Unexpectedly I was required to go to London for a day yesterday.
Fortunately, it was just for a day, but it meant a very early start, no chance of writing my blog, and a late return. I had not been there for several months, and each time I go, periodically, I find changes.
I travelled by train, and while it was a comfortable and easy journey my eyes and skin quickly became irritated by the air conditioning, chemicals and pollution which I am not used to, now. As I waited for a taxi amidst a queue of weary long-haul travellers just arrived from Heathrow, an American, probably tired and late for a meeting, exploded with rage because he thought someone had taken “his” cab, and his ego felt threatened; the incident unsettled quite a few people waiting to go to work or start their holiday and there was quite an emotional upheaval which seemed to come out of nowhere.
The purpose of my trip was to go the American Embassy, by appointment. I have been there before and not so long ago, but the level of security this time was extra-ordinary - armed police with machine guns, security officials watching us through binoculars and taking pictures from the rooftops and on the ground, and our phones being impounded. I was moved, solitarily, through a sequence of protected areas being checked, frisked and questioned before I was allowed into the Embassy itself: it was efficient and to a degree, understandable, but I was struck by the level of fear and expectation of a terrorist attack there was behind all of this - and how it might encourage this to happen.
I had allowed myself a few hours to do some shopping before catching my train home, and headed for Oxford Street, a short walk away. I had my list and, having been a proficient London shopper in my time, I thought I would have no trouble passing the time picking up some items unobtainable in rural Wales. The goods were there but they had no appeal for me as once they would have done. I noticed the high prices; the number of people prepared to pay what is a year’s pay for some low-paid workers, on a handbag; the superficial charm of some sales staff determined to make a sale but not at all interested in the individual; the noise and constant music; the harsh lighting; the speed and pressure everywhere. My heart went out to the people who have to, or choose to, work in that environment day after day, many of whom, as I wandered around with my unfulfilled list, were kind and helpful to me.
In the end, all I bought was a lipstick and some Japanese green tea, and I returned to Paddington Station two hours sooner than I needed, where I was able to sit down in a quiet spot, sip water, and have a lovely to chat to a charity worker collecting money, about his work. The time passed easily and quickly, and I was grateful for a quiet journey back.
Arriving home, appreciating it all the more for having left it for a day, caused me to reflect on how our priorities change over time and how important our environment of choice can be to us. Having loved living and working in London for years, it is no longer attractive to me, but many people love it and could not bear to live anywhere else. I see it now with the eyes of a stranger, aware of the disadvantages but hopefully respecting the people, beauty and culture, at least, that is there, just as visitors to my home land feel the peace and wonders of the waters, wildlife and mountains but are very happy to return to their kind of civilisation, urban or otherwise, while that is their choice to be. Each to their own.