In her latest column, Orla Gartland gets to grips with the etiquette of the tube as she settles into London
London is the scariest and most exciting place I know. Through a twist of musical fate, I spent the most part of my summer in London, and gathered quite a few thoughts about the place along the way.
I’ve never felt so drawn to a place before. Now, don’t get me wrong; Dublin is big, but London is colossal. A quick glance at the iconic map of the London underground gives a fleeting insight into the sheer span of the beast. It has sprawled out, swallowing the land that touches its borders. ‘Overwhelming’ would be an understatement.
Ridiculously affluent areas lie side-by-side with seriously grim ones. You can step off the tube and be greeted with quaint markets or stunning Georgian architecture, or you can step off and instantly fear for your own safety and the safety of every expensive thing you’ve ever owned.
Sometimes the streets are paved with gold, other times just paved with plastic bags and chewing gum. This is typical of quite a few cities I’ve visited, but the extent of the contrast in this particular one never fails to shock me. It’s fair to say that Made in Chelsea gave me a very warped view of what London life would be like.
London is inspiring; I find it difficult to warrant a lazy day in such a young, competitive, productive city. The difference in pace between Oxford Street and Grafton Street is nuts. Everyone is constantly rushing, and it’s every man for himself at rush hour where careless footing could very easily leave your cheek pressed to the inside of the bus window.
Dublin seems to be full of warm people; being a clumsy native I get lost in town a fair bit and have often been offered help by people who have simply noticed me looking a little lost. That sort of approach seems rare in London, but I must admit that every time I have actually mustered up the confidence to seek help the strangers have been keen.
Londoners love to give directions in their own city. They burst with pride as they show you how they know the tube lines and bus routes like the back of their hand. Basically, they won’t approach you, but when approached they’re generally helpful, friendly creatures.
As a complete foreigner I definitely find the social norms of the underground baffling; so many people in such a cosy space, but not a single conversation! People with sweaty brows face each other and mess about on their phones, ambitiously trying to avoid eye contact and awkward hand touches; game on.
I can’t say I’ve made any friends for life on Dublin buses but I’ve definitely had a couple enjoyable conversations over the years. If we had an underground in Dublin, I imagine it’d be a right laugh.
London is a lonely place. In such a fast-paced environment it’s easy to just feel like a single dot in a vast sea of dots just moving around, going about their day. The city feels like a conveyor belt for its millions of characters and it’s always public transport that makes me feel that way.
I think to myself ‘Those buses or trains will run regardless of whether I’m on them or not.’ It’s a strange thought being in the city and feeling so small and insignificant, but on a good night it’s an incredible buzz to feel a part of such a beautiful glowing machine.
I’m not sure how long I’ll be here, but I’ll be sure to keep one eye open as my love-hate relationship with the city continues to grow. Oh well; home is always just one grotty Ryanair flight away.