Life in lyrics: Giving Monday the Elbow

New-York-MorningSo it’s Monday. *YAY*

It was a beautiful weekend in London (I basically did nothing but lie in, sunbathe, read, paint, watch TV, do a bit of a workout, and eat good food. No, there were no Instagram photos of daffodils or pub lunches or rousing countryside walks (I don’t even use Instagram, I KNOW. OMIGOSH) but it was good all the same.)

But on Monday? GRR. Like pretty much everyone else in the city, you have to get up about three hours before your body naturally feels like it, and get on to a pretty slow, expensive tin can (some people call them trains) packed in with other people’s shuffling and eating and perspiring and sodding breathing. Yes, it’s the morning commute. Gotta love it.
But for the past week or so, I’ve not been struck down with quite the same level of dread as has happened on other days, because (apart from the quiet arrival of spring, which is completely FABULOUS) I’ve been listening to this song by Elbow as soon as I get on the train.

Headphones in ear, I play it first, before anything else, and just breathe and listen.

And so far, it makes me extraordinarily calm and optimistic, even when it’s Monday and I’m tired and running late and some anti-social twazzock is sitting next to me rustling and twitching and eating and drinking and sighing FAR BEYOND what is necessary to get comfy. SIGH.

Also, the pedant in me is also disproportionately pleased by the quiet symmetry held within the idea that, as the bloke next to me elbows me in the side, I am also giving him the Elbow – in the form of beautiful harmonies and mental PEACE. So nuh.

Now, I realise the song is about New York, but the quivering notes and the uplifting lyrics about people coming together to build and lifting their heads towards the sky and being in a city – WELL, I reckon that applies to London just as much as the Big Apple (but also I like the idea of living in NY one day, and I know people who live there, so hey, it’s all good).

Also I love the lyrics. The ones above seem particularly creative and optimistic, even if it’s sadly not quite true that everybody owns the great ideas (otherwise hey, we’d all be quids in on the iPod). HOWEVER I also love

  • The first to put a simple truth in words, binds the world in a feeling all familiar (this is so true)
  • Reaching up into the sky….Why? Because they can… (they CAN, dammit, they CAN!)
  • The desire in the patchwork symphony (just a beautiful line, with a beautiful melody)

I read somewhere [edit: HERE, in the Independent] that the lead singer of Elbow, Guy Garvey, fled to New York after a particularly painful break-up, and just sat and people-watched and felt the spirit of the city nourish his smashed-up heart, and it transformed his song-writing forever.

Now, some of us, sadly, have neither the means nor the time to dash off to wherever whenever anyone decides to be a total dick, and are also (sob) apparently unable to create original and wonderful music from our personal tragedies.

Some of us have to be content with mediocre blogposts. C’est la vie, huh?

BUT TAKE COMFORT. Because here, I’m passing on my morning optimism solution. Yes, I may get sick of the song before too long, but so far, so good. Listen and love. It’s unabashed anthem-writing at its best, confectionery in musical form, but it’s also perfectly created, with echoes and soothing riffs and Garvey’s soulful voice, and it just sounds like something that some cheesy romantic movie director would set to the background of a sunrise when it’s going to be A REALLY GREAT DAY.

And it makes everything feel like it might be OK even when it’s not. Even on Monday. Amazing.

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How the Olympics brought me home

As the world focuses on London, I ask myself – is this what ‘home’ feels like?

Olympic rings - London 2012

Olympic rings – London 2012

Like half of the country, I’m currently a little bit in love with Danny Boyle, and the ridiculous, chaotic, bonkers, hilarious and politically-divisive show of history, culture, technology and Britishness that was the London Olympics Opening Ceremony 2012.

Unexpected and unfamiliar patriotic warmth suffused through me as I cried with laughter over Rowan Atkinson, gasped as old Queenie dived out of a helicopter ahead of a very delicious-looking Daniel Craig as Bond, applauded the defiant entrance of early 20th century suffragettes, punched the air at the NHS show, scratched my head slightly at the dancing nurses, cringed good-naturedly at the ‘social networking’ elements, nodded approvingly at Internet-inventor Tim Berners-Lee, and clapped along to the stunning run-down of British pop music through the decades before an incredible fireworks show topped it all off and it was over.

