Time Out

As the high flyers desert the city in droves to seek the peace and tranquility of the countryside, the beach or maybe the moors, we found ourselves with an anniversary and an overnight kid-free.

A spell living in Cornwall has left us both with a deep rooted need for civilisation, the sound of traffic and lots and lots of people. We fear trailing along behind tractors and being 40 minutes away from the nearest Marks. So, given 24 hours, we follow our own private tractor beam into London.

It’s a bit of an obsession, this city. I’ve pored over maps of it mediaeval and otherwise: those of you who love them should check out the amazing Newcourt map, which shows the old St Paul’s with its pointed spire. Its a city in which layer upon layer of civilisation overlaps: from Roman walls, to that fabulous gherkin which is, quite literally, the butt of so many people’s jokes.

You can follow the journey of hidden rivers. The Fleet was the heart of a seething community for so long and now lies under our feet as we tread the pavements, which were never really paved with gold.

Faced with 24 hours, what to choose? More than 2,000 years of history, some of the world’s greatest collections of art, theatres, and London Zoo’s new evening entertainment: an evening with the animals.

A bewildering choice: so we just followed our feet and the occasional bus route. Up to St Paul’s and the whispering gallery; over the Millenium bridge: a whistlestop tour of the fifth floor of the Tate Modern; The Globe; a walk along the Thames and dinner at the Waldorf.

Its a breathtaking study in anonymity, walking past seas of faces. The pavements are crowded and you’ll never see the same person twice. Losing yourself in it all, listening to the metropolitan scatter of accents, checking out the clothes, it’s all about joining thousands of people in one place.

In the future I’m sure scientists will be able identify exactly why so many people gathered together is so exhilarating. For now, I put it down to time. For thousands of years, humanity has been layering itself on the banks of the River Thames. Now, where once there was bear baiting, there are art galleries. Romans patrolled the city walls of Londinium, and one thousand years later a pinnacled tower was built just yards away to house traitors.

Now coffee shops and souvenir kiosks serve the tourists as they gawp and click. The only thing that separates them and some of the most arbitrary executions our nation has seen, is time.

What’s not to be fascinated by?

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