Just as the Queen used to ride in a headscarf instead of a helmet around her estates (and her dashing consort disdained a seatbelt while motoring between lady companions), I make a point of disobeying every nannying command of London life.
No, I do not carry water wherever I go in hot weather. I don’t find a face covering helps me “travel with confidence”. I never wore them during the pandemic (I had an exemption, don’t troll me), let alone years later.
If warned not to use stairs “unless in an emergency” I climb them (my station at Holland Park has 93 steps and frankly many people who alight there look like they could use the exercise).
I ignore the endless Mayor of London ads on the filthy network telling me to “be kind” or “considerate of others” as I wonder why Sadiq Khan doesn’t spend the money on cleaning, rather than hectoring long-suffering users of his services about their inter-personal behaviour.
At Heathrow, I am told that Border Force is a supporter of the Hidden Disabilities scheme, as if that is the main thing. Even the vegan caramel flapjack I just had with my cuppa said “Our Mission: End Modern Slavery” on the packet. It’s a snack, not a political manifesto, folks!
When I was a teenager I would sneak out of boarding school to go to London. I would refuse to go on family holidays in August if it meant missing Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest street party in Europe, on my own doorstep.
The point I’m trying to make is London used to be a place to where you escaped from school, or “the country”, or the suburbs, or your boring home town as it was adult, it was fun, it was wild — and therefore, yes, dangerous at times (there were more than 200 arrests at Carnival last year).
Now all the excitement is in the country — where life really is shag, drink, ride and die
Now all the excitement is in the country — where life really is shag, drink, ride and die — while London is like a great big toddler soft-play centre with everyone being told to stay safe and carry their baby sucky bottles of water at all times.
It’s particularly dispiriting to find that this virtue-signalling turned woke-bullying has captured Transport for London and therefore the entire Underground network, so proudly symbolic of this country’s resistance to totalitarianism during the war, but now the ground zero of our lost Blitz spirit.
Forget Everyday Sexism. The level of everyday infantilisation at every turn is intolerable, as is the amount spaffed on this nagging, at £700,000 for the Greater London Authority’s central marketing budget.
Daisy Waugh, the novelist, finds it so annoying that she has created an alter ego called “Guy Woake” — find him on the ’Gram — to send up the capital’s culture of infantilisation. “At Piccadilly Tube I was told over the tannoy to ‘have a meal’ before I went out on the town,” she complains. “And I’ve also been on a platform and twice been told to remove scarves and hats in case these items blow off causing harm to yourself and others. It started with the pandemic but has accelerated out of control.”
I’ve tried to work out why Londoners are treated as if their every day in the capital is a hostile environment course they will be lucky to survive. The charitable explanation is that as most of us are glued to our phone screens with our AirPods in, we are functionally blind and deaf — and this is why Nanny Khan is attempting to baby us into a state of helpless dependence.
The less charitable interpretation is that his endless self-promotional bossing is a (relatively) cheap way of reminding us he’s there.
All I can say is it doesn’t work with me. I want to get from A to B without being told to be kind or carry water. Having said that, after a fine fish supper at J Sheekey one rainy evening last year, I’d made my way to Leicester Square Tube, descended — as is my wont — in the middle of the staircase.
Reader, I went arse over tit and broke a finger. But I was wearing heels and was half a bottle of Chablis down, M’lud.
I still refuse to hold the handrail until the Mayor treats Londoners as adults, uses his marketing budget on cleaning and station staff, and puts a hard stop to all this maddening woke-bullying.
Rachel Johnson is a contributing editor of the Evening Standard.