But even before that, before billions of eyes tuned in to watch my capital city’s spectacle, I’d been feeling oddly patriotic; oddly like this might actually be my home – a feeling that is very weird for me, and something that has only happened in the past few years. My history hasn’t exactly leant itself well to making someone feel at home; the inevitable question, ‘So, where are you from?’ isn’t an easy one for me to answer in the succinct way such a polite enquiry usually demands ‒ nobody really wants to provoke eye-rolling too soon in any relationship, after all.

But this feeling of displacement and worldwide belonging ‒ rather than a feeling of home ‒ goes back even before I was born, as my grandfather was British, but grew up in Argentina, and married a young Argentine woman from Mendoza, just outside Buenos Aires, where my father was born before moving with the family to Mexico and Colombia, and then ‘back home’ (whatever that means) to England. You’d be forgiven for thinking my mum is on simpler ground, and yet she was born in Hereford, grew up in Yorkshire, with a mother (my grandmother) whose maiden name is the very-German Kinder.

Personally, I was born in London, moved to Somerset aged two, moved around there for a bit before upping sticks entirely to the South of France for nine years, and then moving again to Madrid, before coming back to Britain aged 18.

And so began my sense that belonging, and nationality, isn’t quite the simple, monolithic thing it sounds. A ‘family home’ in the physical, familiar sense; ‘home friends’ who I’ve known since primary school, long-term ideas such as having ‘the family hairdresser’, a doctor who’s known you since infancy or memories of what the town used to look like – none of these things apply to me.

By the age of eleven I’d lived in four different houses – now aged 24, in my lifetime my parents have lived in eight; including two in France, one in Spain, and three in the UK. While, through being in an expatriate bubble in both France and Spain full of people who barely stay in the same place for six months at a time, I know people who have lived in far more countries, far more far-flung, alien nations, and far more houses than I have – but I just can’t comprehend the idea of living in one house in one place since childhood – it just doesn’t compute.

And when we first moved from the house in Somerset,  I remember crying terribly and sorrowfully, as only a six year old can, grasped by the fear that everything I called home was about to be ripped away. I don’t do that anymore – and not just because I’m older.

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It all ends with Euston: The Northern Line seat-to-point correlation

When your main form of transport is by Tube, don’t think that closer necessarily equals better

This occurred to me as I squeezed myself between door and other commuters on my way home last night (see fabulously scientific and precise graph, absolutely in no way cobbled together in MS Paint. Obviously).

In any case, when I move to a totally different part of London in the next few months, my situation will change dramatically. For the purposes of this blogpost, all you need to know is that I’ll go back to living ‘at the end of a line’ (having already done so for 2 years before moving to where I am currently), and, while being virtually guaranteed a seat in such situations due to my travelling SO FAR AWAY, the fact that it takes so long may mean it’s only marginally worth it – however, as the graphs shows, there are downsides to being closer, too. Sigh.

I should also point out here that the desire to get a seat is not merely a primeval urge on my part to hoof fellow commuters out the way and sink into the not-so-comfortable space with a short-lived sense of smug satisfaction at being the Seat Queen – it’s also because you can only really ‘do stuff’ on the Tube when you’re in a seat, be it have a nice little snooze, get in to a good book, make notes, have a proper think, etc. Londoners may be experts at using the Tube, and yes, while I can do all those aforementioned things while standing, often without even needing to hold on to a pole (‘Advanced Tube Surfing’, if you will), the sweet glow of dropping into a perfectly vacated, fairly-and-squarely-and-politely obtained seat when you still have enough stops left to go to make it worthwhile is near priceless at the end of a long day when you live at the end of the line (or a few stops prior).

And then, there’s NOT living at the end of the line. Closer, yes, but, as the graph shows, the ‘free seats’ to ‘point of trying to get it’ law makes this less viable than you might otherwise believe.

