London Ruminations

I grew up in an anglophile environment, receiving British education from age 10 until I finished high school. Little surprise then that England, and London in particular, were places I felt comfortable with for most of my life. In recent years however, I have grown to dislike London, finding it to be a city where almost anything that can go wrong does go wrong. It is dirty, far too expensive, not safe enough, offers low quality of service and generally rather unpleasant. And with the heightened security measures after the terrorist attacks in London (real and imagined), Heathrow airport has become an unbearable airport to fly to and from.

Here are a few random observations from a short visit to London this week:

The airport hotels around Heathrow are not only ourageously expensive, but also so difficult to get to they can hardly qualify as proper airport hotels. Whereas the Heathrow Express takes you from Heathrow to Paddington Station in the heart of London in 15 minutes, the “Hotel Hoppa” buses that serve Heathrow’s hotels take ages to get you to the hotel. Murphy’s Law is strictly followed here: the bus you need (there are 9 lines, H1 to H9) is almost always the last one to turn up, and when it finally does, it follows a circuitous and noisy route before dropping you off, exhuasted, at the hotel.

England is where the English language was born and perfected, nurtured lovingly by generations of proud Britons. Elsewhere in the English-speaking world, respect for this beautiful language was never a top priority, but Britons always took pains to make sure English was properly spoken and written. That, sadly, is changing. An example: in the same “Hotel Hoppa” bus, there is a sign behind the driver telling passengers what not to do when the bus is in motion. The first sentence starts like this: “Do not speak to the driver or distract their attention…”.

The Tube, London’s world-famous underground transportation system, is falling apart. Years of misguided privatisation efforts and maintenance neglect are finally taking their toll. Almost on every ride I hear a message about a failure that will delays or shutdowns. Posters in every station advise passengers which lines will not be operating as usual on the coming weekend due to repair works. Were it not for London’s traffic, I would have opted for the (exorbitantly expensive) cabs instead of riding the Tube.

The latest fad in London now is free newspapers. Published by established media groups, these are handed out during the afternoon rush hour. As far as I could tell, there are two: London Lite (here again, no respect for proper English spelling) and The London Paper. I was browsing through one while waiting for a friend at Leicester Square to go see a play (Donkeys’ Years, a British comedy) and in five minutes I learnt the following: 1. Bono (of U2) is married (or dating, I can’t remember) a 24-year-old, and was photographed topless (Bono that is) while on holiday in Croatia; 2. Farah Fawcett (ex Charlie Angel) is fighting cancer; 3. Commuters on the Tube listening to loud music on their earphones is something that has been troubling many Londoners of late, and; 4. An actor by the name of Walliams (I think) appeared nude on stage last night. Think of all that wealth of knowledge you’re missing out on because you don’t live in London!

But there was one discovery I made on this trip which made it entirely worthwhile, a discovery that will make many future trips to London more enjoyable. Selfridge’s Food Hall serves Krispy Kreme doughnuts!!! If you enter the store from the second door on Baker Street (the door furthest away from Oxford Street) you will stumble right onto the doughnut stand. This means I no longer need to wait until I visit the US to have a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Well worth all the aggravation London is giving me…

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