Lost in London

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

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lent boy

So it’s Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday as we were forced to call it at school (I still call it that now, really). I have gradually honed my craft over the years and now manage to whip up a pretty decent batter. Shrove Tuesday would be a lot more fun if it weren’t for the fact it is associated with ‘giving things up for Lent’.

No sooner are the dull, predictable millstones of failed New Year’s resolutions starting to fade into memory, than a new, mealy-mouthed stick with which to beat yourself comes into view. I had always thought it was just the religious types that observed lent but on the radio this morning, I heard a group of DJs who sounded like they’d never given up anything that was bad for them listing what they were abstaining from for Lent. It seems we’ve moved on from half-heartedly pushing chocolate to one side for 40 days and 40 nights; one of the presenters was challenged to give up high heels while another promised to refrain from clubbing.

It seems as a society we’re living in extremes: one minute we’re ramming 50 tequilas down our throat, the next we’re self-flagellating and eating only pills made out of seaweed to detox. Whether we try abstemiousness just so that we can be total hedonists the rest of the time or simply because we think it makes us look good to others, I have no idea. It appears that we almost enjoy denying ourselves so that we can enjoy feeling smug. I’m no better than anybody else: I run screaming from chips into the loving arms of a salad so that I won’t beat myself up later about being unhealthy when really, if I want a chip, I should just have a chip. ‘Everything in moderation’ is one of the most dour, humourless, crease-down-the-front-of-jeans phrases in the English language but I think I’m finally starting to get it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bog off

I’m always reading that British people are obsessed with the toilet and bodily functions. I can assure you I am not, but I do have a morbid fear of being spoken to in a toilet. By anyone. Let me explain.

Picture the scene: You are male. You are at work. You go to the toilet and stand at a urinal and pull out your ‘junk’ and start to liberate your copious amounts of water and endless cups of weak tea. Seconds after you begin, a colleague enters and pitches up at the adjacent urinal. Said colleague then attempts to engage you in conversation as you urinate. You look down. It looks like you’re staring at your penis. You look up and stare at the wall. You have no option but to look at your colleague, member in hand. Colleague will start talking about a work matter as you widdle. You cannot escape. The horror.

I have never understand why anyone wants to talk while they’re taking a leak, or indeed doing anything else. What could possibly be so important, so life-changing, that it needs to be said while you’re having a piss? Discussions over the minutiae of working life belong by the water cooler or kettle or outside in then smoking area, not midflow at a pseudo-pissing contest. Suffice to say, I always ‘go’ in the cubicle. And I always wait until all the showboating urinal-users have cleared the place before I step out to wash my hands. I don’t really want to wash my hands to the gurgle of a colleague’s wee.

It’s not just work toilets that give me the fear. Pub loos also have an effect on me. The urinals are always too close together and the cubicle contains either someone doing drugs with their girlfriend or all the turds that have ever been shat out in the history of the universe gathered together for a convention within its sole toilet bowl. Not only that, but should you go in there for a number one only to find there’s numbers two, three, four, five AND six waiting for you, should there be another potential occupant lingering outside, the finger of guilt for leaving the loo in such a sorry mess will point firmly at you.

Add to that the following: people hacking up green phlegm and then depositing it into the urinal; manky buckets under urinals in lieu of drains, full of decade-old piss; the inevitable fart of the guy standing next to you, which lasts longer than all episodes of Return To Eden put together and smells like London during the Black Death; the huge queue of people pretending they need to defecate but in fact want to use the cubicle to have sex or put something up their nose or arse; the tragic, misspelled football-related graffiti; the hand dryers containing all the wind power of a fruit fly’s belch; the brown, stained and, for some reason, crusty hand towel that smells like wet dog. I could go on.

There’s nothing else for it: I’m going to have to start wearing nappies when I go out. I just can’t face any more public toilet-induced stress.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The white stuff

It’s been quite interesting to watch people lose their shit about the recent snow. I don’t usually get excited about weather, but there was something about this snowfall. As it started to come down on Sunday night, we wrapped up warm and went out to watch the flurries around Tower Bridge. It was pretty brutal out there but loads of fun. Watching it really come down late on Sunday night made me feel about 6, when the mere sight of three snowflakes would send you into a frenzy, wellies prepared by the door and gloves warming on the electric fire so you could get out there and be in amongst the snow.

Sadly my excitement was not shared. I’d quite enjoyed trudging down to Argos to buy some fishing wellies and then slowly plodding my way to work along the South Bank and across the Millennium Bridge, but by the time I got home and turned on the news, the pretty, white snow had caused a lot of red, angry faces. “It’s disgusting how badly prepared we are,” exclaimed one woman. “How can our infrastructure just collapse?” howled another. Well, it’s quite simple, I thought, it has been snowing like fuck out there. It’s indeed true that the snow had been anticipated for a week or so, but I wondered what kind of measures the general public was expecting? Snow shoes left on every doorstep befroe sunrise? I watched the gritters out on Sunday night, but there was just too much snow. It simply wouldn’t have been safe for buses to negotiate the mid-roadway snowdrifts. I was amazed anyone was actually trying to drive and lost count how many cars I saw stuck in the snow. The news presenter I saw was hauling the head of Transport for London over the coals for not being adequately prepared for a weather phenomenon that occurs every couple of decades. I’m sure the same presenter would have plenty to say were TfL to spend a fortune on snow ploughs and anti-snow systems that we use every 20 years ago at the expense of, er, more tubes and better buses thatw e could use every day, right? I couldn’t believe how many bigwigs were queuing up to apologise to this bunch of whingers. Imagine what they’d be like in a tornado: “I’m outraged that we don’t have a special bus that teleports us to Monte Carlo when the wind starts getting a bit frisky!”

I wondered how anybody had the temerity to slate the politicians and large organisations when they couldn’t even get it together themselves: I counted oodles of inappropriate shoes and was witness to plenty of falls. I may have looked like I was lost and looking for Emmerdale, but I was quite pleased with myself inside my colossal green wellies and layers of cashmere socks. I must say that for all the anger spewed on the TV, most people I bumped into (at times literally) were in good spirits.

Although I wouldn’t want the snow to hang around for ever, I’m glad it popped in for a visit.