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.