It is one of the most written-about cities. It is one of the most well-known cities. And when people write a novel, they almost always set it in London.
The sky hangs low in London from the cloud — but perhaps my perception is warped considering I live in a city where the sky is bright, bright blue and goes on for days and is utterly cloudless. But I have seen more shades of grey in London than I think I’ve seen anywhere else in my life.
But I liked it. I liked that the pavement was made wet and shiny like it was polished from afar. I liked the cacophonous scrape of footsteps and metal on flagstones. I liked watching young, successful women right their upturned umbrellas, calmly, casually, with a half-laugh and a roll of their eyes.
I liked that the houses sat together cheek, chin and jowl jutting out onto footpaths, so that the rain gathered and dripped onto downturned coat collars. Little streets cheerful coloured doors and old, iron-wrought balconies. I liked that you could be in a quiet, affluent suburb, walk down a bit, turn right and suddenly you were in London again where cigarette smoke chases you across pedestrian crossings and cafes flank every corner.
London was where I met my cousin and we walked through markets in the evening, she not entirely sure where to take me and holding a takeaway cup of mulled wine in one hand. London was where I walked for miles just to breathe it in, looking up totally lost but finding tops of houses with chimneys close enough to kiss. London was where I told my mother about my wife, and she listened effortlessly and didn’t mind.
I didn’t get to see all of London’s alleyways and corners – although I wanted to. I passed red telephone boxes riddled with call girl contacts. I saw a blue police box just outside my hotel every day and wondered if the city was as sentimental as I was. I know I’m just a tourist, and that my time in London was short-lived, but I have felt its fog, seen its river and seen it’s low-hanging sky.
I also summoned a cab and asked the driver to drive to 221b Baker Street, please and spent the whole afternoon in the flat of my two favourite fictional permanent bachelors, smiling mostly to myself the whole time. I wouldn’t live in London – but I would always come back.
especially , if it’s raining and grey.