London: Still Mostly Bits Of Sky

Posted by on Nov 12, 2010 in The Everyday | 12 Comments

London, seen from Tower Bridge - Mike Sowden 2008

The first time I visited London I remembered it instantly.

There are places that you visit and it’s all new enough for you to get lost within minutes. (I may be projecting. Please see the subtitle of this blog). And there are the other places – so enormously on the beaten track and beloved by the popular media that you’ve been passively experiencing them third-hand since you could crawl. You know them, despite being a stranger.

I was lost in Paris until I saw the Eiffel Tower. Athens made no sense until I climbed Lykavitos Hill and saw where the Acropolis put everything else. It was only when I saw the Colosseum that I knew I was in Rome.

London’s like that at the moment. Lost, lost, lost, ah – landmark. I’m still getting my head round where everything is, weekend visit by weekend visit. Last time I was there with friends, we all went for a wander for my benefit. For me, London is still a jigsaw freshly tipped out the box. You have a few brightly colored pieces (the London Eye, the Globe, London Bridge, St. Paul’s, Buckingham Palace) and the rest is just pieces of sky. You’ve no idea how anything fits together, and you have to go searching for a corner to get yourself started.

(Corners are easy).

Last time I was there, my corner was Chinatown. We wandered through it (“what? That’s it?”) and out into Leicester Square, up Coventry Street past the Trocadero before wending our way down to St James’s Park and its assorted wildfowl and eccentric birders, before emerging into the gut-punching sweep of the Mall and making our way to Liz’s house.

Now I know that bit. (Kinda. Don’t test me or anything). And next time I’ll fit something to the edge of it, and London will be mine just a little bit more. In the meantime, up here in York, I’m reading and rereading the London section of the Rough Guide to England.

Trying to spot my next corner of sky.

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  • http://www.baconismagic.ca ayngelina

    Your photos make me think I was a bit too harsh on London as it didn’t really make a mark on my heart. Perhaps I should try again.

    • Mikeachim

      What didn’t you like about it? (I’m bearing in mind your post about lovable ugly places here, so I’m guessing it’s not London’s often gritty appearance that offended?)

  • http://cityexile.wordpress.com townmouse

    You’ve got to walk London to make it make any sense. Although a trip on the Eye with an A-Z to hand can help put the pieces together

    • http://ioet.com Natalie

      I know what you mean, and I totally agree with townmouse above too. I’ve found that no matter where I go, all your knowledge of places & landmarks in your head can be very vivid – but you still won’t know exactly how they “connect” together to make a city. That’s why you can’t live life through movies!!

    • Mikeachim

      Agreed. Walk it and get lost a few times, too. Nothing burns a place into your memory like the half-panic of not knowing where you are and having to work it out (rather than sorta-kinda knowing and not really caring if you’re off a street or two).

      And the Eye helped immensely. Did that a few years ago, and it was only when I was hundreds of feet in the air that I worked out how close the Houses of Parliament are to the river…

      Perhaps I shouldn’t be confessing this in my own travel-blog. Not exactly a glowing self-recommendation, is it? Oh, and Big Ben is a tower with a clock in it! And there was me thinking it was a person. etc.

  • Jimbo

    London’s easy. If you’re north of the river looking north anything further left than St Paul’s is the West End, anything to the right of the white tower is the East End (where, and I paraphrase Conan Doyle, no upstanding gentleman should go unarmed). The bit in the middle is the City. If you’re south of the river – you’re in Southwark. London’s just like York but surrounded by much more sprawl and inhabited by bankers. A lot less timber buildings thanks to 1666 and that incident in Pudding Lane.

    • Mikeachim

      “That incident in Pudding Lane?” “A lot less timber buildings?” Come on. You can’t expect me to know this stuff, I’m not a Londoner.

      Invention of chipboard?

  • http://www.mybeautifuladventures.com Andi

    I feel like this in BsAs and I’ve been 8X!

    • Mikeachim

      I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that’s “Buenos Aires” and not “British Society of Animal Science”, which was top of the list when I Googled it. ;)

      Everywhere is like this, I reckon. And I hope. Because that means everywhere is worth exploring. In fact, part of me hopes that I never truly know anywhere, because then that place would be a completed puzzle, which is a dull, dull thing…

  • http://feministcigarettes.blogspot.com Hannah

    Just be aware that this is a never-ending journey – I’ve lived in Seven Sisters for five years and only yesterday found out that there’s a massive, famous South American market five minutes’ walk from my house.

    Needless to say, Fulham, Maida Vale, North Acton and Cricklewood (and quite a few other places) are still a mystery to me…

    • Mikeachim

      (How long to truly know Seven Sisters? 7 years? A Sister a year sounds manageable to me).

      Cricklewood sounds like a kind of tree rot. I’m intrigued. Although the Rule Of Bloodyminded Placename Evolution probably means it’s entirely innoccuous.

      (Rule Of Bloodyminded Placename Evolution: the more charming and cuter-sounding a placename is today, the more likely it’s derived from something potty-mouthed and socially unacceptable. Example being – York’s “Grape Lane”, derived from “Grope Lane”, which was derived from “Grope-c*nt Lane”.)

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