We took the Piccadilly Line to St Pauls, where the camp was, until it was evicted by police and bailiffs at dead of night. It did not say much, says H. It was so disorganised, I would not want these people running the country. No, but “AARRGH! NO!” is a necessary and respectable part of the national conversation. It needs to be heard.

On across the Millennium Bridge, which always lifts my spirits, even on this so cold day, the two of us huddled under my umbrella. On our left is The Shard, which I had not seen before: I saw a cartoon of Boris as King Kong atop it, with Ken climbing up, without recognising the building. The tallest building in Europe has sprung up in months.

The Friends’ room at Tate Modern has a balcony. I felt safe there until I joked about jumping, and thereafter was slightly uncomfortable- but here am shown to my best advantage, happy in H’s wonderful company.

I love to look down at the people. Here we are, on the bank holiday, the drizzle having abated temporarily, going for a treat. H and I go down to the empty, famous works of Damien Hirst.

On along the South Bank towards the National Theatre. Just by Tate Modern, there is a new development of one and two bedroom apartments, £1 million to £5 million: not all the 1% could afford that. We find it distressing. We look up at it, all glass, the rooms within on show unless covered by blinds.
-Inequality in Britain is as bad as it was in 1918.
-I heard it was worse.
Would it be better, leaving school in 1960 and getting a job in the car plant or cotton mill? You could probably have kidded yourself it was a job for life at least until your kids left school. You would associate with people on the same social level. A more constrained life, perhaps, than H’s or mine, but quite possibly happier, and arguably with greater achievement.

I want this city. I want to be a part of it, though I could perhaps afford a room in someone’s house, a hundred square feet with a double bed. H’s landlady is pleasant, she has use of the living room which is decorated in the Spiritual- Hippy- Whatever way I like, though I do not fancy not being able to cook meat. It appears that they talk like acquaintances rather than close friends, but there is Success in keeping the same room for three years. And so my possessions become- Stuff, even clutter: who needs CDs when there is Spotify, or books when there are libraries? I want Connection and Experiences, not ownership of Things, even though the continuity and security ownership of things may symbolise would be really nice if-

There are two groups of buskers I notice in particular, playing too loudly in a tunnel. I pause to listen, H half agrees. There is a lot of work in that fast trumpet playing, fierce frenetic energy. We eat in Gabriel’s Wharf- I have been taken here before, about five years ago, I need to notice such places. You would be slumming it, coming here from your £1m apartment by the Tate- probably, that would be unthinkable- but I find the lamb juicy and the shoebox filled with tables pleasant enough. “Well done” says H, after we have ordered. Often it is difficult to agree a place to eat and be satisfied with it. It is important to notice ones successes, to keep irritation at the irritations within bounds.

Across Westminster Bridge. A tourist leans back, the view up the River behind her, for her photograph: a tourist of wonderful beauty, relaxed and calm and self-possessed. I would like to sightsee that huge church, so we walk towards it. Is it Westminster Abbey? H thought that was further along. It is. £16 to go in. We decide we have had enough Culture for the day. “You could go in to pray. I couldn’t, God might not approve.” I explain that I am functionally atheist at the moment, I can only accept Spiritual truth if I can explain its value to a materialist.

Down into Westminster Station, to the Jubilee Line. Down in this great, grey, Grunge space, wide open, dark walls, huge pipes crisscrossing it, more, surely, than needed for services or structure. A yard-wide pipe I can almost reach up and touch. Down the long escalator. Then down another, then down yet a third. It is a magnificent space for a tube station.

The city vibrates at a higher pace, and I Want it, though I fear it. I could not bear it or tolerate it, I would have to grasp its value and- electrify my now gas-lit soul, to dance with it.

3 thoughts on “London

  1. I enjoyed reading this Clare. I thought it was an evocative travelogue with a lovely delicate personal touch, and I felt myself tagging along as you wandered those streets. It’s been a long time since I actually went to the Big City. Personally, I could never stomach London. At the street level it always made me feel claustrophobic – that I couldn’t move without falling over someone, or even pause to read a street map without getting in some busy Londoner’s way. Also its overwhelming scale and the dusty greyness of it, and the taste of the air used to fill me with despair. I’d weather it in brief snatches in order to get a dose of culture, but then I’d be escaping back up north on the first available train. I suppose this means I’m just not cut out to be a town mouse. Most definitely a country mouse.

    Could I ever move to London? Don’t have to think long about that one. I simply can’t imagine sacrificing my own personal, private roof for a stranger’s spare bedroom and the right to sit in their living room. It would seem undignified to me, and I’d never feel the city was offering me enough back in return for that sacrifice. You’re right in saying it vibrates with a different energy though and I can see how that might be exhilarating.

    Interesting what you said about possessions providing a sense of continuity. It’s true. My CD’s and books also mark a time and place, and can conjure up a mood of something from the past just by holding them. I’ve noticed lately how our possessions are becoming increasingly virtual – virtual games, virtual books, virtual music, and I’m wondering what that means. Maybe one day the only possession any of us will have will be the device we access those virtual possessions with?

    Great piece of writing. Thought provoking.




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