This will be my last blog post from England for a while, and potentially my last blog post ever from the United Kingdom if Scotland chooses to leave. (Incidentally, if they do, I think all the haggis should be apportioned out based on population.) With any luck, my next post will publish while I’m somewhere in the air between London and Hong Kong, where I’ve got a week-long stopover to see my friend Dan.
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Anyway. So far, this is a travel blog without any travel. So here’s my brief guide to London as I leave it behind:
The 5 Best Things About London
1. The public transport
People complain about the public transport in London. This is because they’re aliens with the ability to teleport, or because they’re the sort of person who would complain that their free money didn’t come encrusted in diamonds. London public transport is fast, reliable, frequent and ubiquitous. It gets you anywhere, even really alarming places that you immediately want to leave. London has night buses that never stop running, and their only downside is that they always, always take you to Hainault. London also has the DLR, a magic robot skytrain from the future (a phrase I stole from Buzzfeed) that basically glided out of my dreams fully intact. I grew up in Malaysia, and if you ever wanted to go anywhere, you had to get your dorm uncle to drive you down a mountain. I also grew up in Stoke-on-Trent, and if you ever wanted to go anywhere, you changed your mind, because getting the bus in Stoke is like choosing to wait seven hours for the opportunity to be tortured to death. In Stoke, people still say things like: “I just missed the last bus. Eat lunch without me.”
2. The food
You can eat anything in London, from haute cuisine to salt beef bagels on Brick Lane. On Tuesday last week, my dinner contained crocodile, python, kangaroo, alpaca and a bee. Even more impressively, I didn’t make that up. On Monday, my dinner contained narwhal, mammoth, magic carpet, the concept of truth, and seven new letters of the alphabet. Okay, I made that up, but in London you wouldn’t rule it out.
3. The people
No, genuinely. No, stop laughing. Seriously, now you’re just being offensive. People say that everyone in London is unfriendly, but the truth is they’re just busy. They’re also particularly reserved in public, even for Britons, because they’re so squashed together all the time that it becomes more important to respect each other’s personal space. However, if you actually approach a Londoner in public for help, they’ll be thrilled. This is because Londoners love to talk about the tube map. If you’ve ever wondered what conversations in London are like, every single one is about different routes between two places and which route is the best and how we’ll all be dead before Crossrail arrives. London is a wonderful place to make friends. It’s the sort of place that welcomes diversity, encourages open-mindedness and facilitates ambition, creativity and a desire to meet new people. Except at 8AM on the Central line.
4. You can do anything
You can learn acrobatics and circus skills. You can watch a double bill of Groundhog Day and Groundhog Day at the cinema. You can go boating on quiet lakes. You can go clubbing at 6AM. You can get genuinely lost in Camden Market. You can play a massive game of Twister at the top of the tallest building in Western Europe. You can see a hippo skeleton that was discovered under Trafalgar Square. You can attend an all-night, immersive performance of Macbeth in an abandoned warehouse. You can live in an abandoned warehouse. You can watch the sun rise over Epping Forest and set over the Houses of Parliament. You can run through the streets being chased by people pretending to be zombies. You can date seven different people in seven days (although don’t, obviously). You can get a bus to Brussels. You can eat a bee.
5. You can leave
This isn’t actually flippant. Some places seem too static, too set in their ways, to allow you to simply walk out and expect to walk back in years later. But London’s always moving anyway, so it’s not that bothered if you do it too. It’ll probably still find a job for you, and it might even let you have some of your friends back.
The 5 Worst Things About London
1. Bank station
Hey, do you need to change at Bank? No, you don’t. You never need to change at Bank. If you’re going to Scotland and you need to change at Bank, you may as well just walk to Scotland. Bank is so evil that it has special light-up arrows that they can turn on when they want to trick you into going the wrong way. I’m fairly convinced that the entire control centre at Bank is just clones of Hitler, laughing as they manipulate you into feeling hope that one day you may find a way out of the station.
2. The price of everything
Everything in London costs a million pounds. The houses, the congestion charge, the sandwich you bought because you couldn’t afford a proper meal. It all costs a million pounds. It is impossible to buy a house in London, unless you are several bankers. The only things that don’t cost a million pounds are the museums, which are awesomely free, but it still costs you a million pounds to buy the shoes you need to walk to them.
3. The ludicrous distances you agree to travel by accident
Would you ever agree to meet up with someone after work if they lived in a different city which would take an hour to reach, and it meant you probably wouldn’t get home until 2AM? No, that would be ridiculous. Except in London, where you forget that just because someone else lives in London, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be quicker to get to them than to get to, say, Wales.
4. The M&Ms store
Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square are hellish sinkholes of tacky tourism, and nothing encapsulates their nightmarish blandness more than the M&Ms store, an entire real-life place dedicated to one very specific type of mediocre chocolate that you usually only find in your couch. It serves no purpose, and it is enormous. The vastness of the M&Ms store means that it is definitely responsible for London’s housing crisis, and also for a terrifying conflation of culture and consumerism that will inexorably lead to everything in the world being an M&M, including everyone you love. Doesn’t stop tourists taking photos of its garishly pointless entrance though.
5. Bank station
Oh, you thought you were done with Bank, did you? YOU ARE NEVER DONE WITH BANK.