As I stepped out of Victoria station into the heaving maze of fencing, twisted metal and glass, I thought it would be nice to reflect on my previous home of 7 years with fresh eyes. So I did something I don’t normally do in London—because, you know, it’s what annoying tourists who get in my way do—I lifted up my phone and started taking photos.
I brought my phone up to eye level. As soon as I did, a white van sped round the corner, a head popped out the driver’s window, and yelled:
Ah. Welcome home. Back to the place that fills you with inspiration, before slapping you around the face and calling you a knob head.
Undeterred, my knobbish head continued to think about the messages the city sent during my time there. Here are the results:
I was happy to see that they’d finally made the toilets at Victoria station free (and so was my bladder).
If you are ever desperate to go in London, Pret a Manger is fast replacing McDonald's as the free public toilet of choice (and you won't walk out of there having bought 12 chicken nuggets you didn't even want). You can’t stroll 20 meters in London without bumping into a branch of the popular coffee and sandwich chain.
In the UK, roughly 65% of Pret's staff come from other EU countries. As I bit into my sandwich, it saddened me to think about the people who served me who were now being told they’re not welcome.
Many places in London are facing an architectural identity crisis. Victoria is no exception. The area has been covered in fences for several years now as the station undergoes a facelift fit for a queen. A number of new buildings have been finished, with many more still going up. The dull formula for creating a new building in London is as follows:
Choose how many floors you want (must be over 15).
Think of a shape. You may want to consider having a bulge down one side of the building, a 20 degree angle down the other, or a pointy bit at the top.
Cover it in glass.
Make sure no-one apart from the rich can a) work there, b) sleep there or c) set foot inside the building.
Older buildings that preserve London’s heritage are kept in place, but surrounded by giant bullies ready to kick them around a bit. Shiny new shapes clutter up the skyline, and desperately compete for your love and attention. This is accelerating like never before, and even areas previously spared these antics (like the South Bank) are now getting tall, sexy skyscrapers plonked down right in the middle of them.
From glass to grass
There's still plenty of green in London, which I miss. Barcelona has some lawns but the warm climate means that they’re too expensive to maintain. I stopped to roll around in it for a bit.
All a bit pedestrian
London desperately needs more pedestrianised streets. This would help avoid people getting choked to death by air pollution It would also be a small victory against the increasing privatisation of space (horizontal and vertical) across the city and country. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has already announced plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street by 2020—welcome news. Let’s hope other streets in the capital get the same treatment.
...thousands of cameras. Move outside of the UK (depending on which country you move to, of course) and you might start to think that privacy is an observed right again. Go back to London and you realise you’re the only thing being observed. Constantly.
I love Londoners’ capacity to see the bright side.
All this moaning, and you might think I’m glad to have gotten away. But that’s not the case. London has this ability of being both draining and incredibly fulfilling at the same time. The creativity, inspiration, and spontaneity that lives there is unbeatable.
London is a beautiful piece of art masquerading as an assault on the eyes. It’s an arrogant genius. It’s a real knob head sometimes. But it’s one I’ll never stop coming back to.