Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London – No 547 enter the calm area
Which of us hasn’t peed in a hydrotherapy pool? Stamped out the joss sticks in a festival ‘spirit zone’, started a row in a chillout room or invited a robed man proffering Buddhist chant CDs to stick them where the sun doesn’t – and even in saffron robes, never will – shine? Most of us, I’d say, because the thing about Londoners is: try and make us relax at your peril. Being told to wind down, really, really winds us up.
It’s happening again right now. The tinkle of wind chimes set to a techno soundtrack – and everything in London must be set to a techno soundtrack, it’s the law – throbs around the entrance area of a building newly constructed from natural materials intended to calm visitors. A disembodied woman’s voice says soothingly, ‘Press the brown button and the door will open.’ I can’t be sure where her voice comes from: the area is filled with a cloud of fine water particles which limits visibility. But I can see the person she is talking to, as he wears white trousers and carries white paper bags from a popular local coffee shop.
‘Yes,’ he says, ‘I heard you before. But I can’t find the brown button.’
‘It is on the wall,’ she answers, sounding less soothing, peevish even.
‘But which wall?’ the man pleads.
It’s a good question. On one side of the entrance area there is a wall of polished slate. On the other side, a wall of timber, and between them is a third wall of translucent crystal over which a waterfall cascades. It is the waterfall that is creating the mist of water. The man opts for the timber: he pats around in search of the brown button. As he reaches up, the coffee evidently spills, because the bottoms of his paper bags turn dark. He curses.
I’ve been trying to get in to the building for a while and have already been all around its I should get used to this, as there can only be more of this confusion in the future. New and strange office blocks are appearing across the city; buildings that look like icebergs, lobsters, igloos or even treehouses. This attempt to turn the London skyline into a giant toddler’s play area is great fun, but the architects are so concerned with getting their buildings to look like icebergs, lobsters, igloos and treehouses that they forget less glamorous but more basic details like ways to get in.
More people arrive. Any soothing quality left in the woman’s tone is gone as she tries to speak over the babble of angry voices. ‘It’s really quite easy. You just press the brown button,’ she barks, as if we are all being stupid on purpose just to annoy her, a person we have never met before and couldn’t possibly have any reason to annoy.
To be honest, that’s exactly the sort of thing I do sometimes. But on this occasion there is no need: everyone is genuinely unhappy. Like many things meant to take away our stress — herbal tea, for instance, or tea towels, mugs and underpants that demand we keep calm and carry on –- the soothing environment is having the opposite effect. The man is getting angry, I’m getting angry and the other people are also getting angry. Something has to give, and it does. The man’s soggy paper bags disintegrate and four large lattes rocket out and explode, covering his white trousers with coffee. He steps back in horror and, as he does, I see something behind him on the timber wall.
‘Look!’ I cry. ‘A brown button!’
Everything in London must be set to a techno soundtrack, it’s the law ingenious design features, and at no point have I found an entrance. I’m a little disappointed to discover that this isn’t one either, but is instead a holding zone for the annoyed and agitated. Keep calm Captain Mainwaring!
Mr Hodges is on hand with more life advice here.