Many years ago, I made a decision not to live and work in London. It’s hard to remember making that decision, it was a long time ago, but I have never regretted it. This week I remembered one of the big reasons I left. It is the sound of silence in commuting London.
I work relatively frequently in the capital and enjoy it, there is a great feeling walking from the station to work seeing international landmarks. People travel all over the world to see the Parliament building or St Paul’s Cathedral, I gawk at them on my way to a job I enjoy.
I have a relatively smooth commute, which involves lovely walking when time allows and only rarely does it involve sighs of despair as I face a sardine-like tube carriage.
This week I walked from Euston to Waterloo. Along with possibly thousands of others. And the reason for that decision to leave London flooded my senses. As I walked down a busy thoroughfare it was hard to find a good pace as there were just so many people walking along the same road. All of us walking quickly and purposefully. And in total silence.
The road was of course noisy with cars, busses, motorbikes, building work. But absolutely no human noise at all.
That was it – that sound of silence. It brought back memories of arriving at Charing Cross station on my way to work in the early 90s and hundreds of humans marching in silence. I felt a feeling of real horror at the silence. At that time I thought it was because of the contrast with my childhood in a quiet corner of Wales where silence was because of a general lack of humans. This was silence with more humans than I had possibly ever experienced.
As it happens, all these years later, I still feel a sense of horror, real anxiety when immersed in this strange silence.
I was so grateful for it being broken this morning by a bird singing, by someone on a phone call and then a colleague called me and I felt a real relief at having someone to talk to.
And relief at that decision made many years ago.