Leaving the State of London to live in England again has advantages and niggling annoyances; I miss my Oyster card so much, never realising before how well it facilitated daily travel. The milling, mustering hoards of London are able to get about with alacrity, and fairly cheaply. Here in Oxford we are still living in the age of cash. I constantly worry about having enough change for the bus. I can’t see it properly as the shape of my purse seems wrong, so I have to get it all out at once, pick out the coins and hold them in my glove in advance, a pathetic cross between an infant school child and a confused pensioner. The buses are expensive and yesterday when I discovered I’d lost my bit of return ticket I almost cried.
But in this provincial backwater you may have to travel with your pockets weighed down by coins, but any daily activity is less bruising than London. In some cases literally, as there is just a lot more space between bodies. Perhaps because of this complete strangers speak to each other. People don’t think you’re potentially mad and dangerous if you make a passing remark, it may even be picked up and batted back. People are still human here, friendly rather than antagonistic and suspicious, even the Muslims.
Many shops in east Oxford have English people behind the counter which takes a bit of getting used to. There is a scattering of Muslim grocers and newsagents and the young Muslim men working in them are just as friendly as everyone else, some are charming, warm and chatty. In London they would sit on their tills, staring out of the window distractedly whilst talking into their mobiles.They avoided all eye contact. Here it’s hard to imagine anyone behaving like that. That kind of disassociation belongs to another culture, that of the great metropolis, where there are now so many people that none count, and minorities are so burgeoning that they form entire closed worlds to their inhabitants.
It seems from comparing my experiences so far, that numbers are the problem in London. The great and ever increasing press of people from all over the planet has a dehumanising effect. I remember from my time working in prison, where the majority of prisoners were foreign, many of them believed that London was a separate country and they aimed to acquire a London passport. Perhaps their assumption was basically right…