Ah London, isn’t she glorious?
I left London when I was very young and hadn’t been back to live since, until my return several months ago. Having lived in Asia most of my life, I immediately noticed/was bemused by things that stood out to me as being unlike anything I’d experienced before. Without further ado, here are a few things that have characterised my personal experience in London so far.
1. When at traffic lights, do not listen to the green man. The green man has no power here. Each and every one of us on the streets is now a green man unto ourselves — only WE hold the power to cross, at our own whim. However, note that cyclists also do not listen to the green man. They will hurtle out of no where with Tour de France intensity, and no matter what colour the traffic lights were, YOU were always wrong. Basically — the green man is irrelevant, the cyclists are tyrannical. It’s anarchy in the streets.
2. Bouncers here are way scarier than any I’d ever encountered before in Singapore, although with good reason. Here they seem to be soulless, military-grade strict eunuchs, guarding the club doors with the ferocity of Cerberus at the gates of hell and totally immune to the power of female persuasion. Your rack will not get you free entry nor will it pass as a form of ID should you have forgotten yours. I don’t know why, but on occasion they seem to just enjoy creating a problem with someone. Bear through it and go forth on your way, o night reveller, and know that it’s just one of the many social rituals of nightlife. As Winston Churchill famously said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Although in this case, having stood up for something in your life means having merely stood up at the entrance to the club.
3. The estimated time to get from X to Y via tube does not take into account the time spent walking within the tube station. The walk within the tube station can often be longer than the walk TO the station. The escalators descend and ascend into the distance as though they will never end. You may find yourself getting stuck behind people who are incredibly slow and derive sadistic pleasure from slowly changing direction in front of you over and over again. You will follow signs to the ‘northern line’ around multiple corners, wondering whether the northern line is simply the stuff of legend. On day 72 of your vagabond wanderings, the Bank station staff will eventually accept you as one of their own.
4. Timeless topics of conversation to have with a Londoner: the weather and the cost of housing. It is universally known that all Londoners are passionate about these two things, but it still deserves mention here as it has very much been part of my own personal experience in London. Anything that seems like it could be expensive is the enemy of the people. Merely reference the cost of rent in London and make sure you’ve equipped your vocabulary for this moment with heated words & phrases like ‘ridiculous’ ‘extortionate’ ‘ludicrous’ or, if you’re feeling rather adventurous, ‘I need to get fucked by something other than the property market’ — get creative! Discussing the weather forecast is, as we all know, another top British trait. They are endlessly fascinated by weather patterns and seem to really enjoy comparing the weather now to the weather this time last year, which leads me to picture the British brain as comprising a vast system of archives entitled ’Spring, 2001,’ ‘Spring 2002’ ‘Winter, 2004,’ etc. How else do they remember?
5. I keep seeing foxes and Bill Nighy everywhere. Yeah, you heard right. Foxes, as in, the animal, and Bill Nighy, as in, the 67-year-old British actor from Love Actually. What an extraordinary combination. It’s like someone just plucked the two most British creatures they could think of and, for some reason, decided they’d be a fixed constant in my life. I see foxes in the most bizarre places — like on Westminster Bridge road, or in Soho, trotting past bars. Perhaps Mr Fox now spends his Friday nights out on the lash rather than hanging around his hole in the ground? As for Bill Nighy, he was first spotted sitting next to me at breakfast at Cecconi’s in Mayfair, then subsequently spotted in the most unexpected situations i.e. 10pm in Carnaby Market, or on the tube escalators. So what exactly is going on here? There must be some sort of supernatural attraction between myself and these things — perhaps our energies are spiritually intertwined, or the planets are aligned in such a way that I am destined to encounter foxes and Bill Nighy every week of my life. Is Bill Nighy my guardian angel, my fairy godmother? Who knows. Of all things the powers of divine intervention could have done, they chose this. I imagine this one is very specific to my personal experience, but if you too find yourself in unusual orbit with foxes & Bill Nighy, please reach out so that we can talk about our feelings.