My November Love Affair with London

November has always meant London. I was the only child of an entirely ordinary Essex couple. My November birthday was always marked by a trip to London, sometime around my birthday (14th) The date is significant because around this time both Remembrance Day and the Lord Mayors Day are marked. Depending on scheduling my birthday trips were either coloured vividly as if in party mood or more sombrely in quiet reflection. Occasioally, like this year both occur in the same weekend, a cultural salt caramel or sweet and sour sensation. The exact reason for this regular pilgrimage to London is unknown and unknowable as both my parents are long dead. My recollection is that they felt it was really important for me to know and relate to the capital city, a sentiment and experience I have passed on to my own children.

If I’m honest I fell a little out of love with London in the 1970’s . Years as a student , being poor and in grotty accommodation was not enhanced by the turbulent times. I had also inexplicably chosen a Science subject when my real interests were art and writing. Not London’s fault at all but sometimes the location gets the blame for the daftest of personal decisions. East London and the City, the locations of my work and life environment were pretty raw and grim around the edges. Out of love I might have been but I still gave London it’s due diligence in the seventies and in the barely improved eighties. Wherever I lived November nearly always found me doing something Londonish.

November is a good time to visit regardless of the length of your journey. Tourism is at a low point and the frenetic pre Christmas pace doesn’t pick up until the end of the month. Long walks are easier if pavements are clearer. I like to take the same walks that I did in the seventies, back then ancient footpaths avoided busy roads but sometimes, around Smithfield, took me through slaughter house yards. Not only have the centuries-old slaughter houses gone , with their open rivers of blood hosed into street drains,so have the footpaths. Developers seem to have developed a blind eye to paths that had been used for centuries and maybe no one else cared enough to protest. Maybe history and rights of way were forgotten at a price.

This November, coincidentally I was in a London for a writing course with The Gentle Author, decades of familiarity bit me on the bum. Parked up briefly in a familiar spot we organised ourselves for the longish return drive to Cornwall, smug in our knowledge of such a place. Two days later the parking fine arrived. London always has spare capacity to surprise.