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Six Heartwarming Tales of London Town

I'd been in London for maybe six weeks, and at my new job maybe two of those when the storeman arrived in the department to deliver the stationery. When he spoke, his accent was so familiar that I had to blink to reassure myself that I was still in London and hadn't woken up from a dream back in Scotland.

Seeing an unfamiliar face in the department, he immediately made his way over to me to introduce himself and find out who I was. I had barely managed to say my name before his face lit up and he threw his arms wide and said "Ahh!! One of my ain! Ah always look after my ain!" and then stuck his head round the door of my boss's office and told him he had better treat me well or he'd have something to say about it.

There was laughter all round, and although my colleagues had been nice enough so far, that was the moment where I really felt welcome.

-

I'd been in London for maybe nine months and in that time we'd become regulars at a fantastic Indian restaurant round the corner from where we were living. We had also become familiar faces at the corner shop a few doors down from the restaurant.

So much so, that it wasn't unusual for either one of us to pass the staff of either establishment in the street, where they'd always stop and say hi and ask how we were doing.

One night we'd been for a meal in the restaurant and as we walked down the hill, stopped in at the corner shop for the usual staples of Diet Coke and Irn Bru. As we were paying, the guy behind the counter asked where we'd been for the evening and when we told him where we'd been for dinner he told us we should have stopped in on the way there and told him where we were going, as he'd have phoned the owner of the restaurant and told him to give us money off the bill and a free bottle of wine.

We goggled a bit at this, and he went on to explain that he was a partner in the restaurant. He then went on to make us promise that the next time we were going there for dinner that we would come in and tell him so he could phone the owner and let him know we were to get special treatment. We thanked him profusely for his kind offer and ambled off home, considerably brightened by both the meal and the offer.

Of course, we never did take them up on the offer - generous as it was, but the bill always seemed remarkably cheap considering the amount of food we got.

Not long afterwards we moved away from the area.

-

As we pulled out of Camden Station, D nudged me and pointed out a gentleman sitting a little further down the carriage, saying that I should look at the incredible newspaper he was reading.

I turned round, and sure enough, he was reading a newspaper, but it wasn't an english paper. I've got used to seeing people reading things written in other languages on the tube, but this was incredible, it was almost a work of art.

I couldn't be sure what language it was, but it looked like some sort of arabic.

Just as I was wondering in my head what it was, the guy two seats down from me had obviously been thinking the same thing, because I heard him ask what the paper was.

Looking faintly startled (this is London y'know, it's just not the done thing to talk to strangers on the Tube) he answered that it was a Pakistani (Urdu is their language) newspaper.

The guy two seats down continued to channel my thoughts and explained that he thought the paper was beautiful, the lettering incredible and asked if the gentleman could write like that.

He answered that yes, he could, and reached into his bag to pull out a folder full of papers, which then then showed to the guy two seats down. One of which was a poem, written in Urdu, in coloured ink, in the shape of a flower.

I wish I hadn't been so stunned by how beautiful this was and had been quick enough to get a picture, because this was just incredible.

He then proceeded to pull other such poems out of his folder, all in stunningly beautiful coloured calligraphy, in all manner of different shapes.

Mr two-seats-down was also stunned by this, but not so stunned that he couldn't get his words out like I was. He asked the gentleman if he could write his name in Urdu for him, and the gentleman agreed. He reached into his bag, pulled out a fountain pen and turned over one of his poems and began to write the guys name down.

Mr two-seats-down then exclaimed "Ah! you write right-to-left, same as I do - I'm from Israel" and I'm sure my mouth must have gaped open as they continued to talk and compare how similar their cultures were.

As the train pulled into Archway Station, I heard mr two-seats-down tell the gentleman that he was going to get the Urdu version of his name tattooed on himself (I didn't catch where) and thanked exclaim in delight as the gentleman gave him a sheaf of the Urdu poems he'd had in his folder.

[originally posted on 27 September 2002]

-

D and I went to the local supermarket to procure enough food and supplies to ensure that, unless we wanted to, we didn't need to leave the flat for the rest of the weekend.

As we were leaving, I stopped at the door, transferred the carrier bags in the trolley to the ground at my feet and turned to put the trolley back and retrieve the pound coin.

