Journey to the Centre of the City

Driving through London at night, when I was a kid. was something of a magical experience.

Growing up in Kent, the most I’d hear, or see after dark were foxes tearing their way though rubbish bags, gorging on last Monday’s spag bol, or rutting in to the early hours.

So, on those occasions when family gatherings ran late and lifts were needed back to north London, me and my sister jumped in the car, seatbelts on, booster seats in prime position – faster than you could scream ‘Gary Barlow’.

At seven in the early Nineties, a two-and-half-hour round trip through London was an education!

Once you were finally off the motorway, which seemed to last an eternity, the wonder began. First came the legendary Blackheath Tea Hut and the hoards of burly, leather-clad bikers who would congregate for a Tetley’s and an over-priced burger.

Then down the hill into New Cross, where things got a little edgier, and the first of the neon signs and graffiti emerged. Pubs were gilded and brash, and the punters were dressed differently to the grow-ups I knew – with their spiked, luminous hair and Doc Martens.

But the best bit of the journey for me came next – the view from Blackfriars Bridge. The lights, the river, the reflections, the grandiose buildings, all the colours fighting for my attention – it was another world. It would give me butterflies looking out at this fairytale landscape, my mouth agape and my eyes wide with wonder. And my nose pressed up against the window like a small pig snorting for truffles.

As we drove through Clerkenwell I’d be entertained by well-dressed drunks, zig-zagging off pavements onto the road, using cars as buffers and invariably setting off their alarms. All this entertainment provided me with a giggle until my eyes got heavy, and my head bounced around like a bladder on a stick.

It wasn’t until I was much older I’d manage to keep awake past King’s Cross, which, in retrospect, was probably for the best.

I still feel the same affection towards London at night, and have a particular soft spot for the South Bank. I can’t conjure the same enchanted feelings I did as a child, but there is still something very serene and beautiful about the city when its a little sleepy and lit up like a flare against a twilight backdrop.

Image by Alex Porteous courtesy of Flickr

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