I hope to capture and honour the short interactions I have with strangers in this series. All too often we are so focused on the destination we don’t enjoy the journey (cheesy I know)… but it is true! There is something to be said about examining and engaging with one’s surroundings - Many of these interactions took place in transit. I have no doubt that I can learn something from everyone. These short and sweet stories remind me of how beautiful life is, how tiny we really are and how important connection to others is in this world of truly dizzying speeds. 

07: Honeybee hugs 

December 12th, 2022 - Walking, UK - Leicester Square towards Piccadilly line 

I am walking in Leicester Square while listening to “Honeybee”, a cheery song sent to me by my partner. Unlike yesterday it is a very sunny day (thank goodness). I am en route to the V&A to see a friend’s piano concert in the portrait gallery when suddenly the person in front of me stops abruptly. She throws her hands back into a big spread, subsequently hitting me in the face, very hard, especially for an elderly lady. I can’t be mad because directly across from her (I guess) is an old friend. It seems they haven’t seen each other in a very long time. I’m trapped in the middle of a reunion! They both apologise to me and then with glee, they embrace and begin speaking like not a day has passed. I put my earphones back in and march on toward the station this time with more bounce in my step.

08: Do people come back as dogs?

December 7th, 2022 - In transit, UK - Train to Amsterdam 

I am getting coffee with my new coworker on a train en route to Amsterdam for a business trip when we get on the topic of dogs. He has six! Four live outdoors on the farm and two indoor small dogs. I have one, we describe them to each other intensely, their personalities, breeds, and respective idiosyncrasies. I guess it’s one of those classic trying-to-get-to-know-each-other topics that we have found a common interest in. 

A man with black gloves and a large hat overhears our conversations and jumps in to ask the following: ‘Do you believe we can come back as dogs? I ask because the way you’re describing your dogs it’s like they are humans’ My coworker looks stunned. The question makes me smile and I respond along the lines of I am ‘uncertain’ (striking the balance between the two men one spiritual and one not so) but note ‘That would be lovely if we did.’  The stranger with black gloves smiles at me with a knowing look, shares some more anecdotes about rebirth and then wishes us a lovely journey before gliding back to his seat.

My coworker and I smile at each other, he chuckles and we begin talking again before parting ways to return to our seats respectively. 

On my way back to mine I spot the man that asked about rebirth, I pass his seat and I pause to ask “Do you think that people can come back as dogs?” He lights up with a big smile, his energy is electric. He begins to tell stories of his family and friends who have passed away and he feels sends him signs through birds, dogs and sometimes butterflies. I smile and say some of my friends refer to me as a butterfly and recall how reassuring I found a willow tree after the passing of my grandfather.  We talk for a few minutes and he shares some ‘must-read books’ including “what they do not teach you in School’ and a title from his father’s collection. He shares that his father “Wellsley” was a great writer and recommends one of his books titled “The Silent Road.” We wish each other well on our respective journeys, of course, the train journey, but much more than that too. 

09: She loves the pre-Socratics

January 27th, 2022 - Walking, UK - Towards Holborn and The British Museum

I’m walking to meet my friends for a weekend away. I will be jumping in his car shortly for a road trip to North Cumberland. I’m right across from the British Museum when I run into a woman from Utah. She explains she came here a long time ago to go to Oxford where she studied literature. She spent her life as a poet, she then pauses to ask where a café is that she used to go to with a dear friend. She’s meeting a friend from her Oxford days. I can see her catch herself feeling like she is talking too much and so she asks what my name is and what I do now. She gets very excited when I mentioned I work in Philosophy and AI ethics. We begin walking in the same direction and she tells me all about her sweetheart who was a philosopher in her Oxford days.

We talk until we part and as we do she says she hopes to read of me one day and mentions she likes a pre-Socratic. I respond with a wish that I return at a later age (like her) to visit my friends after many years. 

I rarely get the names of the strangers I meet and I guess that is half the fun but she did share hers so I could read her poems: Karen Subach.

10: Circus School and Sex as Taboo

February 15th, 2023 - Sitting, UK - Hoxton Charity Shop

I often work at cafes during the day but today I am at a charity shop with tables that allow for my laptop to be used. It definitely is not the best spot, and I realize this quickly with many people buzzing in and out, poking around sometimes purchasing a piece and often not. There is an older lady with a neon green sweater sitting across from me reading a novel, I later find out she is the owner of the space but Miles (on cash) is the manager and sole employee. He is very well suited to the role, yet he has only been working here a week. Already he has many ‘regulars’ saying his name and dropping by to give gifts. The owner waves goodbye leaving just Miles and I in the intimate shop (it cannot be more than 100 square feet). Within a minute a new customer burst in this time to grab a matcha latte to go. She introduces herself and begins talking about her work. I can’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation. Miles explains he just finished his BA in juggling after attending the Hoxton Circus school for three years. The new customer proclaims her name, Emma. She runs talks about sex, masturbation and why they shouldn’t be taboo topics all across the UK. Her elevator pitch is down to the word as she explains sex can be used as an avenue to discuss almost any conflict or topic in the world. They exchange Instagram handles and promise to connect for collaboration on future events. This made me smile, it was a good reminder that human connection can be easy if both parties are open and curious about what the other is up to.

