Friday, 19 February 2010

London as a Foreign City

London is strange. Living either in the north of England or in Italy I don’t come here often and when I do it’s like arriving in a foreign city. Getting off the Gatwick Express at Victoria to be met by a wall of people and literally having to fight your way through the crowds waiting for trains routinely delayed or cancelled is overwhelming; queuing six deep just to get down the steps into the tube station, then letting tube trains go because you can’t squeeze yourself or your luggage through the door is frightening. I find myself thinking “What would happen if something went wrong?” So many bodies packed together, there’s no room for panic. But when I fall over on the escalator struggling to control two suitcases, a young Chinese man picks me up with great kindness and I’m not trampled underfoot.
It’s the contrasts I notice most in London. On the Piccadilly line there’s a homeless guy who rides the line with his belongings in bin liners. He’s usually drunk, asleep on the seats. He smells like a fusion of the Rat and Parrot after a bad night, and the gents at Paddington. Everyone leaves him alone, stepping gingerly over the pool of amber liquid gradually seeping out across the floor.
Then you get off the tube and within minutes you’re in one of the Cathedrals of Capitalism. If you judge a shopping mall by the flower arrangements in the ladies loo, then this one is definitely five star.

I window-shopped in Prada and looked at a beautiful leather bag that would have been perfect for lap-top, books, junk. The price tag was £1,125.00. Neil has never paid as much as that for a car! There’s enough stock just on the front shelf to fund the Piccadilly Man for a year, and it’s hard not to think about the morality of that, even as I’m drooling over the Perfect Bag and fantasising about winning the Lottery.

But even though the human politics disturb me there’s a definite buzz here. I sit in cafes and watch people. I love being anonymous. I feel I’m eavesdropping on other people’s lives - part of a live reality TV show scrolling past the window. My favourite cafe has books stacked between the tables and comfy chairs you can read - or even write - in.

2 comments:

  1. Your post sums up completely my feelings about my home city (and where I lived for my first half-century). Twelve years on, I still miss the buzz - now even buzzier - but buzzier = much, much busier. For many Londoners, especially those who live close to the centre, it can seem like living under siege at times. In my heart I will always be a Londoner but now, when I return, I feel like a tourist.

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  2. It's odd that you feel like that - I love coming here, but really couldn't live here. Which is just as well, because it's so expensive! I can't believe how much everything costs. I'll probably always be a country girl at heart.

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