I have a tube map on my wall.
This is a new development. As I made clear in a previous post, I am not a Londoner. I’ve lived my life in a medium-sized Cambridgeshire town, not big enough to be considered urban but not small enough to be truly rural; not close enough to any city to be considered a suburb but with a direct train link to Kings Cross to prevent the feeling of true independence. Yes, I had cows within walking distance of my house, but I also had a Costa Coffee.
However, while I seemed to be floating along in this undefinable purgatory, the metropolis was slowly swallowing me. I felt it. A very close friend of mine lives in London, meaning I was visiting more frequently; an Oyster card materialised in my wallet; and finally, I was struck to apply to do an MA at University College London, the Londoniest place you could study.
Now, the assimilation is complete. I use buses. I read the Metro and the Evening Standard. I live in a place called Tufnell Park even though there is no park. Furthermore, much to my surprise, I’m starting to get the hang of it — you know, the little knacks, like knowing when it’s safe to cross the street without the little green man telling you, and staying on your feet when the underground train pulls away with a jolt from the station (though there were many failures first in this regard).
Nevertheless, I still can’t fully get into some aspects of the mindset. I have been known to make eye contact with people on the tube, I really struggle with the fact that you generally got off the bus via the rear doors and so have no opportunity to thank the driver, and I get angry when people go round the wrong way at Tufnell Park station to get on the lift first. Sometimes, human decency still takes precedence over fitting into the capital’s stereotype.
I don’t mean to sound so negative about the typical Londoner. He/she/it does some things wonderfully, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some aspects of the city. For instance, I was taken aback to realise how many independent shops still thrive around London. I suppose I should have known, given the abundant retail space, but I somehow imagined smaller towns being the haven for these businesses, even though I know from experience that major chains are conquering every corner of the nation. So long as there are shops run by well-meaning old men who inherited it from their mother’s father’s father, I have hope for Britain. I often think this while sipping my Costa and munching my Big Mac.
The fact is that all of the Oysters and Metros and tube maps in the world can’t mask who you really are. So, for now at least, I will remain a LINO: Londoner In Name Only. And, like my namesake, I’ll probably get walked all over for being so.