Friday, 10 September 2010

Twenty years a Londoner

It's a somewhat scary thought. On September 14th it will be twenty years since I arrived in London.

T W E N T Y. That is almost half my lifetime. Which of course makes matters very confusing when people ask me my age and I tell them I am only thirty-two. They should know better than to make such enquiries. Tsk.

Anyway, it has had me thinking. Or pondering a few thoughts before the zzzzeds hit me at night time and I head off into the land of nod. Which means not many musings really as I find that the longer I live here, the more impervious I am to noises that otherwise might have kept me awake in my youth in years gone by recently. You know what I mean: sirens, horns, planes...

I digress. Here is my list - of sorts - of things I have learnt over the past two decades of living in the capital city.

1. Do not talk to anyone on public transport. Take photos, by all means, but do not under any circumstances talk to anyone. Contravening this rule means that you will either find yourself isolated as the token nutter on the tube/train/bus, or spoken to at length by the random tourist who has cottoned on to you being the friendly local who will give directions to Buck Palace and must know the Queen in person of course. (On this point actually I wish I had a pound for every time I have been accosted for directions in London. I must have a sign on my forehead no washing will do away with).

2. If you work in the City and are female, wear black. You might be having the time of your life, earning gazillions, own a flat in St Tropez and zip off to Val D'Isére for you winter frolics, but do not pretend that standing out and wearing colours is a good thing. Use the colour blindness excuse. And if someone (ie LCM) offers you sympathy for your loss, stare incomprehensively and state that you "like black". Yup. So do funeral directors.

3. Always have a back-up comment about the weather. Actually, this applies to Britain in general, but never mind, artistic license and all that... Be prepared to state that it was hotter/colder/wetter/windier/sunnier (delete as appropriate) in the year 1996/97/98/99 (change as necessary, details are not important) but whatever you do, never say, "That Michael Fish bloke was actually very good," unless you want some ex-yuppie who had his new Porsche squashed by a felled tree at the time of the great storms to burst in to tears at the memory.

4. Have an opinion about the Mayor. It doesn't matter what this might be, no one really cares as long as they are prepared to slap TfL (that's Transport for London) round the head every time they go on strike and your commute takes 2.5 hours instead of the usual 40 minutes.

5. Learn to refer to anything beyond St John's Wood as 'Up North'. They would not write 'North' with a big arrow pointing in the direction unless the government wanted you to think it was somewhere else. Crafty bit of signage that. Have always wanted to change it and replace with 'This Way' to see if Londoners got confused and thought they were on the one-way system round the City instead.

6. Join a club to make real, lasting, fabulous friends. In my case it was a rowing club, I spotted OH shortly after and the rest is history.

7. Do not try to drive a car in the city. Now in theory this works well provided your requirement to travel is not hindered by point 4 above. If you do insist on driving a vehicle around London, then make sure it is a) a two-wheeled version, b) road-worthy, c) able to dodge opening doors/crossing pedestrians/black cabs efficiently, and d) has a very large horn to announce your presence. In absence of all this, walk.

8. Laugh when you recall that twenty years ago you could only buy iceberg lettuce, green peppers, white loaf bread and Le Piat D'Or wine to cook up a storm. Cry when you think that dozens of cooking shows, food books and 'slebs chefs later, the average Londoner still opts for an M&S ready meal instead of putting together the real thing.

9. Do not get competitive with other parents about schooling for your children unless you are planning to leave the country. Appear nonchalant at all times and do any delving into Ofsted reports, listings and exam results in private. When asked, "Where will Tarquinus be going to secondary school?", say something akin to "Oh we haven't decided yet," and rapidly change the subject. The weather is always a good option, see point 3 above.

10. Stop thinking like a foreigner and saying, "Where I come from..." or "In such-and-such country... " and learn by example. Thus, when your neighbour on the tube picks their nose, farts, rattles their paper in your face or sticks their armpit too close for comfort, do the same. It works wonders for your confidence and you feel like a true local.

Ahhh... but it's good to call it home properly now.

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