Many people say what a great city London is. But it isn’t, and that makes my heart break because it could and should be. Those that live there seem to be desensitised to the harsh reality of the shocking juxtaposition of crime and poverty with opulence and indulgence. I have seen a woman pouting for a selfie whist another woman sat huddled beneath a blanket in the doorway behind her. The homeless woman stared into space with the blank expression of someone who has moved beyond suffering and and settled at hopeless resignation. The girl with the phone was oblivious to everything around her other than the angle of her own image looking back at her from a glowing screen.
Over the past 24 hours I saw London in a nutshell. I saw the warmth and kindness of people coming together to raise money for the Hope & Homes For Children Charity at a Christmas carol concert in Kensington. I saw the stunning buildings and architecture that abound on almost every street, yet I saw no one else looking up and admiring them as I did. I saw people sitting on pavements, homeless and hopeless, breathing but devoid of life, invisible to the crowds rushing past them, most of whom were shut off in their own little worlds fenced off by headphones and either lost in music or talking out loud in an apparently one-sided conversation that a few years ago might have seen them carted off to an institution. Everyone is in a hurry, oblivious to the beggars and the beautiful buildings, and only just aware enough of other people to barely manage to avoid bumping into them. There is no humanity, no compassion, no joy at just being alive and being surrounded by amazing people. Every single person you see has a story to tell. No one cares. No one wants to listen. And it breaks my heart. Our phones are our gods, to be worshipped and obeyed. A voice from the ether takes priority over the person standing in front of you. You like a picture of a strangers’ cat yet fail to even notice the stunning craftsmanship of a stone mason whose legacy towers above you hundreds of years after his death. Also in that 24 hours I heard that the lovely singer Katherine Jenkins had tried to help an old lady she saw being mugged, and ended up being mugged herself. Fear and tension is palpable in London. In 2019 we are still a million miles away from being able to call ourselves a civilisation. No one should be homeless. No one should be starving. No one should be living in fear.
I always leave London with a heavy heart. Not for the leaving itself, but, like visiting a dying friend in hospital, with a sad reflection on how much of a decline you will find upon your return, and with the desperation of not knowing what you can do to help. I hope that on my next visit I will see signs of a remarkable recovery but I know that wishing for a miracle is a fool’s errand. Stay strong, Londoners, be safe, be vigilant and look out for each other.