A response to a post by danlmarmot

Interesting post about his time in London. From the point of view of an American who’s lived here for 17-1/2 years now, there are a couple of things I’d like to comment on. I tried to post the comment in your journal but it was about twice the permitted length.

1) Smoking. If you think it’s bad now, you should have seen it 5 years ago and more. Every pub was full of the fug of cigarette smoke so those who wanted to have a drink and not be suffused with smoke just drank at home. No smoking areas in restaurants were a joke. The smoke just drifted over and spoiled your meal.

I am still annoyed about walking past a pub or an office building and having to endure the cloud of smoke from the intrepid smokers around the doorway. The government is planning more measures against smoking (removing tobacco from view in shops and going to plain packaging with no brand logos or colours) and the tide is turning slowly, but surely.

America is quite a bit ahead of us on this, but give us a break! We just started this around 5 years ago and it’s still in its infancy.

2) Drinking. The government is tackling binge drinking (which results in some of the hijinks you saw while you were here), but until the social causes of binge drinking are tackled there will still be problems. We locals know to avoid the streets after around 10:30 pm and watch out for the puddles of puke in the morning when wending our way to the Tube to commute to work. Scotland is putting floors under the alcohol price and England is slowly working towards that. However, every time the government or some MP comes up with an idea on how to cut binge drinking, the cry goes up from the tabloids: “Nanny state! Nanny state!” and the government draws back from the brink.

I expect that the number of 24-hour pubs is going to go down, as Continental-café style drinking has not caught on here and will not catch on here, and the 24-hour pubs are mostly concentrated in city centres.

3) Public civility. I wonder if you wouldn’t have gotten the same kinds of responses if you’d asked people in the centre of New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. London is a big city and people here insulate themselves so that interaction with their fellow urbanites is kept to a minimum. I have never found the reactions you’ve noted, though, so I’m wondering a bit about it. As for public rage, well, I saw everything you recounted, and more, in my 21 years in New York. The only difference is that you were more likely to be harmed in New York if an altercation broke out.

4) Bars. The only people who can afford to live in Soho are rent boys and whores, really. It is as if people were living on 8th Avenue and 42nd Street in New York. There may be some, but not many.

Some gay pubs are distributed elsewhere. Did you get to Vauxhall while you were here? That has become a happening gay area now, and people do live in the neighbourhood.

I don’t go to pubs anymore, as I’m not on the pull and I have about one drink a week, perhaps less than that. No need to go out to a gay pub if you don’t drink much and are happily married.

That being said, I have always found that I get blank stares (if that) from people in gay pubs anywhere. I’m about 100 in gay years and everywhere there is a culture of “if you’re not young, buff, and full of cum I’m not interested in you and you don’t exist in this pub.” There are pubs which cater to “special tastes”. The City of Quebec pub near Marble Arch is the pub for older men, and the King’s Arms on Poland Street is where the bears hang out. Qdos at Charing Cross is where Asians (=British “Orientals”) congregate.

I have found that gay pubs/bars everywhere have a clique. There are always a group of people who know each other, go to the pub at the same time each day and hang out together. This takes no regard of what country the pub is in. Episcopal Church and Church of England coffee hours after Eucharist on Sunday are exactly the same. Newcomers, unless there are people specially deputised to talk to them and take them ’round, are left in the corner and the only person who speaks to them is the coffee server who asks “One sugar or two?”

It’s interesting that Davey Wavey, the YouTube gay personal trainer and philosopher on life, was here last week and one of the first things he said to the group of us who met him in Hyde Park was, “My gaydar doesn’t work here!” It probably takes a few years for one’s gaydar to recalibrate itself.

5) Travelling. I only drove for about 2 months when I lived in Chicago 20 years ago. I never drove before then, nor since. I am dependent on public transport. The fact that many bus shelters have displays to tell you when your bus is going to arrive has removed the mystery from “When is my bus going to get here?” In my opinion, most Americans have been spoiled by the ubiquity of automobiles and get more impatient at long travel times than Europeans do. So an American’s idea of swift travel is not a Londoner’s idea of the same. The Tube and bus network always get me where I want to go; I prepare for unfamiliar journeys by checking the TfL website to ensure that there are no holdups before I start, and I leave sufficient time (more than sufficient in most cases) to get to where I’m going. My mother always said, “Better 10 minutes early than 1 minute late.”

6) Anxiety. Well, everywhere there is a lot to be anxious about. We’ve been anxious a lot longer than Americans have been, as terrorist attacks happened here until the late 1990’s and then started again in 2005. In 1994, I actually heard the two bombs go off that year, one in Canary Wharf and one in Aldwich (where the bomber was so inept that instead of setting the bomb to go off at 10:30am, he set it for 10:30pm and it went off as he was carrying it downstairs on a 176 bus). So there is a level of calmness about public safety that you don’t see in the US.

As for the current world situation, and the economic situation here in the UK, there is a lot of uncertainty. The government is a coalition and has made a lot of U-turns in policy in response to the tabloid press, who are always accusing them of being soft on crime, soft on immigration, soft on asylum seekers, soft on welfare recipients, and soft on bankers and The City, but also tough on invalids and those who cannot work, tough on pensioners, tough on taxpayers, and so on and so forth.

Is it any wonder that hoi polloi, confused by what they read in the newspapers and see on TV, are anxious? There is no certainty, no government policy that can’t be changed or reversed by the Tories who are nervous about whether they will at last get a majority in Parliament in 2015.

Strikes have mostly been banished from public view in the past 25 years or so, except for the transport workers, who are militant and go out at the drop of a hat. So the public view of a summer of strikes of public servants is pretty grim.

Last, the weather. Up until you got here, we had about a month and a half without any rain to speak of. You brought the deluge with you. The farmers are now happier. We always complain about the weather; it’s part of the national psyche and to have a long spell of dry, sunny, and warm weather makes us even more anxious than we are about current events and the government. With the rain, we now have something to talk about while we binge drink in the pubs, vomit in the gutters, take a much-delayed night bus home, and pick a fight at the bus stop before stumbling home, falling in the gutter, and waiting for 5 hours in A&E to see a triage nurse at 4am.

All the previous sentence is tongue-in-cheek, of course. I hope you’ll be back.

2 Responses to “A response to a post by danlmarmot

  1. danlmarmot says:

    Indeed… And I agree with all that you said as well… we’re not that far apart.

    Part of the oddity of my London leg was that it was part visiting family and friends, part meeting new friends (like you!) and part just catching up with tourist stuff. It was my eighth or tenth visit to London, so it’s not quite the fresh exciting city to explore… yet it’s not a city where I had much of a daily routine. Plus my hayfever was pretty severe, which colored things a lot.

    I will be back, for sure. It’s a fascinating place, and my whinging is really trivial at the end of the day. 🙂

  2. chrishansenhome says:

    My favourite gay weatherman, Tomas Schafernaker, says that starting on Monday we’re in for a heatwave, 30C+, for quite a while. Woot!

    When I first came here I had some sniffles and red eyes, which I think came from the fact that the pollens here were different from all those I’d ever experienced.