Monday, October 5, 2015

What is London Like?

Yesterday I was Skyping with family, as is not my habit since, unfortunately, I am one of those people who forgets about everyone unless they are actually within a one hour travel radius or have Whatsapp which they use on a regular basis.

Grandma happened to be on the other end, confused about how she could see me from Calgary, and asked what living in London is like.

I didn't really have an answer, but I've been thinking about it ever since.

There is a lot I could say. There is the fact that you can enter a tube station at rush hour - hint: it feels like you are a sardine in a can - and there will be absolute silence. No one makes eye contact, no one speaks, and everyone has his head buried in a newspaper. Oh, how they love their newspapers and personal space.

There was one incident where I was standing at a busy corner, waiting for the light to change, in a rush, and next to someone equally stressed about the time, judging from the number of times he checked his watch.

After a few seconds of frustration, I turned to him as one does and said something sarcastic about the light not changing until I was dead and buried. He gasped in surprise, picked up his phone, and stared at it, as if trying to force me away by the intensity with which he was pretending I didn't exist.

Don't speak to strangers. Got it.

But that would be a one dimensional picture of London. What is London like?

Well, yes it is cloudy, and the picture is of terrible quality, but I am sitting here, in St. Katharine's Docks, in a cafe which only serves quiche, crepes, tea, and wine. The cafe is right next to some rather big boats, and I can't for the life of me figure out how they get onto the Thames. Are they moored here permanently? If so, why? If so, how?

I don't get it.

St. Katharine's Docks is right behind Tower Bridge, and very shortly I will walk across it in order to get to my flat, which is directly across the Thames from St. Paul's Cathedral. This is the view from our living room window. The rainbow is not a permanent fixture. 

And that is one of the strangest things about living in London. Historic buildings and streets are everywhere. How strange is it to give directions to one's flat "directly across from St. Paul's," or to arrange to meet someone next to the houses of Parliament, or to meet one's husband in Trafalgar Square because that is where his office is?

Once, I took a new route to my hairdressers, looked up and saw this:

My heart stopped. My heroine.

Another time I took the train to Winchester, to escape London for the day, walked to the Cathedral in the centre of the village, wandered through mostly looking up at the spectacular windows, looked down, and suddenly realized I was standing on Jane Austen's grave.

I often wonder if born and bred Londoners get the same jolts of shock and awe that I do when I wander through my day. 

And so, London is like that.

On the other hand, London is also like this: an hour ago I went to a flat viewing - because I was walking by and curious - in a new build along the Thames, and it was 1 million pounds (almost 2 million dollars) for 750 sq feet of space. Which, to be honest, is quite reasonable for the location. Plus, it is off plan, which means that once the building is BUILT...well just watch those prices sky rocket.

Just this minute, I received an email from an estate agent, informing me that the flat I was meant to view tomorrow, which was put on the market on Saturday was sold just today (Monday).

London is also like that.

And I love it. I love the quirky people, and the bustle, and the poshness and the grunginess and looking up to see Big Ben glowing in the distance.