It’s not been a good week.
‘Hell is other people’. So said the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre in No Exit (Huis Clos). For some time I have been somewhat drawn to the potentially attractive concept of solipsism and existentialism. I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject but the idea of existing purely for one’s self excites me.
Don’t get me wrong. I will contradict myself by saying that I need company and love having friendships. But the times I am most happy are when I am alone with my own thoughts. Loneliness scares me but at the same time isolation excites me.
This dichotomy I think is naturally human. We grow up creating friendships, needing acquaintances in order to grow mentally and socially but most of us would admit to being most comfortable purely with ourselves.
I have a little music playlist that I listen to when I need ‘me’ time. It was only today that I noticed two particular songs that I am particularly fond of. One is ‘In my Room’ by the Beach Boys. The other is ‘I am a Rock’ by Simon and Garfunkel. See the pattern?
How did i get on to this topic? Oh yea. A couple of things happened this week that put me out of kilter. You know when you get up in the morning feeling relatively peaceful and head out the door with a smile on your face only to have some prick fuck it all up?
On my morning tube ride the other morning I found myself a seat at Turnpike Lane and sat quietly until Covent Garden. As per usual at rush hour the train got more and more packed as we got near central. I got off at Covent Garden and made my way along the platform. About half way down there was some kind of commotion. Those of you who use the London Underground know the etiquette. Let people off the train before embarking.
On this occasion one particular gentleman, dressed in a dapper pinstriped suit, ignored the rules. With his arms extended he attempted to push his way on as a group of people tried to get off. He was so stubborn in his quest he pinned a young woman with his elbows and locked himself in place. I kid you not. The man held a crowd of people by himself. A fistycuffs ensued and I found myself in the midst of the scuffle managing to escape to Covent Garden with my jaw barely intact.
You see, this is one of the things about London. In order to get by in this city you must train yourself to block out others. You must stand in a crowded train, your face inches from a complete stranger. You must not smile for fear of being considered odd. You must ignore pregnant women who need a seat (many do). You must be in a rush. And most of all you must look distinguished while doing all of the above.
London’s transport system is a biological educator and for that I am thankful. Isn’t it great to learn something everyday? This week I learned just how chronic halitosis can be. I found myself face to face with a man on a bus in North London. And my God – was that a journey. It was cold on that bus. The man’s breath created a little cloud as he exhaled. How this little cloud didn’t have a green pigment I don’t know. His breath was astonishing. It was pungent. And I could not move. Never in all my days have I gazed into the eyes of another human being with such astonished disgust. Surely if you had breath like that you would smell it yourself and reach for the Colgate. Not this man. I got to White Hart Lane and spent a quid on a bag of Polo mints.
As I write this I am realising that today’s blog is one big moan. So I will just purge one more of this week’s demons. That of noisy people.
I am on edge at the moment. I don’t know why but I find myself jumping when a car honks its horn. I cower when a child whimpers. But I nearly suffered a coronary on Tuesday when a lady sneezed in Cafe Nero.
At this point I need to quote from Bill Bryson –
‘You may not feel outstandingly robust but if you are an average sized adult you will contain within your modest frame no less than 7 x 10 to the power of 18 (a very large number) joules of potential energy – enough to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point. Everything has this kind of energy trapped within it. We’re just not very good at letting it out.’
The woman in Nero was robust to say the least. She was more than you’re average sized adult and the sneeze that came out of her head shook the walls of the cafe. I have never heard anything like it. Every customer held onto their cups and some ducked under the tables in case of a secondary tremor. My heart missed a beat and paired with the effects of the caffeine the whole incident left me weak and rather shook.
I could wax on about young kids on the upper level of buses playing medleys of their favourite rap hits but I think I have said enough.
It is fast approaching the season of goodwill. I really do love my fellow humans. Its just that at times I wish I could be left alone.