The Daily Telegraph
London is a place defined by life, not dea death
When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life – but how many of us are tired of hearing this Samuel Johnson quote trotted out by people who think anywhere outside the M25 is provincial, or that they will get nosebleeds if they travel north of the Watford Gap?
London, in common with every other major city in the world, thinks it is the best place on the planet, but has it seen the Highlands, strolled the streets of York or marvelled at the architecture of Bath? Can it not see how busy and frantic it is, or smell how stinky its streets are? Has it not taken a deep gulp of its polluted air recently, or tried to ride on its Tube at rush hour? For heaven’s sake, has London tried to buy a house in itself recently?
If it had, perhaps it would concede that it’s not for everyone. Perhaps it would have a word with itself and agree that, occasionally, it could do with changing.
I’m one of those selfloathing Londoners who spends their whole time moaning about wanting to move to the country, while doing precisely nothing about it. I never tire of whingeing about school catchment areas, Chelsea tractors, and the calamitous state of the Northern Line. There is nothing I enjoy more than complaining about the price of a pint in a central London pub, or the traffic on the roads caused by all the Ubers out there (many of which I happen to use, but no matter). I was born in London moaning about it, and I will probably die in London moaning about it. It’s a place I love to hate, which is just as well given that I’ve lived here my whole life.
But this week, I felt a strange pang of affection for London. I was reminded of the qualities unique to the citizens of this city: the weary and yet humorous stoicism of a group of people who know they live in a place where anything can happen, because it already has. “Quiet, simple acts of defiance on London bus,” tweeted my friend Felicity on Thursday. “Everyone in silence ignoring each other as someone dropped their nail cuttings on the floor.”
Then there was the woman who walked over Westminster you are always reminded of where the bombs fell by the post-war houses standing in a row of otherwise Victorian architecture.
This was also thehe week that the former IRA leader ader Martin McGuinness died, , and it is sobering to remember mber the almost-constant nt state of alert that London on and other British citiess used to be in, thanks to the threat of attack from om the IRA. I remember ber not being able to get thehe Tube home from school l aged 13 because a small device evice had gone off in the Undergroundderground passageway of thee local station, and the weird eird thing is, this memory does oes not strike me as anything hing out of the ordinary. y. Few areas of London don were left unscathed ed in the Eighties andd Nineties, from mortar ortar shells fired into Downing Street to o bombs left in suburban urban Underground depots. ots.
There was a story ry on the BBC website this his week that began: “If you u are under 25, you probably don’t remember a time without terrorism.” What they mean, of course, is terrorismrism perpetrated by peopleople who don’t look like us – even if they happen to be us. The idea that Londoners ers are cowed and frightened ened by this particular act of cowardiceowardice is, frankly, absurd. Westminster Bridge, like all thee other parts of this city affected ffected by terrorism, will gett through this. Because whatever tever else one might say about out London, we can all agree that, hat, at its heart, it is a place defined by life, not death.