First (bad) impressions of London '08

Bright lights, big city

Back when I first moved to London in '08 I was a dewy-eyed, 18 year old country bumpkin armed with just a second hand A to Z, a poor sense of direction and a thirst for adventure. At this point, I was also still writing a diary every day, something I did religiously from the age of 16 to 19 (which I think we can all agree is, in hindsight, the part of our lives that we would least like documented for posterity in minute, intimate detail).

Anyway, one (the only?) upside of this ritualistic diary keeping is that I was able to capture my first impressions of London from the very first day I moved here, on Saturday 13th September 2008. Looking back recently, it surprised me to find out that amongst the many golden memories of getting to know this great city which I instantly fell in love with and to this day adore, there were some more mixed reviews of several stops on the tube map. Here are some early less favourable discoveries that I've trawled up from the Ch-archives:


When I visit in the daytime: 'It is absolutely terrifying, full of dodgy markets selling dodgy shit to dodgy people'. When I visit again at night later that week: 'If I thought Camden was scary by day, by night it's a fucking horror movie.' I also note that I get into a fight with a bunch of drunken women on a hen do at bad gig at The Purple Turtle. Little do I know that I'll end up living in this realm of Pazuzu half a decade later....

Elephant and Castle

'Today I hopped on a tube down to Elephant and Castle, something that I'd been really excited about for ages, and I expected something dramatic and steeped in history. But it turned out to be a crappy 1ft statuette of an elephant with a turret on its back. I left instantly to go and see Borough Market (basically just a big Farmers' Market).'


I end up spending a lot of time in Battersea as I become a volunteer dog walker at the amazing Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in '08 - '09. However, on my first visit, I note that, 'Battersea is a very grotty neck of the woods; today, I saw a man driving a car past the park in full clown costume and makeup. Terrifying.'

Fortune Green

'Today I went on a walk to explore the rather exciting green blob on my map that is 'Temple Fortune' (a short walk from my uni halls). However, it turned out to just be some scrubby playing fields. Though I did discover the grave of Laszlo Biro.'

Hampstead Heath

'The Heath is a gorgeous wilderness, but huge and confusing - I got there are 11am and couldn't find my way off it until 2pm, managing to walk in completely the wrong direction from Parliament Hill, which I had headed to the Heath with the specific intention of climbing. I did manage to locate the men's bathing pond though. I also learned that the bylaws of the Heath include that you aren't allowed to deposit dead animals, mend furniture or sort rags and bones in the open.' I also note that over the weekend George Michael has been arrested there with a shit load of cocaine, and that it's possibly the closest I've ever been to something glamorous happening (living at the time in student digs near Finchley Road).

Canary Wharf

'It was wet, miserable and full of wet and miserable-looking bankers. The skyscrapers are shiny monstrosities. I stayed just long enough to make the trip worthwhile then got the hell out of there. I ended up catching the hilariously toy-like DLR train down to Island Gardens, where I came across the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, the most terrifying underpass ever, taking you down though about 300m of slopey tunnel into the eerie, echoey darkness. Though typically for London (so I'm finding), I passed at least 2 joggers down there'. In my first week of living in London, I also note the collapse of Lehman Bros, leading to panicky phone calls from many a student's mother advising them to withdraw their entire student loan and hide it in a pillow case under their mattress. Also, here's a joke from the good old London Lite (RIP): 'What's the difference between a pigeon and a banker? A pigeon can put a deposit on a Lamborghini.'


I've always hated Kilburn High Road due to having some terrible experiences there, including when a married colleague in his 40s bought me (aged 23) several glasses of red wine after work and proceeded to tell me that a fortune teller had prophesied that he and I would start an affair (incorrectly, as it turned out). But here's an early diary entry that perhaps pinpoints where it all started:

Saturday, 10th January 2009

'Had a driving lesson this morning in Kilburn, and as result I have my first official scary London story! So I get there and my instructor rings to say that he'll be there in 5 minutes, and to meet him at the petrol station opposite the tube, and that he'll be in a black VW Polo. I'm standing next to the garage in the freezing cold and sure enough, a black VW Polo pulls up and a geezer winds down the window and asks if I'm waiting for someone, and I say yes, so he says get in, so I do and we drive off around the corner. For a few minutes, there's some pre-amble and chat, as you'd expect. Then...he asks me, 'So, what do you want to buy?' FUCK, I AM IN A CAR WITH A DRUG DEALER. He probably has a gun. But...I should point out that my first thought at this stage was that he was actually my driving instructor and he was pulling my leg. A few minutes later, I finally twig and I get the hell out the car and he zooms off, no shit. Seconds later, my actual driving instructor arrives in an identical car and I commence my first driving lesson in London, rather shaken, in a snow blizzard.'

Despite these few dodgy early experience, I am pleased to say that I'm still here a decade later. Though I still avoid Kilburn High Road like the plague.


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