… distance. As in the distance required to be considered safe. Take public transport, for instance. It’s off-peak time, so the expectation is that there will be plenty of empty seats on the tube. The issue is that they are all randomly placed. That means that you have a split-second decision to make as soon as you board the train. Where to sit? Or more specifically, where is it appropriate to sit?
In the grand scheme
of things this dilemma can be filed away under the category “First World
problems”. Yet, if you get caught in the middle of it, you are painfully aware
of what I have just described. You rush into the carriage and without a second
thought sit next to a woman immersed in her book, or as it is more common these
days, glued to her mobile phone. It is only when you look at your surroundings
that you realise what you have done. There are twenty-odd empty seats in the
rest of the carriage. You suddenly feel self-conscious. What is worse, you now
feel her eyes on you. Is she thinking the same thing? You do the only
honourable thing. You get off the train at the next stop and wait for another.
Another example is
open spaces, like parks. With the recent high temperatures we have had in
London, it goes without saying that we have been enjoying the outdoors a lot
more. Plonking your personal self in a park should be hassle-free. After all,
London is probably the city in Europe with most parks and green areas. The only
problem is when the thermometer hits 34 degrees and you find half the neighbourhood
down your local park. Space becomes an issue and distance between sun-seekers
awkward. This situation is more difficult for adults on their own. I count
myself amongst those. Many a time I have been cycling, when all of a sudden I
have decided to rest my weary bones on the soft grass of one of the many parks
that dot my adopted city. The look I get is a mixture of distrust and hostility.
Especially if you should happen to choose a space in between two
Prosecco-guzzling groups. Eventually eyes are turned towards me, voices are
lowered and belongings moved closer to owners (this tends to happens in the
leafier parts of London. I live in a deprived area. No one bats an eyelid if I decide
to sit on my own next to them). Luckily, I usually carry the weekend Guardian or a copy of The Observer with me. As if by magic
bags go back to where they were before.
Distance is just
another bone in the skeleton of social awkwardness, a structure that underpins
the way many denizens on these isles interact with others. There are more
components such as conversations about money (as in salary) and class. Distance
just happens to be more visual.
Going back to my
first example: where is it appropriate to sit? Well, whoever talked about
sitting? I usually remain standing.
Next Post: “Food,
Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Thursday
6th July at 6pm (GMT)