Sometimes what I want is to connect with a place, more than with people. There are times that I fancy a beer but I don’t want to chat, I just want to sit in a corner and listen and observe and eavesdrop. That’s a great pleasure to me; it’s part of enjoying a place. You don’t actually have to connect with a person.
[…] the historian Edward Gibbon criticised London for being ‘crowds without company’. He meant it in a bad sense. It’s one of the reasons I love the place so much.
The atomistic nature of London life that Engels and Gibbon noted, and which I raved about, has got another edge to it, one that cuts pretty deep on a Sunday evening when you’re between girlfriends. Because Sunday evening is when pretences are dropped, when the relationship-enabled friends you spend the rest of the week with scurry back to their partners. It’s a time to keep you honest with yourself.
Does London drive you towards loneliness, make you more solitary than you might otherwise be?
We set off, starting our conversation, as any two Englishmen anywhere in the world are legally obliged to, with the weather,
it’s daytime when London becomes magical. At the moment these famous buildings on this famous street are just that – buildings on a street. It’s only when daylight arrives, and people turn up from all over the world, that the bricks and concrete become invested with meaning. That’s when they miraculously come alive. Right now they’re just a set of toys with no children to believe in them.
St Botolph’s, the church standing in the middle of the one-way system that marks the last road I have to cross, nails home the message of the capital as a city of opposites. It is positioned, its website tells you, near the border of ‘the poorest Borough in London [Tower Hamlets] and one of the world’s leading financial centres’.
London isn’t real. It isn’t a city, it’s an idea. London has such magic simply because we believe it has such magic. Take away that belief and it’s just a collection of buildings and roads and parks and Tube stations linked by colourful lines that aren’t really there,
[…] And the real beauty is that even knowing this thing called ‘London’ isn’t real doesn’t stop it feeling real. Somehow the fizzing energy – other people’s and your own – gets you every time, tricks you, draws you in and draws you back. ‘I always think something wonderful is going to happen,’ John Pearson told me. ‘And it never does.’ Who cares? It’s the thinking that counts.
[…] London is in our minds. But then our minds are all we have, and all we need.
Mason, Mark. Walk the Lines: The London Underground, Overground. Random House. Kindle Edition.