Henry Eliot

My Lon­don

The London Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

Henry Eliot is a writer. Since 2011 he has run the map-mag­a­zine Cu­ri­oc­ity with Matt Lloyd-Rose, avail­able in book­shops across Lon­don and online at www.cu­ri­oc­ity.org.uk, and they are cur­rently cre­at­ing a book of un­usual city maps to be pub­lished by Pen­guin in 2016. www.hen­rye­liot.co.uk. This is the 13th ar­ti­cle in our reg­u­lar se­ries “My Lon­don”.

Lon­don is a city of many metaphors, not all of them com­pli­men­tary. For Pa­trick Hamil­ton it’s a mon­strous con­gested body; for Dick­ens it’s a creep­ing, pinch­ing cloud of fog; for Ge­orge Eliot it’s a prison.

Re­cently I en­tered a ran­dom prize draw and amaz­ingly won tick­ets for a he­li­copter ride above the Thames. Be­low me, Lon­don was spread out like a model vil­lage, with tiny cars and peo­ple be­tween the build­ings. I’d flown above Lon­don once be­fore: when I vis­ited UCL’s Cen­tre for Ad­vanced Spa­tial Anal­y­sis on Tot­ten­ham Court Road. They had let me try their ‘Pi­geon Sim­u­la­tor’ where you stand in front of a huge screen and fly through the Lon­don skies by tilt­ing your body and arms, swoop­ing like a pi­geon be­tween the vir­tual chim­neys of Battersea Power Sta­tion. The real aerial ex­pe­ri­ence was more thrilling but also sur­pris­ingly dis­con­cert­ing. The fa­mous land­marks looked so help­lessly small amidst the sprawl. From that in­hu­man per­spec­tive, in the ar­ti­fi­cial si­lence of noise-can­celling ear de­fend­ers, I didn’t recog­nise my city. It was the jolt of see­ing a loved one through a stranger’s eyes.

It made me re­alise that my Lon­don is a street-level ex­pe­ri­ence, not a bird’seye-view. For me it’s a city of mem­o­ries: as I walk through Lon­don I’m con­stantly re­minded of sto­ries I’ve read, heard or ex­pe­ri­enced. I also find it a pos­i­tive, gen­er­ous-hearted city, not a mon­ster, a fog or a prison. I think those analo­gies do my city a dis­ser­vice, so I de­cided to set out in quest of a bet­ter metaphor.

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