I’ve never experienced London.
I must have visited the place at least twelve times, but these were either when I was very young and things were at least slightly different, or occasions on which the Underground has shielded me. The sprawling network of tunnels beneath the old city are more than just a quick method of transportation for travelers who use the capital as a hub between the north and south via train and coach. Many have a mental image of the London Underground as a rather grim place, and that is mostly accurate. The air is stuffy, most surfaces are caked in grime, and London commuters are indeed obnoxious and pushy. But the Underground represents something more, and that is a way to bypass the world above, to hide oneself from the despairing landscape overhead as if packed like sardines into the trains, we re-enact the events of Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033.
On my most recent trip, however, I had time to kill, and good reason not to waste money when my legs could carry me just as easily. An hour’s walk presented an opportunity to actually see this city, which up until that point existed for me more as a theory than a reality.
Firstly, I can confirm first-hand that London’s population is barely English, but one can prove that on the Underground journey alone. No, I actually got the chance to see how these people live, rather than just their composition. People there take remarkably little care of both their appearance and the state of their businesses and homes. Everything looks rotted, chipped, weather-worn, and often adorned with illegible graffiti. The stench of some pedestrians would put the Middle Ages to shame, particularly the Bangladeshi migrants I encountered, all of whom looked either dejected or menacing.
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