Yep. Soon to be installed at Canary Wharf tube station in London, commuters can choose from a selection of one, three or five minute stories across a range of genres.
Pros: More people reading stuff. It’s good for the soul, you know? Cons: LITTER! (and if you look at the number of free newspapers left on floors and seat across the Underground network, you’ll know what I mean).
Also in that story, this line, featuring one of the best words ever invented:
The idea of selling books from a machine is not new; in 1937, Penguin founder Allen Lane installed a “Penguincubator” on Charing Cross Road, a slot-machine book-dispenser that biographer Jeremy Lewis wrote: “shocked his more conservative colleagues”.
Sadly, it only sold books. ‘Sadly’ because if there was anything that 1937 London could have really done with more of, it would surely have been penguins. Well, penguins and an absence of impending global conflict.
But it seems that book vending machines go back over a century even before Lane’s Charing Cross effort.
The first book-dispensing vending machine was built by Richard Carlile in England in 1822. Carlile was a bookseller who wanted to sell seditious works like Paine’s Age of Reason without being thrown in jail.
However, it would seem that this was no automated process. Carlile or some other individual was likely sitting in the back of the machine and handing the books out through a slot at the bottom as the money came through a slot at the top.
The machines at Canary Wharf won’t have people inside them. Technology has really moved on in the last 197 years. The short stories will be free and won’t actually be books – rather just sheets of paper. They’re already in use across France, the US and Hong Kong, but not in South Africa, where the dual challenges of eleven official languages and rampant theft would mean that the stories would be difficult to share, and the machines only temporary at best.
Of course, with the Shard being so very tall, its piles are likely some of the deepest vertical things piercing the London soil. But given the plethora of underground tunnels, pipes and… well… more tunnels and pipes traversing the subterranean Big Smoke, one imagines that they must have had to be very careful where exactly they stuck them.
Not an actual London, of course. I mean – maybe they do… There’s a Little London on the Isle of Man, there’s East London in South Africa, there’s a London Island in…. Chile? I think…? I’ll have to look that one up.
But I’m not referring to lazy colonial nomenclature. I mean the essence of London. For many people, that means excitement, bright lights, a cosmopolitan lifestyle and world-famous landmarks.
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.
I love London. But in small doses. Could I live there? No.
Oxford seemed a good compromise. All that London razzmatazz was just an hour away, but equally also a world away. Much like someone else’s cute but irritating toddler, it was nice to be able to play politely for a while, then hand it back over, make one’s excuses, and leave.
[Gets out broad brush] London is a deeply impersonal, insular place. Gone are the days of the friendly cockney market traders. They’ve been replaced by soulless automatons, looking out only for number one. Maybe I shouldn’t blame them – maybe it’s the city that has shaped the people who have then shaped the city. A vicious Circle Line.
Go to London! I guarantee you’ll either be mugged or not appreciated. Catch the train to London, stopping at Rejection, Disappointment, Backstabbing Central and Shattered Dreams Parkway.
Of course, it might just be me. Square peg, round hole and all that.
But no. London is often not a nice place to be. Unless you belong.
All of which leads me back to the question in the title of the post. And ‘m pretty sure that everyone in SA will agree that out local London is right here under Table Mountain.
Cape Town isn’t exactly London… squeezed between the mountain and the ocean, the geography and its Apartheid history dictate its society.
But can it compare? Sure it can.
Because yes. Cape Town is often not a nice place to be. Unless you belong.
In saying this, I’m not suggesting that I don’t belong here. At least, I feel that I belong here as much as anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I’m also not trying to criticise the city for being the way it is. Cities evolve, and as individual residents we have very little control over what direction that evolution takes. But I do find it interesting that if you were asked to single out a city in either of the countries in which I have lived that fitted this description, you wouldn’t hesitate to name London and Cape Town.
Not Birmingham or Johannesburg. Or Manchester and Durban. Or Leicester and Bloemfont-look I think you get my point.
So – is there a London (or a Cape Town) in your country? Or, if you’re in the UK or SA, do you agree with what I wrote above?