London Life (2)

To continue what may be an ongoing series about London, I am reflecting on how the people there have changed over the last 50 years. Since some time around 1980, or perhaps a bit before, there are certain things that you just don’t do, if you live in London. You never talk to strangers in the street. You may ask about buses, or trains, though only if at a bus stop, or on the platform of a station, and then, only if a suitable official is unavailable to answer your query.

You should not approach children, whether they are on their own, or in groups. This applies to an age range from about 8 years old, through to late teens. Children in London are streetwise and opportunistic, whatever their background, and will cause you more problems than you can ever imagine.

Avoid going upstairs on a bus, unless it is very busy. Large groups may suddenly appear up there, intent on a spree of anti-social behaviour which will make you feel isolated and marginalised. Even if they are only schoolkids, or groups of tourists, they can still be very noisy, and annoying. There is also the modern curse of music played at incredible volume, through mobile phones, or other devices. This is generally done to provoke outrage, so is best ignored.

Never offer to help anyone you see slumped in the road, or in a doorway, or on a tube train. In all probability, they will be drunk, or on drugs, and if neither of these, as crazy as a box of frogs. You may offer to help elderly people who have fallen over, but make sure that they are reasonably well-presented first. Interference in anything is generally resented, and can often result in accusations at best, or violence at worst.

When walking, portray a sense of purpose and direction. Never appear lost or confused, and on no account ever cross a street because a group of hoody-wearing youths are approaching you on the same side, as this will be seen as a sign of weakness, and make you a target.

If you own, or drive, a car in London, and park it on the street, don’t expect it to be respected, or to survive unscathed. Snapping off wing mirrors and radio antennas is considered normal behaviour, as is plastering your vehicle in unwanted fast food, or scraping something sharp along the side of it. If you are foolish enough to leave a satnav, on view, or even a bag of shopping where it can be seen, expect to return to a smashed window, and the car ransacked. And don’t think an alarm will help, as nobody cares about alarms in London. There are thousands of them going off, day and night, and all are ignored. You are better off with an old, boring car, preferably unwashed, and looking unloved. It may then escape the attention of vandals or thieves, but probably not.

If you are going somewhere unfamiliar, make sure you plan your route in advance, as asking directions is pointless. Unless you ask a black cab driver, it is highly unlikely that anyone else you approach, even a Police Officer, will have a clue about where you want to go. If people do try to help, they will invariably send you in completely the wrong direction, as few Londoners know the City well.

If you decide to stop for coffee, or a snack, do not leave mobile phones, keys, wallets, or anything of the remotest value on the table in front of you. Pickpockets that could show the Artful Dodger a trick or two, will have these things off you in the blink of an eye. Keep all bags and cases securely zipped and closed at all times, and think twice about using a rucksack. You can’t see it on your back, and petty criminals can have them undone, and the items inside gone, without you feeling a thing.

If someone approaches you asking for a cigarette, or change for their fare home, never give them anything. Once they see that you have money, or are willing to hand over cigarettes, or other items, they will pester you with sob stories, and in some cases, follow you for some distance, asking for more and more. Don’t feel guilty about it, some of these ‘street people’ live in the suburbs, and make a comfortable living out of ‘respectable begging’.

So what has this rough guide to surviving the streets of London got to do with how people have changed? Everything really. Before this, people chatted. They would go out of their way to give directions, and probably knew the area where they lived or worked reasonably well. Children could ask for help from any passing stranger, knowing that they would do their best to get them to safety, locate their parents, or take them to a Police Station. You were unlikely to encounter aggressive groups of wandering youths, (save for a brief spell when Teddy Boys were fashionable) and young people on buses used to get up from their seat to offer it to women, or older people. There was rarely any trouble on a bus, as there used to be conductors in charge, and the tube trains were pretty safe too. Cars were occasionally stolen, but rarely vandalised for the sake of it.

There were people living on the streets. They were called tramps, and were usually heavily bearded, dressed in little more than rags, and carrying all their possessions in a bundle. They never approached people, and did not beg for money, or food, or try to sell you something. Most Police Officers were on foot, covering small beats that they knew well, keeping their eye on local criminals, and able to give directions, tell off unruly children, and generally be of great help to the community. In most areas, the local population was from a small group of families, and they knew the area, and most of the people too.

There were few high-rise developments, and nobody was isolated, unless they chose to be. Living in houses meant that people saw what was going on, spoke to their neighbours, and looked out for them, as many were from their own family anyway, and most of the others were either friends, or well known to them. The criminals that existed were of a different type. They may not have been very nice people, and may well have been bank robbers, extortionists, or safe crackers, but they did not rob old people, or take things from youngsters in the street. If you were unlucky enough to be burgled, it would be possessions that were taken; there would not be vandalism of your property as well. People really did leave their front doors open, or keys on strings in the letterbox, it is not a myth.

