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Life in Da Big Smoke
Quality of life in the British Cities
Member Name: spacelamb
Quality of life in the British Cities
Date: 04/05/01, updated on 04/05/01 (178 review reads)
Advantages: You feel like you're alive
Disadvantages: Blah blah overcrowding rats muggers blah blah
I wanted to call this op 'Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner…' but, to my endless dismay, I can't. Here are the villains of the piece.
1) That ridiculous McDonald's advert which promotes lamb rogan josh burgers or something equally as fetid, and with which I do not wish to be associated.
2) My parents, for spawning and raising me in the wrong part of the country.
Yes, that's right, I'm not actually a Londoner. (But when I grow up, that's what I want to be).
My place of birth was Hounslow in Middlesex, which is quasi-London, the margarine of London, the Diet Coke of London. Oh, you know the rest of the gags. People from Middlesex pretend that they're Londoners, and everyone knows they're not.
I could have forgiven my parents that error I think, had they not then moved me to Derby at the age of two, when I had too limited a vocabulary to contest the decision. I mean no disrespect to the natives, but Derbyshire (with the possible exception of the Peak District) has all the charm of a swatted wasp.
THEN (is there no end to their crimes?), when I was nine, they decided that they couldn’t cope with the urban grit of Derby (oh please), and we resettled in Spalding. Where? Yes, exactly. It is a sleepy little town in Lincolnshire, not dissimilar to Royston Vasey (League of Gentlemen), populated by farmers with ten fingers. ON EACH HAND. The 11-Plus examination is still in force; the ‘ethnic minority’ population consists of a sandwich shop owner from the neighbouring village whose great-grandfather was Italian; the biggest event of the year is the Tulip Parade, where a few badly-decorated lorries trundle through the town centre, and some scary clowns swing jauntily around asking you for money ‘for charity’. Ha! I am sure you are all intelligent people, so I will bore you no more with this. You get the picture.
At least Hounslow has a
tube (in fairness, that’s the main tourist attraction. Although I think there might also be a newsagent). I could’ve gone up West with my mates in my pubescent years. I would’ve known to stand on the right hand side of an escalator. I would’ve known which areas to avoid after dark. I mourn the fact that I was denied street savvy until at least voting age.
But just as you begin weeping and snotting into your handkerchiefs (well maybe), there is kind of a happy end to this story. And a beginning to this op. Sorry, I’ve been ranting.
Two years ago I moved back to London. I now have a lovely flat in Greenwich, which means I can’t afford to buy anything other than five tins of Alphabetti Spaghetti and a loaf of bread each week, but I’m happy. Having experienced the extremes of townie culture (Derby), rural life (Spalding) and now urban dwelling (the Big Smoke), I can honestly say that city living kicks ass.
I can already hear the mud-lovers’ cries: “Pollution! Poverty! Crime!” and so on. And I’m not going to argue. London has more problems than I could list. But that’s what makes the city great. Kensington and Chelsea are very, er, nice (read: twee) but pockets of affluence and a few tree-lined avenues do not a city make. It’s a very trendy and cosmopolitan thing to say that you love your city because it is multicultural, but honestly, that is the thing that I love *second best* about London. (The best best best is yet to come). I don’t just mean that people from all over the world have settled here, although that is a fantastic thing, but that so many sub-cultures run alongside each other, more or less without incident. In a (relatively small) city of seven million people. Quite remarkable when you think about it.
I would much prefer to spend a day wandering round Tower Hamlets than Notting Hill, given the choice. This is the poorest borough in the ca
pital and (on some estates at least) the epitome of inner-city squalor. But it also has personality and life. The countryside does not. The countryside has beauty, but of a rather tiring and worthy nature. Come on, be honest now, how long does it take a regular person (ie. not a character from a Jane Austen novel, who never tire of the wretched places) to get bored wandering the grounds of a National Trust house? My own attention span is about twelve minutes. It’s all too green and expansive. And it doesn’t *do* anything. It changes in yearly cycles (when the leaves and frogspawn do their thang for example), but never moves on.
In a city you can immerse yourself in your surroundings. At risk of sounding pretentious, the city breathes and grows and feeds your brain, and the visual shapes and sounds of the city are inspiring, to the point of leaving you breathless. Stand in a busy London market, full of rich smells and textures, or look up at a run-down tower block against a bright blue sky, and you’ll see what I mean.
Now picture a country fayre on a school playing field, and let’s say no more about it.
I’m not expecting to convince anyone with this spiel, because some folk are just ‘country people’ and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Which is fair enough. Sometimes on a packed commuter tube I yearn for a hilltop cottage and my own herd of mountain goats or similar, but the truth is I would find the quietude a lot more stressful (and eerie, frankly) than my present whirlwind day.
I read a magazine article recently in which the author spoke about cartographers of London in medieval times. Stay with me, I appreciate that was not an enticing sentence, but I feel obliged to circulate this theory. On olde worlde maps of London there are always areas marked ‘here be dragons’ – which basically meant these were ‘unknown’ parts of London. Every Londoner has
these. Mine are still numerous, but I am trying to remedy the situation – of course I know it is a completely futile exercise, because by the time you have thoroughly got to know one area, the adjacent neighbourhood will have changed beyond recognition. And you know what? That’s my absolute favourite thing about London.
I wouldn’t leave London for all the fizzy cola bottles I could eat.