Wednesday, 27 February 2008

I'm In Love


I love London. That’s why I'm here. North, south, east, west - particularly west - I'm in my element. The streets, the tube, the cars, the concrete, the parks, the history, the relentless pace and the constant need to evolve and achieve and be now; the dirt, the grime, the crowds, the tourists, the rain, the pomp, the pageantry, the money, the graffiti, the dome and the bloke with the megaphone and appalling dress sense at Oxford Circus who drones on about how Jesus is there for sinners like me if only I’d let him into my heathen heart. I love it all. All except the cyclists, but I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

More than anything though, I love that London has finally found itself again. There was a point, back in the ‘80s when I was growing up when London just seemed embarrassing to me. I was enthralled by all things American and couldn’t believe that I’d had the misfortune to be born somewhere as lifeless as this. I was a child. I liked the A-Team and Knight Rider and TJ Hooker. I didn’t know any better. But looking back I can see that, my juvenile America obsession aside, I’d picked up on the fact that London was not a proud and confident place back then. For whatever reason, there was something apologetic about it, like it knew it wasn’t the great capital it should be, but you know, it was getting by. Just.

Then came the ‘90s, Cool Britannia and all that. That helped. Oasis, Blur and the Spice Girls were saying that Britain really could be great and they were all moving to Primrose Hill. Still, for all the sex and drugs ‘allegedly’ being indulged in the rarefied air of The Groucho Club, even then, with money everywhere and all the cool it could handle, London was still down at heel and sorry for itself, half-heartedly trading on past glories from when it was swinging or punk or something other than tired.

I'll say now, I’ve never exactly been Ken Livingstone’s biggest fan – it’s not that I mind the congestion charge, just the fact that it’s passed off as anything other than a money making exercise. However, the change in London since it’s had a mayor is impossible to underestimate. If initially I was against his pedestrianization outside The National Gallery and banning of pigeons, I’ll be the first to admit that Trafalgar Square is a far better place for both, and minor as such changes seem they’re exactly the things that have re-instilled the sense of pride which the city was missing for so long.

While, with the mayoral election upon us, Ken would probably argue otherwise, the city’s rejuvenation is arguably less to do with who the mayor actually is than with the office itself. Ken Livingstone, love or loathe him, is as passionate about London as anyone you’re likely to meet – expect maybe for yours truly. Yet for all his efforts, both good and bad, it’s the fact that the government realised that making London great again would require a concerted effort, a budget and some leadership that made the difference.

Walk down Regent Street, Carnaby Street, through Trafalgar Square, along the South Bank or any number of other formerly worn-out and jaded London landmarks and the rebirth is obvious. When the government decided to take London seriously, so did everyone else and money and investment is pouring in. Now London can boast better shopping than New York or Paris, the City is taking over from Wall Street as the world’s financial hub, the arts are thriving, music – my other passion – is world class and, despite literally costing the earth, London is again a great place to live.

It should come as no surprise to learn that I’m a city boy at heart. Always have been, always will be. Fields and open spaces make me nervous. I like a good pavement and a background hum of traffic and sirens. And as a city boy, and without wishing to appear promiscuous, there are other cities which I love and love with a passion. Yet, if New York is an irrepressible goodtime girl who's always in party mode, and Paris is the most indulgent of mistresses, wanton and seductive in the extreme, then London is the wife, mother and love I always come back to and could never leave.

But then I would say that. I’m besotted. I’m aware that my obsession is not one shared by everyone who lives here. Even among friends I’m something of an oddity. They’re all too busy fighting their way through the rush hour to worry much about where they’re battling through. That’s why I think tourists are the luckiest people alive. They’re the ones who really get to appreciate the parks, the architecture, the history, the relentless pace and constant evolution, all the things I love so much.

As is no doubt obvious, I only have to walk down the street to feel inspired by London. Bayswater, Notting Hill, Soho, Belgravia, Chelsea, Clapham, Islington, Shoreditch, The City, anywhere you like, pick a street and I’ll walk down it and I promise you I’ll be glad to be there. Everything about the city inspires me, excites me and makes me want to write about it. So here goes.


James said...

Great first entry Dan - I look forward to reading more!

As a 'tourist' of sorts and someone that many Londoners consider a 'Northerner' (despite actually being a Midlander) I do enjoy visiting the capital. In fact I wish I could spend more time wondering and exploring instead of rushing between tube stations and offices for meetings.

I'm not sure I could handle the pace living there...despite being from middle-class suburbia I enjoy getting lost in the countryside as much as I do the concrete metropolis.

London definitely has it's own style and character that's always been there and I always get a fond feeling of familiarity as the train pulls into Euston, despite living 130 miles away.

Dan Gennoe said...

Hey James,

I think you probably spend enough time in London to be called an honorary Londoner if want!

Just the mention of 'the countryside' makes me shudder. I went to the country once, didn't like it, full of cows and strange smells!