11: When you see someone from socials in person

February 26th, 2023 - Walking, UK - Broadway Market Main Strip

It is a beautiful Saturday full of sun in London, all my belongings are finally in a storage unit (I am moving) and I am catching up with a few friends today, two of whom will be at the Broadway market. The last time I was at the Broadway market I had the best figs of my life, they were the size of my palms, juicy and shared with my love. I find markets to be so lovely for people watching, live music and interactions with such characters that run the stands. By the time I got to the end of the day, I had over 17000 steps and many ‘stranger stories.’ My favourite was when I spotted a friend’s boyfriend I had yet to meet but knew from online socials. I ran up to him poked his back and introduced myself. He was surprised at first but smiled big and was so kind. It seems he has recently moved here to live with her, which made me smile. We made a pact to have dinner all together in the coming months, we gave a hug and then bounced into other ends of the market.  

12: Surveillance at its finest

April 17th, 2023 - Walking, UK - Piccadilly Circus 

“Hi camera, nice to meet you” - a little girl, holding hands with her dad and looking up at the CCTV camera as she enters the Picadilly Circus Tube Station. Her dad giggle, I crumbled as I couldn’t help but think about mass surveillance and surveillance capitalism. 

13: Lotte and Liz suggest the West Highland Way

April 19th, 2023 - Sitting, UK - Blackstock Road 

I sit in one of my favourite cafes in my new neighbourhood and overhear two older women trying to get a taxi. The person on the call is asking for the postal code of their location, but neither of them knows the answer. I quickly google it and share the numbers and letters which they then repeat on the phone. Upon hanging up they begin to talk with me, I cannot help but feel the pressure of work and a fast-approaching meeting. I pause and think about when will I ever see them again, I lean into the conversation, and I am so glad I did. They share many stories, but first about hiking. I explain I often try and exit the city for hiking trips on the weekends and this leads them to share all kinds of hikes. They spend the most time encouraging me to go to Glasgow and explore the “west highland way” and make sure to stop into glen co. They highlight the west side of Scotland, specifically the “hidden valley” here Liz (one of the elder ladies) says is where they would have hidden the children and women during the war. She said she heard their voices when she visited.  

Lotte is the more reserved of the two, she wasn’t the one to be calling the taxi or talk to me at first but she also joined in. She is currently working to sell her house which means a stay in London for a bit with her daughter. She shares her reason for leaving her homeland Denmark, she came here initially to study English and she stayed because she met and married Hugh. They met at a party on Friday and he invited her to Paris for the Weeknd. Apparently, the trip was horrible, he didn’t have money, she didn’t have money and they each thought the other did. The confusion resulted in the Polish neighbour feeding them banquets and croissants, not the weekend she expected but a weekend in Paris where she fell in love with the man she married. 

The two ladies share at least 15 minutes of anecdotes but my favourite is of their newly widowed friend who always takes a flight on Xmas. She apparently hates the holidays and also does this so when people ask for her plans she can simply state “She’s up in the sky.”

Before they leave they make sure to scribble their emails on a napkin, offering a bed at their homes if I ever want to visit Durham. “Do keep in touch so I can update Lotte on all you do’ says Liz. Liz reaches over and cups my face with her hand smiles and says I wish you all the success, beautiful being… and off they go. 

14: Generations of a Gentleman

May 5th, 2023 - In transit, UK - Picadilly Line towards Hyde Park

I am on my way for tea with a friend when an elder lady jumps on the tube. It’s a rainy day and I assume she’s been standing for a while because of the king’s coronation crowds. I stand to give myself my chair. She smiles and makes her way saying ‘Please don’t worry’ but I still offer it, she smiles and then leans towards a younger man that was sitting across from me. She grabs his shoulder saying “No worries this young man would like to be a gentleman today” and he (forcefully by her) stands to give me his seat. I begin to giggle (somewhat uncomfortably) and I am certain I blush as well. She was so assertive and unapologetic in teaching the forgotten manners of her generation to a younger boy who was sweet enough to partake. I assume people used to do this more often, correcting kids that weren’t theirs. I smile for the rest of the journey as I look down at her white leather lived-in boots and then up at her green jumpsuit with a poca-dot scarf. She shakes her head while sharing a smile.