Cities – So Much Isolation?

Mitch writes:

More people than ever before live in cities, yet more people than ever before feel lonely, and socially isolated. Is this even something we can fix?

I’ve lived in large cities and small towns on two continents (so far), and one thing seems true at least everywhere in the English-speaking world, and probably everywhere else as well. The larger a city is, the harder the people who live there seem to work to maintain their privacy. Ironically, that makes these ‘human hives’ some of the hardest places in the world to meet new people, especially for retirees or shut-ins, or simple misanthropic nerds like myself.

I hate crowds most of the time, so I am perhaps more sensitive to this than most, but I believe that city living, especially in the New Yorks, Chicagos and Londons of the world, is a uniquely hostile environment for humans. It’s not classically hostile, nature, red in tooth and claw is held well back.

Food, water and shelter are easier to find than probably 99% of human history and 100% of human pre-history. Nonetheless, metropolitans walk about braced solidly against social intrusion, they are deeply, eternally on guard against human and corporate predation. Someone is always, always hoping for a chance at a little of their attention, their time and most importantly their money.

Walk up to a stranger in a big city and give them a cheerful ‘Hello!’ You’ll see “What the hell kind of a con are you running?” pass across their features, even if they don’t say it out loud.

Once they’re out of the crowd, once they are in with a group they see as ‘their own’, these are decent, friendly people, at least as much as anyone is anywhere. But if you aren’t already part of that group, at least by association, you are inaccessible, and so are they.

The thing is, I’m afraid that this might be absolutely necessary. Last time I was in London I had lunch at a McDonalds (don’t judge me!) that was bigger than my house, and it was standing room only! I ate standing on a square foot of floor, shoulder to shoulder with the heaving masses, and I couldn’t tell you a single thing about any of them. For my own sanity, I had to pretend they weren’t ‘people’ at all.

Trying to be sociable in a sardine can like London or NY would drive me mad. I don’t think I could live in a big city without that kind of mental armor.

I’m not like that anywhere else. I live in a town of around 30,000 people. I say ‘Hi’ to strangers all the time, and they smile! I dropped something on my driveway unloading my car the other day, and a complete stranger picked it up, knocked on my door, and handed it to me.

A man could get stabbed doing that in Oak-Town.

So what can we do about it? Can anything be done? Please, share your comments!

Post a comment

Biker Gangs. How Many? How to Reduce the Threat?

Some questions  motorcycle gangs came to mind after the Waco shoot-out.

How many are there? What uis the appeal?  How can the public be protected?

Wikipedia was of no help:

When I was a kid lots of deprived kids belonged to gangs and I suppose the reasons are still relevant:

  • They were mixed-up teenagers
  • They enjoyed the ‘all for one’ ethos’
  • They, as poor people, felt excluded from the mainstream.

The Waco  people are quite different.

They are middle-aged and wealthy enough  to buy a  Harley.

Perhaps one of these’oh so wise’ politicians like Hillary or Ted Cruz can come up with a workable soilution to this menace.


♦ ♦ ♦   PS

San Antonio police confirm that a retired detective is one of the 170 arrested after a biker gang shootout in Waco

About 1,000 weapons including firearms and knives have been recovered from the scene of a deadly Sunday battle between rival motorcycle gangs in the Texas city of Waco that left nine people dead, a police spokesman told CNN on Wednesday.


♦ ♦ ♦






Post a comment

To Make you Smile

This never fails to  raise my spirits:

What  works for you?



Post a comment

Like Music?

Like a Copy of Silver Linings?

Like a copy of the fantastic CD being sold in aid of The SilverLine, the telephone befriending charity?

All you have to do is write a short post (max 300 words) on ways in combating loneliness.

(For practical reasons I have to limit this offer to the UK and Ireland. )

Even if you ar not interested in music, go to and see how corrosive loneliness can be and one way of helping allevaite the pain.

Post a comment

Political lies, bribes, half-truths and insults – the electorate deserves better

Politics – mostly insults, denials, lies and bribes?

