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‘Humans of London’: An Ode to Acts of Kindness

On a walk with my girlfriend the other week, I turned to her and said, ‘People are so cute.’ She was, obviously, totally confused by this as we watched a jogger barge their way through a couples’ shoulders. It’s funny how much we miss. How little attention we pay to the lives of those who we encounter on the street- especially, after the awkward side-step where neither of you can figure out which side of the pavement to walk on, when you run away wishing the ground would swallow you up. I think that it’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day, walking around emerged in your own thoughts and ignoring the interactions around you. I made a commitment to start paying attention to what was happening around me and it’s driven me to the conclusion of people being ‘so cute.’

It’s no secret that we’re interacting less and less. London seems– unless you end up in Hyde Park in the snow– more peaceful, the characteristic overwhelming bustle, not altogether gone, but muted. I think there’s a sense of being so grateful for where I am, the opportunity to live right in the centre of the city that’s driven me to stop and engage with my surroundings. Right now, our only option is to find the beauty and comfort in the life we have. So, I’ve witnessed a lot of small, heartfelt gestures since moving here in September. For a city that many view as cold and heartless, there’s a gentle human side if you look closely.

Since I moved, I’ve been collating a list of wholesome interactions, looking for the right time to piece together the trail of positivity. With no end to misery in sight, I hope this can provide a brief reprieve from the onslaught of negativity.

One of my favourite interactions comes from walking along Bankside during “Fresher’s Week” and hearing a busker talk about his next song being an ode to his homeland – Wales. Immediately my Welsh friend and I got excited; for a city with a thriving Welsh community, it’s surprisingly well-hidden. As the busker put it, “everyone seems to have a Welsh cousin”, they just seem to be elusive. I think this particular interaction is so pertinent as it provided a piece of home; having never lived outside of South Wales, somewhere like London is such a culture shock– as much as I adore it. There’s something comforting about finding people who understand the experience of moving from a small town with a community-feel into a city which is so often heralded as utterly isolating. Also, reassuring to provide a busy street on the Thames a good laugh during a heatwave.  

I remember on a particularly bad day, having a dog run over to me. I then met her owner and got chatting; part of me was totally shocked at the kindness and a complete stranger’s willingness to sit and chat. In an age where social interaction has become something to fear, knowing that people are still keen to brighten someone’s day is uplifting. Side note- her dog was adorable and the same breed as mine. It never fails to make me smile when I see people running after someone who’s dropped a bag or a scarf and not realised it. Maybe I’m glad other people are more observant of lost property than I am… perhaps it’s a selfish reassurance that the same will happen to me- I guess we’ll go for the former!

Last week, on my way home from a walk, I found a stall selling “the best hot chocolate” – naturally, I had to try it- short review: it was, in fact, the best white hot chocolate I’ve ever had, shoutout to Bouquets and Beans in Kennington. As I waited, I overheard a conversation between the florist and a customer; it was her birthday and upon finding this out he immediately offered her a free drink- I couldn’t help but smile. The owner is called Abraham, and he has been described as “the friendliest man in Kennington” here. Likewise, I once found out that if you’re overwhelmed with university and get utterly flustered over your order in Pret, the barista will give you a free croissant!

After asking if they’d had any similar experiences, one of my friends mentioned that whilst her boyfriend was on the train with tulips for her, another passenger recited a poem about the flower. A different friend then told me about the time that someone on the street sang Prince’s Purple Rain to her…after the colour of her hair. Perhaps more unconventional interactions, but still sweet.

I think this is an ode to random acts of kindness. To making someone’s day or watching another’s made. To the care which is so eminent in chasing after a stranger who’s dropped their tote bag or just a smile shared between strangers on the street. There’s a lot of debate about human nature, but I think compassion is instinctively doing the right thing for someone, whose path you probably won’t ever cross again.

 

Emily is originally from Wales, but is a first year English Literature and French undergrad at King's College. She adores art history and can be found walking round museums, watching documentaries and reading about Artemisia Gentileschi in her spare time. Her favourite hobby is visiting London parks and pretending she’s still in Wales.
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