One of my favourite things about London is the way the houses are arranged in a colourful mish-mash of rich and poor.
In almost every area of the city you will find million pound mansions right next door to rundown council estates and the consequence of this is different people from all walks of life live within very close proximity of each other. It makes life very interesting.
Take Fitzrovia as an example, which is where the Wifey and I live in a small ex-council flat.
To our right is Fitzroy Square where the well-to-do of Fitzrovia have garden parties on the lawn.
Below us is a pretentious art gallery and a rowdy, unpretentious pub and to our left is a big, 1960s council block with a lively array of interesting / bonkers residents. I should know I used to live there.
There is crazy A, a Spanish lady who would invite me in for a cup of tea but then feed me a single peach, piece by piece, and call me by her dead husband’s name. Then there was our landlord M who kept a huge cupboard full of cardboard boxes in our corridor with jam-jars inside. Each jam-jar contained a small object and was meticulously labelled with the first letter of that object – S for screw, P for peanut, T for tape measure. Every day he would come into the flat and touch each of the objects one by one.
My strangest neighbour from Holcroft Court was a one-legged tramp in a wheelchair that I used to see out and about from time to time. One morning I was out for a stroll with my roomie and we approached him on the same side of the pavement as us. Deep in conversation, we did not take any notice of him until he put on his scariest growl face, reached out and tried to grab us and roared a terrifying “ROOOOAAARRRR”. Needless to say we ran home as fast as we could.
I would estimate our neighbourhood is about 20% mega posh people, 40% regular people like us, 20% council tenants and 20% crazy lunatics.
Apparently, there is also a lot of movement between these social circles and starting out as a member of one social group by no means guarantees you will always be in it.
My wife told me about a cool lesbian (we will call her Lesley) she knew years ago who used to be quite the catch of Fitzrovia and have all the women after her. Over the years Lesley’s circumstances changed – perhaps drug problems, alcoholism or mental health – and she no longer wooed all the women in town, but could be found sleeping on a bench in Fitzroy Square.
I have lived in this area for a total of four years and there is always something interesting going on. The other day I was walking home from my meditation class feeling very Buddhist when I came across a man in a scruffy coat lying flat on his back in the middle of the road.
Had I been in normal London mode I would have simply stepped over him and been on my way, but as I was feeling all spiritual and kind I stopped and asked if he was okay.
“Can I have a cheese and pickle sandwich?” he asked me.
It was a simple enough request and Tesco was only around the corner so I agreed and because I was feeling very Buddhist I bought him a meal deal with a drink and a packet of crisps too.
When I returned he was sitting on the edge of the pavement so I handed him the plastic bag with the food in. He looked inside and then looked at me aghast.
“Where’s my sandwich?!”
He was staring at me in complete horror with all the whites of his eyes showing.
“It’s in there, it’s underneath the crisps”
After rummaging around, the man was satisfied I had got him what he needed and he scurried away.
A few weeks later I was sitting in the doctor’s surgery waiting to see the doctor. There was somebody sitting opposite me who looked very familiar but I just couldn’t place them. I tried to work out who it was without being rude and staring and I could see them looking back at me with equal interest.
Suddenly I realised who it was – it was the man I had bought the sandwich for.
Then a strange thing happened. The receptionist called out the name “Lesley” and the man stood up, went over to speak to the receptionist and came to sit back down opposite me again. Could it be the same Lesley my wife had been telling me about? This time there was no scruffy coat and “he” did have enormous breasts for a man.
My answer was confirmed when Lesley looked up at me coquettishly through her eyelashes with a mischievous grin on her face.
“Hello Pussycat” she said, with a slow, deliberate wink.
I have seen Lesley a few more times since then.
Last week I came across her on the bench in Fitzroy Square and she asked me for a quarter pounder with cheese and a cup of tea with six sugars. We had quite a nice chat sitting there on the bench while she had her meal and I tried not to be horrified when she put her burger down on the dirty bench, stirred the sugar into her tea with her fingers and then started eating it again.
The Wife has warned me not to keep on buying her food as she will begin to take advantage but I don’t really mind. I would like to think if I was ever down on my luck and sleeping on a park bench then somebody would come and have a chat with me and buy me a meal too.
Peace, love and everybody needs good neighbours.