Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Smells like teen spirit

What triggers memories for you? For some people it's a song or a face, but all I have to do is breathe in deeply.

I don't have a big nose, but it's certainly a sensitive one. I have got off buses before because of a slightly dodgy pong sniffable only by my own nose, can't eat anything which offends my nose and have been known to drop friends from my social circle because of their choice of cologne.

Living in London isn't great if your nose is a sensitive one, because quite frankly, the place smells. From the cesspit reek of the dustbin wagons which trawl the West End to the chemical pong of the MSG in Chinatown, there's plenty of whiffs to commit olfactory assault. Of course, not all of the smells are quite so offensive, but, on the whole, breathing in through your nose in any part of London is like playing Russian roulette with your nasal passages.

It's funny how the slightest hint of a familiar smell can whisk me back in time too. The chance sniff of someone wearing CK One (still!) sends me hurtling back through the years to my second year at university, where I bought the fragrance on its launch. When I catch a whiff of it now, I realise that it smells like cheap disinfectant, but at the time it was a must-have. Similarly, someone wearing Davidoff's putrid Cool Water can find me reminiscing of summer balls, dancing in marquees to bad acid jazz, colossal amounts of hair gel and essay deadlines long missed. Standing in the vicinity of a McDonald's and breathing in the sugary smell of toasting buns sees me 18 again and back in my burgundy striped uniform, red-faced and panting as I rush around to serve yet another miserable bastard with their Big Mac meal.

I sometimes look at photos and feel utterly disconnected from whatever's happening on them. Maybe I'm sporting a facial expression I don't recognise, wearing a shirt I don't remember owning or am standing in an unfamiliar location, but most of the time, they don't evoke memories but only make me ask questions. What was I thinking then? What did I hope for? What worried me? What did I like? A smell, however, can transform me and the years fade, the lines fall away, the dress sense and wisdom evaporate and I'm myself again, or at least whoever I was at the time.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

All the rage

Why do Londoners love to have a go at each other?

I have been fairly erratic in my blogging recently. The main reason is that I have just landed a new job, which has heralded a great feeling of 'impending change'. While I like change and doing new things, I hate 'impending change' and the nervousness and insecurity it brings with it. Thoughts of 'Oh in three weeks' time I'll be getting a bus to work' or 'I wonder what my new desk will be like' or 'Will I still be able to heat up porridge at work in the morning' are just some of the one million quandaries and anxieties whirling around my head.

One of the downsides about my new job is that I probably won't be able to walk to work. The walk to and from work is one of my favourite parts of the day, which is probably an excellent reason for changing jobs, while I think about it.

One thing I'll miss about the daily trudge to work is the seeming acceptability of inexplicable anger. Most people go about their business in a fairly unassuming manner, getting from A to B without bothering anybody else. There are a select few, however, who wake up or leave work in a towering rage, this burning anger aching to burst from within them. I have watched cyclists scream at each other, taxi drivers shout 'fuck off' at someone tried to use a zebra crossing, grown men and women utter such treats as 'get the hell out of my way' on the pavement and, best of all, a couple of commuters having the most bizarre row ever on a bus about who pushed who. As I stood there pretending to listen to my iPod, the argument escalated with both passengers refusing to back down. Finally the male said to his new-found nemesis "You know I didn't push you so stop being a awkward little bitch". I found this unbelievably horrifying. So did his assailant; neither of them spoke again for the tortuous twenty minutes which remained of the journey. Of course, this was one row I saw while on a bus to work, as opposed to walking, so probably shouldn't be included but hey.

The rage is everywhere, though. Surly shopkeepers who are upset that your purchase of a bottle of water is interrupting their intense long distance phone call, checkout supervisors whose badge says 'Can I help you?' but their face says 'What the hell do you want?', bus drivers who shut the door on you as you get on or off, the teenager who gleefully turns up the blaring music on their mobile phone as if daring someone to complain, grown men giving withering looks to other commuters for not walking at their own breakneck pace. London's such an angry, volatile, exhilarating place. It must be something in the water, or perhaps they should start putting something in the water to calm us all down.

Last night I watched 28 Days Later on DVD. At the beginning of the movie, as the hero wanders deserted, post-Apocalyptic streets, I thought 'Hmmm London's nice when it's all quiet like that'. Thankfully a London more familiar to me soon appeared as the crazed, marauding 'infected' raged their way through the city, destroying everything they touched. That's more like it.