Basically, you get really, really good at standing up – which is mitigated only slightly if, by some wonderful chance, you’ve bagged the neat little space next to the door on the side you need to get off from, in which you can nestle and even book-read without obviously being in anyone’s way, and casually slip out of on to your home platform without so much as brushing past another passenger. And, because you can lean on to the partition glass inside, you don’t even need to hold on to a pole, or make awkward non-eye-contact with your fellow travellers. Genius.

Downsides include not being in prime position to nab a seat should one become empty (as everyone knows, this is located in the seat aisles, in everyone’s way to the point where, when seat-sitters jump up to leave, it’s almost as if you’re doing everyone a FAVOUR by falling to the now-empty seat.)

But, well, as the graph above demonstrates, for my current commute, it’s hardly worth it.

Bascially, my friends, it all ends with Euston.

Film review: One Day

Please be aware – this review contains major plot spoilers (which won’t, in my opinion, ruin your experience of the film or even the book, but I’m just warning you…)

One Day - the film

One Day - the film poster

I was expecting to hate it. I was expecting to get annoyed and frustrated; get all het up at the injustice of it all, and rail against the dazzle of celebrity ruining what was a surprisingly comforting, cry-and-laugh-out-loud, easy-to-read, get-wrapped-up-in, and most importantly, down-to-Earth, English book. Anne Hathaway? As Emma Morley? Intelligent, working-class, witty but unconfident, vulnerable, Edinburgh University-going, Yorkshire-girl Emma Morley? You don’t mean the same Anne Hathaway that played the plain-to-dazzling New York magazine assistant in The Devil Wears Prada, with the perfect smile, glossy hair, red carpet-tiny waist and unmistakeably American accent? Oh, you do. Riiight. Cue much cynical eye-rolling and exasperated hand-wringing at Hollywood’s slavish kowtowing to the bottom line rather than the integrity of a simple, well-told and much loved story. In the past week, Hathaway has appeared on a BBC list of actors who have served up terrible accents in films (including the infamous cockney of Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins), while Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour even broadcast a programme asking whether ‘beautiful actresses can or should play plain girls’, prefacing it by saying that ‘if the world was fair, an unknown but talented Yorkshire actress would have played Emma Morley’. I was prepared to feel the same, and I dutifully paid for my ticket, found my seat, folded my arms, and waited.

I wasn’t prepared to actually, gasp, like it. But like it, I did.

One Day

One Day - your tube-travelling companion

At one point, One Day was the book everyone was reading on the tube. You couldn’t move for people engrossed in the orange and white cover, interesting but just ubiquitous enough for me to not actually want to read it. I’ve always been like that; bit behind the curve, always thinking that if it’s worth getting interested in it, I’ll get round to it eventually.

American medical drama Grey’s Anatomy is another example; steadfastly refused to watch it while it was A Big Thing; unashamed fan now it’s dropped off most of my friends’ radar. I do this, I think, because I refuse to feel like some sheep being shepherded by the latest trends (immune to the consumerist battle-axe, me). In fact, I blatantly go out of my way NOT to read the latest bestseller, not to wear the recent fashions (as if they’d look good on me anyway), simply because (I like to tell myself) I prefer the enjoyment of discovering something in a way that makes me feel that I myself have just stumbled across it. Read something just because everyone else is, pah! No imagination! Some would call this stubborn, others pretentious, others delusional. It is all these things, but hear me out. I do usually get around to reading or watching whatever the big thing is, and, almost invariably, realise what I’ve been missing, and then unabashedly jump on whatever bandwagon is now still trailing behind it, feeling happy that I’ve finally found the thing, but smug that I’ve missed the crowds. It’s like a tourist trap without the tourists. Best of both worlds.

