Wednesday 20 January 2016

London, my London

And it’s six in the morning and, gave me no warning, I’m riding with Lady Luck, freeway cars and trucks/Stars beginning to fade, and I lead the parade/Just a-wishing I‘d stayed a little longer/Oh, Lord, let me tell you that the feeling’s getting stronger.”

But it was not six in the morning for me, Tom, rather, it was mid-afternoon and I was riding my bike. The rest, I dig. My feeling was getting stronger, too. I was on Grove End Road after leaving that famous crossing behind. My next destination? Camden Market.

At the point where Grove End Road meets St John’s Wood Road, NW8 opens up. This avenue-wide yawn provides much-welcomed extra space for cyclists. With Tom Waits’ piano-driven “Ol’ 55” riffing in my ears, I found myself getting closer to another “Lord”, but of the cricket variety. Not the ground where England had regained the Ashes a few days before playing against Australia (that honour went to Trent Bridge, Nottingham) but still, a site where history had been made before. The Lord’s Cricket Ground is the home of the sport that forms the UK’s Holy Trinity along with rugby and, of course, football. Even for people like me, who cannot play cricket, nor can understand the rules of the sport, the symbolism of this venue is too huge to miss.

It is ironic to think that the Ashes were born out of defeat. When the Australians crushed the English team in 1882 at the Oval, the Sporting Times carried a mock obituary proclaiming that “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

I did not stay long on St John’s Wood Road. The first exit at the roundbout led me towards Prince Albert Road and consequently more shade. The summer sun was out in full swing and the temperature had climbed up to the late 20s. I wanted to get to Camden before evening time. The Regent’s Park was now on my right and so were London Zoo and the Zoological Society of London, founded in 1826 and counting amongst its members one Charles Darwin. Current luminaries include go-to nature documentary presenter, Sir David Attenborough, perhaps one of the most, if not the most easily recognisable face on British television in the last four or five decades.

Whilst this is a post about my experience of cycling around London, I cannot get away from the topic of animals in captivity. That is one of the reasons why I have never set foot in the London Zoo or any other zoo for as long as I can remember. I understand that the nature of keeping animals in enclosures has changed drastically. I also understand that certain species would have disappeared had zoological societies not intervened in time. Furthermore, zoos have also adopted an educational approach which includes reaching out to schools and other institutions.

There was a long queue outside the London Zoo which made me stop for a moment and mentally flip a coin. What if it was the other around? Tigers lining with their cubs, crocodiles with their short-tailed babies and skunks with their magpie-coloured offspring to see us, humans, in cages?

I laughed internally, a long, silent and throaty laugh and carried on towards a real human zoo: Camden Market. In my head Tom Waits’ “Ol’ 55” kept riffing: “And my time went so quickly, I went lickety-splickly out to my Ol’ 55/as I pulled away slowly, feeling so holy, God knows, I was feeling alive”.

© 2016

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 23rd January at 6pm (GMT)


  1. Like you, I have mixed feelings about zoos, but poaching is such an epidemic that , as you say, many of these animals would be extinct if left in the wild.

  2. Zoo..hmmm..I reeally dont know..we dont have it here in Norway.Zoos and Circus are forbidden Only wild zoo..long way up in the mountains...I agree with Stephen though:))Great post!

  3. Some good zoos are saving them as humans kill animals to extinction. And you never know, maybe there are abducted humans in alien zoos, serve some right.

  4. Having just emerged from the rainforest, I can echo mixed feelings about zoos. It is a privilege to see animals in the wild, but zoos do have a role in education and conservation. But I have no such mixed feelings about cricket ... As a true obsessive I love Lords!

  5. I like Tom Wait, but would prefer to see animals in the wild (although I know that not everyone has such abilities and therefore they serve an important purpose, but need to be as humane as possible).

  6. Hello,

    I need not emphasize the fact that cyling is good for health and also helps to reduce pollution. I hope more people will understand this and switch over to cycles instead of taking their motor vehicles out when they go for short distances.