In the UK we will have an election on May 7 – and thanks goodness this tedious campaign in coming to an end.

It has been running since early January and the level of debate has been dreadful.

The ‘arguments’ are generally as follows:

Government: We have run the economy in a sensible way.

Opposition riposte: No, you have not

Opposition: You are not to be trusted with healthcare or welfare

Government riposte: Yes we are.

Both sides have come up with a series of electoral bribes which might appeal to their core constituencies.

I fear the run-up to the American Presidential election in 2016 will be similarly arid affair.

I feel that both electorate deserves better and it would be good if the political classes on either side of the Atlantic had a coherent answer to two main questions:

1. How are we going to improve the standard of living for the mass of our people in a
world where China and other economies in the Far East are developing fast?

2. What is your thought-out policy re Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan other volatile
Muslim states?

Post a comment

Music – More than Just Entertainment?

I was moved by Emma’s account of finding a hobby that would satisfy her and her choice of the flute – link to her post is here.

I am currently learning the piano and I cannot claim much musical talent. So why persist?

The downside of learning a musical instrument has been quite well documented . The theory, the bad notes and the hours of practice do not make the exercise easy apart from a tiny minority of musically gifted people. For the majority there is no substitute for slog

So why do it? My experiences have brought me a lot of pleasure and I would be interested if they ‘strike a chord’ with others.

The feeling of having ‘got’ a particular phase or entire piece is a peak experience – a very special feeling indeed.

Sometimes certain small pieces make me tingle with pleasure every time I play them.
Good music bears repetition – one you have mastered a piece it is a jewel which keeps its shine.

Even one chord change can send a charge through your body.

The feeling of progress is also very satisfying. The ‘Wow, I actually have mastered that (seemingly impossible) piece’ is a particular thrill. You don’t worry about everyday things if you are playing a piece properly with the correct emotional heft.

There are other advantages. If you get the right teacher that can be a great experience with that person sharing their expertise and passion for a piece of music.

Playing helps you listen better. I find that when I listen to music know I am taking more than just the melody.Playing some music has made listening to all music a better experience. I now appreciate the special quality of live music more than ever.

Recordings are fine, but a live performance, even one which is less that perfect, is better than ever for me.

One last personal point. Playing music allows me to change my mood. Some music always makes me smile ( Here are some links to tunes which never fail to please. )

Nina Simone number:

Teddy Bear’s Picnic

The ability to improve other people’s mood is something I really want to achieve.

It will take practice.

Of course, making music in a group is a whole new ballgame. There are some initiatives that are trying to repair fractured communities by encouraging kids to play in am orchestra – follow link for one such more on ‘el sistema.’

Post a comment

Learning an Instrument

Emma writes about her decision to take up an instrument again.

‘Do you have any hobbies?’

This is the age-old question, the one that you first learned to answer in a high school French class, the one that you would talk about with your friends when you first got to know them, and the one that seemed to be on every job application when you were applying for an after school job. And when I was in high school, I had plenty.

I rode horses, I danced ballet, I played the flute, the piano, in an orchestra and a flute choir, I learned Japanese after school and I went swimming every single Saturday.

But then I went to university that all kind of fell by the wayside, and instead of doing numerous extra-curricular activities I was saving my cash for partying – having hobbies just wasn’t cool any more.

It was only the other day, when I was speaking to one of my closest friends that I realised I don’t really have any hobbies any more. Sure, I run, I yoga, I write and I read, but all of these activities can easily be classed as something that is more for purpose than for pleasure. So this weekend I spent a lot of my time thinking about what kind of hobby I would take up if I was given the chance to start all over again.

After hours of reflection, I realized I want to do is to rediscover a hobby that I loved in the past and always regretted giving up because “it wasn’t cool”. So I’m going to start taking flute lessons again, and hope to get back into the music.

I’m really excited about delving back into something that I enjoyed so much when I was younger and finding out how much of it I remember (or not!).

Wish me luck!!

