I hate Oxford Street, London. I do. I rarely use the word ‘hate’ but it does tend to crop up in that context. Actually, I don’t hate that Street per se, I just hate the crowds. I find it hard to do the ‘side-foot-shuffle’ to get from one side of the pavement to the entrance to a shop – not yet to be guaranteed that you may be swept past anyway. I find it hard to get ‘elbows-out-assertive’ to get past the sheep into the other swarm of people inside. Most likely, I don’t like it because I don’t actually believe that there is anything material that I could possibly require so much that I have to shove another human out of the way to get there.
I love Borough Market, London. I rarely use the word ‘love’ in such an urban space but I do ALWAYS use it in that context. Borough is about the busiest place this side of Hong Kong as far as I am concerned, but I love the bustle. I am content to go with the ebb and flow of the crowd as they pick and choose their way through morsels on offer and the dinner they are buying. In the slowness, I smell food and drink and abundance of life. I smile at those who are so hell-bent on that particular dish that they dare to walk contra-flow and they smile back. I could spend all day in the waves of people circulating through the stalls of local and international fare. It has been home to many a beautiful day shared with the best of my friends.
In numbers of people, I can become impatient, terse and a little infantile. Or I can become tranquil, elevated and childishly happy.
On my way to and from work, I see crowds on genuine missions. Their day will be materially better to them if they get on a train 5 minutes earlier, cross the street 2 minutes earlier. They slipstream behind the fastest pace and they dare not stop to see.
My crowd is a soft crowd. We find our pace amongst the others, not with them. We glance up at the sky and the skyline, the people and passengers. They see the homeless and help, they hear the buskers. I spot similar souls and we smile at each other. My crowd, in time, grows in a city full of strangers and, each day, they make me more grateful that I belong to them.