Monday, August 24, 2009

The face of the free press

So Mr Murdoch has sounded the first bugle in what looks set to be the mass retreat from the sordid and frankly degrading mire of London's freesheet wars. Okay so I am getting a bit ahead of myself here: after all it's only theLondonpaper that's actually being canned, with the equally-derisory London Lite(weight) showing no sign of running out of steam just yet. But it's surely just a matter of time before that too is consigned to the fish and chip shop of history. After all, they were only ever vanity projects, two playground bullies trying to outdo each other in plumbing new journalistic depths, while proving that no matter what the more optimistic politicians may say, celebrity still matters. So the media landscape shifts once more. But just as significant for London's commuters could be the disappearance of the freesheet hawker, a hardy breed of pest that has gamely stalked the streets of the capital since the appallingly trashy comic books entered circulation around the time I started this blog.

I am prepared to admit that I may be being a little blinkered here, but it seems to me as if the freesheet hawkers do get an easier ride of it than their counterparts the chuggers. But I certainly always make the effort to make eye contact, and respond to having one of the ghastly things shoved in my face with a polite "No thank you." Is everyone so nice to them? Perhaps not, but there's none of that forced cheerfulness which the chuggers feel they have to display. Not for the freesheet hawker the extravagant gesture or the waving arms. No, the freesheet hawker mantains a sullen disposition, hugging his (or her) arms to his chest and firing a curt imprecation at each would-be customer as he juts a folder paper towards the hurrying figure. You get the feeling that the freesheet hawker really doesn't care whether the figure takes the paper or not - accept his offering and he will have one less to dispose of, but reject him and it is of no matter, there will soon be others to take your place. The freesheet hawkers are indifferent to you. To them, you are just a face in a crowd.

I for one intend to admire them while I still can.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Underground in Barcelona

I was on holiday last week, spending a few days in the wonderful city of Barcelona with The Family (that's The Wife, The Little Commuter and my parents-in-law, on this occasion). It was great and all that, but the most exciting aspect of the trip, at least from this blog's perpective, was getting up close and personal with Barcelona's very own version of the Tube.

If I was a bit underwhelmed at the prospect of travelling beneath Barcelona's narrow streets and spacious squares, relative veteran as I am of London's Tube system (not to mention a New York subway afficionado), I realised early on that I was in for a treat. My introduction to this mysterious netherworld came when we suddenly found ourselves confronted by an elevator which appeared as if by magic in the midst of a busy road intersection. It was a bit like that bit in Harry Potter when they go into a phone booth and - oh I can't remember, but you get the idea). Anyway, down we went in this lift, and found ourselves in a brightly-lit antechamber, before us a set of mechanical doors, sliding noiselessly back and forth like some portal to another world. Or something like that. I have to say that at this point my memory becomes somewhar blurred, not because of any myterious or nefarious goings on, but because I was trying in vain to fold up The Little Commuter's vehicle.

These things always cause me trouble, not having a natural affinity with mechanical devices. The Wife, with barely a hint of exasperation, had taken me through how it should be done a couple of times, but for some reason when I tried to duplicate her method, the vital clip just didn't seem to want to click into place, which meant that no sooner had I managed to fold the legs in towards the seat then the whole lot popped apart again, like a set of magnets which suddenly find their polarity reversed. Eventually, and with no help at all from The Wife, I'm pleased to say, I managed to subdue the thing, and proceeded through the mysterious portal, The Little Commuter perched on my arm.

We made our way on to the platform, without having to trek halfway across the city, as sometimes seems to be the case in London, and boarded the first train to find all manner of people practically begging me to take their seats, because I was holding a toddler. Again, this seemed strange to someone who travels regularly in our capital, where even heavily pregnant women are left standing because nobody looks up from their freesheets for long enough to notice them.

Oh, and when we got to our stop, we didn't have to go through that tiresome process of fumbling around for tickets to put through the barriers on the way out, the authorities having cunningly grasped the idea, which seems to elude their English counterparts, that we couldn't have got in without tickets, so there is no need to ask for them on the way out.