Post a comment

Talking Communities – Combating Loneliness

Angela Cairns writes:

Loneliness and isolation affects people across the UK (and the world) regardless of social class or background. Being lonely can last for a few hours to a number of years, and for many loneliness is not only unpleasant but has very real effects on health and well-being.

Face to face contact is by far the best way to build up connections with others but what about if you can’t get out of the house? What if you lack the confidence to walk into a room full of strangers or don’t have anything nearby that interests you?

At Community Network we run a programme called Talking Communities. At the heart of this is peer support, the principle that people are best place to support one another. For 25 years we have been running telephone groups for people who are at risk of or experiencing loneliness, isolation and exclusion. Using a specially designed conference service we have been able to connect people together from the comfort of their own homes. It is a service that is free, safe and accessible. Telephone Communities reduce loneliness, build confidence, and improve health and well-being for older people across the UK.

The world we living is changing, with smart phones, tablets, and computers opening up ways in which people can connect. At Community Network we are looking for ways to expand our Talking Communities programme – 2015 will see us pilot video groups, an online peer support discussion forum and peer led research into the loneliness experienced by 18 to 24 year olds.

Tackling loneliness is something we can only do together. We would love to hear your views as to what you think are the most effective ways of stopping loneliness in its tracks.

To find out more about our Talking Communities programme visit our website: or email us on

Telephone: 020 7923 5250
Twitter: @com_net

Post a comment

New This Week

Emily from Ottawa rose to the challenge of the new

Something new I learned this week: Bikram Yoga

Standing on my left leg with my left arm stretched out in front of me, my body parallel to the ground, my right foot cradled in my right hand and together pushed out behind me as the instructor coaxed: “and stretch, stretch, more, further back, push back, more, more, more!” This was how I spent my Tuesday afternoon.

I love trying new things, and after moving house and cancelling my gym membership because it was too far from my new place, I decided that I needed to find somewhere else to go on a regular basis. Luckily for me, a new yoga studio opened up around the corner from my office, and it was offering a cheap one month introductory membership, so I decided to give it a go. I love yoga, and it is something I always jump on if it’s readily available and not too expensive, so even though this studio was offering Bikram Yoga, something I had not tried before, I decided to give it a whirl.

Bikram Yoga, for all of you yogis out there, is not really anything like the traditional Vinyāsa yoga classes that I have enjoyed before. Instead of the movements coordinated by breathing, where one posture flows into another, Bikram is a set of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises which are practised in the same order for two sets each. The class is always 90 minutes long, because it gets through all of the 26 postures in this time, and the class in also conducted in a very hot room, and when I say hot I mean 40 degrees with humidity of 40%.

During my first class I was beginning to wonder what on earth I had got myself into, and by the time class finished and I was on my way home, I felt as if I had just run a marathon while carrying two large cement blocks and doing some head stands along the way. I thought I would pass out on the bus ride home. I quite probably had the best night’s sleep that I have had in a very long time.

However, I pushed myself to attend my second class the following day, and I have to say that it is so true when they say that the more you practise, the easier something will become. Instead of feeling like I was about to pass out, I began to feel comfortable with the heat, and the more I practised the positions, the more comfortable with them I became.

So yes, Bikram yoga is different, it’s challenging and it’s something new, but hey, what’s wrong with a challenge, something out of the ordinary and out of your comfort zone? It’s fun!

Post a comment

A Major Pol as a House Guest?

Can I get you another cup of coffee, Jeb/Scott/Hillary?

Some years ago I had the leader of a major political party in my house. I had been at a cocktail party and this prominent man had kindly given me a run home. He accepted an invitation for a cup of coffee.

My wife and I had never voted for the part he led, but that was not a problem. We chatted about this and that – he was good company and had a fund of stories.

Elections are dominating the news. The slug fest for the Republican nomination is warming up. A Democrat has yet to be found who will challenge Hillary, but in any event she will be scrutinized in great detail in the coming months.

In the UK a General Election will be held on May 7 and is looks as if it will be nail-bitingly close.

If a major political figure such as Jeb Bush, Hillary or Scott Walker was in your house, what questions would you ask?

Post a comment