Last week I looked down on London from what is currently the tallest building in the European Union. From when I commuted daily through London Bridge in September 2010, I’ve watched the building grow taller and taller with fascination. There have been days when much of the structure has been shrouded in London’s infamous fog and mist, as well nights when it has lit up the entire skyline. The progression of this behemoth has been intriguing, and I’ve watched with interest from trains, foot, buses and even the balcony of my flat in Brixton.The viewing deck opened in February 2013 and, even by Londoner standards, it’s pricey. My feeling has always been that a drink should be included for the price that is charged, and I only made my way up in the two lifts provided because I was bought a ticket as a birthday gift. Although expensive, the view is fascinating, particularly for someone so accustomed to seeing various parts of one of the world’s best cities from the ground.
I could happily have spent hours gazing down at London’s bustling streets, and I spent much of my time up there not picking out buildings and streets that I know, but reflecting on memories of time spent in the city. I’ve lived within easy reach of London for most of my life, and feel that it was an important part of me even before I worked and resided there. The view was overwhelming for me, as there were so many memories which caught my eye: closest to my location was my former office at St Mary Axe, and many buildings I walked past twice per day (as well as a few which didn’t even have foundations three short years ago – I barely recognise parts of the City anymore). Glancing further afield I spotted the Olympic Stadium, a venue I haven’t properly entered, although I’ve also seen London from the Olympic Park’s Orbit. The Millennium Dome – somewhere I visited when it first opened, and have been to since it became an exhibition space (I also used to be able to just about spot it from my bedroom in Brixton).
Dominating the south London skyline is the Razorblade at Elephant and Castle and, just visible was the Oval in Kennington – a place I have enjoyed with friends. I wasn’t able to pick out my Brixton home, as the day was a bizarre combination of cloudy and bright, which was making me squint. As the trees of London’s parks haven’t yet come into bloom, it was also difficult to pick out the right geography to orientate myself.
Moving around to the west are more popular tourist locations: the London Eye, an attraction I’ve visited more than once and hurried past many times as a busy Londoner; the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, other buildings I rarely pause to contemplate; Battersea Power Station, familiar to me from train journeys even when I was little, as our train slowed on the approach to Victoria station. In addition to these central London landmarks, I’m good at picking out Wembley Stadium in the distant reaches of northwest London: I spent days working there during my time in event recruitment, and it’s another building I was able to see from my flat in south London (the view is pretty incredible even from only six floors up!). Wembley’s arches can be tricky to spot against a cloudy sky – it’s easier to see at night – but I managed even through the grey.
The experience reminded me of people, things and places that I miss, but some things that I don’t. It’s strange to return to my former home and be regarded as a tourist, and part of me feels like I will always belong – I navigate tubes and negotiate buses without thinking, as well as being happier to cut through small, uncrowded streets rather than trudge through crowded main drags in the West End – but I feel like an outsider these days, peering in from the outside… or down from above through a telescope into the past.
Views of London from The Shard are my own images, first image of The Shard in progress courtesy of Wikimedia.