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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Big Ben

On a visit to Big Ben, I was told that if you stand at the bottom of the tower with a portable radio and listen to the chimes on Radio 4 (they still transmit them live), you hear them on the radio before you hear them ‘for real’. I couldn’t believe it – but was intrigued enough to try it for myself. And you know what? It’s absolutely true. The bongs come out of the radio a fraction of a second before they reach your ears from the top of the tower. It’s something so silly, so counter-intuitive, that you have to tell people. (Well, I did.) Researching the explanation, I found that it’s because radio waves travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) rather than the 700 or so miles per hour at which sound waves travel. The signal travelling down the wire from the microphone to the BBC goes at the speed of light too. Hence the radio version overtaking the real one.

I realised that this would be the perfect way to teach the principle in school physics lessons. Instead of a boring teacher droning on that ‘radio waves travel at the speed of light’, illustrate it with this beautiful and quirky little fact. The kids will remember it then. I certainly would have done if my physics teacher had taken this approach. As it was I had to wait until I heard a piece of so-called ‘trivia’ in my thirties.