Having pretty much slept my way to the bottom at my previous employers*, I’ve just started in a new job in central London. I have to say that so far I am really enjoying it. The people are great, the work is fairly interesting – I even think my new colleagues are vaguely interested in what I have to say. Unless of course, like my friends, family and cat, they are just humouring me; either that, or they haven’t yet figured out that actually I have no idea what I’m talking about, and I’m simply repeating clever sounding phrases which I’ve committed to memory. I’m surprised by how often saying something dumb like “You’re not playing by the rules, but goddamit, you get results, and that’s what counts”, in a stupid accent has saved me from doing any real thinking. Go on – try it – just don’t hold me responsible for anything that happens.
What I like best about the new job though is that it is just round the corner from the builing I worked in for nearly 5 years when I first moved to London. Not only does this mean that, after plenty of disappointment and bellyaches, I know which are the safest places to get lunch, but, best of all, I keep on catching glimpses of the people I know, even though I have no idea who they are. I think the technical term for them is ‘Familiar Strangers’
I was pretty surprised that the impact of seeing this people had on me after 2 years of not really seeing them.
There’s the misery from the magazine stand in his flat cap and grubby t-shirts, who only ever glumly states the price of whatever you’re buying, no matter how hard who try and lure him into a ‘thanks’ or a ‘morning’. The crazy and (I’m guessing) bi-sexual girl behind the counter at the local coffee chain, who, after at least 3 years, still seems intent on flirting with any man or woman with a pulse who unwittingly queues at her till (‘Oooh you like it milky do you madam?!’). Probably my favourite though is the rather wild looking homeless chap who wanders around the area, respectably selling the Big Issue in the morning outside the tube, cheekily asking for cigarettes in the evening outside the pub, and frequently heard playing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” on an upturned traffic cone.
I know practically nothing of these people; who knows where they live, what they like for dinner, what they dream of – but when our eyes meet, I like to think there is a glimmer of comradeship, of mutual recognition, of comfort even. I can’t speak for them, but from my point of view, although we don’t know each other, I’m pretty sure I’d miss them if they weren’t around. Sometimes I think I should introduce myself, ask their name and tell them mine, but then again, I kind of like that I don’t really know them. I like my familiar strangers, they make my bit of London what it is.
*Not really true – you’ll be pleased to know that the security guard and one of the cleaners refused on grounds of hygiene.
The song below has no relevance at all, other than iI listened to it as I was typing.