The Big Smoke

cockneyI was lucky enough to be treated (by DW for looking after the nippers and A&R for entertaining, feeding and lodging me) to a weekend in London Town to visit my good friends A&R and celebrate the birthday of another good friend, CQ.

Someway, somehow, I managed to get prepared enough to book my train tickets in advance – which I never, ever do – and got myself down to London 1st class because I learned that if you pre-book you can travel reet cheap. As I waited on the platform at Kemble (which is a like a station from Thomas and Friends) I looked down the platform at the great unwashed going cattle-class and thought: they should just make the trains longer so we can all travel in comfort…

I have pressed my face against the window of 1st enough to know that it was not going to be hugely different, but I was still a bit disappointed. I knew that I wasn’t going to get the Orient Express (no wonder there was a murder on it, I think I’d go postal if I had to get a train to China…)but the only real benefits are that the seats are a teeny weeny bit more comfortable and some guy came round with a drinks trolley…and…I’m struggling here. There were less people and that was quite nice.

The things that always strike me about returning to London are:

  1. The Underground is way, way better than I remember it being. It’s not as smelly as I recall (though there is an Eau De Tube…), it’s not as dirty. But it is eye-wateringly expensive and foreign students still meet in big groups at the ticket barriers (isn’t there a section in the German/French/Italian Lonely PlanetLondon about not being a muppet?).
  2. The streets are cleaner than I remember. When we left I sort of had the impression that London was a continually swirling vortex of McDonalds wrappers and Metros and the tackiness of the chewing gum patina on the pavements made walking like a trip on Jupiter. But London is pretty clean, not because Londoners are clean-freaks, but because street and road sweepers scour the city daily. That doesn’t happen in the countryside. We have village litter initiatives.
  3. People are nicer than I remember. Whenever I return to London, I always make the mistake of saying. ‘hello!’ to people that I pass in the street or the park (because everyone does this in the countryside, resulting in me having some of the most boring encounters with ‘people’ who obviously don’t get out much). Some Londoners then class you as either mentally deranged (and so do what every Londoner does when faced with potential death and dismemberment: avoid eye contact), on drugs (I would imagine it would have to be a heady mix of ecstasy and Haribo) or a religious fanatic. Some (quite a lot in fact), however, say hello back. They then – obviously – quicken their pace lest they get knifed/hugged/converted.

Anyway, my good friends took me to see Avenue Q, in the West End.

I felt like Tom Hanks in Big, such was my shock at arriving in Piccadilly on a Saturday night: people already drunk (ever heard of tactical drinking? They haven’t), people already willing to eat those manky pizzas sold from those side-of-the-road mobile delis and people. Avenue Q, if you haven’t seen it, is amazing and how we laughed…basically, you have to see it to get it.

But the things that resonate with me are the sheer variety of people and the anonymity. You can lose yourself in the scattergun of humanity that is London and I quite miss that.

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2 thoughts on “The Big Smoke

  1. Attempting to talk to people in London is always amusing. Quite why people would assume that I was a gay man trying to pick them up at 9AM on a Tuesday morning is beyond me. French students gathering like geese around the top of escalators is irritating. But why then follow that up by throwing an impromptu birthday party at the bottom of the escalator as well?
    At least they have an excuse. Can over-excitable ladies on a day trip from Lancashire really not understand “Please Stand on the Right”? Maybe they should put up “Canst thou budge up chuck” signs ?

  2. I do see ‘out of towners’ now and again – doing the escalator shuffle, worried that the gnashing jaws of the escalator is some fiendish plot by southern softies to turn Northerners into beef patties.

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