It is not every day you see smokers dressed like that

London as a human zoo

Since the Tube strike a few weeks ago, several people have told me that being forced to walk reminded them just how great London is for people-watching. You see sights that no other city's streets would offer. Thought I'd round up a few that the Tube walks offered me ...

It is not every day you see smokers dressed like that

The traffic lights on the far side of the Palace conveniently turn red just as I want to cross, halting a woman who’s seventy if she’s a day, sitting astride a huge 1970s Suzuki motorbike, cigarette hanging vertically from her bottom lip. Once across I turn to see her roar away. The back of her denim jacket says “The Clash"'.

The park is full of people playing football, walking their dogs, or, in the case of one man, combining the two by trying (unsuccessfully) to get the ball off his terrier.'

... a businessman cyclist, whose one concession to bikewear has been to change his suit trousers for shorts, meaning his hairless legs extend down to black socks and black brogues.'

‘A couple are embracing. Only when the hug continues do I notice that the woman’s shoulders are shaking. The street they’ve emerged from is Harley Street.'

In the floor-to-ceiling window of Kensington Place restaurant a man and woman listen so attentively to their waiter that you know (a) it's a first date and (b) they're both bricking it.'

I gaze up at the hotel. On the fourth floor a Japanese man stands immobile in trousers and vest, fruitlessly trying to work his TV remote control. Directly underneath him an excited kid uses a bed as a trampoline.'

A Spanish-looking man consults his tourist map - at first it seems he's got something in his eye, but no, he's pulling down his lower eyelid simply to see the map more clearly.'

I pass a man who at first seems to be a meejah type in charcoal jacket and rimless spectacles - only at the last minute do I see that he's drinking lager from a can held inside a plastic bag.'

Outside King's Cross a family of four down suitcases to examine a map. “It's this way," insists the wife, pointing towards Euston. The husband, disagreeing, storms back into the station. Twenty seconds later he reappears, sullen but finally co-operative, and they all head west.'

Then it's down the City Road to Old Street, passing the Bavarian Beerhouse, outside which two stony-faced men in lederhosen stand smoking.'

 

Much more like these in Walk the Lines, should you be so minded ...

 

 

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Content

Rubik's Cube

A Rubik’s cube has more combinations than light travels inches in a century. This is my favourite illustration of how a very small number of factors can produce an absurdly complicated situation. A silly little toy, with only three squares in each of its three dimensions. How can that get complicated? Well, as anyone who's ever tried to solve one just by guessing will tell you, it gets very complicated. The number of possible combinations is 43,252,003,274,489,856,000. Forget billions - that's 43 quintillion and change. (In fact the cube's manufacturers just said ‘billions' in their advertising, figuring that no one would know what a quintillion was. It's a billion billion.) The number of inches light travels in a century, meanwhile, is a mere 37,165,049,856,000,000,000. Or thereabouts.