Saturday, 12 December 2009:
It’s winter and London is still chock-a-block with tourists. I can’t imagine what it’s like in summer.
Three evenings in a row, I’ve had to use Piccadilly Circus tube station. Trains were packed to capacity and tonight, people were pushing – extremely dangerous when platforms are only 2.5 metres wide and there are no barriers to prevent falling onto the tracks. An announcement came over the public address system saying please do not block those wanting to alight from trains, otherwise the station itself would be closed to clear everyone out.
Needless to say, nobody queues. Firstly, the space is too limited, and secondly, good old British civility can’t be expected when almost everybody is a tourist – as is obvious from the babel of tongues you hear around you.
Above ground, Covent Garden, Oxford Street and Knightsbridge were only slightly less crowded. Here is a picture of the route towards Harrods.
There are probably a few Singaporeans among them, out to purchase tea or some such emblem of British refinement either for themselves or as gifts, the better to burnish one’s status in the eyes of one’s friends.
Each time that I have been caught on roads clotted with pedestrians, I have gotten rather impatient. First, the pace slows down from the sheer density of traffic, but the more serious issue I get frustrated over is this: All it takes is for one person in ten to light up a cigarette while walking and you are caught. Quite often, I have found myself shuffling my way through a crowd, passing through one cloud of second-hand smoke after another.
Even for Londoners, space is at a premium. Here’s a photo of a pub near a fresh produce market in the vicinity of Southwark cathedral – not a touristy area. It was taken at about 1:30 pm yesterday, probably lunch break, though as you can see, people weren’t eating, but drinking. However, the point I want to make is that the pub was so full, customers had to stand outside.
The fresh produce market (what we’d call a ‘wet market’ in Singapore) was at least as interesting as any guidebook-listed tourist attraction. I believe it’s called Borough Market, with sections for fresh meat, cheese, vegetables, flowers, sweatmeats and so on. Here are some pictures:
The first (olfactory) observation one makes is that it doesn’t smell of half-rotting stuff, like wet markets tend to do in the tropics. Londoners, at least in the cooler seasons, have climate on their side.
The second observation is that many of the stalls that sell prepared or precooked items, e.g. soups, greek desserts and cheeses, offer samples for tasting. I rather enjoyed myself. But the market was also crowded, and at one point, someone knocked against my elbow and my morsel of cheese fell to the ground. I felt as dejected as a mouse who had lost his dinner.
To end on a more upbeat note, here’s a picture of Londoners enjoying themselves. The Natural History Museum set up an ice-rink in a part of its front garden. It was well-patronised.