What would you have done if you'd found a Closing Ceremony ticket...?
Bogus letters were left around London to test city's new-found public spirit. Charlie Cooper has the results
Something strange has been happening in London.
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Inspired by the smiling army of pink-and-purple-clad Olympic volunteers who have helped overseas visitors navigate the intricacies of the District and Circle lines in recent weeks, Londoners have started behaving nicely.
From teenagers helping elderly tourists find their way to the train cleaner who hunted through a bin to salvage a woman's lost Olympic hockey tickets, outbreaks of decency have been widespread.
There have even been reports of strangers talking on the Tube.
As anyone familiar with sullen and stony-faced demeanour of the typical London Underground commuter will testify, the new convivial mood borders on the revolutionary.
But has the Olympic spirit really sweetened our souls? How kind have the residents of the capital actually become? Can a fortnight of good cheer change a character of a city?
To test the theory that the Games have made the capital a more honest, considerate, helpful place, The Independent decided to revive a kindness test dreamed up by P G Wodehouse. The novelist and wit famously declared that he had so much faith in his countrymen that he never bothered to post letters, preferring to throw them out the window and wait for passing pedestrians to drop them in the postbox.
Following the formula, stamped letters were left at 50 locations around London last week, addressed to the fictional Jeremy Fingham at a London address. But to add a little extra test, a note was scrawled on the back of each letter, reading: "Closing Ceremony tickets for Jeremy".
Inside were two pieces of blank card that, to the unsuspecting, would feel exactly like Olympic tickets. Some were left near post boxes, some on café tables in folded newspapers, some on the Underground, some in the street.
Would Londoners resist the temptation to pocket poor forgetful Mr Fingham's hypothetical tickets or would they do the decent thing and put the letter in the post? The outcome: a large minority of Londoners are honest folk who would forgo a freebie to help a stranger. But many others are just as self-serving as they ever were.
Of the 50 letters dropped, 20 found their way to Mr Fingham. Even allowing for some letters that were never found, that still suggests that around half of Londoners would gladly open someone else's post to make it to the Olympics closing ceremony – The Independent can only hope they were terribly disappointed to find blank pieces of card inside.
But on the positive side, four Londoners were so keen to bend over backwards in the name of honesty that they didn't post the letter they found – they ran after our letter-dropper to return it.
One of London's good people was 18-year-old Julia Dalrymple, from Notting Hill, who found a letter in a Starbucks café. Not only, nice, but rather savvy, Julia, wrote her number and a message on the envelope before posting it:
"Dear forgetful Mr Starbucks, seeing as I am a morally conscious person I will go on to post this letter that I found… If you have any more where these came from and you're feeling generous, let me know."
Speaking to The Independent yesterday, and thankfully not at all bitter about the deception, Ms Dalrymple, who plans to do charity work in Asia during her gap year, said that the Olympics had "changed the atmosphere in the city. It has really perked up the energy in London, but there's still a lot of people who don't care," she said.
Most of those people, it would appear, commute through London Bridge train station or live in Brockley, south London, or the well-to-do north London neighbourhood Crouch End. Not one letter was returned from these locations.
Thankfully, in most other parts of London, some people at least are keeping the Olympic spirit alive and well.
Additional reporting by Chloe Hamilton.
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