I have been in London for nearly 3 months now. And I am doing my best to become a real Londoner. This means crossing streets even though the light is red. Say “please” after nearly everything you say. Reading a book in the tube. Be on time for appointments, even when travelling by tube. And being able to recognize all the different coins. And I haven’t been in any mens rooms lately either.
All the things I was doing wrong the first weeks, I have overcome.
I know that you have to get through certain stages before you may call yourself a real Londoner. I was wondering how they knew that I was ready to move on to the next level. Because I’m sure they do. Suddenly people show up asking me questions. And it is cool, because until now, I have been able to answer them all. So I hope I am doing well. And it feels good too, seems like I no longer look like a lost tourist.
I knew the testing had begon when a Chinese tourist and his wife came to me, while I was wandering around on Whitehall. It started out easy.
“Excuse me. The famous London Big Ben, where is it ?” they looked puzzled.
“Oh, that is easy sir, just follow this road and you run into it. You can’t miss it. It’s the big tower with the clock on it”.
“Oh thank you very much”. They were about to walk on, when his wife started talking to him. In Chinese, I didn’t get a word of it. But out of that came this trick question:
“The Thames, the river, do you know where it is ?”. Both he and his wife looked at me.
But I knew the answer. “Yes I do, if you walk back just a little and go to the left, you will come to the Thames” I said. They thanked me and went. And I felt good. This was going well.
A few days later a boy sat down next to me in the tube. I was reading, and was on my way home from Notting Hill.
“Hello” he said.
“Hello” I said, a bit surprised.
“Do you know what the end station is of this tube ?” he asked me.
“Yes it is going to Hammersmith” I told him. We were on the Hammersmith & City Line.
“Thanks” he said. But that wasn’t all of it yet. The trick question being:
“Do you know what zone Hammersmith is in ?”
“Yes, it’s zone 2” I told him. “Where are you going ?” I asked him.
He gave me an answer, but I couldn’t really hear what he said. Definetely a checker, I thought. And questions were getting more difficult too.
A few days after that I was walking to Pimlico station to get to work. A girl. She looked lost. She asked the girl before me first, but she didn’t know the answer, so she got to me. I was ready.
“Hello” I said.
“Could you tell me where Douglas Street is please ?” she said.
Jeez, Douglas Street, they think they got me now. But they did not. I knew where Douglas Street was, I had passed it a few days ago, and actually taken a picture of it, thinking that it was a cool name for a street. And of course I immediately related it to Douglas Adams, as big a hero to me among writers, as Bill is among actors. So.
“Yes I know where Douglas Street is, go back towards Vauxhall Bridge Road, turn left, the first on your right, and the first street you cross, is Douglas Street” I said very convincingly. I saw her making a checkmark on her paper.
“Thank you” she said.
“You’re welcome” I said.
And I wonder what the next task will be.
The above incidents really have happened.
And how appropriate to post this on the official Towel Day, which is today, and which is a tribute to the late Douglas Adams, writer of the only Guide you really need in life. If you haven’t read it yet, now is the time.