Back in a Bit

Rat

They say that, in central London, you’re never more than a couple of metres from a rat. It’s also slowly becoming apparent that you’re never more than a metre from a Starbucks or a Pret, and never more than half a metre from a tourist.

Londoners are elusive creatures—you’ve got to look damn hard to find them. They only come out en masse during rush hours, and tend to move very fast from place to place. If you’re out in London at any other time, you’ll see plenty of tourists—but no Londoners. Interestingly, rats are just as elusive. It would seem that rats and Londoners survive by being as invisible as possible.

In a typical London street, the only people who will talk to you are beggars, charity workers, or tourists seeking directions. Normally, these directions are quite absurd—they’ll stop you on Waterloo Bridge and ask you the way to either Waterloo Bridge, or Windsor Castle. And, because Londoners are invisible, tourists end up asking other tourists for directions—which results in just about everyone getting lost.

You’re also never more than a couple of metres from a queue of angry traffic. Every street is a din of idling diesel engines, horns, sirens, alarms, pneumatic drills and mobile phones. The air is thick with exhaust fumes, discarded leaflets and newspapers, and litter picked out of the gutter by the gusting wind. While the traffic stands or creeps, herds of motorbikes weave their way down the length of the queue, while flocks of pedestrians attempt to cross its treacherous width.

Meanwhile the weather condition changes at least once every fifteen minutes. The average day consists of a healthy mix of several different types of weather. The best days are when the weather attempts to stage all conditions at once, and it ends up being sunny with cloud and light mist, with rain and snow and sleet and hail, with a backdrop of thunder and gale force winds. Londoners are so used to the city’s bizarre microclimate that if the weather doesn’t change for an hour or so, the headline on the Evening Standard will read simply “Heatwave!” or “Blizzard!” or even “Monsoon!”.

Behind the walls of every austere office building sit five or so million workers, frantically trying to stay sane amid the spiralling lunacy of corporate policy and procedure. Below every austere office building live five or so million rats, frantically trying to find food and shelter for themselves. Somewhere in the middle of all this, a gaggle of tourists file off a coach into Starbucks.

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