Like, I suspect, a lot of Londoners, deep down I secretly want to be helpful. Yes we may look like the most boot-faced collection of emotionless commuting robots you’ve ever seen but, if it doesn’t hold us up or we haven’t had to force our way past too many strolling tourists recently, we’re actually just dying to be asked, keen to be of assistance. No really (there just is no way of conveying sincerity in writing is there? You’ll just have to take the non-sarcasm of this post on trust). Visitors of ours have confirmed this – stand lost on a street corner or scratching your head in a tube station and someone will stop and help*
Sadly, after a recent triumph when a little old lady asked me to help her across the street (up until then I had thought this was a figure of speech, but no, she was frightened and wanted some assistance), mostly what I get asked for is directions. Now this may, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, convey on you the freedom of the place, but it only does so if you actually know the way to anywhere. I, on the other hand, have absolutely no sense of direction and usually only get from place to place by navigating my way via all the other places I know the way to. Unwary strangers are likely to end up being given directions from the place they are in to my house, and then from my house to the place they want to get to. It’s simpler that way, for me at least, but rarely very direct.
Still today has been a bumper day for direction giving for me. With the help of my trusty A-to-Z it took me a mere ten minutes to work out the best way from Newington Butts to Vauxhall for a lost young man this morning. And then I was stopped this lunchtime by a Spanish girl in the street proferring a map and asking the way to Morley College. I looked at the map and it was no help. The problem I have is that maps tend to give street names and I rarely know the names of the road I’m on – they never seem to be called things like ‘the road that goes past Lambeth North’, for instance, or ‘that big wide road that goes round the old building near waterloo, the one that’s going to be a hotel’ which is how I think of them. So I stared at the map and scratched my head and peered around for a street name. Then I spotted a traffic warden. He looked a little startled to be addressed by someone not employing any obscenities, but I reckoned if anyone knew their way around it would be him. And I figured it would be a rare chance to help out both parties. She’d get her directions in a far more coherent fashion than I’d ever manage. And he’d get to talk to someone who wasn’t calling him a c*nt.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to polish my Swiss Army Knife. Because you never know when you’re going to encounter a horse with a stone in its hoof, do you? Be prepared…
* as long as you’re not blocking the entrance to anything. Then we’ll mow you down. Sorry, but we are in a hurry.