I don’t like London. I think the people there are unfriendly, but I don’t think it is their fault. I think they’re scared. They are bombarded with reasons to be scared everywhere they go. Security cameras. Warning posters. “Is that person next to you a terrorist?” Nowhere is this type of programming more obvious than the captive audience on the London Underground system, The Tube.
Disembodied voices barking out orders over the public address system at passengers. No wonder people want to jam in the earbuds and drown it out with music.
I am not a Londoner. You see, when I’m in London, I break all the rules. I am the sort of person who will start a conversation with a complete stranger on an Underground train. That’s a big ‘no no’. Make eye contact. Smile at someone and ask how their day is going. Chances are they will ignore you. Their newspaper will be raised a bit higher. Their face will dip a little deeper into that paperback book they are pretending to read.
If I’m feeling particularly mischievous I may say something like “Matron doesn’t know I’m out yet” and follow it up with a big grin. That line is particularly good for creating space on over-crowded cars.
If everyone is looking depressed I may also strike up a rousing chorus of “The wheels on the bus go round and round”, though nobody has yet come forward to tell me we’re on a train not a bus.
A smile breaks the fear. Once the fear is broken, happiness can set in. Once happiness sets, people start thinking about bigger more important issues in life, like helping the homeless or looking after those less well off, or sorting out the state of governance in the UK.
Oh, no. Hang on. That last one. That would never do. Best just keep those announcements coming over the public address system talking about terrorism and all the things to be scared of in the world.