Shopkeepers generally knew all their customers. They would let you off the odd change, if you didn’t have it, and you could drop it in next time. They could tell children off for being noisy or disrespectful in their shops, and it worked, as they knew your parents too.

I admit, it was not Utopia. It was just a hell of a lot safer, and more pleasant, than it is today.

Selfishness has replaced community involvement. Everyone is out for themselves, preying on the weak, exploiting the sick, old, or infirm. Nanny State laws, and Political Correctness, have tied the hands of the Police and Local Councils, making it harder than ever to deal with harassment from neighbours, noise, and petty crime. ‘Jeremy Kyle panellist’-style parenting has put small children on the streets at all hours, feral and vicious; the offspring of those who have never worked, and intend never to do so.

Disrespect of Teachers, Police, Officials in all forms, not a totally bad thing to some degree, has reached such a level, that those authorities have just stopped trying to deal with anything. It can only get worse, possibly reverting back to the Victorian London of the haves and have-nots, with areas where certain people just did not dare to venture.

Obviously, this is only an issue for those old enough to remember when it was better. For the others, they know no different, so are unconcerned. It was one of the main reasons for my desire to leave the Capital though, and I am happier remembering it how it was, than living in what it is today.

42 thoughts on “London Life (2)

  1. I didn’t really experience this living in Wandsworth. I knew and was friendly with my neighbours. I knew the shopkeepers and restaurant owners on my high street and was friendly with them too. Almost all the children I saw were supervised. Maybe I was just in a little bubble.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think some places benefited from high house prices, and a local community feel. I was mainly writing about Camden, when I lived there, though it applied to boroughs like Haringey, Tower Hamlets, and Hackney too.


    1. I can well imagine how very different life was for you, Gilly. I never really knew much about racial abuse until I was well into my late teens. And I certainly never practiced it. When I was at school, I had a brief juvenile relationship with a girlfriend who was from St Kitts. Funnily enough, it was her parents, not mine, who stopped us from taking it further.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  2. Ah well, your experiences are so different to mine, Pete. You must have lived in north London! I moved to London in 1979 and have lived south of the river ever since, now close to Crystal palace but variously in Brixton, Clapham, Herne Hill, Dulwich and Tooting. I’ve owned many cars in that time and never once had it vandalised. I walk every where and I’ve yet to be assaulted. I live opposite a large state secondary school and there are numerous teenagers coming and going and I mix and mingle with them as I do other people. They’re lively, boisterous at times and like all teenagers I’ve known, often unware of other people, but for the vast majority of the time harmless. Now I’m in my 60s I’ve even had them offer me a seat on the bus! Yesterday for instance I walked from Waterloo to the new Queen Elizabeth park, via Paddington and Hampstead. I spoke to at least a dozen people, tow of whom were homeless or similar. I passed Orthodox Jews on their way to their Synagogues and Muslims outside the central London Mosque after their prayers. My children went to school here and ended up alright. It is far from a perfect place as the current excess of knife crime shows. But I don’t feel uncomfortable anywhere, even in the middle of Brixton or Peckham or a protest in Whitehall or wherever. Sure there are places after dark I’d not go, but then my father spoke of the Elephant he remembered in 1944 and the stabbing of a colour as part of a mugging. I’m sorry you have such a jaundiced view on the greatest city in the world bar none. It’s overpriced, grubby, the inequalities are at time egregious over full, in need of a face lift but I hope never to want to live anywhere else. Having been brought up in the New Forest there is no way I want to live in the countryside again; visit sure, holiday of course but live? Nope, not me. I hope you don’t mind this and, of course delete it if you wish.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wouldn’t delete it, Tan, and welcome your opinion and personal view. I lived all over London, mostly in the South-East. But for the last 12 years there I lived in Camden, and watched the gradual deterioration of the social structure I knew so well in my youth. I also worked for the Police for those last 12 years, so perhaps had a greater knowledge of the huge scale of crime (much of it unreported) than most people. I enjoyed my life there, up to the point where I couldn’t stand it any longer. I am pleased to hear that you intend to stay. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.


        1. I did 22 years as an EMT in the Ambulance Service before that. That gave me an insight into the ‘dark heart’ of the capital. Working for the Police as a Communications Officer just served to confirm what I had already experienced.
          Best wishes, Pete.


