I just finished reading Kate Grifin’s The Midnight Mayor, and last week I read Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May Off The Rails. Both books are love letters to London. They revel in the thick layers of history, above ground and below. The city is a living thing, metaphorically for Arthur Bryant and John May, and literally for Matthew Swift, the protagonist of Kate Griffin’s series. In both cases, the city can be angered or appeased, coaxed and cajoled into giving up its secrets. Bryant and May, detectives, discover a vital clue in the different patterns of upholstery used on the Underground’s 12 lines; Matthew Swift, a sorcerer, uses the Underground’s terms and conditions of carriage as a powerful magical ward to defend himself.
I’ve never lived in London, only visited, and so I only know it through the eyes of a tourist. But my most vivid memories of the city are of walking through it, not of the shopping or glitzy attractions.
Walking around Covent Garden when Abi and I took the train down from Edinburgh on day in the late 90s, just to have lunch at Belgo’s, and coffee with James. Walking from my hotel near Victoria to the QEII conference centre in the mornings and back again in the evenings, in June 2006 for the @Media conference; a steady soundtrack of At War With The Mystics by The Flaming Lips on my iPod. Walking from Waterloo to the Tower with Abi & the kids, and Jules & Becca; deciding that we were too tired to visit, so camping out at a nearby Starbucks for a cool frappucino instead. Walking from Victoria to Southwark last September for lunch with Bora, because it was a glorious day, and I had the time; gazing up in awe at the Shard under construction.
I’m more than a little tempted to plan a holiday in London solely for the purpose of walking the city, North to South, East to West. Not planning for any stops along the way; just taking it as it comes. Getting underway before dawn, and watching the city come to life around me. Lunch from a sandwich shop, dinner from a chippie. I don’t know how far I’d get, or what I’d see; I don’t actually know the city that well; but that’s part of the point. To walk, to see, to be.