Oh, London. London, London, London…. What happened? I can’t work out who changed here, you or me? Did you over these 22 years go from fun and easy-going to unbearable, or is it me who has gone from young and fancy free to a grumpy old bag? I suspect the latter, and here’s why:
Let’s face it, this town has always been crowded. I’m sure I had to battle my way through crowds and stand wedged into someone’s armpit on public transport when I first steered my longboat to these shores to set up camp in London. I loved heading in to the centre of town on a Saturday morning, grab a newspaper or book and park myself at a cafe and just watch the world go by. I loved strolling around and I genuinely have no memory of the crowds bothering me. I spent a good 15 years after finishing university getting on the tube in rush hour both morning and night to get to work and I just don’t remember ever hating it as much as I did last week when I, for the first time in three years, got on a train into town on a week day morning.
I started a course, you see, that requires me in Hatton Garden every Thursday for the next three months. It only really means a train to Waterloo, and let’s face it, Teddington is the first stop so I’m pretty much guaranteed a seat. From Waterloo, a 15-minute bus ride and even standing up you can’t really complain, can you? Still, after escaping the rat race for a more fulfilling and leisurely existence where my commute to work means either a beautiful walk along the river path to Richmond or a 20-minute car journey through beautiful west London, getting in to central London – and rush hour public transport at that – fills me with the deepest dread.
The platform territories appear to be staked out with such precision I half wonder if these commuters spent the previous evening running around their patches urinating wildly in order to mark their spot. People are literally standing in little huddles – not because they enjoy each others’ company but because this is where each set of doors will open when the train pulls in. I mean, this has me in a bad mood the moment I got on the train but it’s not the half of it. People push and shove (what is this, SWEDEN? I thought it was my countrymen who had no manners, yet all these stampeding lunatics appear to mainly be the supposedly polite Brits?!), there’s a mad race for the seats, and should an elderly person or pregnant lady step on people magically fall asleep or are glued to their phones.
And that was just the morning. When I left the workshop in the diamond district at just before 5pm, getting on the bus back to Waterloo wasn’t too bad. I even got a seat without ending up in a scrum. Waterloo station was something else altogether. This is when I quite literally wished I’d been Ritchie McCaw, and even the former All Blacks captain would have had a hard time getting through the blood thirsty crowds unscathed, I swear. Next time I might wear a gum shield. Hundreds, probably thousands of people with their eyes fixed on the departures board. The moment a destination is assigned a platform the madness begins as there’s an immediate crush of bodies heaving like a slow motion tsunami towards it. At one point I think my chin might have been on the floor and not only because I was nearly knocked over. I got back to Teddington – oh sweet, sweet abode – and poured a large drink as soon as I got home.
I’m not all that keen on driving through central London in rush hour traffic, but this seriously has me considering it.
But here’s what is staggering. I used to do this every day and I didn’t turn into an alcoholic, nor have I ever been arrested for (or been guilty of, I hasten to add) causing grievous bodily harm. As I mentioned, I don’t remember being all that bothered by the mad Hunger Games style rush hour. I do wonder if my love story with London is beginning to resign itself to My Younger Years – as sparkling and shimmery as it always was in all its loveliness, but just no longer ME. I find myself dreaming more and more often about moving elsewhere and the visual image is often a cottage somewhere near the sea with a little garden at the end of which I have a little shed come work shop and spend time making silver and gold jewellery. B’s job means a lot of travel so except for being in the office a couple of days a week he can work from home should he choose to so as long as we’re within reasonable distance of London – say, something like Brighton – we’re fine.
It’s only just over a year ago we abandoned Chiswick to move further out west, and with Monkey’s school moving away isn’t really an option as west London is where his friends, sports clubs and – thus far at least – roots are, but he is nearly 13 so give it another five years and it might be a different story… We shall see.
On the other hand, having said all of that, as much as central London seems to do my head in these days, I don’t know if I’d be without it. We went on a random little weekend trip to Brighton over the August bank holiday weekend and as much as I on the first day enjoyed being by the sea, loved the absence of the mad crowds and fancied the idea of so much nature close by, only 24 hours later I’d started to think I wouldn’t live anywhere but Teddington. I suppose Teddington is the best of both worlds. Central London – when I can stomach it – is within easy reach, but so is getting out of town.
Hm. It’ll be interesting to see where life takes us…. And maybe I need to stop being a grumpy old cow and make a bit of an effort to re-discover why I fell so madly in love with this town all those years ago. Perhaps Sunday morning I’ll hop on a bus in to town, grab a paper and a coffee…