London, city of contradictions [16/50]

London is a city of contradictions, from a copious amount of public transport, to royal chariots for the Queen, from numerous homeless people, to lavish townhouses for Russian oligarchs, from one of the World’s most open and multicultural populations, to European-skepticism and a distaste for the mono-brow and excessively Modern (watch out Perth). London is a unique and special city; its cultural fabric is rich and dense, it is a mature, humanistic, and ‘global city’ (without being crudely aspirational enough, like Melbourne, to need the term). And like all cities, it has a history and can’t be anything other than its history (and only a fool rebels against the past, especially those that believe they don’t have one). And London is within a country that never had a revolution, thus isn’t shackled to it as are the Americans that always must chase the ghost of Queen Victoria muttering “victory, victory, victory,” thus can never be free.

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Queen Elizabeth, National Portrait Gallery, photo of waxwork dummy

Millions of people visit London each year so I am not sure what I can add. I have lived in London for more than four years altogether, and at critical junctures in my life, thus it is my second city after Melbourne, and I always return every opportunity I get (like now). I have squatted in the West End in the 1990s, lived in the East End and Bermondsey, worked in Covent Garden and Elephant and Castle, and admittedly had some of the loneliest and dark times of my life in this city, but also some of the most fulfilling, challenging, and personal growth times.

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Indian sculpture from Khajuraho (where I just visited)

During this very short trip (six days) I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum to see an architectural exhibition curated by my friend Rory Hyde. I also went to the National Portrait Museum, the National Gallery, and the British Museum.

And another contradiction of London is that although it was a great imperial power for a good deal of its history, thus a lot of the stuff in the museums and galleries is plundered, it is absolutely free to see (and the museums are always packed full of tourists from everywhere).

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Chinese Buddha, British Museum

I also went out to Vauxhall and Dalston, went to Oxford for dinner in one of the Colleges with my mate Luke, and did too much drinking and walking around Russell Square where I was staying (and drinking and walking are my favorite activities, not always at the same time).

London is a difficult city to understand, and there are some pretty shitty lifestyles there, but then again, life is better than lifestyle and living is better than livability. London is an opt – in City, not an opt – out one as the city isn’t very kind to dreamers.

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