Alas, I read One Day in exactly this manner. I borrowed a dog-eared copy from an acquaintance, simply to see what I’d missed, amid rumours they were making a film of it. And I read it in two days – if I didn’t have a job, I’d have read in in about three hours. I could not put it down. Almost immediately, I loved it like an old friend, carried it around with me, hunkered down in bed with it and wrapped myself around the casual words like the duvet around my shoulders. I became one of those people on the tube with it! I laughed and leaked tears of recognition, nostalgia and sadness as Dexter and Emma graduated from University, talked about the future, went off to teach English in Europe and find themselves in India (Dexter; I’ve just completed my TEFL qualification and am saving for a much-longed-for trip to the sub-continent), wilted slowly in a job going nowhere (Emma; I long to try something different, and spent six long months unemployed thinking no-one would ever give me a chance), and then taking wildly different directions in careers that ultimately, end up OK. The book had exactly the right dose of realism and banality, with just the amount of hope and love needed to stave off the black cloud of total depression. It was, in effect, life, in a book – with a sprinkling of sentimentality just to keep it interesting. Not a perfect book, not an epic, but a paperback with meaning. It grabbed a place in my heart and wouldn’t leave.

And so, when I heard there was a film being made, I was apprehensive but intrigued. Most film adaptations are, frankly, crap. Only Chocolat, helped hugely by the presence of a simply delectable Johnny Depp, deserves to be called ‘better than the book’. All others, while complementary, cannot be seen without reading the original text – see The Time Traveller’s Wife, or all the Harry Potter films, for more details. Adaptations gloss over intricacies; they shorten, they merge, they beautify, they change, they simplify, they ruin. This adaptation of One Day, which I happily discovered was directed by the very fantastic Lone Scherfig of wonderfully fantastic film An Education, did all of these things except the very latter.

Admittedly, elements of the book were taken out. Simply watching the film, we know much less about the characters’ inner dialogues. We know much less of Emma’s several disastrous relationships prior to her final one. We know much less about her lack of confidence, her haphazard career, her emotional letters to her wandering paramour, her sense of helplessness, her struggle to publish her novels, her changing feelings towards Dexter. We know much less about Dexter’s own hidden turmoil, his contradictions, his flaws, his shifting personality from young and carefree to older and more wretched. We feel much less for his family when he arrives to see his ill mother, still-drunk from the night before. We know far less about the tenderness he feels for his daughter, and the pain following his divorce, and his steadfast ability to recover after losing his best friend. What we see is but half the story. But somehow, it still works.

The film capitalises on what film does best, and what books cannot quite, for all their descriptions, offer: the wonders of light and sound. Throughout, the sweeping views and dismal yet soft light of Edinburgh, the noise and jarring technicolour of nineties television, the grating quality of the crap flats Emma lives in when she first moves to London, the awful but hilarious tragedy of her former flatmate getting married to the tune of Robbie Williams’ classic nineties hit ‘Angels’, all help bring the film closer. We may know less about the characters, but we are no less involved in their story for it – everything feels raw; real.

Rachel Portman, who also worked on the inimitably wonderful score for Chocolat, again excels here, with the music never getting in the way of the script, always enhancing the scene, building eventually to a truly beautiful, jazz-infused blend of sound when Emma comes running after a dejected Dexter during some of the later scenes in Paris. It helps present a sensitive, if slightly patchy, rendition of these characters’ muddle through their own lives.

Anne Hathaway, One Day

The ever-watchable Anne Hathaway, and Jim Sturgess, scrub up well as their much-loved characters, Emma and Dexter

