Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Am I a Londoner?

Via Pixeldiva comes this little questionnaire. The essence of the thing is to find out whether or not you can legitimately call yourself "a Londoner" irrespective of where you're actually from originally.

I recall, many moons ago when I was living in Cairo, reading a vaguely humourous piece called "20 ways to tell you've been in Egypt too long". It included the line "You no longer bother removing flies from your drink, merely sift it through your teeth to avoid swallowing them". I was actually doing just that as I read the list (sifting my beer through my teeth to avoid chugging down the large fly floating in it). I'm told that it's a good deal more stressful being an ex-pat in Egypt these days, but my memories of Cairo are wonderful and far from being there 'too long', I'm a little sad that I didn't spend more time there before it too became a place where suspicion of The Other gained a solid foothold.

With regards to how much of a Londoner I am, though, there's really two answers to most of these questions. Me at 24 and me now, a decade later. There was a time when I immersed myself in London. The city coursed through my veins and I'd say to people "I'll never live anywhere else again... everywhere would be so dull... a step backwards from London". And I said that, having lived in far more places by my mid-twenties than most people do their entire lives.

London hasn't changed very much since then. But I have. Anyways, onto the "Are you a Londoner?" thingie...

1. You say "the City" and expect everyone to know which one.
Let's face it, if an American says "The City" they should be referring to New York. If a European says it, they should mean "London". London is The City. Anyone who doesn't know that is being willfully ignorant.

2. You have never been to The Tower of London or Madame Tussauds but love Brighton.
Half point. I've never been to the Tower or to Madame Tussauds (passed by them umpteen times of course), but I'm not a big fan of Brighton either... I used to hang out there during a less than sane period of my life and still recall the dark and scary underbelly of the place. Back when I was 24 though... full point.

3. You can get into a four-hour argument about how to get from Shepherds Bush to Elephant & Castle at 3:30 on the Friday before a long weekend, but can't find Dorset on a map.
'Fraid so. Though I'm fairly certain Dorset is down near Cornwall.

4. Hookers and the homeless are invisible.
Part of me wishes they were... and another part is glad they're not. Indeed they've become more and more visible over the years. Again, I could probably answer "yes" 10 years ago. These days though I can't help but see the suffering around me, and that's one of the reasons I need to get out of the city. To quote the late, great Lester Bangs...
If you accept for even a moment the idea that each human life is as precious and delicate as a snowflake and then you look at a wino in a doorway, you've got to hurt until you feel like a sponge for all those other assholes' problems, until you feel like an asshole yourself, so you draw all the appropriate lines. You stop feeling. But you know that then you begin to die. So you tussle with yourself. how much of this horror can I actually allow myself to think about? Perhaps the numbest mannekin is wiser than somebody who only allows their sensitivity to drive them to destroy everything they touch - but then again ... just to recognize that that person exists, just to touch his cheek and then probably expire because the realization that you must share the world with him is ultimately unbearable is to only go the first mile. The realization of living is just about that low and that exalted and that unbearable and that sought-after. Please come back and leave me alone. But when we're along together we can talk all we want about the universality of this abyss: it doesn't make any difference, the highest only meets the lowest for some lying succor, UNICEF to relatives, so you scratch and spit and curse in violent resignation at the strict fact that there is absolutely nothing you can do but finally reject anyone in greater pain than you. At such a moment, another breath is treason.
5. You step over people who collapse on the Tube.
No. And I never would have. But I have seen it happen.

6. You believe that being able to swear at people in their own language makes you multilingual.
I've lived all over the world. I know people who are properly multilingual. So no. And never.

7. You've considered stabbing someone.
Never. I've been stabbed and wouldn't ever consider it. My usual daydream about, for instance, my ex-boss involves public humiliation rather than physical harm (I'm essentially a non-violent person, though admittedly the guy who stabbed me wouldn't agree with that).

8. Your door has more than three locks.
Back when I lived in Hackney; yes. These days I'm in a more chilled-out part of the city and don't feel the need for quite as much home security.

9. You consider eye contact an act of overt aggression.
No. Indeed the refusal of Londoners to make eye-contact irritates me considerably.

10. You call an 8' x 10' plot of patchy grass a garden.
I call an 8' x 10' plot of cracked concrete with a couple of weeds growing through the cracks a garden. Leastways that's the garden I have right now.

11. You consider Essex the "countryside".
I visit my family in the wilds of West Cork quite frequently. I know what proper countryside looks like.

12. You think Hyde Park is "nature".
Nope. But Hampstead Heath does actually qualify.

13. You're paying £1,200 a month for a studio the size of a walk-in wardrobe and you think it's a "bargain".
Essentially yes. The details aren't quite that extreme, but when I tell non-Londoners how much I'm paying for this pokey flat they tend to think I'm joking.

14. Shopping in suburban supermarkets and shopping malls gives you a severe attack of agoraphobia.
No. But I find them depressing as hell. I could never live in the suburbs or in a small town - or even in another city - after London. All of the shitty elements of civilisation with none of London's saving graces (e.g. the ability to see a gig you'll enjoy every single week if you so choose).

15. You pay more each month to park your car than most people in the UK pay in rent.
If I owned a car this would certainly be true. However I'm philosophically opposed to car ownership in places where there is adequate public transport (and London certainly fulfills that criteria).

16. You pay £3 without blinking for a beer that cost the bar 28p.
I no longer drink alcohol. But when I did... yes.

17. You actually take fashion seriously.
Hahahhahh ah hah hah ha ha ha.

18. You have 27 different take-away menus next to your telephone.
Kind of. There's a ton of them lying around, but these days I only need one... The Bengal Curry House on St. James Street. Reasonable prices for incredibly tasty food (and in large portions too).

