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London in the Spring


Kellie Arthur is a New Zealander living in London

I had to go to Birmingham last week for work and someone tried to sell me on the idea by telling me that Birmingham was 'going to be' the Barcelona of the UK. On the way to 'Barcelona' I heard another passenger on the train spouting about London being the driest city and having the most convertible cars in Europe...per capita. It made me think: "Why is it that we constantly try and prove that we are just as warm/happening/cultured as other places? Do we really think that chi chi people driving around with the top down under the Cote Azur sunshine really care that London has more convertible cars and is drier 'per capita'? Does anyone really believe that a city which boasts Cadbury World and the National Sea Life Museum as its key attractions really competes with the home of Gaudi, fiesta and Sangrias?

There is the stench of desperation in the air when I hear comments like this. As sunny as the days get, London is never going to be Miami - regardless how many Frithas are beetling down the M23 in the latest convertible Saab.

If you want a city overflowing with world class entertainment options, then London's your city. If you want to live somewhere where you can fly off to countless European destinations for the same price as a round in a Notting Hill pub, then London is the very place. But sipping cocktails overlooking a sun-drenched body of water is never going to be London's forte. While London may never live up to its Mediterranean rivals on that score, it is currently going through a transformation. A turning point in the English calendar happened last week. A sign that the days of summer are nigh. It wasn't the first blossoming of daffodils or a sudden burst of summer fruits on the shelves of Tesco's. It isn't even that the clocks have been turned forward an hour that signals the beginning of shorter nights and longer days.

In London, the real measure of the forthcoming summer is when you spot your first bra wearing sun worshipper in the park. On any given sunny lunch hour, some Londoners feel compelled to go the nearest Common or park and get their kit off. This behaviour of the locals seems so counter intuitive when you think of the satirical images of socks and sandal wearing English people on the beaches back home. Funnily enough it isn't this culturally uncharacteristic loss of propriety and inhibition that amazes me. What I find truly shocking is that they choose to wear such horrendous underwear when they do it. You can guarantee you will see the Union Jack or 'Who's your Daddy' emblazoned across boxer shorts or manky, old, discoloured cotton bras. Sitting up there, bold as brass, eating their egg and cress on white.

Considering I thought I was courageous by wearing a skirt without stockings, I was firmly put into my place by my peroxide, 40 something neighbour in her tired, old Marks and Spencer's bra. There she lay, in the middle of Clapham Common, 'OK' and 'Hello' magazines strewn around her, trying desperately to soak up as much vitamin D as possible. Other skimpily clad Londoners scattered around the Common shared her desperation. You have the feeling that they are all thinking "Right, girl, get out in it now in case that's our lot for the year".

Having lived through an English April, I can understand their pessimism. Odd juxtapositions occur at this time of year. There is no happy medium. It is 15 degrees one day and snowing the next. I decided that contrary to popular belief, only two seasons exist in London - Winter and Summer. At the moment, it can either of these two seasons or both within the day. Spring clothes also do not exist. Here in seasonal limbo people either shuffle hurriedly by, wrapped in scarves and coats. Tense, furrowed foreheads filled with frustration at the weather. Or they casually amble past in singlets and sandals, faces filled with obstinacy of a teenager walking in two inch stilettos and swearing that they are comfortable.

While I jest at the expense of the balmy army of underwear exhibitionists or the singlet and sandal brigade, I also empathise with them. While I haven't jumped on the bandwagon and joined them in my Elle McPhersons, there is no denying that the days, in-between the snow, have been warmer. Longer nights entice a life after work that doesn't necessitate harbouring in the warmth of the local. And while it may not be the Mediterranean, a Sunday spent lying barefoot in a London park, under the April sun, reading The Sunday Times, chatting to friends, isn't too shabby - even if your neighbour's underwear is.


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