Safety Tips for Visiting London
Tiny racing car billionaire Bernie Ecclestone was showing off a fresh black eye almost the size of his head last week, after he and his girlfriend Fabiana Flosi were the subject of a violent mugging that relieved the couple of £20,000 worth of jewellery and briefly sent Ecclestone to hospital. Bernie was back at his desk later that afternoon, but the encounter provoked curiosity in the press. It’s not often that a high-profile billionaire gets physically attacked in London, and pretty much the last place you’d expect it to happen is Knightsbridge, an astoundingly affluent area of central London where you’d expect to see police and armed bodyguards around every corner, scooping up the small piles of jewels that occasionally spill from the pockets of the local corner shop owner. I’m exaggerating, of course, though apparently not too wildly if a bunch of muggers could take 20 grand of jewellery off one peculiar-looking couple. And Knightsbridge hotels are some of the most spectacular and grandiose in the country, if not the world.
The point is this: London is a comparatively safe place. There’s usually a pretty heavy police presence, and gun crime is obviously miniscule compared to almost any American city. There are definitely rough areas, but tourists are unlikely to stumble across them without going many many miles out of their way. And yet, visitors should take heed: as Bernie Ecclestone found out, it pays to be prepared.
On the Tube:
- The London Underground is one of the oldest in the world, and is in no way equipped to handle the volume of customers it receives. There’s no air-conditioning, so it can get extremely hot and extremely crowded. As customers have occasionally suffered heat exhaustion on stopped trains in the summer, it’s definitely worth staying hydrated with a bottle of water.
- Despite being deep underground, the Tube’s construction can make it extremely windy down there. Stay away from the platform edge, especially during busy times or when trains are coming and going.
- The overcrowded and often vertiginous escalators are witness to many injuries and deaths each year, so take care not to slip. And remember, right-side is for standing, left-side is for walking. If you get this wrong you could make people pretty unhappy.
- After the terrorist attacks on 7/7, vigilance has become a bit of an issue on the tube. The measures are barely noticeable most of the time, but it’s wise to keep an eye out for unattended bags, and obviously make sure that you don’t leave your own luggage lying about.
On the Street:
- While London doesn’t have problems with kidnappings or false guides, it’s still very unwise to get into an unlicensed minicab. London black cab drivers are heavily monitored and train for years to learn their craft and their knowledge of the city’s streets. Unbooked minicabs have no regulation, and are little better than getting into a stranger’s car.
- Pickpockets can be a problem in some of the busier areas like Oxford Street. Try and keep bags closed, and close to your person.
- The city is generally safe at night, although it’s best to keep to well-lit main roads and not listen to music as you walk.
In Bars and Restaurants:
- Again, keep an eye on your bags. Many pubs will have clips or hooks under the tables where you can fasten your belongings and keep them close.
- Don’t lose sight of any friends that you’re with. For women especially, there’s safety in numbers.
- Along the same lines, if you’re concerned about your safety in a club then try sticking to bottled drinks that aren’t as easy to spike. Even better, try and stay sober
- If you, like Bernie, are the type of person who can afford to encrust your Italian girlfriend in jewels, just consider this: ‘Hm. I’ve already got £10,000 worth of diamonds about my person. Perhaps if I leave the other £10,000 in the safe at my fancy Hyde Park hotel this time.’ I promise, no one in the Formula 1 office will notice. They’re only interested in cars anyway.
- London’s very safe, and the police are eager and numerous. Take care, but don’t forget to have fun.
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