Tag Archives | London

Last days in London

In London I suffer from a three-pronged obsession: street names, station names, and the architectural remnants of Victorian London.

I think it has something to do with the ring of English in London, and the structure of the city. It marries a love of maps and dictionaries; a fixation that finds perfect expression in one of my favourite books, the London A–Z (an atlas of the city).

Whenever I feel self-conscious about this (let’s face it, some people will find it odd) I’m reminded of Bill Bryson writing in Notes from a Small Island:

… as ever amazed and quietly excited to find it peppered with districts, villages, sometimes small swallowed cities whose names, I would swear, had not been there the last time I looked – Dudden Hill, Plashet, Snaresbrook, Fulwell cross…

He is writing about the A–Z, and it gets better:

The A–Z really is quite the most absorbing tome. It scrupulously fixes and identifies every cricket ground and sewage works, every forgotten cemetery and wandering suburban close, and packs the densest names onto the tiniest, most obscure spaces. I flipped to the index and, for want of anything better to do, lost myself there.

Now, lying on the couch and flipping through the A–Z, it doesn’t feel strange at all.

That’s what I’ll be doing – at times – during my last nine days in London.

And I’m grateful to be able to.

Looking at London

I invest a significant amount of time just looking at London.

It is a hobby that gives me great pleasure; meditating on seams where young and old buildings join up, gothic Victorian ironwork, new bricks added in ancient walls.

There is evidence of working and reworking spanning centuries.

There are many who share this passion, studies of Flickr photos regularly place London at the top of the list of the world’s most photographed cities.

To fully appreciate London, and England in general, you have to know what it is that you are looking at.

For example, a deteriorating building occupied by squatters today inspired Charles Dickens more than a century ago to use it as a setting in Oliver Twist, an unassuming park the place where Virginia Woolf regularly took walks and a painfully bumpy bridle path (if you’re on a mountain bike) in the country the remains of a major Roman road.

It is a place where big history speaks in modest tones.