, while trying to be strictly upheld.
Late last year around Christmas, I watched a women try her best not to break down on the train. Sitting completely still and totally upright, twisting her cardigan between her hands. She had tears just rolling down her face. Eventually I broke the first rule of tube law and made contact by offering her a tissue. Turns out she had her heartbroken. Her partner of 9 years had decided he just didn’t feel it any more and walked out the door. She had just left the house to get some air because she couldn’t bear to be in the house they had shared, alone. All of this happening around us every day.
Finding connection is how we feel part of the world, and become more sure about our place in it. With the onslaught of artificial social and digital interaction and the sheer anonymity of the daily grind, it becomes all the more important to find it in real time. To become visible again and not just a face in the crowd or an avatar on the screen. Reaching out and re-establishing those relationships gets harder as we have more pressures on our time, and it’s the reason why my running on a Tuesday is non-negotiable. Finding my place in London again that didn’t centre around the pub or work was largely down to pounding the pavements with RDC weekly and supporting members achieving everything from their first 5km to their 10th ultra-marathon. Its about breaking those rules of unspoken etiquette and reaching out to the city, and the wonderful opportunities it offers
And I am aware of the irony of advocating this on a blog, promoted through social media, which has me glue to the screen way more than is probably healthy. I’m hoping this trumps mindlessly arguing with random people on Twitter. It certainly beats Candy Crush.