Monday, 27 July 2009

5 Things I Hate about London..

The Met has rejected plans to introduce a new fleet
of response cars, dismissing the proposed vehicles
as 'too slow' for the demanding needs of the force

Firstly, despite the negative tone of the title, it must be noted that I love London. There is far more to love than to hate in this beautiful city. The day this balance is swung is the day I move away (or when I purchase my rock star estate in Surrey, whichever comes first). Despite this, there are a few people, places and inanimate objects that annoy me to the very core of my being in this our nation’s capital. Here are 5 of my most (or least?) favourite things to hate, in no particular order.

1. Americans

A bit obvious perhaps, and one that could be perfectly justified amongst anyone’s top 5 most annoying things in any context. This particular gripe however, is aimed at the American tourist. Cliché I know, but find me a stereotype that is more true to its name (besides a drunk Irishman) and I will give you ten bucks. I’ll even get it out of my bum bag whilst making sure that my socks are pulled up to my knees, and negotiating my way round a huge stomach. All the while, my baseball cap and t-shirt sporting the name of an obscure national park in Colorado will beautifully accompany my immaculately trimmed moustache. ‘Well Gee Whiz Kathleen, they’re changing that darn guard again’.

My advice; to avoid the disdainful treatment you will inevitably receive, do what any sensible American should when abroad – sew a red Maple leaf to your cap or bag.

2. The London lite

Or the London Paper, or any other of the free rush hour rags, filled exclusively with puerile nonsense. I originally thought that competition between these gutter press rivals would drive them both into the ground, but that seems not to be the case, with some 1.5 Million Londoners' each day feverishly swiping a copy from the first garishly overcoated man to thrust one in their face. Yes, I have read them both on many occasions; often unavoidably, as ‘Swine flu to kill everyone tomorrow’ stares me in the face from every angle on the train. To think that these publications constitute many Londoners sole news intake during an evening, or even all day, is unnerving. If an alien craft took a copy of the ‘Lite’ away as a sample of life in London at the beginning of the 21st century, one of two things would happen. Either they would be appalled at the degeneration of a once proud and literate nation into celebrity spotting, sensation lapping halfwits and obliterate us all, or in many years time we would discover distant planet inhabited by Wags, with Cheryl Cole as its Messiah.

3. Zone 3 and beyond

We've all been there. 'We're having a party, come along, should be great fun!'. And it no doubt will be, except it's in Finchley. Or Earlsfield. Or somewhere else you’ve only ever heard of when staring at the tube map on the train and trying to construct obscene anagrams from station names (maybe just me). In fact, Morden and Cockfosters can officially boast more visitors per year than the London Eye, due to drunken revellers waking with a start at the end of the line, dribbling onto their London Lite.

There's perhaps a touch of snobbery in the roll of the eyes and tutting that follows an arrangement to visit 'the outer limits', but it's not just a matter of reputation. There's the travel to take in to account. For some reason, after a drunken evening, it becomes entirely impossible for a group of friends to agree on the time that the last tube runs. Not wanting to cut the evening short, everyone settles on the most liberal estimate, and then the inevtiable moment comes. Underground closed then, and time to consider the night bus.

It is perfectly possible to spend up to 3 hours on the 'N's and feel just as far from home as when you began. And you might be. There’s a good chance you’ll have to change at Trafalgar square, and as anyone who has suffered the interminable wait on a Saturday night knows, every bus running through there is either at capacity or close to it, with the convergence of hundreds of confused and drunken Londoners continuing their odyssey from the wilderness of zone 3 and beyond. Either that, or you'll fall asleep and find yourself being woken by a youth in Lewisham who will ask you less than politely for your wallet and phone.

'Hey, great party last night, thanks! Next time though, let's meet at London Bridge.'

4. ‘Extreme’ Sports

Now, this is a complicated gripe and will not be popular with the hordes of 'out there' Londoners that love nothing more than either flying, strapping themselves to or otherwise interacting with some contraption, with or without wheels, and who as a result look totally stupid.

The first is rollerblading, the Mecca for which seems to be the stretch of path opposite the Albert Hall on the south side of Hyde Park. Why, I've no idea, perhaps a homage to Victoria’s husband, who famously espoused the adoption of foreign customs into England. Not everything ports as well as Christmas trees though. Not even Prince Albert would countenance the ridiculous behaviour of these Lycra-clad skaters, whirling themselves around in what they see as streamlined, graceful and cutting edge manner, but to everyone else looks like they are suffering an uncontrollable and rather camp fit. It is Torvill and Dean, without the pretty costumes (though often with the 80’s hairstyles). I’m sorry, but this is not LA, and neither are we extras from the OC. Oh, and to the lunatics that choose this method of transport to get to the office; yes, your workmates mock you, and whether you know it or not your boss has put you top of the pile for potential redundancy.

The second instance of ‘extreme behaviour’ I have an aversion to is Kites. Or Kite Boarding, or Extreme Kites. Call it whatever you like if it makes you feel anything other than a little foolish for indulging regularly in a pastime designed for small children. Some men get away with it; their passion for flying kites can be successfully masked by taking their own kids out whenever there is a blustery day. As the epicentre for kite flying tomfoolery seems to be Blackheath, then that is nearly every day. So, what about the men (for it seems to be exclusively men) that do not have little ones to vicariously re-live their dreams? Well, they strap themselves to a big skateboard and go mobile, no doubt up-ending joggers and small fluffy dogs in the process. I have already heard the counter arguments. ‘It’s no child’s play, you should try it, you have to be tough to control these things, they’re pretty hardcore.’ Yes, yes, but still a kite.

5. The Metropolitan Police

Not the whole force, but certainly elements of it. Their cars, for starters. I understand that there are probably more criminals per square mile in London than in Strangeways, but does that necessitate a (huge) fleet of gargantuan BMWs to chase them with? Surely, with the traffic congestion London enjoys, a Smart Car would be a more sensible choice for weaving in and out of the rush hour traffic? Not to mention the £30k price tag. Also, if someone can offer me a reason as to why many of the cars are silver, other than an elitist display, I’d like to hear it. That sums up the Met; bigger and better than any other force in Britain. Or so they would have you think. The flaws begin at the top and seep downwards, with Sir Ian Blair having been embroiled in more dodgy dealing and malpractice than Peter Mandleson, and special ops squads that get everything right apart from shooting the right bloke.

And then there's the PCs. Picture an English Bobby: Helpful, jolly, approachable and almost certainly sporting a moustache. The Met officer is none of these, and instead employs a steely faced, supercilious glare, brandished liberally at anyone who cares to arrest his line of sight. All the while, Metcop has his hands tucked into his Teflon vest in a universally recognised pose of authoritative toughness. How he expects to reach his belt and access the plethora of torture instruments required to violently apprehend a random black youth with his hands in his vest is anyone's guess. It has become less ‘Ello ‘ello ‘ello, and more ‘Armed Police, on your knees’.

I realise that policing in the capital is a far more gritty and dangerous than, say, Norwich, but has the age of the British copper, polite and courteous, really been sentenced to the past? There has certainly been a visible difference in police attitudes since the 7/7 bombings, and perhaps it's necessary for our officers to adopt a tougher stance, but somehow it just doesn't feel very British. Can't we all just be polite and get along in the orderly fashion we are famed for? Ask the G20 protestors and see what they say.

So, I feel liberated having got a few things off my chest. What annoys you about London, or any other town for that matter? Answers on a postcard to 10 Downing Street to provide David Cameron with at least a vague idea of what he's doing when he moves in.