I am not sure when I started living in London. It was years ago, but that is not the reason I am not sure. I am not sure because I did not really "move" to London, I assimilated it. As a young lad from nowhere, Lincolnshire to be vague, London in the 1960s was large. All I can recall is that I went at every opportunity, trains or lifts, and usually managed to stay over with someone. Every spare penny I had went on trips to London and every moment thereafter was spent savouring the experience. The difference between where I lived as a boy and the Capital is not easy to imagine if you are much under 40. Now, every high street is the same, you can buy anything online and culture has become a sort of homogenised raft of everything and nothing and is no longer savoured like a treat should be savoured. Soho bristled with low-life and specialist shops (later). Mayfair had little, tucked away places like Shepherd Market and Chelsea had chic.Those were my early haunts and this coloured my view of what London is. I filled my days up with visits to museums and long sessions at specialist shops in Soho (later).
It is fair to say that the rebuilt British Museum is remarkable, but since then you have had the London Eye and the Dome. Not really in the same league is it? Harrods was an institution and so was Carnaby Street; both became grotesque parodies of themselves. In the Sixties, London aroma consisted of cigarette smoke, Patchouli and diesel and sick. Now it smells of Coffee and diesel and sick. I cannot believe how many coffee shops there are in Modern London and also how many of them dare to sell stale muffins. I rather imagined there was some kind of law about selling stale muffins, dating back to the Great Fire, but apparently, these days they flout it.
Nothing much opens before ten in the morning - believe me, I know - getting off the Caledonian Sleeper before eight means you wander around for two hours, like a vagrant, because there is nowhere to go and nothing to do but drink coffee and pee and repeat the cycle. Life in London, always seems to me to begin at night. Sitting in the back of a cab, watching the light show, en-route to a restaurant or a show or a bar or all three; everything seems to be awake with anticipation.
Jules Holland said something recently that made me sit up with a jolt because what he described is something I do too:
I love the atmosphere of London, I like seeing it in old films. I don’t really care what the plot is, or who’s in it, as long as I can watch the background.
Watching Night of the Demon or The Servant or The Blue Lamp or Victim (Dirk Bogarde seemed to be in them all) you can see what Jules is getting at.
I lived in Courtfield Gardens for a spell and used to climb up on the roof of the building at night to watch the City as it sparkled and spun its magic web and later, on the Thames in a barge, where the gentle ebb and flow of the river cradled me to sleep and woke me, murmuring promises.
A lot of song writers have been distinctly more pessimistic, such as Ralph McTell, Gerry Rafferty Iain Anderson and Richard Thompson. Bowie was as usual, just whimsical about it.
To get a feel of the London that is only imagined or glimpsed in the back-projection of the old black and white films, you need to go back a bit further, and even then the Gershwin song suggests that what you make of London is about who you are with at the time.
To whom it may concern, the specialist shop I visited in Soho sold magic tricks. The rent was cheap for those who sold conjuring tricks and you jolly well made sure you pressed the right door bell on the tawdry looking multiple occupancy building in Brewer Street or you were greeted by "the maid" and asked for details of your requirements. Magicians will know of Harry Stanley and his Unique dealership. Magic indeed.