19. The UK west of Heathrow is still theoretical to you.
No. I briefly lived near Reading. Wouldn't recommend it.

20. You're suspicious of strangers who are actually nice to you.
I have to make an effort not to be.

21. Your idea of personal space is no one actually physically standing on you.
Another reason why I need to leave the city. London's idea of personal space really conflicts with mine. Thankfully I'm quite tall, so tube journeys don't involve feeling like I'm in a contest to see how many sweaty people can be squeezed into a phonebox.

22. £50 worth of groceries fit in one plastic bag.
Scandalous isn't it?

23. You have a minimum of five "worst cab ride ever" stories.
I rarely take cabs. But if I cast my mind back I can come up with at least twenty "worst nightbus experiences ever" stories.

24. You don't hear sirens anymore.
In my last flat, my bedroom window (not double-glazed) overlooked the junction between Mare Street and Graham Road in Hackney. Upon hearing this, people who know the area will often give a low whistle whilst shaking their heads slightly and then offer me the number of a good therapist. Sirens, gunshots, gang-warfare... it's not so much that I became immune to these things; I simply learnt how to sleep with loud music blasting through my earphones.

25. You've mentally blocked out all thoughts of the city's air/water quality and what it's doing to your insides.
Damn straight! I'm neurotic enough as it is without having to think about that shit.

26. You live in a building with a larger population than most towns.
A decade ago that was true. These days, thankfully, no.

27. Your cleaner is Portugese, your grocer is Somali, your butcher is Halal, your deli man is Israeli, your landlord is Italian, your laundry guy is Philippino, your bartender is Australian, your favourite diner owner is Greek, the watch seller on your corner is Senegalese, your last cabbie was African, your newsagent is Indian and your local English chippie owner is Turkish.
Wellllll... I don't have a butcher; not being a meat-eater and all. I dunno about the cleaner yet (as we've only recently decided to hire one) and the chippie owner is Greek-Cypriot. In principle though... "yes".

28. You wouldn't want to live anywhere else until you get married.
Used to think so. Now I can hardly wait to get out (pity all the high-paying work happens to be here).

29. You roll your eyes and say 'tsk' at the news that someone has thrown themselves under a tube train.
Again no. I tend to spend the next hour empathising with the person and get thoroughly depressed about the whole thing. I'm clearly no longer wired correctly for the city.

30. Your day is ruined if you don't get a copy of Metro on the way to work.
Thankfully I work from home. And even when I didn't, my journey to work was always accompanied by whatever book I was reading at the time. The Metro comes from the same stable as The Mail and The Standard and I'd rather drink the urine of Mark Knopfler* than sully my mind with that right-wing propaganda.

In truth I used to be a Londoner. But I'm not anymore. I think the city will always grind down people like me after a while. I loved it for a long time, but that's gone now. However, if you're in your early 20s I can think of no better place to live.

* A prize to whoever first identifies that reference.


Anonymous iotar said...

>> Bengal Curry House...

I always forget that it's not really called the "Mad Decor Place". I'm also inclined to get a take-out from Akash on Markhouse Road, for their red pumpkin bhaji if nothing else, and I've been impressed with the Spice Lounge just up the road from the "Mad Decor Place" which does some very good fish currys and a more contemporary Indian style (which isn't poncy either!) - not necessarily *better* than Bengal Curry House just different.

7/9/05 10:36  
Anonymous PMM said...

I reckon the Urine of Mark Knopfler reference was probably Brian Eno, knowing you, Jim.

Am I right?

7/9/05 16:20  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

I'm afraid not Paul. I can see why you'd guess it's an Eno reference (what with me being such a fan, plus the story that Here Come The Warm Jets is a pissing reference) but in this case you're wide of the mark.

It's actually a line from a TV show that I've very recently discovered and decided is the most psychedelic and plain weird thing to get broadcast of late (possibly ever).

Have I given too much away?

7/9/05 16:26  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

iotar, I couldn't agree more about The Spice Lounge. Not a great place to eat in as it lacks in atmosphere, but splendid food nonetheless. They lose a lot of my business though because I'd have to walk past The Mad Decor Place to get there, and that's not an easy thing to do when you fancy an Indian meal (food is just as good and it's a good deal cheaper).

7/9/05 17:01  
Anonymous iotar said...

I think the Mad Decor Place is definitely essential for social eating, I've taken friends there, I've taken family there. But in terms of quality it's a difficult choice: Spice Lounge has a certain freshness to their cooking, their niramish is arguably without peers; while Mad Decor really kicks it on the pyrotechnics, the sizzling king prawn chilli garlic is an experience for the the eyes, the nose, the ears and the mind.

It's virtually a multimeeja extravaganza, man!

The quote's not The Mighty Boosh, is't?

7/9/05 18:13  
Blogger Jim Bliss said...

It is indeed from The Mighty Boosh. And the prize goes to iotar! A rosary shall be said in your name.

It's a scene where Vince and Howard are about to meet someone from A Major Label and ask Naboo (the shaman) for something to boost their musical inspiration.

He hands them an elixir telling them it'll do the job. "Excellent!" they say, "what is it?" It's made from the tears of Mozart... "Wow" they both chugg down a glass of the elixir before Naboo can finish the sentence ... mixed with the urine of Mark Knopfler.

Well I laughed.

7/9/05 18:31  
Anonymous iotar said...

Ah, I haven't managed to watch a full episode of The Mighty Boosh - partly through not having BBC3, partly through finding it trying to watch online.

And I'm still traumatised after bumping into Julian Barratt at Bardens - too much like being in an episode of Nathan Barley. "I know you! You're on the telly!"

7/9/05 19:34  

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