In Praise Of The Provinces

Alice Wickham wrote, ‘Personalities dissolve in this woman-eating, man-eating, chewing, chomping, swallowing maw of a city – supposedly the greatest in the world. What will future worlds have in its place, more of the same, or can we accept the possibility of freedom from repetitive servitude? Can we create a new London? A new New York, a new Mumbai?’

I read the poem and comments on NLW and was moved to write this blog.

I’m sorry that people living in London feel so negative these days. I visited London last week, for the first time since collecting my mother, to come to Yorkshire to die, so I have my axe to grind with London, not that the death of my mother is London’s doing. It cared well for her for 86 years. Not bad!

This visit I took time to walk through King’s Cross. Being a City University Alumni, it is an old stomping ground of mine. The new station interior works. That’s fantastic. Saturday afternoon and there were seats a plenty and no problem getting refreshments. I took a pasty and sat outside on the stone banks. A young black woman approached me. She had two hoods over her head and her parker zipped so tightly under her chin, it must have been painful.

‘Do you have any change?’

I was surprised she was begging. The only thing to reveal her lifestyle was her carrier-bag collection. She said only five words, but it was enough. Her English was immaculate. Better than mine. She was smoking. Not something one sees in the street from either gender these days. I could not help responding with a tired cliché.

‘Why are you begging if you can afford to smoke?’

‘I can’t afford to smoke. I’m begging, because it is my only chance to meet people – talk to someone. I’m a drug addict.’

There were four pieces of information in that sentence and somehow, in her mind, the last one explained the first three. I wanted to ask her about her life, but didn’t, because she was a drug addict. They are dangerous right?

Was it a double jeopardy? She wanted money, needed money – we all do – but didn’t want to get into convoluted discussions with do-gooders, about her life style. I fell for it. Drug addict – desperate, could mug me in a minute – best not pursue her problem. I gave her money and wished her well. She was so nice – her language, her demeanor, the way she said goodbye and thanked an old man for his kindness. She was simply – beautiful.

I remember the poster on our wall at work. A man in a wheelchair. Next to him his girlfriend, affectionately holding him. In large font. ‘Tim and Julie have a problem with their sex life!’ Then written smaller, underneath. ‘Julie is a screamer. See the person!’

That’s what we don’t do in London anymore. We don’t see the person, just the problems. I saw this amazing woman, but the drug addiction story triumphed. It’s not surprising Londoners only see problems. I reckon it could be ten miles from King’s Cross to Teddington. It took 75 minutes and I didn’t wait more than 6 minutes for a connection. That’s why Londoners no longer have time for the people. That’s why I live in Yorkshire.

I visited Bempton Cliffs one week later and saw a pair of gannets making out. A bit different to the pigeons outside King’s Cross! Yesterday I caught a pair of hares at it on the steep escarpment of a dry valley near Millington. The time these guys took to woo their lovers! Londoners! Be gannets! Take time to make out.

I can’t help wondering about the women I could have pulled 50 years ago, when I lived in London, if only I’d taken time then, to go to Yorkshire and study Mr. Gannet’s technique.

My new novel, soon to appear as a New London Writers imprint, starts with an old man captured by the charms of a special young woman, and outside a railway station. Déja vue?

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