Those of you who travel in and out of London day in, day out know that it is not always a joy: London is busy, London is polluted, London is expensive—-and people can become too wrapped up in their world to notice others…..
But at times, London can be a place of astounding beauty. Not just because of the buildings, not because of the fun atmosphere on the South Bank, not because of sudden dark blue skies behind the fully lit up Houses of Parliament or the more special events and exhibits (such as the poppies outside of the Tower of London last year)–although all of that is, of course, wonderful too.
No, for me, it is the beauty of humanity that can make London special –often quite unexpectedly so. Like the other day when I walked past Embankment tube station to find a guy sitting on the streets playing music on a traffic cone. Bob (name changed to protect his identity) just sat there playing away as if a traffic cone was the most normal of musical instruments. When I chatted to him, he said it was people talking to him who made his existence, his music, all worthwhile–not necessarily the scarce coins people throw in his hat.
Or think of Peter (name changed to protect his identity). He sat, oblivious to the world around him, outside Shepherds Bush tube station, making this wonderful dog and her puppies out of sand and water–nothing more.
When I stopped to congratulate him on his work, his face lit up. (I wish I could show you his photo but am scared I would inadvertently get him into trouble.) He told me he was from Romania and homeless and that he makes these sculptures for a living. Unlike what people think about homeless people, he was grateful for the offer of a coffee (although sadly he felt he had to hide it from view, probably because people would otherwise think he had too much money and not give him any!). I was genuinely blown away by what he had done…….I cannot even build a decent sand castle with a bucket in a sandpit!!! It was such a reminder that some people who are homeless on our streets do want to do something to earn an income and that each of one them is bound to have beautiful, hidden gifts.
And then, of course, there are the hilarious moments like tonight when I came back from a wonderful event at the Galapagos Conservation Trust and entered a tube carriage only to find that we were all being treated to a male pole dancing experience in the next carriage down. The atmosphere was electric. Barriers came down as those of us sitting watching laughed and watched and chatted to each other, some of the others filming the guy who seemed oblivious to us all. I am not into pole dancing at all, but the guy was actually talented–and what is more, I believe he was neither drunk nor on drugs. I think he saw the pole, had some music with him, fancied a spin and went for it. And none of us were laughing at him —I think we were all secretly impressed that someone could be so care-free, worry so little about what others thought of him.
It is those moments which makes other grey and dull commuting days worthwhile. And it is those moments which remind me of the immense talent and creativity that lies hidden in our midst. I wish we could see more of this basic but powerful humanity spill out around us.