cosmopolondon

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Category: Thoughts

Commuter Etiquette: Chapter Three – How To Stand

Sometime ago, Cosmopolondon gave you a simple masterclass on how to sit on the train, which I hope you’ve been putting to good use. Now it’s sticky summertime, the tubes and trains are unbearably hot (unless you luck out and get an air conditioned one… the elusive cool…) and, during busy times – which seems to be all times these days – I’m sure by now you’ve been standing far too close to a sweaty armpit for comfort. So, here are some simple tips of how to avoid causing yourself and others extreme discomfort whilst standing.

Golden rule – never ever EVER lean on the poles when it’s busy. Ever been leaning comfortably and looked around you? You see all those people swaying to and fro with every twist and turn of the line, giving you the evil eye? Who look like they would go flying down the carriage were they not packed so tightly together? Well, none of them can hold on because you are so thoughtlessly leaning on an entire pole. Four or five could enjoy blissful stability if you stood up and shared that pole. I mean, it’s not even that comfortable to lean on. Don’t hog the pole people!

Talking of the pole, to all you lovely tall people out there – I know you already have to ensure you don’t hit your heads on the poles / handles along the ceiling of the carriage / doors, but once you’re done with all that, spare a thought for the little guy. I can’t reach those handles up there – I’m vertically challenged. But for you, hey that ceiling handle is conveniently placed for a nonchalant hang. I promise not to lean on the pole in return.

Got a backpack? Please, take it off and place it between your feet. That goes for all bags unless they are small handbags. I do not want to go crowdsurfing because I’ve taken an unexpected ride on your bag. And whatever you’ve got in it is crushing my insides. Got tonnes of shopping bags because you’ve splurged on Oxford Street. Pack them all into as few bags as possible. Less bags, less stuff for others to trip over on their way out.

Are you standing in the doorway, but not getting off for a while? I appreciate it’s not pleasant having your body squished up against those doors, and every time they open it’s a genuine sigh of relief as you manage to exhale again, but, if you’re able and it’s in reach, do us all a favour and push the button to open the door (trains only people – life hack alert, you don’t have to push the button on the tube!). It will save me playing Twister around your limbs to reach it.

Plus, us Londoners are generally pretty polite (despite the urban legend that we’re all hard and rude and horrid). If you hop off and stand aside, and make it a little easier for those further in to get out, I guarantee at least one person alighting will smile at you (ok… maybe they won’t… but inside they will be!) and those still onboard will welcome you back with open arms into the hot and cramped underworld. Or, you could just take a walk…

North South East West

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In every city – whether it be a modern metropolis or an ancient maze of little winding streets – there are distinct areas. And I don’t mean like Chinatown or the financial districts. I mean the area to which we pin our identity – the part of a city that forms us, to which we are often fiercely loyal and will defend when it is scathed or mocked. Where we are born or where we choose to live has a huge impact on our personality, our upbringing and even our cultural and social consciousness.

And London is no different. I’ve read countless articles – some rather tongue-in-cheek, others focusing on being informative, and yet more which are just downright rude – which discuss the regions of London. And here, it’s all based on the geography of the city. Are you North or South of the river? And East or West of the centre? The North-South divide is a source of constancy in this ever-changing city – whilst the riverbanks have morphed over time, the general course of the Thames has run true for hundreds of years. East-West has become a little more difficult to pinpoint though, as the centre of London has sprawled from the original city walls and now seems to encompass the entire area between Westminster and the Tower of London.

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Trendy East London I now just count as “central” – I wouldn’t think twice about going to Shoreditch for brunch or Bethnal Green for dinner, whereas I’d imagine 10 years ago that would have been a serious trek. The construction of the Overground has made these areas particularly accessible to me (living as I do in South East London), and Crossrail will undoubtedly open up London even more. It’s still a serious irritation to me that South London (SOLO!) is so continuously ignored by the Mayor’s office though. Where’s our Crossrail? I’ve got close friends who live in Tooting, and it takes me over an hour to get there on public transport as I have to go into London Bridge and then back out on the Northern Line for what is only about a 20 minute drive. Ridiculous. That’s by the by, however…

London is undoubtedly one of the most diverse cities in the world, and yet parts of it are remarkably similar. Especially once you get deeper into suburbia. I remember arriving in Harrow to visit a friend from university, and thinking to myself that it looked exactly like Bromley where I had travelled from. Can you tell whereabouts in London the pictures in this post are? I’d wager not. Would you have guessed that only one is taken north of the river?

