Au Revoir London
Tomorrow afternoon, on Sunday 30th December 2012, I will gather up my little family along with several oversized suitcases, for a plane ride (actually two plane rides) to Gaborone in Botswana.
I’ve lived abroad and in Africa before (back in the 1990s) but for my wife and 2-year-old daughter it’s a very new experience.
All being well we expect to be living in Botswana for the next five years, and whilst we’re excited about new horizons and opportunities of course there’s also a little uncertainty and anxiety.
But nothing worthwhile is achieved without a little uncertainty and anxiety, and so in that spirit we pack optimism into our bags along with sensible shoes, insect repellent and a good map, and we embark for Africa with hope for an interesting experience, at the very least.
As we climb aboard Virgin Atlantic flight VS601 to Johannesburg tomorrow we turn our backs on London, the city where all three of us were born. And so it seems appropriate to cast an uncritical eye back over our shoulder, to peer through the winter gloom, and to reflect on London’s best bits. Here’s my Top 10 London things from the last decade or so…
1. The Millennium. I came back to live in London in late 1999, just in time for a total eclipse experience and the arbitrary ticking over of the calendar from one millennium to the next (or not, if you count from year 1 instead of year zero). Despite anxieties about Millennium bugs, crowds, and so on, it seemed to go well, and London being the home of Greenwich and GMT seemed like the perfect place to spend the Millennium. Which is why the only thing I remember about it is driving over Tower Bridge that afternoon to spend the evening somewhere else, thereby missing the biggest party in London for a thousand years. Oh well.
2. The 2012 Olympics. Wow. We did it. What an astonishing summer. (Too) much has been written about London’s 2012 Olympics – no need for me to run that race again. But for sheer exhilaration and for the shared sense of actually being in the place to be, London 2012 was unforgettable. It seems fitting to be leaving London in the dying days of 2012, because this is the year when the world’s greatest sporting spectacle came to my home town. And we did it right. Bravo London.
3. Bermondsey SE1. Home for the last 8 years. Not London’s most famous or fashionable address, but it’s ‘up & coming‘ – it really is. From the spiky Shard at London Bridge to the boutiques and bistros of Bermondsey Street, it’s our manor and we like it. Diverse and cosmopolitan, yet somehow villagey in the midst of the metropolis, Bermondsey is quintessential London.
4. Boris Johnson. We get the politicians we deserve. Boris is as contradictory as London itself. A Conservative mayor in a city which traditionally votes Labour; a radical maverick with some robust & traditional views; a celebrity-wattage superstar who is disarmingly self-effacing; an intellectual buffoon. Like any effective politician Boris can be divisive, but he’s ours.
5. Ella at St Thomas’. In February 2010 my wife Fiona give birth to our daughter at St Thomas’ hospital on the banks of the Thames. In a room with a view of Parliament and with midwives who glanced out the window to check the time on Big Ben. Great experience. Great location. Great outcome: Ella.
6. London’s restaurants. Much improved over the last decade. Well done London.
7. London’s theatre. Two highlights: (i) Mark Rylance as Rooster Byron in Jerusalem (Charles Spencer wrote this: “what lends the play its amphetamine rush of excitement is watching Rylance, an actor of indisputable greatness, giving the most thrilling performance it has ever been my privilege to witness.” Yup.); (ii) Rowan Atkinson as Fagin in Oliver!, and what a set! The West End at its best. One lowlight over the last decade: Rock of Ages. Oh dear.
8. TfL. Transport for London? Really? Well, yes actually. Given the scale of the task, the antiquity of the infrastructure, and the limits imposed by our ancient city, I think it does a pretty good job. All we need now is Tube trains which run without bolshy, overpaid drivers.
9. 2003. Epic holidays (although London can’t really take credit for that…), record-breaking summer heat, and I met my wife. And England won the (rugby) World Cup. 2003 was the prince of years. Until 2012, anyway.
10. London. All of it, really. If New York’s a Big Apple then London is a whole orchard of fruitiness. Infinite variety, constant renewal, London really is the ultimate City-State, existing in a dimension apart from the rest of the UK which resents London’s relentless gravitational pull.
And now as we leave to make a new life somewhere else we know that others are arriving in London, to take our place and shape London for the next decade or more, just as generations have done before them and before us.
London, it’s someone else’s turn.