||[May. 30th, 2017|12:23 pm]
I don't know London any more. I gather, from all I'm told, that it's shinier and very much more corporate than it used to be. My bro-in-law, who conducts guided tours of the East End, tells me most of the old Jack the Ripper sites are buried under steel and glass.|
There was a time when I knew London quite well- parts of it anyway. These days I rarely get any closer than Greenwich or the Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford. I can't exactly approve of the Shard or the towers of Canary Wharf- monuments to capital that they are- but they do look splendid from a distance.
I've just finished Emeric Pressburger's long neglected and now reprinted novel The Glass Pearls- first published in 1966- and it has brought back memories of the London of my youth- gritty, cheap, smelling of dust and petrol, with the war damage still being undone and the modernist buildings going up and catching the eye because they were still rare. Pressburger's characters inhabit seedy lodgings with shared bathrooms and kitchens- attend concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and treat themselves to an "expensive" speciality duck dish which costs them all of 12/6- which is just over 50p in today's money. They go to a "Twist Club"- where young trendies gyrate grimly and the central character- who must be in his mid fifties- passes out from the cultural overload.
I'm not going to say, "those were the days" because they weren't particularly. Pressburger's London isn't modern London but neither is it the London of the Blitz, or Dickens' London, or Pepys'. Great cities are in a constant state of flux. A handful of monuments resist the current and everything else is always changing. Did I love the London of my youth? I'm not sure I'd have said so at the time; it was just a place I went watch European movies and generally mooch around- and it usually sent me home with a migraine headache- but it seems that I love it now.
Hear it from other places too... Giant expensive amusement parks these days... and look decades into the past, it was just towns where normal people lived and walked on the streets. Some dirty and sticky air present there, but you smelled it was the air of... simple people. Not people which occupy an apartment with 100 m² with three rooms just alone.
It has become a truism that London has turned into a city state- with only tenuous links to the rest of the country. This is not a healthy situation.
The word "sleaze" rings from the back of my head...
In connection with which, in the last decade - and especially since the Olympics - people who live there have begun to refer to London as "the greatest city in the world", almost as if they had tried living in all the others and found them wanting in comparison. That kind of nonsensical braggadocio is always profoundly off-putting to me.
"Greatest" is so woolly. Does it mean "richest", "most powerful", "most artistic", "most beautiful" or what?
The Great Wen...
I must have visited it half a dozen times in my life, but never got any further than the National Gallery or the bookshops on Charing Cross Road. Reading Dickens now, I wish I had explored the city more thoroughly back when I had the stamina for cities.
I don't have the stamina for London either. I keep thinking it would be nice to go up and poke around the City but we never seem to get round to it.
I lived in London 2000-2003, and even to me it is beginning to seem alien.
When I go back to Paris I know my way around, but going back to London I can get confused, especially in the City and east of that. Suddenly there's a Shard or a Cheese Grater where none used to be.
And so it changes. My "old" London is different now. As it should be.
The Shard is spectacular. I've never been close to it- but when we're driving round the Southern suburbs I'll catch a glimpse of it poking up above the horizon and think to myself, "There's London!"
I have an affection for the Shard as a result of watching it grow from visit to visit, though I still think it needs an Eye of Sauron on the top! It really looks like the lair of a super-villain.
For the past 10 years, we've been visiting London 3-4 times a year. At first it was a huge shock noting the differences from when I lived there in the early 70s, but we now find it fascinating to see what new developments have appeared in the couple of months since we were last there. We've also taken to staying in different locations, so last time was Kew Bridge, the time before that was Greenwich. We also just walk about a lot, mostly following the Thames path so that takes you to ordinary parts of London that most tourists don't visit.
I love Greenwich.
And it's a recent discovery for me. Last winter saw my first visit (since childhood).