I just got back yesterday from a fast and furious weekend (out Friday afternoon, back Monday morning) in London, working with a group of bodyworkers and therapists. It's a while since I was in London, though I spent a lot of years living and working there and know it pretty well. But oh boy, did I struggle with it this time ...
It all began pretty well, with an on time flight and a quick and easy train ride on the Stansted Express. With a bit of time in hand, I decided to make a pilgrimage to one of my favourite bookshops, Watkins Books. Great bookshop, crap location: in a small alley just off Charing Cross Road, and right by Leicester Square tube. Mistake. Sardines and strap-hanging in the tube I can cope with; I even managed not to disgrace myself with my ignorance of how to use my new Oyster Card. The West End crowds, however, were another story. From the moment I emerged from the underground, I was swept up into a gigantic and frantic crowd of people, all trying to get somewhere I didn't want to go. It was impossible to counter the current. I felt claustrophobic, disorientated. Everybody seemed to have an impossible number of carrier bags (crise? What crise???) or, worse, a pull-along suitcase - yes, my legs have the bruises to prove it - and the vast majority seemed interested only in pursuing their chosen course, utterly oblivious to the presence of other persons, who were simply pushed out of the way. I'm really not trying to offend anyone here and I'm sorry if you're a Londoner, but it was horrendous, shocking: as the French would say, hallucinant.
After an hour of this I wanted to cry and after two I wanted to come home. It was that bad. It continued to be That Bad, too, as I made my way up towards north London to join my group; I felt increasingly invisible, irrelevant, dispensable. I wasn't a person but a thing, an object. I was a grockle, a fish out of water. I wondered how people who live there cope without becoming depressed or homicidal: the noise, the lack of space, the all-encompassing concrete-ness, the traffic, the sheer number of people, the lack of politesse or just basic respect for others' needs and personhood. I guess you just have to close down, to put a wall around you, to grow a thick skin, to put yourself first. And there, of course, is the rub.
I did have a great weekend, working with some great people - one of whom was (and I almost wrote 'also' here!) French, another was also an emigrant, having moved to live and work in Ibiza. But clearly, with four more such weekends coming up over the next 15 months, I need a creative strategy, and one that isn't of the thick-skin-growing 'if you can't beat 'em join 'em' variety because that's just not me. So, any city dwellers out there got advice for a Pyrenean neo-paysanne?