I was born in London and spent the first twenty two years of my life in the south west suburbs of same or actually living in the middle. I loved it. I thought London was the centre of the universe and wogs started at Dover. But why would you even go as far as Dover; everything you needed or could possibly want was in London. Through the rose coloured lenses of the retrospectoscope the worst person you could ever meet was Arthur Daly and the few foreigners in the place were either conductors on buses, ran curry shops or visited from the exotic West Indies to show us how absurdly and effortlessly good they were at cricket. They would, of course, drop off a box of bananas at Henry Cooper's greengrocers shop on the way to the Oval to score a ton before lunch in the process of giving Surrey a right good seeing to.
Dad went to work 'in town' using his season ticket on the Southern Railway from Motspur Park. Although I didn't know it at the time, this was commuting. I have never commuted in my life and, after the last couple of days doing a spot of it in order to go to work 'in town', hereby resolve I never will.
Commuting should be classified as cruel and unnatural punishment right up there with the Iron Maiden and waterboarding. It is almost unbelievably unpleasant. For starters it occurs in London and its south west suburbs. Those elysian fields of my youth have been transformed into the lands on the far bank of the Styx. Either that or my perception of same has changed. I strongly suspect it is a combination of the two. You cannot spend thirty years living in much more pleasant places than the location of your birth and remained unchanged but, that notwithstanding, I am sure London is now a totally uninhabitable dump. Visiting there is bad enough (OK the shopping is better than the Albany MagaCentre) but living there? Forget it.
Where to start? People is a good place to start - and, probably, end. There are just plain too many of them. Why is this? Thirty years of wholesale bonking has not produced the absurd number of people now swarming all over the capital. Keeping one's ears even a little in non painted on mode you will soon discern that most of the denizens of London started their existence from beyond the aforementioned Dover. Spotting Arthur Daly or his progeny would be no mean feat. London has been taken over by foreigners. What do they all do? Well, they are not bus conductors as that species went the way of the moa many years ago. London has not been overtaken by biblical plagues of Test cricketers either. Sure, they run curry shops, and kebab stands and Thai restaurants and corner shops and those roadside stalls in Oxford Street selling unadulterated crap and have bought out Henry Cooper on the greengrocer front. But mostly, if the TV news is to be believed, they spend the day stabbing each other. There is a lot of stabbing in London; not very nice.
OK, there are too many people and most are of the foreign persuasion, what else? Coming here at the end of October and early November paints a suitably wet and grey backdrop to make the infrastructure look at its worst. Even in the 1970's you wouldn't really need a car in central London as the public transport service was pretty bloody good. In the middle this was mainly the Tube (never have been one for buses since they got rid of the conductors with those aluminium ticket machines containing micro loo rolls) which I used and quite liked. Whether you wanted to take a car into Central London or not now doesn't really matter as effectively you can't. Regulations and volume stopped all that nonsense years ago. It would cost you the GDP of a small country to take the Veyron down the Marylebone Road and then you couldn't stop as parking it would cost you the National Debt of your neighboring state. You are forced onto public transport.
Do this, as I did for the last two days, at 0745 and, look ma, I'm a commuter. The Tube now looks as old as it is. The walls of the labyrinthine subterranean walkways connecting the Bakerloo to the Central to the Northern look every bit the eighty years or so old they are. That is if you can see them past the gaggle of Lithuanian knifeists jostling up to you on all sides. You are thrust into this hell hole through automatic gates guarded by wearers of the universal Hi Vis jacket using your Oyster along with millions of your fellow lemmings. It is hideous. Down the ancient escalators into the bowels of the earth to await a seventy year old train into which you wedge your self with a carriage full of Moroccans who almost certainly have carving knives secreted about their person. Bloody announcements to not leave your bags unattended or your knives will be taken away to be blown up and reminders that CCTV is operational in all carriages. The entire carriage is either watching reruns of Eastenders on the iPod Touch or reading the Metro freebie newspaper; or both. Let me out of this hell.
Well, they do at Great Portland Street. And it is raining. And there is a bitter Nor'easter and I want to go home. But I have five hours of meetings and these take place in a basement room with no bloody windows. I really want to go home. At least the meeting was fruitful, I suppose. Get through the day's work, and make no mistake that is what it was, and back into the wind and rain for the evening commute.
More of the same. Mind the Gap, Latvian footpads and Angry Birds whilst incarcerated in a piece of nineteenth century technology for an hour. And then there is a two mile walk in the rain as the sun sinks over a slate grey horizon. This is not living but nearly ten million people would argue otherwise.
I'm flying to Dundee this evening with Air France which is a bit of a worry - wogs start at Dover, remember. I am reliably informed that Dundee is in Scotland so the next missive will be from a totally different place. If they don't accept English bank notes I will be severely pissed off.
It can't be worse than bloody London surely.