I met a lady on the Northern Line home to Edgware today. She stared at me for quite a while without saying anything, and then (as so often is the case) she took my lifting my son out of his stroller and onto my lap as a cue to start a conversation. (See Whatever the blog was called where I talked about kids making you approachable)
“So, ” she asked, “Are you from Golders Green or Edgware?
Already I didn’t like her. Annoyed at having to agree with one of her correct yet stereotypical locations for me, and gutted for the first time in my life that I don’t live in Hendon, I answered briefly,
“I dont suppose you would be able to tell me how to get to Dynasty (a clothing shop) from Golders Green station?”
I gave her quick directions, (Straight.) and she excitedly told me, with the enthusiasm of a tourist on a strange voyage, that she wasn’t from round here. Her English being impeccable I was vaguely interested and asked her from whence she came.
Of course she did. I had lost interest already, until her next sentence.
“I’ve never been here before, but I’ve always wanted to. I’d like to go to Edgware one day too, but I’ve only ever been in Stamford Hill.”
Sorry? Is the train affecting my hearing? This lady, from half an hour away, has NEVER been to North West London, and despite all the available Jewish society and food, has never entered into two of the most highly Jewish populated areas in London. And she WANTS to. So go! It isnt Cuba. My goodness you’re venturing all the way out of your comfort zone to Golders Green, live a little and take an extra ten minutes to visit the station 5 stops later, then your entire bucket list will be complete and you can live the remainder of your days knowing you’ve seen it all.
This exchange was shocking enough as it was, but then she followed it up with probably the most small-minded and insular comment I’ve ever heard from an adult.
“It’s really not difficult, I went from Manor House to Kings Cross and then to Golders Green. Is this all new?”
“Is what new?”
“This train system.”
The underground. That is seriously what she meant. Yes, quite new, circa 1863, making it the oldest underground system in the world. I can see how you might have missed it. What have you been doing? Does your husband know you’ve gone out by yourself?
Genuinely, it was the most surprising conversation I’ve had in a really long time. I know that these kind of Jews exist, I know they are out there somewhere making us all look bad, but to be caught so off guard and unprepared was a real shock to the system.
We were already approaching Hampstead. I had little time, and yet so much to say. Should I encourage her to treat this small step as the beginning of a vast journey into the unknown? Forget GG and Edgware, believe it or not there are even greater places to go. Have you ever heard the word ‘Museum’? ‘Gallery’? Screw it-‘Theme Park’? I could hand her a tube map with circles around all the best places to visit, and pat myself on the back for bringing culture to at least a small area of barren land.
Or would this scare her off. Perhaps a different tactic was in order. I could get off with her at Golders Green, point out all the restaurants and the people who look just like her, show her that it’s really not that scary after all.
I could kidnap her. Force read her the classics, put on Mean Girls and watch her fail not to laugh. Show her that hiding yourself under a bridge cannot possibly be worth it when there is Haagen Daaz and Novels, Starbucks and Travel and Smartphones in the world.
All these possibilities raced through my head as the train raced out from the tunnel. And I knew that was the only way in which she was going to be enlightened that day. I agreed that it was lovely to meet her, as she stepped off her first ever train, to walk 10 minutes down a straight road she has never walked before, no doubt only to walk right back up it 5 minutes later, onto the very same train, and back to Stamford Hill, and her life, so similar and yet so different from mine.