London is a curious creature. In case you’re a little behind on your London trivia, there are quite a few of us here. It’s a beast of a city with crowds swarming over every square inch of where ever you plan to go. A few years in London makes one an expert in knowing “the long way around, AKA the short cut for crowd avoidance”, how to power walk straight through a mob of confused tourists and avoid eye contact and general interaction from within the throng of humanity because frankly, you’ve already dealt with your share of sniffling individuals today and it’s only 10.30am.
The hustle and bustle of a a vibrant city with so many people to meet and so much to do is a double edged sword. We love the bustle and the vibrancy, but the hustle and the sheer mass of people are exhausting. So we pretend they aren’t there.
London can be an extremely accepting place for this reason. Hands up who no longer looks up from their book when a group of people clamber onto the train dressed as pineapples? Hell, you wouldn’t bother to deviate from your Candy Crush Saga even for a lone pineapple scrambling on board. He’s just heading to a fancy dress party across town. He separated from his crew and is catching them up. Whatever. Yawn. No big deal.
What people wear is no longer of any interest to me. Almost naked people, people in full clown paraphernalia, people dressed like the dude from Scream who tried to kill everyone, I don’t care. They can all share my tube carriage, it’s fine as long as they don’t try to talk to me or communicate with me via hand signals, raised eyebrows or anything else that could cause me to deviate from Angry Birds.
Now, obviously it’s still a big city, so we still have dick heads. The guys who shout at you from cars when you’ve just put on enough random clothes to nip to the shops to pay that council tax you forgot about. But that’s another rant for another time. What I’m trying to say is that there’s a certain kind of Londoner who’s great at ignoring people. I’ve become one of them.
Recently I ventured into Greenwich at the weekend. Proper Greenwich, down by the Cutty Sark. Tourist-ville. It had been so long since I last popped out that way I had forgotten what a bun fight it can be.
People spilling over the pavements. People stopping abruptly in doorways to study maps. People stopping to chat with their friends in frightfully busy narrow alleyways to laugh about the time they stood on the wrong side of the escalator in a tube station. Yep, some folks manage to make a day trip out of annoying Londoners.
Anyway, I struggled through. I put my London face on, fixed my glassy stare and strode through the masses, dodging them expertly. It came time to cross the road. I raced across with my nondescript tourist mob in tow and stood on the pedestrian island in the middle, awaiting the lights to change for the road coming the other way. It’s a more complicated corner junction, don’t ask, I’m bad at explaining these things. Roll with it.
I waited patiently. Not something that comes naturally to me, but we all have our moments of saintliness. I noticed the chap in front of me, wheeling a bike while wearing a pair of women’s knickers on his head and a blue dress coat with bright gold buttons that was probably made with a girl of around ten in mind as its target audience.
I’ve been in London seven years. I’m balls deep in London at this point. I wouldn’t have given this bloke a second look normally, but the panties covering his curly locks caught my eye. I’ve already decided he’s just a dude on a stag night. It’s Saturday after all. Then I realised: I own knickers just like that! I wonder if he bought his at ASOS too? Or maybe there are a few places doing lacy briefs like that. Maybe my arse is fashionable.
I’m mulling this over in my mind when I notice the lads across the road. While I’m staring at the underpants in my own little reverie, two boys, no more than 14 years of age are pointing and laughing at our man, the stag. Hmmm, this is odd. I take a look at his complete form, not just the head gear. Fully grown man, wearing odd costume, wheeling a bike. Funny, he doesn’t have any friends with him. I realise that the people around us aren’t interacting with him. They aren’t in a group with him as I previously assumed. He’s talking, though. To himself. He’s muttering and getting excited, spitting words out at the air in front of him.
Oh. He’s not on a stag do. He’s experiencing a few issues with sanity. The lights change and the little green man flashes in front of our faces. We step forward onto the street and he jumps on his bike and rides away at top speed, still muttering.
I look across at my husband. We raise eyebrows at each other. I tell him I had thought that the gentleman in the panties was on a stag night. He confesses that he thought the same before observing the muttering.
So that’s where we are. I have gotten to the point, no, London has shaped my cognitive processes to the point where I can no longer tell the difference between a man who is on the verge of getting married and one who is suffering a reasonably severe mental health breakdown.
Those two things are indistinguishable to me.