          1. I work now in the charity sector with a streatham youth club and a homeless charity in Deptford. I too see the impact of gangs, government cuts, isolation, poor health, unfairness all over. And yet I donโ€™t see a dark heart in this city. I see more examples of compassion and hope especially amongst the young. Donโ€™t think itโ€™s better or worse than the 60s or 80s (choose your own decade), Pete. Itโ€™s different. There are more people living and working here than ever and they rub along. Itโ€™s extraordinary. My only reason for commenting was because your post phrased things to suggest your description of London was applicable to every corner. Some, of course, are awful, and some behaviour is intolerable and needs proper methods to remove it. But it is far from a universal experience, far from typical of the Londoners I remain among. I have never bought this mythologising โ€˜the good old daysโ€™. There, Iโ€™ll stop now. Thank you for giving me space to air my own prejudices!! All the best Geoff.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. Your own thoughts are always welcome, Geoff. I own up to that ‘good old days’ nostalgia, as I recall all too well when districts felt like real small communities, and everyone was ‘in it together’. But if we all felt the same, life would be boring, ๐Ÿ™‚
              Best wishes, Pete.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Stevie Turner and commented:
    I remember when London was better…much better. I am lucky to have lived there when I could walk to school on my own aged 7, when I could roam the streets unmolested with my friends, and when I could spend Saturdays in Chrisp Street market and enjoy the atmosphere. I passed through Chrisp Street today on the way back from my Grandmother’s grave – it ain’t my London anymore and I couldn’t wait to get home to East Anglia.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sadly all true, Pete. I went down to the East End today. I made sure the car doors were locked as we waited at the traffic lights along the East India Dock Road. We drove as near as we could get to where my old house used to stand, but no way would I get out and walk around. So sad. You and I know the reasons why we moved to East Anglia …

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m enjoying your memories of London, though it’s sad to hear about the changes.

    Seattle has its problems too, grappling with an increasing homeless population – not due to lack of employment or affordability, but to drug addiction. It’s still a beautiful city but there are many places I stay away from. It’s a shame.

    And by the way, ‘crazy as a box of frogs’ made me smile.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I recently have started to talk to people I encounter in lines or places where we are waiting for the same thing (service for instance). Generally, they will respond once they understand the innocuousness of what I am saying. I have also been approached recently (three times this past week) for information. I do, see the problem, but then what I see is dependency upon devices and not fellow humans. But then this would not explain the genesis of the change in London at the time you report. Interesting. Interesting post. Warmest regards, Theo
    An example of my talking to someone was Friday in a Financial Institution I commented on the quality of the surveillance video and how if they all had that quality more crooks would be captured. the woman was amused and remarked that she would not like that image of her flashed on television. “Why I would have to check my make-up before coming in here.”

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Itโ€™s true of most cities I think. In the late 50s my dad commuted to NY from our sheltered home in NC and would alternate taking my brother and me there with him on occasion. The first thing he said was never look anyone in the eyes on the street. Much later in the same NC city where I grew up I worked in a law firm. The building left the outer door open 24-hours but inner office doors were locked. The elevator frequently became stuck so I always took the stairs, guaranteed to have to step over a homeless person sleeping (I hoped). More recently I lived in Miami. One Thanksgiving a man visiting from Ohio was lost in a fashionable area, Coconut Grove. He stopped to ask directions. The man pulled a gun, shot him, dragged him out of his car and drove away. Itโ€™s everywhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You have reminded me why I dont like big cities, although I found in Leeds (my only true city residence) that it was isolated areas that you had to be aware of. I remember the taxi drivers would refuse to go to some places, which was always a good sign not to go there on foot ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Gosh Pete, you make it sound like the worst place to live! I think the same can be said about any large town or city though. And the spate in knife crime among youths is shocking, more so because that is spreading far south of the river even to where my daughter lives in Esher. I do think that the lack of police presence has a lot to do with this, no-one is looking out for any misbehaviour. Police if you see them at all, drive past in their cars. I can’t say that I felt in any way at risk when visiting London, but I do see why you would have wanted to move away.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Well, yes, to a fair degree I see where you are coming fom, Pete. But more than once in London, I have experienced the kindness of strangers when I have fallen, or asked for directions….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s good to hear, Sue. I have no doubt that still goes, but as I got close to leaving the city, I noticed it had become the exception, rather than the rule. One of my elderly neighbours fell in the street in Camden. A ‘decent-looking’ man stopped to help her up, and when he left, she discovered her purse containing her just-collected pension had been taken from her handbag. She knocked on my door to tell me, knowing I worked for the police. I know that doesn’t to happen to everyone of course, but there was a time when I would never have heard of such a thing.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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