Sunday, February 24, 2008

London: One big "C" word

Entering London from LHR on the bus to Victoria, one is confronted by a blizzard of signs showing a large white “C” on a red circle. These warn unsuspecting drivers that they are about to enter the Congestion zone, which costs up to 25 quid per day I believe. It is, I am told, the brainchild of the current mayor of London, the nice Ken Livingstone, who was, and maybe still is, some sort of communist; though I am sure he enjoys all the trappings that the office provides, as do most communists when they get into power. Whatever the faults of commie Ken may be, the congestion charge is a great innovation. Where once the centre of town was an impassable mess of illegally parked cars and formidably intertwined traffic, it is now a carnival of buses. Instead of poncing around France collecting iron railings and pretending to ride a bicycle, I would rather Mayor Daley should come and meet Ken and see what a real public transport system is.

Not that everything in London is enviable. Outside the congestion zone, things are not as pretty. I am staying with my sister in Dulwich, home of the famous private school (which of course is perversely referred to as a public school). The streets around the school are a forest of bollards and mountainous speed bumps that leaves the impression that the good folk of Dulwich are defending against possible assault from heavy tanks. I never knew that Sydenham was that threatening. Such is London today. The ever present blinking eye of the speed cameras, danger of inadvertent entry into a bus lane (instant 90 quid fine or something), the positive blizzard of signs and warnings, roads littered with rubbish skips and white delivery vans contrive to make immense demands on concentration to achieve an accident-free journey.

I caught sight of a man urinating less than discreetly in a doorway near New Bond Street. This is the kind of thing one expects to see in France. Though I think the offender was foreign. In civilized Glen Ellyn the fellow could be arrested.

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