Talking to strangers…

A true short story of one of my favourite random meetings.

It was my last full day in London before my 8pm flight that evening. It was a warm, bright, sunny London day and I was running low on cash so, avoiding the lure of the shops, I opted to walk one of my favourite wanders around the city, from Tottenham Court Road, through Covent Garden, up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, through Hyde Park to sit by the Serpentine, and finally all the way through Kensington back to my hotel in South Kensington.

As I turned back onto the road my hotel was on after walking for hours, I stopped at a little pub on the corner. I ordered a glass of wine and sat outside in the blazing sunshine, people watching and enjoying the heat and relaxation. The pub was very quiet apart from one man sitting at another table outside. He had long, grey hair and wore a slightly floppy brown cowboy hat. He had the look of a man who had started partying hard in the 1960s and hadn’t stopped since. He had earphones in and was bobbing his head to his music while he enjoyed a glass of wine too. As I sat down he gave me a smile and a nod then continued in his head-bobbing.

After little while he got up and, on his way inside, asked me to watch his belongings while he went to the toilet. “Of course.” I smiled as he disappeared inside and I went back to people watching while keeping his belongings in my peripheral vision. He returned soon, followed by one of the barmen carrying two glasses of wine.

“A top up for you, my dear. Thank you for watching my things,” he said as one of them was placed on the table in front of me.

“Oh, thank you. You really didn’t have to…” I replied, only partly bashful as I had been considering ordering a second one.

“Would you like to join me?” he asked, gesturing at the chair next to him. It felt impolite to say no, of course, but it was also nice to have some conversation after my long day of wandering. So, I sat down next to him and we talked for the next two hours.

My initial suspicions were right – he had been in a band in the 70s and, since then, had been a ‘face’ on the music scene in London. He had been in bands, had worked in radio, had been a music producer and, this week, was celebrating his birthday. I had met him on day 5 of his week long birthday celebrations! As we talked, he asked me about my travels and where I had been living, my work and what brought me to London. He recognised my accent and reminisced about times in Glasgow. I told him about living in Tanzania and my next adventure to Vietnam. Our conversation was fascinating and one of the most enjoyable random chats I have even had. As we talked, it reminded me of an old saying…

“There are no strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet.”

When the time came for me to go and catch my flight, I made my apologies and told him that, had I not been flying home that evening, I would have happily continued to help him celebrate his birthday in what appeared to be his own inimitable style. But fly, I must! I bought him one more glass of wine before I left. “An extra little birthday cheers for you – Slàinte Mhath!” I toasted him with my last sip of wine then hurried off to catch the tube – content in happy random meetings with aged-rockers in South West London.