Sunday, September 29, 2002

Last Train To Epping

It's not quite the last train to Clarksville that The Monkees sang about, but it's still one of the world's great epic journeys. People gather, drunk, on the platforms at Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road and Holborn. They wait for ages, because there's a huge gap between trains at this time of night, trying hard in the meantime not to stagger off the platform onto the live rail. Then they crowd into the Cental Line carriages, in cattle-truck conditions reminiscent of the weekday rush hour. Some are still finishing off chips and kebabs, much to disgust of the nostrils of the majority. People try to grab a glimpse of the front of the early editions of the Sunday papers, disbelieving that John Major ever had a sex life, let alone with Edwina Currie. Around Bank the more inebriated passengers grab onto whatever or whoever they can, as the train careers violently from side to side round curves resembling a theme park thrill ride. A group of lads shout loudly across the carriage at each other in a foreign language - which might well have been English earlier in the evening. And at Mile End I escape across the platform to the waiting District Line train, happy to abandon the drunken revellers safe in the knowledge that I won't be ending up back in Essex with them by mistake.

 Saturday, September 28, 2002

Welcome to the modern village

Guy Browning has written an article in the Guardian which sums up the whole nightmare and nothingness of village life.

"The modern village is defined as a small group of houses, none of which can get pizza delivered. Many urban dwellers have a secret dream of living in a beautiful collection of rose-covered cottages nestled around a wide village green and overlooked by the church spire and village pub. Many people who live in real villages also have this dream."

That's exactly how I felt about living in a village. That's exactly why I left one a year ago.
The Guardian article is magnificent. It's very accurate, it's very long, you can read it here and I wish I'd written it.

 Thursday, September 26, 2002

Sniffle: On Monday morning I sat on the tube next to a 12-year old schoolboy who insisted on coughing and spluttering all over the surrounding carriage. When I went to work this morning, I was feeling fine, so I thought. Around mid-morning I started sneezing rather a lot. Around lunchtime my left nostril started to feel a little bit runny. By early afternoon I was getting my handkerchief out for the first time in months. Late afternoon and I was filling that handkerchief at regular intervals. On returning home I tried to track down the supply of clean handkerchieves I know have at the back of a drawer somewhere. Tomorrow I expect to wake up with a blocked nose, breathing like Darth Vader. No doubt I'll spend the weekend laid up in bed with a gallon of Beecham's. And, come Monday morning, I'm sure I'll be just well enough to go back to work, despite still feeling sub-standard. However, it'll be worth it just to cough all over that bloody 12-year old on the tube journey in again.

 Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Tube strike: It only takes two hours to get back from Leeds to London by train - I was well impressed. However, it then takes roughly as long to get from Kings Cross home to East London, thanks to the tube strike they kindly put on to celebrate my return. I've stood in bus queues for buses that either didn't arrive or were full and didn't stop. I've stood like a sardine in a variety of jam-packed stations and train carriages. I've walked overground across London carrying incredibly heavy luggage. I've travelled miles out of my way just to get on board a train that still exists. I suspect I've just lost all the weight I put on while having those two stodgy hotel breakfasts. But it is so good to be home.

 Sunday, September 22, 2002

22 September - the Countryside comes to London

It's exactly a year today since I packed up all my belongings and moved from a small village in Suffolk to the East End of London. To celebrate this anniversary, the Countryside Alliance kindly arranged for quarter of a million country folk to come up to London just to remind me exactly what I'm missing. Nothing.

The streets of London were filled with red-faced protesters, converging on Whitehall via Hyde Park and the Embankment, demanding Liberty and Livelihood. Most were wearing that dull shade of green that only people who live in the country ever dare to wear in public, usually a Barbour jacket or something disturbingly tweedy. They wore flat caps, sensible brogues and sideburns - it was as if last week's London Fashion Week had never happened. They dutifully waved their placards, some lovingly laminated from a poster in the Daily Mail, others insulting the Prime Minister, but most just admitting that they enjoyed murdering animals for fun.