And, for all the watchwords on Hathaway’s mis-casting, by the end, I came to love her just as much as the other, more-obviously-cast characters. Ok, so she is a little gorgeous to truly pull off Emma’s complete lack of confidence and shabby, ‘normal-girl’ appearance. And her accent wavers like a tree branch in the wind, but she still convinces as Emma, still scrubs up pretty well as a pale-skinned, not-especially-groomed, bookish girl from up North. Jim Sturgess, who I admit to not consciously knowing before this film, is absolutely spot on as Dexter, going effortlessly from slightly-annoying yet boyishly-confident graduate to lost and lonely father and widower, wearing the lines, grey hair and heavy shoulder of near-middle age just as well as the tanned, toned, polished and spoiled nonchalance of youth. Rafe Spall, as Emma’s doomed boyfriend Ian, is also fantastic, capturing the trying-too-hard yet heartbreaking sweetness, and, crucially, tragically unfunny, demeanour of the character author David Nicholls paints so brilliantly in the book. Spall steals the scene after Emma’s death, delivering an exchange between himself and Dexter in such a touching, heartfelt way that the vulnerability and simple humanity of both men are revealed anew. Dexter’s father doesn’t quite corner the role I’d imagined from the book as a well-meaning, softly-spoken, quietly heartbroken older man trying to set his son on the right road while dealing with the bone-crushing sadness of his wife’s terminal cancer. This dad was more a character of angry ridicule, which jarred slightly – although Dexter’s mother, as the one-time glamorous beauty, was more on the mark. However, girl-of-the moment Romola Garai pleasantly surprises as Dexter’s sometime-wife Sylvie. I imagined her to be much skinnier and spikier in the book than shown here, but she does bring a perhaps-needed sympathy to the character, fleshing out the somewhat obvious ‘villain’ role given to her in the book into something more understandable, maternal and touching. Through her portrayal, we see some of Dexter’s pain following Emma’s death, some of his desire to improve himself following the birth of his daughter – his longing to find himself after long, lost years.

On a similar note, congratulations must go to the makeup team of this film, which charms entirely in its portrayal of the two leads over two critical decades. Emma is pretty ageless, her clothes becoming more refined and her hair slightly choppier, although her gradual eyebags do suggest two decades of full-time work may have impacted somewhat. On the other hand, Dexter’s transition from beautiful twenty-something, to sweaty, drug-addicted thirty-something, to arrestingly-gorgeous salt-and-pepper forty-something is a delight to behold (Sturgess’s melt-in-the-mouth smile does have something to do with my appreciation of this, I’ll admit).

So while One Day wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t the crushing disappointment I’d been dreading either. More than once, the entire cinema including myself laughed out loud – at the biting wit, at the matter-of-factness, at the recognisable yet hilarious dreariness of everyday life and the tender sense of lost hope – while my friends, who (shame on them!) hadn’t yet read to the end of the book, clapped their hands over their mouths in suitable shock at the moment when poor Emma is mowed down by a truck as she cycles home. There wasn’t a dry eye among us when the penny dropped that the lives we’d hitherto invested so much into had to continue without the girl we’d been rooting for. The film, while missing out huge chunks of the plot, was wholly engaging, enveloping the entire audience in a warm state of contentment, tempered just enough with the lingering sensation that life never quite seems to turn in to what you thought it would; to what you think it is. Yes, the film made me want to take the book out again, and savour the forgotten-intricacies of the story like flavours in a subtly-spiced sauce, but that doesn’t mean I dismiss it entirely. It sits alongside the book – the soundtrack, if you will, playing along in the background to bring a bit of real life to what will always be, sadly but ultimately, just words on a page.

I expected to hate it – I was wrong. Like the book says on its instantly recognisable front cover: in word form or film, One Day is quite simply, ‘a modern-day classic’ – and one day, when I look back on it in years to come, it may well become my own annual time-capsule, a quick-fire shortcut to these halcyon days of being young, single, free but frustrated in the post-post-graduation, recession-hit London haze. I don’t know what the future will bring, but, as One Day addresses, neither does anyone. Better grab the opportunities as they come your way, it suggests, or it might be too late. Life, it says, has a habit of not working out the way you want. That’s what makes it so interesting, and, like this film – ultimately, and breathtakingly, bittersweet.

Riots: The view from London

Hackney TV riots

Riots erupt in Hackney, as covered by BBC News (photo by Stuart Bannocks)

For most of us, it began properly late yesterday afternoon. Rumours and first pictures of riots on the streets of Hackney suggested that a situation which had previously been contained to the northerly borough of Tottenham had suddenly spread much closer to home. Colleagues in the office decided to leave earlier than planned as phone calls of closed roads started to come in, and the BBC launched a live feed as the first suggestions of a serious situation hung jaggedly in the air.

