M@: Freedom Of The City

By M@ Last edited 158 months ago
M@: Freedom Of The City

While the other Londonistas are loafing around, reading their papers, nursing their hangovers, I like to do everything that Sundays were not designed for. Going out in the rain, CHECK; miles of lonesome hiking, CHECK; ne’er a whiff of a Sunday roast, CHECK.

But this is not some countryside ramble. Oh no. My ideal Sunday is a focussed wander around the streets and alleys of London.

What do I mean by a ‘focussed wander’? Well, I get a theme and I explore it. So maybe I’ll go in search of all the Roman remains in the City. Or perhaps I’ll comb the suburbs for unusual shops, or go in search of all the sculptures from one artist. Whatever takes my fancy.

The City itself holds a particular allure, and my ideal Sunday is spent here. There is nowhere you can feel more alone than in the heart of our city on a drizzly weekend afternoon. Several miles and 2000-year’s worth of streets are all mine to explore, and the only eyes to see me are robotic security cameras.

Nobody can ever learn this whole labyrinth, it would be Sisyphean. Studying the street pattern, like a taxi driver learning The Knowledge, is nowhere near enough. In this ancient place, every building has a history, every doorway a death. Some streets, despite their modern facades, ring with memories. Cheapside, Lombard Street, Pudding Lane; all have been tarnished by bland developments, but retain a magnetic pull. While the lanes north of Lothbury, south of Fenchurch, and around Upper Thames Street remain impenetrable despite numerous efforts.

Other areas have become old friends. The bombed-out nave of St Dunstan’s in the East, with its Thunderbird-3 spire, is known to so few people that I’ve never encountered another soul here. Postman’s Park, now famous from the film Closer, is still a quiet oasis so close to St Pauls. And the Leadenhall-St Mary Axe area has that peculiar London draw of past (market, St Helens), present (Lloyds, ‘Gherkin’) and future (Willis Building, ‘Cheesegrater’) all on one site.

London is such a complicated mesh of patterns and pasts, secrets and symbols. To understand it all would take several lifetimes, only to find that everything has changed once again. But what a privilege to live in such a place. And what a waste of a Sunday if it’s not spent in the exploration of it all.

Johnson always says it best:

Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city, you must not be satisfied with seeing its great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes and courts.

Last Updated 27 November 2005