Some marchers looked so rich, in an in-bred landed-gentry sort-of-a-way, that it was obvious they were only there for the Liberty of shooting a few foxes rather than the Livelihood of a few genuine farmers. Many had dragged their children along and given them a whistle to blow and a political statement to make. I thought there were far too many marchers from Essex, which in my opinion is barely the countryside at all. However, I suspect many of the more bemused-looking country folk had never been to London before in their lives. I fully expected to see some of them in Pret attempting to barter a prize sheep in exchange for a sandwich.

The march went on, and on, and on, in much the same way that the countryside does. At the Cenotaph the protestors marched past in silence, which might have been powerfully impressive were it not for the racket being created by the helicopter hovering overhead. Then after Big Ben everyone dispersed, either to the clubs of Pall Mall, which appeared to be doing brisk business, or back to the Landrovers and home to rural Hampstead.

I know that the moaning marchers have all missed the most obvious way to improve their lives - sell up and move to a town. I found my Liberty and Livelihood by escaping the countryside and moving to London, and I have no intention of ever going back. More buses pass my front door in an hour now than used to serve my old village in a week. If I want a pint of milk today I can buy some in a shop one minute's walk away rather than have to get in the car and drive for miles. If I want a life I have one on my doorstep, rather than just the possibility of village hall bingo every third Thursday. So, I'll happily leave the countryside in the capable hands of the Barbour brigade. The rest of us will carry on living.

 Saturday, September 21, 2002

40 things I love about... London

Life, nightlife, the sense of history, the Underground, the view from Greenwich Park, the fact there's always somewhere new to discover, Oxford Street, the sound of Big Ben, nightbuses, sunlight on the Thames, buying your Sunday paper on Saturday evening, the museums in South Kensington, the wobbly Millennium bridge, being able to choose from more than two local radio stations, Tate Modern, not needing a car, the view from Hampstead Heath, Arsenal shirts, Trafalgar Square, the top pod on the London Eye, St Pancras station, decent mobile phone reception, Routemasters, the East End, 24 hour bagel shops, culture on your doorstep, Hungerford Bridge, Old Compton Street, deckchairs in Green Park, the DLR, 0° longitude, the City, Covent Garden, decent record shops, St Paul's Cathedral, walking faster than the traffic, crossing Westminster Bridge at night on the back of a bike, the sheer variety of Theatreland, the British Museum, just living here.

London Open House weekend: What a fantastic idea, to open up some of London's buildings to the public free for the weekend. I resisted the temptation to queue up for Broadcasting House, or the Victorian Sewage Works down the road, and instead headed up to Westminster. The queueing crowds were mostly either over 50 or gay, or both. And I got to see 5 places that I'd always wanted to see:
Westminster Hall: Now that the Queen Mother has moved on, there were hardly any queues. I stood on the spot where her artificial hip had lain in state, just out of respect you understand.
Portcullis House: The new office block for MPs, famous for its fig trees imported at a cost of £150,000. If you're a UK taxpayer, you'll be glad to know none of them look as if they need replacing yet.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Magnificent and opulent courtyards and staircases. I suspect we bled the Empire dry to pay for it all.
Cabinet Office: Had to queue for one and a half hours, but well worth it just to see the door that Sir Humphrey couldn't get through when his key was confiscated in Yes Prime Minister. It has a card swipe now, by the way.
Midland Hotel, St Pancras: Glorious old hotel, now fallen into serious disrepair. I suspect it never recovered after the Spice Girls recorded the video for Wannabe there. Zig-a-zig-ah.

 Friday, September 20, 2002

3 things I hate about... pedestrians who get in my way

1) Mobile phone users: They are the new living dead. They walk the streets like zombies. They are totally absorbed in the text message they're typing into their mobile phone. They always walk right in front of me without looking. Not enough of them walk straight out into the road in front of cars.