By the time I got home, the situation had escalated beyond belief. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the apparently literally burning screen as the minutes ticked by, only succumbing to the thought of my 6:45am alarm clock at a still-riotous 2am. A straw poll of colleagues suggests I wasn’t the only one gripped to the news as fresh pockets of violence erupted all over the capital, including a truly horrifying blaze in Croydon. Hurried texts and Facebook posts to friends and family to check if all was OK as reports from breathless and scared journalists flooded in from borough after borough (and eventually, other parts of the country as well) revealed to me just how much my life has seeped into the fabric of the city. Except for Tottenham, I know someone who has lived, or is currently living or working, in pretty much every area affected. To be connected, however tenuously, to some semblance of ‘community’ in the local area in which I am currently living, is a very rare sensation for me.

I often balk at the catch-all word ‘community’, with its faux-political overtones and suggestions of peeling-paint town halls, and as a one-time ex-pat who has moved schools, homes and neighbourhoods more times than I care to count at the moment, have as such cultivated a benign but resolutely unattached stance to most places I live in. I like them yes, I travel through them yes, but I don’t belong. Where I am at any given moment usually feels temporary, even if I’ve been there a while. I’m aware that living arrangements can change quickly, and know that to get too attached to a place (or indeed, a person) for too long leaves you wide open to pain and the unquenchable sensation of loss when, as seems inevitable, you need to leave. Usually, I quite like it this way, because to me, belonging isn’t physical, it’s mental; emotional. But, watching the devastation across several hours last night, I began to understand what ‘community’ might mean to so many, but to so many of the looters, seems to mean tragically nothing. I was suddenly struck by a tender sense of belonging. It may not have been my street, or a friend’s street, that was burning, but it could have been – and in many cases rioting and looting was taking place mere minutes down the road (my house included). The pictures, so like scenes from a tragic film, were now suddenly real.

Ken Livingstone

Former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone

Reasons have been given by some to try and explain (but not justify) the behaviour of the rioters, some of which were as young as 12 or 13. The divisive Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee has tweeted (to a chorus of dissent, as expected) that ‘cut[ting] EMA, benefit, youth service, holiday schemes, police, estate maintenance, speed inequality’ is a recipe for disaster (being clear not to justify the riots), while former London Mayor and hopeful Mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone appeared somewhat controversially, and some say cynically, on the BBC News channel criticising the Government’s policing strategy. He went on to connect the violence with ‘anger and disaffection’, saying that young men (and, one sorely hopes, he means young women as well) ‘have no prospect of a job’ and ‘feel that no-one at the top of society cares about them or speaks for them’. Because belonging isn’t just about staying in one place for long enough – it’s much, much more. Perhaps only people who, for whatever reason, feel they have absolutely nothing to lose risk injury and punishment for a new pair of trainers?

Basically, though, as both Toynbee and Livingstone admitted, much of the violence seems to stem from boredom, lack of respect, lack of connection with the local community, a deeply worrying sense of entitlement, and above all, a staggeringly wanton, reckless disregard for the law – or as Livingstone admitted, ‘out and out theft’. Possibly one of the most devastating pictures of the violence was the YouTube video showing youths helping a young, dazed and injured man to his feet, before another looter steps into the frame and simply helps himself to the contents of the still-stunned victim’s rucksack. Beyond the searing orange fire balls punctuating the night air amid bottles thrown at riot police, it is scenes like this that are so shocking – such callous treatment of defenceless people on perfectly normal streets seems to speak of an ugly,  extremely frightening vein of criminality running deep in the psyche of those rampaging through the capital. I would not even begin to suggest that I know the reasons behind it or solutions to solve it, but evidence of a serious problem is clear.

