JFK famously said “Ich Bin ein Berliner” but I can perhaps more accurately say the same thing about London. Officially a cockney, since I was born in Guys Hospital, I have lived in London all my life but with long intervals in far flung outposts of the British empire and other parts foreign.
I have told myself for most of my adult life that I hate the place and certainly years spent in very much calmer environments ( or more “interesting” environments – like Hong Kong) were experiences I would not have missed.
But how foolish not to appreciate my magnificent home town. I had the luck to be at school in the shadows of Westminster Abbey and I think in those days I really did appreciate the beauty of its shady cloisters, the morning prayers and the freedom to wander that hallowed ground at will. Brought up for much of the time in busy Kensington there were joys there to behold as well, and I was probably peripherally aware of those too.
But yesterday was one of those rare occasions when I have been able to empathise with foreign friends who adore the city and come as willing and frequent visitors.
It was a perfect sunny, late spring day and I went for a kulturfest at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. Such was its grandeur and such its contents that I almost wondered why I had bothered with Berlin, or Zurich or even Venice. Or why I am planning to spend a month in Florence.
While the art was an intense fulfillment, my quiet stroll back home was revelationary. Where I could stuck to London’s leafy and magnificent parks and was amazed to see patches of meadow in Green Park – a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace. Bluebells were everywhere in the dappled shade, as well as all sorts of other natural beauty my ignorance of botany prevents me from listing.
Knightsbridge was next and its appeal is slightly lessened these days by vast stretched limos, often with lurid gold trim and blacked out windows, especially around Hyde Park Corner and the more louche hotels.
I imagine the sleazy and corrupt inside such Behemoths, they jump straight out of the pages of a John le Carre Novel. The dark glasses of the african dictator, the big time crooks and money launderers, the plastic smile and breasts of the accompanying courtesans, the gold medallions on the hairy chests of the fake suntanned biznismen, the entrepreneurs and the whole zoo of other real world Arthur Daley’s and politicians.
But I digress and must dismount from my favourite hobby horse – the world was built by such people and is run by them. Live with it!
It did not distract me from a day of sheer wonder at the magnificent architecture of the Mall and Clarence House or even the quiet pleasure of the many sleepy and sun drenched residential roads I weaved my way through on my way home.
Yes, Ich bin ein Londoner and yesterday I was happy to be.