London – the city that you just can’t stereotype

“I was walking to the local post office one morning this week when I came across a policeman looking grimly at a large pile of car tyres that had been dumped in the gutter.

“‘You’re looking tired out,’ I quipped, but when he failed to smile I went on philosophically: ‘Well, that’s London for you.’

“‘No,’ he replied, still stony-faced. ‘That’s Stockwell.’

“I went on my way a little chagrined at his stereotyping of my neighbourhood, which, while it may have its problems, still deserves a less negative attitude from its law enforcers.

“But then it occurred to me that I was guilty of propagating a stereotype as well – and mine had been even broader, reducing the entire metropolis to a zone of petty crime.

“We all do it, though, don’t we: view this great and infinitely varied city through the reducing lens of stereotypy?

“I think it’s a coping mechanism: after all, if we stopped to consider the individuality of every single person we came across in a given day, we’d probably go crazy.”

Read the rest of Will Self’s Evening Standard column here.