x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

In the Olympics rush, a glimpse of not-so-glorious London

The Olympics have brought crowds, sweat and noise to London - and all will remain once it is over

For those, like me, whose job is to perform in a play each night in London's theatreland, these are interesting - not to say cacophonous - times. With the Olympic Games now less than a week away, the capital increasingly resembles some Hollywood zombie movie, with groups of glazed-eyed tourists stumbling aimlessly about in search of Big Ben, or their hotel, or just somewhere to shelter from the rain.

With a million extra passengers on the subway, journeying in each night is becoming an increasingly claustrophobic experience. And don't be fooled into thinking a warm, dark theatre is a good place in which to catch 40 winks after a hard day's sightseeing. London is loud. Each night, the cast has to compete for the audience's attention with wailing police sirens, the thrum of distant helicopters and screeching tyres.

As if this wasn't surreal enough, upon leaving the theatre last night I noticed a detachment of troops arriving to guard the approach to Buckingham Palace, dressed in full camouflage gear overlaid with fluorescent high-visibility jackets.

The strains of living in this overcrowded city are being seen everywhere. Last weekend in Hyde Park, Sir Paul McCartney, no less, had the plug pulled on a rock concert after he exceeded the 10.30pm curfew specified by authorities.

And only yesterday, the London Borough of Hammersmith announced it would issue chest-mounted video cameras to parking wardens to record the increasing number of assaults being inflicted on them by motorists.

But if Londoners are hoping that life will return to normal once the Olympics are finished, they're in for a shock: this week, the Office of National Statistics announced that the population of the UK's capital city had crested eight million for the first time. Indeed, the overall population of the country has increased by 7 per cent in just 10 years, mainly as a result of an influx of immigrants from eastern Europe and an associated baby boom.

The bare statistics say a lot, but just how life is being affected by living cheek by jowl is more eloquently expressed in another survey (albeit a less scientific one) published in the BBC magazine Gardeners' World.

This pastoral publication, which usually concerns itself with the best way to prune your petunias or grow prize rhubarb, has taken time to ask readers for their top 10 sources of urban irritation. And the answers reflect just how wired up Britons have become.

Where once upon a time the only threats to peace and quiet were tweeting birds and the whistle of the morning postman, the list of common irritations is now a catalogue of your neighbours' pastimes.

The worst offender apparently is the outdoor hot tub, the ultimate urban status symbol. These human washing machines are the latest must-have accessory to arrive from Sweden, on the heels of Abba and the Volvo.

Close behind is the outdoor barbecue followed by an inventory of shame: errant burglar alarms, loud televisions, partying students and what is described as "groups of middle-aged women shrieking" (although the survey was quiet on whether hot tubs were involved in said shrieking).

And it's not just noise that's stretching people's nerves to the breaking point. Other sources of irritation include wind chimes jangling in the breeze, the constant flashing of security lights and "the smell of fabric conditioner" from clothes hanging on the washing line.

If the scent of newly laundered clothes is enough to bring neighbours to fisticuffs, something must be wrong. And the sober truth is that urban living is coming under more pressure every year.

Indeed, the issue of population management probably will move inexorably up the political agenda along with the statistics. Meanwhile, Londoners brace for the millions of tourists arriving for Friday's opening ceremony - and a glimpse, I fear, of the city of the future.

 

Michael Simkins is a writer and actor based in London

On Twitter: @michael_simkins