An Ode to London

I love it when new people show up and comment. Regular readers know that I try to answer every comment, and sometimes I’m a bit ridiculous with the length of my responses. On my last post new commenter Bernadette Coley asked “Tell me why you love London so much? (So do I, but everybody’s London is different)” and I dashed off a response between conference calls this morning. It was such a perfect question that several people have asked if I would move my response to its own post so they could comment on it directly. FULL CREDIT to Bernadette for asking a really great question on a Monday morning.

“Everybody’s London is different” is the truest thing I’ve read in days. Why do I love London? Because in my heart she is my city and I will always belong a bit to her.

My London contains echos of the summer of 1994, when I explored her as a newly-minted adult that was just waking to a larger world. I’d never really spent time beyond the boundaries of my cloistered northwest american life, and it was a shock and a liberation to suddenly find myself immersed in something truly cosmopolitan yet somehow safe.

At the time my London was full of westenders cheerfully gathering to stand on the shed end of Stamford Bridge and cheer on Chelsea even though they sucked, and then stumble drunkenly out into the evening to drown the sorrows of another thrashing at the hands of Manchester United in warm beer and rowdy bravado.

She is still the home of the British Museum and the British Library, where I experienced twin epiphanies about the past, the present, and my place in both. As a resident instead of a tourist, I’m not sure how often I would return to those halls, but there is something about knowing they are close…that they exist at all…as foci of the human urge to remember and understand.

She is where history and modernity meet together. A city where the Gherkin and the Shard can share a skyline with the Victoria Tower and London Bridge. She is where Covent Garden has survived as a shopping center for more than three-and-a-half centuries. I live in a country where something 50 years old is historic; there are buildings in London that have been continuously occupied for more than six centuries; not as landmarks or monuments, but as shopfronts and houses and pubs. There are roads in London that have been thoroughfares since before William and the French came over the waves. She is a millennium and more in age, and yet thoroughly modern in flavor.

London contains one of the best transportation systems in the whole of human history, and that is really a reason to love her all on its own. And the cadbury bars in the vending machines…dear GODS the cadbury bars…

She is a city where history stalks the bright avenues and the dark alleyways equally, where every year new culture and new life pour in to renew her soul. A city where you can buy a curry and a chinese on the same street on the same night after 2:00 am and BOTH will be the best food you’ve ever eaten in the whole of your life.

Above all, it is her people. Whinging, grumpy, gloomy in reputation; yet I’ve never known better in all the travels I have done. Where a punk boy, fearsome in a towering green mohawk and face covered in piercings, dashes to a traveler’s aid and carries her bag onto the tube car and then travels an entire station the wrong direction just to make her journey easier; and he’s hardly unusual in his compassion. From professionals to students, shoppers to salesmen, bobbies to buskers; she is a city who’s people all seem to have the same wry smile for the raindrops and exasperated sigh for the glaring sun.

London is so many things to me because I want her to be them, because I remember them so. But what is truly great about London, is that she IS those things because she can be everything. London remains a place where you can find what you’re looking for, and you will be rewarded if you let her show you new things and put away your old assumptions.

And the cadbury bars…did I mention the cadbury bars?

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8 thoughts on “An Ode to London

  1. You forgot the Cadbury bars.

    Suuuuure I did…

    And the pomp and circumstance.

    That is entirely dependent upon which tourist attraction you’re attending.

    And the HATS.

    Do you mean hat-hats, or do you mean the adorable “fascinators” that make the women look like they escaped from a Dr. Seuss book?

    And the fact that there’s a society of men who regularly dress in bowler hats, gloves and tails and hang out in Hyde Park together. I’d do anything to slip on a monocle and try to blend into that crowd. 😉

    You really ARE missing out on Comicon, aren’t you?

  2. I see…

    The job in London means you’ll be cheating on me, with the city herself. That might cost you more horses. 😉

    LOL, do we call those “punitive ponies”?

  3. HAAAAAAAATS. Real hats.

    And monocles. Did I mention the MONOCLES?!?!

    You MIGHT have mentioned them, yes…

    And the fact that you can’t go anywhere during the summer without tripping over a music festival of some sort. (or a busker, if it’s any season other than summer…but you already mentioned the buskers).

