It's sunny in London, that I know
London has a certain je ne sais quoi that Montreal doesn't have. An edge that's perhaps more accurately described as a certain je ne veux pas savoir quoi. Which means, there's a lot going on here I've yet to figure out, and just as much I don't want to know.
Like, what's actually going on in the smoky back room of Billa's Food and Wine store and why he's so jittery. And, how Mr. Brain's frozen Pork Faggots are made; who dropped the prison visitation form outside my door; why the Christian youth centre on my block was taped off as a crime scene; and, how many cigarettes I'd have to smoke with my nose to build up as much bubonic black goo as London leaves in my nostrils each day.
When I decided to move here, I had no illusions. I just had no idea what I was getting myself into. Not really. As anyone who's never been to London (and many who have), will tell you, the city's expensive and it rains a lot. But after living here for a few weeks, I'm amazed that's all they'll warn you about.
My induction began my first weekend here, when I met an old friend for dinner. She's been teaching in London for a few years, and it's on her I rely to have my back when ... well, all the time, actually.
"Sorry I was so distracted on the phone last night," she apologized as soon as we settled in at a pub. "But I'd just found out about this." She pulled a tabloid clipping from her purse and navigated it around pints of cider and Guinness to my side of the table. A marijuana grow-op had been discovered in an elementary school. She paused while I scanned the article before delivering the punch line, "I work there."
The power company had tipped off the school's administration that a surprising amount of electricity was consumed by operations in its basement, to which only the groundskeeper had access. Fortunately, this wasn't the first time grow-ops were found in London's elementary schools, and so the story failed to capture broad media attention.
I wouldn't have noticed anyway. We only have four TV channels where I'm living, and I don't bother turning them on. The real entertainment is outside.
Friends back at home ask me things like, "Do you still see double-decker buses in England?" It's a question fuelled by the same cross-Atlantic understanding that makes people in London express concern that bears and seals are going extinct in Canada.
Not only do I see double-decker buses, I see them chased down and cut-off by police cars, surrounded by stick-wielding officers, and their passengers subdued and arrested – often. I don't even stop to watch it happen anymore. Re-runs get boring.
Thankfully, Brixton Prison is a bus stop on my route, so when it comes to keeping me entertained, my neighbours are fairly innovative. At the tube station just last week, they gave me the Quantum Leap experience, which was awesome, because I love that show.
The scene went like this: suddenly and without warning, I found myself to be the only thing standing between an angry mob of pasty middle-aged footballers and a wall of irate Jamaican locals. They charged and just like the show's star, Sam, I leaped clear just in time. And then I drank some cider.
Of course the UK's not all fish and chips, bangers and mash, and mushy peas. Even with a month's practice, crossing the street remains a perilous pursuit, and I'm not sure I'll ever be really good at it. But just when I start feeling like a simpleton, incapable of learning basic skills, I hear a statistic like this: Every 18 minutes, a child is killed or injured while crossing the street in the UK. Or, like yesterday, I witness something reassuring, like the aftermath of a man who'd been hit by a bus. Watching the paramedics cut off his clothes in the middle of the street and shove a tube down his throat, I felt a little less alone.
Now I have a better understanding of why adventurous Britons in Bolivia love to travel El Camino de la Muerte – the World's Most Dangerous Road. Having survived to adulthood, it's the only real way for them to up the ante.
Still, if you ask me how I find London, I won't have time to tell you any of that. Life is far too fast-paced here. Instead, I'll just try to sell you my kidney and then brag that it's been sunny and 16 C all week.