Our new column gives Londoners the chance to tell it like it is. This week, Patrick Dalton of blog Shit London urges us to rediscover this city's glories.
As a born-and-bred Londoner (not to the sound of Bow Bells but directly under the flightpath to Heathrow, so, y'know: still noisy) I feel I have a certain right to ignore a lot of the wonders this city contains. A blasé attitude towards the capital’s cultural richness is a prerequisite to being a proper Londoner.
Consider this - opposite Embankment tube station stands an Egyptian obelisk that is more than 3,500 years old. That’s 1,500 years older than London. Only boat-tour operators pay it the slightest attention. In any other city (except maybe Cairo) this obelisk would be a big deal. But not here. We’ve casually plonked it beside a busy road and let decades of acid rain gently erode it. Why? Because we are London and we have such an embarrassing wealth of treasures that we can afford to use some of them as giant garden ornaments.
So much human history was forged in this city and so many notable figures have passed through it that it’s possible to walk down a Soho street and see the house where John Logie Baird first demonstrated his reasonably popular invention called 'television', then just feet away a building where Mozart once lived. These people changed the world: without Baird we would have no way of arranging our furniture, and without Mozart we would be unable to make calls to the BT Infinity helpdesk. That one tiny section of one London street has more history than some entire cities - and we’ve got thousands like it! You don’t get that in Birmingham, which begs the question is spending £50 billion on HS2 just to get trains there half an hour faster really worth it? (Unless you’re trying to leave Birmingham and come to London ñ then it sounds like quite a bargain.)
The problem, though, is that there is so much of this history everywhere that it can’t compete against novelties like pop-up alcohol vapour tents and blindfold spacehopper speed-dating nights. It’s ceased to be special to us because we see it all the time. It’s nice to know it’s there but, frankly, we’ve got other things to do. We’ve got to worry about the small stuff: train delays, what to eat for lunch, whether we can afford to keep living here. It’s fun to waste an hour observing the gaggles of tourists posing in front of Big Ben, to regard them with a certain disdain, a world-weary scorn, but we forget that if we were transplanted to their countries the roles would be reversed and we’d become the slack-jawed, camera-wielding gawpers (although I don’t see that whole backpack thing catching on).
To mix things up a bit this weekend, take a leaf out of their book, and do something a real Londoner would never dream of. Go everywhere in a big group, wearing your matching backpacks, blocking the escalators, before getting an open-top bus to St Paul’s. Or do something really extreme like patronise one of those dodgy hot dog carts which magically appear outside tube stations after your fifth pint. Actually, maybe draw the line there.
This city is yours: get out there and discover it!
Or don’t. Whatever.
For more ranting and raving, read Andrzej Lukowski's column on why estate agents are arseholes who sleep in coffins.
Illustration: Nate Kitch