London is a big city. A really big city. The population of Greater London is currently estimated to be about 8.6 million, only slightly less than New York. Crotchety Man was brought up in the suburbs of England’s capital city and it will always have special memories for me.
London, though, can be a lonely place to live. It has everything a man (or woman) could want. It has shops and offices, theatres, cinemas, restaurants, museums, bars and clubs of all kinds. There are parks and markets, churches, castles and even palaces. Whatever you need you can find it somewhere in that great city.
And yet, making friends there isn’t easy. As you travel on the crowded trains, the big red buses and the stuffy underground (that’s the subway to our American visitors) people stream past in their hundreds. Every race and creed is represented in the throng. People of every class jostle each other, rich and poor alike. If you were to stop one at random you would probably find you had little in common with them.
One of my favourite quotes defines a city as “a large community where people are lonesome together” (Herbert V. Prochnow) and that perfectly describes what it’s like to be living in London with few friends. The quote seems to have originated with Henry David Thoreau in a slightly different form, but I like the Prochnow version.
There’s a music track that captures that sense of impossible isolation, too. It’s Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street.
Sherlock Holmes lived (fictionally) in Baker Street. There’s also an underground station there and it’s where I used to go as a young man when I was just starting out in the world. I never had many friends and we all seemed to go our separate ways after university. So, when I started working in central London, I would visit a social club near Baker Street tube station from time to time. Did I find friends there? Not really. At least none that lasted.
Yes, London is a big city. Too big. It’s too easy to get lost there and far too difficult to find yourself again. And yet, it has everything a man could ever want.