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Lessons in Londoning

July 24, 2015

Today, I finish a three-month temping stint in London. Three months, I’ve decided, is my limit – the 6am alarm call, the astronomical train fare, the pollution, the people – it all gets a bit… much. I’d really rather be ‘not working’. Or at least somewhere within the same time zone. But it’s certainly been educational.

Here are some things I have learnt.

1. The windows at Liverpool Street Station are shaped like willies. Perhaps Victorian train station architects weren’t so anatomically aware back then, perhaps they were just less childish than me and hadn’t seen as many internet memes on the subject, but I thank them anyway for making me giggle every morning at 8.57a.m., when absolutely nothing else will.

2. People in London spend too much money on lunch. Lunch is just food you eat in the middle of the day, rather than 15% of your earnings, and no one within the M25 seems to grasp the concept of making sandwiches at home. An itsu salad costs £5.45. £5.45! For a bit of quinoa (bloody quinoa – the last thing I need on a wet Wednesday lunchtime is a lesson in pronunciation from a 17-year-old barista), approximately an eighth of a chicken breast, some edamame beans and a drizzle of fluorescent orange sauce. A Pret sandwich is £4.95. A ‘slim pret’ (there’s an amazing bit of marketing) is £3. Fruit juice is £2.50 (you can add an extra 15% if it’s raw – no, I like my fruit juice cooked, thanks). £4 for a miserable cheese sandwich, a packet of crisps and a can of coke is neither a meal nor a deal, but as ‘little Waitrose’ won’t allow you out of its doors with change from a fiver for your pasta salad, you start to reimagine the value of a damp piece of cheese on curling bread, and believe yourself to be getting a bargain. And don’t get me started on the latest fad for ‘protein pots’. You’ve got to seriously question the sanity of a world that happily pays £1.40 for a boiled egg and three pieces of spinach.

3. Birthday cakes are taken very seriously. Not for Londoners is it acceptable to pop down to the local Tesco Express and buy a Colin the Caterpillar chocolate swiss roll, to be shared between 15 people. London has cake shops, there for the purpose of expense receipts, and one can choose from any number of expensively decorated and themed goodies, so that Marjorie from Account’s 57th birthday can be celebrated with all the glamour and occasion that the day deserves.

4. There is nowhere to sit in the Square Mile on a sunny lunchtime after 12.30pm. City bankers can be mistaken for Big Issue sellers as they begin to spill out on to pavements and traffic islands in an attempt to find a piece of space where the sunlight is not completely obstructed by a skyscraper that looks like a penis (see above). The concept of personal space is completely redefined in summer. Whereas you cannot normally induce a Londoner to even look in your general direction, let alone make eye contact throughout the rest of the year, raise the temperature by ten degrees and suddenly 15 people are sharing a bench, or sitting quite literally on each other’s laps on the two square metres of grass outside the church of St Botolph-without-Bishopgate (also incidentally the best-named church, ever). And then some idiot will decide to feed a pigeon, and suddenly it’s like a scene from The Birds and not only are you sharing your legroom with ten other Londoners but are also covered in shit and feathers.

5. Londoners are some of the rudest people you will ever meet.

6. Londoners are some of the kindest people you will ever meet. Just watch (don’t push) someone fall over on a wet floor at the train station (literally just next to the ‘wet floor’ sign in my rather embarrassing case) and you’ll see all number of people forget immediately about their imminently-departing trains and rush to help you. They’ll dust you down, offer you water, commiserate that yes, your laptop is most likely broken, and send you off on your way with some cheering words and a Munchie. Possibly they’re only doing it in order to get into Metro’s Good Deed Feed, but hey, it’s still nice.

7. The Metro’s Good Deed Feed is a little ray of sunshine into an otherwise dark and thankless world. The Rush Hour Crush, on the other hand, is faintly disturbing, and the only reason people read it is because they hope to be in it. Frankly, it is made up. I have never once caught sight of the ‘gorgeous hottie in the blue top’, or ‘cute blonde carrying a tennis racket and a banana’. Rather, I’m acutely aware of ‘profusely sweating guy in bulging overcoat’, and ‘shifty-eyed emo with poor personal hygiene’.

8. There is no hotter place on earth than the Circle Line on a July afternoon.

9. If you wish to know who is entrusted with the safeguarding of your hard-earned cash, or pension, look no further than the front doors of Marco Pierre White’s Oyster Bar on Threadneedle Street at around 3pm on a Friday, when you will be mown down by parties of blue-suited, floppy-haired Apprentice-rejects-turned-RBS-employees, as they stumble into the street after a long lunch, and return to their desks for a little more wheeler dealing. Be assured, your retirement’s screwed.

10. Skyscrapers are amazing.

11. However, there is no sun at street level in central London any more.

12. Your Oyster card will always be out of credit when you’re running for a train. It will always be nicely topped up when you leave it on the bus. Train doors shut ‘up to 30 seconds before departure’, no matter how much or how hard you bang on them. There is no quicker way to provoke barely-concealed rage than to stand on the left hand side of the escalator. Just don’t do it, ok?

13. The Evening Standard crossword on a Wednesday is sent from Hell, and is actually unsolvable. An eight-letter word for ‘rush’?! Answers in the comments please.

14. London is a crazy place to work. It’s overcrowded, noisy, smelly and dirty. It’s also beautiful, diverse, alive and welcoming. Everyone should work in London for a while – if only to have something to blog about. Thanks London, I will miss you.

15. But not much.

From → Blog

  1. I can’t count the number of times I’ve passed through Liverpool Street station and I’ve never noticed the penis-shaped windows… Luckily I will be there again tomorrow so I will check them out then. Thanks for the heads-up!

    Oh, and ‘expedite’?

  2. Diane permalink

    Loved this one Alex, as I worked in the City in the 1980s. That’s when the champagne bars were frequented by Yuppies and I only owned shoes from Russell & Bromley!! I think it was fun but I have to admit to some memories that still make me cringe :0)

  3. An eight-letter word for ‘rush’? STAMPEDE! How very ‘London’! :-p

  4. Barren Croft permalink

    ah London ;-]

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