Ahh, London. The spiritual home of the permanently irritated. It’s a cliché, but you can take the man out of London, but you can’t take the London out of the man. Five minutes into your first tube journey in months and you’re already spewing. Why are you standing in the front of the doors as I am trying to get off? Why haven’t you got your ticket ready when you know you’re going through the barriers in a moment? And does no one know how to keep to the right?!
Going through all the wonderful areas, sights and sounds that embody a city of over 10 million people is impossible to do in 1000 or so words. The best metaphor for this is surely a scenario any first-year from London can associate with. You happen onto a room of people and meet another Londoner, you from West London, the other from North London. Cue endless drunken non-Londoners shouting: ‘Oh, do you two know each other then?’ Yeah, in a city of 10 million people, I know this one person 3 Underground zones away.
“Camden’s Roundhouse is also one of my favourite music venues; close, intimate and atmospheric”
Having Central London right on your doorstep for your entire childhood does lead to an element of taking its beauty for granted. However, for me, my three favourite parts of Central have to be Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and Kensington, home to the Science Museum and Natural History Museum. Many a summer day spent with a couple of drinks, a football and a music speaker in the middle of Hyde Park amount to some of my best memories.
Trafalgar Square houses the National Portrait Gallery, which, if you haven’t taken the time to go to, make every endeavour to do so. It is a wonderful display of the artistic talents this island has shown over the centuries. Growing up, finally, and taking the tube to the museums in Central London was always a highlight, perfect for any curious youngster wishing to see what makes the world go around.
Right up there, of course, is Camden Market, a microcosm of the culture and atmosphere that makes people want to visit the capital. Bustling shops selling most things you could probably think of, sounds and smells of various cuisines, shop fronts sporting three-dimensional elements; it is an attack on the senses as soon as you step out of the rather dingy Underground station.
Home to the World’s End pub, perfect for starting a Friday night destined for the brighter lights of the centre, as well as a plethora of jazz clubs and more niche bars, there is really something for everyone. Camden’s Roundhouse is also one of my favourite music venues; close, intimate and atmospheric, even if a drink is a drain on the university budget!
Going formulaically through all the best tourist places in London is not the point of this article, however, and I did not grow up right in the centre of London. My home was in the London borough of Hillingdon, in a sleepy little village called Ickenham, right on the outskirts of West London.
Ickenham is small and quaint, home to Swakeleys House, a Jacobean manor used in the filming of Great Expectations (2012). It still has the bandstand where the old village pump stands, and still holds a bi-annual village festival. Not what you would expect from somewhere technically within the confines of Greater London.
Uxbridge, the local town centre that everyone growing up too far away from Shepherd’s Bush (and everyone smart enough to avoid Slough) congregated to, sat centre-stage of my metropolitan (line) upbringing. Having the Underground on your doorstep gave you a gateway into exploring the city around you.
“There was always something to do, and somewhere to go”
For a paltry £3.30 for a child zone 1-6 travelcard when I was growing up, you could explore the furthest parts of London for a minimal fee. My best friend and I, on a whim, decided to try and get to every Football League ground (in 2012 these were Brentford, Fulham, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Charlton, Millwall, West Ham, Leyton Orient, Arsenal, Tottenham and QPR) (and Wembley) in a single day; we circled London, for a price that probably wouldn’t get you a return to Beeston and back.
Growing up in West London also meant having Wembley Stadium right on your doorstep, as the home of English football. Seeing the Wembley Arch lit up is always a sight to behold, beckoning all those lucky enough to be able to support their team at the grand old (new) stadium.
Like every city, the west of London naturally had areas that were naturally less than perfect, and it is fair to say that I grew up in a few of them. But, to coin a phrase from The Inbetweeners Movie, it was our s**thole. There was always something to do, and somewhere to go.
In 18 years growing up, I never experienced everything London had to offer (not least due to a point-blank refusal to go south of the river). The longer you have, however, the more you will find.
As I have grown up, places like the British Library and the National Archives have become my playgrounds, my hide-aways, studying for a history degree and writing a dissertation on British history. Both places hold endless treasures for any history student or academic to explore, and provide more than enough reason for me to come back.
It is a city that can throw up many surprises, or present a whole new piece of the city to explore. For instance, in the last few weeks I found out that the 3rd Duke of Portland, the 18th century Whig politician I wrote my dissertation on, is buried at Marylebone Parish Church.
And here I was thinking that I couldn’t be any more in love with this city. And yeah, it’s dirty, people are rude, the Underground is stifling, everything is super expensive, a drink in a pub costs the same as a small mortgage, traffic’s awful, and planes go overhead every 90 seconds.
I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Featured Image courtesy of ‘Hernan Pinera’ via Flickr.
First article image courtesy of ‘samchills’ via Flickr.
Second article image courtesy of ‘Ewan Munro’ via Flickr.