Journals

Surveying London

London’s skyline as we see it today is dominated by immense structures, namely: The Shard, The Gherkin, and The Walkie Talkie Building. These host a combination of offices, and tourist attractions for those wishing to ‘wine and dine’ within the surrounding panoramic view of the Capital. From these views, the clash between London’s historic and modern architecture could be no more evident; the megastructures swamp the traditional Bank of England, St. Paul’s, and St Mary-le Bow, gives the impression of London existing in two different times simultaneously. The city of elaborate stone and brickwork has morphed into a city of glass.

Walking across London Bridge towards bank, I notice St. Paul’s Cathedral, now masked behind dull, characterless offices. Located in the old Farringdon Ward within, the new Cathedral (founded by Bishop Mauricius after the fire of 1087 devastated the original) stands proud with its unmistakeable dome and twin towers.[1] The intricate stonework surrounding the windows and the detail of the pillars, portray a sense of grandeur that the imposing modern buildings will never possess.

Progressing eastwards towards Cheapside, past the generic shopping centre One New Change, we approach the Courtyard of St Mary-le Bow. You may have heard of the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’ telling of the Great Bell of Bow; these bells are still sought out by ringers travelling all distances across the United Kingdom, to ring peals to celebrate birthdays and national events. However, the identifiable feature of the church upon arrival being is not the bell tower, but the clock face hanging over the pavement. Unfortunately, the bland café chains Costa and Greggs smother the courtyard. The litter and noise gather from the frenzies that are lunchbreaks and rush hour takes away from the of sacredness of this religious building. The church itself is falling into slight disrepair as windows suffer from assumed vandalism.

Staying parallel with the Thames and continuing east in the direction of Fenchurch Street Station, we are now in the ward of Tower Street. This was the first ward in the east of the city within the circumference of the old wall (even if it were still standing, London would have long since burst out of its hold). I turn to Hart Street and the Church of St. Olave’s.[2] In comparison to St. Paul’s, this church is distinctly modest with a short, stubby tower. The University of London Society of Change Ringers practice here every Thursday evening (despite common complaints about the noise from nearby hotels), and endeavour to keep the tradition of ringing churchgoers into their Sunday services.

On my return to London Bridge I pass Monument, built between 1671 and 1677 to celebrate the rebuilding of the city after the Great Fire of London in 1666; it stands 202 feet tall – the exact distance between it and Pudding Lane where the Great Fire began.[3]  Continuing to Lower Thames Street I notice St. Magnus, lost from view until arrival due to the squash of grey office buildings (passers-by, particularly tourists, are likely to walk past without knowing a church is located behind). This church is significant as it is home to a rough-looking piece of stone from the original London Bridge. However, it’s important to note that the church I refer to was built here after the original’s destruction in the Great fire.[4]

Proceeding southwards, I retreat down a small stair case leading to Borough Market. The unpleasant smell of fish mixes with the sweet smell of baked goods. The din of pans clattering and coins exchanging hands rings in my ears. Once past the swarm of customers, the market opens out to Southwark Cathedral, also known as St Mary Overy (St. Mary Over the Water). Commercialised now, tourists gather in its courtyard for a cup of tea, or perhaps a light lunch, (again, one might argue that this insults the original purpose of the church as a sacred place of worship), before continuing with their discovery of the Capital.

The changing names, structures, purposes, and in some cases locations of these landmarks, creates the sense of a city that lacks in permanence; it is one of constant construction and expansion. This is evident from the shadows that modern architecture cast upon the traditional religious buildings, which were once great focal points of London; the latter, being far more beautiful and timeless.

Enjoying London

Monday, 9th October 2017

My alarm sounded at 7am to allow myself enough time to wash and dress before leaving my halls of residence (located in Canada Water) and walk to my History Lectures beginning at 9am at Goldsmiths University of London. After class, we had to watch the silent film ‘Cottage on the Dartmoor’, during which time I ate my lunch which consisted of a chocolate muffin. Once finished, I proceeded to the Student’s Union bar accompanied by Tom and Jonny who drank Guinness over a game of pool. On their departure, I stayed to do further reading for my course as I had to stay on campus until 5.30pm to attend my first Contemporary dance class. During this time the sky had darkened; I walked the same route home and reheated leftover vegetable bake from last week as I was too tired to cook.

Tuesday 10th October 2017

The morning followed the same pattern as the previous (except I allowed myself an extra hour rest as lectures started at 10am instead of 9am). Again, I stayed on campus past the necessary teaching hours for a meeting organised for the Smiths magazine editors. I did not join them in the pub for a drink after as it was already 6.30pm; knowing I had a 30-minute walk ahead of me, I quite wanted to leave and get home for dinner and retire to the comfort of my room for the rest of the evening.

Wednesday 11th October 2017

Left the flat at 9am to reach university within the hour. Wednesday’s are pleasant as I’m able to leave by noon. That said, I have rush back home to eat a couple of slices of toast before crossing the road to St Joseph’s Catholic Primary school where I assisted with the year 4 class for an afternoon of RE lessons. At the sound of the bell, I return to my flat for a quick and easy dinner of cheese pastries, potato waffles and beans – out of practicality rather than choice. I walked to the Church of St Mary le Bow, crossing the river over London Bridge and passing through Bank against the stream of people leaving their offices for the day. As is routine after a bellringing practice, we gathered in the Ye Olde Watling. I purchased my first pint of Mortimer’s Orchard cider costing £4.70, so I was extremely grateful when I was bought a second by a young gentleman in our company. I left the pub as conversation turned to the dress code of a wedding to take place this weekend, which was a sore spot, as I had not been invited.

Thursday 12th October 2017

After lectures, I retreated to the campus library where I spent 3 hours dedicated drafting my assignments. I considered this good use of my time whilst waiting for an appointment with my personal tutor to discuss how my studies are progressing. I did not have time to walk home, cook and attend the weekly University bellringing practice, so I nipped over the road to Sainsburys, bought a sandwich and ate on the move. I stopped only to dispense of my bag in the flat. On arriving at St Olave’s, Hart Street I found to my relief that, despite my late arrival, the rest of the band were only just ringing the bells up. Alas, Rosemary had forgotten to bring with her the keys for the tower which should be in my possession, as Secretary of the University of London Society of Change Ringers. I discovered it to be the 72nd Birthday of the society when later presented with a shot of Ouzo in The Windsor, courtesy of Ed. On my walk home, my stomach considered my earlier sandwich unsatisfactory, so I stopped at a chicken shop in Bermondsey for wings and chips costing a mere £2.

Friday 13th October 2017

Took the Jubilee line to London Bridge, changed for the Northern line to Morden. Arrived at work at noon only to find I wasn’t needed for another hour. The wedding party of 150 guests were late arriving which was inconvenient for the chefs. It was impossibly hard to navigate the dining room due to the volume of people caused the staff unnecessary stress. I was glad to leave early at 9pm. Arriving back at Canada Water station, I met with my boyfriend, Craig, who had just arrived in London from Worcester. After ironing his suit and replacing lost buttons, we spent the rest of the evening sharing the events of our week over a bottle of red wine, before retiring.

Walking London

Try taking the tube in the peak of rush hour if you so desire; Standing in a metal box like cattle fighting for space is certainly the most efficient way of travelling around London, if you can put up with the distinct smell of sour sweat and your neck being tickled by the hot breath of another stranger stood uncomfortably close. You will soon regret putting on that winter coat as soon as the doors close on the carriage, yet if you did not, you’d be cold upon exiting the station – there really is no solution on how to dress according to the seasons when in London. After you’re finally released from the box of suffocation, foreign tourists will instantly diminish your patience as you trail behind them, their three children and suitcases in tow, at what feels like snail pace whilst they too casually stop and look for which line they need next. Even more irritatingly, they are unable to read the signs saying, ‘please stand on the right to let others past’, instead standing in a group filling both sides, ignoring the escalator etiquette displayed to them by the line of people standing to the left.

Walking in the fresh air. Now, that’s much more liberating. Alas, the pavement is dominated by men in suits carrying briefcases and women clicking along in their high heels swinging their handbags. You’ll find yourself in a constant battle against the stream of exhausted commuters leaving work for the day. If this wasn’t challenge enough, the majority are unable to walk in a defined line due them being preoccupied with catching up with social media notifications on hand held devices. In the midst of this are yet more tourists, identifiable by their raincoats, hefty backpacks and selfie sticks. They create a maze for those of us who walk with determination whilst they stop on the bridge for several minutes in the hope of perfecting the cliché shot of big ben being held between their fingers. On the adjacent road cars are pass, their engines constantly humming. Angry horns and blaring sirens add to the cacophony. After patiently waiting at several Pelican crossings for the traffic to temporarily pause, you realise that cyclists believe that the red light doesn’t apply to them and continue to whizz past vertically, despite pedestrians crossing horizontally. This often results in you freezing on the spot, allowing the faster moving object to swerve around you, save you continuing and colliding.

Turning off away from pedestrians and the Courtyard of Borough market, stall owners pack away their fresh produce into small vans and fold up their tables until the next day. The fishmonger hoses down the waste in his area in an attempt to dissolve the pungent stench of fish. The hustle and bustle of the day’s customers have now diverted their attention (and money) to the nearby pubs for the evening. Already, drunks stagger around outside in their bedraggled coats and jeans laden with holes, swigging from cans in carrier bags. Occasionally they shout obscenities to passers-by out of amusement or sheer stupidity. Most likely this is a man who has sat all day asking for spare change and has chosen to spend your kindness on cigarettes and booze over warm food.

Of course, this judgement stands because we have built up a distrust of people. We cannot stop to give directions to the lost wanderer out of fear of being mugged; it’s a common distraction technique as your purse is unwittingly stolen by their partner in crime. Wear your bag strap under your buttoned coat to prevent you from being the next victim. On finding yourself lost, it’s best to carry on walking and eventually you’ll find a tube station allowing you to reach your destination, perhaps after a couple of changes. Whilst requiring more effort, this proves to be the preferred option over talking to a stranger – heaven forbid we hold optimism that there are good people in the city. This is unsurprising given the Capital has been threatened by terror attacks. We find ourselves on edge and wary of any loud noise; proven when a firework exploded and threw light up into the air and all in the vicinity jumped out of their skins, ready to enter a state of panic. We Londoner’s truly are a cynical race.

Liberating London

It’s 1 o’clock in the morning, the start of another chilly November day; the temperature has noticeably dropped over the past week. The streets of London are mostly free from the rush of the day’s traffic. The businessmen have taken their briefcases home to their wives who have been hard at work in the kitchen all afternoon whilst their childminder takes the children out to a museum. Tourists have retired to their hotel rooms for the night, anxious to get enough sleep before their next adventure. When the last of the clip-clopping shoes have disappeared behind the warmth of their front doors, cosied up for the night in front of a dancing fire, the homeless man zips himself further into his ragged sleeping bag. His three-legged canine friend is his only company. His face holds years of weariness and woe between hard wrinkles.[5] A common sight it is to see these unfortunate souls perching in shop windows. Perhaps the normalisation of such a sight explains why the wealthy stride on in ignorance. The night walkers of London do not hear the homeless man’s desperate request for “spare change, please” through the music in their headphones; they do not even pause to read the sign he clutches, telling the city of the time he spent serving in the army. He is not given a second glance. Blissfully tipsy drinkers are too eager to continue their weekend celebrations to even register the silhouette across the street. Their cheer and laughter a stark contrast to the solemnity of the man who has spent too many nights in the cold to feel such warmth. It seems unfair that whilst the rich prosper, the unfortunate fall further into disrepair.

Collectively, the homeless litter the streets of London like the abandoned mattresses and unwanted sofas often found outside the shabbier housing blocks just south of the river. With their loose stuffing and popped springs telling of years of wear, it’s a contradiction of fly tipping and art – a snapshot into the lives of poorer Londoners. A narrow alley between two of these buildings contains a couple of industrial-sized bins for the occupants to dump their black bags. A foul stench rises from the overflow that spills out of a tear from one perching precariously on top. The scattering of glass bottles reek of stale alcohol. I hear another spring pop like popcorn from the sweat-stained mattress as I take in the surroundings. A dishevelled cat loiters, hopeful that I might add to the scraps of food. The walls are covered with acts of vandalism; spray paint graffiti telling of a dozen gangs’ logos, one for each colour of the rainbow. Inside one of the flats, a baby cries and a frustrated mother joins in with the wails. Most likely, she is tired after endless nights of disturbance from the new born. Looking up at the windows you can identify the night owls by the familiar moving glow of a television screen; the curtains are too thin to provide complete privacy.

I’m startled by a piercing scream that morphs into a fit of giggles. This noise belongs to a woman who, upon exiting a taxi, balancing on glittery stilettos fell to the floor as one of her flimsy heels snapped off. Her bleach blonde hair is wild like a lion’s mane, and her makeup streaming down her face, presumably from crying or carelessness when trying to reapply mascara and lipstick during the journey whilst intoxicated. Her tight pink dress has a rip leading up her left leg, and her tights are laddered beyond repair. A pair of adolescent boys cycle past, jeering and cat calling at her, their bikes tilted to balance on their back wheels. She manages to drag herself up off the curb and waddles to the entrance of the first block of flats, fumbling for jangling keys as she goes. One wonders why she travelled alone in this state; how she even managed to reach her front door. Perhaps she has had an argument with her boyfriend and stormed off in rage. Perhaps she was fired from her job for stealing from the shop till. Maybe there was no motive to drink, other than to feel drunk. Regardless, this city is one of self-destruction.

Bibliography

 

Texts:

Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and Experience (London: Oxford University Press, 1970)

Gay, John. ‘Trivia’, or the ‘Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716)’ in Walking the Streets of 18th Century London: John Gay’s Trivia (1716) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

Pepys, Samuel. Diary, (1660-69)

Stow, John. A Survey of London [1603] (Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1971)

Websites:

The Monument, Introduction, available at: http://www.themonument.info/history/introduction.html [accessed: 14/10/17]


[1] John Stow, A Survey of London [1603] (Oxford: Clarenden Press, 1971) pp.310-344

[2] Stow, pp. 129-138

[3] The Monument, Introduction, available at: http://www.themonument.info/history/introduction.html [accessed: 14/10/17]

[4] Samuel Pepys, Diary, (1660-69), 2-10th September 1666

[5] William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience (London: Oxford University Press, 1970) p.38

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