Friday, October 31, 2008
Tourists spend a lot of time and money looking for the perfect memento to mark their trip to London. Some people buy models of red double-decker buses (hi, Beth!), some buy packets of biscuits (hi, Catherine!). I myself purchased multiple postcards with tube maps and images of the Tower Bridge and god knows what all on my first two trips to London. The truth is, however, if you REALLY want to capture the essence of London, you need to buy a Hi Viz Vest, or at least take a photograph of any random street in London, because you will be all but guaranteed to capture the image of some person--construction worker, charity volunteer, policewala, bicyclist--wearing a High Viz Vest at all times, night or day.
For the life of me, I can't remember which Dick Francis book contained the following scene: our hero needs to swap horses between two horse trailers without the driver of horse trailer A noticing the switch. So, he and his co-conspirators set up a fake census checkpoint along a dual carriageway, and then proceed to flag down the drivers of horse trailer A. The drivers park the horse trailer and go into the caravan to fill out lengthy census forms. While they are distracted, our hero swaps out the horses. The drivers return, notice nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, drive away.
You'd think this plot wouldn't work in real life, but Dick Francis remembered they key element on which all successful subterfuge relies: the Hi Viz Vest. If you are wearing a Hi Viz Vest, you can do ANYTHING in London (and probably the whole of the UK) and no one will question your right to do it. You can dig holes in the ground, park illegally, stand in traffic, ask people questions, force people to queue--the Hi Viz Vest is all powerful. Dick Francis noticed this 30 some years ago, and people still believe it in 2008.
Sadly, I already have a day-glo orange reflective vest w/matching arm and ankle bands for running after dark, so I don't need to buy a piece of authentic London to take home with me. But, I really should, because even more than the announcement that "There is a good service on the Piccadilly Line," or people nightly trying to force a copy of the London Lite in my hands as I go into King's Cross, the Hi Viz Vest is emblematic of my every day life in London.