–This is an archive post, originally published in Pi Magazine issue 700, September 2013–
Anna Tomlinson argues that London is far more than just bricks and mortar.
London is a city of contradictions. It is the city of a thousand cultures, a global melting pot that is steeped in history and tradition. It is at the forefront of the financial world where money changes hand by the second against the Changing of the Guard. It is an architectural wonder whose oldest building, the Tower of London, squares up to the tallest, the recently completed Shard, the highest building in Western Europe.
London is a pulsating, breathing paradox with a life of its own. In a constant state of flux, turmoil and movement, it dominates literature, music and art as a central player. Charles Dickens, the great lover of London, described the nearby Gray’s Inn Road as having “run itself out of breath in twenty yards, and had stood still ever since.” T.S Eliot in his haunting poem The Waste Land laments, “Unreal City / Under the brown fog of a winter dawn / A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many”.
Perhaps the greatest praise comes from the moors loving Charlotte Brontë who wrote in Villette, “I like the spirit of this great London which I feel around me. Who but a coward would pass his whole life in hamlets; and for ever abandon his faculties to the eating rust of obscurity?” Echoing her sentiments Henry James wrote, “London is on the whole the most possible form of life.”
In the 1970s, 60 years on from Henry James, London spawned the punk movement and birthed a new form of life. Punk seized London and placed her in its songs. The Clash in London Calling howled “London calling to the faraway towns / Now war is declared and battle come down” whilst in Carnaby Street The Jam sung “The Street that was a legend / Is a mockery / A part of British tradition / Gone down the drain”.
London is not just a character in history, literature or music, it’s a permanent influence on our everyday lives. The relentless city is a constant part of our collective and individual experiences.
Whether we’re one of the crowd rushing down Tottenham Court Road, pushing through the tourists in Camden Town, or taking the tube to Euston, being told to “mind the gap” for the thousandth time, the city is so much more than a static backdrop to our university lives.
The constant interplay between the crowds and the city is what creates the character of London. For the last 2,000 years of its recorded history, London has been moulded by its citizens and visitors. With a population of just over eight million, shaping and changing the city, how will you make your mark?
Welcome back to London.
Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons.