Monthly Musing – October 2019 – Only the lonely

A recent train journey to London coincided with World Mental Health Day, which I knew nothing about until the train manager announced that every drink bought at the buffet car would be matched by a second free drink to give to someone sitting nearby so that you could start a conversation.

“How would you know that someone would want to speak to you?” asked a friend, when I told them about it later.  

“How would you know they didn’t,” I countered, “unless you made the effort to speak to them in the first place?”

I don’t usually need much excuse to talk to someone and even without the assistance of a free drink, I was soon interrogating chatting to the young lady next to me who reminded me very much of big daughter; a university student of a similar age studying the same subject, and on her way home to spend the weekend with her family.  Students really have got it together these days, I thought as, confident and articulate, she told me about her course and her plans for the weekend.  Soon after our conversation, we were both plugged into our headphones (I love to spend train journeys catching up with episodes of Radio 4’s In Our Time) but would catch each other’s eye and smile from time to time.  

Not long later, she looked up and said, “I don’t suppose you’d have a phone charger, would you?  My battery’s nearly gone and I don’t know if I’ve got enough charge to get me home.”  Those of us who’ve lived without a phone know that it would be OK, but for those who haven’t, having a phone with a dead battery in a familiar place is as bad as being dropped in the desert without a map.  I handed over my power brick and the lady next to me had the right charging cable.  We all laughed and spoke for a few minutes, and another connection was made.  I watched the student relax, knowing that she only had to ask and we would help her.

I applaud Virgin Trains for their thoughtful gesture over the drinks that day.  Making connections isn’t always easy.  Loneliness is said to be a bigger risk to our health than obesity, and it’s one with no visible symptoms.  Whilst that might seem to be something that might only affect older people (my Dad always said that the hardest times for him living alone were after 4pm on a winter’s evening when the curtains were closed and it was just him and the TV), there is growing evidence that it’s affecting more than just the older generation – and don’t forget that one day WE will be the older generation.  It seems that although we’re more connected than ever through our phones and laptops, physical interaction is on the wane and being a sociable species, that’s affecting our health and our mental well-being – although in the right circumstances, the two can work together very successfully.  That’s why I am always so delighted to see friendships forming through my Facebook groups; not only is there a reason for someone to go online and feel connected, but there’s often the opportunity to meet up offline too.  A cup of coffee somewhere, a chance to sit and chat, to feel a part of something.  That’s what we all want, isn’t it?

“Thank you for helping me,” said the student, as we got off the train.  “I was really scared about having no phone battery, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”  And there you have it.  Confident and articulate, yes, but we all only show what we want people to see, and usually it’s not the part of us inside that’s scared or lonely.  My family might roll their eyes but it won’t stop me speaking to people I don’t know.  It’s a habit that I hope will be contagious as who knows – I might need someone to speak to me, one day. 


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12 Responses

  1. Unknown says:

    A lovely thought-provoking post, Christine, thank you. And illustrated with the yarn that I made my first ever Winwick Socks with a couple of years ago – I gave them to a dear friend and couldn't recall who the maker was, so thank you for that too. Isn't it funny how we never forget the colour combination of a self-patterning yarn once we've used it?

  2. happy hooker says:

    I think us Northerners are better at smiling/speaking to strangers than "them lot down South"! (Although I'm sure some of your readers will disagree with me – I hope so!) It costs us nothing to smile and say hello to someone.
    I googled "smile quotes" and found this one which I love: "It only takes a split second to smile and forget, yet to someone that needed it, it can last a lifetime.” – Steve Maraboli
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post. xx

  3. sustainablemum says:

    What a lovely post and what a thoughtful gesture by Virgin Trains. I often speak to people on trains or in queues etc. You never know that one day you might need their help. I find knitting on a train is a great conversation starter!

  4. Tinyjillbo says:

    What a lovely idea to foster connection. I hope many others did the same as you!

  5. Susan Rayner says:

    Our local garden centres have tables with signs on them saying that if you sit at this table you are open to chatting to anyone else who comes and sits there – I always think it is such a lovely idea! Good for the train company to offer an extra drink for another person! I am like you and chat to people all the time – my husband always claims that if there is someone wanting to talk they will find me!

  6. luluknitts says:

    So true Christine. My eldest son is Autistic and really struggles with socialising and hence is incredibly lonely. I see it in his eyes sometimes and it breaks my heart. It takes nothing to reach out to someone. If they reject you, so be it, but it might just be the gesture that turns their day from darkness into light. Kindness costs nothing. xxx

  7. Snailpolish says:

    Loneliness is awful – a silent epidemic. I used to roll my eyes in shop queues if the person in front spent ages chatting to the cashier. Then my husband pointed out that for the person in question, it may be their only interaction with another person all day.

    Lovely blog post – long may you reach out to others!

  8. MidgePorterDesign says:

    When I moved from 'down south' up to near Manchester I loved how open and chatty people were. I always smile at folks and say hi. I always think how much I would like it. Folk up here in Scotland are usually quite friendly too. Great post xx

  9. Jennydee says:

    I love a train journey and find that knitting socks is a great ice breaker ,my kids are used to it now ! I've also made a real life friend through the sock group.( We joke about how we met on the internet ,like a dodgy date !)

  10. Leona says:

    I love this, I'm forever chatting to complete strangers when out and about, I do it without thinking these days, I am that person who goes to the bar/shop etc and comes back knowing the life story of whoever I've met along the way. Even when Eilidh and I nipped to Tesco a few weeks ago after work, someone said hi and asked us how we were doing when we hadn't even made eye contact it was a nice surprise when I turned round and saw it was in fact Susan Boyle who was talking to us (she lives near me and is always out and about) when we parted ways to continue our shopping Eilidh asked why strangers always want to talk to us, I just told her that we must look friendly and they just fancied having a wee chat and even though they are strangers its ok to talk to them as long as mummy is with her too 🙂

  11. Jennifer says:

    I always find people speak to me wherever I am, I've had some interesting chats which have certainly made long journeys go so much quicker. I love the facebook group, without it I would never have met lovely Vickie and my world would not be the same without her. We don't see each other as much as we would like but we message daily and she's stuck with me now!

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