8 Things You CANNOT Do In London

M@
By M@
8 Things You CANNOT Do In London

"...When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." - Samuel Johnson

Johnson's oft-quoted remark rings true. You can do an awful lot of stuff in the capital, from dining in the dark, to going into battle Viking-style, and playing unicycle hockey.

But he's also wrong. Life affords many experiences that cannot be done in London for love nor money. Here are a few.

1. Admire the elephants

Cockney trunkster at the Tower. Image M@.

London has a long history of elephants. The Romans brought them over (probably) as weapons of war. The Normans fed them too much wine. Our great-grandparents scared them into stampede with a fake lion. On balance, our city can't be trusted with elephants, and it's a good thing they've all gone. The last pachyderms left London Zoo at the turn of this century, and now live at Whipsnade. The capital had a brief and brilliant visitation from an animatronic elephant in 2006 — still the most spellbinding spectacle we've ever witnessed — and an animated projection in 2016, but genuine cockney trunksters are no more.

2. Drink on the tube

Haha, this is really full of Ouzo. Suckers. Image: Shutterstock

Thou mayest not drink alcohol on the tube, nor on any other form of transport operated by TfL. Yet not so long ago, underground boozing was positively encouraged. As Ian Visits notes, the tube network once included some 30 pubs. Two were even built into platforms (Sloane Square and Liverpool Street). These were eventually converted to cafes or closed. All drinking on tube stations and trains was outlawed in 2008. It's typical of the modern nannying state. The freedom to get wasted a few feet from 630 volts of direct current and 200 tonnes of rolling metal should be a human right.

3. Visit an aircraft carrier museum

New York's Intrepid. Image by deror avi, creative commons licence.

New York has the USS Intrepid. San Diego has the USS Midway. The Chinese have converted an aircraft carrier into a luxury hotel, and another into a theme park. The best London can manage, by contrast, is a light cruiser. While we're both proud and fond of HMS Belfast, it's just not as impressive as a ship that can carry 2,600 personnel and a hundred aircraft.

Wouldn't it be marvellous to see an aircraft carrier permanently moored off Greenwich as part of the National Maritime Museum? Sadly, the last British specimen was sold to a Turkish scrapyard in 2016 (after briefly swinging by London for a farewell). We'll have to wait until the middle of the century, when two new-built carriers retire. That's if Portsmouth doesn't bag them first.

4. Watch a rocket launch

Not based on actual events.

Greenwich claims to be the centre of space and time. It even has a statue of Yuri Gagarin. Yet nobody has ever witnessed a rocket launch into space from London. They probably never will, given the inherent dangers of igniting thousands of tons of fuel close to a city centre. That said, Elon Musk is working on it...

5. See the Milky Way

Camberwell, yesterday. Not. Image: ESO/Y. Beletsky, creative commons licence.

While we're talking about space, hands up if you've ever seen the rest of the galaxy from London? It might be possible from a clearing in Epping Forest, with binoculars, a squint and some creative pareidolia, but the Milky Way is otherwise shrouded by the bright lights of the city. This hasn't stopped one central London library from lending out telescopes.

6. Beat a rug

Oy, not in London you don't. Image: Shutterstock

Anyone who finds themselves with the job title of 'editor' must, at some point, commission an article or video about wacky bye-laws. That is a bye-law in itself. Fortunately, London has many, at least according to this article we commissioned in 2016.

Many are spurious, but the rule about carpet beating is there for all to see. According to the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, action will be taken against 'Every person who in any thoroughfare shall beat or shake any carpet, rug, or mat (except door mats before the hour of eight in the morning)'. Of course, it may have been repealed by now, but nobody really cares. You must not beat rugs in London.

7. Climb (or see) a mountain

Ah crap, that might as well be Tottenham down there. Image: Shutterstock

Cape Town has Table Mountain, Tokyo has Mount Fuji, London has... Beckton Alps. While our city is engirdled by hills, we have nothing approaching a mountain. The highest point in the capital is Westerham Heights in Bromley. At 245 metres, this is a tad taller than 1 Canada Square in Canary Wharf. To qualify as a mountain — at least by UK definition — a prominence must reach at least 610 metres. Primrose Hill is nowhere close. However, would-be mountaineers can get a taster at one of London's many excellent climbing centres or the Covent Garden Vertical Chill ice wall.

8. Get on the property ladder

"A primary school teacher and a website developer, eh? I may have just the caravan for you." Image: Shutterstock

Finally, we can't end a list like this without including the obvious. The average property price in London is approaching 6.2 gadzillion pounds. The average wallet or purse in London contains thrupence ha'penny, a spare button and an ailing moth. The one does not go into the other, and we must all live in tiny shoeboxes or move to Luton.

What else can't Londoners do in their own city? Further suggestions welcome in the comments.

Last Updated 30 September 2019