Londoners: are we more awful than you think?
Yesterday I sprained my ankle. I was blissfully running along, about half a mile into a 13 mile training run when all of a sudden my headphones were brutishly ripped from my ears, my ankle turned inwards, I threw my phone outwards, and I fell downwards, scraping all the skin off my knees in the process.
After crawling, crying, towards my phone (picture Leo DiCaprio coming out of his death pit in the Revenant and you’ve got it) I phoned Dan to come pick me up and sat in the middle of the road in a housing development, unable to consider moving further.
I was very lucky that two really lovely women came and picked me up off the road and were so kind to me. One of them wanted to give me her phone number so I could call her in case Dan couldn’t find me and I was cold – and the other offered me the frozen sweetcorn she’d just bought to ice my ankle. I declined both, but loved the fact they did it.
But, afterwards, sitting sprawled on the pavement, crying, I was quite surprised at the number of people who walked or cycled past who didn’t call out to ask me if I was OK or averted their eyes as soon as they saw me. A lady and her children even came up and started playing right behind me – and didn’t once think to ask me if I was alright.
This is what I find about London sometimes. Strangers either go above what you’d expect, or they do fuck all.
Yesterday I was very clearly a runner (right down to my hydration belt) and posed no threat to anyone. Me sitting on the pavement sobbing and soaking the knees of my favourite running trousers in blood wasn’t an elaborate ruse to get money off people (I fear my getaway method would be a bit laughable) but just the only reaction I had to a point where my body had given up on me and I felt truly vulnerable.
I know I’m wittering on like I was sitting nursing a stab wound rather than just a sprain, but it did get to me a bit. I like feeling I can do whatever I like in London by myself (within reason) and I’d be OK. Perhaps that’s naïve. But part of why I feel confident is in the power of crowds – the hope that if I was going home on a crowded night bus by myself and someone made me feel frightened, for example, that I wouldn’t be alone.
I’m not the only one something like this has happened to. Just the previous evening, having dinner at a diabetic friend’s house, she told me she’d recently had a hypo on a train and didn’t remember the hour and a half of being on it. She felt so upset after getting off the train (which I imagine you would, really) she burst into tears on a rush hour platform – and not one person went up to ask her if she was OK. I know people who have had their bags nicked, or cried in public because something else hurtful has happened, and no-one has asked if they’re alright.
I know that sometimes it can be difficult to approach someone who is upset. I’m not pretending I have always done so, and that makes me feel a bit ashamed. Sometimes you feel embarrassed doing it, or you worry they don’t want to be spoken to and might tell you to piss off. Occasionally you feel worried about doing it and then putting yourself in a vulnerable or frightening position. But I think we should try to overcome this a bit more.
I feel very grateful towards those women who helped me yesterday – and hope to be a bit more like them next time I see someone crying or upset in public.
- Image attribution: Mindaugas Danys