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And yet, people are so snobbish about their London. To our advantage in the South East, house prices reflect that snobbery, meaning some parts of SE are still quite affordable. No such luck in SW though – we can all think about how nice it would be to live it Putney or Battersea, but quite frankly it’s a pipe dream for the majority.

And, even though I do think that different parts of London do have a distinct character, that can all change in a generation. The gentrification of London is constantly being discussed – you can actually see it on the streets as the types of shops and restaurants change to cater for the ever-burgeoning middle classes, who are pushed into new areas due to rising property prices in their more traditional haunts. Forest Hill is a case in point – when I was a child my family left that area because it was dirty and the schools weren’t very good, but now it’s extremely desireable with lots of nice little cafes and pubs. Perhaps part of this is all to do with the young generation being considerably less patient than the old – many of us (myself included) don’t want to sit on a train for 40 minutes every day, twice a day, just so we can have a garden.

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But does that mean as the character of a location changes, that it’s reptuation will too? Or will South London, and South East especially, still be branded as a bit rough in comparison to it’s Northern and Western counterparts? When, in reality, the differences between them is shrinking? I’ve actually met individuals who have never been south of the Thames, and still regard South London as a bit of a wasteland… what?! Just, what?! One can only hope…

Will the extension of public transport and improving accessibility across London impact the strong geographical sense of belonging Londoners attach to their part of London? And will it mean that people explore London more?

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For the record, I love ALL of London, and shall continue to explore it with an insatiable appetite (and I don’t just mean the restaurants). And I encourage you the reader to do so too. Obviously I’ll never let go of my roots – I love South East London and have no reason to leave it – but that won’t stop me discovering what else this great city and it’s extensive suburbs have to offer.

Commuter Etiquette: Chapter Two – How To Sit

Sometimes, if you’re not travelling in rush hour or you happen to live so far out of London that the trains actually start at your station, you might be lucky enough to get a seat. And you’d think it would be pretty easy to sit… a lot of people spend the majority of their day sitting. But, it seems there are vast swathes out there who simply don’t know how to sit. So, here are my basic tips about how to sit on a train.

Firstly, assess whether you should be sitting. Is there an elderly lady or gentlemen who could really do with a perch? Or someone wearing a “Baby on Board” badge? What about that lad on crutches? Do you really need to be sitting when there’s people around who have a greater need? This is one of my absolute pet peeves – I’ve watched elderly people give up their seats for even more elderly individuals, whilst plenty of young persons watch on, unaware or unmoved. It’s not acceptable. People are often too embarrassed to ask, but quite frankly they shouldn’t have to. Come on people, do the right thing – give up that seat. Especially if you’re sitting in a Priority Seat.

Now that you’re sitting, sit straight. Unless you’re pushing 6 ft 5, you definitely do not need to sit with your legs at a diagonal and thus encroaching on your neighbour’s leg room. At least have the manners to adjust your position when someone does sit next to you.

Come to think of it (and I’m aiming this at you gents, sorry), please do not sit with your legs wide open. Really, is it necessary? IS IT?! Especially if you’re sitting in the middle seat of three – seriously, you and your legs are now taking up half of each the seats next to you.

Do you have a very expensive handbag? Good for you. And hey, if the train isn’t busy, I don’t really care if that bag has a seat. Bet it feels mighty special, sitting next to you on that seat. Except, actually, handbags and carrier bags and sports bags – whatever type of bag you might have on you – don’t have feelings. But other people do. Tired people who just want to sit down. People who might have been on their feet all day. Don’t make them ask you to move it. Note when you’re stopping at a station, and move that bag! Worse, if someone does ask you, don’t give them a look. You are not entitled to a seat for your bag.

Got your feet up on the seat opposite? Your dirty shoes that have been pounding the blackened, gum-strewn streets of London all day? Great, I can’t wait to sit in that seat now. Would you put those shoes on your sofa?! If you absolutely have to do it, maybe slip your shoes off? See Figure 1 below. But only if there’s absolutely no one else sitting in the near vicinity. And absolutely NOT if you have smelly feet. Keep those monsters contained.

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Figure 1: Loving life on a Southeastern train……..

And, if you bear all these things in mind, then I guarantee you’ll be sitting comfortably and in a non-irritating manner for your fellow passengers. Happy sitting!

