I lived in London in 1980/81 and even after I moved away from London I spent a couple of days a month there between 1981 and 1988. But for one reason and another I didn’t visit London between about 1990 and … last Tuesday!
I suppose I needed a reason to vist and one didn’t come up in all those years – until I was invited to join a London-based steering group for a therapeutic writing project. Having experienced attending one steering group meeting by phone (during which I could hear some people and not others, and I didn’t like that I couldn’t see people’s faces), I decided to attend the next meeting in person. So at 7:46 on Tuesday 23rd April 2013, after 23 years, I caught a train to London.
I travelled in the quiet coach and spent most of the journey reading articles about therapeutic writing on my tablet. Just about everyone in the coach was using a smartphone, tablet or laptop (or more than one of those). The last time I went to London they wouldn’t even have had a mobile phone!
The train got in on time to London Euston at 11:12 – almost 3 hours before the meeting. I decided to visit some old haunts and see what I recognised and what was new. I caught the underground to Tottenham Court Road and discovered there’s some major building work happening there! In 1980/81 I worked on Charing Cross Road and I wanted to see if my old office building was still standing, but the building work has blocked the Tottenham Court Road end of Charing Cross Road so it was a bit of a challenge to get to where I wanted to be.
I walked along Oxford Street and then cut through to Soho Square, which looks very much as it did when I used to eat my lunch there more than 30 years ago. There is a new statue though – of The Revelation of St Paul. And as you can see below, people still eat lunch there.
A left turn not far after Soho Square brought me, at last, to Charing Cross Road. The building next door to the one I worked in has been demolished and replaced, but my office building is still there. I worked on the first floor, which is now a gallery, above a lovely sandwich shop … which has morphed into a sex bookshop!
Walking on down Charing Cross Road I bought a few postcards (for my writing groups) in Foyles bookshop – the last time I bought anything there I had to go up to the top floor (or thereabouts) to pay for my purchases and then head back down to the counter to hand over my receipt and receive the goods. Not any more.
The biggest Chinese restaurant in Europe and the best kebab shop I’ve ever been to have gone from Leicester Square, replaced by characterless eateries just like those you see in every large city in the UK. I remember the last time I ate in the big Chinese – it was Chinese New Year and loads of people were in costume (but what costume? I wish I could remember!). I carried on walking until I reached Victoria Embankment and the only things I recognised there were the streetlamps!
I didn’t have time to go on the London Eye or walk across the Millenium Bridge but I had a quick look around before catching the underground at Embankment to Whitechapel. The underground trains and stations look very much as they always did. But everywhere seems a little cleaner now.
I met a friend for lunch in Whitechapel in a cafe that probably looked old fashioned when I left London in 1981! My friend is on the steering group too and we walked together to the meeting in time for the 2 o-clock start and after the meeting finished we travelled by underground together to St Pancras. I hope I will be able to blog about the meeting and the project sometime later, but I need to check first with the project team.
My last port of call was the British Library on Euston Road. Back in the 1980s I used to visit the old British Library for my job with the Royal Society of Chemistry. When I last visited London 23 years ago the ground at the new site had been broken and the new building was under construction. The new British Library was formally opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1998.
Sadly I had very little time in the British Library – only time enough to visit the shop (more postcards!) and the cafe. Like the train, the cafe was full of people using laptops and smart phones. How things have changed.