When I was young, my parents used to constantly listen to cassettes and CDs of Roger Whittaker. He is basically this old guy with quite an interesting singing voice. They used to play his cassettes on a loop in the car while going on long drives to Winnipeg for the weekend, and like all things done repeatedly when you are young, they never really seem to leave you and I had learned every one of those songs off by heart. I think this was around 1989/1990.

Fast forward to 26 years later when now I have my own car but since I live in Malta the longest drive one could possibly go on is probably about 40 minutes, I was giving a lift to my mum and she brought in this old Roger Whittaker CD. I remembered every single verse to every single song on that CD. But at 32, the songs have more meaning than they ever did when I was 6.

One particular song is called ‘The streets of London’ and basically describes different scenarios, not-so-great scenarios involving homelessness and love lost and growing old and then goes on to ask how can you say you are lonely when there is all this suffering around you and next to these people you’re having a laugh.

When I am down and suffering, I must say, it annoys the hell out of me when people tell me ‘it could be worse.’ Even though it is true, things could always be worse, it is not very helpful. For example, if a guy has an ingrown toenail which hurts tremendously and as a nurse I say, ‘well, hey, look at that guy! We amputated his foot!, it won’t all of a sudden take away the physical pain of his ingrown toenail nor will it alleviate the stress of having to get it removed. Of course, we all feel very sorry for amputated-foot-man, and nobody wishes to be him, but it really does nothing for ingrown-toe-nail-guy. I mean, should the sheer gratitude of not needing one’s foot cut off be enough to forget one’s current suffering?

My point is, everyone experiences different circumstances differently. And what might not seem like a big deal to you could be a very big deal to someone else. And that has to be respected.

In the health profession, when studying analgesia we are constantly told that pain is what the patient says it is. Yes, we are discussing physical pain in this scenario but I think it can apply to emotional pain too. There is that awful joke that goes ‘Hey doc, my foot hurts!’ and the doctor hits the patient on the head with a hammer and the patient goes ‘Why did you do that?’ and the doc goes ‘well, it sure made you forget your foot!’ Well, I believe that emotional pain is a little like that…how we experience it really depends on how we have experienced life thus far. If something truly tremendously awful happens to you it will kind of blur other past bad experiences and bad experiences to come. And I cannot give an example because it is up to the individual to describe what is really and truly awful to them.

It is also why this song is quite beautiful. Yes, there is the annoying part in the chorus which tries to ask you to compare the suffering in your life to the suffering of the people found on the streets of London, but there is also the story telling aspect which depicts the different kinds of people and their hardships. He describes a dirty, mentally-challenged homeless woman carrying all she has in two plastic bags. He describes a lonely old man who spends his mornings in a cafe taking hours to drink tea and then wandering home alone and an old navy officer who still wears his badges even though nobody really cares anymore.

And yes, telling people in the face of their suffering that ‘ah, well, it could be worse’ is not the most emotionally intelligent thing to do; at least it is quite truthful.

It is not always the easiest thing, but I try really hard to concentrate on the things I do have rather than on those that I do not. And in the meantime, I simply try to be the best version of myself that I can be.

 The streets of London

Have you seen the old man

In the closed-down market

Kicking up the paper,

With his worn out shoes?

In his eyes you see no pride

Hand held loosely at his side

Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news
So how can you tell me you’re lonely,

And say for you that the sun don’t shine.

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind
Have you seen the old girl

Who walks the streets of London

Dirt in her hair and her clothes in rags?

She’s no time for talking,

She just keeps right on walking

Carrying her home in two carrier bags.
So how can you tell me you’re lonely,

And say for you that the sun don’t shine.

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind
In the all night cafe

At a quarter past eleven,

Same old man sitting there on his own

Looking at the world

Over the rim of his tea-cup,

Each tea lasts an hour

Then he wanders home alone
So how can you tell me you’re lonely,

Don’t say for you that the sun don’t shine.

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind
Have you seen the old man

Outside the Seaman’s Mission

Memory fading with the medal ribbons that he wears

In our winter city,

The rain cries a little pity

For one more forgotten hero

And a world that doesn’t care
So how can you tell me you’re lonely,

And say for you that the sun don’t shine.

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of London

I’ll show you something to make you change your mind.


 

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