Occasionally, I really miss London. Sure, there is a lot to be improved (for example, when I drank this bottle of London Pride I actually put it in the fridge first – tastes much better cold). When a man is tired of London, he’s usually tired of the Underground, or the council tax. And it’s just so crowded, and so many good stores have closed, and the weather is frankly shite when you most need it not to be. But I miss it, it’s home, it’s me, and of course it’s where the Olympics will be held this year, and it keeps cropping up in the media. With all this talk of London I am getting very homesick for my native city. Sure, there were horrendous scenes last summer during the riots; yeah, every headline is ‘stabbing this’ or ‘shooting that’, fine, the economy is so far down the plughole it may actually make it to the north sea, evaporate and come back as even more rain. I know, it rained every day on my last visit, and the one before that saw a blizzard of Narnian proportions. But what a place! The history is just everywhere; Burnt Oak, my home area, has a name that dates back to the Romans, sort of. It’s on the Edgware Road, the old Watling Street, built by the Romans. Of course nothing else was built there for another millennium plus a few more centuries, and then a couple more, but you know, it’s history, man. When I take a walk around the 1930s housing estates, to the 1960s era flats, and the kids playgrounds erected in the 1990s (and vandalized ten minutes later), all I can think of is, history man, we don’t get this sort of ancient history all around us in California, where everything was built like, five minutes ago, and there are no centuries-old epic highways built by road-building Latins before English speaking people arrived. (Well, there’s the Camino Real, but y’know)
Of course, I’m having a laugh, int ya. I always think it’s funny though when people in America (and the UK too) speak of London like a walk through the pages of history, when the great majority of things you will see are no older than the things you’ll likely see in the States (except for a few obvious exceptions; all the Norman churches and castles, for example, but even then they may have been heavily modified in later years). What’s older, the White House or Buckingham Palace? Tower Bridge or Brooklyn Bridge? Independence Hall or Big Ben? Oh this is an easy game to play to your advantage (“What’s older, Windsor Castle or the Mall of America?”) but the point is that while we do have a long long history Londoners are not generally immersed in it on a daily basis, any more than big city Americans. The streets and their names go back many more centuries than the architecture that occupies them, and provide great stories if you should know them, but sometimes the truly historical takes some digging. And that’s where we have the edge, in the history that goes back beyond what we can see. Many of our winding streets follow their medieval courses. Names like ‘Threadneedle Street’ and ‘Lombard Street’ tell us something about the trades or even the nationalities that lived there. London Bridge dates from the 1970s, but there has been a bridge over the Thames at that spot since Roman times (apparently prone to falling down), which being the only one was London’s Bridge. The stories of history too pervade the modern settings – it’s always great to stand in the middle of a crowded street and say, for example, here, Oliver Cromwell was hanged two years after his death in front of huge crowds, or right around here, Dick Whittington heard the Bow Bells and turned back, putting his cat in a cage to mark the spot. But even the history we know isn’t as established as people think. Londoners had not the smoggiest idea who Samuel Pepys was for two centuries, but now he’s considered one of the most well-known of historical Londoners. For many centuries, Londoners believed that their city was founded not by Romans, but by a Trojan named Brutus. Historical names remain, but their meanings slip away from us; I grew up near St.Alphage’s church, but had little idea that Alphage (or Ælfheah) was a hugely important part of Anglo-Saxon London’s self-consciousness as a city: he was the Archbishop of Canterbury who was martyred (read brutally tortured and murdered by drunken bloodthirsty Vikings) in 1012, becoming London’s first martyr-saint (very important for an aspiring medieval city) – that was exactly a thousand years ago!
I’ll be watching the Olympics in California of course, with the usual time delay, feeling sad every time they show an establishing shot of the Millennium Dome or the BT Tower and other such historical buildings. I’m sure a tear will be brought to my eye when they show the curve of the Thames or the layer of grey ozone above the Docklands, or when the US networks interview locals about what sports they’ll be watching, and then shrug in confusion when they say ‘Affle’ics’ or ‘Fuh’baw’. I miss London, I’m proud to be from the city, with all of its history. So here is London Pride, a beer I enjoyed and sketched in the brown-paper-beer-book last week.