Londoners, by Craig Taylor

As I’ve said before, there’s a wealth of words written about London. There are literally thousands of stories set in London. I’ve been eyeing up a beautiful literary map of London for my new flat – I’ve grown up and identify with so many of those fictions, and I’ve been adding my own chapters in turn (quite literally since I started this blog). But Londoners by Craig Taylor was the first non-fiction book I read which is specifically about London, and I highly recommend it.

It’s full title, Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It and Long for It, gives you a pretty good idea of what it’s about. The author spent several years speaking to people from all walks of life and all areas of the capital to put together a comprehensive yet compelling narrative which offers so many different points of view.

It’s really rather remarkable that all of these separate and diverse lives have been brought together by one place – and that’s their only common denominator. Some can’t stand London, whilst others can’t imagine a life outside it. My favourite interview is with the voice behind the train and tube announcements (“Mind the gap, please”) – I’d never considered what it must be like to be such a constant defining feature – it comforts me sometimes that her tone is always steady and predictable – and to hear your own voice in that same way every day. In fact, I hadn’t even really thought about the fact that “The next station is…” must have actually been recorded by a real person at some point.

However, my favourite passages comes from another source, which I’d like to quote because it really cuts through to what I think London is all about.

If London were a person it’d be Mr Ben. Do you know Mr Ben? There were only thirteen made when I was a child. Mr Ben would go into a fancy dress shop and the owner would give him an outfit to try on and he would become whatever he put on. He would put on a space outfit and go on a space adventure and give the outfit back at the end. You can reinvent yourself in London. You can be who you want to be, which is why Mr Ben came to mind, because it’s the ability to change. Put on something and it will change you. I’m going to wear this and I’ll become a different person. Each experience, each street has different stories, different chapters.

I know you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, but I also really liked the sleeve for the book – it uses the underground line colours, the hues of which are instantly recognisable and yet starkly different when placed so close together in one small space. Next stop, Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography… but that might take me several years…

Commuter Etiquette: Chapter One – Pedigree

One of the best things about London is the public transport system. Whenever I go to another city, it inevitably comes up short. New York is achingly confusing – why do so many different lines use the same platform?! Sydney and Boston are meagre in comparison; Berlin is a maze of colours and you seem to need all sorts of different tickets for a simple journey; and Paris, whilst highly regarded and a close challenger, has too many homeless people taking refuge and depositing their waste.

The tube is excellent because no matter where you are in the vast sprawl in London, if you can get yourself to a tube station you aren’t lost. You can find your way. And it’s simple – apart from the Circle/District line shared platforms, in general the lines have separate platforms, and the colour coding makes it easy to track where you are and, more importantly, where you’re going. In case you were wondering, my favourite line is the Jubilee, followed by the Bakerloo. I avoid the Central and Victoria at all costs, and only take the Northern when absolutely necessary.

Admittedly, the lack of tube coverage in south London is a serious oversight and problem (although that looks set to change with the Bakerloo line extension), but, thankfully, we have the overground trains to reach London’s nether regions.

Trains

You will undoubtedly, definitely, certainly hear people moaning about public transport in London. I have been using the trains and tubes my entire life, and I currently have an hour home-to-work commute (at least) to add on to every working day, twice a day. I’ve been traversing the tracks my entire adult life. And in that time I’ve observed all sorts of hilarious scenes, endured unbelievable delays and upheavals, and become fully fluent in “commuter etiquette”.

So, I thought I’d add a little feature to Cosmopolondon, since commuting and public transport is such a big part of the ol’ Big Smoke, so I can impart the commuter way of life to the ignorant masses. You’ll never feel like you’re being glared at by that  suit again.

Note: this is meant to be a tongue in cheek feature. Remember, the best tube/train drivers are the ones who don’t take themselves too seriously…

Nelson and the levitating men

Grey Trafalgar

Trafalgar Square is a hub for the culturati, a tourist attraction and a monument. Amongst Londoners, it’s often derided for being a tourist trap (“there’s nothing actually there”) and yet even the most vigilant of the haters have a certain amount of quiet respect for this place. It is synonymous with London – instantly recognisable. The oldest surviving moving picture of London is a ten frame sequence of Trafalgar Square, shot by the fantastically named Wordswoth Donisthorpe in 1890. Construction of the large open space here began in 1826, on what had always been a crossroads, a meeting point for some of the busiest roads in London. It wasn’t decided that the square should include a column in tribute to one of England’s most famous seafarers however, until 1838. Nelson, his column and pedestal, including the four guardian lions, wasn’t competed until 1867. Since its official public opening in 1844, it’s been a gathering place for social and political causes and that’s the way it remains today.

