Tired of London, Tired of Life

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson and Boswell were discussing whether or not Boswell’s affection for London would wear thin should he choose to live there, as opposed to the zest he felt on his occasional visits. (Boswell lived in Scotland, and visited only periodically. Some people are surprised to learn that Boswell and Johnson were far from inseparable over the last twenty years of Johnson’s life, the period Boswell knew him.) 

This discussion happened on September 20, 1777, and Johnson, someone who hated to spend time alone, was always going out and enjoying what London had to offer.

I used to live in London, and since I moved away I have spent years commuting to work in London.  When I eventually gave up working in the capital in the summer of 2002 I couldn’t imagine I would ever be well enough to work again; the thought of holding down a job, having responsibilities, being accountable, let alone getting to know new people, seemed far too daunting.  I spent three years on what was then called Incapacity Benefit.  Eventually I returned to the world of work part time in the same town where I live.  I have not returned to work in London since.

Recently I spent a couple of days in London on a training course.  It meant that I had to catch a commuter train – the memories came flooding back.  The noise, the people, and most of all the movement.  Nothing stays still for very long.  It made me think of how the sway and bustle of the sheer numbers of people going about their business in the capital, each in their own private universe, is such an alienating experience.

Once I emerged from the underground I walked along the main road to where the training course was being held.  I couldn’t help noticing the number of cyclists – of all shapes and sizes.  Some sleek riders on expensive racing bikes, some on bikes that were the worse for wear.  I was struck by the fact that even in the traffic – clogged streets, the cyclists were still moving freely, to a rhythm of their own.

For me, this was an uplifting moment in a place I now experience as virtually overwhelming in its sheer busyness.

On the way home, on a a train I used to take daily, feeling drained of feeling, I met an old friend with whom I used to make my daily commute. He is still commuting, and connecting unexpectedly with him on what was going to be a solitary journey on an otherwise crowded train lifted my spirits.

This simple chance meeting made me realise just how important friends are.

I chose this week’s poem based on location, sure.  But mostly I chose it because it makes me smile, and that’s important, too.

Celia Celia

When I am sad an weary,
When I think all hope has gone,
When I walk along High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on

Adrian Mitchell (1932 – 2008)

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