Tuesday, 4 October 2011

what do you call it

when you lose fifteen degrees and get a bucket of rain in return? that'll be scotland. only two days before i found myself lying in t's mum's back garden in the blazing sunshine listening to old school reggae so loud it'd blister paint. true there was a bit of interchange from the originator of the music and his dad but that just added to the local colour,

it's been years since i was down in london town and prior to going i heard all the usual stories of crowdedness, poor air quality and general unfriendliness. the first two can be debated about but the last has never been my experience and certainly wasn't again this time. not only were the people lovely but there were so many of them and from so many places, it's been ages since i lived in a proper city and returning i saw exactly why i miss it, as if some part of myself had magically been coloured in.

naturally doing the family thing it meant it was three whole days before t hinted strongly that i should maybe have a day on my own, using the not unreasonable gambit of saying 'i think it's better that you have a day on your own' and it was great. i love that feeling in a city of being set adrift, set free, just wandering about and seeing where you wash up, eating different foods, listening to different languages (languages murdered by me = spanish, french. italian. i drew the line at mandarin but it was great to hear so much of it spoken)

we saw a load of stuff. from tate modern to a rather excellent craft exhibition at the v&a (this last contributing to a bit of an ongoing rant about the attitude to craft in this country some of which may appear on here if i can tone down the inflammatory content!) and everything in between. we dropped in at the british library on the way to see thomas heather wick's bleigiessen and this, as is the way of such things, was a bit of a highlight, even if we only managed to see a couple of things these being a rather excellent mervyn peak exhibit that had originals drawings and text for gormenghast and the like and then one of their larger exhibits that had the originals of, among others, the manuscript for mrs dalloway and jane eyre (yes, i've now seen the actual handwritten copy of reader, i married him). we both got proper excited about this and got a few bemused stares from servitors and punters alike. no bother tho - being scotch in london town has a few advantages!

it was the wee things that caught up with us tho. why, we wondered, when island communities up here are doing such consistent bitching about the price of fuel is petrol only 8p cheaper along the length of the a1 and, more astonishingly, diesel a full 20p dearer than where we live. this compared to the food prices which, across the board, were stupidly cheaper. and then wandering around other things started to emerge.

black guys on bikes. which might sound a bit odd but there's a discussion in the cycling world about the whitey nature of the sport. not in london town tho. put enough folk together and no matter what ethnicity they'll soon all be on their bikes. i passed thru herne hill a few times but,as is the way, no time to go to the velodrome. there seems tho, amongst pedestrians and car drivers as well as cyclists a wilful ignorance of other people. folk wander into the street, bikes, jump thru lights, cars seem to assume people walking and cycling are mad of oxygen. it was a bit mad. but equally i didn't see anyone i couldn't have taken in a spot of commuter racing. i was dying for my bike!

and the cultural melting pot that i'm such a fan of wasn't so shiny, shiny. where t's mum lives is where the riots were happening and the reverberations of that are still very evident if not worthy of the attention of the media anymore. and while me and my 'funny accent' might have drawn a few odd looks there when i made it over to the more well to do area of town it was fairly obvious that if you look like me then you're most likely in the back of a van or up some scaffolding. and if you've got any colour you'll be making a delivery. it felt weird and schizophrenic, to me vibrant and alive, but speaking to the folk in the local area made for a level of tension, esp if they had kids. talking about the differences between here and there made me much more aware of my outsiderness and the difficulty, if not foolishness, of drawing any conclusions based on such a short visit. that said, i'd have paid money to put a couple of shifts in at some salty local hospital!

but it was brilliant. given only slightly different circumstances i'd move there in a flat second. true it's dirty, a bit stinky, the public transport is possibly the most oddly set up (outside scotland - see edinburgh trams - and yes how i laughed when we in croydon and the joke that never got old for t was - what's that thing on the rails, moving, with folk inside? what is that?) i've seen in a major city and there's no countryside but the inglese themselves are just a pleasure with their funny accents, red buses and omnipresent politeness and definitely eased a certain part of my scotch wolfishness (t's phrase, not mine!)

next time i want to do one of those bus tours, go to a football match (or at least watch one with next doors serbian chelsea fans), have a posh cup of english tea, take the train down to brighton. and yet for all of that when i got back up the road and came down into the valley, seeing all the trees and hills again, the river curving round like glass, just waiting for us to stick the boat in it, clouds rolling over the landscape in strange and wonderful wave forms, despite the cold and the rain, it was good to be back.


kate said...

having started life there and gradually moved slightly north, your observations ring very true. whenever i visit i'm always left feeling very supportive towards devolution. how can the people living in london make decisions about places that are just so different? we're seeing stewart lee in november and can't wait. a few museums, a gallery and some interesting market food but i'll be glad that it's just a visit!

swiss said...

just because i'm dodging work/bike there's no need for you to do it! studying....? lol

i'm kind of ambiguous on the whole nation state issue but i'd say the west lothian question is a nagging thing that scottish politicians need to have the integrity to (actually) address. and a devolved parliament for england, given that the rest of us have one, must surely be a good thing.

we were only supposed to be spending a few days in london with other visits around englandshire but in the end there was just too much to do and the weather just too lovely!

swiss said...

oh, and definitely consider that v&a thing if you're that way in november. it's worth it for the stephen hawking prosthetic suit alone (altho there are some other prosthetic things that may tweak your professional interest)

kate said...

haha, yes, deadline looming! otherwise i'd answer the west lothian question ;) thanks for the v&a suggestion.

swiss said...

yes, i can recognise all the symptoms. currently i have dug the garden and had a trainer session. still no work tho!

Titus said...

I want to go home!

swiss said...

but you live in a lovely wee village in the middle of nowhere that's been bypassed by time, a bit like brigadoon now that i think about it, so you don't need to!

Dominic Rivron said...

I could have written your second paragraph. I always enjoy going back to London. I lived there for 6 years in my twenties. What you say about friendliness is spot on. It's the friendliest place I've ever been in Britain.

I must say I dread the thought of a devolved English parliament. I think England relies on the voters of Scotland and Wales to keep it civilized.

swiss said...

the very thought of s civilizing scottish political system fills me with horror! lol
that said there hasn't been anything (recently) that's included a cat!