The Mall/Le Tour as a lasting memory of London
Why London is timeless and my take on 10 summers as a Londoner
Today marks the first day of my last week as a Londoner, after nine years and ten glorious summers here. I write this after being on The Mall for the finish of Le Tour or, in English, the Tour de France. It made me stop and think: why is London the timeless place that it is?
Today was another example of why, as a Londoner, you don’t need to make much effort to do anything. Even to see Le Tour you just have to wait a few minutes for the tube.
London is the centre of the world, and it always has been. It is much bigger than any of us individuals. As Samuel Johnson said in September 1771: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford”.
I must confess though to being ‘tired of life’ in some way, but not from that modern expression ‘boredom’. I’m more tired than bored.
After nine years, I am more or less set up for my future thanks to “UK plc” as David Cameron likes to phrase it. Like Kate (Middleton), William (her balding husband) and their young lad, George, St Mary’s hospital has helped me super efficiently when my back has been suffering. Only in my case in was on the NHS.
More broadly, I have had experiences of being, in essence, a ‘European’ through physical proximity and mentality — the Spain v France game at the 2012 Euros that I watched in Ibiza made this a real feeling. I was there with my dad and brother — a long way from home for a couple of kiwi sailors!
I have managed to get on the so-called ‘property ladder’ in a way that simply would not have been possible in my home country of New Zealand (if you exclude Scotland, where my family’s origins lie). Some folks don’t believe in chance or luck, but I am one that does, both in good and in bad.
In my years here, as a Londoner, I have experienced the most magnificent day out as a rugby fan — on 1 December 2012 at Twickenham — when, ironically, the All Blacks got a battering by England. But, I would not swap that post-match atmosphere in the Scrum Bar for any other rugby-fan moment. There were five of us, two English lads and three kiwis and it was a blast.
On my initial night in London, on 25 May 2005, I witnessed (on TV) my football club’s greatest moment, when we won our fifth European Cup on that mental night in Istanbul. I had grown up in the 80s and Liverpool Football Club enchanted me, when we got one-hour’s coverage a week delayed in New Zealand.
I’ll never forget the next morning when I was on the phone to a recruitment agent and he could hear the day-after news on Sky Sports in the background on my TV. I think he had a little cry — he too was a Liverpool fan.
It is very easy to get trapped in the comforts of being a Londoner. Reflecting back, I have been too comfortable. Today at Le Tour made me think again: “it’s great that I have had so much choice, but it’s sad I have not made more of it”.
If I bring it back to a really basic point: I lived next to Lord’s for seven years and I am a huge cricket fan, but I have never been to a local county game! Yet, I have spent days watching the Olympics, the World Cup, the Euros, Wimbledon, The Open, the Ashes, Le Tour — and that’s just sport.
Other places too have been incredible: the trips to Glorious Goodwood to see Frankel run (and see Bradley Wiggins’ Olympics gold medal ride on the TV!), the pubs on the Thames, the South Bank’s endless festival, Primrose Hill’s view and wide, relaxing streets. And, this year working in Bermondsey Street (instead of the City) has been so liberating.
Finally, there has been the utterly addictive pastime of playing cricket where it is done best, here in England, as I enjoyed so much at Hampstead and, more recently, in Sevenoaks, Kent.
It is so easily possible to lose oneself in London, and I’ve managed to do it for the best part of a decade.
Today, standing in St James’ Park in my home city was cathartic in some way. I understood why one of my new heroes, Mark Cavendish, wanted to win so badly in Harrogate on Saturday and sacrificed himself for his team and country.
He could have won today on The Mall, but he must have figured that a ‘home’ victory (his mum is from Harrogate) and wearing the Maillot Jaune was bigger than any other record or thing he could have done with his talent.
For my part, I am just pleased that my city offered me the chance to bring these 10 glorious summers to a close, even if it was raining! And, now, I can stop writing and depart graciously.