London is like a melting pot of human variety. And, while I guess the same could be said of all large cities in any part of the world, London has a certain mismatched construct that makes it not only chaotically charming, but gives valid reason for the floods of selfie-sticks outside the Tower Bridge.
Someone once said to me that London is one of those cities that is changing so readily and consistently, that you loop it, see it all, and it will have changed by the time you were back at the start. I believe it.
While not particularly orderly, London is indisputably uniform, running like a well-oiled machine. The heart of London is dotted with tourist attractions all within walking distance of one another - depending on your dedication - and means that all of the tourists, locals, stall-holders and street scammers convene in one place.
Tired families with children and prams flood every cafe and crossing, eating ice creams on the slabs of sticky, uneven pavement, taking photo after photo of themselves, beside fourteen other families doing the exact same thing, and try to swallow the sheer size of the buildings that stand like timeless concrete relics against a temperamental skyline.
There isn’t much to be said about the weather other than the painfully stereotypical; pleasant one moment and goosebumps the next, with the ever-present chance of sudden rain.
Umbrellas are strapped in quick and desperate attempts to pushbikes with whatever will hold them there; zipties and cables and old pieces of ribbon frayed at the edges. The result of being caught out many times before.
In saying that, any peeking bead of sunlight is utilised, with the obvious locals sporting sandals and bare midriffs, dotting the pier with multicoloured hairdos and glowing stomachs.
Kids ride in packs like hyenas on their bicycle’s rear wheels, helmetless down the centre of the street. They drop their bikes in piles outside chicken shops and burger joints and kick their half-eaten rubbish into the gutter, to be neatly picked up later by somebody else hired specifically to do so.
It’s almost as if the morning is still trying to catch its breath from the slipshod that was the night before, with bare streets littered with bottles and the odd hazy-eyed man shuffling between the bus stop and another McDonald’s hash brown.
To see London properly, go underground. The train stations, with mice littering the platform and the misplaced smell of alcohol at 5.30am. Beneath the above-ground railways, where hire bikes are dumped and bags of rubbish, however neatly stacked, are pushed in corners and behind cars.
The underground is packed and hot around 4.30pm, every beautiful twenty-something finding their way home, manicures and high-heeled boots scooting into every available gap on the tube.
Partly, I envy them. They are drenched in the most effortless elegance that starts at their pulled shoulders and ends at the point in every heeled shoe. Even in the late afternoon, when their makeup is beginning to rub and their eyes have drooped and fallen heavy, they hold themselves in a youthful grace that deems their age nothing more than a shot in the dark. They clip purposefully in the tide of right-hand-side foot traffic, keep-cup in hand as they rewrite the same stringy mould of skincare side gigs, small-business startups and 9-5 grinds.
For anybody who depends readily on an iced anything, there is a Starbucks every five and a half feet. Which, while running fairly consistently with England’s mediocre coffee policy, will scratch any headache-inducing caffeine itch.
London has turned towards waste-free and low-emission living in a big way, with discounts for keep cups, push for proper recycling, and plastic-free produce shopping at daily local markets.
No matter what part of the city you find yourself in, be it the up-market town houses or the matchbox apartment buildings, sidewalk gardens grow out over the edge and push from behind the confines of apartment front yards and window boxes, draping from windowsill pots like tired, pulled spools of yarn. The pavement is dotted with chewing gum spots and cigarette butts, worn from use and bending beneath the weight of hundreds of years of pedestrians with too many tasks and not enough time.
Every now and again, you’ll spot someone in the lull of a day off - a man in tweed pants with a battered paperback and the remains of his third cigarette, flicking bread crumbs from his lap to the pigeons picking up the scraps on the paving.
The underground train system is an equaliser amongst a range of people so diverse and far between that they look alien against one another. The working women in shiny black laceups, their manicured nails tapping out letter drafts and unsubscribing from spam emails on their phones; tucking their feet in to avoid a homeless man wandering by with a dirty coat and a head full of dreadlocks, asking for pence in an empty Starbucks cup.
I feel like a child at the zoo; observing the ways that these people interact like they’re a different species. It’s a cold and restless place, everybody just tying to get from A to B without bumping into anybody else. I would go back in an instant.
For anybody hoping to see London one day, I’ll leave you with a few of our not-so-obvious favourite places.
The Borough Market, Southwark Street
Monmouth Coffee Company, Park Street
St James’ Park, Westminster