Yesterday I went to London in the afternoon, in order to see the Moomins exhibition in the Southbank centre with a friend. I was happy to see my friend again, who lives in London and comes to Oxford only occasionally. Nevertheless, I got the bus back feeling somewhat odd.
One of the most enduring images of London I encountered growing up (in Ireland) was the scene of a chase through the underground in the movie An American Werewolf in London.
It is remarkable how little the aesthetics of the underground have changed. I was due to meet my friend in Baker Street station, having got the coach from Oxford, and I have to admit I felt a deep sense of discomfort as I stood waiting there. Although there were several places to get food, there was nowhere to sit. Moreover, I noticed that the public telephones had tall metal spikes on them, presumably to keep birds off. When my friend texted me to say he would be on a later train, I wandered onto Marylebone Road and noticed a sign saying “Do not feel the pigeons. They are a health hazard and a nuisance.” As I walked along the street, tourist displays of London-themed merchandise blocked my way obtrusively, and I stopped to allow some tourists to have their photographs taken beside a statue of Sherlock Holmes.
The aesthetics and layouts of a city reveal a lot about its character. There was little space to take it easy.
Later, once we left the Southbank, my friend and I wandered northwards to find a restaurant. Having been to London dozens of times I was used to the obscene prices, but I was struck by the smallness of everywhere we walked past; even the pub we went to had the feeling of a box, built to temporarily contain people before they move on somewhere else. Perhaps this is just reflective of my lack of familiarity. Advertisements seemed to jump out from everywhere, and every theatre we walked past was garishly decked out as if to drawn in new customers.
I have spent a lot of time in London – more than I would have liked. I have many friends who live there and some who were born there, many of whom have a strong affection for the place. Nevertheless as I made my way back to my coach stop, drunkenly disorientated, having just managed to blow £11.10 on a round (for the two of us!), I had a realization several years in the making – this place isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.
I hate London.