However, coincidentally, and seemingly unconnectedly, yesterday I also spent a good half hour looking over the ‘Acts of Kindness’ website. This, an art project by the London Underground, features a series of artworks and testimonials from travellers who, when travelling via London’s most central network, have been struck by unexpected outreaches of help from the usually impassive, busy commuters. Tears gathered in my eyes as I read stories of random commuters looking after the embarrassed, lost, ill, drunk, clumsy, vulnerable and frightened Tube travellers, with no expectation of recognition or thanks. But for the grace of whatever you believe in, the stories remind you, it could be you in these situations ‒ and you benefitting from the kindness of strangers. It might not shout so loudly, it might not force police helicopters out over sleeping streets (thank God), it may not burn businesses to the ground, but kindness is out there, and while meek and apparently rare, the effects are much longer lasting than the physical devastation ever will be.

The general response, over Twitter and Facebook, and among people I know, is of sheer disbelief, horror, condemnation of the violence, and mobilisation for good. Already volunteers are being amassed to help clear up the mess, while donations for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods were already being sought late last night. The video of the Hackney woman shouting decisively and eruditely at the criminals destroying her streets has already gone viral as people seek to share her point of view across social networks. As usual, when something widely devastating occurs in this capital, the people band together. It may not be anything as horrific as the London terrorist attacks of 2005 (four years before I moved here), it may be simply a case of out-of-control youths ransacking anywhere they can get away with without rhyme, reason or cause, and it may only (as unpopular, perhaps, as this is to admit) as yet be affecting small pockets of certain areas, but it’s still shocking when places you know, and in which friends live, suddenly erupt in flames on your television screen.

But as Londoners rally round, and the rest of the country reacts with fear, shock and disgust, a show of strength is emerging. Prime Minister David Cameron, fresh from a week and a bit in sunny Tuscany, may have done the right thing in coming home from holiday ‒ albeit a worrying belated response matched only by Boris Johnson’s own lackadaisical approach, although he is home now nonetheless ‒ but despite his much-needed appearance, said nothing that Londoners themselves had not already asserted hours before. It’s not clear exactly what the fallout from the riots will be, what effect it will have on the organisation of the police, or, even, the less-pressing concern of the damage done to the international image of the capital, as newsreaders keep irrelevantly reminding us, one year before the still-unpopular Olympics come to the city.

But while groups of fatally misled, criminal youths might have robbed small businesses and set the city alight, they certainly do not speak for London. London, this great, antique, crumbling, majestic, dynamic, grubby, multi-coloured, crowded, evolving and beautiful city, now more connected via social media like never before, will speak and is speaking ‒ as ever, for itself.

Video: Riot clean up in Clapham Junction – helpers applaud police

‘Tube Crush’: a harmless bit of fun? Sorry, but I don’t think so

Londoners commuting

Surely this is the 'Tube crush' they're referring to, right?

If you count yourself among the substantial portion of Londoners that uses the Tube to get to work every day, you’ll be familiar with the endlessly-frustrating, somewhat soporific routine of wait, push on, breathe in, stop, stop, stop…push off – but if you’re like me and your journey begins at the far, far edges of a line (the Northern), you’ll be one of the blessed few who manage to get a seat, in which case you’ll have to insert ‘scramble, park yourself, arrange bags around feet, put on iPod, get out book, open Metro, look down or up, and studiously refuse to make eye contact with anyone else for the rest of the judderingly long journey’ to the above list. But, even for us lucky seat-hermits, every now and again, something happens that makes us look up from our slumber, and (thank goodness, not a pregnant woman, guy on crutches, or wobbly elderly person, the three people for whom you still have to give up your seat, quite rightly, but you know…) the appearance of a delectably good-looking man in your carriage is the happy visual treat new blog TubeCrush has decided to capitalise upon in its near-daily posts.

TubeCrush has a simple conceit; people take photographs of good-looking guys on the London Underground and Overground (and one assumes, general train) networks, send them in, the blog author writes a suitably witty comment and bored, or especially discerning, people can rate them if they feel such a need. A quick scroll through the photographs reveals a tongue-in-cheek, gently funny collection of posts, which seems an entirely harmless amusement to liven up the dreary A-to-B time that is a fact of life for the many travelling across London.

But is it harmless? Imagine the sexes were reversed. A blog which specialised in men taking cameraphone shots of women without their knowledge, posting them online, making objectifying comments, and then allowing anyone to rate the images?
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