helen-louise (baratron) wrote,

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a tourist in my own city

Yesterday afternoon I was heading into central London to tutor a couple of kids. At New Malden station there was a group of 6 young people having an argument in sign language. I think the argument was about the best way to get somewhere, as a Tube Map was being waved around as part of it. No one seemed particularly angry or anything like that, it seemed more of a frustrated disagreement than actual unhappiness. It was really quite interesting to watch.

I'm pretty sure they were American and speaking ASL, as a) they had American-style clothing (Abercrombie & Fitch-type things with baseball caps - but they weren't chavs or punk kids), b) one of them had a packet of American candy that isn't available here, and c) they seemed to be doing one-handed fingerspelling of place names rather than the two-handed alphabet of BSL. So even if I'd had a video camera, it wouldn't be much use videoing it for BSL practice ;) But what I found interesting was the way body language integrated itself into their speech. A lot of the signing involved facial expressions that I could recognise as "I don't believe you" or "You're talking bollocks!". Also there were frustrated gestures that I do while I'm talking - shrugs and (non-vocal) sighs, and something that will take a lot of words to describe and still not be clear (a gesture I do by waving an open hand around waist-level, that means "OK, whatever - on your head be it!"). Some of the signing ended up being done wherever their hands were after the ordinary body language.

It seems they resolved their argument, because whatever they were talking about on the train seemed more like chatting, and they all got off together at Wimbledon. I wonder where they were trying to get to?

Richard is working "lates" this week - 2pm-11pm, so even though I go to bed around 2am, there are some nights when I hardly see him. So as I was in central London with a Travelcard anyway, I went to meet him for dinner. I got the 36 from the students' house in Vauxhall to Victoria station, then the 8 from Victoria to Wardour Street. And had a startling realisation on the way.

There is someone I know on irc who hates London. Actually, he hates all big cities, but London in particular. I got a bit annoyed at him a couple of weeks ago, because I felt like he was insulting me for choosing to live in London. (He wasn't, really - I was just feeling over-sensitive that day and it got to me.) Anyway, sitting there on the 8, a bus route I've never taken before, I suddenly understood his point of view.

The 8 is a horrible route - it goes through most of my least favourite parts of central London. Victoria (ugh), Hyde Park Corner (too crowded), Park Lane (stupidly posh), Piccadilly Circus (too full of tourists), Oxford Street (overpriced shops & people who don't know where they're going). All it needed to do was Marble Arch, Baker Street, Paddington station, Bank & Monument to complete the set. And I thought, if that's what he thinks of when he thinks of "London", I'm not surprised he hates it - because I hate those parts too!

What I think of as "London" are three main areas. "Central London" to me stretches from Waterloo station to St Pancras, and takes in the South Bank (Waterloo, the London Eye, County Hall, the NFT, National Theatre, Gabriel's Wharf & the Tate Modern); Trafalgar Square to Soho (record shops, sex shops, Chinatown, many of my favourite restaurants and cafes, the gay bars of Old Compton Street, the Charing Cross Road bookshops, Shaftesbury Avenue, Cambridge Circus, Covent Garden, St Giles' Circus); and Bloomsbury (British Museum, Tottenham Court Road electronics shops, Goodge Street, the video game import shops, UCL and ULU, Malet Street Waterstones, garden squares and the British Library). Oxford Street has little value apart from its open until 11pm Borders, and as a thoroughfare for getting from Soho to Bloomsbury. My "West London" is the South Kensington & Gloucester Road area, where Imperial College is based, featuring the Science Museum, Natural History Museum and V & A; Kensington High Street and the south side of Hyde Park, stretching down to the nicer parts of West Brompton & Earl's Court. "North London" is Camden & Chalk Farm (the markets and small shops), Islington, and Clerkenwell (the hidden parts, north of Farringdon station, away from the bars full of City office workers). And then I care for places further out - Kingston is most definitely London, so is Battersea.

Park Lane and Mayfair have lovely buildings, but hideous people. Victoria station and Victoria Coach station are lesser portals to Hell. Frankly, most of the route of the number 8 bus could take itself to the other side of the world, and I wouldn't miss it. And yet, I am proud to be a Londoner, because none of those places are in "my" London.
Tags: london

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