Tuesday, and the Central Line found itself graced with my presence as it hurtled me right across the other side of London, to Liverpool Street Station. Further east than I had been in a very long time, I stumbled off like a newborn foal, shook my head, found my balance, and as I impatiently strode up the escalator, realised I had never really left.
I have always lived west, but for the first year of my life in London, I worked east. For at least an hour, every morning and every night, I would sit, stand, crouch, or faint on the District line as it worked its way along the Thames, depositing me at the edge of the City, where I spent my days eking out a living in the shadow of the Tower of London. The commute was horrendous, the action was frenetic, and Pret always sold out of my favourite sandwich before I got there. But I loved it anyway.
For this was not just any city, this was The City (or, if you like, an M&S City). That one little capital makes all the difference here. A city could be anywhere, could do anything. The City could only be that of London, and it does myriad things.
The City of London does architecture, it does crazy, it does beauty, it does impatience, it does history, it does money. Actually, that should be, it does Money. Even in this post-recession wonderland, it does MONEY.
There is nowhere quite like it, and I missed it. When you don't work in the City, there is no need to go into the City. But you should, anyway. I definitely should. A lovely lunch was followed by a walk in the warm spring sunshine through the streets I know so well, yet are still such a mystery - ancient streets and winding alleys featuring names like St Swithin's Lane, Eastcheap, and Bishopsgate cosy up to the complex statements of the Lloyds Building and the Gherkin, which gaze over the rooftops of countless office buildings and faceless blocks, interspersed with the suddenness of snowy white churches, hidden under a layer of light grime. These roads make no sense, twisting and turning you in their medieval deception, before firmly picking you up and throwing you out at the domes of St Pauls, the proud symbol that keeps standing guard over its City.
The buzz of people and life all around you is constant, but as you turn left and head towards the Millennium Bridge, the suits are replaced by jeans and the frenetic mobile phone chatter fades to the excited chirrup of the tourist. Tourists are still annoying, even in the City. Some things are constant. So you cut right again and remain on the north side of the river, slowly allowing your feet to bring you under the mess of Blackfriars, over the smooth, new pavement, until the surprising bend of the river throws up the London Eye in front of you. Crane your neck and Westminster will appear, or cross the road, make your way past Temple, and hit that magic point where E becomes W, and the City lies behind you for another day.
Tuesday, and my walk through the City left me dazed, blinking in the new sunlight like a Care in the Community patient, knowing only that I was happy, but not sure why. Maybe it was the history. My knowledge is limited, but my desire to know is no less for it. Maybe it was the money, Money, MONEY (that too is limited, but the same goes for the desire). Maybe it was the architecture. My dreams of being an architect came to an abrupt end at the age of 13, when I realised I would never be able to sharpen my pencil* at the rate required, and decided to pursue less restrictive forms of self-expression. I still appreciate it though, in a highly uninformed, uneducated, blunt pencil kind of way.
Go to the City. Any day. Feel the life all around you, and feel the ancient life under you, and breathe it in. Not too deeply though, or you will choke on pollution. Also, don't go when it's raining. And whatever you do, don't go on a weekend, when all the life and soul is sucked out and displaced into the suburbs, when tumbleweeds blow along the streets, when the City resembles nothing more than a remote corner of Texas or the prairie country of Canada**.
So that's any sunny weekday. We get about three of those a year in London. Make the most of it.
Tuesday, I walked through the City, and I lived.
*Honestly not a euphemism, but actual fact.
**Not that I've ever been to either of those places, but I have a good imagination.