At the northern edge of the square sits the National Gallery, constructed between 1832 and 1838 in response to calls from the late eighteenth century for the nationalisation of royal art collections and a base for England’s flourishing art scene. Trafalgar Square sits in a central position between the historically wealthy West and impoverished East, making the gallery easy to visit – art is universal, after all. Now, it houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings and is the fourth most visited art museum in the world. The Sainsbury Wing – called a “monstrous carbuncle” by Prince Charles when built – houses prestigious exhibitions from all over the world.

To the east, the square is bordered by St Martin-in-the-Fields Church. Excavations of this site have evidenced burials dating as far back as 410AD. Whilst a church has stood on the site as early as 1222, the distinctive name comes from the rebuilding of the church by Henry VIII, when it was literally in the fields between the cities of Westminster and London. The present structure was completed in 1724. The Church has Trafalgar Square to thank for its now imposing presence on its surroundings – it was originally caged and hemmed by numerous other structures that were cleared for the square’s construction.

The south side of the square houses an intricate road network, linking The Strand, Northumberland Avenue, Whitehall, The Mall, Pall Mall and Charing Cross. The fantastic location and political significance of the square is emphasised by the sheer number of embassies in the near vicinity – some are even on the square, namely South Africa House and the Canadian embassy (situated on the western flank).  Trafalgar frequently plays host to protests and celebrations ranging from the jubilant and the hilarious (national pillow fight day…) to the extremely politically charged.

The artistic and dynamic flair of the area, with the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery as well as countless theatres nearby, is just as important as the socio-political function of the square though. The Fourth Plinth in the northwest corner of the square is an enduring reminder of this. Originally intended to host a statue of William IV which was not completed due to lack of funds, a rolling programme of contemporary, temporary sculptures has occupied the space. The large blue cockerel was a particularly interesting piece – the cockerel has been associated (unofficially) with France and yet there it stood in a square commemorating the defeat of the French. My favourite instalment so far was the scale model of Nelson’s ship, the HMS Victory, in a bottle – I liked how it tied together with the rest of the square but it was also colourful and playful.

As teenagers, my friends and I would come up to London for dinner and afterwards spend hours hanging out on the lions at the base of Nelson’s column, messing around and climbing and watching London empty out as the evening drew on. If I’m in the area and have time to spare, I dip into the National Gallery and visit some of my favourite Monet and Pissarro works. I’ve stood shivering on the south western corner, waiting for the N47 to arrive and whisk me back into the suburbs in the early hours of a Sunday morning. Trafalgar occupies pride of place in the foundations of my London consciousness.

Amidst all of this historical, political, social and artistic heritage then, is there a place for a man dressed as Yoda “levitating”? The northern terrace outside the National Gallery’s has played host to street performers and chalk artists for a while now – and I don’t begrudge public performers in general. I’ve seen many living statues all over the world – some of them have beautifully detailed costumes and have chosen characters with cultural significance to the area. You can see many of them all over London – particularly in the tourist hotspots – and the majority of them have licenses and a designated patch. So why doesn’t the northern terrace of Trafalgar Square? Described as a free for all, the places here go on a first come first served basis, so you can feasibly see two or three Yodas or Grim Reapers pitched up close to one another, waving their arms about beckoning come hither.

The men (I use this in the general sense – there could be women too) within the costumes can often be seen wandering around the edge of the terrace out of costume, taking a break from standing on their own makeshift plinths. What irritates me about them particularly, though, is the complete lack of skill or thought that goes into this endeavour. The Yoda costume looks like a brown king size sheet with a hole cut in the top, and the masks you could pick up in any decent fancy dress shop. I’ve seen him in Paris, in Rome, in Mallorca. And yet I should be impressed, and pay for the pleasure of this sight? I understand these people might be seriously struggling – London is a harsh place and everyone has the right to make a living – but I feel like it’s a stain on this grand old square, outside one of the most prestigious galleries in the world. I’ve scraped my brain to pull together a compelling balancing argument – trying to find a positive. But I can’t see how these entertainers benefit the square or themselves – surely their takings are minimal? All that said, I’m not suggesting we expel these entertainers, despite how little entertainment they actually offer. But I think they should up their game. Give me something to marvel at – something worthy of the magnificent set on which they play.