|Canary Wharf's towers loom over the neo-classical|
splendour of maritime Greenwich: symbols of London's
endurance and its adaptability
|The Walkie Talkie, Cheesegrater and Gherkin:|
what London's new towers' names lack in grace
they make up for in memorability
I encountered an excellent example of the city’s spirit during my ride back from church. I emerged from a back street onto a stretch of Harleyford Road in Kennington in the shadow of the Oval cricket ground. Surrey County Cricket Club’s ground hosted the first ever international cricket test match in 1880. Traditionally home of the last test of each English season, it is steeped in the history of acts of late summer sporting daring. Yet Harleyford Road - once the highest-stress part of my daily commute - has been enhanced with a new, two-way protected bike lane that carries cyclists all the way over the once-terrifying Vauxhall Bridge into Pimlico. The juxtaposition of the cricket ground’s Victorian grandeur and the bold new transport experiment was striking.
|The glory days of Jack Hobbs, Surrey's master batsman,|
are a thing of the past at the Oval, over the brick wall in this
picture. But so, thankfully, are the days of death-defying
cycling manoeuvres over multiple lanes of traffic
on Harleyford Road
I don’t mean, either, to sentimentalise London. I’ve noticed since I returned that my younger colleagues are living further and further from central London, pushed into more and more obscure outer suburbs by crazily spiralling housing costs. I’m protected from them only by the good fortune of having bought a house 12 years ago.
The riots in many parts of the city in 2011 suggest many members of poor minority groups feel little stake in London’s wellbeing. Some of the UK’s poorest people continue to live in such jarring proximity to members of the global super-rich that it seems remarkable the city has maintained such relative social peace.
|A graffiti mural in Park Slope, Brooklyn: a reminder of|
New York's more frenetic street life
Nevertheless, I am reconnecting with the city’s distinctive spirit. I rode down on Saturday, for example, to Greenwich through the Isle of Dogs. I cycled part of the way with a group of boys whose accents were a strange mixture of Caribbean, South Asian and traditional cockney. Given the mixture of the language and their own ethnicites, their term for each other - “bruv” - sounded like a strangely universal embrace.
Our temporary accommodation, meanwhile, is near the Brick Lane mosque - a building famously built by Huguenot refugees, subsequently taken over by Jewish refugees and now a place of worship for east London’s Bangladeshis. Its history seems mainly to be a source of some pride, rather than anguish over what has been lost.
|Striking juxtaposition: a man rides down a few months old|
cycle track, past a tower whose origins go back 950 years
These positive feelings, of course, could prove fragile. As the UK’s wealthiest, most international city, London has far more to lose from the economic pain of leaving the European Union than some other parts of the UK that, unlike London, voted in favour of leaving. Having experienced the trauma of the July 2005 terror attacks on London, I know that the city’s relative calm could be tested if the successor to the Nice or Munich terror attacks takes place on London streets.
But I ride daily amid a city that feels as if it’s flourishing, despite the abundant evidence of past traumas. The ground below Upper Thames Street where I ride each morning contains piers abandoned by the Romans when they left the city in ruins. To my right as I ride to work is the monument to the dead of the city’s 1666 Great Fire. It’s far easier to feel optimistic about the city when riding through it on a bike than when reading a mere recitation of the grim facts of its current situation.