I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I’ve become a London-centric person.
I love London. I love the sprawl and spread of it, the high culture and the cheap tat cheek by jowl. I love crisscrossing the river, extolling the virtues of my little patch, arguing about whether south is better than north, lolloping on the commons, moaning about the tourists, marvelling at the architecture, pounding its pavements. I like its worldliness, it’s greenness, the sound of the sirens and the regular rattle of the buses at the stops outside my window.
I like that you can go anywhere from London with great ease. Which is why I don’t ever seem to really leave. Why would you, when all of life is here?
There is, however, life beyond London.
I’ve been doing a bit of travelling round the UK and it turns out that I’m not as knowledgable about the ‘regions’ as I arrogantly once supposed.
For example, I’ve always believed Lincolnshire is entirely flat. And therefore boring. This is because on epic car journeys from Fleetwood to Norfolk every summer as a child, Lincolnshire is the county where we’d get stuck in traffic jams caused by queues of endless caravans, where the view from the window were cabbage fields stretching straight out to the horizon as far as you could see. Nothing to look at, hot and annoyed, we’d fall out in the back of the car. It’s not like Lincolnshire really got to shine.
But Lincoln is on a hill. A hill so steep my poundingly unfit heart safely attested to its absolute non-flatness as I walked up to look at the cathedral. At the top, its splendour presides over the city with a glory and a history that tells me there’s more to a place than its geography.
Or Cardiff. Which has a castle. Who knew? (you all probably did). Resplendent and regal, Cardiff has proud buildings and wide streets. I visited the journalism department on King Edward VII Ave, which felt immensely restful on the eye. Later I was told that when it was built the deeds stated no advertising could be featured along its length. No shop signs, no Costa or Starbucks branding. It made me realise how overloaded our vision can be with marketing messages when compared with this one spot where there are absolutely none. Back in London I recognised how much kinder and more restful places beyond the capital are to the mind and the soul, and how gentle on the eye it is to be in a place where trading commodities isn’t the biggest business.
Then there’s Tyne and Wear. I thought I knew Newcastle but I’d forgotten quite how many bridges there are between here, Gateshead and down in Sunderland. And to top it all, Sunderland has a beach.
Honestly, I don’t know my own country at all. But I’m having fun discovering it.