    As far zoo's are concerned they have become a necessity since many species of birds and animals have vanished from the earth due to poaching and wanton killing of animals and birds in the name of hunting. It will be a great experience for your children to visit the zoo and see the reptiles, animals, and birds live instead of watching them on the Tv. I have taken my children to the nearby zoo and I must tell you that they enjoyed the visit a lot.

    Interesting post.

    Best wishes

  7. thanks for this tour of London. i like to cycle too, usually on weekends, when i cycle to the many parks in my island nation. However, the roads here are not really built with cyclists in mind, and motorists are quite mean and intolerant towards cyclists.

  8. Awesome! Loved this virtual tour of London!

  9. Hi ACIL - I used to cycle as a kid, then tried again in London for a short time when I didn't have a car; and again down here .. but now it'd be interesting - with the new hip at one year old I could try again .. suspect for the moment I won't.

    I think zoos, such as London Zoo - are now essential to our understanding of animals and nature ... if we hadn't destroyed their habitat - that'd be the best, but with 7 billion of us - that seems unlikely now. When the cobweb thread gets pulled out of kilter completely and won't heal, because we've destroyed too many organisms - we will lose, and the ants will start again ... evolution in due time will recalibrate.

    Damp thought for a damp day! I love cricket! Cheers Hilary

  10. I have mixed feelings about zoos, but on balance I think the larger, better run zoos and small specialised zoos do valuable work for conservation and education and that balances out the negatives. I know that there are still behavioural problems for a lot of captive animals, but zoo-keepers are increasingly learning how to enrich the enclosure environment so that the animals are stimulated and occupied. having said that I'd rather live in a wlord where we didn't need zoos

  11. Hey Cubano--I am so enjoying your riding around London. I ride a bike up in the country where I live (but not in NYC where I go to work a few days a week. I would be rather petrified there.) But it is a great way to see things--and in the country a great way to see animals in fact, as they do not hear your approach in the same way. I have mixed feelings re zoos as I am not sure many people would support conservation programs without some experience of live animals. In a way zoo animals are a kind of sacrificial lamb--pretty awful--but if they save animals--I don't know. The natural world is so injured every day. I wanted to say you have a very small typo, I think--I just mention it because I hate to see something where writing so smooth--I think you may have left out word "way" --if zoo animals were looking at us-- I mean, it works as written! You are a wonderfully conversational writer--k.

  12. You must really see a lot from your bike - a good way to know another side of London. I don't go to zoos anymore either...

  13. I have mixed feelings about zoos but must admit that I enjoy being able to ride the tram around the zoo here in my wheelchair and see the animals without having to deal with crowds, trash, people walking into me or staring as if I am an oddity, as has happened there and elsewhere. I love what you describe from your bike...Cheers!

  14. Strange...I have often pondered that one too: what if we humans were confined to cages in a zoo, how would we feel?
    When I see those poor tigers and bears pacing up and down in frustration, I can't help feeling such empathy.
    Still, as you say, zoos have saved some species from extinction, so they can't all be bad, can they?!

    I really love how vividly you describe your bike journeys around London...almost makes me believe I'm there seeing the sights too!
    Many thanks.:)

    Have a great weekend.:))

  15. Although I feel some sadness at the idea of wild animals spending their lives in cages, I must confess that I've always enjoyed visiting zoos. When we first moved to Atlanta in 1971, the zoo here was horrid, and the cages with their concrete floors and iron bars seemed more like jail cells than anything. Worst, though was the poor polar bear trying to stay cool in our sweltering temperatures. I'm pleased to say the zoo has changed tremendously, and there are huge "natural habitat" kinda settings, with animals roaming in the great outdoors. Families of apes rolling down grass-covered hills and swinging from the trees, lolling in hammocks, etc. And the educational and conservational aspects of the zoo and the people who run it are top notch.

    It's so obvious, as you relate your tales of cycling through the area that you truly love where you are living. You may be a "transplant," but your are definitely blooming where you're planted.

  16. Long ago...I often walked home from work on Albany Street, through Regents Park, over Primrose Hill to Swiss Cottage...yes, even in winter. My playground.



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