Sat here trying to think in a public terminal, in a public place: high above the Tottenham Court Road in a glass tower above the street, surrounded by a Babel of foreign voices speaking languages of which I recognise not one syllable. A quick glance at the next terminal gives no clues. There's a notepad full of unrecognisable writing on the next desk. It could be Arabic or some Indian language or even shorthand, but to me, it's simply a meaningless sheet of rhythmic scrawls and dots, a visual mirror of the meaningless syllables around me. Most of the people whose languages I might understand are not around at this time of day. They're gone, swallowed up every morning in an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers-style zombie parade, turned into an expressionless meaningless mass which shoves and pushes its bulk into metal-and-glass tubes every morning until the hundreds of faces and hands crammed against the windows take on a horrible, smothered look. Last week, there was a tube strike. I stood at the bus stop and waited fifteen minutes or so. A crowd built up behind me. When the bus arrived I was physically borne up onto it by a scary tide of crushing bodies. Turning back would have been impossible: trapped on all sides. I looked around at the faces of people that were pushing me and saw no expressions on any faces, no smiles, nothing but grim determination to get on that bus whatever it took. It made me feel cold all over. When the bus finally lurched off, dangerously overloaded, the entire upper deck of people took out mobile phones and began talking in unison into them. Japanese girl beside me, unidentifiable language from the couple behind, Italian in front of me. Babel, again.

After a while in a place like this you stop expecting meaning in what you hear around you, and begin to orient yourself by other methods. People, because you do not understand them, become an undifferentiated blur. Offices and shops and all things which all cities have in common become a blur, too, because almost any street in any city in the developed world has the same façades these days: Armani. Gap. Calvin Klein. Body Shop. McDonalds, coffee bars, cinemas, government departments and advertising agencies. Logos on tasteful steel plates or moulded shiny plastic with neon. Only the deep structure of the city makes any sense, the actual streets and buildings, which are far less subject to change. All the streets this bus is travelling through exist on 1894 maps, and at eye level on the top deck, not much has changed since then. If you could go back and take time-lapse footage along this route from 1901 to today, only the plastic logos would move around at any speed: in these back streets the chip shops and 24-hour shops and massage parlours and Schools of English and employment agencies just keep replacing and replicating themselves, while the buildings they attach themselves to grow black with age. Corpses of buildings, with blank grimy eyes. London is rotting, and slowly burying itself.

Underground, layers of sewers dating back to the Romans are sinking into the soft London clay, while forgotten rivers carry on carving out space beneath. In the time-lapse sequence you'd see the city as a black hump, slowly slumping and spreading at the edges, with thousands of tiny bright logos speeding past, buzzing and flickering like clouds of flies around it. Only the tags change faster than the logos: wild frenzy of paint slashes scribbling themselves chaotically across black rotting walls. They fight it out with the ads pasted everywhere, moving so fast on the screen they strobe. The dreamed sequence pieces itself together easily out of my visual memory bin, containing endless hours of crap TV sampled over the last, netless three weeks. Nothing on terrestrial these days except stuff which I can't imagine anyone wanting to watch. Talk shows which talk about nothing even vaguely interesting. News with politicians mouthing inanities or grimy footage of people dying, somewhere I've never been. Endless grinning celebrities who make smiling itself seem somehow suspect. Dull, repetitive police/hospital/soap dramas. Real TV about 'RealPeople™', none of whom are like anyone I've ever met, and I wonder: if they are real, what am I? Sat up here in a glass tower, with nothing but Babel around me, unable to understand any of it?

I read the evening paper, but it's worse than TV. Nothing relevant or really funny or agreeable in any way. Plagues, disasters, grinning politicians again. WE HAVE THE WORST TRANSPORT SYSTEM IN THE WORLD, announces an article, detailing more ways to fuck it up. More celebrities doing painfully dull things. Celebrity bodies: buy this magazine and you too can have one. Ads for penile extension and laser hair removal, in-and-out instant six-pack liposuction, baldness clinics. Ads for houses costing over a million pounds, flats to rent for £2000 a week. GRAFFITI MENACE IS RUINING LONDON, says another grinning politician. "We just have to give them something worthwhile to do." Details of scheme led by hip black young ex-writer, 'Crap' who now works freelance for Nike. Photo of him, showing perfect midriff and neon smile. He's stopped making innocent, happy graffiti pieces - the only things I see on the walls that aren't trying to sell me something - and started contributing to the real menace that is eating the city: advertising.
This is progress, apparently. And I think to myself:
only in places on the Net, like here, do I ever read anything that feels remotely like truth. Sure, e2 has its share of bullshit and bollocks, but most of it is made of real humans (as opposed to RealPeople™) talking about real things. And after a couple of weeks with no Net and nothing but official media, this place feels like a beautiful oasis in a desert of mindnumbingly dull Babel. Glad it's still here.