As I turned back, an elderly lady was walking towards me, and it dawned on me that she was speaking to me. Unfortunately, a combination of the noise from inside and outside the shop and the surprise that a stranger in London was speaking to me meant that I didn't hear what she said. My brain assumed that she was asking me to move the bags at my feet as they were in the way, and so I braced myself for a telling off as I said "pardon?".

So it was a really nice surprise when she came a bit closer to me and smiled almost conspiratorially as she said in a slightly louder voice "I really like your red hair".

[originally posted on 13 September 2003]

-

A couple of months ago we moved to a flat near the area where first lived in when we moved to London. Since we were in the area, we had decided that we had to go back to visit the Indian restaurant again.

We'd booked a table, and when we went in, I sat down at the table and D went to meet Mark, who had been lured away from Camden with the promise of a bloody good curry.

When Dave came back with Mark, we made our choices and the owner came over to the table to take our order.

As he did, he turned to me and said "I love what you've done with your hair".

My jaw dropped as he continued speaking and said "I almost didn't recognise you there, you've lost a lot of weight too" and as I nodded he went on to tell me that I looked really well.

As I grinned, he turned to D and asked how we were getting on and we explained that we'd moved back to the area recently, after a year in Camden.

He smiled and we got the usual great food, good service and wonderful jazz, and once more, the bill seemed pretty low for the feast we'd just consumed.

-

Last week was a pretty heavy week for me, I had a couple of particularly brain intensive days, where I spent a large part of the day wading through financial information trying to disentangle the corporate financial reporting system and make sure it matched the figures that I'd been keeping.

At the end of what was probably the worst day, I made my way home with a blinding headache. As I got to the corner of the street, I realised that I needed bread and Diet Coke and staggered, blinking, into the bright lights of the corner shop.

As I paid, the guy behind the counter reached into the tub of chewy sweets next to the till, and dropped a strawberry chew into the bag with my shopping.

He smiled and said "that's for you, have a lovely evening" and I thanked him and went home with a huge grin.

-

There are so many more tales I could tell - little things that make such a difference.

For all the people who told me that London was a cold, harsh, unfriendly place, I can quite happily say that I haven't found it so.

It's not the place, it's the people, and just like everywhere else there's the bad mixed with the good, the trick is not to let the bad stop you seeing the good.

December 17, 2003 in Best of, London Life | Permalink

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Comments

Good stuff. Pity you didn't get a picture of the Urdu poems!

I witnessed similar acts of kindness/friendliness when I spent some time with my Dad in Kensington, so my overall perception of London and its people is positive.

Posted by: Tompy | Dec 17, 2003 12:08:44 PM

I was disappointed that this won over the squirrel but how glad I am to be wrong. Wonderful. Has made my day.

Posted by: demian | Dec 17, 2003 1:49:26 PM

i could not agree more that it is the little things that make city life bearable. it's certainly in the details that i find my happiness in new york.

Posted by: shivery | Dec 17, 2003 2:21:59 PM

Nicely said.

Posted by: Adrian Sevitz | Dec 17, 2003 2:23:15 PM

I love the one about the urdu poetry. The words make up for the lack of picture.

Posted by: Karen | Dec 17, 2003 3:00:53 PM

I loved that a Palestinian and an Israeli could share something like that.

Posted by: D | Dec 17, 2003 4:22:40 PM

How beautiful! You've certainly made moving someplace new a more bearable proposition.

Posted by: Courtney | Dec 17, 2003 6:48:55 PM

Just as I was on a big downer (again!) about London I read this. Very heartwarming and enough to stay my hand over committing the reasons I moved out of London to my blog. For now! ;)

Posted by: Dragon | Dec 17, 2003 7:19:17 PM

London - I loved it when I was there, I don't miss it now that I am not. It still rates as one of the best "big" cities, with much more charm than NYC or Paris, even.

Posted by: Huwge | Dec 18, 2003 7:41:19 AM

Lovely post. Thanks!

Posted by: Vanessa | Dec 18, 2003 8:19:07 PM

Gorgeous first post to read on a much-anticipated visit to your site. Thank you.

Posted by: Daniella | Dec 24, 2003 12:52:04 AM

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