Friday 26 February 2016

Urban Diary

On the ol’ bike, innit? His accent is a much as a surprise as his question. Then, again, I probably look a sight. Worn-out Birkenstocks, yellow, hi-vis ankle-slap-bands and helmet under my left arm. So, why not banter a bit? I probably stand out in this very centric, tourist-friendly part of London. He is leaning on his walking stick, just in front of me in the queue. Yes, on the ol’ bike, I answer politely. I tell him that I have just done an inverted L-shaped bike journey from White Hart Lane to Stamford Bridge. He grins. On looking at his white-and-dark-blue shirt, cockerel on the left hand-side, I suddenly realise why. A bit far for a Spurs fan to travel, innit? I challenge him jovially. He adjusts his thick-rimmed glasses. A solitary ray from the mid-afternoon summer sun lights up his receding grey line. I used to go up to good ol' White Hart Lane until a few years ago, though I’ve lived here all my life.

I’ve lived here all my life. Sometimes a neutral-sounding sentence can shake us awake from a long-held, misconceptions. This Sainsbury’s, across Holborn Station in London’s West End, sits almost in the middle of a tourist hub. Souvenir-chasers go through here en route somewhere else. Like me, who has just momentarily stopped to buy a bottle of water – the frozen one I took with me from home this morning having been emptied around Kensington and Chelsea – plenty of visitors navigate through this urban jungle to go to Covent Garden or the British Museum.

I’ve lived here all my life. For some stupid reason I have always seen W1, WC2, SW1 and SE1 as tourist hotspots first and foremost. Hotels, museums, restaurants, cinemas and theatres. You spot the famous landmark and take a selfie in front of it. Places you visit and then come back home. Wherever that home may be. London or abroad. The capital or Manchester, Liverpool, Brighton or another major city. Perhaps a little town. Anything except for “I’ve lived here all my life”. I forget that beyond the wide and populous Southampton Row there are roads on which people live. People who have neighbours. Neighbours who might or might not have children and even grandchildren. Children who go to local schools. In short, despite tourism and rising rents, there is normal life in central London.

Walking-stick man and I joke a bit more. The new season of the English Premier League has just got under way and there is much to look forward to. He praises Chelsea’s manager, Jose Mourinho and I return the favour by bigging up Tottenham Hotspurs’ young and promising Argentinian Mauricio Pochettino. I come out of the supermarket, get on my bike and stop to think for a moment that sometimes all it takes is a neutral-sounding sentence to shakes us up a bit. Even if it means accepting another reality.

Covent Garden: I'm sure that there is normal life beyond these streets

© 2016

Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Tuesday 1st March at 6pm (GMT)


  1. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who is forever striking up conversations with strangers. (They're simply friends we haven't met yet, right?) Here in the Atlanta area, it is very rare to meet someone who was born and raised in the area. Lots of tourists, yes, but the majority of people around here are transplants... either from another state or another country, so I can understand your surprise to find out the gentleman was a "local".

    Have a super weekend.

  2. A wise and wonderful slice of life. Yes, Honolulu is like that.

  3. Like Susan I chat to everyone. And would be blown away by the 'lived here all me life' gentleman. What changes he must have seen...

  4. I love the way our misconceptions can be blown wide open in only a few seconds. I really enjoy your Urban Diary entries - so well written!

  5. Another fascinating read. At one time I spoke to no-one but now that I am older (but without a bike) I chat to all and sundry.

  6. Isn't it amazing how a single sentence can blast wide open our long held preconceptions?!
    That is precisely the reason I love striking up a conversation with stretches the mind and thinking patterns...pushing them into new territory.
    Oh how I love your Urban Diary...always so interesting and thought-provoking.:)

    Have a fabulous weekend.:))

  7. This is a feeling one runs into in New York City as well of course. The intersect between this place that is actually home for some and tourist slog for others. It is a very curious intersect that you have written about very humanly and directly. Thanks, Cubano. k.

  8. El salir siempre uno entabla conversaciones aunque por cortas que sean, creo que con la edad uno habla mas de lo normal.
    Un abrazo.

  9. What you describe, CiL, is among the reasons it is fascinating to live for a number of months in a community unique to you rather than be a passer-by / tourist and, at least for a time, to become one of the fixtures and to know first-hand the experiences of what it is to live there.

    No doubt, there can be many chapters in a story about a bicycle ride from here to there. Great writing / description ....

  10. Thanks for this detail of London life that only locals would recognize.

  11. A whole new perspective when one has lived there forever.

  12. It's always good to have out preconceptions shattered

  13. Hi Blogoratti - London is a real mix isn't it .. such a fun encounter. I'm always talking to people ... and sometimes I just need my own space. When I went via Somers Town at the back of the British Libary to visit my Ma in the hospital in Camden, before we could get her transferred to Eastbourne, ... I was standing at the lift when some other visitors appeared and we struck up a conversation ... to which I commented 'you've come a long way' - their shock that I recognised their Cornish accent was classic.

    Then their name - totally shocked me 'Baragwanath' ... they said it was very Cornish - and it is ... but I knew it from the hospital on the outskirts of Johannesburg - an enormous institution for the Africans in the township nearby (Soweto) ...

    Somers Town post is under 'Finials on washing lines' ... while B for Bara appeared in the A-Z in 2013 ...

    Just talking opens many doors as you've shown ... cheers Hilary

  14. It's essential that people live in city centres - real people, not just toffs. It's made a huge difference to Dublin, which was unsafe at night until they build homes among the bars and restaurants. It's a living city now, day and night.

  15. Many thanks for your kind comments. I forgot to include a small detail that to this day I remember: he was holding a small pint of milk in his hand. :-) Just gone out for a pint of milk. You don't get more local than that. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  16. As Brooklyn becomes more gentrified, I find myself saying some variation of "I've lived here all my life" more often. And now the financial distract in and around Wall Street is becoming more residential, a complete change from the days when the neighborhood turned into a ghost town as soon as the market closed.



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