(Looking for guest bloggers – read on for details!)
While I like to refer to you as ‘my city’, technically, you are not mine.
Or rather more technically, I am not yours. You are not where I live, nor are you where my heart dwells, waiting for me to finally go ‘home.’ No – my home is not far from you, but it is not you. My home is in a place surrounded by fields and farms – and you are simply the nearest city to my home. A place I love, and visit often, and will always, always love.
Because you may by grimy, and in all honesty, quite disgusting, but you are still my city. Your streets are the streets I walk when I’m in a rush, on the way to an Important Appointment with some Important Official. Your streets are the streets I walk when I’m spending a leisurely day ‘bonding’ with my family over some new museum installation that we told ourselves we’d love. Your streets are the streets I walk when I’m lost and uncertain and laughing, on a day out in the big wide world with my friends, none of whom know where we’re going.
Your streets are the streets I love, but don’t know all that well. Your streets are the ones I wish I knew better.
Mostly, these streets that I walk hurt my feet, and are unremarkable, difficult to distinguish from any other streets in any other city – for every city has those streets, the streets that are nothing special, that are just streets, with no character, and no charm. Those busy shopping streets, and those busy business streets. Those busy daily-life streets and those busy tourist-attraction streets. But you, London, for all of those that you have, you have so much more.
You have the busy and charged-with-excitement gum-spotted pavements of Oxford Street and Piccadilly that make way for the cobbles and intrinsic charm of Covent Garden and Leicester Square. You have the bustling life and everyday drear of Marylebone and Victoria, that suddenly clear a path for the magic and buzzing air of the West End – theatre country. You have the iconic views of Abbey Road and Baker Street, which disappear into the relative calm of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, with their slight relief from the smog of the city.
You have old, beautiful buildings, high and mighty and proud, and solid -symbols of your age and history and wisdom. And these old stone buildings look over steel and plastic bridges, symbols of new times and innovation, of changing times and new blood. As well, there are dull brick estates, symbols of desperation and desperate times – poverty and difficultly and suffering and unmet expectations.
It’s this mix of historic beauty and unrivalled ugly that make you a sort of stoic yet elegant guardian, watching over your oh-so-British people, with their clip-clopping shoes and black umbrellas and stiff upper lips. And yet, for all that the rest of the world thinks that is an accurate representation of a Londoner – it is not. Because you are home to some of the most exciting and original and interesting people on this planet. People with ambition and drive and ideas that are simply insane. People with stars in their eyes. People who stand out like beacons of colour against the grey and black and red that make you up.
Grey and black and red are the colours you favour, but red – oh, red is your colour, London! Red suits you, bright and stark and glaring and ugly. Your buses, half of them old and dilapidated and dusty, half of them new and sleek and shiny – they all, regardless of age, are that same shade of unabashed red.
The phone boxes, they’re that same red. Those iconic England symbols, those things that tourists always come to see, and very rarely find. Because those bright boxes – clean and symbolic and purposeful – no longer exist. No, they have aged with you, for now they are dirty, misused, and are things that, despite our pride and inherited love for, no self-respecting follower of simple hygiene would ever touch.
Post boxes – they, too, are that colour, that red. Or rather, they were, but now they’re a sort of stunted, faded variation of it, which you can just about make out under the layers of dust and grease and general London dirt that lies thick on their rounded walls. And they aren’t iconic to Brits, they’re just the things we post letters in – not that anyone really posts letters anymore. But when we do, we’re always careful not to touch the box at all, because if we do, we won’t get the black off our fingers for days.
While I may not visit you particularly often, London, whenever I do, I feel like I have my own personal timekeeper in Big Ben, whom we seem to view affectionately like a big brother. He is always letting us know when we’re going to be late for something, with that sibling-tone of ‘haha, you’re messing up’ that all big brothers adopt. And Big Ben stands there, in the centre of it all, his voice ringing through your streets and over the tops of your buildings, letting us know when we are and where we should be. And after a while, we learn to ignore him, as most people do when they hear an irritating noise far too often. But, we still love him, for he is not only a big brother, but a landmark – an iconic symbol of you.
And there’s the stoic and frankly dreary sights of the houses of Parliament and Lords, that house the arguments that decide the fates of each and every citizen, not just of this city, but of the whole country. And whenever any of us walk past, we scoff, because to us who live in this country, unlike to tourists who visit, they are not historic representations of what has been a mighty and successful country, despite its size, for hundreds of years – they are simply the workplaces of all the politicians that ‘I certainly didn’t vote in! Look at the mess they’re making of my country!’
Then there’s the elegant and regal presence of Buckingham Palace, another place that draws tourists like bees to a flower. But to me, at least, it is simply the home of another, albeit very rich, family. Because the Royals may be well known, and most of us may love them very much, but ultimately, they are merely people, who don’t have that much power, and were simply born into privileged family tree. And the home of our mostly beloved queen is just another historic building that we aren’t allowed in, as there are so many of. And seeing the guards, in their jackets that are that shade of red, and their silly fluffy hats, almost always makes us smile. It’s a little reminder of the past, of your past. Of before the time that Hackney carriages became Hackney cars, and before those guards became redundant in the name of CCTV and security guards with ear pieces.
And you may have changed a lot since those days, but you are loved all the same. You are both the past, the serious, efficient political and social hub that has kept our country running for years – and the future, the optimistic, passionate realm of opportunity that provides hope and inspiration for the youth. The place of business and of work, of making money, and of surviving. The place of desire and of dreams, of chasing ambition and of living.
London – I love you. I may not belong to you, and you may not belong to me, and I may always prefer rolling hills and dense forests to your narrow streets and concrete grounds, but I will always hold a special place in my heart for my city – the city that will always be, at least a little bit, a home to me.
As always, with love
I’m looking for guest bloggers – I’d love to make this a series with different people writing letters to their different cities! Let me know if you’d be interested in either reading something like that, or writing for it!