10 things that quite irrationally jerk my chain – about going into London

underground-534617_1280I made one of my rare trips into Central London this weekend, to meet a friend for lunch at Leicester Square. It was fun meeting up, but trips into Central London freak me out a bit these days.

That’s weird, since I’ve lived around London for most of my life. I studied in the City. I commuted into the West End, City and along the Embankment for years. I used to love popping into London for an evening out, lining up the kitschiest of cocktails or spending a fortune on theatre tickets and a bite to eat at some anonymous hole where they couldn’t care less if they ever saw you again. I knew secret parking places you could depend on; I used to mooch around Selfridges all day, eat my lunch in Grosvenor Square and swing by Seven Dials just to visit a favourite shop. That was when I could drive the 18 miles or so in a little over a half-hour. Now the journey time has doubled whatever the time of day, the Congestion Charge adds an extra weekday burden, the secret parking places aren’t secret any more and it costs a small mortgage to leave your car anywhere for even an hour or two. That means travel is mainly by London Underground, which is (IMHO) a loathsome experience (even though I’ll admit that both the service and stations have much improved in recent years).

But here’s the problem. I’m an introvert and my introversion has grown more entrenched as the years have gone by. Crowds, bustle and noise discomfort me now more than they ever used to. So those delightful hours spent meeting up with an old friend came with a few… irritants:

  1. The passengers who wanted the whole carriage to share their conversations – their voices screeching and yabbering high up the decibel scale; a relentless, ear-grinding counterpoint to the rattle-and-hum of the train on the tracks.
  2. The blast of sooty air whooshing out of the tunnel as the train departed. It’s a challenge, getting grit in your eye when you won’t touch your face before you can sanitise your hands.
  3. The crowds piling into and around Leicester Square ticket hall… milling, meandering, dawdling, oblivious.
  4. Tourists. The sort who stop suddenly on a busy street to take a photograph of their pals against the impressive cultural backdrop of… a branded restaurant chain. And the ones wielding giant backpacks, who swing about, clouting, bumping and squashing the unfortunates around them.
  5. The vile individual, gobbing gelatinous spittle on to the pavement just feet ahead.
  6. The delicious lunch. Yes, are you surprised? But tasty though it was, it bore a toxic bacterial payload. It has left me with – I’ll put it delicately – tummy trouble for the last two days, confining me to within an easily reachable distance of… oh, you know the rest.
  7. The smallest and narrowest of restaurant toilet cubicles, the sort where you have to squat on the sanitary bin (ladies, you know of what I speak, don’t you?) and then practically climb into the toilet to open the door.
  8. Wetness everywhere in the Ladies room. Soapy basins, water and residue everywhere. Nothing, but nothing, is dry. There is nowhere to rest a handbag. So you grapple with it as you wash your hands, only to find there are… no towels.
  9. Another vile individual, delivering a volley of snorty, snot-laden sneezes into homebound Tube carriage. Enough already. I changed carriages.
  10. The man who sat beside me in that second carriage, his legs in that dominant spread-apart pose that men love to adopt and women hate to witness. For thirty minutes  his thigh jogged against mine as he shot at people’s heads on his mobile.

You’ll tell me I’m intolerant and cantankerous and when it comes to public transport and crowded places, I’m a bit of a clean-freak. And I confess, you’d be right on all counts.

London is one of the world’s finest and most fascinating cities – and I know I’m fortunate to live within its environs. I certainly wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from visiting and taking in its rich heritage and culture, vibrant nightlife and spectacular retail opportunities. But this amazing, extraordinary city – with all its crowds and bustle, and its dirt and grime – does tend to bring out the worst in me.

24 thoughts on “10 things that quite irrationally jerk my chain – about going into London

  1. You sound like me. I feel the same, though I’m able to tolerate the populous and mucous-clearing crowd when we travel to a big city (like London), because the excitement of seeing something new trumps my introverted discomfort. But around home, I avoid shopping malls and other crowded venues for the same reasons as you. It’s just so much safer and quieter in my own little home. 🙂

  2. I haven’t been to London since 1998 but I do remember the tiny and I mean TINY toilet stalls which I had never encountered before here in the states. Well, those tiny toilet stalls must have been the trend setter, because we have them here now! LOL!

    1. Oh that made me smile! I thought it was just here. I always imagine toilet stalls to have been designed by men. None of them ever leave room for the sani-bin. And there’s nothing worse than having to lean back over a flushing, splashing loo, just to create enough room for the door to be opened!

    1. That’s it! London ‘was’ exciting when I was younger. It felt great to be in the thick of things, part of this great city. But now… give me a stretch of open countryside any day 😀

  3. I have to say, I quite like the grime and the bustle, the crowding, the smell of many bodies in a confined space. I love the noise and the sheer pace of life in London. Just for a day, mind. Just for a day.

    PS How are you going to cope on the get together?

    1. The friend I went to meet also said how much she loved being back in London, after years living in… Norfolk. Perhaps all that East Anglian peace and tranquility makes you long for the city smoke?

      As for the Big Meet, I will keep myself in check, I promise!

    1. Strangely, there is, but it doesn’t land where I needed to land. I usually use it as its a much, much nicer experience than the Tube. But when the Tube station is within 200 yards of your final destination and the coach stop is a taxi-ride away, the Tube has it. Although next time…. next time…

  4. This really takes me back in time, Jools! I worked for over a year in Leicester Square and battled the tube every work day. I have a bit of a phobia towards crowds as well. I still remember my first day traveling to that job… at one point I actually got off the train and sat on a bench with my head down between my knees because I was about to pass out. After that, I went in an hour early every day so that I could at least get a seat on the train and recuperate for a while when I got to work.

    As if that wasn’t bad enough, one week out of three was night shift and I’d end up literally physically battling the morning rush to get home – dragging myself by any hand railing I could find against thousands of bodies going in the other direction.

    LOL! Making myself hyperventilate just thinking about it!

    1. Oh Wendy, I so understand! On my previous trip up to London I had a ‘panic moment’ on the way home, so cramped was the carriage. I remember commuting by tube to school and then college, and then work, for several years, and I just got on with it. But I wouldn’t want to be in those carriages every day again. Things we used to do, eh?

  5. Now I’m a londonophile and bustle and grit are part of my circadian rhythms and sustenance. But the tube can be too much and by choice I go overground or by boat or bus or walk. Especially in summer. Having lived in the centre or near centre for 35 years I am very aware of the loss of parking but the huge improvement in the quality of trains and buses and the speed of journeys by most forms of public transport. Like all huge cities it is a great compromise, isn’t it?.

  6. I know where you are coming from. When I lived in England (Cambridge) I used to head down to London fairly often, and the three things that bothered me the most were the feeling of grime all over (you can scrape it from your skin after a few hours in many a big city) the lack of human-scale buildings, and the distance from any sense of community. Sometimes I feel big cities are too big for the human soul.

    1. I couldn’t agree more about the grime. It clings to you in London! I used to be all but immune to it, but now I venture into town only rarely, I find myself wanting to throw all my clothes into the wash – and myself into the shower – as soon as I get home.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s