How to make friends in London

[ Finally finding British soil, how complicated it can be to walk on, and the limited patience of holiday-wracked Londoners ]    •

 

In the months since we’ve arrived, I’ve discovered that many things piss Londoners off. They’re a diverse lot and, as such, can boast a rather diverse selection of peeves. There are very few things a person can do in Londontown that won’t piss off at least one passerby.

Should you wear shorts in Shoreditch, you’d best make sure that they’re vintage! And don’t even think about walking in to a music shop and bypassing the vinyl. The only possible exception, at least in the era I’m writing this in, being to make a beeline for the stack of cassettes.

Spending time in Hampstead? Prepare to be tutted at disapprovingly should you daly in Whole Foods.

Hanging out in the East? Best make your peace with poking jabs at West Londoners. Likewise in reverse for the West. It’s bearded hipsters versus starving artists, with a whole lot of workout pants jammed in between, which is what workout pants are known for.

One peeve to rule them all

One peeve, however, seems to unite London under one snarly umbrella, with an expression somewhere between severe disapproval and mild discomfort.

Never, under any circumstances, if you can avoid it with even a moderate amount of effort, impede a Londoner’s commute.

Say you want to test the water… There are many ways this can be done. The most effective, and the one most likely to earn a stream of blue expletives, is to fumble at a station turnstile. Maybe you got caught up in conversation, perhaps your mind wandered, maybe your zipper caught on a receipt in your pocket … if your Oyster card isn’t being tapped in a deft and expedient manner, prepare for a stream of verbal vitriol. This will be made even worse if you’re forced to turn around and elbow in the opposite direction during rush hour. Oh the shame.

The sad reality is, if you live in London long enough, no matter how prepared you are, you will unwittingly hit this nerve on at least one occasion.

Another very effective means of turning the mood of the normally pleasant Londoner is by attaching yourself to an unwieldy carriage of rolling luggage. Want to really impress the locals? Try upping the ante to five.

No friends were made

I can guarantee, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that we certainly made no friends on our trip from the airport to our new adopted home. Recall when I mentioned how amazing it was to watch our luggage trundle off at customs? Past-Adam opted to bask in relief with little thought for his future self.  Turns out checked luggage is a problem you re-inherit very shortly after reaching your destination.

A definite bane of transit during any rush is the dreaded rolling luggage. That little bastard, be it carry-on or a 70L monster, is the very embodiment of aggravation. Gussied up though it may be with practical wheels and pretty trim, that piece of luggage will draw the ire of every local with the luck to happen across it’s path.

Had it not been for our incredibly generous compatriots, already stationed in the city, I have no idea what Em and I would have done. Between 4 adults we sported 4 large luggages, 2 carry-ons, personal items, and the most unwieldy and deceptively-heavy duffel MEC has to offer.

London has an interesting relationship with X-Mas holidays

I may have mentioned this before, but London near shuts down during the X-Mas holidays. Had we arrived one day earlier, we may have been forced to barter for a cab with various airline handouts. As it was, we were to treated to some options, rather than none, which was nice. We would have been happy with more, however.

On a normal day, our adopted home in West London is a mere 20 minute train ride from the steps of Heathrow.

On December 27th, with the overground train closed because of Christianity, we were forced to brave The Underground.

Perhaps some folks would be excited by this. On any other day, I would count myself among those giddy travellers. I’d never been to London. The Underground was something I’d only been exposed to in movies. I was also now standing further away from home than I’d ever been before… and developing a seething hatred for MEC’s Large Duffel.

Here comes The Tube! I’m going to ride The Tube!

Watching that train pull up was equal parts exciting and terrifying.  Once again, I thank every deity who may exist that our friends – heretofore referred to as J&C – met us at the terminal. They not only knew which routes to take, but the best ways to navigate each stop with the least amount of commuter interaction. The commuters would be thanking J&C, as well, had they any knowledge of the inconvenience they narrowly avoided.

Mind the Gap

Announcements and signage in the London Underground are punctuated by intonations of “mind the gap”. It’s a simple slogan with very practical instructions. Between the train and the platform, you’d best fu€¢ing mind that gap!

If you’ve only ever ridden Toronto’s TTC, then you’ve been spoiled. The TTC’s reach may be limited, and its reliability may be questionable, but I can’t stress how smooth and crisp it is in comparison. I recall Torontonians getting in an uproar over an ‘unacceptable gap’ occurring at some stations. An unforeseen quirk of suspension on the new subway carriages left a rise of as much as 1” at a small number of platforms.

Lets take a moment to compare

 

London’s subway system is the oldest in the world. As such, it’s a veritable quilt of technologies and construction eras. Every one of the almost dozen lines has it’s own quirks and eccentricities. Many trains have to work as well in modern stations as they do in ones dating back over 100 years. Absolutely nothing is uniform. Torontonians would lose their minds (and blog about it incessantly).

Depending on the line, you may find yourself stepping down as much as a foot from the train to the platform.

I’ve seen people help hoist others across a gap as wide as it was tall, straddling an expanse that almost invites errant mobile phones and pocket-borne possessions into its maw.

On our trip from Heathrow, we found ourselves riding below the platform (one reason why many train doors wrap moderately around the top of the car), necessitating a few sizable steps up. Apologies to any Britons whose children were traumatized by the blue streak I swore along the Piccadilly Line on Dec 27th.

Bruised shoulders, far too many stairs, and whispered “bloody hell”s eventually found us transported to Ealing. It was bright, it was cozy, the buildings themselves looked so stereotypically ‘British’ and, best of all, it was flat and stationary.

Where we are now

And that’s it, we were here! This will be my final post recounting the events that got us across the Atlantic.

A lot has happened in the interim (I’m writing this post in the warm glow of early May) … we found a flat, we were ditched in parts unknown by an estate agent, I found a job, we’ve seen many sights, I’ve tussled with the likes of TV licensing, there’s been surprise snow, a fox took up in our garden, we discovered Cardiff, and we’ve experienced the joys of diving headlong into a wall the British system.

I’ll also talk about our Borough more in later posts. At this time we still weren’t sure where we’d eventually end up. All we knew was that we were exhausted and there was a glorious living room waiting, just around the corner, for us to stash our horrible luggage in.

After nearly 36 hours on the go, I cannot describe how glorious sleep was, nor how quickly it came on.

 

 

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