By Poppy Cumming-Spain
London’s got some learning to do
I’ve written a few SCABs about people watching and understanding people. It’s my thing. I love it. And hate it a little. If you ask my partner, Meg, I have a talent for taking on other people’s emotions which is both good and bad. Nonetheless, watching and talking to people is a fantastic pass time.
While I was in Bristol last weekend, I noticed an older bloke on his own in a bar twitching nervously. I decided his name was Will, mainly because there was a plant pot on our table sitting in my eye line (still puzzled as to why). I wanted to know why he was there. It was a student bar. Was he a professor? Or an old student that couldn’t let go? In all fairness, the food was good. I had an onion bhaji burger, mmm. Anyway… he was looking around as if he was expecting someone, but no one came. Was he surveying the crowds of youngsters for some live entertainment? Or had he been stood up? He swiftly finished his food, swung his jacket ok like a cape and made his way out into the now night. Where was he going? What was his real name? He looked troubled. Was he ok?
I’ll never know the answers because I couldn’t pluck up the courage to speak to him. Or offer him some company for fear of being rejected. Even though I was interested in getting to know him, I couldn’t break the stranger barrier. I think this is partly down to the human condition and my shy character (I can hear people who know me laughing at this as I write it), but mainly down to London spirit. Londoners love London and the idea of Londoners, it makes us sound like a united community, but we have little interest in talking to each other and only interact with each other when we have to (hence why self-service tills are so popular). Unlike my companions in Bristol who were all too happy to make friends with strangers, a part of me would rather ignore the strangers.
Unlike the bloke in the student bar, earlier on in the day, we’d had a man invite himself to sit next to us outside an Irish pub which, of course, we obliged. He then proceeded to light a spliff, raise his pint and pour out his heart and soul to Gina who was sat next to me, as I listened in. His son was in the midst of a cancer scare and had just had the tests. They were waiting for the results. He barely took his eyes off the floor, and his leg trembled as he spoke. I felt his pain. Cancer is shit. Worse than shit. And watching your child suffer must be horrendous. He explained that he lived alone with his son and they had no other friends. So they meant more to each other than some fathers and sons.
It was an awkward conversation, but I felt so grateful that he’d wanted to share. Sometimes you need to get it out, you know? Last night I went to a Special Guest event (which I would highly recommend) where everybody had a minute on stage to say whatever they wanted. The crowd had to clap and holler as soon as the person on stage finished and continue until the next person went on stage, to keep the energy up. Some people pitched ideas or businesses, some did performances, some experiments, and lots just said how they were feeling. It was remarkably refreshing. Here were a bunch of Londoners talking honestly to a bunch of strangers, revealing personal struggles and issues. I know for a fact that we all came away feeling a lot better. There really is nothing better than human interaction.
I think London has a lot to learn from Special Guest and the man outside the Irish pub. And so do I.