I’d nearly forgotten the silence of the rush hour commute. I’d forgotten the gentle sway of hundreds of thousands of black-clad bodies trying to maintain a sense of personal space as trains rush them to their destination through the bowels of the city.
There are blank stares, eyes lost in another world that plays out on the small screens of iPhones and ink-smeared fingers paging mindlessly through the stories in the free newspapers that are later left on the seat for another reader. Almost everyone is plugged into headphones.
There are faces of all colours, from all religious backgrounds, from a multitude of countries.
There’s evidence of class and profession: Chanel bags and perfectly manicured hands; Paul Smith suits and perfectly manicured beards; paint-covered builder’s jeans and urban dirt caked beneath neglected fingernails; fake eyelashes carelessly applied and worn-through secondhand ballet flats.
Last week, I travelled into the city each day to attend Advertising Week Europe. The daily commute routine came back to me: the gridlocked traffic that turns a 45 minute bus ride into an hour and a half, the flow of people down escalators all minding their manners and standing on the right. I’ve felt so disconnected from this side of London life and now appreciate once again how lucky I am to be able to walk to work every day.
On Thursday, the Queen’s 90th birthday, I brought my camera along so I could take a wander through a bit of Central London after my sessions finished.
I went for a whirl down Carnaby Street where I spotted three different street fashion photographers lingering in the shadows, carefully observing the crowds, waiting for the person with a point of distinction to approach for photographs. Liberty was looking lovely, as always, with their highly-Instagramable flower display out front bursting with colour.
From there, a little weave through the back streets of Soho with its glossy black coffee shops, hipster logos and fashionistas.
A man with a blond topknot leaned against a door frame, one of his gold and white Adidas trainers propped up on the wall while he took a deep draw from his cigarette. He held a phone in one hand, glancing up now and then to watch the passersby. I wondered what it would be like to work in Soho every day, if you’d become an inherently trendy, coffee-loving creative by proximity.
It was a cloudy day, but not bad for early spring in London. Pubs were heaving, crowds spilling out onto the pavement. There was the sound of laughter and the golden shimmer of pints and summer-loving hopefuls wearing unbuttoned winter coats.
From there, I found myself walking toward Trafalgar Square. One thing this city never fails to deliver is life’s little magic moments – for locals and tourists alike – for anyone willing to be present and observant.
Buskers played a cinematic soundtrack to the hustle and bustle through one of London’s most iconic spaces. It’s a place where people stop to listen, stop to breathe for a minute, stop to stare out at the city beyond their bubble, stop to connect.
A man in a cap with a red winter scarf and a backpack placed a hand on the back of a woman in a vibrant blue headscarf. Their bodies angled toward one another but were not touching. Between them in the distance was Big Ben. There’s a good a chance as any that this is the first time either of them have ever seen it and that it’s a moment that will be forever etched in their memories.
A tramp with wild grey hair leaned against the concrete wall of the National Gallery. He slipped a flask from a back pocket and tipped it toward his open mouth. He watched as, next to him, a trickster set up for a performance. Nearby, a chalk artist called Natalia Freeman drew a birthday portrait of the Queen. An old man in a trench coat and baseball cap with two crutches and well used shopping bags shuffled through a few inches at a time as the world whirled around him.
All of the noises blend together: the flap of scattering pigeon wings, the cooing when they land again, the incessant splashing flow of fountains, the distant busker’s guitar and soulful lyrics of old David Gray songs, the periodic beep of a crossing signal, fast-moving traffic, footsteps, voices, backpack zippers.
The people watching is phenomenal. The steps are stained with unidentified splashes of life and blotches of pigeon shit. The proud lions around Nelson’s Column are the same as ever, unchanged since I climbed on them as a kid, with kids still climbing on them today. Of course they are now also taking selfies with the lions and videos of the climb.
Crowds gather and disperse: late shift lunch breakers, tourists, passersby from all walks of life, dragging suitcases, stopping to pull home cooked-meals out of Tupperware for a family meal on a bench.
I head down to St. James’ park for some fresh air and green space. Plus, it is the Queen’s birthday after all so a swing by the Palace seems appropriate.
After wrestling my way through a hoard of teenagers on a class trip and two guys who seem to have attracted every pigeon in the park, I finally found a bit of peace in the beautiful manicured gardens.
I found a family of ducks walking across the path. I also came across a man who had gained the trust of all the park’s resident squirrels who would come running when he whistled. He’d reward them with a nut that they’d take from his fingers.
The gardens in the park have a colourful mix of flowers. If it was earlier and warmer, I would have spread out in the grass for a while, just taking it all in, but the air is still brisk and it was time to head home.
London might be an overwhelmingly massive place, but there’s beauty in the fact that for every few minutes you walk there are new areas of the city to explore. The vibes and landscapes and people who live and work and move through them are all so diverse. (There is, however, less beauty in that crawling bus ride home…)
- Just started this book (US / UK) at the recommendation of a Daunt employee. Only 65 pages in but so far enjoying the tales of immigrant life in London.
- Speaking of London: Trellick Tower bookend, anyone? Pigeon letter rack?
- On my wish list for these wet spring days: a classic yellow rain coat.
- Jorge and I spotted these cute wall planters the other day. Might get a few for the kitchen!
- From my Etsy shop, a tulip print for American Mother’s Day…
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