I’VE just had a very interesting taxi journey, from my parents’ house to Worthing station. It went like this:
Driver: “So where are you going?” Me: “London.” Driver: “Why?” Me: “I live there.” Driver: “Uggh. Why?” Me: “Um. It’s nice?”
Driver: “It’s a dirt-hole.” (I should state now that the world he used was not ‘dirt-hole’ but something altogether more unsuitable for delicate Worthing eyes.)
Me: “Oh. Wow. Ok. The WHOLE of London is a dirt-hole?” Driver: Yes. They need to brick over the whole place and fill it with water.” Me, blinking: “You want to turn our capital city into... a massive pond?” Driver: “Yes. It’s a dirt-hole. Why would you live there?” Me: “The culture? The people? All the, um, STUFF?” Driver: “Pffffft”
Me: “To get away from people like you?” Silence. Me: “I don’t think you’ve been to the right bits, mate.” Driver: “The whole place is a poohole.” Me, in a tiny voice: “You do know that the Queen lives there, right?” Driver, tapping meter which reads £3.20: “In London, THAT would say twenty quid.” Me: “True. But I wouldn’t be in a cab in London. I’d be on a night bus, chatting to a nice wino.”
The exchange continued in this fashion until we reached the station, at which point Mr Awful Taxi Driver did not receive a tip.
The whole thing got me thinking. We all know I would never speak ill of Worthing (well I would and frequently do, but for the purposes of this article we’ll pretend otherwise). It produced my father, housed my grandparents and bred me for a happy decade. It taught me what a “twitten” is, and how to most effectively play 2p machines. It helped me appreciate beaches, both with and without sand, more than your average inlander.
But even for the sake of giving Mr Awful Taxi Driver the benefit of the doubt, it’s pretty hard to pretend that the town has ever equalled London. It’s a great place to grow up in, because it inspires you to get out and go somewhere better. My friend the Awful Taxi Driver, it seems, would disagree.
“So, you think Worthing isn’t a dirt-hole?” I innocently asked him. “It wasn’t, but now there’s too many of your London types here, too,” he snarled. “Really?” I said, looking around hopefully for someone with a Whole Foods bag and a Blackberry that I could run towards with my arms open, shrieking “Embrace me, kindred spirit! Let’s compare Oyster cards!”. Alas, none to be found.
My theory on the reason suburban people think they hate London, aside from the obvious excessive Mail/Express reading and general belief that every stranger’s just a mugger you haven’t met, is that they’re thinking of the bits they go to as a tourist. King’s Cross. Leicester Square. Oxford Street. Places that ooze with a sort of pungent pedestrian soup.
But here’s the secret that my angry friend might want to know – nobody LIVES in those places. And when we venture into them, Londoners hate them more than you do. It’s the equivalent of someone coming to Worthing, spending an hour at Teville Gate, then going back and telling all their friends it’s a dirt-hole.
And you wouldn’t like that, now, would you?