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London in General
Member Name: hogsflesh
London in General
Date: 09/01/04, updated on 09/01/04 (508 review reads)
Advantages: London is very, big, with lots of history, and places to go
Disadvantages: London is very, big, overpriced, with lots of, dirt and criminals
This started as a response to proxam's challenge, but it's taken me so long, it's probably too late to be part of that. Ah well, here's the opinion. Oh, it's long. Apologies in advance if you like opinions short and to the point.
Writing about one's home town presents a problem if you live in London. The place is just so damn big, where do I start? Tourist attractions? Museums? Football clubs? There are too many, for goodness sake. I've been mulling this over for months, and still don't know how to describe London. In a nutshell, everyone's always in an almighty hurry, people don't look each other in the eye, and apparently the streets are paved with gold. But I suppose I need to say more than that.
Having no real idea of how to approach a subject so vast while sticking to a reasonable word limit, I've decided to completely dispense with anything that could even remotely be described as useful. I've instead decided to tell you about the journey I typically make into the centre of town.
I live north east, in Dalston. Not the most salubrious part of London, but a nice middle ground between pricy Stoke Newington and grim Hackney. Dalston was bombed during the first ever air-raid on London, in 1915. I live just off Kingsland Road, a busy main road that runs from the eastern edge of the City up to Stoke Newington and beyond. It runs almost exactly north along the route of one of the old Roman roads, Ermine Street, which I believe eventually went as far as York. If you go up towards Stoke Newington, you'll find Abney Park, one of London's huge Victorian cemeteries.
If you head down the road, towards the city, which is the direction I'm going, you'll pass a typically grim shopping mall. You'll also pass Dalston Kingsland Station, part of the appalling Silverlink North London line, which manages to be even more soul-destroying than the Underground. Just before the mall is
Ridley Road, home to a busy street market, where in the past Oswald Mosley preached his anti-immigration rhetoric (Hackney and Dalston are extremely multi-cultural). As you look down towards London, the skyline is dominated by the rather silly-looking new skyscraper, 'The Gherkin'.
There are no Tube stations on Kingsland Road. The nearest is Highbury & Islington, but that's a good 20 minutes walk away. So to get into town I need a bus. Buses are better anyway. Less cramped, less stressful, cheaper, and you get to see things. I get the number 242 from Dalston Junction (where Dalston Lane and Ball's Pond Road meet Kingsland). It takes me all the way to Tottenham Court Road for only £1. You can't say fairer than that.
There's not a lot to see on Kingsland Road, apart from the Geffrye Museum, which I keep meaning to go to. At the bottom there's a road junction, and then you're on Shoreditch High St. At the junction is an 18th century church, St Leonard Shoreditch. I assume it's the 'Shoreditch' mentioned in the 'Oranges and Lemons' nursery rhyme. No idea who St Leonard was. Also at the junction is Brown's, a lap-dancing club which I've never been to. (If you want strippers, go down Hackney Road, which is off this junction. There you'll find a pub called The Old Axe. It's a traditional, grotty stripper pub, where a girl in a bikini will come round with a pint glass into which everyone puts a pound coin. She then takes her bikini off and gyrates to some pop music. This is repeated every few minutes all night. I should stress that I only went there once, on a friend's stag night. The friend in question is the occasional dooyoo member called fromage, so blame him, alright?)
To the left is Old Street. Quite a way up there is St Luke's, a ruined church with a steeple by Hawksmoor, and if you find City Road you'll see Bunhill Fields graveyard, where Bunyan, Defoe and Wil
liam Blake are all buried. I love this part of London. A lot of it was destroyed in the Blitz, and bits are constantly being knocked down and rebuilt, so you have an odd mix of ultra modern buildings and things that look like they haven't changed since Victorian times. Shoreditch High St turns into Bishopsgate, named after one of the gates in the original city wall (this is generally true of any street with 'gate' in the name around the City - Ludgate, Moorgate, Cripplegate etc).
From the bus, looking down Brushfield St, you can see the old Spitalfields Market and Hawksmoor's strange-looking Christ Church, which must have been surprised to find itself appearing alongside Johnny Depp in the dreadful Jack the Ripper movie From Hell. Just across the road from the church is the Ten Bells pub, where the Ripper's victims used to look for customers. I haven't been there for a few years, but it's preserved its Victorian interior, is very small and has lots of tacky Ripper souvenirs for sale. Round the corner on Hanbury St the second Ripper victim was found (the site now covered by a warehouse), and a nearby multi-storey car park covers what was once Miller's Court, where the last victim was killed. If you go down there of an evening you'll likely see a Ripper tour or two. Also nearby is Brick Lane, a great place to go for a curry. (Spitalfields has always been a centre of immigration in London; Huguenots in the 18th century, Eastern European Jews in the late 19th, and now Bangladeshis.)
