Wednesday, 27 August 2008

London, Day 1

The flight was unremarkable. I was seated beside a violinist only slighter larger than her instrument, and limited to a very narrow seating space due to the reclining, dozing hausfrau in the seat before me. This necessitated a bodily form of Tetris every time I returned to my seat, and so got very little sleep.
I saw almost nothing of Heathrow. The clouds were soup-thick on the descent, and progress through a series of tunnels led from a two-minute Customs check-in to the London Underground.
It is not entirely underground. For ten minutes of the one hour journey the train rises to ground level and to the sun. Unfortunately looking outside is not an option, as is raising your eyes above the level of other passengers' feet. Despite the mechanical jostling and rattling, the men either side of me sat frozen, as still as porcelain.
This is not sloth, however: it is a state of cat-like readiness; the stillness turns to alacrity when Londoners perambulate. It is the one place I have been where people walk faster than me: men, women, boys, girls, grandmothers in walking frames all zip past in the mole-world of underground tunnels, pushed on by the great whooshing of wind which follows every train.

My hotel, the former Huntley&Palmers factory (biscuiters to the Queen) seems to be founded on one premise: that a cat may be swung at all times. Had I a cat, or indeed two, I could twirl them like batons through the wide hallways, lounges, dining room, stairs and rooms of this palatial building. The staff and guests seem not to have realized this, and rather spend their days buying snow-globes of the Tower of London and drinking expensive beer.
The pound sign is vicious. It is the scorpion which makes a poisonous betrayal of any number: £2 for coffee seems a pleasant number, but-the scorpion stings!-it is $5.30 in NZ currency, and almost $4.00 Canadian. Items presenting themselves as £47.50 ratchet up alarmingly in translation.

I spend the first morning wandering the streets, jet-lagged and unable to check in for seven more hours. Stores open precisely at 9. The McDonalds will not accept my credit card. The convenience store, prohibitive in other places, is shockingly priced here, in a street with stained pavers, rushing black cabs, and hand-scrawled window signs. I stroll around a pleasantly air-conditioned Marks&Spencers. Milk, so highly-valued in Canada, is practically given away here. Cheese abounds. Ready-made meals occupy a quarter of the store. French wines command higher prices than Spanish wines, but both are outpriced by New Zealand and Australian offerings, which in this environment turn from verandah-swillers into promises of sun-drenched idleness. I mention in passing to the cashier that McDonald's wouldn't accept my card, and ask why this might be so. Her doughy Anglo-Saxon face implodes in an astonished guffaw. How would I know, she says three times in the next minute. You'll have to ask them. Her alarm at the possibility she might possess such general knowledge, or be interested in the roles of others, was palpable.
The dust, and mire, and cultural entrenchment of London resists stirring and cannot be shaken.

It's a dump. Don't make me laugh. Grey, grimy, sooty. What a shit hole. What a toilet. Every cunt with a long face, shuffling about, moaning, all worried.No thanks, not for me.
Ray Winstone, Sexy Beast

No comments: