The other day I got an email from the great Rob Thompson, containing this link. It’s my old house, 10 Vincent Terrace, an address mentioned on my old London-nostalgia post. From practically anyone else, that would have been creepy bordering on stalkerish. From one habitual archive-molester to another, it’s about the coolest thing possible.
And that was the first port of call when Beth and I went on a day-trip to the big city as a wind-down from Group Research. Off at Angel, after a superbly cheap train from Moor Street to Marylebone and a tangled switchback of tube changes, rounding the City Road and strolling through the grid of quiet white-faced Georgian terraces. The old playground down by the water hadn’t changed even slightly since I was last there; Anderson’s warehouse had been torn down and replaced by expensive apartments back in 2001, the Diespeker building was the same half-brick-half-plate-glass yuppie-haven as it had been when I last saw it converted. We looked across the water at Hanover Primary and heard the sound of kids playing on the roof over the ripples of City Basin; Beth ruminated on what different childhoods she and I must have had. I don’t know how much inner-city life has really shaped who I am, but while I was a wretched, bullied kid who fucking hated that school and never want to see its insides again, I’m not sure I want to be anyone else.
Then down to Camden Lock to eat the great big picnic I always make and drain my thermos in a haze of hipster-exhaled marijuana smoke, and explore the various mad, wacky, over-the-top markets that infest the place. Camden, for all its myriad fascinations, doesn’t really impress me the way it ought to: I was far more interested in the history of the old stable-blocks and warehouses and the lock than all the weird gimmicky bong shops, nom shops and places trying to be somewhere out of Tron. There’s a weird sort of desperation to it, all these creative types trying their very hardest to outdo each other in off-the-wall weirdness and overcoiffed “counterculture”, but I’m glad places like it exist. As premeditated, Tom showed up, fresh and elated from having just scored an internship at Tussaud’s (waxwork eyelashes: squirrel fur. The more you know!) and we two highly connected children of the digital age eventually managed to locate each other in a hundred square metres of Camden (“We’re under the weeping willow by the lock.” “There are four weeping willows by the lock!” “AND WE’RE UNDER THIS ONE.”)
Then we pootled off to Canary Wharf, mainly because Beth wanted to, and sat by the fountain judging the various businessmen and tourists around us, making bad Wire references and wondering how to salvage dropped change from the pontoon bridge over West India Quay. I saw them building that bridge; I remember frogmen in the water around the pontoons as they inflated them and the bridge gradually rose from the water like an overburdened sea serpent. I wonder if this makes me Old. We made an interesting discovery: the Canary Wharf Tesco, which we expected to be a massively overpriced bijou nomshop for people with cufflinks worth more than my father makes in a stereotype stereotype blather blather, turned out to be hellishly cheap. (Maybe this is how the rich stay rich: unlike students, they don’t get messed around with on groceries.)
“Tom, you’re carrying like fifteen different knives.”)
Thus fortified with 10p donuts, 60p cornish pasties and 75p cartons of soup (all of which would have cost at least twice that in Selly Oak, let alone most London shops), we wandered back to the station, nabbing along the way a copy of Canary Wharf Magazine, all glossy, poncy adverts for thousand-pound wristwatches and bizjets and polo, reeking of the insecure nouveau riche trying to assert themselves. This – this city, maybe even this particular plate-glass-and-rebar money machine – is where my ambitions are aimed at the moment, if I’m good enough – and I hope when I get there it’s not as pathetically superficial and image-conscious as it seems to believe.
The DLR extension goes down to Lewisham now, and there’s a station nestled in Greenwich near the now-tragically-reduced Cutty Sark, but the way we always went when I were a lad was the old under-river foot tunnel back when the railway stopped at Island Gardens. There’s nowhere else quite like it. Once we were done gawking at the Old Royal Naval College the maritime museum was long closed, so we climbed up the hill to the Royal Observatory and watched the sunlit city and all the tourists messing about with meridian lines.
On the way back, we stopped in a little off-alley tea shop in Greenwich Village, and wondered about cities over far too many cuppas. My answer was “something that’s too big to really personally connect to, too complex for anyone to properly comprehend it in a lifetime.” I can’t for the life of me remember what the question was, but the answer was satisfying enough in its own right. Then the DLR to Tower Gateway, and we wandered onto the great bridge and stood for a while at the base of one of the bascules, looking over the Tower, HMS Belfast and the lapping Thames under a newly overcast sky. Tower Hill station, one last comparison of maps to planned outages, one last beep of Oyster cards and slam of barriers, and the train from Marylebone whisked us back in gathering darkness and gently streaking rain.
This is London, the place I grew up in, a place I know well enough that all the good parts are tinted by distant memories. I belong there, and I’ll be back there one day.
By the by, we got 62 for the GR presentation. Having looked at the rest of it (and published the marks online myself for fellow students, because the university is as ever criminally incompetent at getting our marks to us through the giant, confused, overengineered tangle that’s WebCT) I can see very little correlation between the good presentations and the actual marks they get, which has led to a few people being very pleasantly surprised and a lot of people being bitterly disappointed, myself counted. But we always knew Group Research was a bullshit module; better roll with it. I’ve done some spreadsheety number-crunching and concluded that in order to get my First this year I need to average 66+ in the Group Research essay and the two forthcoming exams. Which I think – I hope – I can do handily.
Speaking of which, I’d probably best revise…