Going down Bishopsgate you pass Houndsditch, one of the best-named roads in London, and the Natwest Tower, which was London's tallest building until Canary Wharf came along. Also Liverpool St Station, the only bit of the Monopoly board this bus passes until it reaches its destination. Just before the bus turns down Threadneedle Street, you can see the top of the Monument, erected by Wren to commemorate the Great Fire and slander the C
atholics. From here the bus pretty much follows the route of the Underground Central Line, going past all of its stations until it terminates.
Threadneedle Street, which is notable for the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange, is the most annoying part of the journey: the road is too narrow, often causing frustrating delays. Outside the Royal Exchange is a large statue of Wellington on horseback, staring with patronising benevolence at the lunchbreaking workers. Going into town you don't get to see his face from the bus, but you do get a great view of the horse's arse. We're well into the City now, the original Roman London before it started to spread and consume the outlying villages. The City's boundaries are marked by little silver statues of griffins. The street names are great around here, being descriptive of the trades that used to be based on them. Ironmonger Lane, for instance, or Milk Street, or Poultry. Old Jewry was the road Jews lived on, at least until they were expelled from England en masse in the thirteenth century. There was even a street of prostitutes, although I can't tell you what that was called. Family website and all that. There's not a lot to see in the City, unless you're particularly interested in banks, of which there are dozens.
Down Cheapside next, a big road that used to be used for royal processions in medieval times (apparently the streets would flow with wine on special occasions, which sounds quite unhygienic). Cheapside was also a site for public punishments, including beheadings, and various revolting peasants (Wat Tyler, Jack Cade) lynched their enemies here in a neatly symbolic inversion of law and order. The church of St Mary-le-Bow, rebuilt by Wren after the Great Fire, is on this street; apparently you can only be called a true cockney if you were born within earshot of its bells. (This presumably means there aren't any real cockneys left, as no one lives in the City these
days, and I think the bells were destroyed in the Blitz anyway.) At the bottom of Cheapside is St Paul's, probably the most famous London landmark after Big Ben, a huge, magnificent cathedral designed by Wren as the centrepiece of London's post-fire regeneration. It's currently covered in scaffolding on one side, but still looks very impressive. Shockingly, it costs £10 to go in and have a look around, something that would probably have annoyed Jesus immensely. It certainly annoys me.
Newgate Street follows Cheapside, another street named after a gate. From there, passing Old Bailey on the left, the bus progresses along Holborn Viaduct, a street built by the Victorians to clear a dangerous slum (or 'rookery'). The Victorians' answer to crime basically seems to have involved building roads through rougher areas in the belief that it was inferior housing that turned people to crime rather than poverty. The Viaduct crosses Farringdon Street via a bridge. The bridge has some peculiar statues - lions with ridiculously small wings and some odd looking women who are doubtless symbolic of something. Near Farringdon St are Smithfield meat market, the only big London market that's survived in the City itself, and the Barbican Centre. After the Viaduct we come to Holborn (pronounced hoe-bun, not holl-born). An equestrian statue of Prince Albert jauntily doffing his hat to passing motorists is the highlight here. Holborn turns into High Holborn, and we're almost there.
The bus progresses up the dreary New Oxford Street, another Victorian slum clearance project. This is proper West End grimness now, with grotty shops that presumably couldn't afford to be on Oxford Street proper (although there is an umbrella shop here that claims to sell sword sticks). The bus terminates just before Centrepoint, an ugly 60s skyscraper.
When you're at Tottenham Court Road, London is your oyster. You can head down Charing Cross R
oad, which leads to Chinatown or Leicester Square, and eventually to Trafalgar Square and its art galleries. From there it's a short hop to the Embankment, where you can see Cleopatra's Needle, or cross the river to the London Eye or the South Bank Centre. You could then head east to Tate Modern or Shakespeare's Globe. Or from Tottenham Court Rd you could head into Soho, where you'll find aggressive beggars, overpriced coffee and porn. If you're feeling particularly foolish you could go up Oxford St, with it's nasty shops and slooooow tourists, although if you get to the end you'll find Hyde Park, which is nice. Or you could go up Tottenham Court Rd itself where you can buy any amount of cheap electronic equipment. Or down into Covent Garden. Or head back into Bloomsbury for the British Museum. Heck, you can go anywhere. Piccadilly is pretty close, so are Regent's Park and the zoo. Baker Street is an easy enough walk. I've even trudged all the way to Knightsbridge and Notting Hill from here, although that might be pushing it a bit.
Anyway, that's enough. I really don't know how useful a description of a bus journey from Dalston to the West End is, and I certainly don't feel like I kept within a sensible word limit, but never mind.
This review is part of the HOMETOWN challenge where members are asked to write about any aspect of their home town - or a town they'd like/not like to be their home town. You can find all the participants by going to: http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/internet/internet_sites/do oyoo_co_uk_in_general/_r eview/426988/