Thursday, December 04, 2003

This wonderful city

I was thinking last night about how much I take London for granted these days. I see the tube mostly as an inconvenience on the way to work and I'm blase about all the sights, too. It wasn't always like that, let me tell you.

I was introduced to London almost twenty years ago by my Nan and Grandfather, before he died. From their home in Cheshunt (twenty minutes out of Liverpool Street) they took me to the Tower of London. It was a wonderful adventure, traveling on the train into the big city and I'm sure I was overawed by it all, especially the tube.

In the days before my grandfather retired I remember regarding him with some awe when I was told that he knew exactly where to get on the train at Cheshunt so that he would get off it at Seven Sisters in exactly the right place to go down the stairs to the Victoria Line. I could only have been four or five and I couldn't understand how anyone could know that. Now, of course, I know where to get on at a myriad of stations depending on where I'm going and I do it without really thinking about it.

That trip to the Tower was the first of many that I went on with my Nan. Pretty much every school holiday until I was 13 or 14 I'd go and spend a few days with her and without fail we'd always make at least one trip into London. On the train I would wonder at the names of the stations we went through; Clapton (isn't that near the sea?), London Fields, Cambridge Heath, Bethnal Green etc. From Liverpool Street we went all over the place; on the Circle line to Tower Hill for Tower Bridge or the London Dungeon, to the Piccadilly line somehow to get down to the Museum District, to Kings Cross for the Nortern Line to Camden Town for London Zoo. Plus maybe twenty other trips to museums and attractions across the city. We even went out to Greenwich on the newly-built DLR, past the giant hole in the ground that was later to become Canary Wharf. At that point the DLR only went as far as Island Gardens and we had to walk underneath the Thames through the foot tunnel.

By the time I was ten I was an old hand at traveling in town, something that bothers some adults who have never visited London before. Back then the tube was a magical thing that whisked us around in doublequick time and I used to try and work out the quickest route from one place to another. Stations seemed like veritable rabbit warrens of corridors, platforms and escalators (which I used to love going up and down on) and I had great fun trying to get through the ticket barriers as quickly as possible before they closed on me. I loved those trips and would look forward to them for weeks beforehand.

Now, of course, it's nowhere near as special to go around the centre of London on the tube (though I do still love going out on the extremes of the network along sections of line I've never traveled before) and stations are just places to get out of as speedily as I can. I'd rather walk to where I want to go than get the tube, you get to know London much better that way.

There are still things about the city that I love. The fact that my grandfather worked for quite a while in Mincing Lane in the City, not a quarter of a mile away from where I now sit and somewhere I walk past on the way to our other office, for instance. But I don't have anywhere near the fascination I used to have.

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