It was -1 degrees when I landed, but the sky was a clear bright blue, and with just as much to fear from nutters bearing gelignite as the yanks, the Brits processed us visitors with infinitely more grace, efficiency and friendliness. I had forgotten, until I was sitting on the tube, how much I love this place. There is a feel to it which is utterly other - there is no amount of imagining that could convince me I might be somewhere in New Zealand - but at the same time it is comfortable and familiar and deeply, deeply known. The tube zims speedily through the dark tunnels and I am surrounded by that variation in humanity which makes London so unpredictable and so appealing. There is an elderly East Indian woman with bags of groceries at her feet, reading the Financial Times. A group of tiny schoolgirls in panama hats gather Madeleine style around a Miss Clavell. An achingly beautiful girl sits distractedly in a hippie costume of kaftan and brightly woven headband. Young men receive texts and talk to each other in Turkish. An old guy in a leather jacket and jeans reminisces silently about the days when he rode a Matchless wiv a bird upon 'is bike; his clothes have remained the same since 1964 though he has changed within them as has the world around him. An assured young man talks loudly to three assured young woman and a slightly more diffident older one.
There is congestion on the Circle line and some sort of repairs being made to the District line. I look at the tube map on the wall and recalculate my way to Victoria. I feel like one of the cognoscente.
I buy an English sim card and Google Map my way to the little hotel I have booked. I have a shower and find a pub for my first real beer since I was last here and have something to eat. I had intended to visit the Tate Modern, but instead am content to wander the streets. Near my hotel are streets lined with Maseratis and Porsches, but also ones containing a market, and guys with dreadlocks and Rasta caps, and there are racks of the new Boris Bikes, and theatres and cafes and famous buildings at every turn. I wear 4 layers,three of them woolen, two fairly thick but I am only just warm enough. I pop into Westminster Cathedral. It looks a bit like a railway station but feels inexpressibly holy. I am moved deeply at the sight of the fragile little body of St. John Southworth who, in 1654 suffered the inhuman fate of being hung drawn and quartered for the crime of ministering to his people as a Catholic priest. Oh my Lord. The things we have done in your name! Forgive us.
I walk out into the gathering dusk at 4:00 and back to my tiny room to sleep. I'm glad, as I walk, of the scarf and gloves but gladder still to be here.
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