How To Be A Londoner
This series in pull-out weekly parts helps you to be a modern Londoner. It's not all about going down the Strand, having a banana and doing the Lambeth Walk these days, you know. It's a mean, nasty, dirty, violent city full of mean, nasty, dirty, violent people and appalling fast-food restaurants. Here's our exclusive guide to living in it.
No. 1: Giving Directions
When people from out of town ask you directions, be as sarcastic and unhelpful as possible. For example, if someone asks you at Victoria which Circle Line platform they should go to for South Kensington, say "Either one - it's the Circle Line, you dummy."
Q: Do you know the way to Trafalgar Square?
A: Yes, thank you.
No. 2: Dealing with Tramps
Residents and tourists alike, but especially commuters at London's main-line railway termini, are obliged to suffer what our politicians like to call 'aggressive beggars'. These are the street-dwelling scum who, without provocation, hail you as you pass and ask if you'd like to buy a copy of the Big Issue. Or worse: simply ask you for money, without even offering a magazine in return! (The nerve of these people!)
How can we scour this filth off our beloved pavements? Well, one's first and most natural reaction when confronted by one of these hooligans is to punch them squarely in the mush. However, this is not to be recommended, as you've no idea where they've been and you could catch anything off them. A small automatic pistol is probably the ideal remedy - these are available from all good gun shops, provided that they're only .22 calibre (as you know, a .22 calibre bullet in the chest causes only a brief sensation of discomfort, unlike a .32 calibre bullet which kills any schoolchildren within a hundred yard radius instantly).
On no account offer them any money, as they will only spend it on a can of Special Brew, or even worse, some food. These people are animals. Do not feed them.
No. 3: Moaning about London
All true Londoners spend a great deal of time bewailing the state of their fair city. But that's not enough. To establish your superiority you must top the other person's horror story.
"The other day there was this man on the train vomiting blood and screaming 'Fuck Connex South Central! Fuck Connex South Central!'"
-"That's nothing. On the Circle Line the other day I saw this guy commit suicide by inserting an electric stun-prod... well, you don't want to know."
"I was Christmas shopping in Oxford Street and this guy barged into me and he never even apologised."
-"That's nothing. The other day in Woolies this guy pushed in ahead of us at the checkout, threw up over my shopping and then shagged my wife right in front of me on the conveyor belt."
"My flat is so expensive, I can't afford to buy ready-minced garlic - I have to buy fresh cloves and press them myself, can you believe that?"
-"That's nothing. My flat is so expensive I can't afford bog roll - I have to wipe my arse with the shower curtain."
No. 4: Frequenting Dismal Pubs
The perfect pub. An ancient watering hole, complete with wooden beams, a grumpy old landlord, and perhaps a beer-garden stretching down to the banks of a sleepy river. Honeysuckle round the door; real ales on tap; a little sawdust on the floor, and definitely no jukebox.
How does the average London pub match up to this ideal? Not very well. A neo-brutalist concrete nightmare, crammed with hundreds of sweating, drunken lowlifes, lit by purple neon and vibrating to the sound of mind-squelching techno music from a 50,000 watt PA system? Slow-witted, deaf Australian bar staff dispensing service with a snarl? Sounds awful. But for millions of Londoners this is Friday night. Can it be that someone, somewhere, thinks this type of pub is good? Evidently so.
Fine examples of the genre include the Moon Under Water in Leicester Square, complete with aggressive bouncer, grim beer and 0.5 cubic centimetres of oxygen; and the Chandos at Trafalgar Square (universally renamed the Chunders), where the ambient temperature on Friday nights approaches that of the sun's core. A reliable eyewitness in the Chunders has seen an inebriated young man drop his trousers, insert a length of toilet paper into his bottom, light the other end and dance wildly about the pub until the flames began to singe his rectal hair. Now that's entertainment.
The most important things to remember if you're going to pass for a true pub-going Londoner are:
- Discuss your personal problems in a loud, ragged bellow so that your friends and everyone around can enjoy the story of your wart surgery over the thumping of the jukebox
- Moan about London
- Moan about how crowded and noisy the pub is
- Boast about how expensive your last skiing holiday was
- Take a good book to read while you're waiting at the bar
- Hold your flat lager up to the light as though trying to determine whether it's gnat's or cat's
- Ask the bouncer any demanding questions, like 'What's your name?"
- Say "This is awful. Let's go home."
- Visibly wring the sweat out of your trousers
- Start crying
No. 5: Being Insular
Londoners don't like travelling about. They get nervous when they go outside their own postcode. They take huskies and sherpas on a trip to Wimbledon Common. When Birmingham or Leeds is mentioned, they ask "Is that in Zone 3?" Scotland might as well be on Pluto.
The most seasoned traveller, tanned from sojourns in Borneo and Mustique, would become insular after a week in London. If the Middle East was wiped off the map by nuclear terrorists, Londoners wouldn't know about it unless it made the inside pages of the Lewisham Mercury. The London-based all-news radio station News Direct is typical. On the day Kennedy was shot their lead story was probably the temporary closure of Hammersmith Bridge.
Here are some key phrases to practise and use in conversation:
- "No, I can't come to your party - it'd mean getting the bus."
- "Manchester? Never heard of it. Is that on the District Line?"
- "I'm not going out much at the moment because I've got public transport anxiety."
- "We're thinking of going on an expedition into the conservatory."
- "You're moving out of London? Why? Don't you like squalor?"