Travel 1510 

London and the trials of transit: One may tire of the journey but there is lots of life in the capital

click to enlarge London Calling
  • London Calling

The grand old city broods beneath its heavy, grey cloak of cloud, oblivious to my plight. Below the streets the magnificent machine fondly known as The Tube has been thwarted.

“Repairs on the tracks, love,” I am informed in a thick, London accent. Thousands of displaced passengers are bustling about on the uneven paving stones, tiny commuter ants rushing to and fro between the stately old brick buildings that flank the city’s busy streets.

I am standing amid the confusion of commuting hour thrown into uproar just outside the sprawling station of Kings Cross, whose underground tentacles radiate for blocks in each direction. Just finding an exit that placed me above ground was a momentous achievement! Without the streamlined and foolproof underground train network to whisk me back to my aunt and uncle’s house in East Finchley, my limited confidence is drained. I am reduced to an insignificant Canadian tourist, very small indeed, alone and lost in one of the largest cities in the world!

The roaring double-deckers are the only splashes of colour against the typical London backdrop of grayish hues. Even the locals wear black. Suits and ties, briefcases, smart business-like skirts and high heels. It’s all business on the streets of London when the offices close and the worker bees spill onto the streets and down into the subways. Fumbling for change, I step aboard a shiny, red bus purportedly headed in the direction of Camden Town while experienced commuters stream past and scan their Oyster Cards , the newest innovation in travel cards.

Equipped with a microphone and a speaker, some cracker has stationed himself comfortably on a busy street corner, and is tirelessly spewing verbal rubbish of a religious nature into the masses. There are no business suits in Camden Town. His indifferent audience is adorned with multiple piercings in unlikely places, Mohawks, thick, black eyeliner and studded leather. Overwhelming crowds push in all directions, but the locals are oblivious to the stifling madness of the city streets. They talk into cell phones, push past beggars and deftly negotiate the crowds, content in their own, tiny space. I retire to a busy pub on the corner, partly to procure a pint of beer before tackling the next leg of my journey; partly to escape the insensible babblings of the cracker on the corner.

Leaning nonchalantly on the bar of the convivial English pub, a wooly Canadian trying to blend in among starched collars, dressy jackets and shiny shoes, I try to look as though I belong. In London, Lululemon is not the height of fashion and no one wears sneakers to the pub. I procure a pint, and in typical British fashion, do not tip the bartender. I tried to once. Out of habit, really. The portly Briton behind the bar became quite flustered and adamantly refused the money. Now I keep my change.


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