on my ride into work today, i realised that i had missed my fourth anniversary of london life. it was on monday. appropriately, i've just started reading bill bryson's notes from a small island, a satirical book about life as an outsider in the uk. the times review on the front reads: "not a book that should be read in public, for fear of emitting loud snorts." i'm pleased to say this is absolutely true, and i spent much of my commute trying to suppress laughter. bryson perfectly captures the way of the british in a manner that mixes teasing and admiration in such a way you realise that he is describing your own feelings for this small island. four years on, i feel i can honestly say i've lived in the uk. and i am richer for it.
bryson poignantly describes an area of london that i was coincidentally riding through while reading, and it sums up my feelings for this country and this city perfectly:
i can never understand why londoners fail to see that they live in the most wonderful city in the world. it is far more beautiful and interesting than paris, if you ask me, and more lively than anywhere but new york - and even now york can't touch it in lots of important ways. it has more history, finer parks, a livelier and more varied press, better theatres, more numerous orchestras and museums, leafier squares, safer streets and more courteous inhabitants than any other large city in the world.
he's got it perfectly. along with all the other hysterical things you don't really realise until you've been here forever and basically started to accept them as fact - queueing and poorly stocked grocery stores and the constant polite conversation about the weather. but regardless, it's a love-affair i've not been able to shake, and it pleases me greatly to re-see the city through his eyes. so happy anniversary london, you've been good to me.
and it has more congenial small things - incidental civilities you might call them - than any other city i know: cherry red pillar boxes, drivers who actually stop for you on pedestrian crossings, lovely forgotten churches with wonderful names like st andrew by the wardrobe and st giles cripplegate, sudden pockets of quiet like lincoln's inn and red lion square, interesting statues of obscure victorians in togas, pubs, black cabs, double-decker buses, helpful policemen, polite notices, people who will stop to help you when you fall down or drop your shopping, benches everywhere. what other great city would trouble to put blue plaques on houses to let you know what famous person one lived there or warn you to look left or right before stepping off the kerb? i'll tell you. none.