Here is my embarrassing list of London things that I have still not managed to do:
- Buckingham Palace. I've walked past it, but have never been arsed to go in. Same goes for the changing of the guard, and whatever other guff they get up to in there.
- Madam Tussauds. TheBloke (TM) has been here, and has all manner of hilarious photos of him peering down the Queen's cleavage and pinching J-Lo's arse. I've never seen the point. Though I would quite like a Kate Middleton waxwork for my living room. I would put a wick in her and light it, and enjoy her slowly melting and looking much less perfect as each evening went on. I digress.
- Kew Gardens. I drove past it once, but only because I was lost.
- St Paul's Cathedral. Walk past it a lot. Never quite wanted to stump up £16 or whatever it is these days to go and look round inside.
- Wembley Stadium. Don't like football, don't like loud music, and I think it's the wrong venue for comedy. 'Nuff said.
So, yes, there's a long-ish list of things in London I haven't yet done. And, of course, as Samuel Johnson said, "When a [wo]man is tired of London [s]he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
This week has been my last week working in London for a while. I left work today to start my maternity leave. I now live outside Central London - still a comfortable commute in, but you wouldn't say we lived in "London proper" anymore. This week, fitting in friends and book clubs and various different commitments before I went away, I had the opportunity this week to revisit Bank and Liverpool Street - an area in which I worked for about five years.
I walked past the Gherkin, and recalled in my first ever City job, how two naughty colleagues, Cookie and Boothie, made me skip most of an afternoon's work to get drunk with them in a restaurant next door. The Gherkin was still under construction at the time. Still two of my closest London friends, we continue to go out for dinner regularly... and they are still very naughty. I smiled.
I walked past the Royal Exchange and remembered meeting friends there - a central meeting point - before going to the South Bank to watch an episode of Have I Got News For You? being taped. It seemed such a long time ago, but I looked up at the beautiful architecture, unchanged throughout the decade, and smiled.
I walked down Bishopsgate, remembering how I used to walk to work from an overpriced one-bedroom flat in Dalston each morning to save the 65p bus fare. (This was well before Dalston was trendy. I think the technical term the estate agents used was "vibrant", and the term the Daily Mail used was "Murder Mile".) I remember how I had a clip-on MP3 player to my mobile phone which held an astonishing 16 songs. I remembered how I'd always feel virtuous for the exercise - which would make me so hungry, I'd eat a bacon sandwich as soon as I'd arrived in the office, thus more than negating the 65p bus fare saving, plus ruling out any calories I might have burned from the exercise by a good 300%. I grinned at the memory.
I passed the Tesco Metro where on a Friday evening I'd sometimes buy myself a bunch of flowers, reduced for quick sale. And how I learned how difficult it was to get lily pollen out of pretty much anything. And smiled.
I jumped on the tube at Liverpool Street, and the train passed through Bethnal Green, where I lived for about six years. I remembered how my friend Erica and I would spend at least one night each weekend at the Backyard Comedy Club - sometimes getting so drunk we stepped in a cold bowl of our own vomit the next morning (OK, that was just me. Sorry). Sometimes just loving the comedy so much, and staying for the cheesy disco... which was the same songs in the same order each week, literally on a tape. Whenever I hear one of those songs on the radio nowadays, it still makes me smile.
Today at Canary Wharf - an area I've always held to be quite soulless, I looked up at the skyscrapers, and realised the sky was cloudless, the sun was shining, the breeze was blowing across the Thames as the new Shard went up in on the horizon and actually, I would miss this place too. I smiled as I remembered the Gherkin going up as I first moved to London and my first few years in the city I wondered when London would be finished, when would the endless cranes move away? Of course, the answer is never. London keeps building, London keeps changing. But it somehow never changes so far that it becomes something else. London is always London.
So, this is no Wordsworth, and my London - made up of retail outlets and skyscrapers, is less picturesque perhaps than Westminster Bridge. But you know what? In ten years, it's made me smile a lot. Thank you, London. And goodnight.