Hard Brexit and crowded buses

Life in London chapter II

Being ex-journalists both ES and DHH are news addicts. We consume large amounts of newspapers and TV-news on a daily basis. No wonder that our lives in London were partly dominated by something called Brexit. Brexit, if you did not know, springs from a desire by 51,89 per cent of the UK population (or probably a bit less nowadays) to make the channel between Britain and Europe a few nautical miles wider and deeper than it actually is.

With our UK friends, the levels of prices and wages occasionally becomes an issue when people express their views on weather the UK should leave – or not leave – the European Union. Our opinion is that working people who voted Leave should stop blaming «the corrupt EU» for their problems. Do not direct your anger at Poles and Rumanians and Lithuanians who come to the UK to work. Direct it at those who insist on allowing employers to take advantage of the international labour market by creating huge groups of working poor. Direct it at those who insist on continuously widening the gap between the have- and the have-nots, celebrating an elite of «Sirs» and «Dames» while refusing to promote social equality and fight social dumping.  It is not Angela Merkel who has created the inequality that forms the base of UK life. Your own Thatchers, Camerons and Blairs have done it all by themselves, and all the comparisons that are being made between the EU of today and the Nazi Germany that some people label «The EU of the 1940ties» is nothing short of disgusting!

B_2_43106 London
Feeling at home in London. The symbols of all the 26 Swiss cantons can be found on a signpost close to Leicester Square.

But politics aside; we had a great time in London. We had a 15 minutes walk to the football ground and a 15-metre walk to the bus stop where no 94 took us straight to Piccadilly. We were surrounded by pubs with inexpensive food and beer, shops where ES could stock up yarn for her ever more time consuming hobby of knitting, museums and landmarks we could visit at «off hours» when most of the «stupid tourists» were not in town. We soon learned to do our own tourism on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, avoiding the weekend rush hours. In the process we took advantage of an excellent transport system that is very generous to those over 60 – you actually travel totally for free in London at that age provided you pay council tax. For us to bring our car here would have been a ludicrous waste of money!

B_3_33411_London_2006_2007
Feeling at home in London. The Christmas tree on Trafalgar Square is an annual gift from the city of Oslo.

We learned that the English are very polite and helpful if they believe you are just a little bit lost. If you spend anything close to a minute staring at your phone on a street corner looking like you are not totally sure where to go, you will have somebody by your side asking you if you are ok. If you step on someone’s toe in a tight crowd the other guy will say «sorry» and «excuse me» long before the confused out-of-towner even realises what he has done.

We had a long mental list of all the museums, parks, theatre plays and historical sights we wanted to see during our time in London. In the end, we never got close to completing our schedule. Every place we went to made us want to go to four more. As the months passed and we ticked off what we had actually done, our list got longer rather than shorter.

Tourist spots. The river Thames with the London Eye
Tourist spots. The river Thames with the London Eye

At the same time, the news we consumed told us to be careful. The papers were full of stories of muggings and highway robbery. Moped crime is apparently one of the modern day plagues; young kids drive up to somebody standing on the pavement holding a phone or a purse. The passenger grabs the goods while the driver speeds off, and suddenly you are part of an above average annoying piece of street crime statistic.

Serious crime of course, is more than just annoying. We were lucky in the sense that we never came to any harm, but we did have one experience that showed us the irrational aggression you can suddenly come across. Travelling back to Shepherds Bush on a totally full bus after a Sunday outing, DHH identified the only free seat available. It was beside a young girl, 15 or so judging by her appearance. She was sitting by the window, with a small backpack placed beside her on an otherwise empty seat.

– Could you please pick it up and let me sit down, he asked.
No response. He repeated the question. Again, no response.
He was a bit tired after a long walk in one of the excellent London parks, and not in the mood to argue with rude teenagers. He picked up the bag, placed it in her lap and sat down.
The result was a nuclear eruption in the shape of a girl less than half his size and less than a quarter his age. She was red-eyed and see-thru pale, but boy did she have a high pitch voice!
– Don’t you fuckin’ touch me! Don’t you fuckin’ touch my bag! Her shouts drowned the noise from the traffic. By the time she had jumped to her feet DHH was already up and out into the isle of the bus. Getting any further was not easy, as the bus was packed.
– Don’t you fuckin’ touch me! Don’t you fuckin’ touch my bag! Don’t you fuckin’ touch me! Don’t you fuckin’ touch my bag!
She sounded like a broken record, but she showed no sign of slowing down. Her eyes were empty, her hair short and greasy and her skin ghost white, but her body was as tense as a steel spring. It wasn’t much of a body, though. One punch and she would be out like a light, but that is not really something you want to do unless it is the very last option.
– Don’t you fuckin’ touch me! Don’t you fuckin’ touch my bag! Don’t you fuckin’ touch me! Don’t you fuckin’ touch my bag!
There was no end to her screaming. All DHH could do was grab her and hold her, quite literally, at arms length. There he stood for something that probably was less then one minute, but felt like ten. Finally a big black fellow from one of the back seats walked slowly up the isle, grabbed her from behind, lifted her by the shoulders and sat her down in the seat she had just left. DHH and ES got off the bus at the first stop, leaving the screaming zombie to continue her journey without wishing to touch her bag anymore.

Tourist spots: Westminster and the Big Ben.
Tourist spots. Westminster and the Big Ben.

As for London life, we guess an experience like this is pretty standard. The girl’s aggression however, reminded us a little too much of the aggression we see both between supporters of opposing football clubs and supporters of opposing political fractions. There is a lot more anger in the UK than we are used to from our home countries. Returning to Brexit for a moment, it goes without saying that we have no problems with people expressing views that we do not agree with. We do however have a problem when those views take the shape of branding opponents as brainless evil idiots, and living in London we see a lot more of that than we appreciate. There are also downsides to English life and culture, the aggression and the growing social inequality are in our eyes the biggest ones.

As for the girl on the bus she probably had exchanged most of her brain cells for glue before she even reached puberty. We would be surprised if she ever knew of such a thing as the European Union, and physically she looked like posing less of a threat than Mickey Mouse. On the other hand, if somebody that crazy happens to be carrying a knife you are pretty much done for, no matter how much bigger you are. Lana Turner’s daughter killed Johnny Stompanato, and she was only 14. In hindsight that is not a particularly nice thought.

Tourist spots; Tower Bridge
Tourist spots. Tower Bridge

The girl in the bus did not ruin our stay, though. Life in London is fun, interesting and exiting, even if the football we came to watch turned out pretty mediocre. DHH’s favourite team did not have a particularly great season – they have actually improved quite a lot since we left. Jake Bidwell’s crosses are much better now, and Joel Lynch’s mistakes are fewer and farther between. Should QPR ever get promoted back to the Premier League one of these years we might actually do it again. Hopefully, the mess of Brexit will be solved by then and the TV-news will return to normal. «Normal» would be less news about the EU and more news about the shortcomings of the NHS, but so be it. Before that happens, we will go back to a being London tourists two or three times a year, living in hotels and airbnbs again, always cherishing the memories and the pictures from our adventure of 2017/2018.

We’ll meet again, we do know where, but we don’t know when.

 

2 thoughts on “Hard Brexit and crowded buses

  1. Thank you for your delightful blogs. We met on a river cruise in Laos. Look at you two! Still travelling and loving it and sharing your observations peppered with great humour. Thank you!

    Heather Wilkinson Heather Wilkinson Art on Facebook 250-702-7765

    Every breath in is an opportunity to accept love, every breath out an opportunity to surrender.

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