    Yeah, The music is a thing. It’s funny though, I’m not sure how to admit this, I love Brit music and Brit TV, but I don’t actually associate either of them with London any more than I do with any other part of the UK. And I watch and listen to a ton of BBC from right here in the south.

    And I’m sorry, but I think Boris Johnson is a HOOT and a half, wackadoo hair and all.

    Boris Johnson is a living breathing Monty Python skit writ large across the face of London. But, like the comedy troupe, he’s an awful lot of fun to watch if you’re in the mood for it.

  4. No. Not punative ponies. It makes them sound puny and diminutive at the same time.

    I just like the name “punitive ponies”…it makes me chuckle.

    And just so we’re clear, these ponies, the penalty ponies, are statuesque, black, and have fuzzy feet. After all, if you’re cheating with a city, I get to have Adonis and Venus in horse form, correct?

    My wallet just felt a terrible disturbance in the force, like thousands of dollars all crying out…and then suddenly spent.

    Ok, maybe it will just cost you his get:

    *sigh* Be still my heart!

    My wallet just said “don’t be stupid buddy, that HAS to be cheaper!”

  5. You had me at Cadbury.

    Fresh, delicious, locally-made chocolate bars. In the vending machines across the city. Snack heaven I tell you, SNACK HEAVEN!

    I was considering Oregon for next summer’s trip, but I may need to reconsider…

    I would never discourage anyone from going to London at ANY time, but I would say that waiting until Abby is old enough to a) walk a LOT and b) enjoy the most amazing museum in the world in a practical way are important considerations. From London you can take Brit Rail to just about any destination, and there are many castles, stately houses (Pemberly is modeled on Chatsworth House and merits a visit), and historic locations you can explore while based in London. Also, Wales is amazing; the sleeper train to Edinburgh is something everyone should do once, and I have a plan to cross Ireland in a tiny car in an imitation of the movie “Leap Year”. Also, CASTLES!!! …*ahem*…sorry.

    If you’re a history buff, Westminster Abby is worth the trip alone. All those names, all that history, concentrated in one place.

    The British Museum is something every living person should see at least once. We have nothing like that here. Don’t get me wrong, the Smithsonian is a marvel, but it simply doesn’t compare if you’re interested in the full scope of history. Centuries worth of found (and sometimes often looted) prizes of a great Empire are collected inside the British Museum; Statues, mosaics, treasures, THE ROSETTA STONE…and an entire wing filled with Egyptian artifacts. I can’t imagine the impact it would have had on me as a child. I encountered it at the age of 18 and it was still one of the most profound experiences of my life.

    Tower Hill, Tower Bridge, Knightsbridge, Big Ben and Parliament, Piccadilly Circus, Harrod’s, Notting Hill on a Saturday morning… spiraling out to Warwick Castle, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Old Sarum and Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, Corfe Castle, Sherborne Abbey, Glastonbury Tor, Bath, Tintagel Castle…And that’s just heading out to the west (locals will mock my referring to Stratford or Warwick as “West” which are west in the same sense that Vancouver B.C. is “west” of Boise). I could spend months in Wales, months in Scotland, and years exploring the Lake District and the Midlands.

    I’m not saying that you shouldn’t vacation in Oregon, I’m just saying there might be more to see in the UK, and by surface area they’re basically the same size…

  6. This is a test comment

    I THINK I’ve fixed the “all comments are treated as spam and must be moderated” …we shall see…

  7. “Above all, it is her people. Whinging, grumpy, gloomy in reputation” – I feel this line sums up the London I know and love (Britain in general infact) more than any other. So many opinions could be constructed regarding good ol’ Londoners but I love how multifaceted they are.

    Great post.

    Thank you so much for your comment Wayne. I’ve since been over to your slice of the blog-o-sphere and I can assure you that I will be back. I do love meeting new people through this silly act of autobiography. Welcome and I hope you comment again!

  8. Thank you for such a full answer to my question. I have recently started a blog myslef, although it is more of a scrapbook than anything else. But do have a look.

    I wandered over and I’m sure I’ll return. Your link title for Mr. London Street (“Great writing and Reading to boot”) made me chuckle, I do love a smart pun.

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