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Who’s that suspicious lookin’ person?

February 10, 2017

The grounds immediately outside my work is a veritable oasis, an enclaved shelter against the chaos of London. It contains a Buddhist-themed yoga hall, so attached to it is a moss garden with Buddha statues and large palms, set underneath a wooden walkway, below ground level for the area. On the same theme, there is a large cast iron cow just behind the offices.

All around are several other kinds of trees and planters, and a large structure made out of old shipping crates, stacked criss-crossed on top of each other; on top is some kind of wire humanoid structure. At least two of the crates can be entered – they appear to be worksheds of some kind.

This is all marred a little by the fact that the whole enclosure appears to be locked down like a fortified bunker. Which is particularly bizarre, when you consider that there’s a yoga hall in there. More than once, some of the people who work in the complex have called out to ask me what I’m doing there, as if the idea that I might work there is too foreign to consider.

Everyone I see there I assume works there. It’s the simplest, easiest, most obvious assumption. I don’t pay attention to who they are or how they dress, because it doesn’t concern me. It may well be that others don’t live by this rule.

They see me in my winter poncho and peaked cap, hoodie and trainers (I change when I get to work) and assume I’m a ne’erdowell of some eccentric variety. I look different, I grant you, but not as weird as it sounds. And certainly not by city standards.

At first I was rather baffled by all this glowering, and responded with the wide-eyed Bambi look my face sometimes does, when I feel cowed by something. It has the unintended advantage of making people feel guilty about having accosted me in the first place More often than not they then leave me alone, looking as ashamed of themselves as if they’ve just chastised a disabled puppy.

But after a few such instances, I started waving away these questions more pointedly than I would usually. One such time, I was asked by someone if he could “help” me, which in passive aggressive English means: “Tell me what you’ve up to at once,” but also leaves itself open to a fecaetious refusal to read between the lines, instead responding: “No, I’m fine, thank you.” Which I did.

“No,’ said the man, irritably. “You’re not fine, you’re wandering around.”

So what? I thought. Crime to wander around?

“I own this site,” he continued portentously. Subtext: You be trespassing on my kingdom, suspicious lookin’ person.

“I work here. Just around the corner. In the Natraj building,” I explained, for what felt like the hundredth time. He still didn’t seem to get it.

“Can’t you get in?” he asked, not at all kindly, as if to suggest that if I work in an office, I darned well better get to it. It was 8 o’clock in the morning, a full hour before I start.

“I can get in. I’m just getting some fresh air before work.”

“Oh well, you’re very welcome to get some fresh air,” he said, as if it was ridiculous to suggest that he had implied otherwise.

Too bad it’s not ridiculous – that’s exactly what London is like. You want to walk? Get some fresh air? Be outside? In the winter? You must be a crazed sandal-wearing hippy, almost certainly an unemployed drifter. The only people who get away with it are the smokers. I’d have to smoke myself half to death before I’m allowed to be outside. No wonder no one’s healthy.

It’s the suspicion that annoys me the most. The city is thick with it. Take a photo of the outside of the wrong building and the security guard (or all twelve of them) comes charging out like you’ve just stripped off your coat to reveal a bomb vest.

What is it they imagine I’m going to do with these photos? Bring down the organisation with my blurry pictures of yellow lighting, office furniture and bald patches obscured by grimy windows?

I’m not sure they even know what they want. When they press me and I explain that I’m taking photos because I like photography, they don’t seem to know what to say. I often wonder how it is that this answer is anything other than completely expected. Even if I was there for insidious purposes, what am I likely to say? “Yes, I was just indulging in a spot of corporate espionage. Problem?”

I think they’re taken aback by their own overzealousness. They assume the worst and when they discover that there’s no “worst” they could have assumed in the first place, things get vaguely awkward. I guess they’re gagging for a bit of excitement. I often feel like I let them down when I turn out not to be a villain after all. I deprived them of their Bruce Willis moment.

One time, I took a picture of a gas station while wearing a hoodie with my hood up against the cold wind, and was immediately collared, taken around a backalley where a man’s face appeared over a fence and interrogated me as to what I was doing. When I explained that I was taking photos of the street art, they immediately let me go an actively encouraged me to continue.

Another time, I took a picture of some architecture from the inside of a café, and a guy burst in, demanding to see the photos. He just happened to be standing underneath the spot I was aiming at, and thought I was taking a picture of him. I should probably be more vigilant as to which architecture is unfortunately sheltering London’s camera- shy drug dealers.

The whole city is allergic to photography. If the camera isn’t facing inwards on the end of a selfie stick, if you aren’t in front of Tower Bridge, you must be up to something downright criminal. No one sees anything, no one appreciates anything, and worst of all, there is nothing Londoners appreciate less that someone who appreciates everything.

Yes, I know I’m slowing you down while I take a picture of this buttress. It’s half seven in the morning, you’ve plenty of time to get to work and you’re going to some desk job where you’ll be stuck inside all day, staring at a computer screen. Excuse me if I don’t see why you’re in such an hurry to get there. Take a few breaths.


If you do wonder what this irritating person in the street taking photos of everything does with all the images, you can see on my DeviantArt page.

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From → British Culture

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