OPINION - I’ve learned how to stop feeling jaded by thrilling London

·2-min read
 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

One of the purest pleasures of long-term London life is the way the city imperceptibly shifts through the eyes of your guests. There really is no sharper reminder of what a romantic, thrilling place you call home as looking at London vicariously anew, through a visitor’s gaze.

Everything you take for granted earns a sharp, magnanimous double-take. The 26 bus route, wending through the indolent high-rises of the City, floating by a plump, passive St Paul’s, onto the decaying Dickensiana of Fleet Street before arriving for its final curtain call across Waterloo Bridge, now feels like being escorted by a lantern-jawed gondolier through the twilit canalways of Venice. This, you will think for the first time in six months, is what my life looks like? Nice. Obviously, you won’t say so, as nobody likes a show-off.

My visitor’s gaze was set in sharp relief last week while entertaining an old friend and her 16-year-old daughter, incoming from the Outer Hebrides, about as useful a polarity to the sashay of London’s appealingly arrogant bounce as Britain can throw at you. We spent at least 10 minutes laughing at Londoners who’d bought property up there during the plague panic life-decisions of Covid, only to be horrified by the reality of life without St Paul’s on their daily commute, just a passing deer for company.

We strolled through Borough and Broadway Markets, up the arteries of east London, straying off into side streets, each a progressively more riveting backdrop for sharing the disasters and small triumphs we’d missed in each other’s lives while at either end of the country, physically and conceptually. London turned into a film set that afternoon. What glorious cinematography the city furnished us with to heighten the drama of every abbreviated story we told, to aggregate the eight years of our lives since last seeing one another.

The carefully curated record shop Rough Trade, as witnessed through the eyes of a high-school student from the middle of the north Atlantic who’d never seen a Childish Gambino record in the flesh before, magically morphed into the beating pulse of all British culture. The look of sheer horror on the face of the counter-staff at the Brick Lane LGBT+ bookshop café, The Glasshouse, when I asked for “dairy” as my milk option, felt written by eager Netflix scriptwriters. Arnold Circus honed into view like Mont-Saint-Michel.

Visitors are our way of recalling the sheer excitement of the city again when feeling most fatigued by it. They’re a way of telling ourselves how the city has shaped us, for better and for worse. So the next time you stumble across a tourist and mutter, with Fran Lebovitz’s aggravated catchphrase to “pretend it’s a city”, remember to respect their presence. Without them, we’re nothing.