On 5 April I was on a train, from London to Liverpool. During the course of my journey I was on the margins of a conversation between two men one of whom worked in the capital and was on his way home, to Liverpool. The gentleman who worked in London was bemoaning life in the capital. He lamented the unfriendliness of the capital’s inhabitants. One observation of my fellow traveller struck me forceibly, his comment that if you where having a heart attack londoners would “just step over you”. As someone who has lived and worked in London since 1994 I fell to thinking about the picture of the capital which he painted, was it a fair portrait of London?
One of the darkest portrayals of London is that of the poet William Blake
“I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.
How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appalls;
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.
But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born Infant’s tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.”
Potent stuff and I’m sure that not even my travelling companion would have gone quite so far in his social criticism as Mr Blake! However is there any substance to the points made by my companion of fleeting acquaintence?
London can seem a cold and unfriendly city to those unaquainted with it’s ways. Anyone who traverses the streets of London will come across homeless people huddled in cardboard boxes, often in doorways. I, like so many other inhabitants of this great city have hurried past with the thought “there but for the grace of god go I”. One can not give to every person sleeping rough on the capital’s streets and, to the casual observer it may well appear that the pedestrians hurrying by are devoid of compassion. Doubtless some of them are, however I suspect that many others do care but operate on the premise that one can not give to everyone who is sleeping rough so (as in my case) donate money to charities such as The Passage which assists homeless people in and around Victoria.
The idea that people don’t care is a gross oversimplification. Alighting at my local station I often come across strangers helping ladies with prams to navigate the steep steps which one must climb to exit. Again I, as a blind person have experienced numerous acts of kindness during my time in London. I often get offered seats on the underground and I recall the genuine concerns of passersby when I fell, on black ice several years ago.
Community does exist in London. I am lucky enough to have an excellent local (well it is situated about half an hour’s walk from my home but it can, I believe still be so classified). It is one of those pubs one can walk into and sit with friends, over a pint or two having a good conversation, however I feel equally content to stroll in there, alone in the knowledge that I will, almost certainly fall into conversation with an acquaintence and pass a pleasant hour or so.
Yes Londoners do not, on the whole fall into casual conversation with strangers in the same manner as people in Liverpool and other parts of the UK often do, however I have made some very good friends in London and can vouch for the fact that once you get beyond the reserve of many London residents they are just as warm as those who live elsewhere.
London is a great melting pot in which people of different races and nationalities do, on the whole live harmoniously together. Again there is a great tolerance of difference which one does not always find to the same extent in other parts of the UK. I like London, it is far from perfect but it is, on the whole a great place to live.