When the bombs fell on London it was devastating. The once mighty buildings, a product of the booming industrial revolution, were flattened. The second of the Great Wars left holes in the cityscape. Holes that have been filled with Council housing next door to billionaire’s row. Holes that are still being filled with magnificent glass structures that shimmer in the morning sun. A dramatic contrast to the dome of St Paul’s or the gilted steeples of Whitehall.
As we’ve travelled the length of the British isles we’ve heard one complaint. London doesn’t understand us. People outside the M25 complain that the Government are investing billions of pounds in the Crossrail Project, shaving around 20 minutes off a cross London journey. Yet you still can’t get a reliable connection from the east to the west of the country. We can understand how Brexit has become dinner table conversation.
But we were surprised and delighted by London. It’s diversity and opportunity make it something of a microcosm of all human species. These days they even have signs encouraging Londoners to be nicer on public transport!
We split our time between funky Clapham and the Essex border, between the canal waters of commutable Surrey, to the urban centre of Acton. Yet there’s so much of this wonderful city that we missed.
We passed the Grenfell Tower on the train. Charred and blackened, resembling a tragic upright coffin awaiting a proper burial. The same train delivered us to the ornate Victorian Terraces of Notting Hill. Edgy Portobello Road serves the residents of these terraces. They might shop in Knightsbridge but they relish the street food and vendors selling brick a brac on the high street. They mourn their neighbours from Grenfell like family. This is a close knit community. New street art has emerged on bare walls, expressing love and remembrance of those lost.
We saw a show on the West End, admiring the ornate Christmas decorations around the exclusive Seven Dials District. Much has changed since Charles Dickens first described this place as a notorious slum. We saw the transformation of parts of working class Clapham too, especially the highly trendy Northcote Road. But were relieved to find it still had its raw edges.
A walk through Knightsbridge led us to Hamleys Toy Shop. The staff were dressed in Christmas hues of green and red, entertaining kids as they played with the toys, working hard to entice their most valuable consumers. We walked through Harrods too, passing the champagne and Oyster bar full of midday diners. For a moment we wondered if we were back in the 1980’s.
We enjoyed the simplicity of walking alongside the River Thames. We compared the beautiful bridges and counted grey squirrels in Hyde Park. We indulged in the consumer side of visiting one of the world’s biggest cities too. We enjoyed the London Eye and other must do attractions, and we had a mixed palate of trendy dining and vegan street food from the most basic of food caravans.
Our precious time in London was spent with people we care about. People who’ve been pulled into this bustling place that pulls so much attention from other English counties. We can’t explain why this place has such a disproportionate amount of the jobs, stately terraced rows and people. Perhaps it’s a little of everywhere in one place, packed into a famous ring road. A centre of vibrancy and hope for the future.