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I love London, my adopted city. Yes, my adopted city -I will never be a Londoner, even though there will come a time when I'll have lived here for longer than I lived in the north. But I chose this city - although at first it, or circumstances, chose me - and I love it all the more because of that. Altogether now, in your best Cockney accent (Americans may take their cue from Dick van Dyke or Audrey Hepburn):
Maybe it's 'cos I'm not a Londoner
That I love London tahhn
Shortly after the July 7 bombings, I stumbled upon a rather colourful description of London. I have no idea where it came from or who wrote it. Some of it may be wishful thinking - the jury's still out. And it doesn't really make sense in places. But I quite like the sound of it:
Old London, you must understand, is a cackling old whore. She is big, ugly and has blackened teeth and bad skin under the caked make-up; her warts are ill-hidden and her clothes not of the current mode. She is the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, throttling the life out of the Indies and the tea trade; she is Mother Gin, dashing her children's brains out against the steps in the rookeries of St. Giles. She is a villainess of the blackest stripe, of the old school. Mind your purse when you walk with her, because her fingers are nimble and her morals as open as her old sewers.
But she's built on the bones of Boudicca and the Gloriana herself; she's seen kings and queens and lords and she's seen a fair few of them lose their heads. She won't lose hers over such a little trifle as this. Jacobites and Chartists and Fenians and Roaring Boys and Nazis and the IRA have all boasted that they'll bring the old strumpet to her knees, and where are they now? They cast themselves against her and she wore them all down in the end.
This is the city of Hawksmoor and Wren; the city of the Ratcliffe Highway and the confessions of de Quincey, of Spring-heeled Jack and Francis Dashwood, of small quarrels in Deptford and great reckonings at Tyburn, of old Leather Apron and his red days of autumn. What do these poor fool people imagine they can teach old London of wickedness?
London's bones were old before the Romans came. Fire has scoured her flat; plague raddled her and still she reels out of the shadows, too much make up, stinking of cheap gin, skirts ridden up and though you know you shouldn't, still you can't resist her leering grin and promise of adventure in the dark.
History sits to one side plotting new abuses to heap upon her, this fallen woman of a royal line, and she endures defiant and unbowed, with a twisted grin and a dare. Don't worry about old London. She's seen off her share of black eyes in the past. Save your pity for those who have done it, for when London finds them she'll show none, like the cool and ruthless businesswoman that she is; no. In lieu of pity, she'll show them her own justice.
Let's hope so. My next post gives some cause for concerrn, but whatever becomes of London, I hope it will never become bland and pretty like so many capital cities.