I went to London last week and for the entire time I was there I connected. I connected with people who are very close to me; with people I hadn’t seen for years; and even one person I hadn’t seen for decades. I connected with people I’d never seen before and people I’ll undoubtedly never see again. This post is about the appreciation of those connections. Appreciation in both senses: of gratitude and of becoming more valuable over time. They left me feeling as though they had nourished my soul.
The highlight of my visit was to meet up with my closest friends for the Stone Roses concert on the Saturday night, but I arrived three days earlier with additional plans to meet separately with two people whom I had not seen for a combined total of over forty years. That was just the beginning.
Throughout my visit, there were the usual as-if-it-were-yesterday feelings, especially when meeting up with my college friends, but that same feeling was there with an old schoolfriend too. Our paths had diverged 33 years previously, yet it felt as though the connection had always been in place. The next morning I visited her Alexander Technique training class and connected with a roomful of like-minded strangers who showed me how much more I can relax.
Invigorated, I moved on to meet my old friend, Peter. A rooftop terrace in Soho, more strangers and another, easy connection. As the rain began to fall, Peter and I went off to watch the Roses’ documentary. There were only three of us in an otherwise empty cinema – what a contrast to Finsbury Park the following day – but in the intimacy of the screening, we shared our world and, as we left, there was a reciprocated ‘Enjoy the gig!’
The weekend began in earnest with the arrival of Kelvin and Sonny. Old friendships renewed. Latent connections made real again. Laughter, familiarity and history.
On Saturday the others came. First Aubrey, then Ed, followed later by Milly and Tamsin (the girls’ names have become a collocation over the years, such is the extent of their connection with each other). There were others too, and connections happened everywhere as people mingled effortlessly. Pairs and groups formed and reformed in an unconscious game of musical chairs, played out in the sunshine, against the backdrop of a perfectionist’s postered wall.
Early evening arrived and off we went, shepherded by the odd call to arms from the organised among us. We needed little persuasion; we knew what lay ahead of us and were happy to continue our conversations as we moved on foot to join the tributaries of other fans on their way to an historic event. It was at the concert where the final pieces of the jigsaw fell into place for me. I’d spoken about my intention to record the whole experience of my visit and it was Milly who talked about connections. Then, at the end, as I watched the band embrace, more than anything, I felt appreciation. Theirs. Mine. Ours.
In between those two inspirational moments I was surrounded not just by my friends, but by 40,000 people, many of whom were old enough to have been influenced by the same musicians during their peak over 20 years previously. Only later did I realise I had been connected to these people before – way back – but had never known. None of us had known, but here we were, gathered together, every one of us connected again by the music.
And so it is that I came away from my days in London with a deeper understanding of the nature of connection. It’s easy to say that everything is connected. The enlightened have been saying it for centuries and the physicists have been compelled by their science to agree, but here was a six-day experience overflowing with evidence. Whether they be longstanding friendships, topped up regularly with familiar embraces; or a distant connection maintained unknowingly for half a lifetime; whether a transitory encounter with strangers sharing space for a moment; or an unspoken connection with music fans in a field, connections are everywhere, all of the time.
On my last full day, as the final four friends wandered back across Highbury fields towards the tube station, all of us making the most of our remaining time together, Kelvin commented on the clusters of people enjoying the last of the afternoon’s warmth around the embers of their respective barbecues. He drew our attention to the scene with a lazy sweep of his arm and said, ‘Look at them. That’s what it’s all about – people getting together.’
Indeed it is. Over six days I had bridged more than four decades with visits to Southall and Islington; I had celebrated with dear friends in Highbury, danced joyfully among thousands in Finsbury Park and, on my final morning, I had wandered appreciatively around Primrose Hill with Milly, still connecting. With the strangers, it wasn’t that I had made new connections, so much as experienced ones which have always existed. And those with my friends just get stronger and more precious with time.
I remember a conversation with the same man who told me about life in the middle. Once, as I left Germany, he explained to me that distance is just a spatial separation (eine räumliche Trennung). His implication was that the connection remains, whatever we do and wherever we are. Now I know what he meant.