Throughout my travels so far I’ve dwelt on sightseeing quite a lot. It’s true: there are so many monuments and ancient relics and modern marvels to snap pictures of when you travel the globe. But living in a city, I mean really getting to experience it, is exactly that: an experience. And an experience, as far as I’m concerned, has to do with much much more than your eyeballs. So…my new project is to take you on a day trip through London as I’m living it now. That’s not Big Ben; it’s more like Ben the Holborn street vendor who’s one pound bags of nectarines tempt me as I emerge from my morning tube ride. With a focus on sound, smell, touch, sight and taste, I’ll try to give you a sense (no pun intended) of London life.
(my doodle of travellers in King’s Cross)
The Sound of London Town:
If you simply close your eyes you’ll find an entirely new London surrounding you. It’s a London of rhythmic screeches, a city of odd music choices and confounding dialects and people whose mothers never successfully engrained in them the habit of chewing with their mouth closed. Sometimes on my morning commutes I like to put in my earbuds (some nice light pink ones that block out sound surprisingly well considering I bought them at the one pound store), press play, and pick my own soundtrack for the start of my day. If my caffeine intake is lacking, it’ll be a playlist entitled “dynamo” that involves La Roux’s In For the Kill, some Kid Cudi, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Other days, particularly on sunny ones after restful nights, or if home is tugging at my heartstrings, all I want is Joni Mitchell and All I Want. I’m not alone in my headphone-d world. Everyone from the overly-trendy model type to the desk worker to the gang bangers a few seats over seem to have sprouted wires from the sides of their heads. Sometimes it’s hearty entertainment to observe some construction worker in his forties with paint speckling his overalls blasting Katy Perry so loud that the tube sounds like a Friday night club scene.
Speaking of music venues: the Harrow on the Hill bus station, a mecca of big red busses in the tacky little suburb, seems to be operating under the impression that it’s a grand opera house. At all hours of the day or night loud classical music is blaring from the speakers there. As everyone bustles about, rushing to make their commute or huddling against the cold, Wagner and Bach make the scene almost comical. Believe me, I’m all for a good Sonata in G major, but it is more than slightly infuriating to be confronted with Bach as your bus pulls away from the station, leaving you with only the cold and a decent minor key.
Then there are the accents. At first all the British sounded the same. Now I hear dozens of different dialects daily: cockney, Welsh, Scottish, proper English, lots of Indian, and sometimes you can’t really tell—dialects all layer together into a sort of linguistic lasagna.
Through the screeching, clinking, rhythmic clanking of the tube train, the mix of languages as people chat on their phones, and the random tunes floating from your seat-mate’s ears, a few British words stand out in all that sound. Some British pronunciations always strike me as funny. And almost daily on the train a very firm but friendly sounding disembodied female voice says one of my favorites: “Bakerloo.” It’s the brown line on the underground map, which takes you up toward my home stay in the far northwest. It’s also one of the sweetest words, said with the sound of pursed lips and squinting eyes the way you “coo” at a little child in its buggy (as they call it here).
So, if you can close your eyes and imagine all that (plus the honking of hoards of little manual cars and a few street musicians’ whistling trills), then you might get an idea of London as experienced through the ears.
(A huge graffiti bird sitting on Brick Lane)