I’ve written a few posts in which I detail my delight at being back in a big city. And, on the whole, I really love London. I love the amount of things that are going on in the city, which can, as a major simplification, be accounted for by the amount of people living in the near vicinity. I love watching all the houses go by on the train, I love the apartment blocks that people disappear into, I love all the hidden stories these people have that I will never, ever get to know no matter how long I spent talking to them all. Its exciting and strangely comforting to be one tiny, tiny part of such a large bustling whole. There’s nothing I like more than taking my lunch break at Tonic, walking down to the Royal Festival Hall and eat my food facing the Thames, watching the crowds go by.
There is a large difference between sitting in the relative comfort of the indoors, a cup of calming tea or delicious soup in your hand, lazily watching the crowds go by; and being caught outside, in the middle of a peak hour crowd, swept in directions you have no desire to go, smashed into by other pedestrians, pushed into the path of oncoming traffic or caught behind people who clearly have no wish to get anywhere at all, at least, that’s all you can conclude from the RIDICULOUSLY and ALMOST UNBELIEVABLY SLOW pace they are setting.
I acknowledge that I’m a pretty intolerant person when it comes to crowds at the best of times. If there are extra frustrating circumstances, for example, if I’m hungry and shopping at Sainsbury’s, pretty much everyone in the shop is liable to have mental death threats hurled their way. Last Monday, I silently screamed at a man that he was the worst human being ever in the history of the world, simply because he was walking faster than me and passed me near the cheeses just a little closer than I would have liked. That’s right, the worst human being ever in the history of the world. I’m not even sure why the UN haven’t yet established an international criminal tribunal to deal with his heinous crimes.
Tiredness can also make things worse. A friend from Cambridge and I went out for dinner and a show a few weeks ago and on the way home, we were forced to use a lift to get to our underground station. Usually I avoid the lifts, because the combination of slight claustrophobia and my hatred of crowds make the use of a packed lift one of my least favourite activities, only slightly more appealing than having my bikini line waxed or awkward, drunken sex. But, my friend had broken herself through too much yoga and dancing, so the stairs were out of the question. My subsequent death stares and angry, under-the-breath mutterings directed at the other passengers, particularly those who ‘accidentally’ (definitely on purpose) knocked into my bag, led my friend to compare me to Agent Smith in ‘The Matrix’:
Which I feel is a little unfair (I personally believe I’m still a bit nicer than Agent Smith – I am yet to attach wires to any of these random crowd people, torture them and then wipe the sweat off their heads in some sick intimidation trick), but I see where she was going.
Stress is obviously another danger factor. I made a flying visit to Ireland last week (new blog post on that to follow this) and, in an attempt to save some money, I thought I would take the Piccadilly Line back from Heathrow instead of using the Heathrow Express. I was working that afternoon, but still figured I had enough time to get back home and dump my bags and get to work on schedule. Of course, that was until the signal failure just before Hammersmith. After a well-meaning tube driver advised us all to get off the Piccadilly line and onto the District line, only for us to be told the same problem was affecting the District line, I lost my seat and so defiantly sat on my bag in the middle of the tube carriage, surrounded by sitting people, all of whom I hated. The person I hated the most, however, was the English girl who had recently emigrated to Toronto and who started chatting to another Canadian couple and decided it was her job to translate all the messages coming through from the tube driver for the Canadian couple, just in case the couldn’t follow the tube driver’s accent, or, I don’t know, because they don’t have speaker systems in Canada and wouldn’t understand where the disembodied voice was coming from or something.
TUBE DRIVER: I am very sorry for this delay in your journey, ladies and gentlemen, but we’ve been held up because of a signal failure at Hammersmith.
ENGLISH GIRL (to couple): Ah, yes, see we’ve been delayed because of a signal failure at Hammersmith.
TUBE DRIVER: We’re going to have to wait here until its sorted out and then we’ll have to wait for the trains ahead of us to go through.
ENGLISH GIRL: We’re going to wait here until the signal’s fixed, but, of course, there are trains ahead of us that need to go first.
TUBE DRIVER: There may be a delay of 30 minutes or so.
ENGLISH GIRL: It might be 30 minutes before we get going!
YES. WE KNOW. THEY KNOW. IF YOU DON’T SHUT UP I WILL PUNCH YOU IN THE MOUTH. She then proceeded to make very unfunny jokes about queues, which the Canadian couple obviously didn’t find amusing (let alone the rest of us), but apparently, despite having emigrated to Canada, this English girl was still having trouble working out the native Canadian’s signal for ‘Please be quiet and leave us alone. We wish you had never moved to our country. Please stay in England and never come back.’ In the end, when we finally got through Hammersmith and were told that the train on the opposite platform would be the first to move, I stayed where I was as the English girl rushed across to the other train, in order to avoid hearing her chatter on anymore. Of course, I’m sure if I hadn’t been sitting on my bag in the middle of a crowd of people, worrying about whether or not I was going to get to work on time, this woman’s mindless chatter wouldn’t have offended me nearly so much, but all I could think was: ‘I must get out of here. I must get free.’