Sunday, December 10, 2006

The good and bad of London

Sorry. Posting has crawled to a snail’s pace what with work, travel etc. Just back from five days in London – the longest I have spent there since we moved here - where I got a dose of everything that was good and bad about the city.

Good was seeing my family, making time to meet lots of old friends, a terrific Citywire Christmas party, the elegant Christmas lights of Bond Street and discovering two (in their own ways) great places to stay: here for cheap, clean, all rooms look the same with the lights off and here for affordable (by London standards) luxury.

Bad? The sheer crappiness of the spine of the city centre – most of Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road, Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue - just cheap, grimy, tacky and downright unattractive. Is there any major city in the world that lets its commercial heart wilt like this?

The shops in these areas are almost uniformly trashy – Selfridges and John Lewis excepted. A new report by a Mayoral commission here backs this up and says in effect ‘something must be done’. Yes, like Crossrail, a cross twon fast rail project which has been in limbo for the thick end of 20 years now.

More? mind-numbingly expensive taxis and public transport that gets worse as yet more money is spent on it. And the press – nasty, brutish and trivial.

Here’s a really crap story from the trip. After a fantastic night out of Japanese-style karaoke (ie with friends, not in front of 150 strangers; try it here) we faced the task of getting the two female participants back to south London at 1am.

We somehow hailed a black cab and a mini cab at the same time. The black cab driver refused to take them as it was more than 12 miles (as is his right) but he then became very threatening when they tried to get into the mini cab (which was not licensed to pick up on the street). He wedged his cab in front of the mini cab, got out threatening and screaming at us and started to dial the police.

In other words - he wasn’t prepared to help two women get back home in the small hours and he was quite prepared to ensure nobody else did.

We demurred, the caveman departed and the women got back in their mini cab. But what an unpleasant experience.

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