London Pleasures

When a man is tired of London he is tired of life – London is life and all life is in London.

It was off to London for an autumn visit. Filling my soul with the cacophony, pollution and madness that is my birthplace. Kicking up leaves in green parks. Ambling along the beaches on the Thames at low tide. Traipsing round galleries to stare at art on walls. Hopping on and off buses. Nothing special to do and nowhere to go. Pure self-indulgence. The city is my oyster(card).

Going Round London

On the 11 down the King’s Road. The 36 from New Cross up to Queen’s Park. The 6, down through Warwick Avenue. The 73 up to Stoke Newington. On and off, on and off.

The joy of talking to total strangers. In London you can strike up a conversation with anyone about almost anything. Late bus, bad transport, lousy weather conversations with diminutive, wrinkled, blue-rinsed, old ladies at bus stops. Loquacious and lengthy discourse with Saturday afternoon beachcombers along the Thames. Intellectual art thesis and antithesis with gallery-goers at the two Tates. A long chat at the checkout with the Glasgow girl – both of us live in foreign countries – me in France, and her in England.

Everywhere is people. The human tapestry of London. The heady ethnic mix. The cocktail of colours, races, and religious garb – an overpowering collage of  cultures and faiths.

Pay, pay and pay for everything. it’s all «silly money» It has no more value, just bundles of notes and fistfuls of coins that you constantly dole out to live and breathe.

And you can’t breathe We are a slow slug-like mass in the street. Face-to-face, in each other’s face, breathing each other’s air. The foul, polluted, grey, germy, exhaled and re-breathed, second-hand air. Slowly suffocating in the lack of space. I have never been so close but so far from my fellow humans. Solitary confinement in a crowd. Squeezed up  on the street or in the Tube. Body-to-body with total strangers, trying neither to look at, nor to touch them. No eye or body contact. I have lost the close-up anonymity reflex. Our hands are almost intertwined like lovers as we grasp at poles on Tubes and buses so as not to crash into each other as we push, rattle and jolt our way across this mad city in tranpsort  «tins» full of human flesh.

No mistake though, I love this city from north to south and east to west. A moment of weekday, mid-morning, Marble Hill solitude. In this seething city, I am alone, just a few far-off dog-walkers and joggers.

Off east for a bite of Bangla Town. Brick Lane grime, graffiti and decay, but the sweet smell of curry filling the air  and the explosion of colour from neon restaurant fronts and gaudy clothing shops.

Up by north north west into the red brick of Queen’s Park. Prim and proper Edwardian terrace. Neat garden and flowers nestling up to bad bedsit divided houses where no one cares. The gardens are rubbish tips and the off-road parking, just an excuse to run a car repair business.

Edgeware road to Maida Vale to Warwick Avenue, down the Harrow Road – the Westminster juxtaposition of low rise, high rise, rich and poor – a very London thing. The haves and the have-nots, all cheek-by-jowl.

Finally in a «Waterloo Sunset», I cross «The Water» – heading south. This is no longer London. This is another country were everything is different – the air, the atmosphere, the attitude, the architecture, the way people speak. I was born on this side of the Water, but have always felt better on the opposite bank.

Just where does this city end?

Driving in from the North, it begins as a sprawl somewhre in the middle of somewhere else. In the south, the only thing that can stop this sprawl will be the sea itself.