Culture Shock…

Returning to England after six years immediately brought with it both expected joys,

the ducking and weaving along busy streets,

the standing around waiting for buses,

the damp and dewy softness of my skin,

minding the gap,

the hallowed space of our 1,000 year old church,

the graveyard where my parents are interred,

looking right to cross the road,

the abundance of people & dog watching,

my oyster card,

the early blooming of the rhododendron in below freezing temperatures.


And unexpected surprises,

contactless payment with travel, debit and credit cards,

service announcements echoing across crowded concourses, warning us to stay calm & walk purposefully, noticeably slowing the frantic pace of rush hour escalators and platforms,

proof of residency for Freedom Passes, and National Health facilities (long time coming I must say…)

no need for my inhaler,

the increased number of homeless on the streets, camping out in doorways, on steps, grouping in tents, food placed around them by passersby,

my readiness to judge…


I had a continuous stream of mental comments about everyone I saw, spoke to, brought groceries from and rode public transport with.

What surprised me was how quick I was to form an opinion.  Even in my church pew – when I thought I was praying – I found myself rattling off a running commentary on,







which went mute when I closed my eyes, only to start up again on re-opening.

It was instinctive this comparing self with others, a gloating, a ‘I’m glad I’m not like that’, a setting apart.

The judge in me went over the top.

I made an excuse for myself,

‘At home I’m safely cocooned in a car and can’t look around at other drivers.’

But that was pretty feeble since I go to church, school and grocery shop there, coming into contact with people at every turn.

London is an in-your-face-city and evidently my judgement gag came with me on holiday,

sitting knee to knee with shabby strangers on the trams and trains,

stepping around the ragged and unshaven homeless sleeping on pavements,

drying my hands with a tattooed and pierced young woman at the park conveniences.

It took me a week of lattes,


and an encounter on a train to pull myself up short and STOP. 

A life-torn lady boarded the train at Victoria,

“Ladies and gentlemen I apologize for disturbing your journey, for frightening your children, for walking among you, I’ll try to keep my story short.”

I looked away as I heard her voice, her plea for us to look at her, to see the woman inside, to step in her shoes for a minute or two.  I marked her words but I wouldn’t make eye contact,

afraid she may expect more than a nod or a smile.

Instead I thanked God for my warm clothes, my home, my safety,

I thanked God I was not going to have to sleep outside on that bitter cold, winter night…

…I drew a line between me and her.

I heard my mother’s words,

“There but for the grace of God go I,” and as my heart softened I wondered,

‘Why isn’t she graced by God?’

Homelessness is an indiscriminate predator, all it takes is a lost job, an abusive partner, a lie, a bad decision and there’s my child, my parent, my friend,


I looked again and she locked my gaze, my eyes flickered away startled by the connection; I couldn’t even smile…

what a wretch.

For the next three weeks I climbed down from my pedestal little by little,

I bit my mental tongue, kept my staring eyes clear, twitched my lips into a smile

and when my thoughts began to roar I flipped my judging self upside down,


and thanked the Lord for the opportunities to nod at strangers or smile warmly and take a risk they may smile back.

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