Thursday, 22 August 2013

I need some space

I live in London. I love living in London. The people, the places, the history, the food, I love it all. (Especially the food.)

And yet, London takes something from me. Every day, I sacrifice a little bit of my energy for a life in this wonderful city.

I take a busy route to work and everyone and everything moves quickly. Now, I'm a fast walker but there's no denying that a commuting crowd is fraught, a heaving throng that you must just embrace and get stuck into lest you alternatively despair forever. People bump into you, barge past, cars drive a little too close, buses pretend you don't exist, cyclists appear out of nowhere. Lord help me if it rains for there is nothing as dangerous as a Londoner armed with an umbrella.

I can't stretch out in London.

My walk is along one of London's busiest routes and all the way along it there are disruptions. Road works, buildings being built, buildings being demolished, shops being refitted, pavements being resurfaced. It suffocates me and my fellow walking commuters, forces us all to walk in the narrow spaces they've left for us. Throw in some film crews, fundraisers and street preachers and you'll understand that getting to work has become something of an assault course for the senses.

Sometimes I get the bus and the notion of queueing (how British!) disappears entirely, the seats fill up quickly and there we are all mashed together in our shared onward journey. And yet, sometimes I don't exactly mind being mashed up against a stranger on public transport. Now let me explain, for I know that if I read that sentence written by anyone else I'd be doing some serious eyebrow raising. Rest assured, this is a far from sexual encounter, nor is it one I actively coerce.

Merely I am referring to the few seconds when two strangers (can be as many as five if you're on the tube) physically connect and for the briefest of moments I am reminded that we're all human. We're more than commuters. We're people, with feelings, and destinations and we are all on the journey together.

A brush of an arm, thighs pressed together as we're wedged in, a suited shoulder inches from my face. Were we all a little friendlier, come 5pm I'd be partial to just laying my head on that shoulder and having a wee chat about my day.

Often I get home and lie down on my floor and stretch my limbs all the way out just because I have felt so confined all the way home (and because it feels awesome). I push my belly right out because I have felt unable to take a proper deep breath (and because it feels awesome).

And yet, I don't hate the commute. I'm still thrilled to cross London Bridge each day and often I glance to my right in the morning and think of a departed friend who lived for the view of Tower Bridge. I like the grumpy businessmen in their multitudinous shades of grey, and the free paper peddlers, and the towering buildings.

But I do like to stretch out, and to be left with some energy, and for the horizon the be more than 100m away.

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