42: London isn’t the ultimate answer

I have just realised that this is the 42nd post here on walkingtalkingblog, definitely not the answer to life, the universe and everything. London isn’t either but it’s still the subject of post 42. In the spirit of Douglas Adams, buried in Highgate Cemetery, I might just take a towel with me or at the very least cry for a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster to settle my nerves just a bit. Enjoy.

Being in London is slightly unreal. I usually visit very fleetingly, which suits me, to be honest. Like visiting any place, making sense of London is about figuring out transport, places to go and links between the two. It took a while. I used to describe London as a swamp, a place where people walk even faster than me, basically a heart attack on wheels. I still don’t like the place that much. It’s busy and full of people plus it strikes me as the place where good ideas come to die, at least in political terms. But still I have managed to make some sort of peace with it and I can be there maybe twice a year, for exhibitions or whatever, more often indeed than many places closer to here.

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St. Paul’s, looking across the Millennium Bridge

It is unreal because it is like being on a film set, with all of these prominent landmarks, many of them within walking distance of each other. You can walk in about fifteen minutes from the Thames to Trafalgar Square via the London Eye, Westminster and Whitehall. In the City, near to each other are the Shard, Tate Modern, St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Bank of England, a building that has long fascinated me architecturally. It’s like the street has been lowered, I mean why on earth would the main frontage of the building be so high above the ground? Not so far from the British Museum is Broadcasting House, home of the BBC. Between King’s Cross Station and Euston, the two main termini if you want to come to Scotland, is the British Library. All around are red buses, bulletin boards for the Evening Standard and signs for the London Underground with their distinctive roundel.

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Mornington Crescent, complete with roundel.

The Underground is usually where I pinch myself. The last time I was down there, I was on the Tube heading to Holborn, I think, and I thought to myself, I’m actually in London, on the Underground like any other bod and it’s fine. I have been on the Tube in the height of rush hour, which was quite possibly the least comfortable I have ever been in my life. My pen came out that time. It is also where I encountered two scenes that made me feel slightly more at home, or reminded of home. The Scottish Book Trust has a programme called Bookbug for young children. Bookbug sessions take place in libraries and other venues across the country with singing and rhymes. Anyway, the logo of the programme is a strange looking yellow bug in red dungarees and I saw someone with a Bookbug bag on the Underground in London. I also remember once being at London Bridge tube, standing on the platform when I saw a large picture of the Bass Rock, taken from North Berwick, under the legend ‘Visit East Lothian’. It felt like another world, not necessarily a better one.

I have written here before about the British Museum. I would like to write a little more about somewhere else I like in London. Until recently, I worked in Dumbarton, which was where a ship called the Cutty Sark was built in 1869. It is now berthed in Greenwich and has a station on the Docklands Light Railway named after it. I like to go out there. Greenwich is a pleasant village with the Royal Naval College and the National Maritime Museum, as well as the Royal Observatory which is where the Greenwich meridian is. The National Maritime Museum is fantastic. The last time I was there, there was a great exhibition about lighthouses, which have long fascinated me. I went there once for a cracking exhibition of photographs by Ansel Adams too. The views from the Royal Observatory stretch over much of the metropolis, to Canary Wharf, the City and beyond along the Thames. Plainly visible, not so far away, is what used to be called the Millennium Dome, now of course the O2 arena. If I lived in London – and believe me I don’t ever want to – I think I would spend a lot of time up there, trying to get some perspective on the place from a distance.

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National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

I am due to visit London again in February, as part of a combined visit with Cambridge, a place I like far more. I have just done a quick bit of research and I am quite eager to go to the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road, which has an exhibition about Tibet that I would like to see, as well as the British Museum, of course. Greenwich might wait for another time. I am trying a new model of day tripping, namely do less better. I try to cram a lot into my time but I would rather just enjoy the experience rather than feeling stressed, which after all is what London excels in. For once I would rather go against the trend rather than blending in. We will see what happens.

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