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Memoir | a Canadian in London

Londoners are the only people in the world who could politely trample you during the mad morning commute.

The Northern Line is Busted … Again

During rush hour, The Tube is a sea of anonymous faces buried in newspapers and half-read novels. The passengers are in their own zombie, “must get to work” zones. But, every once in awhile citizens will crack a smile, or even laugh, over an unexpected incident.

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Perhaps that person who jammed into an already too-full carriage nearly loses their limb in the closing doors. Or maybe, late at night, when the train is busting with bleary-eyed, beer-breathed Londoners heading home after the pub, people will bond over the crusty vomit in the corner seat.

One of the city’s oldest routes, the Northern Line, is almost always delayed for some reason, occasionally because a person stuck under the train – after a failed, or successful suicide attempt.

Regardless of outcome, the transit department will almost always announce and add this travel update information to the notice boards:
“The Northern Line is closed because of a person under the tracks.”

The Tube is a microcosm of the city as a whole. You are anonymous for the most part. But, every once in a while Londoners will band together, in very unexpected, but pleasant ways. Like, for example, the July 7, 2005 terrorist bombings, when they kept their famous “stiff upper lip” and went to the pub after work for drinks, just like usual.blain-stunt

Londoners are the kind of people who will flip the bird – or their version of the bird, which is a backwards peace sign – at American magician David Blain who claimed he could spend a month in a glass cage high atop the city’s main shopping district of Oxford Street. He wasn’t received well and some Londoners “took the piss” by pelting his cage with debris and verbally abusing him. According to most Londoners, he will never return for a cheap publicity stunt like that again.

Like a typical city with seven million people, London is alive with activity at all hours, ranging from mundane to mental. There’s the religious megaphone-wielding fanatic, who floats from shopping district to shopping district, moving on only after he’s been hassled by police and store owners for months.

“You’re going to burn in hell!” he cries to the masses from his perch at Oxford Circus.

“Go ahead and shop like consumer robots!”

In certain neighbourhoods, you could be asked for a kiss by an old Rastafarian man, or be called a “wicked selekta” by a random man on a bike. You could hear the rich tropical sounds of a reggae beat in the dead of winter in North London, or a teenager playing flawless U2 and Pink Floyd songs on his electric guitar in the middle of Covent Garden.

You could pass by “tramps” discussing their municipal rights and buy hash from a falafel place after you’ve had a few beers in a pub that’s three times older than Canada.

Or better still, you could witness school girls duke it out over discount shoes in Tooting Broadway. You could laugh at the name “Cockfosters” and dare your friend to try pronouncing Leicester Square (pronounced “Lester”).

London is a city with many contradictions, but one thing is for certain: few cities in the world are so electric and no matter who you are, or where you’re from, you will find this city challenging, beautiful, fun, frustrating and exhilarating.

You will feel alive.

Amber Turnau is a Canadian freelance journalist currently living in London, England. She was bitten by the travel bug at birth, having been born into a nomadic family. So far, she’s backpacked through Australia, Costa Rica and Western Europe. One day she hopes to make a decent living travelling the world and writing about it.

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