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Published: April 3rd 2009
I've just finished a month-long contract at a hair product company in Soho, during which I was able to enjoy the privileges of commuting, all the while knowing there was a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. As most of you will know, London's Tube is a strange place. It silences everyone, me included. I have tried to make a virtue of saying 'bless you' when someone sneezes, but more often than not I am cowed by the overwhelming detachment exuded by all travellers. It's completely understandable - after all, the only thing you share is a desire to get somewhere quickly. But in a sense, it's a real shame, because of all the subterranean systems in the world, London's probably contains the highest proportion of interesting people at any given time. My most memorable illustration of this was when I spied a woman carefully perusing some notes on the spread of the HIV2 strand (breathing, apparently. Haha, just kidding!). She had the harried look of an absent-minded professor. She got off at White City.
Most of the people on the Tube are well-dressed, which suggests a level of achievement - you never know what might come up if you had a chat. Conversely, there was one old Eastern European chap who took great pleasure in loudly proclaiming something to no-one in particular, with grand, sweeping hand gestures... Everyone looked away, and I changed seats.
I'm not saying Tube users should be forced to talk. I just think it's a very diverse, interesting group of people in a cramped space.
And so, out! Into fresh air again. My exit was Oxford Circus, at the juncture of commercial Mammon, Oxford and Regent Streets. The intersection is appropriately served by preachy types who warn of impending doom.
London's streets always present contrasts - step off any main drag and you'll quickly find a little oasis of relative quiet. My walk to work came to embrace this - I found a tube exit that gave directly onto a small side street, thus removing myself from the massed hordes on my way to work.
Soho is pretty cool - I had never really appreciated this, but there is a real buzz about the place, an aura of possibility. Stuff is happening, and it's exciting! Then I get to work.
The job itself was sweet - Spanish, French, a multicultural environment and the kind of work I can do with my eyes closed. I met members of a sizeable but hitherto unknown subgroup of London: expat French workers who are attracted by Britain's more flexible labour laws and greater opportunities. Given our own motivations for coming here, we had plenty to talk about.
On a related note, our own reasons for being here are undergoing regular reassessment: London was supposed to provide plentiful work and a strong currency - money and fun! However, it turns out that it's not much fun without money. No job, no money! Is the great London dream fading for Kiwis? Too early to tell, but the record number of them going home seems to suggest that change is in the air.
As for us, we'll stay on. Even though we mostly get short-term work, it would be churlish to suggest that we're living anything but the good life. I mean, we are off to Salzburg in a week...
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