Yesterday I went to London for a day out. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I didn’t really plan it, so I didn’t have a fixed idea of what I wanted to do. I wanted to mooch and wander about, and see if anything caught my attention. Sit in a café and watch the world go by.
It wasn’t the best start to the day when my train didn’t even get out of Leicester station because it had a fault. Forty minutes later and I was tucking into my breakfast, but it should have been an omen for the rest of the day really.
First destination was Shoreditch, and it’s easy to get the Tube to Liverpool Street, and then a short walk through Spitalfields market. As it was early there was still a lot of setting-up being done. Lots of stalls, but to be honest, they were all selling things that can be bought any day. If you are into chain cafes and restaurants I suppose Spitalfields has some pull as a destination, but it’s become as much a generic shopping centre as any other.
Heading over to Brick Lane I wanted to pop into Rough Trade – I bought the new Parquet Courts album. Getting to Rough Trade meant walking past the queue to get in to the London Coffee Festival. It snaked down the street and around the block. So many people interested in coffee that has been regurgitated by gerbils!
Brick Lane has the feel that Camden Lock has, with standard food stalls, vintage market stalls and tat shops. It’s good but I did feel that I should have tweaked a moustache and brought a fixy-bike with me.
The next thing I wanted to do was visit Tate Modern, so I got the Tube to St Paul’s then walked over the Thames to the South Bank. It’s a pretty impressive approach and the views up and down the river are cool. The problem with the Tate is that it is so busy all the time that it’s almost impossible to make sense of what you’re looking at. The special exhibition fees are way too much as well. It’s like the art is given second billing to the numerous gift shops and cafes.
I ended up thinking it will be just as easy to read an exhibition catalogue than wander about trying to get some appreciation of the otherwise iconic works.
I then wandered over to the West End, through Covent Garden over to Foyles, where I got a copy of Paris Spleen by Charles Baudelaire and a book of essays by Michael Oakeshott. What I wanted to do was sit somewhere and relax for a couple of hours, but obviously this being Soho it was massively intense and every café seemed to be busy.
The problem is that I hate chain cafes and restaurants. Anything that has a ‘brand’ is just dreadful, and London is dominated by corporate brands. I used to look forward to finding small, independent cafes and restaurants, but they seem to have vanished from the West End. Indicative is the chain The Breakfast Club. London used to be serviced by proper cafes. Now people queue in the street to get into The Breakfast Club for a bacon cob!
I can’t complain entirely, the French House still resists the corporate onslaught and offers a more traditional environment of association with no music, no theme, just people sitting drinking and chatting without being instructed in how they should feel about themselves, which is too often a priority of the ‘we-are-all-so-wonderful-and-amazing’ types. It’s rare to find a space that isn’t dominated by a surfeit of ego and self-entitlement.
I think the problem is that London has stopped being a city and has instead become a destination. What was once a place that people congregated, cheek-by-jowl to do their business and live their lives, has now become a corporate enterprise that has to be managed and homogenised so that the maximum efficiency can be squeezed out of the place.
The problem is it is so boring. The West End bustles, there are millions of people wandering about, but the script has been laid-out for them. Go see a show. Have a dinning experience. See the iconic landmarks. Visit the galleries and stare at the picture postcard exhibitions. Shop in the same stores you get in the rest of the country. Travel efficiently between well laid out points of the map. Have the ‘London Experience.’
I have to say by the end of the day I was thoroughly bored and couldn’t wait to get on the train back to Leicester. It’s going to be a while before I go back to London for Leisure. It’s just not worth it. I couldn’t even buy any interesting postcards. They were all the same as well.