Thoughts for Friday – 12th December 2014

londonLondon, the nation’s capital. Everyone wants to visit London at least once in their life, don’t they?

Believe me, when you’ve commuted to London as many times as I have this year, the sparkle of the city soon wears off. Where I once used to marvel at the historic landmarks, now I pass them by without a second thought, so focused on my end goal of getting through rush hour relatively unscathed.

Almost 80% of the journeys I have made to London this year have been for business purposes which means that I have to battle other commuters when it comes to reaching my destination in the middle of rush hour. From the minute your board the train, it becomes a game of cat and mouse as to who will get a seat and be able to enjoy the commute to London in relative comfort.

It’s usually about halfway to London that the trains get really busy. Gone are all the spare seats as commuters unfortunate enough to be only a few stops from London Waterloo Station are forced to stand for the last forty minutes or so of the journey. This often means that, even if you are lucky enough to have found a seat, you’re likely sat next to someone with a hideous cold or questionable hygiene standards. Sometimes, you even get the kinds of jerks who speak loudly on their mobile phones, despite the fact that they are sitting in the designated ‘quiet zone’ of the train.

The aisle seats are usually the last to fill up and this is mainly because every Tom, Dick, and Harry will wander up and down the aisle with their multitude of briefcases and backpacks, merrily swinging them to and fro and hitting you in the face. Sometimes, you me even be fortunate to cop an elbow in the face if you really play your cards right.

It’s then a mad dash to get off the train, through the ticket gates and to your next destination: the London Underground. Believe me, you’ve never seen anything quite like hundreds of commuters pushing and shoving their way down the escalators and through the ticket gates. I have literally seen grown men and women barge both pensioners and young children out of their way should their poor unsuspecting victims have been deemed to be walking too slowly.

6f677770-3c18-11e1-8d72-00144feabdc0.imgThe Underground at rush hour is an experience to behold, and something that will stay with you for many years, perhaps even requiring a course of therapy in order to get over the trauma. Have you ever played that silly drunken game of ‘How many people can you fit into a really small car’? The Underground at rush hour is much like this, as masses of commuters attempt to take up every available square inch of the carriages. This often means that you’ll get up close and personal with a complete stranger’s armpit, get germs coughed all over you, while also running the risk of someone dipping their hand into your bag or coat and pilfering your belongings.

I’ve probably made London sound like the last place on Earth that you’d ever want to visit, but I am fairly sure that most big cities are the same. It’s rare that anyone traveling through London will ever smile at you as you walk past, let alone say hello. I’ve found myself becoming used to the commute to London and had almost forgotten about being polite or gracious to others as I ran through Underground stations to get to my destination on time. That was until a homeless man outside one of the tube stations smiled at me and wished me a ‘happy Thursday’. I rooted around in my coat pocket for some spare change to give him and he held his hand up and shook his head. “I don’t want no money. Just wanted to wish a lovely lady a good d13936jay.”

Stunned, I somehow made it to my meeting on time with a reminder that sometimes it doesn’t cost anything to make someone’s day. That very afternoon, after a hairy commute back to London Waterloo, I sat on the train waiting for it to depart when I woman came up to me who was clearly nervous and told me it was her first time in London on her own. I invited her to sit next to me and confirmed that she had indeed boarded the correct train that would take her home.

We sat and chatted about this and that and my new friend commented that she was terrified to take her phone out and make a call in London on the off-chance that someone would snatch her bag. She told me that London seemed like a scary city to be in on your own and wondered how I dealt with it. Her parting words when she departed the train at her destination made me smile as she told me that ‘perhaps there were some helpful and friendly faces in London after all.’

pay-it-forwardHaving been reminded by a homeless man with barely a penny to his name, making someone’s day and paying a good deed forward is a gift more precious than any money can buy.


Filed under Thoughts for Friday

20 responses to “Thoughts for Friday – 12th December 2014

  1. You echo my feelings about London, Paris; in fact any large city. I think the most apt expression is “chaqu’un pour soi”. There is, as you say, always some good to be found; but boy, does it hide itself well!

    • It sure takes a lot of finding doesn’t it? πŸ™‚

      The comment from the homeless man really took me by surprise but helped to remind me that sometimes the big cities aren’t as mean and unforgiving as they seem.

  2. Awww! What a beautiful story to share with us! Thank you so much for this lovely post!

  3. Wow, London sounds like New York! So, why do I love New York so? I dunno, but I suspect I’d love London, too. ❀

  4. We all must remember, my friend Heather B, that there are always tenfold pressing to be just at the spot where in which we complain. I love your story of enlightenment. πŸ™‚ Happy Friday, my dear, from somebody who’d felt the press of New York City, Washington, D.C,, Baltimore … and Syracuse, N.Y., where I bless myself when I wake up every day.

  5. A lovely story, Heather. I’ve read a couple of books about homelessness the last month or so and your story sealed my change of heart. And I could totally empathise with the lady on the train. It took a lot of visits for me to feel anything approaching comfortable travelling around London. I’m still avoid the tube like the plague though πŸ˜‰

    • Oh, the tube is the last place you want to be in the middle of summer, the heat is simply unbearable. The underground isn’t too bad outside of rush hour but at peak times it is awful.

      I recently had the chance to see a talk by a former homeless man and how he has taken his experiences and used them to highlight the plight of homeless people all around the world. His name is Mark Horvath and he has the Twitter handle @hardlynormal He’s an inspiring man and definitely worth checking out.

  6. I’m quite sure that I still want to come to London, ride the train, visit the landmarks, have coffee, enjoy a pint and do all of them with you!! We all grow tired of our daily routine.

  7. I love this story of the homeless man and you paying it forward Heather. Really, really awesome. And yes, I would love to visit London one day, definitely.
    Merry Christmas a little early, my friend
    πŸ™‚ ❀

  8. What a great message. Thanks.

    On my latest visit to London I found everybody to be surprisingly courteous. This was, however, on a Sunday, so no rush-hour.

    I do love the place, but I could never live there. I’m going twice next February: once to see Kaiser Chiefs at the O2, and once to run a 10k around Embankment. So hoping that some more nice London memories shall be made.

    Oh… and we managed 9 people in VW beetle once.

    • You’re very welcome, I’m glad that you enjoyed the post πŸ™‚

      I tend to prefer visiting London at the weekends as, as you say, it tends to be quieter and folks are in much less of a rush to get where they need to be.

      I agree that I could never live there either, the place is simply too busy, cold and unforgiving (especially Monday to Friday).

      I hope you have a great couple of visits to London in February and I’m not sure I want to ask how you managed to get nine people in a VW Beetle… πŸ™‚

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