Nick Jenkins . Pictures . Words . Travel

Nick Jenkins : The Opinionated Traveller

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London, Buckingham Palace, Beefeater
London Buoncy Castle
London Clapham Common
London Hyde Park
London Millenium Bridge
London Millenium Bridge
London, Bridge


Large bodies distort the shape of space around them. Mass curves space and time and alters the fabric of the universe. Cities distort the social fabric of the universe.

Social space becomes more unstable and disturbed under the influence of a large mass. People's behaviour becomes more erratic and extreme under the pressure generated by millions of individuals crammed into a tiny space.

London is a black hole in the fabric of the social universe.

Having been attracted by the bright lights of the smokey city, I'm now finding it losing its allure. What I once found exciting I now find annoying and where I once found opportunities I now find obstructions.

I was born in Perth, a city of about one million people which visitors have variously described as "not like a real city at all" and "just like a big country town". From Perth I moved to Sydney, which is possibly Australia's only real big city (although Melbournians would dispute it) and from there I have come to London. I always thought of Perth as rather dull and provincial - but dull and provincial has its attractions.

For example, while Perth lacks a decent public transport system, it also doesn't need it. I could get anywhere in Perth in under twenty minutes, a fact I proved occasionally and without losing my licence! In London, in theory, I should be able to get everywhere within an hour. This is seldom true.

Sometimes it takes two hours to go six stops, a trip that would take you twenty minutes to walk (if only you could get out of the goddamn station!). In summer riding on the tube is like being a small oily fish squeezed into the can.

There are other problems in London too. The polluted air, the laughably pure water, the lack of public toilets and garbage bins (removed to thwart bomb attacks) and the general grubbiness have all eroded my fondness for the big city.

Locals will scoff but only because they have no choice.

The Brits, while being exceptionally protective of the environment, don't extend these principles to city living. It's common to see a someone strolling down the street in London, unwrapping a packet of cigarettes or a bar of chocolate and letting the wrapper fall. Petty I know, but it bugs me.

These might seem like trivial things but they all just contribute to the larger malaise that permeates the city. The indifference, the unhappiness. I grew familiar with it in Sydney but have felt the full brunt of it here in London.

People don't meet your eye in the street, hardly talk to you and often seem scandalised if you approach them in public. To a lot of people, who live in big cities, this will seem perfectly normal if not prudent behaviour. Why would you possibly want to talk to a stranger?

When I took a girlfriend from Sydney to visit Perth, she noticed it immediately. On the first day while walking around the city she commented that people actually met your eye and smiled at you in the street. Some would even say "Hello!" Now I don't pretend that Perth is perfect. People don t queue up in order to clasp you in warm brotherly hugs or to take you home to meet their family. They will, however, quite happily strike up a conversation in a queue, over the counter of a shop or in the street. I found much the same behaviour in small towns in Scotland or even in rural England but just not in the cities.

Violence in the big cities is common too. I know a dozen people that have been mugged and once, on my way home, a couple of kids tried to separate me from my laptop. I was bigger than them, they weren't professionals and they didn't get away with anything, but they picked me because I looked at them the wrong way. They didn't identify me as a person, a human. I was just a target. My London is so far removed from theirs that we had nothing in common, nothing to complicate their act of larceny with feelings of guilt.

In London, I meet more people on the streets who talk to themselves than I have seen in the past ten years. Seemingly ordinary people wander along the city streets mumbling under their breath. I'm not talking about the corner tramp or the street drunk. I'm talking about stream-of-consciousness, every-second-word-an-expletive distracted mumbling from otherwise normal people. It sad that these people, who probably have some valuable to say, have no one to say it to.

So what's good about London?

Well, although the cost of living is high you can earn one of the world's most desirable currencies. This means that if you manage to take away a wad of cash it will magically be transformed into two-and-a-half times its previous value. Sort of.

The city itself is exciting too. I can't dispute it. If you want to go clubbing, there is no end of places to go and obnoxious liquids to imbibe. London is jam-packed with the rich and famous so it is a Mecca for celebrity spotters. It's full of culture as well. Art and writing and painting and plays and opera and ballet. But other cities have those as well.

For a boy from the world's remotest city, London's location holds much of its attraction. For no more than £100 I can travel to anywhere in the heartland of Europe. For a little more, I can visit Africa or the Americas and explore the further reaches of Europe.

But, as I have said, all this comes at a cost.

As I write, a riot has erupted in central London. A protest over the abolition of third world debt has turned ugly and riot police have been called in to stop looting and control the crowd. Civilisation might only be three meals away from anarchy but in a big city anarchy comes a lot closer to the surface than that.

It is disappointing that a protest in such a noble cause, the removal of the sword of debt from over the heads of many of the worlds poorest countries, was marred by violence. But violence is common here. In my two months so far in London we've had racially motivated murders, nail bomb attacks, rapes, muggings and, as you might've read later, a riot.

While I can't think I would ever contemplate living in the country, I m beginning to think that living in a smaller city, might be preferable.

My parents will laugh if they read this. After all, they picked Perth thirty years ago and emigrated out of the chaos of London. Now, I've returned to live and work here and have settled in a house not two suburbs from where they used to be.

Sometime too, I think that I will migrate out of here, to happier climes. I'll sit with my friends on the veranda, watch the sea breeze come in from the ocean and raise a glass to all the people left here in London.