I went for a long run the other morning. I stepped out of the house at ten past seven in the morning and got back just over two hours later. During that time I saw just nine other people – three other runners and six walkers. Some mornings I don’t see a single person, i‘m the solitary individual on a wild and windswept moor that marks the watershed between Yorkshire and Lancashire.
On this occasion I had a brief chat with every one of the other brave souls; ‘great morning’, ‘a bit windy up here’, ‘don’t worry he (the dog) is friendly, he likes runners’ and so on. The forecast of high winds and torrential rain had perhaps persuaded the others to venture out a little earlier than they would otherwise have done, so I had the company this particular morning.
Twelve months ago I had a meeting on a Saturday morning in south London. I never miss a Saturday run, so I was out of the hotel doors for a little after 6am and a put in a steady hour around Wandsworth and Clapham Commons. I didn’t mind the fact that there wasn’t a patch of moorland I could tread, or any real hills to run up, or that even at this time of the day, on a weekend, the traffic was heavier than it would have been almost anywhere else in the country. And I certainly wasn’t put out by the thirty or so other runners I encountered in those sixty minutes.
This photo was taken by a random stranger in the wilds of Yorkshire, just up the road from my village. Would I have been able to ask a random stranger to take my photo in London?
What I did mind, however, was the sheer lack of friendliness, polite conversation, or even the slightest acknowledgement to my cheery ‘morning’ that I made a point of delivering to each and every one of those thirty runners. It was like running on an alien planet – either that or I had inadvertently become temporarily invisible for that hour – because not one single person smiled back, returned the greeting, or made eye contact with the most dashing runner in the entire district that morning (ok, maybe that’s going a bit far). Only a small number of these rather rude runners had headphones on, so that was no excuse either.
By the end of the run, I was chirping my ‘morning’ greeting all the more loudly, knowing all too well that the greeting wouldn’t be returned. Then, the very next morning I was at home, out running early, and every single walker and runner I encountered that day spoke. Some offered their greeting before I did, others offered encouragement to the lone runner, I offered encouragement to the walkers struggling with the last part of the climb up to Top Withins (‘Wuthering Heights’ if you have heard of the Brontë sisters).
courtesy of wired.co.uk
Next week I’m returning to Bihar, India’s poorest region, with a group of teachers who will, among other things, deliver training to unqualified teachers in India’s poorest region. My first visit to Bihar was this time last year. The locals were just charming: proud of their homes, to which we were always invited, proud of their village, their town, their region, of their family, and of the schools that defied the odds to give their children an education that wouldn’t have been available a generation ago.
It was the ambition of many of the adults to one day travel to London. That I come from rural Yorkshire didn’t matter, I had been to London. I live in the same country, so I must tell them all about the city.
They didn’t always get the replies they had been expecting. We discussed how proud they were of everything they had. I never dawned on them that in the rich ‘developed’ world (never mind just London), people in the UK are rarely proud of their village, their town, and their school. Few people in the cities will invite you into their home, and MOST OF ALL…people are not as friendly. They will not greet a stranger with a polite ‘hello’. They will not acknowledge a stranger. You will not even be given eye contact, not even if you are taking part in the same pastime, at the same time, around the same park.
Last week I was talking about the difference between ‘standard of living’ and ‘quality of life’ to my year 11 geographers. Guess what topics I discussed with them…