2) Tourists: Us people who live in London are usually trying to get somewhere. Tourists, on the other hand, are happy to stay exactly where they are. Being ignorant of the ways of the capital, tourists will happily stop dead in the middle of a narrow pavement, just outside a station entrance or directly in front of a minor photo opportunity. Two tourists, if positioned carefully, can completely block a London pavement in seconds, causing pedestrian gridlock. Large groups of French schoolchildren, if left unattended, can suddenly seal off half of Central London. Mayor Ken would do well to consider the huge economic savings to be made by deploying tourists on strategic pedestrian crossings around the capital as a cheaper alternative to congestion charge technology.

3) People with bags: On Fridays, people take to the escalators of London with suitcases. They're obviously planning on rushing off somewhere after work for the weekend, maybe to Amsterdam, maybe to the second home in Wales, or maybe they just like carrying suitcases, I don't know. But these people are out there on Friday mornings stopping me from climbing the escalator and getting my daily exercise. Then of course there are all those people with rucksacks who are prone to turn round and smash their fat bag into you, ignorant of the carnage happening right behind them. And please don't even get me started on pushchairs.

 Thursday, September 19, 2002

3 things I hate about... Travelcards

1) Buying them: My annual London Travelcard expires in three hours time. I went to my local tube station last week to try to renew it. "Oh no", they said, "you can't do that yet. Come back nearer the time." I returned at 10pm on Sunday evening when, after much protest, the staff finally agreed they were perhaps willing take £912 off me if I really insisted. It was clear that the man behind the counter had never used a computer before, as he attempted to work out what all the buttons were for and where on earth the letter 'E' was. Next year maybe I should buy my ticket at 8:00 on a Monday morning instead, just to see how long I can get the queue of irate passengers behind me.

2) Other people buying them: Don't you hate in when you're stuck waiting in the queue at the ticket office on a Monday morning, with some urgent travelling to do, and some idiot in front of you has decided to buy their annual travelcard by debit card, and the monkey behind the counter can't get the computer to work?

3) Other people selling them: It's become one of the most modern but most undesirable forms of begging in London. Shuffling grubby reprobates gather round the exits to tube stations during the early evening, asking if they can relieve you of your used Travelcard. Not mine mate, it cost me £912. There again, maybe tonight I should have flogged it. I have three hours left to find a buyer...

 Wednesday, September 18, 2002

3 things I hate about... being stuck in a tube carriage between Green Park and Piccadilly Circus for 20 minutes on the way home from work

1) Being late: I don't normally stay late at the office until 7pm. So, when I do stay late, the last thing I want is "a safety alert at Caledonian Road" to delay me even longer. One minute into my tube journey tonight we ground to a halt in the middle of a Piccadilly Line tunnel. It was very helpful of our tube driver to keep us updated by telling us that we weren't moving, although we had noticed this for ourselves. Then he told us the blockage ahead had been cleared and that we should be moving soon, except we didn't. He ought instead to have told us there was a really impatient American moaning at his wife on the third seat down on the left, because there was.

2) The Evening Standard: Normally it takes me most of the tube journey home to read the Evening Standard. It's not a great newspaper, bearing far too much of a resemblance to the Daily Mail for my liking. Tonight, however, I had time to read the paper twice. Second time around I was left having to read the article bashing Ken's congestion charge, the editorial supporting the green welly Countryside Alliance. the daily cosmetic surgery scare story and even the recipe for anchovy bruscheta. Please please let me not be so delayed going home tomorrow.

3) You don't care: I've told you the story of my dreadful journey home, and you don't care. Nobody ever cares about nightmare travel stories. That's unless one happens to you of course, in which case you feel as if you have to tell everyone at your destination every single intimate detail. I bet you've just skimmed through my tale of underground woe, but please remember, next time you're late I won't be at all interested either.

 Tuesday, September 10, 2002

Tuesdays - what is the point?

First thing every morning, at the top of the steps outside the tube station on my way to work, some grinning idiot tries to thrust a free magazine in my hand. Every Tuesday, that magazine is called 'Midweek'. Why? Do they not realise they're at least 28 hours early? The last thing I want to be told on a Tuesday morning is that it's halfway through the week, because it so disappointingly isn't. Still, it's better than the similar situation every Monday morning, when the same grinning idiot always tries to offer me a copy of 'Ms London' instead.

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