Friday, 6 April 2012

Rules for life in London, courtesy of Rudyard Kipling

Moving to live in a city like London is a constant learning process.  Learning the fastest routes from A to B, learning where to buy the perfect take-away coffee, learning how to avoid the tourists and which local pub is best for a date, a girly catch-up or a Sunday roast.  Whilst a favourite catchphrase of the Accidental Father's is 'You can't pass on experience', such key knowledge of a place is highly influential in determining the sort of experience you have there.  Whenever I meet someone from out of town, or people ask for recommendations and advice on London, I pass on my experience freely. Who knows how useful restaurant and entertainment recommendations are to visitors or the details of the locations of bus stops and major stations.  Maybe the smaller things I have learnt, but now take for granted as tacit knowledge, would be more helpful; like avoid the Jubilee Line at weekends (it'll probably be shut) or Boris Bikes are not worth the hassle - walk everywhere instead. 
The wonderful 'Letters of Note' recently featured a letter from the writer Rudyard Kipling, to his young daughter, Elsie (nicknamed 'Bird'), as she prepared for a visit to London; in it he proposes 7 rules for life in London.  Many of his tips are as relevant today as they were in 1908, when he originally transcribed them.  Many are applicable to life in any big city or even life in general.  They are all so sweetly charming that I just had to share them.

'Dear Bird,


I send you a few simple rules for Life in London.

1. Wash early and often with soap and hot water.

2. Do not roll on the grass of the parks. It will come off black on your dress.

3. Never eat penny buns, oysters, periwinkles or peppermints on the top of a bus. It annoys the passengers.

4. Be kind to policemen. You never know when you may be taken up.

5. Never stop a motor bus with your foot. It is not a croquet ball.

6. Do not attempt to take pictures off the wall of the National Gallery or to remove cases of butterflies from the National History Museum. You will be noticed if you do.

7. Avoid late hours, pickled salmon, public meetings, crowded crossings, gutters, water-carts and over-eating.

Ever your

(Source: O Beloved Kids: Rudyard Kipling's Letters to His Children; Image: Rudyard Kipling, via Wikimedia and Letters of Note.)

Now I think everyone would agree that old Rudyard was pretty wise, and I hope little Elsie/Bird took his words to heart.  I would abide by most of those rules, excepting the avoidance of late hours and over-eating; London has way too many fun places to boogie of a late night or early morning, and too many tasty treats for abstemious consumption.  As for the grass-rolling, well, advances in stain-removal would probably make this less of an issue today.  Crisp packets were probably less of a problem in 1908, but I would certainly add them to the list of things not to eat on buses.  I cannot fault R.K.'s advise on motor buses however.  Maybe all us Londoners today should listen to Mr Kipling, adhering to the underlying sentiments of his letter; take care of yourself, be good, and avoid the crowds.  Rules to live by, my friends.


  1. What a lovely letter! That said, as soon as the sun shines, London parks are now full of almost-naked people. Rudyard Kipling would have been shocked.
    Oh, and I like your rules too. For some reason the District line is also always closed on week-ends...

    1. I reckon you'd have excellent rules for life in London, Muriel! Maybe you should share yours one of these days...


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