The sun may have been more Southern Hemisphere, however summer in London always has the same rhythm regardless of the vagaries of weather. It’s a discordant sound of Spanish, Italian. French, Scandinavian (yeah I couldn’t be bothered putting all the countries in) Arabic, Russian plus all the countries Russia used to own and some made up languages (because I can’t understand them and therefore they must be especially those ones that sound like people lamenting.)
It’s mental. I have been to summer in other European cities and it is mad, but London’s visitors do not just give it crowds, they give it an hysterical, anxiety borne of tourists who really should not leave home. My travelling predecessors had an atlas. I had a Lonely Planet book that was kind of vague. This lot have phones that can find planets and they still can’t find Oxford Street. I have arguments with myself about this. Sometimes, the tiny part of me that is benevolent and humane thinks, “Oh shucks, maybe they want dialogue with a local so they are asking me even though they know it’s ten metres up the road.” Mostly though I think, “Seriously, you bought an air fare for your whole family and paid for a B&B in Queensway to shop in Oxford Street? That is your holiday? WTF.” I am suffering PTS from the number of tourists with that demented look of people who’ve been shopping for three days, who climb on a West London bound bus and shout BAYSWATER!!!!” I always think we are going to be hijacked but thankfully the bus is going there anyway. Except that the tourist must determine this by asking the question twenty times. In my head I have killed them.
There is no denying they are making me tense. After almost two decades here, the sight of an Italian family group blocking the footpath as they walk ten abreast, all expensive loafers, lemon sweaters slung on shoulders accompanied by a teenager just itching to go to Camden bringing up the rear is no longer funny. I know they are looking for an Italian restaurant. I know they are looking for pasta. I know they will, despite all the apps, guidebooks and information out there, go into somewhere seriously crappy because it’s cheap and then they will emerge muttering that it is not as good as Italy. The Americans look for Starbucks despite standing directly in front of a viable alternative. People visit to get more of what they could get at home at a higher price.
Except for Primark. Primark has all the charm of a refugee processing centre. People arrive there tired, hungry and thirsty. They are greeted by racks of clothes made of the kind of cheap fabrics that squeak. But this is what they crossed the border for; this is why they endured the indignity of Ryanair in their cashmere sweaters. They emerge with their bags, hyperventilating, and sit outside the shop, ready to be processed for their return.
You could teach English for a year to most Spanish and Italian citizens and they’d only know five sentences (I reckon it’s genetic) two of which would be “Where is Portobello/Camden?” So what language students learn in a few weeks is debatable. Every few stops on the tube, a group will upload itself and you can just see everyone in the carriage brace themselves and breathe in. There is lots of Italian or Spanish (so they haven’t learned anything as yet) As soon as the door opens, vomiting the students on to the platform, there is an audible sound of air being released.
I often wonder what they are thinking, if anything at all. And then I just want to put them out of their misery. No not kill them: I want to send them to a really good cafe, to eat some nice food a kilometre away. To the City to some cute lanes and buildings that time forgot. But I bet if I pointed it out they wouldn’t go. If you can’t see it from Primark, it’s too far to travel.