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  • Writer's pictureCarrumba

Coffee Shop Sermon (Big city life observations)

Updated: Aug 3, 2023

Recommended listening: Black Sabbath "Paranoid"

Daily life in the big cities seems programmed to make inhabitants and visitors paranoid, wary and on-edge. Is it little wonder that Londoners have a reputation for avoiding eye contact and rudeness? Reflecting on a recent visit to Manchester and London, let's have an unreasonable discussion about big city life...

There is no doubt that visiting cities serves as a reminder that concentrations of masses of humanity leads to great creativity, overlapping interesting vibes and pockets of stress to be navigated like the event horizons of so many, little black-holes. Warp 9 Scotty - she'll hold, or we'll die! The train from the Conference League city of Perth to the Premiership city of Manchester started to stoke the paranoia levels with the repetitive "See it, say it, sorted" message on loop, making ever abandoned sandwich and plastic bag a candidate for the bomb-squad. While I was unfazed by the repeated mantra, the danger awareness fire had been lit and was smouldering ahead of stepping out into the less-hilly-Glasgow and surprisingly sunny Manchester.

One thing that you can be guaranteed when visiting Glasgow is that the streets are liberally festooned with 'characters' tottering through their own realities, occasionally colliding with each other or asking you for money. Manchester didn't disappoint and, on exiting Piccadilly station, we were greeted by a man clad in jogging bottoms and a t-shirt, stood atop a solid block seat with one fist down the front of his grey trousers and the other hand outstretched toward the sky as he proclaimed the glory of God, of Allah, Buddha and many more. He wasn't being picky and was either in the middle of some sort of multi-faceted divine revelation, or he was completely off his tits. Perhaps he was stopping off on the way to the Edinburgh Fringe and was practising a performance piece about faith and religion? We'll never know, though I will say that shortly later, he passed where we sat, unintelligibly muttering with the same determination.

Picture of Chinatwon in London with red lanterns hanging in strings suspended between buildings - daytime.
Everyone in pictured is a potential thief

To London, where the ULEZ is the last desperate hope of Tories the length and breadth of the (dis)United Kingdom and the frequency of the 'see it, say it, sorted' increased to an almost fevered level in all train stations and on the Underground. The packed nature of 'The Tube' had, by default, prompted me to move wallet and phone into the same pocket where my hand could rest on them protectively, minime2 instinctively moving their grab-bag in front of them and outwith casual grabbing range. The paranoia inducing messaging wasn't reserved for transport, however, and a casual wander through Chinatown included messaging in shops in English and Cantonese/Mandarin to warn that pick-pockets were active in the area. Eyes on a swivel, everyone is a potential thief!

Without having travelled to other cities in the world, it is easy to see how people could get the impression, when visiting the 'big smoke' (actually not such a good descriptor any more with all the electric buses, unless referring to the abundance of herbal smoke in the air) that the country has descended into some kind of lawless hellishness. It's easier to understand how the politics of 'othering' to attach scapegoats to the paranoia messaging can have an effect on those who have not travelled and experienced that these issues are universally present in any city. I've experienced someone either being caught as a pickpocket or being shaken down on the underground in Rome, our bag with nothing worthwhile in it was expertly, and without our immediate knowledge, examined by someone on the underground in Barcelona. Not having lived in a major city myself, I can't comprehend how tiring this would be for residents, or is it only something a tourist really needs to worry about? Can those living in London afford, have the time or inclination to wander around Chinatown and other pick-pocket hotspots?

Being hyper-aware seem like a prerequisite of visiting any cities and, through experience, fails to register as anything particularly worrying anymore. The after-effects are interesting however and, after returning home, I was walking up a street not far from home when pie-chomping, baseball cap wearing and potentially slightly drunk man bumped my arm as he walked past. Instinctively, my hands went to my pockets to locate my phone and wallet as I spun to eyeball the clumsy perhaps-thief, ready to give chase for ten yards before my fitness betrayed me and my attempts at a citizens' arrest. Nothing missing. Only their spatial awareness and a little of my trust in other human beings. It's going to take a little bit longer for the big-city wariness to wear off.

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